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Gustard X16 Balanced MQA DAC Review

amirm

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#1
This is a review and detailed measurements of the just announced Gustard X16 Balanced USB DAC with hardware decoding. It was kindly sent to me for testing by SHENZHENAUDIO. The X16 costs US $499.

The X16 is based on the new ESS ES9068AS DAC which has built-in hardware decoding of MQA bitstream. Until now, this was performed upstream of the DAC but now the functionality is core to the DAC chip itself.

The X16 has a solid feel to it but doesn't distinguish itself from other desktop DACs:

Gustard X16 Balanced USB DAC review.jpg


While a remote control is provided, navigation is easy enough using the rotary control and center button. I like the informative display but as with other Gustard products, I question showing the volume level in such tiny letters. It needs to be center and large with the sample rate shown small.

Back panel shows the usual connection including Bluetooth:

Best desktop USB DAC Review back panel XLR RCA IIS.jpg


Like the nice gold plated connectors.

Gustard X16 Measurements
Let's open the show with our usual dashboard:
Gustard X16 Balanced USB DAC Audio Measurements.png


Wow! I must say, I did not know in advance they were shooting for the moon this way. This is superb performance in a $500 package, placing the X16 second in the list of all DACs tested ever:
Best desktop USB DAC Review.png


Here is our top 10 list:

top 10 USB DAC Review.png


So little separates these DACs from each other.

Here is the performance of the RCA output:

Gustard X16 Balanced USB DAC RCA Audio Measurements.png


In both cases, full audible transparency is achieved and then some. Sum of noise+distortion is well below the self-noise of our ears.

Signal to noise ratio is wonderful:

Gustard X16 Balanced USB DAC Dynamic Range Audio Measurements.png


If you have noise in your system, this is NOT the place to look!

Intermodulation distortion vs level shows a bit of our famous "ESS IMD Hump" which we discovered two years ago:
Gustard X16 Balanced USB DAC IMD Distortion Audio Measurements.png


Shame on ESS for not helping its licensees solve this issue across the board. Fortunately the impact here is very small and it really shows up because the system noise floor is so low.

Jitter and spurious tones are almost nonexistent (difficult in a low noise DAC) and this is even true of Coax input which these days is typically neglected:
Gustard X16 Balanced USB DAC Jitter Audio Measurements.png


Intermodulation distortion using our 32-tone test is extremely low:
Gustard X16 Balanced USB DAC Multitone Measurements.png


THD+N versus frequency where a lot of DACs fail is excellent as well:
Gustard X16 Balanced USB DAC THD+N vs Frequency stereo Measurements.png


This is partially due to good filtering of which only three are available:
Gustard X16 Balanced USB DACFilter response.png


Did ESS take out the other options or did Gustard? Either way, it is fine by me. I used L Fast for my testing by the way. Default is M Slow I think. Wonder if that is also the MQA filter?

Linearity which is a test of accuracy was the most perfect I have seen:
Gustard X16 Balanced USB DAC Linearity Audio Measurements.png


This thing glued itself to the 0 dB error line like nobody's business!

Conclusions
The Gustard X16 comes in an unassuming package making you think you have bought a mid-priced DAC. But looks are deceiving as it produces some of the best measurements I have seen out of some 350+ DACs I have tested! Talk about getting ready to battle with the best of the best. Yes, there is a hint of ESS IMD Hump but it is not excessive enough for me to worry about it although I hope they look at eliminating this.

It is my pleasure to strongly recommend the Gustard X16 MQA DAC.

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

Appreciate any donations using: https://www.audiosciencereview.com/forum/index.php?threads/how-to-support-audio-science-review.8150/
 
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trl

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#6
Is the 9068 a revamped 9038q2c?

ES9068AS vs. ES9038Q2M:
- SNR: 130dBA vs. N.S.
- DNR: +126dBA vs. +129dBA (I wonder if the tests for 9038q2m were done in dual-mono)
- THD+N: 120dB for both
 
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amirm

amirm

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Thread Starter #8
Now we just need an ADC (or ADC/DAC combo) with this type of price/performance ratio ;)
I have a few interfaces to test soon....
 

trl

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#9
Any chance to test the BT receiver too, please? It would be nice to feed it with 1KHz sine and a full swipe across entire audible spectrum and see how it performs. I know it's not very professional testing this way, but still better than nothing...well, my 2 cents.
 
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#12
Hi new to the forum. Looking to buy one of these balanced dacs. How do you connect a pair of passive speakers to these using the xlr out? Do i need an amp that has XLR in?
 

Billy Budapest

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#14
Impressive. My worry about Gustard is product support. Last time I checked, they didn’t have a website and were only sold through eBay. I guess they are sold some other places now but I’d still like to know a little more about the company.
 

Blumlein 88

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#15
I am hesitant, this one or the Mola Mola Tambaqui :( ?
I've thought for so long that Mola Mola is such a cool name for a DAC. As good as the Gustard is, I'd have to spring for the Mola Mola in this case.
 
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amirm

amirm

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Thread Starter #16
Hi new to the forum. Looking to buy one of these balanced dacs. How do you connect a pair of passive speakers to these using the xlr out? Do i need an amp that has XLR in?
You can use an amp that has RCA or XLR. The latter is preferred but not mandatory. But yes, you do need a power amplifier. For something this good, I suggest looking at amplifiers with Purifi modules in them.
 
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