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Gustard X18 Review (Stereo DAC)

Rate this DAC:

  • 1. Poor (headless panther)

    Votes: 7 2.9%
  • 2. Not terrible (postman panther)

    Votes: 2 0.8%
  • 3. Fine (happy panther)

    Votes: 21 8.7%
  • 4. Great (golfing panther)

    Votes: 211 87.6%

  • Total voters
    241

kiyu

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Feb 13, 2021
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I did skip it.
I do not have the equipment to do the measurements myself. By I am reading the relevant topics on this forum to get a good understanding about what could be missing from the measurements Amir does and how to interpret those measurements.
You can guess how much I appreciate the subjective observations, form a YTer, about how a DAC (that shows exquisite performance in the measurements) sounds.
Not a single measurement was shown in that review, or it was in the parts (most of it) that I skipped ;)
I wonder then what you would spect from a review?
the reviewers must have a AP-555 and measure it on camera to you be happy?

you already have the measure here, why do you need a reviewer to do the same?
90% of the Youtubers well speak subjectively and that's not bad.
Again still I wonder what is your expectation of a review, please share thanks
 

kiyu

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I know. That's why I only (half) watched the "about", "connectivity" and "features" segments. All the rest I'm not interested in.
If you only care about numbers you already got it here and if you want to check connectivity download the manual and you are done. :)
 

RHO

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I wonder then what you would spect from a review?
the reviewers must have a AP-555 and measure it on camera to you be happy?

you already have the measure here, why do you need a reviewer to do the same?
90% of the Youtubers well speak subjectively and that's not bad.
Again still I wonder what is your expectation of a review, please share thanks
I only watched (the parts I did watch) because of the link that was posted here.
I rarely watch these "reviews".
I expect from a YT review that they show me measurements and explain me how they did them and what the results show. No need to talk about how a DAC sounds. Because if it "sounds", there's something wrong with it. And that would show up in the measurements.
More sets of measurements is always better than 1 set of measurements. That's also how science works.
 
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RHO

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If you only care about numbers you already got it here and if you want to check connectivity download the manual and you are done. :)
Yep, that's what I do before I buy a product. But I like a video showing it more than having to reading it in a manual. (I actually don't like reading manuals but I do when I need info)
 

Gaz122

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Dec 4, 2021
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So i have been listening to the X18 for last two days. A bit of context before my comments, i am not an audiophile, not a technical person, just someone who likes listening to music, and plays with gears every now and then. I am primarily an analogue guy, vinyl is my major medium. Digital music is my backup system when i can't get the records i want, especially that i live in China. Ok, so..

Node 2i, X18, Rega elex-r, oberon 7
Regardless to what i read in many posts, there is a difference in sound compared to the onboard DAC. For me, much more transparent, better music separation, every note is a bit more punchy. If anything, I think it's too transparent that it's very digital sounding compared to my analogue system. For me, this DAC probably has much more clarity than i could ever hear a difference.

I am having one problem though is that i am having drop offs while using Coax (not sure if it is the right word to describe the scenario but music is just not smooth, as if connection is not secured? ), and i have no problem whilst using optical. Checked with Gustard they said it could be compatibility issue and cannot be fixed. So i am waiting for another cable to try. I can live by using optical, but not sure if i want to keep the DAC if there is an issue with Coax. Or i might get a second hand smsl su9 for USD300, or second hand D90SE for the same price as X18. I doubt my ears can tell the difference.

Not sure if someone asked before, but you can switch the power off using the power button in the front. Once you turn the main switch off at the back and turn it back on, you will have to press the power button in the front to really switch it on.

Not sure if above helps anyone.
 
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Roland68

Senior Member
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Jan 31, 2020
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Location
Cologne, Germany
The coax problem could be with the Node 2i, since the problem occurs on the Node 2i with many DAC'x. These problems are also known with the SU-9.
You could use a Raspberry PI 4 with Volumio and connect the X18 via USB. Alternatively with a Reclock board directly via i2s.
 

Gaz122

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The coax problem could be with the Node 2i, since the problem occurs on the Node 2i with many DAC'x. These problems are also known with the SU-9.
You could use a Raspberry PI 4 with Volumio and connect the X18 via USB. Alternatively with a Reclock board directly via i2s.
That reminds me there is a switch in the bluos app for Audio Clock Trim, switched it off and the issue is gone. Thanks
 

srkbear

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It looks, expectedly, nice enough. I’ve had good vibes about Gustard ever since I peeked inside the chassis of the x26pro—it’s a work of art of some sorts, in regard to the utter OCD elements of the design and innovation.

It continues to seem like all these Chinese DACs (Topping, SMSL, Gustard, Loxjie) are secretly coming out of some single, monolithic factory somewhere and being marketed as separate brands by some crafty consortium—for unclear reasons admittedly, but it’s getting hard to tell the difference between them at this point. I’m left to wonder if Amir gave his oscilloscope a whack or two, whether all these recent ES9038pro implementations would line up identically. Have we reached a tech limit? Will AKM’s next flagship break the wall into new benchmarks? Or have we gone past the limitations of our ears awhile ago, especially for those of us who are past 40? I often wonder if I’m kidding myself when I add bands to my parametric EQ above 14,000 hz…

Speaking of which, I already went with the Topping d90se months ago. Does anyone have any real world listening experiences between these two DACs to offer me any justification for why I should pay any attention to my x18 FOMO, based on what I already own? Besides Topping’s slight SINAD edge, does this Gustard really offer any practical advantages? They seem to occupy similar price points…
 

Roland68

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It looks, expectedly, nice enough. I’ve had good vibes about Gustard ever since I peeked inside the chassis of the x26pro—it’s a work of art of some sorts, in regard to the utter OCD elements of the design and innovation.

It continues to seem like all these Chinese DACs (Topping, SMSL, Gustard, Loxjie) are secretly coming out of some single, monolithic factory somewhere and being marketed as separate brands by some crafty consortium—for unclear reasons admittedly, but it’s getting hard to tell the difference between them at this point. I’m left to wonder if Amir gave his oscilloscope a whack or two, whether all these recent ES9038pro implementations would line up identically. Have we reached a tech limit? Will AKM’s next flagship break the wall into new benchmarks? Or have we gone past the limitations of our ears awhile ago, especially for those of us who are past 40? I often wonder if I’m kidding myself when I add bands to my parametric EQ above 14,000 hz…

Speaking of which, I already went with the Topping d90se months ago. Does anyone have any real world listening experiences between these two DACs to offer me any justification for why I should pay any attention to my x18 FOMO, based on what I already own? Besides Topping’s slight SINAD edge, does this Gustard really offer any practical advantages? They seem to occupy similar price points…
You're probably right about SMSL, Sabaj, and Loxjie, and it's no big secret either.
The (circuit) designs are very similar, as are the components used, remote controls, packaging, cables, etc. But there are also devices that are very unique, e.g. SMSL SAP-8, SU-8, DP3, or Sabaj D5.

Topping and Gustard should each be independent, just like Singxer.
Gustard has a very consistent structure/line for both the large and small models in terms of layout, technical solutions, components and design.
Topping is very innovative with its devices and develops very (also technologically) different (circuit) designs and solutions, e.g. D70/90, D30 Pro and D90SE. They have many very different devices in their range across all price ranges.
Singxer also has a consistent line in their devices, but they seem to want to make each device as perfect as possible. This results in a small but very fine line of devices.
 

srkbear

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Anyone have any insights on how this measures up (not literally) with the Topping D90se? I’m guessing it may not have the same issues with the S/PDIF receiver incompatibilities, but otherwise does this have any other advantages?
 

srkbear

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So i have been listening to the X18 for last two days. A bit of context before my comments, i am not an audiophile, not a technical person, just someone who likes listening to music, and plays with gears every now and then. I am primarily an analogue guy, vinyl is my major medium. Digital music is my backup system when i can't get the records i want, especially that i live in China. Ok, so..

Node 2i, X18, Rega elex-r, oberon 7
Regardless to what i read in many posts, there is a difference in sound compared to the onboard DAC. For me, much more transparent, better music separation, every note is a bit more punchy. If anything, I think it's too transparent that it's very digital sounding compared to my analogue system. For me, this DAC probably has much more clarity than i could ever hear a difference.

I am having one problem though is that i am having drop offs while using Coax (not sure if it is the right word to describe the scenario but music is just not smooth, as if connection is not secured? ), and i have no problem whilst using optical. Checked with Gustard they said it could be compatibility issue and cannot be fixed. So i am waiting for another cable to try. I can live by using optical, but not sure if i want to keep the DAC if there is an issue with Coax. Or i might get a second hand smsl su9 for USD300, or second hand D90SE for the same price as X18. I doubt my ears can tell the difference.

Not sure if someone asked before, but you can switch the power off using the power button in the front. Once you turn the main switch off at the back and turn it back on, you will have to press the power button in the front to really switch it on.

Not sure if above helps anyone.
The same dropouts are an issue with the Topping D90se. It has to do with the choice of input receiver they’re using, it’s a hardware issue, and there is no workaround. It’s entirely dependent on the coaxial hardware of the source you’re connecting to the DAC.

I had this issue while connecting my Oppo UDP-203 to the D90se via Coax. The only way I could resolve the problem was to buy an HDMI extractor (the Kanex Pro HAECOAX) and connect the Oppo to the Topping with the extractor instead of using the Oppo’s native Coax jack. It works fine and sounds great, but for other devices without HDMI outputs I think you’re SOL, unfortunately. :/
 

Roland68

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The same dropouts are an issue with the Topping D90se. It has to do with the choice of input receiver they’re using, it’s a hardware issue, and there is no workaround. It’s entirely dependent on the coaxial hardware of the source you’re connecting to the DAC.

I had this issue while connecting my Oppo UDP-203 to the D90se via Coax. The only way I could resolve the problem was to buy an HDMI extractor (the Kanex Pro HAECOAX) and connect the Oppo to the Topping with the extractor instead of using the Oppo’s native Coax jack. It works fine and sounds great, but for other devices without HDMI outputs I think you’re SOL, unfortunately. :/
Are there any known problems with SPDIF on the X18?

If I understand Gaz122's statement correctly, then the problem was with the Node 2i that manipulated the data stream. This could be switched off via the software.
 

Pesimista

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As a new user of the Gustard X18, I have to complain about the problem of optical connection and LG C9 TV.
From time to time, there are interruptions.
The CD player I use has no problem with the coaxial input on the X18.
The USB driver 5.30 is very picky in terms of buffer size, which is especially noticeable if you play different PCM and DSD file frequencies.
The firmware version that is on my X18 is V18.1A, hopefully the FW version is fixed.
 
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Roland68

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As a new user of the Gustard X18, I have to complain about the problem of optical connection and LG C9 TV.
From time to time, there are interruptions.
The CD player I use has no problem with the coaxial input on the X18.
The USB driver 5.30 is very picky in terms of buffer size, which is especially noticeable if you play different PCM and DSD file frequencies.
The firmware version that is on my X18 is V18.1A, hopefully the FW version is fixed.
Are you sure it's not the LG settings?
Does it perhaps broadcast a Dolby Digital, DTS or a 5.1 format?
 

Pesimista

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Are you sure it's not the LG settings?
Does it perhaps broadcast a Dolby Digital, DTS or a 5.1 format?
The LG Oled C9 is set to deliver sound only via the optical output, and setup images are included.
With the "Digital sound output" option, all three modes were tested: PCM, auto, pass throuht.
The latest mode provided sound in the YouTube application, but not on cable channels. Apart from that difference, interruptions were on all settings.
 

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srkbear

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If these were multi-thousand dollar products, I'd be concerned. For a few hundred dollars, you take a chance, and if it does not work out, you return or sell it and buy something else. You Can't expect Lexus service at Toyota prices. :)

That said, it would be nice to see an English version of the Gustard website with current product and support information, including manuals and the latest firmware and drivers. I'm sure the margins are slim, but if there's not enough to cover this cost, Gustard should raise their prices a bit to provide this service to current and future customers.
A few years ago I would agree with you on this. But with the evolution and proliferation of sub-$1,000 ES9038pro-based DACs that are now routinely deploying all 8 channels (many of which achieving measurement and performance benchmarks substantially exceeding prior generations of outlandishly costly DACs), I think the flagship price point has dropped considerably in just the last two years.

It wasn’t that long ago that DACs were niche products with a fixed set of salient choices. But I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the market has been flooded of late with a slew of highly-rated offerings from emerging manufacturers such as Topping, Gustard, SMSL, Loxjie, Okto, Sabaj et al—the increasing array of affordable lossless streaming services, and the subsequent increases in consumer awareness and demand, have brought premium components to the mainstream. I’ve seen quite a few folks recently admit to trading in their four-figure Matrix Audio Element X and Sabre Pro units in favor of sub-$1,000 options such as the Topping d90se and the Gustard x18; even the much-praised Gustard x26 Pro, still less than a year old, is struggling to justify its price point when the new x18 sounds nearly indistinguishable at half the cost.

The implementation of DACs has also evolved. Many new DACs are forgoing preamp or amplifier integrations and are being designed to be used with separate amplification components—this has allowed users to enjoy a far greater array of customizations in their setups, letting the DAC focus purely on detail retrieval, resolution and optimal SNR and leaving the amplifier, headphones or speakers to add musicality, tonality, warmth and soundstage. From the collective guidance I’ve consolidated from myriad sites and sources in choosing my audiophile system, time and time again I’ve been advised to spend my cash in the following order of priority: headphones—>amplifier—>DAC. And given the number of DACs Amir has demonstrated to have performance variations out of the range of human hearing, I think saving your cash on your choice of DAC is increasingly making sense.

So yes, a few years ago I think the “you get what you pay for” adage for DACs was supportable, and one could only expect so much from their $899 investment. But in today’s market, where that price can get you the highest SINAD recorded to date, I think we should be justified in holding Topping and Gustard (arguably the best of the bunch) accountable for producing an S/PDIF or I2S input that reliably integrates with a reasonable assortment of source components, if they’re going to go through the trouble of offering those input solutions to begin with. I had no idea when purchasing my d90se that its cd8416 input receiver wouldn’t offer S/PDIF compatibility with my Oppo or Sony CD/SACD players—there’s still no mention of this in their marketing materials and by the time I had discovered this limitation, the return period had lapsed.

In my view Topping and Gustard should either be transparent about this deficit in their DACs, should explore alternative receiver options that solve the problem, or should leave these inputs out altogether. I have a slew of options available to me to invest my hard-earned $899, and I feel I have the right to expect all aspects of the DAC I choose to perform as advertised.
 
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