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Review and Measurements of Melokin DA9.1 ES9038PRO DAC and Headphone Amp

amirm

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#1
This is a review and detailed Measurements of Melokin DA9.1 ES9038PRO DAC and Headphone Amp. I purchased this for a discount after contacting the manufacturer to get such. I have gotten quite a few requests for measuring it due to it sporting the high-end ES9038Pro DAC chip.

Unboxing is pleasant with the unit being double boxed and inside, covert with nice plastic bag. Once removed, you are greeted with above average machining and construction:

Melokin DA91 ES9038Pro DAC Review and Measurement.jpg


You can see the Topping D50 on top of it which I used as a reference for measurements which uses the lower end ES9038Q2M version of the same DAC chip from ESS. The topping retails for $249 but is frequently on sale for $199. The retail price of Melokin DA9.1 is $360 (plus $80 for USB input) but it includes a headphone amplifier which the D50 does not have.

Purchasing was a pain as I had to pay in advance to the manufacture using paypal and then wait 2-3 weeks (?) for delivery. Definitely not in the same class of Amazon Prime. :)

The unit has UAC2 compliant drivers and it automatically installed itself in Windows 10 Creators edition. Since my Audio Precision APx555 analyzer only supports ASIO, I used ASIO4ALL wrapper to communicate in "bit exact" mode to both DACs for measurements. Both units have other digital inputs which I did not test.

Measurements
As usual, let's look at dashboard view of Melokin DA9.1:

Melokin DA91 ES9038Pro DAC.png


We see that the output at 2.5 volt RMS is above average (typically 2 volts). Other figures look good. But there is a catch: I could only get these clean results if I set the headphone volume control to zero. I initially tested with it at max volume and was greeted with these horrible results:

Melokin DA91 ES9038Pro DAC Dashboard Max Volume.png


As you see, we lost more than 50 dB of performance while the output volume did not change at all! Somehow the headphone amplifier is loading down the line out of the DAC. Puzzling and definitely a design mistake.

Next I ran everyone's favorite, linearity test:
Melokin DA91 ES9038Pro DAC vs Topping D50 Linearity Measurement.png


Not good. Not only do we lose linearity early, but each channel does its own thing! One deviates positively while the other, negatively. We can see this in scope view of -110 dB signal (post filtering):
Melokin DA91 ES9038Pro DAC -110 db Linearity measurement.png


It is easy to see that the output is much lower than the other.

Next I ran SMPTE Intermodulation distortion test:

Melokin DA91 ES9038Pro DAC Intermodulation Distortion Measurement.png


So once again we seen differing performance in each channel (in red). More so, we see clipping starting at -15 dB.

The topping D50 while not perfect with that "hump" in mid-levels, does very well and keeps its channel distortions the same.

To be honest, at this point I lost interest in further testing given how much more gear I have to test. I think the message is fairly clear. But let me know if you want something else tested in it.

Summary
The Melokin DA9.1 ES9038PRO came with a lot of promise and kind discount from the manufacturer. Good out of box experience and build quality put me in good mood. The goodwill got lost though when seeing measurements that demonstrate anomalies which should have been caught and fixed prior to manufacturing.

Lesson here: don't go by part specs. Insist on seeing measurements.

If you are still interested in buying this unit, mine is available for purchase. :) Send me message.

------------

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

If you like this review, please consider donating funds for these types of hardware purchases using Patreon (https://www.patreon.com/audiosciencereview), or upgrading your membership here though Paypal (https://audiosciencereview.com/foru...eview-and-measurements.2164/page-3#post-59054).
 
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Sal1950

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#2
This is a review and detailed Measurements of Melokin DA9.1 ES3098PRO DAC and Headphone Amp. I purchased this for a discount after contacting the manufacturer to get such.
Well after this review that will be the last discount pricing you get from them. LOL
 

Blumlein 88

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#3
So what is the mono'd linearity of the unit combining both channels? :)

The hot ticket might be running two as dual mono'd units. You could even run opposite polarity signals to each channel prior to combining them to obtain great linearity, better noise levels, and tremendously improving the results. You just gave up on the unit. Shame.


Oh, you probably have this odd idea, the manufacturer should have done all that internally. You expect too much perhaps. :p

You can't accuse them of sending you a hand-picked ringer.
 

gvl

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#4
What a waste of an ESS flagship DAC chip. They ain't cheap I hear. Perhaps it uses a fake 9038PRO? If memory serves 9038PRO dissipates 500mW, several PCBs I saw all had a heatsink on the chip, but not this one, at least on the images of its internals I saw.
 
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Veri

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#5
What a waste of an ESS flagship DAC chip. They ain't cheap I hear. Perhaps it uses a fake 9038PRO? If memory serves 9038PRO dissipates 500mW, several PCBs I saw all had a heatsink on the chip, but not this one, at least on the images of its internals I saw.
It's likely a real chip, just suffers from design errors.. if there weren't any mistakes made in the design it would have measured better than the ES9038Q2M as expected, it seems the 9038PRO chip is harder to execute properly though... maybe SMSL has done it right with their implementation.
 

maxxevv

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#6
It tempts me to send over my even cheaper ES9038PRO unit to test... Though its probably not worth the shipping costs back and forth from where I'm located though.

At least mine has heatsink on the chip and all the heat generating parts.
 

Simer

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#7
Some time ago i asked Amir to advise me on the purchase of a dac from ebay like this one

https://www.ebay.com/itm/ES9038-ES9...cf:m:md1182l6jnyWeTJj_pECEow&var=431830184358

He was not positive to buy something from unknown manufacturer but instead i should buy something from a reputable one with tested products. Finally i took his advise and ordered Topping D50.
Now it is so clear and obvious what he was saying. I think we own a lot to this man for the effort time and money he put in the measurements
of all these products. We have saved a lot of time and money because of him. Respect and best regards from Greece.
 
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#8
Wouldn't it be highly relevant to measure the actual channel balance in dB considering how all the measurements show channel discrepancies? :cool:
 

JustIntonation

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#9
Some time ago i asked Amir to advise me on the purchase of a dac from ebay like this one

https://www.ebay.com/itm/ES9038-ES9038PRO-DAC-DSD-Decoder-board-HIFI-Audio-TCXO-remote-control/132482229967?hash=item1ed88e66cf:m:md1182l6jnyWeTJj_pECEow&var=431830184358

He was not positive to buy something from unknown manufacturer but instead i should buy something from a reputable one with tested products. Finally i took his advise and ordered Topping D50.
Now it is so clear and obvious what he was saying. I think we own a lot to this man for the effort time and money he put in the measurements
of all these products. We have saved a lot of time and money because of him. Respect and best regards from Greece.
I should have listened as well..
But I was stubborn and ordered a Melokin DA9.1 2 weeks ago on Ebay. Hasn't even arrived yet.
Still have a very small hope that these errors are somehow related to the 120 Ohm headphone output settings. They can be set between 0 Ohm, 10 Ohm and 120 Ohm output impedance.
Perhaps the 120 Ohm output impedance is meant to be used as a pre-amp with volume control as a line out through the headphone socket instead of the line outputs and there is no problem with the line outputs when setting the headphone output impedance to 0 Ohm or 10 Ohm. (I see in the picture that it is set to 120 Ohm, and read a few reviews that report distortion at the 120 Ohm setting at higher volumes from the headphone output)
Keeping fingers crossed.

Otherwise my unit is going back when it arrives (purchased through Ebay with 30 days money back guarantee).
 

Simer

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#11
I should have listened as well..
But I was stubborn and ordered a Melokin DA9.1 2 weeks ago on Ebay. Hasn't even arrived yet.
Still have a very small hope that these errors are somehow related to the 120 Ohm headphone output settings. They can be set between 0 Ohm, 10 Ohm and 120 Ohm output impedance.
Perhaps the 120 Ohm output impedance is meant to be used as a pre-amp with volume control as a line out through the headphone socket instead of the line outputs and there is no problem with the line outputs when setting the headphone output impedance to 0 Ohm or 10 Ohm. (I see in the picture that it is set to 120 Ohm, and read a few reviews that report distortion at the 120 Ohm setting at higher volumes from the headphone output)
Keeping fingers crossed.

Otherwise my unit is going back when it arrives (purchased through Ebay with 30 days money back guarantee).
I 've ordered also from ebay meaning 30 days delivery time and possibly customs that will add on the initial cost some 30%, that means that you think twice and pull the trigger only if you are sure for the purchase. That's where Amir helped a lot. Good luck with Melokin, Hope it works for you.
 
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#13
Now that the Melokin is a disappointment, I really hope the HiFime UDA38Pro measures well so we have at least 1 budget ES9038PRO DAC that measures well.
 

JustIntonation

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#15
To be clear I have only tested the unit as a DAC using its RCA output. NOT headphone out.
This was clear to me.
But apparently the two interact (bad design). What I'm really wondering if this is something that happens only with the 120 Ohm headphone output setting or if it also happens with the 10 Ohm and 0 Ohm headphone output impedance settings.
I can see in the picture that you took that the headphone output impedance setting is set to 120 Ohm. ( OIR (120Ohm) )
Any chance of a quick measurement to see if this makes any difference?
If it does and all is fine with the 0 Ohm setting then there's perhaps still a great DAC to be had?
 
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amirm

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#16

JustIntonation

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#17
OK, I will do one more test later.....
That's great, thank you!
And I owe you one. I'll try to repay by testing my unit once it arrives.
I don't have an Audio Precision system but I do have several ADC's and I'll figure out a way to measure THD+N with software. This will at least alow me to replicate (at lower measurement resolution through my ADC) the extreme THD+N from the RCA output when the headphone volume is at maximum. (Still keeping my fingers crossed this only occurs when the extra 120Ohm impedance is set/in the signal path..)
But then we will at least also know if this is a one off production error or a bad design affecting all units.
 

amirm

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#18
I re-did the dashboard while toggling the switch and it makes no difference. And it still has the same problem with the distortion hugely escalating if I change the volume while leaving the output impedance of the headphone at zero.

FY, here are the THD versus output levels from the headphone at 0 output impedance setting:

Melokin DA91 ES9038Pro DAC THD vs Output measurement.png


There is a double knee in the distortion curves. One early on and then huge clipping the second go around. I put some markers on the final clipping point so that you can gauge max power prior to hard clipping. 4.8 volts for example means 80 milliwatts at 300 ohms which is pretty good.

And here is the output impedance at the same "0" setting:

Melokin DA91 ES9038Pro Output Impedance measurement.png


So pretty good there. I say at this point its headphone stage is having a much better showing than its DAC.
 

amirm

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#19
That's great, thank you!
And I owe you one. I'll try to repay by testing my unit once it arrives.
I don't have an Audio Precision system but I do have several ADC's and I'll figure out a way to measure THD+N with software. This will at least alow me to replicate (at lower measurement resolution through my ADC) the extreme THD+N from the RCA output when the headphone volume is at maximum. (Still keeping my fingers crossed this only occurs when the extra 120Ohm impedance is set/in the signal path..)
But then we will at least also know if this is a one off production error or a bad design affecting all units.
Oh, you don't have to repay me. It is my pleasure to test this and sorry could not do it before you made your purchase decision. Hopefully it is a unit to unit variation.
 

Ron Texas

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#20
I wonder how they managed to take a high end chip and screw the entire thing up. OK, I realize there are several other vital components in the box.
 
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