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Aune X8. My overview.

sniegs

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First, I will start with the conclusions, and if anyone is interested in their cause, then you can read below.

Conclusions
  • Good sound is determined not by DAC/chips but by integration and Op-Amps much more than Hi-Res file format.
  • The standard Aune X8 is not worth its price in terms of sound, and there are no smart functions for the price.
  • Thanks to the Aune X8 FPGA, it is possible with more expensive Op-Amps to get a good desired result at an affordable price.
Impression of the device (+)
Good packaging, nice build quality, a lot of sophistication (gears, lights that don't light up the whole room, subtle inscriptions). Metal body, everything is rough, but maybe I like it better. White dirt sticks to the black, also dust, but all the white ones are already sold out. But I suppose my black Wiim will look good on him.

Overall, the first impression is good.

PSU (+)
Although it is a relatively cheap, compact and light PSU, it looks nice. According to my measurements, the device consumes around 3-4w, but the PSU is marked at 2A at 9V. I think that the device itself also has voltage correction, so everything should be fine here. At least I'm not going to buy a big toria transformer for it (probably not that level and the rest of the system). Plus given without measurements.

Optical port (-)
The plug of the optical cable cannot be firmly fixed with a click, although it is not loose initially.
Why does a large part of China's DAC have this disease? For the same cheap SMLS and Loxjie, there are also complaints that the Optics do not fasten normally (that's why I didn't pay attention to these devices, because what does the sound give me if I have to worry about the cable). I have experienced that Denon and Marantz sockets have a very strong click, like a tank.

Input selector (-)
Aune X8 remembers the last position of the input selector when the device is turned off/on (including BT connection). This was also confirmed to me by the nice Aune support before the purchase (I corresponded with Florian Mich).

Aune cannot determine the presence or absence of an input signal to de-activate the current circuit (it's like not knowing you are).
Thus, the Op-Amp SS3602, as class A, works independently and heats up even if there is no input signal. *Even though one of the ASR reviews showed excessive temperatures in the Sparkos, this sparkos and this unit is only warm, not hot to the touch and thus not exceeding the temperature allowed in its technical documentation.

POPs sounds (-)
When the device is turned on, a Pop sound is heard at both, the Line and PreOut outputs, which corresponds exactly to the volume at which the amplifier handle is turned.
And again here we see some kind of economy. There have been no such problems with lot of Amplifiers, apparently the timing relays are working (*Naim Amp, however, excuses that they do not put relays because they affect the sound. Well, I don't know and I don't know anyone who likes Pop sounds.). I solve the Aunes Pop problem by putting on one relay with an amplifier that has a time relay delay to protect from Pop.

There is no POP sound when switching between input sources. God bless Aune!

Pre-Amp (-)
Already at the very beginning of the volume, the separation of channels with the potentiometer is chaotic, either the right or left channel sounds and normalizes only when turning it louder, however, the sound at low-medium levels is more like cotton wool, without depth when compared to the line output. I do not understand the point at all, why it was necessary to integrate it here and in such a quality.

Bluetooth and USB (-)
The SSIDs “aune X8” and “aune X1S-LE” showed up for me from this device.
I also get both names on the USB PC. You know, it's a bit confusing.

PC Win10 Pro announces a problem with the driver, I had to search, install, restart the computer and install again, because the W10 driver offered by Aune does not work for my Win10, but it did for Windows11. I don't understand what is happening to them there... Usually you don't need drivers for USB, everything happens automatically.

After restarting the Aune X8, the previous BT volume level is not preserved, it is not even preserved when changing the input source (if anyone knows, please write what could be related to it).

Although all tests use a Hi-Res file, I can't hear a noticeable difference in sound between Bluetooth SBS, LDAC and PC-USB, so I conclude that file resolution is less important compared to Op-Amp. Even though I don't have golden ears, if I had a tractor driving around my room, I would definitely hear it. Lol.

Op-Amp kits and confusion (-)
There is quite a lot of confusion on the Internet regarding the Op-Amp package and it is assumed that 6 Op-Amps come as standard (1 built-in and 5 spare) as in the old X8 version, however the new 18th doesn't really have that, at least in the BT version and my seller didn't know that either audiophonics.fr which I specifically asked before the purchase, but who told me that the kit includes all those mentioned in the picture (and attached the picture in an email to me).

The Aune X8 XVIII BT (Bluetooth) includes only the pre-mounted op-amp 5532 and the optional OPA2134, but the additional kit with three additional op-amps MUSE01, LME49720 and OPA2604 is a separate purchase, for around €55.

Apparently, Aune has decided to make a lot of money on Op-Amps, because the Op-Amps they offer in a kit cost them $5, but charge $50, and all these Op-Amps in the kit are not worth a cent (see below about sound).
Instead of letting the new XII| version introduced a larger Op-Amp compatible design, they decided to cash in on worthless kits. This means that there is no competition, but when it does appear, they may not have time to react.

Op-Amp tests (+)
Between the Op-amps included in the kit and the Wiim and the $20 mblu DAC, I don't hear a significant difference in the sound, they are all the same (just like I don't hear a difference with built-in ES chip frequency response filters).
Accordingly, I conclude, the Aune X8 is not worth a cent for its money when used with the included OP-amp.

The situation changes when you insert the $6 BURR BROWN OPA627 Dual OPA. You can already hear the difference in sound, and in this sense, the sound changes from compressed to airy (what audiophiles call Airy). Now this unit is already worth some money, except for the bad design because even this low-profile Op-Amp cover can't be closed anymore. I think that even with this Op-Amp, the device still does not pay its price and the same result could be achieved with an inexpensive popular DAC for the same money + smart functions. Possibly. Either way, if you have an entry level Amp and Speakers, then anything better than the OPA627 will be a waste of money. However, you can start with OPA627 and upgrade to Sparkos later!

With the Sparkos SS3602, the sound is even better. It's not like night and day, the improvement is there (conditionally greater spaciousness, airy), but in Hi-Fi you pay half more for each improvement, here it is x10 more.
However, as a side note, as The AudioFool used to say, a change in sound doesn't mean it's correct, and not every Op-Amp design with a compatible Pin will work for your devices. In any case, I'm not going to experiment with a hundred more Op-Amp Chinese inventions that have sprung up like mushrooms after the rain and the size of a house, about the feedback connection with the existing operational amplifier I have no idea. And why break something that sounds good.

I like the sound with Sparkos and I'm not going to think about how correct it is. It is really more airy and spacious and for me it is more than acceptable to leave the device.
Also, my original goal was a dumb DAC with good sound (which is why I was also looking at the schiit). My amp is just as stupid for me too, but with its own Op-Amp in the preamplifier. It turns out that my whole system is stupid - but that's exactly what I like. Lol
 

Jungstar

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I really think it misses a remote... I am a little concerned that the preamp section is that bad... love to see them measure apart..

Considering this vs Soncoz SGD1 ...

 

DVDdoug

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The op-amp in a DAC isn't that critical either (as long as it's "appropriate"). It's either a buffer (an "amplifier" with a "gain" of 1) or nearly a buffer and at line-levels you've got enough signal so S/N isn't that much of a problem.

In a microphone (or phono) preamp application, noise is more critical because you have a very weak signal and high gain (which amplifies the noise).
 

wyup

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Someone should sent it to Amir for review. It's one of the most regarded dacs in the market. I have it with its linear psu and the Sparkos Pro opamp on balanced pre-out. But I'd love to know how it does objectively, specially jitter rejection.
 

ManniX

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@sniegs

I have a couple of questions about the X8:
  • Does it remember Power On/Off state or if unplugged/plugged will always start in off state?
  • Is it true that the filter set is forgot at every power switch?
  • Is there any way to enable/disable Bluetooth (I see that as most of these cheap devices there's no pairing or security)?
 

wyup

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Hi, the back switch regulates power, so can't save state.
It doesn't remember filter choice after switch off, but it does the source.
Can't speak for Bluetooth as my unit is without.
 

ManniX

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Thanks!

Yes the Power switch question was clearly wrong, I was looking at another device at the time :p

I decided to test it and got the BT version.
The BT is always on and without pairing which is a bit disappointing.
Not a main use case for me but useful when I have to do some long work on the PC.

I like it but this defect with the filter setting is bugging me...
Having the freedom to choose a different filter is one of the main reasons to spend money on a DAC and here is flawed.

I did ask the seller, the same Florian which is running the aune-store, about any FW planned to fix it.
But so far I didn't get an answer.

I'm extremely skeptical about the "op-amp rolling" (sounds really good to me as it is).
But since I always like to test for myself, I ordered a Sparkos Labs SS3602 to see if I can feel any difference and if it seems positive or not to me.

Not sure yet if I'll keep it.

For sure it's much better than the small SMSL PO100 AK which sucks in comparison with PCM decoding.
Not sure if it's the AKM DAC or something wrong in the device or in the SMSL design.
But it's very close with DSD decoding.
The X8 is a tad better but I wouldn't know if it's because it's generally bigger and better in quality or it's just the ESS DAC making a difference.

It was perfect for my needs the PO100, even better, being smaller and USB powered but unfortunately...
I suspect I'd be pleased enough with a similar device with an ESS DAC but there isn't one checking all the boxes.
 

wyup

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I run a X8 XVIII for my tv setup, I had the SS3602 previously on my Audinst hd-mx1 dac-amp for my PC (it did improve) so I ordered the Sparkos Pro to Dual adapter (two SS2590s) and the Aune Linear Power Supply. I haven't noticed improvement with the supply, but i think I did with the Pro-adapter.

However, I have audio dropouts from TV toslink on both the Aune and a previous SMSL SU-8 that I run with a blu-ray player on toslink (and another TV) without problems. It's an Samsung S95B Oled from last year, I tried with two different optical cables, and had my board replaced by Samsung, to no avail. I also tried with a HDMI-ARC converter to coax, I had less dropouts. I solved by connecting the Aune to the tv by USB (like a computer). It also provides volume control with the remote. It still has mini dropouts from time to time. And it sounds worse than optical, drier. Yes, I know it's not the forum to discuss subjective quality, but I notice clearly the difference by live switching through my Elac DBR62 speakers and Hypex NC122MP based power amp.

It seems the tv has a lot of jitter (more complex OS and less optimised for audio) and the Aune is not very tolerant to it. The SMSL does aswell, so it's not Aune exclusive.

I must confess I expected more improvement from this Aune X8 XVIII, it does improve a bit from SMSL SU-8 and a previous Onkyo A-9010 stereo amplifier (no dropouts with its toslink input!), but it shares a similar profile with them. I expected a more natural sound, in line with positive reviews and Iwii reviews youtube channel, which said this dac with the Sparkos opamp compares to a thousand dollar R2R dac (!).

I'm getting a Pi digital transport streamer soon and so I'll bypass the tv to have a better signal and improve my music playback, with native samplerate. (The Tv resamples everything to 48 KHz).

Advice: if you're using toslink from a tv, get a dac with jitter correction, some SMSL and Topping seem to have PLL strength setting.
 
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ManniX

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I run a X8 XVIII for my tv setup, I had the SS3602 previously on my Audinst hd-mx1 dac-amp for my PC (it did improve) so I ordered the Sparkos Pro to Dual adapter (two SS2590s) and the Aune Linear Power Supply. I haven't noticed improvement with the supply, but i think I did with the Pro-adapter.

TBH I'm more inclined to think that I will not hear much if any difference using the SS3602 :)
But I may be wrong, let's see.
Downstream there's nothing fancy or hi-end/esoteric so even if I had good hearing would be technically challenging...

More curious to see if there will be appreciable differences using the scope.

It's an Samsung S95B Oled from last year, I tried with two different optical cables, and had my board replaced by Samsung, to no avail. I also tried with a HDMI-ARC converter to coax, I had less dropouts.

I'm not surprised about these kind of issues with Samsung...

Did you try to extract the SPIDF from the HDMI ARC?

Something like this:

I solved by connecting the Aune to the tv by USB (like a computer). It also provides volume control with the remote.

Interesting, didn't even know it was an option.

I must confess I expected more improvement from this Aune X8 XVIII, it does improve a bit from SMSL SU-8 and a previous Onkyo A-9010 stereo amplifier (no dropouts with its toslink input!), but it shares a similar profile with them. I expected a more natural sound, in line with positive reviews and Iwii reviews youtube channel, which said this dac with the Sparkos opamp compares to a thousand dollar R2R dac (!).

Yes I've read also many comments describing it as competitive with hi-end DACs.
It's good indeed but it doesn't look like there's anything special... maybe it's more appreciable when used in tandem with a hi-end/aune headphones amp and a hi-end headphone.

Sure it's not super-expensive but on top of the socket op-amp it should have at least the NOS mode and a custom filter.
While it only has the standard ones and it doesn't even save the setting...

From a purely technical standpoint, unless we are talking about a very hi-end setup running at a very considerable volume level, I really don't see how any 200€ DAC should be worse than any other more expensive.

Advice: if you're using toslink from a tv, get a dac with jitter correction, some SMSL and Topping seem to have PLL strength setting.

It's a safe approach but honestly shouldn't be needed anymore in 2023...

I'm getting a Pi digital transport streamer soon and so I'll bypass the tv to have a better signal and improve my music playback, with native samplerate. (The Tv resamples everything to 48 KHz).

I'm curious; what are you looking at?
 

ManniX

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If someone is interested these are the impulse response effects of the Aune X8 XVIII BT filters with the default op-amp.
The first picture is from a 1000 Hz impulse while the second at 10000 Hz.
Both at 768 kHz/32 bits and played via ASIO.

A fast roll-off, linear

1685738003250.png

1685738023680.png


B slow roll-off, linear
1685738049678.png

1685738059463.png


C fast roll-off, minimum
1685738084022.png


1685738094173.png


D slow roll-off, minimum
1685738108701.png

1685738117010.png


AB apodizing, fast roll-off, linear
1685738154061.png

1685738158957.png


BC hybrid, fast roll-off, minimum
1685738181812.png

1685738190381.png


CD brickwall
1685738214531.png

1685738225364.png
 

wyup

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Pre-Amp (-)
Already at the very beginning of the volume, the separation of channels with the potentiometer is chaotic, either the right or left channel sounds and normalizes only when turning it louder, however, the sound at low-medium levels is more like cotton wool, without depth when compared to the line output. I do not understand the point at all, why it was necessary to integrate it here and in such a quality.
I haven't noticed any channel imbalance at low volumes, I run balanced pre-outs myself and sound quality at medium levels doesn't seem different than full volume.
I've only checked line-out a couple times, but doesn't appear to sound different.

One question: does X8 XVII upsample internally? I know it's FPGA but it also uses ESS Sabre 9038Q2M. Would it benefit from software upsampling or DOP?
 

ManniX

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One question: does X8 XVII upsample internally? I know it's FPGA but it also uses ESS Sabre 9038Q2M. Would it benefit from software upsampling or DOP?

I guess you are talking about PCM; yes it does upsampling up to 8x.

If you can't tell a difference switching filters is unlikely you'll hear any benefit upsampling via software.
There is no OSF Bypass implemented which is kind of a requirement if you want to do software upsampling and filtering, like with HQPlayer.

You may use DoP indeed; maybe you could find more pleasant the DSD output.
The Aune X8 supports DoP64 via optical but would be better to use coax as goes up to DoP128.
Try HQPlayer and see if you like it, in trial mode I think stops every 30 minutes but should be enough to get a rough idea.
 

wyup

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There is no OSF Bypass implemented which is kind of a requirement if you want to do software upsampling and filtering, like with HQPlayer.
How do you know there is no Oversampling Filter Bypass implemented?
At 8x, what would be the nearest 'native' sampling frequency: 384/352.8 Khz on coaxial and 705.6/768 Khz on usb?

I'm building a coax transport soon so I can use high samplerate signal with good clocks expecting good sync.
If you can't tell a difference switching filters is unlikely you'll hear any benefit upsampling via software.
Man, you make me feel bad. Either my tv is an awful source or my X8/Sparkos/LinearPS sample is defective.. I think i have a resolving enough system.
Can you make out the different filters on yours?
Try HQPlayer and see if you like it, in trial mode I think stops every 30 minutes but should be enough to get a rough idea.
Why would I need HQPlayer when foobar2000 has excellent upsampling plugins?
 
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ManniX

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How do you know there is no Oversampling Filter Bypass implemented?

Because it doesn't have a mode to select it :)
You can only select the 7 standard filters.

There's a list oh the HQPlayer website under hardware recommended:


Those have for sure a bypass and can be used with software oversampling.

At 8x, what would be the nearest 'native' sampling frequency: 384/352.8 Khz on coaxial and 705.6/768 Khz on usb?

The native would be 1536 kHz, the closest you can get to is 768 MHz via USB.

I'm building a coax transport soon so I can use high samplerate signal with good clocks expecting good sync.

I would try with DoP128 in this case.

Man, you make me feel bad. Either my tv is an awful source or my X8/Sparkos/LinearPS sample is defective.. I think i have a resolving enough system.

Sorry I didn't mean it like that :)
You have a good system and the Aune X8 is already pretty good.
Without a bypass mode I don't think you can get it much better than already it is.
Using DoP128 could be a way because it's quite different from PCM.

Can you make out the different filters on yours?

I can with the Aune X8, with 2 slow-roll off filters. They are slightly worse than the others...
I'm testing a Topping D50s with the same DAC but I didn't test it there yet.
 

ManniX

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Why would I need HQPlayer when foobar2000 has excellent upsampling plugins?

Yes there's the SoX plugin for PCM, the best.
And you can use the SACD Plugin + DSD Processor to output in DSD/DoP.

HQPlayer is just at another level, use it to check what could be done.
It's very expensive and also very complex to configure and you really need to use a DAC with NOS or Bypass to take full advantage of it.
foobar2000 could be just good enough for you, as it is for me.
 

wyup

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Yes there's the SoX plugin for PCM, the best.
And you can use the SACD Plugin + DSD Processor to output in DSD/DoP.

HQPlayer is just at another level, use it to check what could be done.
It's very expensive and also very complex to configure and you really need to use a DAC with NOS or Bypass to take full advantage of it.
foobar2000 could be just good enough for you, as it is for me.
As I'll be streaming from a Raspberry Pi using UPnP, playback is managed by MPD I think (UPnpcli), which you can configure to output everything in DoP128 or PCM 24, I don't think I can specify much about conversion.

Foobar2000 has a upnp renderer that I've used, but haven't seen a DSD output option.
Neutron on Android aswell.

There are standalone graphical linux players that may output DoP, but excepting foobar2000 on Windows or NAA Sygnalist player on linux, there's no much else..

I have faith in original native samplerate.
 
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ManniX

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As I'll be streaming from a Raspberry Pi using UPnP, playback is managed by MPD I think (UPnpcli), which you can configure to output everything in DoP128 or PCM 24, I don't think I can specify much about conversion.

That's pretty normal, only with HQPlayer you can (that I know of, in this scenario).

If you output with PCM, there will always be the FIR and oversampling stage of the X8 in between.
You can minimize it using 768 kHz but you can't bypass it.

You should be using optical spdif now, did you try using DoP64 how it sounds?

Using SDM, the DSD format, the output is almost unfiltered.
There's only the IIR filter and it's very lax (at least on this ESS, seems the 9039 has a DSD FIR filter for some reason).
The tradeoff is a slightly lower dynamic range and more HF noise.
You could actually end up likely better than the pristine PCM 768 kHz.

Foobar2000 has a upnp renderer that I've used, but haven't seen a DSD output option.
You can only play PCM with the UPnP media renderer on foobar2000.
To use DSD output you need an ASIO driver and spdif/usb.

But if you can convert via the rPi there's no need.
 
OP
sniegs

sniegs

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I run a X8 XVIII for my tv setup, I had the SS3602 previously on my Audinst hd-mx1 dac-amp for my PC (it did improve) so I ordered the Sparkos Pro to Dual adapter (two SS2590s) and the Aune Linear Power Supply. I haven't noticed improvement with the supply, but i think I did with the Pro-adapter.

However, I have audio dropouts from TV toslink on both the Aune and a previous SMSL SU-8 that I run with a blu-ray player on toslink (and another TV) without problems. It's an Samsung S95B Oled from last year, I tried with two different optical cables, and had my board replaced by Samsung, to no avail. I also tried with a HDMI-ARC converter to coax, I had less dropouts. I solved by connecting the Aune to the tv by USB (like a computer). It also provides volume control with the remote. It still has mini dropouts from time to time. And it sounds worse than optical, drier. Yes, I know it's not the forum to discuss subjective quality, but I notice clearly the difference by live switching through my Elac DBR62 speakers and Hypex NC122MP based power amp.

It seems the tv has a lot of jitter (more complex OS and less optimised for audio) and the Aune is not very tolerant to it. The SMSL does aswell, so it's not Aune exclusive.

I must confess I expected more improvement from this Aune X8 XVIII, it does improve a bit from SMSL SU-8 and a previous Onkyo A-9010 stereo amplifier (no dropouts with its toslink input!), but it shares a similar profile with them. I expected a more natural sound, in line with positive reviews and Iwii reviews youtube channel, which said this dac with the Sparkos opamp compares to a thousand dollar R2R dac (!).

I'm getting a Pi digital transport streamer soon and so I'll bypass the tv to have a better signal and improve my music playback, with native samplerate. (The Tv resamples everything to 48 KHz).

Advice: if you're using toslink from a tv, get a dac with jitter correction, some SMSL and Topping seem to have PLL strength setting.
Thank you for your review.

If I understand correctly, I have the option to put a SPARKOS LABS Pro to Dual DIP8 Adapter + 2x SPARKOS LABS SS2590 Single Discrete OPA (Unit) in the Aune X8 XVIII and it will improve the audio quality compared to the existing SS306?

P.S. I apologize if I haven't answered technical questions because I don't have enough knowledge (I'm more of a listener).
 
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