Budget DAC decoder boards out of the box


2019-05-30 12:40 pm
I've done deep dives through a number of threads on the ebay / aliexpress i2s dac boards for ES9038Q2M, ES9018K2M, and similar. Most of these boards seem to huge flaws in the output stage, power supply regulation, etc that makes them sound horrible without significant modifications.

After going through many of these threads, it makes me curious... Has anyone found any budget i2s dac boards (ES9xxx, AK49XX, etc) that actually sound more or less pretty good "out of the box" when powered with a good power supply and hooked up to a quality usb to i2s converter? Or are they all pretty terrible without significant modifications?
Last edited:
Found one example on Taobao...

Hi abraxalito, I have see you mentioning Taobao a few times and so have to ask how easy are the sellers with selling to someone outside of China? Just curious because I have been looking for a bang for the buck China DAC too but usually I go to Aliexpress and look around.

edit: I just tried to search on Taobabo but as soon as I type in search query it takes me to a login page. :(
Last edited:
I've never used one (as I live in China) but I understand there's no shortage of agents in China willing to buy from Taobao and ship to you for a modest fee. Most Taobao sellers won't be set up for international shipping, nor will they speak English. Aliexpress is often a more convenient option for those outside China and many sellers seem to have the same items as on Taobao. Taobao has much more choice though.


2004-10-04 11:59 pm
Sorry, I think you were asking about SPDIF input DACs. Its generally better to use I2S when possible. If SPDIF is the only choice, a nice feature of ESS DAC chips is they have an internal SPDIF receiver and an internal ASRC for reclocking SPDIF to the local DAC clock. The downside of the low cost ESS DACs is that they need a lot of modding to sound and perform anywhere close to data sheet specifications.

One alternative would be to use an AKM DAC. They are typically much easier to get sounding good verses ESS DACs. The problem is they need an external SPDIF receiver chip and optionally an external ASRC chip. The AKM AK4118 and AK4137 are good parts for the job, but they add complexity and cost. In the end, its still easier IMHO to get better sound with AKM, but getting exceptional sound may still require significant modding. Others may disagree, of course. :)