Sub $1000 DAC with AKM chip


I don’t wish to start a heated debate but I’m looking for a DAC for my daughters system. Does anyone have a recommendation for an under $1000 DAC that uses an AKM chip? I have a Topping D90 with AKM that I like. It’s not my endgame DAC but it is substantially better than many I have tried before. I know that many like ESS, Burr Brown, Wolfson etc, but I would prefer to just hear opinions about AKM and I’d also like to stay away from a discussion about streamers (I’m also considering a Bluesound Node)…Hell, I might even get her an Audioquest Dragonfly Cobalt since she is so iPhone-centric. She recently voiced her dissatisfaction with low fidelity and wants to hear music from better equipment so I’m giving her one of my integrated tube amps and a set of speakers. I don’t want to go nuts on this since she may ultimately find that hifi is not really as appealing as she imagined.

thanks all for your replies 


Sorry to disobey your wishes, but I’d suggest reading this review of the Musician Draco that’s an R2R DAC.  The reviewer is well versed in the various single-bit chip DACs and so is in a good position to provide a helpful perspective.  Plus, if your daughter gets the bug there’s an easy upgrade path by adding a DDC and utilizing its i2S input — I did this with my Musician Pegasus, and the improvement over SPDIF was not small (maybe a great future birthday/holiday gift?).

I started streaming through my iPad/iPhone using a Dragonfly Red with good results (and obviously far superior to running direct from the device), but I upgraded from the pedestrian Apple Camera Adapter to this from LavriCable and it elevated performance significantly and doesn’t cost all that much more…

Anyway, just some thoughts FWIW, and best of luck in getting your daughter to catch “the disease.”

Geshelli Labs makes a very good dac using an AKM chip.  Less than $500 when I bought mine.

Having 4 kids of my own I think you may want to approach this from an additional angle. What genre of music does SHE primarily listen to pop electronica R&B rock accoustic? Many believe ESS or AKM will sound bright or warm below 1K that is for the most part true. Here’s the thing you are giving her a tube intergrated (not knowing what it is) I will assume it has a warmish presentation coupled with an AKM dac could be too warm especailly if she likes pop or electronic music.

You mentioned something in your post that goes to the heart of what is really the case with young folk today...they listen to music via their phones; as much as we may want to introduce them to our way of listening they are gonna do as they are gonna do. She may very well get more use out of a Dragonfly Cobalt (and would absolutely appreciate the elevated presentation). With a tube intergrated I’d consider an ESS dac to pull out the dynamics bass and detail something like the Topping E50. A Schiit Modi multibit 2 is a good middle of the spectrum choice both are still bargains and great dacs. You could give her a dragonfly and add a Modi or E50 and be under $500. I’d take baby steps here..

All solid advice. Especially interested in the Geshelli as it’s always nice to see a US company making this type of gear at a great price point, and for a beginner’s budget to boot 

thanks for all your input!

She has a pretty wide range of tastes with music. Pretty much easier to say what she’s not into.. (country/western and classical)

Pick up a RME it has bass and treble knobs also a eq and different filters. I’m sure she’s not picky on soundstage. If you do pick up one get the one with bass and treble buttons on the remote.

I have to agree with the comments on an AKM DAC with a tube amplifier..You'll likely end up in the old Conrad Johnson Syrup bottle..
 Some excellent sounding SABRE DACS from Topping,SMSL & a few others that escape my aged & damaged brain..

Wow, I’ve got the AKM Topping paired with a Marantz Model 8. I wonder if I’d get something better out of a DAC with an ESS chip for my own setup…

Here’s a used topping d90 mqa for $550

Chord Qutest is around $1200 used and is an amazing value. It utilizes FPGA chipset custom designed and programmed by Rob Watts. The Qutest is a much better DAC than the cold and lifeless but great measuring Topping. 
I don’t understand why you are so fixated on dac chips. That’s not everything by any means. But…whatever.

For the money the simple and inexpensive Topping E30 II is hard to beat. Sounds nice and has AKM chips.  $150

The Denafrips Aries 12    Was is the best dac under $1k 

well worth checking out.

Pre-owned BRYSTON BDA-2 DAC is in your price bracket . It has dual AKM chips, as a best-of-breed made-in-Canada contender, that will seriously best all of the above comparative pretenders; due to its far superior design and far superior build quality.

The Bryston BDA-2 is a stereo DAC using fully discrete Class-A Bryston analog circuits, two independent (analog and digital) linear power supplies and dual 32-bit AKM DAC chips. The BDA-2 also utilizes a new asynchronous USB input capable of 192/24bit resolution.

Google the many reviews.

there is one currently for sale here:

Eventually, should you wish to move up further into even higher-end dacs, thet feature premium improved reference chipsets over the AKM’s, such as the ESS Technology Sabre ES9018K2M DAC chip and its progressive models , which ESS Technology, Inc. lists as one of its reference 32-bit, 8 channel number cruncher ,

I am a big fan of AKM and R2R DACs, my current DAC is the Topping E70 Velvet which uses two of the top line AKM chips and is a bit between the higher end ESS and most other in AKM DACs in a bit more I guess I could say lively sounding. I like horns and now building some OB speakers and will see how I like either one with the E70 V,  and tube, D and SS amps. I know I loved the horns with tubes and a good ESS DAC I used to run as well.

I think it good advice to look into a decent ESS DAC, find one used if you can, maybe find a used AKM, ESS and or R2R to compare, keep the  best, more fun and get to introduce your daughter to the hobby in a more engaging way:)




First off, thank you everyone for your input -it certainly has given me some insight. I’m going to have to broaden some of my expectations about DAC’s, especially after the comment from freediver about pairing a tube amp with an AKM based DAC and getting “the old Conrad Johnson syrup bottle”. I had been running various SS separates for years and moved to tubes on a whim and became a convert, but that comment is spot on especially since the integrated tube amp I’m giving her is warm and “syrupy” enough  -I don’t want to add to it. I’m getting from some of the debate around DA conversion chips that AKM tend to add to that “syrup” quality or warmth so I’ll definitely consider some of the ESS alternatives. I can trial them with my own system and give her my currently used Topping AKM…;)

I recently purchased an Eversolo A8 streamer that has the latest AKM Velvet chips.  I also have a Gustard R26 (R2R) that I have comparing the two.

I too like the sound of AKM having owned the E30 prior to the Gustard R26.

I must say, the Gustard R26 and the new Velvet AKM 4191EQ, AK4499EX chips are very close. I could easily live with either for the long term.

I would defintley lean toward the Gishelli at that price.





Couple reviewer’s opinions on choosing your new DAC

(1) Caution on buying Geschelli Labs latest new toy: be aware that tarted up with the AKM chipset and new op-amps and extras are gonna cost you closer to $750 plus taxes ….beware the “bait and switch upsell” approach from the cheap price for a camparatibe cheap build (and price) chipset, and base unit digital inputs/ outputs in the base option model with its standard TI chipset and no other upgrades that are necessary to mirror the “gotta get it” herd mentality review below.




(2) The sub-1000 dacs




I think Geshelli also makes a dac with an ess sabre chip.  I chose the akm but the ess was an option.

The same DAC chip will operate and sound very different depending on implementation.
Here’s a good explanation as to how other factors, such as input and output stages, are equally important to the chip.


Orchard Audio’s PecanPi+ streamer/DAC uses the latest AKM chipset and can be ordered as DAC only device.  I own the original model and it sounds great in streamer mode.

Sorry was away for a few days.. than you everyone who took part in this discussion 

I would just go with something like the Dragonfly, until she really shows that love of sound is going to be a long term interest and not just a passing fad.  Saying this as someone who has been down this road with a couple of my kids