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. 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!
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.
There was a 10-year time span between the introduction of the Benchmark DAC1 and DAC2 audio D/A converters. The DAC1 defined the state of the art when it was introduced in 2002. Thirteen years later, Enjoy the Music.com selected the DAC1 as one of the 20 most significant digital audio products from the past 20 years. Today the DAC2 defines the state of the art in audio D/A conversion. John Atkinson said that the "DAC2 offered one of the highest resolutions I have measured". Both products set performance benchmarks when they were introduced. In a sense, they provide snapshots of technological progress.
This paper shows high-precision side-by-side measurements of the DAC1 and DAC2 converters. These measurements show how technology has improved, and they show that there may be two or three audible differences between these two products.
Travel through 10 years of audio technology, learn the significance of audio measurements, and see what has improved in our quest for transparent audio reproduction.
Benchmark introduced the DAC1 in 2002 and it quickly became the best-selling 2-channel professional D/A converter. To this day, the DAC1 is a standard fixture in many recording studios, and it is also a central component in many high-end hi-fi systems. In August of 2015, Enjoy the Music.com selected the DAC1 as one of the20 most significant digital audio products from the past 20 years.
It is easy to show that the DAC2 measures better than the DAC1 in almost every way. From a marketing perspective it would be tempting to claim that all of these measured differences make audible improvements, but this just isn't the case.
One reviewer, Gary Galo, recently had the opportunity to hear a DAC1 and DAC2 side-by-side. He noted some audible differences and we agree with his conclusions. We have had a great deal of experience listening to these converters side-by-side in our own listening room and we are familiar with some subtle differences.
This paper examines the subtle audible differences between the DAC1 and the DAC2. It also includes measurements that may help to explain these differences.