It has been a little over 7 years since ESS Technology introduced the revolutionary ES9018 audio D/A converter chip. This converter delivered a major improvement in audio conversion and, for 7 years, it has held its position as the highest performing audio D/A converter chip. But a new D/A chip has now claimed this top position. Curiously the successor did not come from a competing company; it came from ESS. On October 19, 2016, ESS Technology announced the all-new ES9028PRO 32-bit audio D/A converter. In our opinion, ESS is now two steps ahead of the competition!
This application note examines the differences between the ES9018 and the new ES9028PRO. It also compares the Benchmark DAC2 and DAC3 to demonstrate the performance improvements that can be achieved in a commercial product.
In Benchmark's listening room we recently demonstrated the importance of the first watt using two 100 watt stereo power amplifiers. One amplifier was a traditional class-AB amplifier, the other was Benchmark's AHB2 power amplifier with feed-forward error correction. Using a double-blind ABX test, we verified that there was a clearly audible difference when the amplifiers drove speakers at an output level of 0.01 watt.
"Balanced headphone amplifiers are better."
"If balanced line-level connections work well, balanced headphone outputs should also work well."
Benchmark does not offer balanced headphone outputs on any of its products. The reason for this is that a voltage-balanced interface serves no useful purpose when driving headphones. The truth is that a conventional single-ended headphone drive is technically superior to a balanced drive. This paper explains why single-ended headphone amplifiers are inherently more transparent than balanced headphone amplifiers.
Benchmark has recently updated the firmware on the DAC2 HGC and DAC2 L audio D/A converters. This update is available as a field installable kit.
Most Benchmark products have programmable hardware. We use Xilinx FPGA devices (field-programmable gate arrays). These devices provide high-speed high-density digital signal processing, signal routing, and system control. The entire user interface is also controlled by the FPGA. This programmable-hardware architecture provides generous space for system updates, audio decoders, digital filters and other enhancements.
This application note explains the performance and feature changes in version 2.X.
The Benchmark DAC2 is an audio digital-to-analog converter. This application note explains the power supply configuration inside Benchmark's DAC2 D/A converter. In part 1 of this series we discussed the importance of the analog section of an audio converter. In part 2 we discussed the unique high-headroom digital processing chain inside the DAC2. The analog and digital systems each contribute toward Benchmark's overall goal of transparent musical reproduction, but this goal can only be reached when these systems are supported by a well-designed power supply system. In many cases, classic solutions (linear power supplies, line-frequency transformers, and large banks of capacitors) fail to deliver adequate performance. The DAC2 takes a radically different approach.
The Benchmark DAC2 is an audio digital-to-analog converter. This application note explains the proprietary digital processing inside Benchmark's DAC2 D/A converter. In part 1 of this series we made the case that 90% of the components in an audio converter are analog, and that about 90% of the "magic" happens in the analog processing. Nevertheless the 10% that is digital still makes an audible contribution to the sound of an audio D/A converter. This is especially true when the digital processing is complemented by a very pure and clean analog section. With a highly transparent analog section, some of the subtleties of the digital processing can become apparent.
Take a tour of the digital processing chain in the DAC2.
The DAC2 is an audio digital-to-analog converter. Most people focus on the word "digital" and assume that all of the "magic" happens in the digital processing, but nothing could be further from the truth! A look inside most audio converters would show that about 90% of the components are analog!
This application note takes a look at the analog processing in Benchmark's DAC2 D/A converter.
A/B and A/B/X listening tests are important methods of comparing two audio sources or two audio components. In the studio an engineer may want to switch an effect or EQ setting on and off to decide if it contributes positively to a mix. Hi-Fi enthusiasts may wish to compare audio components, signal sources and interconnects. The DAC1 and DAC2 converters have input selector switches that allow fast and easy switching between signal sources. Before attempting to conduct these tests, it is important to understand how these converters and their switches work. A/B tests using the DAC1 input selector can be very misleading. In contrast, A/B testing using the input selector on the DAC2 will produce reliable results. This application note provides guidance for conducting reliable A/B or A/B/X listening tests with your D/A converter.
"Neutrik is often asked whether the shiny silver tab (pictured below) on typical XLR cable connectors (Neutrik XX series, RX series, X series, etc.) should be connected to anything."
"In the course of the evolution of the AV industry, it has come to be that this tab is practically never terminated. This means, in turn, that the shell is not grounded. When in doubt, simply leave this tab unterminated."
"Whether or not they are internally wired to the shield signal, XLR cable connector shells always make an electrical connection to chassis connector shells once the two are mated."
"Typically, chassis connectors need to be grounded. The industry best practice is generally to tie all of the chassis connector shell, pin 1, and the enclosure shield to a common ground."
The truth is that we may add MQA to the list of audio formats that have come and gone. This list includes HDCD, DVDA, and DSD. All three of these claimed to deliver some sort of sonic improvement, but all three have suffered from a lack of content. HDCD and the DVDA are dead while DSD may be on its death bed. All three were supported by hardware but have died due to a lack of recordings in these formats. It should be noted that the DVDA did bring us high resolution audio formats and these have survived while the DVDA itself has died. Two dead, one dying ... is MQA next?
It is curious that most of the claimed sonic advantages of these formats have never been proven. There are plenty of anecdotal accounts of miraculous improvements in the sound, but there is no hard evidence that people could tell the difference. If the differences are real, they are so small that they can only be resolved by the very best playback systems. Consequently, to the average music lover, the letters all blend together into some sort of meaningless alphabet soup: HDCDDVDADSDMQA...
To those of us who are interested in the best possible musical playback, the small details are important. The promise of "improved sound" always catches our attention ...