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SMSL M500 Teardown & ESS ES9038Pro DAC Thermal Analysis

MusicNBeer

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I got some ESS "data sheets" from Charley Hansen once. Absolutely terrible. I assume it was the best he had access to.

In my experience, the data sheet quality ranking goes something like this:

1. Linear Technology (now ADI)
2. Analog Devices (ADI)
3. Texas Instruments
4. Maxim, NXP, ON Semi, etc
5. Single-market outfits like AKM
426. Secretive companies like ESS

The top 3 are all very good. At level 4 the quality varies greatly between parts, but there's always enough information to get the job done. At level 5 enough information is available to make the device work, but important details may be missing or hard to find. Below that, you're essentially guessing.
Yes I'm used to reading datasheets from 1-3. I was shocked to see how horrid the datasheets are from ESS. I really think 1-3 could smoke ESS performance if they thought it was a worthy business case.
 

gvl

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Perhaps ESS provides more detailed datasheets to their biggest clients only? The plebeian companies have to make do with far worse datasheets?

Or big customers get a full-time application engineer as a part of a contract to helps to work around all the quirks.
 

Sak

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Because SABREDAC SABREDAC SABREDAC. I think an iBasso MP3 player was the first mobile music player to incorporate an ESS chip and that helped immensely with the Sabre's popularity.
It is doubtful that it would affect the popularity of the chip. ESS chips was used much earlier in desktop DACs and and network players with 9016 chip.
All ESS devices that I owned (Pioneer N50, N-70, U-05, Xdp-300R/30R, Onkyo DP-X1/DP-S1, Ibasso DX100/DX90J, CALYX M, Fiio M6, Audinst DX1 DAC/AMP, SMSL SU8 DAC, Sabaj D5), sound very clear and transparent. And if you look at the DAC SINAD Measurements on this site, for some reason, in the top lines devices on ESS chip. Even if there are some problems, such as "ESS IMD Hump," I don't think that it can be heard.
(Sorry for my english)
 
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John_Siau

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Don't be too quick to blame the ESS chip for this temperature-induced change in THD performance!

The DC bias on the I-V converter may not be tracking the DC bias of the ESS chip due to an implementation issue.

It is also possible that the product being tested is using the voltage output mode instead of the current output mode.

A third possibility is that the product is making excessive use of the 2nd and 3rd harmonic trim. This should be used for trimming the distortion in the ESS DAC and should not be used to trim out the distortion in the system output stage.
 

Palex

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Folks, this is a few dbs change at the end of the rainbow. While it is important with respect to bragging rights (i.e. who is on top of the SINAD graph), it is not something material you want to mess with to get better fidelity. There is a reason I put DACs in just four quadrant, not 200! :)
Dear Amirm! On October 28 I had a birthday (53), as a gift - your review on M500. On November 3 I have received the M500 and was happy …. What result today? You recommend M500? M 500 enters your List?
 
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amirm

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Dear Amirm! On October 28 I had a birthday (53), as a gift - your review on M500. On November 3 I have received the M500 and was happy …. What result today? You recommend M500? M 500 enters your List?
Nothing has changed my recommendation. These are very small differences we are talking about.
 

redjr

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If heatsink is needed cab anyone recommend a good one to stick on top of 9038Pro?
Search for heatsinks used on raspberry pis and other SBCs. I'm using them on several pi HAT DACs that run hot. You may need to also add a square of thermal tape to keep the HS from possibly shorting other connections.
 

milosz

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Don't be too quick to blame the ESS chip for this temperature-induced change in THD performance!

The DC bias on the I-V converter may not be tracking the DC bias of the ESS chip due to an implementation issue.

It is also possible that the product being tested is using the voltage output mode instead of the current output mode.

A third possibility is that the product is making excessive use of the 2nd and 3rd harmonic trim. This should be used for trimming the distortion in the ESS DAC and should not be used to trim out the distortion in the system output stage.

John

Thanks for chiming in. It's very useful hearing from someone who knows implementation details regarding use of these DACs. Even though I am not conversant with the ESS reference design, your comment illuminates how this chip is integrated into products, this leads me to a better understanding of how D-to-A in a consumer product is done, where it can go wrong, and the beginning of an understanding of how it SHOULD be done for given products like this ESS chip.

Also: thanks to Benchmark for making that really SOTA gear.
 

TC!!

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The probability M500v2 will come up is really high now.
I'm not so sure, as @amirm said and my ears would agree, it's still a great DAC.
Also if all they did was slap a heatsink on there would it really be a v2? More like M500+.
 

pirxel

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you know my unit start making some regular popping sounds if I put it at anything higher than 192khz, think it could be because of this temp issue?
 

Alerma

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you know my unit start making some regular popping sounds if I put it at anything higher than 192khz, think it could be because of this temp issue?
I would be interested to know that as well. Maybe a heatsink doesn't make a difference on 44.1/16 however the situation can change with hi-res formats. I wonder why SMSL decided to skip on a heatsink?
 

szhchen

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you know my unit start making some regular popping sounds if I put it at anything higher than 192khz, think it could be because of this temp issue?
My unit have popping sounds at sample rate higher than 352khz.

The inconsistent quality is the reason why I think they should make m500 v2.
 

restorer-john

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This DAC needs a peltier on the DAC chip. A possible tweak that really works.

The Peltier will not work in a sealed cabinet. Without active cooling- fan/heatsink on the "hot" side of the Peltier, vented to the outside air, you'd end up considerably worse off. The overall power consumption of the unit would skyrocket to run the Peltier device as well.

What would help is proper thermal design considerations. SMSL clearly designed in a heat sink mount but chose not to implement it. No doubt due to the fact it only delays the inevitable in a sealed cabinet.

Personally, I'd like to see a whole lot more investigation of thermally affected digital audio devices over a typical internal temperature stabilization cycle, instead of John Siau's attempted "there's nothing to see here folks, move-on" comments. They use a 9028PRO in the DAC-3. I bet someone broke out the CO2 spray at Benchmark the other day to see if the Mk2 version will get a heatsink, some breathing holes and offer even better performance... ;)
 
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amirm

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Personally, I'd like to see a whole lot more investigation of thermally affected digital audio devices over a typical internal temperature stabilization cycle, instead of John Siau's attempted "there's nothing to see here folks, move-on" comments.
That is not what he said. He said the design may be deficient and cause thermal dependencies. I quite believe him.
 

restorer-john

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That is not what he said. He said the design may be deficient and cause thermal dependencies. I quite believe him.

I know exactly what he said. And what he didn't.

Just for fun, pull out some D/A converters you have lying around with similar D/A chipsets and try heat/cool cycles and see what happens while the AP is running. D/A converter packages of all types have had heatsinks fitted to them over the years to obtain the reasonably consistent performance, especially when enclosed in small non-ventilated cabinets.
 

NorthGraves

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After having read all these posts re V2 and thermal design deficiencies, I must be listening to a completely different device:).

M500 1.08 firmware and absolutely zero issues, pops, clicks, or anything I can mention, while listening to 24/352.8 MQA, or DXD (24/352.8), or DSD256, or DSD512.

Have been listening for more than 2 weeks, since Nov.29. Used as a DAC, balanced connection to SMSL SP200.

One crazy idea though - it's connected to the "higher quality" USB port on Gigabyte Aorus Master motherboard, could that matter?
Their "USB DAC-UP 2" cleaner power technology.
 

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Charles0322

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Amir, when you first tested you showed the results of the filters.. I can only get the filters to engage or change sound with MQA, all other sources the filters do not change? Are both units the same in this regard or does the Amazon version filters only work on MQA like mine?
 
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amirm

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Amir, when you first tested you showed the results of the filters.. I can only get the filters to engage or change sound with MQA, all other sources the filters do not change? Are both units the same in this regard or does the Amazon version filters only work on MQA like mine?
All my test signals are standard PCM without MQA coding. When you say it doesn't work, what does it do different?
 
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