Raspberry Pi DACs to our ears

We've taken a bunch of DACs and tried to find what hears best to our ears

Posted on January 12, 2016 by @MaurizioDimonte

ATTENTION: We want to make clear that the following opinions are not backed-up by any scientifically accurate data and that the test have been made using the equipment we own. So, please, keep this in mind while posting comments. Thank you.

This post follows our list of Raspberry Pi DACs.

In the previous tutorials, we saw that there are several good audiophile oriented Linux distributions that use free and open source server-side applications like MPD (Music Player Daemon, not Multiple Personality Disorder). Pi MusicBox, Volumio, RuneAudio e Moode Audio are the most popular. All these software environment can be controlled either from a web page or from an MPD client (even from a smartphone). Thanks to their UPnP / DLNA / AirTune / AirPlay support, they can also turn your RPI into a standalone audio receiver.

To our ears

We at rataks.com tried a device for each of the chip mentioned in the Raspberry Pi DACs post:

  • Audiophonics I-Sabre DAC (ES9023)
  • Wolfson Audio Card (WM5102)
  • Durio Sound Pro (PCM5102)
  • Audiophonics I2S HAT (PCM5122)

We know that the performance of a DAC (accuracy, low-noise, etc.) is not just a matter of core chip but it depends on many factors (architecture, components, manufacture, etc.), however, we will try to express our very own personal "taste" for the for devices.

Me and Lorenzo have different setups and we listen to music in different ways (he loves headphones much more than I do, for one thing), but our opinions are in relative agreement: The Audiophonics I2S HAT (PCM5122) won by a tight margin. Our ears found little or no difference between Audiophonics I2S and Durio Sound Pro (PCM5102). The first sounds a bit warmer than the second, however, both are more rich and detailed than the Wolfson, less flat and dry, especially in the mid and low frequencies.

In the low frequencies they both sound fuller and deeper than the I-Sabre, although in the high frequencies the latter seems slightly more transparent and brilliant. We didn't notice appreciable differences in dynamic and transients.

Ultimately, it seems to us that the Audiophonics I2S HAT sounds a bit more natural than the others.

Final thoughts

Independently of the taste each one of us might have, all these DACs are a godsend if we think about what we can achieve spending very little money.

Thus, good listening.