ULTRA CHEAP CHI-FI DAC-AMP MINI REVIEWS: Absurdly inexpensive audio solution

Today I decide to show you my collection of ULTRA CHEAP DAC-AMP and write little reviews about them.

Sometime I pass hours exploring Ali express DIY audio world like a treasures seekers, every promising DAC-AMP I find go on my wish list for further analyze or buys. My tricks is to search specific DAC chips and see if their any super cheap DAC-AMP with it, my other tricks is to find half finish DAC-AMP that are without casing but can work as usb device. This is where you enter the strange fascinating world of DIY audio shop of Aliexpress, for the better or the worst.

I’ve been mostly lucky with my finds, with the exception of one DAC-AMP using a AK4490 and changeable OPamp as well as a very annoying AC plug that is responsible for malfonction of the device. It was the pricier DIY DAC-AMP I buy at 40$ so i will begin this article by telling you to NOT-BUY-IT as well as NOT BUYING any DAC-AMP that need to have a power supply.

-K.GUSS XMOS U8 + AK4490 AMP NE5532 USB DAC-

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As seen, the construction is quite nice, it have xmos usb and real AKM4490 dac chip, as well, OPamp rolling is nice. BUT the AC adapter isn’t included and is suppose to use 7V-9V DC and this DAC-AMP is really sensible about current. So, after using multiple power supply that seriously affect sound in all possible way including distortion, clipping or no sound a tall, I use a AC to usb power cable that make it kind of work….still, it was inconsistant and I disadvice you to struggle with this type of DAC-AMP. USB powered DAC-AMP is the way to go.

NO BS NOT RECOMMENDED!!

-Douk Audio CM108 Headphone Amp TDA1305T IIS USB DAC(15$)-

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SOUND:8/10
CONSTRUCTION (hardware): 8.5/10
VALUE: 9.5/10

Now this is good stuffs. This was my first impulsive DAC-AMP buy some years ago and this little marvel still work perfectly today. This time you have dual (vintage) TDA1305T dac, the very same that can be found in CAMBRIDGE DACMAGIC. This is why my curiosity was triggered, because 15-20 years ago the TDA1305T was used in high end audio and reputate to offer excellent sound, especially in dual mode.

https://cdn.head-fi.org/a/10344117.jpg

Since very first day the DOUK AUDIO CM108 is plug&play audio bliss with an addictive analogish musicality. The fact it have volume control that work very well and is quite precise is a BIG plus as well as having optical out to plug it to amp or soundsystem.

But mostly, its the ridiculously low price that make it the BEST NO BS DAC-AMP BARGAIN you can still find today. I pay about 14$usd for mine.
Their no specification about power output, THD level and all, but reading about TDA1305T dac specs can give you hint. To be noted that as expected with older dac, the bitrate is limited to 48khz, wich is not a problem for me that have mostly 44.1 and 48khz FLAC collection.
The SOUND of DOUK AUDIO CM108 is warm, analogish, lush and slightly mid centric. It have a very wide way of presenting spaciality, not so much in deepness, its panoramic, thick and rich sound rendering will give extra meat to thin sounding earphones, earbuds or headphones as well its mid range presence will benifit V shape earphones by pushing vocal more fowards. Background noise is very low even if we aren’t in ultimate clarity here, as said, it have a tube amp, vinyl like rendering without the hiss or grainy sound old recording can have. For folk, signers songwriters, jazz, blues, old rock, this DAC-AMP deliver an addictively unique musicality.

This product can be found HERE.

NO BS ENTHUSIASTLY RECOMMENDED!!

 

-Lusya HIFI TDA1543*4 decoder USB OTG DAC(22$)-

 

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SOUND: 9/10
CONSTRUCTION (hardware): 8/10
VALUE: 9/10

After the positive discovery of Douk Audio DAC-AMP, i decide giving a try to different implementation of promising Phillips TDA dac chips. This time its 4 x TDA1543 wich promess over-sampling joy at an extremely affordable price of 22$.

INFO:

This product features:

1. The USB is filtered and re-powered through the CLC network to make the power supply clean and free from any interference. Make the low frequency more powerful and the high frequency more transparent;
2. CM108 receive, after I2S direct output to TDA1543, do not doubt the CM108’s I2S bus quality, he is not much worse than the same door CM6631, and compatibility is better, do not toss the driver; What is the crash, this product is inserted Both use, when not used directly on the line!
3. Four TDA1543 decoder chips connected in parallel
The parallel use of the DAC can increase the number of equivalent bits, improve the conversion accuracy, and restore the sense of thickness and strength of the music. When the DACs are used in parallel, the signal-to-noise ratio and the dynamic range will increase, and the distortion will decrease, and various errors will also be averaged and reduced.
4. Accurately calculated operating point, exclusive design TDA1543 Vref fine tuning resistance!
5. This is the absolute design highlight of this decoder.
If the TDA1543 is perfect, the output resistance must be accurately calculated.
The most critical, Vref resistor must be accurate, …
6. Perfect wiring, digital, analog multi-level decoupling, strict distinction.

7. A large number of fever components, look at the physical map, at the cost of a lot of use ELNA..

 

This DAC do not have dedicated amping section, just a line out to plug to an amp. But its still a usb plug and play device that work on anything I plug it. The fact it use analog over sampling really produce a special kind of SOUND where you have tremendous texture in timbre and very accurate imaging presentation. The dynamic is excellent and energise the thick, weighty sound produced. I was blown away by level of details this DAC can dig, wich remind me the way AKM4497 dac decode music. Tonaly, bass and mids are more emphased than upper treble, wich make mid range extremely rich and revealing up to 10-15khz where the lower mid highs have crips thick presence too. As the TDA1305T it have a hint of analogish warmnest, but with more textured timbre, better transparency and sharper treble.
This product can be found HERE.
NO BS AUDIOPHILE RECOMMENDED!!

-DAC AUDIO SA9023A + ES9018K2M USB portable DAC (22$)-

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SOUND: 9/10
CONSTRUCTION: 8.5/10
VALUE: 9.5/10
This one is something else, and unlike other DIY products, its a finished mini USB DAC-AMP with proper metal casing. What push me to buy it is the fact it use a Sabre ES9018K2M dac in the smallest portable way possible. Sure, its not a super powerfull dac-amp but with its 1.5vrm its more powerfull than the Audirect BEAM that sell for 100$. Some think the DAC AUDIO is a copy cat of DRAGONFLY RED that use similar ES9016 dac and sell for 200$ (!), but specs say it deliver 2.1V rms output power so I guess its quite different (wich do not mean it sound better, perhaps the opposite due to lower dac model used). Again, this device is plug and play, with my different laptop or tablet I have no issue about recognization of the DAC, BUT with my LG G6 it do not work, still it work with all Samsung phone I try. So, if you plan using it only with your phone, its perhaps a risky buy!
20190828_234757[1]

What about the SOUND? Well, as say it use the superb ES9018 dac, wich have been well implemented even if the signal to noise ratio isn’t the best at 93db and make it less clean sounding at high volume than well…400$ IBASSO DX90 or 250$ Xduoo X20 DAP for example. Anyway, you got a very accurated, detailed, delicate and revealing sound as expected with this excellent sabre dac.  It sound way better than stock phone or laptop sound card because of its vivid dynamic range and great imaging capabilities. As a fan of ES9018 dac, I confirm this is the cheapest way you can taste its flavor, but I suggest using it with low impendance earphones to benifit its great clarity and dynamic. Reference sound at peanuts price IMO.

This product can be found HERE.

NO BS SUPER RECOMMENDED!!

-PCM2704 MINI USB DAC-AMP(8$)-

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SOUND: 7/10
CONSTRUCTION: 7/10
VALUE: 6.5/10

This time my curiosity drive me to far, but at least its just 8$ thrown in the garbade because this small dac-amp do not even sound better than my phone. As well, its barely louder. The sound is warm, grainy, have very average imaging and not well define attack-decay. Background noise is quite high, little less than my phone but way higher than all other DAC-AMP I try. I don’t really know why this got good feedback on Ali express because you can find way better if you throw 15 or 20$ instead.

NO BS NOT RECOMMENDED!!

-Alpha & Delta Type-C adapter with internal DAC (40$)-

P1040366

SOUND: 7.5/10
CONSTRUCTION:9/10
VALUE: 7.5/10

The USB type C (or lightning) DAC Cable became more and more popular due to the disappearrance of headphones jack on most phone so we see lately plenty of them coming out and promising Hi-rest sound quality. I was rather sceptikal about sound quality of such small dac chip that act as well as an amp but truth to say it’s not very hard to beat stock sound quality of most phone with the exception of audiophile targeted one like V20 and V30 that use high quality sabre dac chip. So, when I got the opportunity to review this Alpha& Delta Type C adapter DAC cable, I was happy to do so and learn more about this micro dac potential.

INFO:

Features & DAC SPECS:

  • Type-C adapter compatible with following smartphone brands: Google Pixel, Huawei, Oppo, LG, Samsung, Sony, Vivo, Xiaomi
  • Improves music quality from your android phone– Adapter comes equipped with audiophile grade Realtek DAC
  • Supports High Res audio transmission– internal Realtek DAC is able to decode files up to 24 Bit/ 96 HZ music
  • 8 Core braided Silver-plated Copper Cable for excellent signal transmission
  • Mic Support- Mic support is only available for mobiles phones without a headphone jack.
  • Realtek ALC4040 Series
    • Tensilica USB Audio Core inside
    • Digital-to-Analog Converter with 100dBA SNR
    • Analog-to-Digital Converter with 94dBA SNR
    • Stereo digital microphone and analog microphone inputs
    • Power management and enhanced power saving
    • Single digital power supply from 1.6v to 3.6v.
    • Small Package : QFN48 6mmx6mm, CSP28  4mmx3.5mm

P1040365

So, let’s begin by saying that YES this make y LG G6 sound better, but does it mean it make it sound like an audiophile DAP? Answer is No. Its abotu as good as an entry level DAP in sub-50$ range like the Benjie, Ruizu can offer. The sound improvment is more about dynamic impact, bass control and especially soundstage that expend. As well, you got about 1/4 more louder volume wich unlike the G6 will not create distortion with my sensible Audiosense T800. Timbre too gain in thickness, but treble isn’t that much extended so this sound inferior to the DAC AUDIO ES9018 I review above.
Here, the A&D DAC CABLE use a cheap but capable REALTEK ALC4040 that can be found in lof of (cheaper) USB-C DAC CABLE. The fact it can play up to 24bit/96khz is great, but i’m not sure this dac will restitute full frequencies range in a reference way like higher range DAC can do. Still, as said, its a step up from your phone and give more amping for harder to drive earbuds or headphones. The 40$ price is perhaps too expensive, so I suggest you looking around for other option at 20$ using same or better DAC chip.
In other hand, quality of construction is very nice!

This product can be found HERE.

NO BS HALF-RECOMMENDED!!

ES9028Q2M+SA9023 USB decoder board (18$)
https://scontent.fymy1-2.fna.fbcdn.net/v/t1.0-9/71083506_10156200098746581_2211293843972685824_o.jpg?_nc_cat=110&_nc_oc=AQmODabx_sTnP9wQ5V3ZIA-50fS-304Zjm2KZiZW_t-Uhwbz6Uvu7GimYXznUsmkuag&_nc_ht=scontent.fymy1-2.fna&oh=e15ec2787338497305702930903f537a&oe=5E26BA5D

My hope for this USB DAC-AMP was quite high, even if the price look too beautifull to be true. I was extremely curious to finally listen to Sabre ESS9028Q2M high end digital audio converter and when I saw how good look the construction, first thing I done is taking a magnifying glass to look at the DAC chip wich really is an ESS9028! But do fake exist as well? I don’t know, what I know tough is that this DAC-AMP do not work properly, it sound kind of good until serious harmonic distortion happen when the dynamic became higher, it can be bass or multiple instrument playing loud, and distortion ruin music. This dac-amp do not sound right and I suspect something go wrong with amping or current stability. As well, the ”line out” have same crazy power output than 3.5mm audio out. This isn’t normal, so I think this dac-amp board is more suggested for DIY geek that wanna upgrade it than impatient audiophile like me.

NO BS NOT REALLY RECOMMENDED!!


 

All in all, my cheap obscure chinese DAC-AMP journey have been mostly a rewarding one and keep my curiosity alive. I will probably test more even if I have to risk my own money on this.  One thing sure, the one I suggest here are safe buy. All Lusya DAC-AMP can be found in their Ali express store while the DOUK AUDIO CM108 is cheaper on Ebay.

5 Comments

  1. I currently have the fiio k1 which i bought 2 years ago. Do you think the lusya DAC AUDIO SA9023A + ES9018K2M USB portable DAC will sound better than the k1? I am currently considering it along with hidizs sonata 2.

    Like

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