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Review and Measurements of Aoide DAC II Pi HAT

amirm

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#1
This is a review and detailed measurements of the Aoide DAC II Raspberry Pi HAT DAC. It was kindly purchased by a member and drop shipped to me. He bought it from Amazon and it costs US $39.99 including Prime shipping. It uses an ESS ES9018K2M DAC Chip unlike the competing budget DACs which use the TI PCM series DAC.

Here is a shot of what it looks like:

AOIDE DAC II ESS ES9018K2M Raspberry Pi HAT DAC Audio Review.jpg

The Aoide DAC II has some of the cheapest RCA connectors you can imagine. I worried they would snap off as I inserted my test RCA cables into it that don't require much tension. Can't imagine using "audiophile" ones with their death grip on them.

There is a 3.5 mm jack in addition to RCA but they are hooked up to each other from what I can tell. This means it has high impedance and low power so don't use it for proper headphone listening.

As with recently Raspberry DACs, I used the same Pi board running Ropieee Roon player endpoint. So all the tests are done with Roon streaming content to them.

Raspberry Pi Audio DAC Measurements
As usual, we start with our 1 kHz, 44.1 kHz sampling at 24 bits:

AOIDE DAC II ESS ES9018K2M Audio Measurements.png


No, your eyes are not deceiving you. It really is producing that horrible, near square wave because it is severely clipping. The output level is high at 2.3 volts and exceeding the power supply rails. That in turn results in sever harmonic distortion that you see in FFT.

I searched for reviews of this DAC and I only found one person and he complained about the exact same thing saying it had too much gain and "THD distortion. So likely this is not a setup issue but who knows. This would be enough to stop the testing at this point but I went ahead and reduced levels by 6 dB on the input side and got a non-clipping output:

AOIDE DAC II ESS ES9018K2M -6 dB Audio Measurements.png


Reducing levels below this made SINAD worse as noise takes over. Using this new SINAD, this is where it would place in our DAC rankings:
AOIDE DAC II ESS ES9018K2M -6 dB Audio SINAD Measurements.png


Definitely not good.

Jitter is clean but with elevated noise floor:

AOIDE DAC II ESS ES9018K2M -6 dB Jitter Audio Measurements.png


Multitone was surprisingly free of intermodulation products. Don't know why.

AOIDE DAC II ESS ES9018K2M -6 dB Multitone Distortion Audio Measurements.png


White noise signal shows a filter that has a slow response but decent attenuation at high frequencies.

AOIDE DAC II ESS ES9018K2M -6 dB White Noise Filter Response Audio Measurements.png


Conclusions
It is clear that the Aoide DAC II is a broken implementation in the configuration I tested. Whether it works with patches and/or other configs, I don't know. Given that there are plug-and-play solutions with lower distortion from likes of HifiBerry, I don't see any reason to recommend the Aoide DAC II.

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

The headless panther above is demanding that I use glue on the edges of its neck so that it doesn't further deteriorate. Apparently there is a panther-safe glue for this application but it is expensive. So please donate generously using: https://www.audiosciencereview.com/forum/index.php?threads/how-to-support-audio-science-review.8150/
 
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#5
Conclusions
It is clear that the Aoide DAC II is a broken implementation in the configuration I tested. Whether it works with patches and/or other configs, I don't know. Given that there are plug-and-play solutions with lower distortion from likes of HifiBerry, I don't see any reason to recommend the Aoide DAC II.
It'd be great if you get a chance to test some more high-performance DAC HATs along the vein of the ALLO and ApplePi units. We've now seen the broken, the low end, the cheap but cheerful (HifiBerry), and the very top end... is there anything else better? or close? to the top end?

Again, it's great to see DAC HATs reviewed - aside from just a few manufacturers that provide their own data, there is absolutely no way to know the implementation is so craptacular as the Aoide unit, without someone hooking it up an looking.
 

amirm

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#6
I only have one more DAC HAT left to test. A manufacturer reached out to me to send theirs but that would take some time.

If you want any others measured, you either have to buy and send it to me or ask the manufacturer to do so. I have so much to test right now that it doesn't make sense for me to buy more stuff and have it sit around. :)
 
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#7
I only have one more DAC HAT left to test. A manufacturer reached out to me to send theirs but that would take some time.

If you want any others measured, you either have to buy and send it to me or ask the manufacturer to do so. I have so much to test right now that it doesn't make sense for me to buy more stuff and have it sit around. :)
I'm studying this list of DAC HATs for something to send that looks like it might be different and interesting, with the potential of being good....
ie. maybe not yet another TI PCM5XXX implementation.

The AK4495SEQ unit maybe...
 
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#8
I will put this in a cheap metal box, charge £14000 a pop and call it TidalDAC.

The best natural sound waves with TidalDAC .
Nice word play, Thomas Savage!
If allowed, may I dare coin a € 12 000 TotaleARNAC ("arnaque", (feminine noun), meaning "scam" in casual French) DAC?
especially if selling along a very cheap transformer as a € 1200 power supply, and so on with the super expensive magic USB cable-scam, the very cheapest junk TV remote...
and not forgetting to use a -120dB (!) test frequency to get a FFT plot showing that it has an exceptionally superior noise floor below the measurement capabilities of the analyzer...
Don't think that my pricing is too much, the prices are not excessive, given that I need to "listen" to each electronic component so as to select with my engineering golden ears the few divinely chosen components deserving to make it into the super cheap enclosure.
What, you can't understand my astute points? You should praise me as a cult leader deserves, am I not the best audio engineer on the planet and of all times?

And if all of this isn't enough for you, I have the ultimate, definitive argument:
TotaleARNAC's products have been found to be the best of all by many audiophile magazines and by many professional internet reviewers and site managers: case closed.
 
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#9
The picture with the decapitated pink panther clearly signals that the product being reviewed is broken. I was not expecting to see a SINAD value of 15dB, however. Wow! Worthless at any price.
 
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#10
From the description of the product I read that it does not use any OP in the output stage, the I/V output stage consists only of a resistor... Maybe this could explain high THD and low intermodulation at the same time.
 

Nango

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#11
This is the first time I burst out laughing reading one of the reviews as soon as saw that SINAD graph. Very unexpected.
You then missed the panther at the beginning ;) .....
 
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#15
"No, your eyes are not deceiving you. It really is producing that horrible, near square wave because it is severely clipping."

END GAME warmth, soundstage, intimacy, smoothness.

-Random tube aficionado
You just don't appreciate the unique warmth and color that true audiophile level equipment produces. Imparting an audio company's special character is an important part of all elite audio gear. But we don't expect you to understand.
 
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JohnYang1997

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#16
You just don't appreciate the unique warmth and color that true audiophile level equipment produces. Imparting an audio company's special character is an important part of all elite audio gear. But we don't expect you to understand.
sarcasm?
 
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#18
Looks like the Panther has found a DAC capable of meeting the requirements of Morse Code playback aficionados - with audiophile warmth, color and a wide sound stage.

I was expecting it to be bad when I saw the Panther ... but I was not expecting it to be that bad.
 

LTig

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#19
From the description of the product I read that it does not use any OP in the output stage, the I/V output stage consists only of a resistor... Maybe this could explain high THD and low intermodulation at the same time.
Looking at the output at 0 dBFS there must be an output stage which has too much gain. A single resistor cannot be overdriven. If the clipping would occur before the DA-conversion then the top and bottom of the clipped sinus would be absolutely flat and would not show noise and/or ripples.
 
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#20
In the previous well reviewed DAC (AUDIOPHONICS DAC I-Sabre ES9038Q2M) the Audiophonics representative said this in the comments: "Sometimes we ask for minor modifications, sometimes we only rebrand them, but for this one we found a problem in the gain schematic, and had to modify them in our workshop to avoid saturation @0dB." The output voltage of that unit also matches the non-distorting output voltage of this device.
 

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