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Is the DAC module AK4497 a substantial/moderate upgrade to AK4493?

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Hello,

 

Just found this site and quite happy that I did, and this is only from the first few days of reading posts which i've learned a lot from. I was directed here by searching for DSD playback on the AKM AK4497 and/or the ESS ES9038PRO DAC modules.

 

Short back story: I just purchased a DAC that has the ability to use either of these two modules and I decided to go with the AK4497 due to my current Benchmark DAC having a ESS module (if i remember corrrectly). It is a tube DAC which is going to be part of an all tube system (as many tube components I could find to put into a system). After some digging, I found that the ESS DACs have the DSD signal going through more processing than the AK4497. So, with staying as close to an all analog system as i can (I only listen to digital files), I decided to go with a module I have never lived with that travels a shorter digital path. The DAC is the Musical Paradise MP-D2 MK3 which looks to be as simple as can be for a DAC. No WiFi, bluetooth or anything else digital. This is part of the reason for my question below. If i don't like it's sound i can roll to the ESS module. For a bit more information that may help you guys help me: I use a laptop as my source, which is pulling the files from a portable drive bay with SSD drives. Music is played via Audirvana or HQ Player 4, which goes to the DAC...which is why i'm here.

 

Question: If it turns out that I like the AK4497 module a lot, I will purchase a Topping DX3 which uses the AK4493, for my desk/travel/bedside headphone system. For those of you with experience with either the 4493 or 4497, do you think I could expect similar results in DSD playback sound quality? One of the reasons I ask is because the AKM website calls the 4493 a 'Premium' sounding...' yet calls the 4497 its flagship. The tech specs look very similar, which all leaves me wondering how many real differences in sound could there possibly be -aside from how each manufacture uses the modules? I think there is only a 2 year difference in release dates; with all that i've interpreted, this information leaves me with an impression that there very well could be a significant sound difference. Not that one is better, but rather just different. Anyone with some ear time experience on either DAC, with direct DSD playback, and can offer their experiences, I would greatly appreciate it. I have no technical background with DAC technology, but I would enjoy learning if you could offer some of that information too -the main reason we're all here i wager. 

 

As a side question, Topping offers a Linear power supply that can be used on the DX3, would this 'cleaner power' offer greater sound quality? I've been thinking of getting power banks for my laptop and DAC (no AC power from source to file processing), could this offer a cleaner signal (cleaner sine wave) to the preamp, that would improve sound quality as well? Also, is there a forum room here that discusses power quality and audio? I've always wondered, from all that i've read regarding power and audio, why not just put a big, super high quality in front of an entire audio chain; or just a big battery? PS Audio's power bank is just way over priced for me. I should just stop now....

 

Anyway, thanks for any and all information, suggestions, ideas and Belgian beer you should ship to me.

 

robert

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I have recently tried 2 Dual AK4497 DAC's from different makers.

One was pretty good overall, and the other obviously lacked dynamics.

So I think the implementation of the chip in the DAC as a whole will have a greater influence than the chip itself.

 

I think it is a good idea to have both tube and solid state options at home! But maybe the MP DAC alone, especially with the 4497 and all the tweaking options available will offer a big enough dose of the tube good stuff (I would check that first before getting a tube pre and amp).

 

I would think tube rolling will offer much bigger differences than AK vs. Sabre.

 

You may be surprised at the extra sound quality you can gain through a dedicated source  such as:

 

 

I have not heard an AK4493, but if you like the reviews of that Topping model, I have read the chips share the same general family sound signature.

 

I notice the DX3 Pro uses a 15V power supply, which seems to me a somewhat uncommon voltage.

Only you can decide if the extra expense of a fancy power supply is worth the sound quality difference to you.

I think most DAC engineers put a high value in the power supply design.

 

The Topping D50 (Sabre) gets some good reviews and uses 5V, which should give you more power supply options. For travel I would use an iFi (these seems to be being upgraded so check carefully).

https://www.musicdirect.com/recommended-gifts-under-50/ifi-ipower-outboard-supply

https://ifi-audio.com/products/ipowerx/

 

5V also can try a USB battery power pack source which may give a different presentation and may be great for travel (would need check the amperage draw, but maybe no so bad with the display shut down). For home, there are many 5V options including the used market.

 

The iFi is also available in 15V for the Topping DX3 Pro, which may prove a very nice combination for the money.

 

 

 

 

 

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11 hours ago, motberg said:

You may be surprised at the extra sound quality you can gain through a dedicated source  such as:

 

 

You are correct indeed, i'm thoroughly surprised by the entire USBridge. I don't think i've ever run across this piece of hardware/software combo. I mean, i've seen things that remind of it ie. the whole roon server mini pc build thing. The little that i've read, also kind of reminds me of FPGAs such as the PS Audio DAC and the Chord Dave.  

 

May I ask what other gear was involved in the AK DAC you listened to? I'd like to get an idea as to how my current gear may add a nice balance to the AK DACs. One of my most cherished amps (Luxman MQ-88 uSE w/dozens of driver tubes = dozens of different amps) sounds fantastic with my Benchmark HGC2 in front. Whereas my First Watt SIT-3 amp sounds better with my Chord Hugo TT in front. I suspect it's due to the First Watt being a pretty dark SS Class A amp and adding the extra high frequency oomph the Hugo produces mates very well with the SIT-3. The Hugo is almost too much music detail in front of the Luxman. It sounds like what I would imagine a Bryston amp in front of KEF speakers to sound like. Great for post production studio listening, bad for long hour home use. I only use one preamp (Leben RS28CX) so I know what different DACs can do in front of any given amp. With what you've said, along with being unable to hear a difference between the Benchmark HGC 2 and 3 (new ESS module in the 3) I feel confident in buying a second AK DAC even while being a different manufacturer, in order to play DSD files with minor DAC interference. On the other side of it, I don't think I would be able to trust what PS Audio's DAC is doing to my dsd files via it's huge DSD upsampling/interpolations. 

 

Thanks again for the suggestion on the USBridge!

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Hi, The AK4497 DAC's I had were the Topping D70 (OK but no dynamics) and the Gustard A20H (AOK).

 

They were fed by a pretty decent dual PC setup, both fanless, using full ATX LPS's and all peripherals (PCIE cards, SSD's, etc) fed by separate LPS's, most with outboard LT3045 regulators.  USB output is from a JCat USB* card to a Singxer UIP-1* isolator to a WFS Recovery* reclocker (*these all powered by separate Uptone LPS-1/1.2 super-capacitor PS and followed by LT3045's).  Software is WIN10 on control PC and WINServer 2019 GUI on the audio PC, using JPlay and AO.

 

Preamps and DAC's are powered by 220V mains power regeneration units.

Preamps used for comparisons were Lightspeed LDR attenuator (dead neutral) or Audio-GD Master 1, C-2, or NFB-1AMP (all SS and generally neutral).  AMP is Audio-GD Master 3 (Neutral-warm SS)

Speakers are Mark Daniel Ruby monitors (pretty flat but a couple +5db peaks after 10K in-room measured)

http://www.6moons.com/audioreviews/markdaniel3/ruby.html

All cables good quality but nothing crazy; interconnects are pure silver litz or Morrow, USB are Paul Pang, HDMI i2s is Wireworld, power cables are generic audiophile style, DC cables by Ghent, lots of MuMetal shielding scattered about.

Small, dedicated, single chair, amateur-acoustically treated, lights-out listening room.

 

My impression was that the AK4497 has very natural tonality, good sound-stage, and very black background (especially the D70).

These were both generally bettered by my Audio-GD NOS 7 (PCM1704UK, 4 per channel), which has similar attributes but adds a more realistic weight or texture (much more expensive also..).

 

Both these AK4497 DAC's's had some problems with occasional pops when trying DSD. I tried the USB inputs - and also a Gustard U16 DDC i2s for the Gustard A20H. For the Topping D70 I had trouble using i2s DDC's - neither the Gustard U16 or Singxer SU-1 would work via i2s. But I did not really try to much to troubleshoot this DSD problem. I asked my Gustard supplier about this popping and they replied it was inherent in the AK4497, but that answer was probably just weak customer service and not accurate. So if you are looking to use a lot of DSD files, you may want to double check that popping stuff with the AK's.. I only have a few DSD albums, but also had trouble with HQPlayer oversampling to DSD. (I have a Topping D50 and a quick check showed my DSD files works OK with the Sabre Topping) This problem was probably due to my configurations, but it would be a good point to investigate on the exact DAC you are considering, if you will be using DSD or changing sample rates within a playlist.

 

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On 3/5/2020 at 7:54 AM, vvcv said:

Just found this site and quite happy that I did, and this is only from the first few days of reading posts which i've learned a lot from. I was directed here by searching for DSD playback on the AKM AK4497 and/or the ESS ES9038PRO DAC modules.

 

Hi Robert,

 

did you consider the AKM top-of-the-line chip, the new AK4499, like in Topping D90 as well?

 

Thanks

 

Matt

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18 hours ago, matthias said:

 

Hi Robert,

 

did you consider the AKM top-of-the-line chip, the new AK4499, like in Topping D90 as well?

 

Thanks

 

Matt

 

Hello Matt,

 

To give you a direct and quick answer, I do not consider anything top tier/high end until my ears like the sound and I do not know if I have ever listened to an AKM based DAC for an extended period of time. Please understand I am not trying to sound like a smart ass, or elitist, or like a 'audiophile', but rather that is just how it is for me. Before I permanently damaged my wrists being a cello player, I would only purchase bows, strings, practice room sound treatments only if my ears liked the sound. I know it may not be the answer you were looking for, but it's the only way I have always made any of my music playing decisions. But, if you read the following, it explains more of the technical reasons of how I came to the awareness of the AKM module and why I was willing to spend money on a DAC with that module. 

 

I enjoy my Benchmark HGC2 a lot, and for me, it is top of the line. I have heard it play notes very neutral and very dynamic in very very fast piano Liszt or Paganini piano compositions for example. Not that other DACs were bad sounding, but the Benchmark really gives me the ability to hear very large differences in amplifiers -which is very important for me. I do not know if it is due entirely to the DAC, but technically speaking, I do not know what else could make that happen or not. Anyway, I never worried about what resolution my DSD files were until recently. A couple of months ago Nativedsd.com changed their download policy, at which point buyers had to consider which resolution they wanted as opposed to being able to download every single resolution they had to offer of that recording. I figured i would start downloading the highest resolution DSD files they offered. At the same time I knew i needed to get a DAC that played beyond DSD64. Once i started to research a DACs dsd resolution capabilities is when i noticed that some DACs (capable of dsd 512) used AKM -among others i can't remember. I found that AKM based DACs were being compared to my Benchmark. This naturally peaked my interest along with the understanding that the AKM sends the DSD file to the analog output in a more direct manner. So, taking all this into consideration, I found a AKM DAC that could go up to dsd 512 native/direct (not sure what the difference is yet). Within the next few weeks, I will be able to tell you if I like my new AKM as much as I like my Benchmark (it will be delivered to me this week). So, according to my ears, if it is enjoyed as much as the Benchmark, it will be top-of-the-line. 

 

Edit: I guess I should add, with consideration to the Topping DAC, that I have heard DACs that I did not like as much as my Benchmark. Only recently have I found that those DACs also used ESS based modules. So, I guess like with most technology, how a manufacture designs around the 3rd party module is going to play a vital role to the DAC's sound characteristics as well. I will be buying a Topping DAC if I like my new Musical Paradise DAC with the AKM module. However, I have never heard a Topping DAC. Also, I make my buying decisions based on the amplifier I listen to the most, which is a Luxman. With this in mind, there may be a possibility that AKM DACs do not render that well through tubes. Sounds pretty thin, but I just want to give you a bigger picture to what other gear i will be critically listening to the new AKm dac. 

robert

 

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11 hours ago, barrows said:

BTW, if you are interested in the performance of the AKM chips with DSD, note that they perform better with DSD 256 than they do with DSD 512, this is noted right in their data sheets, noise and distortion performance suffers with DSD 512 input, so I would suggest sending them DSD 256 max, and not bothering with 512.

 

Good side of that is that my EC modulators can be run only up to DSD256 with current hardware. So you gain optimal performance with the combination.

 

 

P.S. I still need to get a DSD512 capable DAC with AKM chip so that I could check this difference myself.

 


Signalyst - Developer of HQPlayer

Pulse & Fidelity - Software Defined Amplifiers

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