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EarMen Donald DAC Review

amirm

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#1
This is a review and detailed measurements of the EarMen Donald MQA DAC USB stereo DAC. Yes, that is its real name with a play on Donald Duck. :) It was sent to me by the company and costs US $99 from the company direct. Unlike most DACs out there, the Donald DAC uses Crystal Semiconductor/Cirrus Logic CS43198 DAC chip.

The enclosure is quite a departure form typical DAC box:

Earmen Donald USB DAC MQA Decoder Audio Review.jpg


The little stand can be slid forward or back and provides a few degrees of tilt. You can set it up to point the DAC up or down.

The back panel is minimalistic which is fine by me:
Earmen Donald USB DAC MQA Decoder Back Panel Inputs and Outputs USB-C Audio Review.jpg


Two USB-C connectors are provided. If you use the bottom one, it both powers the unit and provides data. However, you have the option of providing just power using the upper USB-C connector in which case the front LED nicely changes from blue to red color. I tested it both ways as you see below.

USB DAC Audio Measurements
When I first started testing the DAC, I did not think the external power supply would make a difference so I ran without it and got this:

Earmen Donald USB DAC Audio Measurements.png


This is very nice performance and ranks the Donald DAC quite high in our SINAD rankings (measure of noise and distortion):

best usb dac review 2020.png


After I was finished, I tested the unit with feeding it from a Samsung USB phone charger and to my surprise, it improved performance in a number of areas including the dashboard:

Earmen Donald USB DAC With External Power Supply Audio Measurements.png


This may actually push the DAC in the blue bucket above! Notice how the spectrum above our 1 kHz tone is quieted down with just a few harmonic spikes remaining.

Dynamic range is very good:

Earmen Donald USB DAC Dynamic Range Audio Measurements.png


I was impressed by IMD+noise vs level test performance:

Earmen Donald USB DAC IMD Audio Measurements.png


Above is without external power. I retested it with external power supply but made no difference so I am not showing it.

External power made a big difference in jitter test:
Earmen Donald USB DAC jitter Audio Measurements.png


Although audibly there is no difference.

32-tone test follows the same level of distortion we measured in the dashboard:

Earmen Donald USB DAC Multitone Audio Measurements.png


Linearity was solidly nailed:

Earmen Donald USB DAC Linearity Audio Measurements.png


There is just a tiny offset from -30 dB and lower which would have been good to not be there.

Filter performance is very good:
Earmen Donald USB DAC Filter Audio Measurements.png


Given the above, I expected good THD+N relative to frequency but did not get it:
Earmen Donald USB DAC THD+N vs Frequency Audio Measurements.png


So I ran a spectrum analysis of a sample tone with the same wide bandwidth of 90 kHz:

Earmen Donald USB DAC 1 kHz wideband FFT Audio Measurements.png


The rise in noise floor is called "noise shaping." It is a technique used in DACs to reduce the noise in audible band into ultrasonic region. This is a good practice but does mess up measurements here as the bandwidth includes that accumulated noise.

Conclusion
It is nice to see some variety in DAC implementations once in a while. And deal with a company with a sense of humor! I went into this review thinking the device would not perform but it sure did. MQA decoding capability does not exist in desktop DACs in this price range so for people interested in that, the Donald DAC provides a unique offering.

Overall, I am going to put the EarMen Donald DAC on my recommended list.

-----------
As always, questions, comments, recommendations, etc. are welcome.

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Matias

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#2
Nice!

@amirm When you powered it without the Samsung charger, was it connected and powered directly from your PC or from an USB hub or what? Since this also happened with the Topping E30 DAC, maybe you should consider always using an external charger. I think it is what most users would do anyway.
 

Veri

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#3
The ultrasonics is the exact same issue as on the Meizu. Maybe it is inherent to the CS43198 (mobile) DAC chip.
Overall very good, but I guess not up to desktop DAC level.

 

Matias

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The ultrasonics is the exact same issue as on the Meizu. Maybe it is inherent to the CS43198 (mobile) DAC chip.
Overall very good, but I guess not up to desktop DAC level.

Yes, but it is all ultrasonic, because <20 kHz they are mostly below -110dB as the multitone shows.
 

3125b

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#5
Wow, that a very good implementation of a Cirrus Logic chip, off the top of my head I only know the lackluster ones from FiiO.
Though, owing an E30 myself, I really dig the remote and wouldn´t wanna miss it.
 
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#12
Was really curious about this little fella. Thanks for adding it to the repo.
 

Xulonn

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#13
its-not-mickey-mouse-data-its-donald-duck-data.jpg


Accessories?

Donald Duck USB Cable.jpg
 
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#15
Of the distortion components. the relatively benign second order dominates. Really impressive measurements for a $99 DAC.

This comes in cheaper than the Khandas Tone board, after adding an enclosure. No cost wasted on controls or display might make this a good option for a PC based active crossover.
 
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amirm

amirm

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Thread Starter #16
@amirm When you powered it without the Samsung charger, was it connected and powered directly from your PC or from an USB hub or what?
I use the USB hub on my monitor. It is cleaner than the USB port direct on my newer workstation.
 
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amirm

amirm

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Thread Starter #17
Why doesn't the dashboard THD+N match the THD+N vs Frequency graph?
The bandwidth is very different. Dashboard uses 22.4 kHz, the THD+N vs Frequency uses 90 kHz. The latter includes noise shaping and other noise sources so always degrades measured value.
 
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amirm

amirm

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Thread Starter #18

maverickronin

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#19

Bachemar

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#20
The Sparrow has a normal name, but the product page compensates for that with an out of focus nude woman playing a cello.
Hmm.. And what’s wrong with that?

I actually find many of their other Product images with out of focus elements to be far more distracting from a composition perspective. They seem to overdo that style, and it actually detracts from the product. I find the image below particularly distracting - with my eye constantly being drawn to the background rather than the product itself.
The image Sparrow image with the nude cellist, is actually not terribly composed, and one of the better ones on that site.

Tr-amp.png
 

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