ESS vs AKM DAC Chips

I used to scoff at people saying there are differences. 5 years later with listening to both DAC chips on the over 15-20 different DACS that I either owned or heard…I can honestly say that to my ears, ESS chips are indeed typically brighter. I should add that going in, I wanted not to hear a difference to validate my skepticism…

It is not something one can easily pick up on. Using the same song that I know extremely well was what enabled me to hear the difference. Has anybody else ever encountered this ; being skeptical but then actually hearing the difference?


I mean the dac chip does matter but I feel that actual implementation on a dac is much more important in determining final sound signatures and performance, that’s mainly what matters

I had a quick run down of the common signatures from some common manufacturers a while ago but take it with a large grain of salt

But really it’s more on the design, components, and implementation of the chip imo. I really shouldn’t try and classify these things on a general basis, as there’s much more to it

And then moving away from sigma delta is even more lol

1 Like

I agree once again. Seems I hear AKM chips as the most pleasing, but implementation and topography does matter. Schiit’s original gen 1 modi and modi 2 with their bad USB driver implementation is a perfect example.

Man I don’t like really any of the schiit modi’s I think they are way too colored and that sound sig lets them down for me imo (dynamic range compression, peaky and forward signature). For the price you can many other options now

I personally prefer r2r at this point, but that’s not saying sigma delta is bad as I’ve heard equally good DS/SD designs

I havent heard a really good R2R. The Audio Gd R2R I heard sounded atrocious.

1 Like

Some of the audio gd stuff can be pretty bad either dac or amp wise. It’s hit or miss with them. Most of their amps are all power and little finesse imo. Their dacs are better but I don’t like their entry level ones. If you wanted a good, relatively affordable r2r, the massdrop airist dac is great imo, also the soekris dac1321

Also the price barrier is there for a good r2r, but it is getting more affordable.

1 Like

Also regarding ESS vs AKM, I think that ess chips are great if they can remove the ESS hump, where there is a rise in THD. Most manufactures have now figured out how to negate these effects so I don’t really think its an issue anymore. ESS implementations are typically more forward with their presentation with good detail and a clean and clear sound, that’s a tad bit more aggressive. I feel like many akm implementations are a bit smoother sounding, and also a balanced signature that’s almost like a slight w at times. They present detail but not in as forward way.

I feel like ess implementations typically allow for more clear imaging, where the akm implementations give a tad more space and might give a slightly wider, less tight sound.


I had the Schiit Modi with a AKM chip and that sucker was bright. too bright for my Aiva’s. the SU8 with the ess saber chip is a lot less bright and i dont have to EQ the treble down.

See my first initial impressions of the RNHP amp…

1 Like

Sorry to keep an old thread going. I own a Teac UD-H01 and an SMSL SU-8 version 2. At first I thought the issue was my FOCAL ELEX and a treble peak somewhere. Maybe there still is a harsh treble peak, and I’m still burning them in, as I got nothing to lose by trying. When I switched from the su8 to the teac, it’s like I heard, or sensed, very subtle differences. For instance, I think after switching back and forth, the su8 sounded a tad brighter, and thankfully I couldn’t sense that harsh treble peak. However, when playing 2049 by Hans Zimmer, I couldn’t feel the sub bass as clearly on the teac. Also, I think the bass on the teac was a bit fuller, and the sound a bit warmer overall. The smsl was a bit more detailed, but if you’re treble sensitive, I think the teac is the way to go. Burr Brown vs ESS I guess?

1 Like