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New Gustard Twin Shootout: A18 (AK4499) vs X16 (ES9068AS)

Martin

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I like putting together these comparisons to provide a side-by-side view of two similar products. My first was a shootout between DAC chips, AK4499 vs ES9038Pro, both in Gustard units. My second was a shootout between AK4499 implementations, Topping vs. Gustard. This is my third and a shootout between the new Gustard twins, one with the flagship AK4499 and the other with the new ES9068AS. Lets get to the nitty-gritty.

Price (current as of 11/10/2020 - not including 11.11 discounts):
Gustard A18: $559.99
Gustard X16: $499.99

Photos (like I said - twins):
Front
gfront.jpg


Rear
grear.jpg


Balanced XLR Dashboards:
gdx.png


SINAD:
gustard.png

Single-ended RCA Dashboards:
gdr.png


Dynamic Range:
gdyn.png


Multitone:
gmulti.png


IMD:
gimd.png


Linearity:
gl.png


Jitter:
gj.png


Filters:
gfil.png


Once again we see two very evenly matched DACs. I find it odd that the less expensive X16 measures better almost across the board than the A18, especially in power supply related noise which is non-existent in the X16. But then you have that little ESS IMD hump in the X16. Still, a few dB here, a few percentage points there, all-in-all they both measure very well and all differences definitely look to be well below the threshold of human hearing.

Note that the X16 also includes MQA.

I've read plenty of subjectivists comparing the "sound" of DAC implementations. A DBX test using these two state of the art DACs would either put those claims to rest or, inconceivably, prove they do indeed sound different. I would love to see a double blind test of these twins.

Hope you found this at least enjoyable if not enlightening.

Martin
 
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Morla

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Wonder if the A18 and the A18 with toslink and other usb chip measures differently?
 

amarsicola

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I would solve my doubt by going to smsl su-9, better measurements than 18, no ess hump, few bucks less than 16
 
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kopczas

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I have a question as I`ve been using AKM chips for years:
is this "ess hump" audible in real world listenings?
 

BDWoody

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I have a question as I`ve been using AKM chips for years:
is this "ess hump" audible in real world listenings?

Not that anyone has actually demonstrated. Lots of claims, no evidence. Nothing new under the sun...
 

Morla

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I would solve my doubt by going to smsl su-9, better measurements than 18, no ess hump, few bucks less than 16

Can su-9 disable display after some time?
 

raif71

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From my understanding AKM chips are much higher in price compared to its ESS counterpart and measurements are "lesser" than ESS though both sound great. In my subjective opinion the AKM sound better. If they have the same sound, why would gear vendors still use AKM especially if ESS have more features, measure better and cheaper too?
 
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If they have the same sound, why would gear vendors still use AKM especially if ESS have more features, measure better and cheaper too?

IMHO because it is marketed as a differentiating factor and helps them sell more gear. Just look at all these comments around the web saying 'ok, so I just bought <insert a DAC name here>, although I clearly don't need another DAC and the wife's gonna kill me'. If I were a marketing guy with a manufacturer, 'Always have both AKM and ESS in the product range' would be the company motto. You're simply shifting more units, and, like Gustard here, don't have to worry about cases piling up in the warehouse;)
 

raif71

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:p, once in awhile guys.... once in awhile... gotta get my juices flowing.
 

Nejiro

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Has the A18 been tested in its latest version? Because now they are delivering those with optical input, mqa support and above all with XU216 instead of XU208, it seems to me that the tests that are around all concern the version with XU208 ... ...
 

shal

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From my understanding AKM chips are much higher in price compared to its ESS counterpart and measurements are "lesser" than ESS though both sound great. In my subjective opinion the AKM sound better. If they have the same sound, why would gear vendors still use AKM especially if ESS have more features, measure better and cheaper too?

If I understand well, ESS is poorly documented . A Dac maker can prefer choose a well documented chip, with good communication with chip maker.
There is the history too, If you have used AKM for very long time, I known how integrate your chip in your product.
perhaps some architecture choose can be done with AKM and not ESS.

This can be a question for MC_RME
 

kopczas

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If I understand well, ESS is poorly documented .

It has changed thru the years. Datasheet for 9038pro is available on ess web page. Few years ago you`d have to ask support for datasheets . I guess that they didn`t want diy community to play with their products. Now you can by chips from mouser, back when order was possible straight from Ess only.
 

somebodyelse

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Has the A18 been tested in its latest version? Because now they are delivering those with optical input, mqa support and above all with XU216 instead of XU208, it seems to me that the tests that are around all concern the version with XU208 ... ...
What makes you think the XMOS processor choice will make much difference? It's only changed because the MQA decode needs extra processing power,
 

Nejiro

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What makes you think the XMOS processor choice will make much difference? It's only changed because the MQA decode needs extra processing power,
I agree that the difference will not be audible as many measurements are not but they are always two different chips and 99% of people use dac in usb, i just wanted to say that almost certainly the differences will not be audible but maybe the measurements could detect something different, that's all.
 
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