Next best exponential DAC quality level?

I recently did a shoot out of three DACs using my Hint6 + routing each of the other DACs to analog input on the Hint6:

(1) Hint6: ESS Sabre32 -- Integrated 

(2) SMSL M500: ES9038PRO D/A   ~$400 

(3) Khadas ToneBoard(v1): ESS ES9038Q2M - ~$99

I played the same song passages on Amazon Music and was able to cycle through each Hint6 input corresponding to each DAC.

The result?  Very small difference in terms of rendering.  Maybe a more open sound stage with better overall balance using the Hint6 DAC.  The Khadas was more bass / midrange pronounced w/ a more narrow soundstage.  However, I wouldn't suggest that any were head-and-shoulders "better" over the others.  In fact, they were all pretty decent with only small nuances (certainly not worth the price differences.   

I decided to keep the Khadas for my small headphone listening area. 

But it got me thinking - how much would one have to spend to realize an exponential difference in quality?  Is the Khadas that good, or is DAC technology differences more nuanced than I originally thought (meaning, we're paying 10x for only 5% better).  




The Node 2 is a bit of a black sheep. I had one too. I think a lot of us did. If you said you passed a blind test, I would not be one to be discounting it. It not only measures not very well, but I was convinced that the performance was variable. I think I read that someone showed it was susceptible to inter-sample overs, but I could never be bothered to find out. My son is quite happy with it now.

I know a lot of people who own RME products. They are really solid. I don't have any experience with the Burson.

I’m wondering if the new node is better sounding as a streamer only than the older node 2. Node has freaked out a few times in the last week and was making kinda fluttering noises through the speakers. Need to unplug and back in and goes away. 

“I’m wondering if the new node is better sounding as a streamer only than the older node 2.”


Probably not, the BluOS experience is still the same which is pretty decent. Nevertheless, the new Node is a good upgrade from the Node 2i, adding additional features like eARC HDMI, USB Audio output (eventually) and enhanced touch screen. The Node also has high resolution audio capacity (up from 192kHz to 384kHz) thus giving the impression of better sound quality as all in one unit.

Ah, the truth behind the controversial SQ differences among dacs.  I ended up with a D70S and that's fine enough for me.

Folks, I read this thread with interest and some amusement.  

Kudos to cindyment for their thoughtful, rational and respectful responses and explanations. I certainly hope that more people of this intelectual caliber remain in this group.