August 16, 2022

DAP is a DAC chip group or a discrete group? I listened to the popular DAP, Shanling “M7” and HiBy “RS6”

5 min read

Is DAP a “DAC chip group?” or a “discrete group”?
There is a saying, “Songs follow the world, and the world follows songs.” After all, the ancestor would be the cassette player that started with the Walkman (although some would argue that it was Densuke), the disc player such as CD and MD, and the memory player that follows the current DAP.

The DAP also produces various variations. Since it seems to be derailing, I will make it brief in this article, but until the early 2000s, the focus was on playing compressed files (for example, iPod), but models that support high-resolution playback began to gain popularity, and eventually Astell & Kern dropped a lot. Models have appeared, and dual DAC-equipped machines are no longer rare. Currently, streaming compatible models equipped with 4.4mm balanced terminals are selling well.

And now, there is a movement to reconsider the composition of the “heart”. Conventionally, decoding and digital/analog conversion were performed by combining a CPU and DAC, but DAPs began to emerge that avoided DACs made by chip vendors and realized equivalent functions with FPGAs and R2R DACs. is.

Speaking of DAC, it is a part that is greatly related to sound quality by converting digital signals into analog signals, and it is exactly the heart of DAP. In the past, we have examined DACs developed by chip vendors and used them to express our individuality as a DAP through not only hardware aspects such as board design, but also software approaches such as the use of filters and special commands. However, with FPGA + R2R DAC, it is possible to produce original sounds that “cannot be produced by vendor-made DACs.”

Mid-range models that appeared under such circumstances, Shanling “M7” and HiBy “RS6”. The former is a DAC chip and the latter is an FPGA + R2R DAC, and the design is very different despite being in the same price range. What is the difference in sound? What is the difference in function? How is the usability as a DAP?
Shanling “M7” loaded with DAC for component audio
Shanling “M7” is equipped with ESS’s latest and flagship DAC chip “ES9038PRO”. The body, which is CNC machined from aircraft-grade aluminum, is equipped with a 5-inch / 1920 x 1080-dot Sharp liquid crystal display, and the titanium coloring and glass panel create a sense of quality.
The feature is a 4ch full-balanced amplifier circuit based on Shanling’s specialty “OP + BUF architecture (a circuit using an operational amplifier and a buffer)”. “MUSES8920” is loaded in the amplifier circuit. It can be said that the point is that carefully selected parts such as Panasonic tantalum-polymer capacitors and ELNA SILMIC II capacitors are used down to the smallest detail.

Snapdragon 665 is used for the CPU, and 6GB of memory (RAM) and 128GB of storage memory are available. The OS is Android 10, and the original technology “AGLO (Android Global Loss-less Output)” for passing sampling rate conversion by AudioFlinger is adopted, so you can enjoy high-resolution playback in the best condition even with Amazon Music and Apple Music.

When I listened to it immediately, I was impressed by the sharpness of the sound and the precision of the outline. “Silent Light/Dominic Miller” (96kHz/24bit), which is being distributed on Amazon Music, has the freshness of a high-resolution sound source, a large amount of information in the high-frequency direction, and the overtone components of the acoustic guitar are comfortable. In addition to the ESS-like liveliness, the sound is more dense than the previous model (M6 Pro Ver.21), yet has a sense of transparency.

When I listen to “Thriller/Michael Jackson” (DSD64) in file playback, I feel a part that has been “peeled” from previous Shanling products. The bass drum has both strength and clarity, and the snare attack is also sharp, probably because there is plenty of output. Thanks to the “3rd generation FPGA technology” that Shanling’s unique algorithm is incorporated, the smoothness and airiness typical of DSD stand out.

Where does this high-quality feel and impression of “peeled skin” come from? I asked Alex Lin, who is in charge of product planning at Shanling, using WeChat.

— “M6 Pro Ver.21” used “ES9038Q2M” for DAC. Please tell us why you chose the “ES9038PRO” for the DAC of the “M7” this time.

Alex: We have built a good relationship with ESS for a long time, and the ES9038PRO made use of our experience with the stationary CD player CD 3.2 Ver.21. Its rich and transparent sound has won the support of many audiophiles, and based on its success, I decided to try the same “ES9038PRO” as a portable machine.

— I heard that you added optimizations based on the “ES9038PRO”. What exactly did you do?

Alex: In the “M7”, we boldly adopted the current type output mode of the “ES9038PRO”. The voltage type, which is widely used in DAPs, consumes less power and generates less heat, and the circuit layout is simple, but the sound line is thin and the digital feeling remains. On the other hand, the current type is the output method officially recommended by ESS, and is generally used only for stationary/component models, but like the “CD 3.2 Ver.21” introduced earlier, it has a powerful and dense sound. can be achieved. In order to meet the strict power requirements of the ES9038PRO, a unique I/V conversion circuit is constructed based on high-precision film resistors and Panasonic low-loss polymer tantalum capacitors.

— Have you ever considered adopting an FPGA+R2R DAC to provide functions equivalent to a DAC?

Alex: We have our own FPGA technology, but currently we mainly use it for processing digital data and clocks, and we have no immediate plans to develop DAC functionality that uses FPGAs. When compared to DACs developed by specialized companies, we believe that R2R DACs developed in-house by non-specialized companies are hard to compete with. I believe that DAC vendors and audio manufacturers working together and focusing on their respective areas of expertise will lead to the development of better products.

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