Don't get too comfortable with that new SMSL. Look what's within striking distance of that price: click
even cheaper here: click
Like I said earlier, the upgrade cycle on DACs is now 6mo. or less. I'll wait another cycle then maybe get one of these es9038s once the price comes down.
This is a very interesting device indeed! With a flagship mobile ES9038Q2M DAC, battery, etc... But is it a major upgrade or even a different league comparing to SMSL IQ or Sabaj Da3 ? Technically on paper
for sure it is but how different is it in real life in that particular device? Let's not forget IQ & Da3 have a dual mono/balanced configurations with SABRE9018Q2C - which is a DAC+Amp (ES9018K2M+SABRE9602) with completely black BG and quite strong output. (For instance my single-chip Da2 drives my not so beloved 250Ohm DT990 with no troubles at all.)
What's the amp chip used in Topping NX4 DSD? Is it the same OPA1642+LMH6643 combo found in the original NX4 or a different set?
Using SABRE9602 amp will make 9038Q2M sound very close if not identical to 9018Q2C. Using TI's stuff like OPA1622 will make it sound different I guess, maybe even better.
EDIT: Ok, it's OPA2140-based, no additional info though.
Btw check this out - prices of different ESS chips as seen on ismosys.com
ES9010K2M - $ 5.95 (DF Black)
ES9016K2M - $ 10.50 (DF Red)
ES9018K2M - $ 10.35 (Hifime, etc)
SABRE9018Q2C - $ 23.10 (IQ, Da3, Da2/idea, etc)
ES9038Q2M - $ 13.80 (NX4 DSD, Vivo Xplay6 phone, etc)
ES9038PRO - $ 74.18
(Oppo Sonica DAC, Melokin DA9.1
, upcoming HiFime dac
These prices make me wonder why AudioQuest didn't use ES9018K2M instead of ES9016K2M? Well, now it's time for them to release a "revolutionary" new "blue label" ES9038Q2M-based DF DAC with SABRE9602 amp for $300
EDIT: Actually talking again about comparison of DragonFly Red vs SMSL Idea / Sabaj Da2
- definitely the later two have an edge in terms of SQ and higher bitrates + DSD, on the other hand DragonFly sticks are much better with low power consumption. Think of it as ES9016K2M+ESS amp vs ES9018K2M+SABRE9602 amp
and XMOS XU208 vs Microchip PIC32MX
. Original DragonFly + v1.2 + Black - out of this league because of slightly inferior DAC chips and noisy TPA6130A2 amp with analog volume control.
IMO, it would be cool to see Sabaj Da3 and SMSL IQ with double ES9038Q2M+SABRE9602 sets or maybe even ES9038Q2M+OPA1622 instead of SABRE9018Q2C which already perfectly fits Da2/Idea concept, size & price.
Actually there's one double ES9038Q2M+SABRE9602 DAC out there already - Pro-Ject Pre Box S2 Digital
. Not exactly made for portable use, no balanced outputs, 2x expensive but has remote control, 8 user-selectable filters and MQA support (if someone cares).
At the same time for a similar price there's Melokin DA9.1 with ES9038PRO+OPA1622
Even if an amateur like me, the sound quality is higher than sabaj da3.
(At least the built-in power supply did not adversely affect.)
SQ shouldn't be really higher than Da3, considering SABRE9018Q2C is an integrated solution (DAC with Headphone Amplifier & Output Switch) which should lead to almost identical SQ in both IQ and Da3 and be quite similar to Da2/idea as well.
Yes the DA3 excels on 2 channel out of my main speakers. I think that's how you have to really appreciate its performance. It's sound quality is kind of wasted on portable use (IMO). I think some people have had issues with Mac and DSD playback. Non-PC DSD playback seems to work fine for some and not others.
I agree that Da3 is not exactly meant for portable on-the-go use, since it's power-hungry and has no battery. It's more like a very compact desktop DAC that you can take along with a laptop on a trip. Da2/idea is a more logical choice for portable use even though it's also quite power-hungry...