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).  



@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.

I have no horse in this race, but arafiq's post should be required reading every time someone decides to post in any forum here. It applies to every topic in this hobby. Emphasis on hobby. Well done sir.


I also think there’s a bit of a messiah complex at work here. There are certain underlying assumptions that form the basis, and certainly the tone, that is evident in many posts ...

1. Most audiophiles are fools who can be parted with their money easily. Since I’ve read about specs and multiple wikipedia articles on the technical aspects, it is my moral obligation to save these fools from themselves.

2. The higher DACs, or any audio component for that matter, are nothing more than unscrupulous manufacturers and designers who are out to fleece the audiofools.

3. I have a background in network engineering, and therefore that makes me an expert on all things ’audio’. I need to save the uninformed audifools from themselves.

4. Specs are vastly superior to actual listening experience. I can tell everything about a component by reading specs, graphs, and charts. Actual listening is vastly overrated. The audifools are incapable of understanding things like implicit bias, double blind tests, and pretty much anything. I need to save the audiofools from themselves,

5. Those who buy high end DACs only do it because they've got money to burn and its more about bragging rights than actual music enjoyment. It's my moral obligation to set these pretentious bastards right.

6. If I can't hear a difference between a $99 and $10K DAC, this must be the ultimate truth. Everybody else who claims otherwise is an audiofool.

7. I’m the smartest man on this forum, therefore anyone who disagrees with me is an audifool.

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.


I will probably begrudgingly buy one when they release USB support, and after giving others time to reveal any bugs and have them fixed. For a niche product, you really can't beat the price, and the compatibility with streaming services does not appear matched by others.


Thought I was on an audio forum, not a competition for village idiot of the year. Hang in there candymount, you have a chance at fame.