Alternative DIY-kit DAC solution to Zidoo X20 Pro, Dune HD Ultra 4K and Eweat R11

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    • Alternative DIY-kit DAC solution to Zidoo X20 Pro, Dune HD Ultra 4K and Eweat R11

      Got myself a DIY-kit USB DAC and use USB Audio Pro Player together with it. I doubt i will ever get native DSD support without going down that road with my Zidoo/Egreat players. May also be an alternative for Dune HD Ultra 4K or using Himedia / Dinobot players.
      Will gradually add my findings here over time. Maybe something for Futeko to start selling for music lovers not having all the money in the world?

      SABRE ESS ES9038PRO based DIY DAC
      This is a solid DAC design around the SABRE ESS ES9038PRO chip using quality components with over-sized dual linear PSU's for analog and digital sections respectively. It is including a front display and even a remote control which is not really needed. The HW-build is high quality both outside and inside. My ordered gold bundle 2 version is € 410 fully assembled, tested and inclusive Dutch taxes. One can also get all included components separately for true DIY custom builds.
      aliexpress.com/item/ES9038-ES9…-USB-NEW/32895957403.html?

      Interesting cheaper alternatives here:
      aliexpress.com/store/product/N…0/327509_32902945373.html?
      This one costs € 146,- also fully assembled. It uses the ES9038Q2M chip has no XLR, uses standard AMP's and includes a far simpler external PSU. But it includes a remote, has a headphone output and even outputs via BT. The remote can be handy here (headphones). It includes a standard brick external PSU.
      aliexpress.com/item/New-es9038…finished/32884545046.html?
      This one is only € 137,- fully assembled without a remote, headphone or BT but including a higher quality build-in linear PSU.
      Both are great value for money and straight comparable with the audio panel of a Zidoo X20 Pro. The sound quality should be on par but additionally having USB plus SPDIF interfaces.

      Using the remote control with my DIY-kit one can quickly choose the Digital Filter (7) for PCM conversion and the low-pass band filter (4) for DSD conversion:
      - The Digital Filter is set at the "fast roll off minimum phase filter" for minimal audible impact.
      Default was "fast roll off linear phase filter"
      - The Analog Filter is set at "47 kHz" for maximum high frequency filtering.
      Default was "60 kHz".
      With the remote also the output volume can be controlled and mute be switched on/off.
      It does not allow other ES9038PRO parameters to be altered. The defaults applied seem to be doing the correct job though.
      What differentiates this unit mostly from (very) expensive ES9038 based branded DAC's is the use of the internal ess-es9038pro digital filters rather than a custom designed DSP based proprietary digital filter. It should be very challenging to hear the difference as each new SABRE version of their ESS series DAC's improved and added more digital filters to choose from. Be aware those digital filters are for PCM => Analog conversion only. For true DSD => Analog conversion (like this chip does) only simple low-pass filters are used instead.
      Expensive DAC versions also may use 2 ESS9038 Pro chips being one for the Left Channel and the other one for the Right Channel. SABRE ESS series DAC's all are 8-channel capable but to compensate design tolerances for 24-bit conversion DAC designs often bundle 4 or 8 channels to as single output. This averages out build tolerances to a certain degree. Hence the deployment of one or two chips for stereo output only. Full HT 8-channel DAC's often use 4 SABRE chips for exactly that same reason. We see this design above all in top of the line UHD-BD players with discrete 8-channel analog outputs.

      The DIY-kit also includes the optional XMOS/Amanero USB audio processor panel. This panel is used to interface USB with the SABRE ES9038 DAC:
      Digital Audio over USB => XMOS/Amanero => ES9038 => Analog RCA/XLR.
      It does not improve audio quality directly as such but enables all HD audio features of that excellent DAC to be used via USB including native SACD/DSD output. This is even superior to SPDIF support as it has a higher peak throughput.

      My DIY kit has a design flaw too: The 240V section is not being low-pass filtered. One can add those components oneself which is more of a mechanical challenge to get such a filter fitted.
      When connected to my AMP the S/N ratio proved to be extremely good as even turning up the volume to the maximum does not produce any audible noise at the speakers even at extreme close range.

      Comparison with media player integrated alternatives:
      The unit is superior regarding HW design to the DAC audio panel included with Zidoo X20 Pro e.g that one is using the ES9038Q2M (mobile version) not the ES9038PRO chip and it has a far simpler PSU design. It is closer to the low cost DIY alternatives mentioned earlier. Also important DIY kits are a lot more flexible as these have both SPDIF (coax plus optical) and USB external inputs. This enabling those to be used with other sources and other media players.
      Optional Music Players APP's which support native DSD64 output via USB won't find the Internal DAC of X20 Pro as it uses direct I2S interfacing instead of internal USB. Therefor native DSD output can't be added that way. For me personally this is a deal-breaker.
      Apparently Zidoo realized there are more Audiophiles like me and announced the Zidoo UHD2000 including a Linear PSU and USB interfacing the ES9038 (likely the PRO version). This specifically for those wanting the best above all including native SACD/DSD. Details will be added when known.

      For those familiar with Eweat my DIY-DAC build is very close (not to call it identical) to the DAC included in their € 900,- Eweat R11 design. Eweat is not using all best available components as standard oscillator and AMP's for that main board are used. This can be seen using the zoom feature on the link attached.
      The design includes external inputs via SPDIF and AES. Eweat R11 also includes an extra 12V Trigger plus IR In/Out panel and an additional Headphone panel (for those asking what all those other components are). They also included the 240V filter missing in my own design. Overall it is very complete and most likely sounds close to identical.
      kodi.expert/product/eweat-r11-…phile-hi-fi-media-player/

      A full alternative is the new Dune HD Ultra 4K player which again seems to be using the same audio boards and PSU´s as the DIY-kit/Eweat R11 but is advertised to deploy only top quality components on those. Functionally the audio/DAC section and other features are identical to the Eweat R11 but obviously the players FW is very different. It is very expensive though list priced at a whopping € 1.500.
      This is a very interesting move from Dune. The first Dune HD Ultra 4K announcements and pictures where clearly a clone of the Zidoo X20 Pro but the product actually launched now is a clone of the Eweat R11 instead. In contrary to Eweat Dune is going for the best possible result with that DAC design using only top quality components for both the DAC and PSU´s (according to their specs). The final design regarding components used is most likely even slightly superior to my DIY-kit? Only got a low resolution inside picture not revealing that level of detail but I do believe them here also seen the price asked for the player.
      Dune bundles the HiByMusic APP for HD audio including SACD ISO similar to my own setup. For such an expensive player that is disappointing for me. I am pretty confidant my mentioned Music APP's below will run also on Dune and Eweat players including DSD playback. Got also a copy of the "6-page Dune HiFi Audio User Guide" for the Audio Panel revealing its remaining last secrets.
      It is using the standard XMOS audio processor for internal/external USB interfacing instead of the Amanero option chosen with my own DIY-kit.
      dune-hd.com/eng/products/full_hd_media_players

      USB Audio Player Pro (FW 4.4.1)
      This APP was tested on Egreat A11 and Zidoo Z9S players successfully. No compatibility problems found and it is therefore safe to assume it will work on all Hisillicon and Realtek RTD1295/96 based players including Himedia and Dune.

      Findings:
      - Paid the license (about € 7,-) via the Google Play Store and it got activated automatically. Using the same Google account it can be installed that way also on other Android platforms if you have multiple like I do.
      - Support for almost all Stereo HQ Audio sources including DSD/SACD formats makes this APP also special. Currently only missing support for DST compressed DFF files.
      - It next does not play DTS-CD's which is not that strange as that is actually using the DTS audio standard which is part of Video players.
      - It does not down-mix multi channel sources (FLAC) to stereo output using the Android drivers. MCH sources are played via this USB/DAC but need to listen more to determine if it down-mixes MCH or just passes L/R channels?
      - It is clearly designed for Smart Phones with a touch screen. Using a pointer mouse with a TV for display is essential in the current state. I registered myself on their forum and asked among-st other things for added Media Player support using a standard remote.
      - The players UI needs some time getting used to. It e.g. uses all 4 corners for scattered controls (designed for Portrait). One can use use a standard Zidoo remote after getting used to the how for core functionality. For some actions a pointer mouse is needed. With Egreat Hicontrol works but also has some quirks using that. What works better is using HiControl as a display and the standard remote for most actions except the pointer mouse actions which then work via touch control.
      - All sources are played truly gapless which is always nice next to being essential for live recordings!
      - Unique for Android media players is that native DSD64/DSD128 output is supported with USB DAC's in many flavors.
      - It also works with wired Ethernet, NAS and external and internal HDD's connected which is often a problem with APP's designed for smartphones. Took me a while to find out how to scan folders on those HDD's as they where not found for that action automatically (Manual works).

      The player is around for several years already and is praised for the sound it can produce. True gapless playback for formats supported seems stable including CUE sheets. It also has a forum and ongoing software development (only sporadic reactions though) .
      extreamsd.com/index.php/products/usb-audio-player-pro

      ONKYO HF Player (FW 2.4.0)
      This is a real alternative player to be used with external USB DAC's. Worked straight with my setup too. For HQ playback the license is € 9,50 for SQ playback it is free (with minimal advertisements).
      Also this APP is really designed for Smart-Phones and needs also to be controlled using a pointer-mouse, which next works just fine.
      Differences are:
      - There is also a free version playing reduced to SQ but handling all albums including SACD DSF and DFF
      - Very smooth on the controls and actions.
      - No support for SACD ISO directly just DSF and DFF track extractions.
      - Can toggle USB DAC or HDMI outputs via setup.
      - Plays MCH SACD also via HDMI (Down mixed)
      - The DSP can real-time convert PCM to DSD which I have never seen before! This DSP feature can be turned ON/OFF with a single click which is nice for blind testing.
      There is no Onkyo forum for this APP.

      Practical functional experiences
      Installed and next connected it via USB2 (with a USB-hub in-between). After toggling some settings in the USB Audio Player Pro almost all my audio formats come out as they should except for:
      - DTS-CD (the alternative via HDMI using standard included media players is just fine for me as that is really MCH.
      - SACD using DFF tracks with DST compression (not really a commonly used format, but yes it is very efficient on HDD space)
      Got PCM sample rates up to 384 kHz and SACD up to DSD128 working via USB. Up-sampling is also available as an option with USB Player Pro but is not used by me. Finally can compare native DSD64 with FLAC 88.2/176.4 conversions.
      - Using an External DAC one can in fact play music via the DAC and watch a movie via HDMI including sound concurrently. Using 2 different HDD's and playing a BD + SACD in DSD that worked also in practice during tests without any disruptions. This even sharing a single AMP associating the Analog input port with a second speaker zone.

      Practical sound experiences
      Obviously my findings here are subjective like hell, but most should be common for many.

      Sound quality perceived depends on: Quality of the Album ==> Speakers ==> (external DAC) ==> Amplifier. The role and sense of an External DAC depends on that. I try to invest my good money smart in that sequence.

      With good quality speakers and medium range Home Theater AMP as a start it makes sense to add a high quality External DAC.
      My AMP for comparison is an Onkyo TX-RZ720 which works just fine. It has a decent AKM AK4458 DAC built-in and uses a custom DSP for Digital filtering for the Left/Right channels ( all channels with RZ820).
      a) For most CD's played in MP3/FLAC format the audible difference is minimal.
      For very good recordings it may be perceptible doing blind checks.
      b) For most SACD played in native DSD the reverse is true.
      Most will sound noticeable better using the DAC (and far better than the CD).
      Also the difference between converted to FLAC tracks and the native DSD tracks of the same recording can be heard clearly.
      c) Using Onkyo HF Player there is an option to convert PCM => DSD which works remarkable well with my DAC including MP3's.
      The feature is advertised as experimental and indeed occasionally still has glitches.
      Output just sounds more crispier and clearer that way. Blind tests with visitors showed it was heard not only by myself.
      This may open a new line of discussions for audiophiles as this way no digital filters are used/needed at all anymore.

      For DTS-CD and (Pure Audio) BD albums I prefer the Multi Channel sound of my AMP above the 2-channel down-mixing via the External DAC for most albums. MCH SACD is not that easy as it varies per recording but often I prefer MCH. Alas only getting that with this setup currently via FLAC (or burning it on a physical disc and playing it next with my good old Pioneer SACD player).

      Bottom-line I am very pleased with my setup/purchase. It was a bit of a gamble but worked out just fine.
      After looking at the alternatives in detail clearly prefer it myself even comparing it with a Dune HD Ultra 4K.
      The new Zidoo UHD2000 looks very nice though and seems to do the same with full integration?

      If one already has a very nice and expensive high-end Amplifier it may not make a difference as the build-in DAC is probably already a nice match? But even such AMP may miss the essential USB DAC input enabling DSD in combination with Android based music players.

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