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).  



“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. 


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I have demoed the Hint6 and it is very good for what it is. I call it the Swiss Army knife of integrated amps. It does everything ok. That’s just it. It doesn’t do anything great. I am going to suggest you listen to a Hegel 190. The Hegel 120 will do very well to. Hegel goes great with KEF speakers. The DAC, preamp, and amp section inside will put the Hint6 to shame. Once you demo a Hegel you will get it. This store in the Chicagoland area is a dealer for all of this if you want to check this out or demo things in your home. Actually Holm Audio is having a KEF, Ayre, and Nordost demo event this Thursday, December 2nd from 12:00 to 9:00pm. If you call the store they will give you details. 

You may want to read the recent review of the Hegel H95  in audio science review. It measured very poorly.


@martinman  There may be a couple variables in your system causing the DACs you've auditioned to sound very similar. What are you using to stream Amazon Music?  If a computer, then a general purpose computer will never sound as good as a good quality purpose built streamer, especially if you use a USB cable from a computer to your HINT 6 integrated.  What's the quality of your Internet network in your home?  Make sure you're not using WiFi for Amazon Music playback and use good quality Ethernet cables. I recently added an EtherREGEN device to my home network that feeds my Streamer/DAC and was amazed at the SQ improvement. 

It will help if you can isolate everything in your system used to play Amazon Music.  One way to do this is to get access to a decent CD player preferably connected to your HINT 6 via XLR cables.  Select a Redbook CD you're very familiar with.  Then look for the same album on Amazon Music at Redbook CD resolution and compare the SQ. In most cases, the SQ of the local CD will sound better but it should be a close fight.  If you find that the local CD is noticeably better, then use the free 14-day Qobuz trial as many on this forum have suggested.  This will help you compare Amazon Music to Qobuz. If you still find the local CD sounds better, then it's likely the computer or USB cable or both that are your weak links in the chain.