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Steelseries GameDAC Gen 2 for Xbox teardown

NickArcade

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Here are photos of the internal components inside the Steelseries GameDAC Gen 2 for Xbox! There were literally no photos online of this teardown showing the internal guts of the device. Apologies for having to take multiple photos. The glare from the light I used made some of the printing from the chips unreadable so I took multiple photos so they could be seen. Take note of the Realtek ALC4050 codec chip, the ESS Sabre, and the ARM chip!

This is my first forum thread on here ever, and I have no engineering experience. Please go easy on me! I purchased this unit to just post photos in this forum (I already own one and got this for super cheap).

I posted a teardown since me and lots of other Xbox players are quite upset that Microsoft removed the optical audio port on the Series X and Series S consoles. I still play on my VCR Xbox One from 2013 which has optical out, but I would like to upgrade to the latest generation some day. The GameDAC gen 2 is a decent device, but it is plagued by audio latency/delay. Options are extemely limited on Xbox when it comes to wanting to use an external USB device because a USB device must have a "Designed for Xbox" emblem in order for it to be supported. So.... it's all locked down. I could buy an AVR or a VRRoom, but I don't think it would be worth it spending hundreds or thousands of dollars just to have toslink support. Anyone think it's possible to add toslink in and out to this? There's built in firmware, so I'm wondering if that's a hindrance. Anyway, those are my thoughts. Enjoy.
 

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staticV3

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Thanks for the photos!

Have you thought about using an HDMI Audio Extractor to get Toslink out of your Xbox? (Link)
 

JSmith

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This is my first forum thread on here ever, and I have no engineering experience. Please go easy on me! I purchased this unit to just post photos in this forum (I already own one and got this for super cheap).
Welcome Nick and thanks for posting the teardown pics. I think we need more of this at ASR and in general, so kudos. :)


JSmith
 
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NickArcade

NickArcade

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Thanks for the photos!

Have you thought about using an HDMI Audio Extractor to get Toslink out of your Xbox? (Link)
I'm still playing on Xbox One. I'd rather not use an audio extractor, but I guess that's what essentially an AVR or HDfury vrroom is? What are the disadvantages compared to an onboard extractor or one from DAC? And could it be possible to solder a port into the Steelseries GameDAC without needing to use firmware?
 

staticV3

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What are the disadvantages compared to an onboard extractor or one from DAC?
You have one more box laying around and need a USB supply to power it. And you have to make sure that your extractor supports the HDMI bandwidth and featureset that you need for the image quality you want.

Other than that, nothing really. There's no extra latency or degradation, neither in image nor sound.

And could it be possible to solder a port into the Steelseries GameDAC without needing to use firmware?
Yes. It could be possible to tap into the i2s pins coming off the USB bridge and attach an i2s to Toslink adapter there.
 
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NickArcade

NickArcade

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You have one more box laying around and need a USB supply to power it. And you have to make sure that your extractor supports the HDMI bandwidth and featureset that you need for the image quality you want.

Other than that, nothing really. There's no extra latency or degradation, neither in image nor sound.


Yes. It could be possible to tap into the i2s pins coming off the USB bridge and attach an i2s to Toslink adapter there.
I think adding a toslink port to the GameDAC would be a fun project and an interesting challenge. Would the firmware embedded into the device have any impact? I read this old article here that talks about "retrofitting" an optical port onto any DAC: https://www.musicservertips.com/how-to-articles/dac-optical-input/
I know you're not a fortune teller, but I'm assuming that the audio would be pulled from the host (there are two USB C ports on the device, one for PC and one for Xbox) via USB and the audio output would go through the TRRS headphone port, line out, and toslink out? WOuld I need to insert a toslink input port too?

edit: I must be blind because I can't find the I2S on the board unless its labeled something else. I did see something on the datasheets about it.
 
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carat

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I want to know what the mystery SteelSeries-branded chip is doing. Can anyone hazard a guess based on layout?
Other than that, nothing really. There's no extra latency or degradation, neither in image nor sound.
Are we sure about that? When I was researching audio extractors it seemed like nobody was testing latency, and the only manufacturer that actually bothered to give latency specs on their products was HDFury. I did find some anecdotes claiming that certain extractors (such as the Astro one) added noticeable latency, but without any evidence I don't find those reports very convincing.

I wish there was an extractor that could pass FreeSync. All my Xbox Series audio problems would be solved.

Yes. It could be possible to tap into the i2s pins coming off the USB bridge and attach an i2s to Toslink adapter there.
The ALC4050 even supports SPDIF out directly, although the pin seems to be configurable to several different functions so I'm guessing it needs to be programmed to enable that somehow.

spdif.JPG


It's frustrating how easily a SPDIF Out could have been added. It would have made sense too, as SteelSeries styles this as a streaming device. It would surely benefit streamers to have a clean digital output to capture as an alternative to the analog stream output.
 

carat

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I think adding a toslink port to the GameDAC would be a fun project and an interesting challenge. Would the firmware embedded into the device have any impact? I read this old article here that talks about "retrofitting" an optical port onto any DAC: https://www.musicservertips.com/how-to-articles/dac-optical-input/
I know you're not a fortune teller, but I'm assuming that the audio would be pulled from the host (there are two USB C ports on the device, one for PC and one for Xbox) via USB and the audio output would go through the TRRS headphone port, line out, and toslink out? WOuld I need to insert a toslink input port too?

edit: I must be blind because I can't find the I2S on the board unless its labeled something else. I did see something on the datasheets about it.
Presumably I2S is what it being used to pipe the audio from the ALC4050 to the ESS DAC so you would probably just piggyback on that and your I2S-to-TOSLINK adapter would get everything the ESS DAC gets. This would all be happening downstream of the SteelSeries firmware so that shouldn't matter. I'm no expert though, which is part of the reason I haven't attempted it (the other reason being the dreaded latency bug making it not worth my effort).
 
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NickArcade

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You have one more box laying around and need a USB supply to power it. And you have to make sure that your extractor supports the HDMI bandwidth and featureset that you need for the image quality you want.

Other than that, nothing really. There's no extra latency or degradation, neither in image nor sound.


Yes. It could be possible to tap into the i2s pins coming off the USB bridge and attach an i2s to Toslink adapter there.
With a typical extractor you can't get extra features like 120 Hz, HDR, vrr, etc. The premium ones that allow for HDMI 2 features are expensive, ie AVRs (which still apparently have audio latency on Xbox), HDfury, the audio, etc.
 
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NickArcade

NickArcade

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I want to know what the mystery SteelSeries-branded chip is doing. Can anyone hazard a guess based on layout?

Are we sure about that? When I was researching audio extractors it seemed like nobody was testing latency, and the only manufacturer that actually bothered to give latency specs on their products was HDFury. I did find some anecdotes claiming that certain extractors (such as the Astro one) added noticeable latency, but without any evidence I don't find those reports very convincing.

I wish there was an extractor that could pass FreeSync. All my Xbox Series audio problems would be solved.


The ALC4050 even supports SPDIF out directly, although the pin seems to be configurable to several different functions so I'm guessing it needs to be programmed to enable that somehow.

View attachment 308309

It's frustrating how easily a SPDIF Out could have been added. It would have made sense too, as SteelSeries styles this as a streaming device. It would surely benefit streamers to have a clean digital output to capture as an alternative to the analog stream output.
Have you checked out the products from thenaudio such as the sharc or zone 2 pro? I hear their products are fantastic and that they frequently work with HDfury on product development. HDfury has a Discord channel you should check out also that's on their site.
I bought a brand new iFi SPDIF ipurifier 2 last week, and I enjoy mine. I haven't had problems with latency as far as in aware, but I can listen to music on my PC at 192 KHz with Tidal, and it sounds wonderful. I use it on my Xbox One, but haven't noticed any significant change yet I'm aware of. It's supposed to resolve issues with jitter among other things.
 
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NickArcade

NickArcade

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A very nice genius who works on electronics professionally sent me this message regarding my inquiry. What do you guys think?
So, to summarize, you want to replace bypass some existing input on this device with a toslink input?

I don't have a magic bullet answer for you but I can try to give you some information to help (or at least highlight the pitfalls). I think what you're attempting will be extremely difficult and I'm not sure you'll end up with a result you'll be happy with; but I don't want to dissuade anyone who wants to hack up something.

But first I would ask: How do you know the latency will be fixed by moving to toslink? Have you tested the latency of both the USB and Line In paths to see if they have similar or different latency profiles?

From your pictures we can make some guesses about the architecture of the device. The (ESP9218P)[https://www.esstech.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/02/ES9218P_Datasheet_v1.8.pdf] is probably doing all the heavy audio lifting. It can drive the headphones, capture line in, produce line out, and take the I2S signals from an external device. The I2S interface is probably used to get digital audio from the (ALC4050)[https://www.audiosciencereview.com/forum/index.php?attachments/alc4050_datasheet_1-2-pdf.77376/] which provides the USB audio interface (it also has a built in SPDIF output so it can theoretically drive a toslink output though I'm sure this is unused in this implementation). The ARM1 likely performs configuration of all the other ICs over I2C (setup, volume changes, etc), and handles the UI. The IC with the circle logo probably drives the screen.

If the ESP9218P is where all the audio in the device flows through and it's the reason why there's latency then changing the input type will not help (test USB vs Line in latency). The IC advertises customizeable filters and other low end DSP features, and if they are performed in the digital domain (which I'm sure they are) then they will incur a latency penalty. I've encounter similar problematic filter features on parts in the past.

If the ESP9218P is the issue then your choices are bypass the chip, in which case it'd be simpler to build your own Toslink to headphone device, or reprogram the firmware to disable all the offending filters (assuming they can be) which requires proprietary knowledge about how to build their firmware.

If the ESP9218P isn't the problem then you could hypothetically cut the i2s lines between the ALC4050 and ESP9218P, and then have your TOSLINK input IC feed its i2s data in it's place. However there are likely a number of hurdles to overcome here: * I2S isn't a rigged standard. There are many permutations (active high/low, bit width, speed, data shift 1/0/-1 bit clock position, etc). You'd need to figure out exactly the correct flavor of I2S the ALC is feeding the ESP otherwise at best you'll hear nothing. At worst you will have you eardrums shattered by a sound somewhat like a gas main exploding. * The ARM1 likely coordinates which input is currently being selected and if you bypass USB 1 or 2 with a toslink input the ARM1 won't know to switch to it. The ALC may report no connection so the ARM1 won't ever select it even though the Toslink IC is blindly trying to send audio to the ESP. * You need to configure your Toslink IC somehow on startup. Many chips do this over I2C but then you need a microcontroller to talk to it so now you need that plus program a firmware for it increasing your project scope. If you connect the I2C lines to the ARM1 then it could program the toslink IC but you're back to the: how do I write a firmware with no documentation problem. I have used DACs which are configured via strap resisters so they are ready on power on; maybe there are toslink ICs which do the same?

As for specific Toslink->I2S adapters I haven't used any discrete ICs in the last 10 years. Toslink interfaces have been built-in to almost all modern System-on-Chips so I don't have to work with external chips anymore. Cirrus Logic still makes a bunch of them as I've found them in several of the cheapo RCA<->Toslink adapters you find on Amazon.

Unfortunately I'm not sure any of this really helps you get to a solution. It's a cool idea. I wish you luck.
------
Yeah I'm familiar with the "designed for xbox". I have a few Xbox game pads (not the Windows Compatible variant) which I use with my Linux machine (as all they did is change the device IDs so the windows drivers don't work).

Using any encoded format (like Dolby or DTS) is absolutely the worst way to game. Dolby and DTS encode/decode audio in large blocks due to the compression which means the sender has to accumulate enough audio to encode, then perform the encode, and then the receiver has the accumulate enough data to decode, and then do the decode. It all adds latency. Great for movies (where there is no input response lag) but sucks for gaming. PCM is the key to latency free audio, but usually demotes you to Stereo only unless your console can perform Multi-Channel PCM (which I think the Switch can do maybe? my last console was a PS3 so I'm really behind on what the latest generation can do) but then you end up with lots of compatibility issues when you start routing to headphones or audio extractors (do they reject the audio, downmix correctly, or just play 2 random channels?).

But yeah your situation is a tricky one. My (admittedly lazy solution) was to have an apt-x LL Bluetooth transmitter attached to the line out of my TV with equivalently capable bluetooth headphones. There's a little lag, but it's in the same ballpark as my soundbar (30-40msec) so it doesn't really matter.
 
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NickArcade

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I've given up on the idea of attempting to modify the GameDAC gen 2. I already own an iFi SPDIF iPurifier 2, and if or when I upgrade to a Series X I'll just get a decent HDMI audio extractor or AVR and connect it to the SPDIF iPurifier. That would probably solve the issue
 
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