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Sabre ES9023 DAC


Diyaudio is a great source of combined knowledge and wisdom, and the sheer number of community projects that emerge from there in countless threads is truly fascinating. Just thinking back a couple of years a lot of projects come to mind: the various Salas shunt regulators, numerous Pass-inspired high end amplifiers, the Shigaclone, The Wire headphone amplifier, the Joachim Gerhard Filter Buffer, the DCB1 aka Mezmerize, FIFO boards etc... the list goes on much further.

One of those fruitfull community projects (actually the work of two Diyaudio members, Subbu and Jean-Paul joining their forces) was an inexpensive and compact DAC using the ESS ES9023 chip. It went through several iterations with the final V3.0 released only recently. Hundreds of people must have subscribed to the several Group Buys for boards and parts, and I was one of them.

I got my first V1.0 DAC board soldered and ready to use from Jean-Paul himself, so I only had to come up with a matching psu and a case. Again I choose a Salas shunt regulator to provide the needed 5V for the DAC, and housed it in a black case from HIFI2000 in Italy.

To feed the Salas shunt reg I used a matching old EI transformer out of the external psu of my Thule CDP. The initial layout of this build was with the input on the front and the output RCA's on the back side. Unfortunately that caused the ouput wires to be in close vicinity to the transformer which did NOT result in any hum issues (the DAC is dead quiet) but was less than optimal anyway. I eventually switched sides for front and back plate and added the input to the back.


This ES9023 DAC turned out to be a very natural sounding performer and was a close contender to the Audiosector NOS DAC. It sounded slightly laid back but to my ears didn't suffer from a lack of treble... the details were all there, embedded in a credible soundstage. It lacked a bit the full bodied and energetic presentation of the Audiosector DAC but was less grainy, and of course capable of playing high res material.  




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