Do you need a USB DAC for your Raspberry Pi? Something to use with RaspyFi? And maybe you don’t know where to start?
Well, this is for you. Got many questions regarding the best setup for a RaspyFi powered music server, and so decided to give few hints.
The main goal of RaspyFi is to achieve excellent sonic performances with a low-cost approach. So, no snake oil, no esoteric devices. Just pure bang for the buck pleasure. You should consider, by the way, that you’re relying on a 40 dollar Pi to please your ears. So it doesn’t make much sense to me to have a 1000 euros USB DAC for your raspberry Pi (even if with RaspyFi they are not an overkill at all). So here are few options for you. With prons and cons and buying links. I have personally listened many of them, and the one I didn’t listen, some really trusted friends did. So you won’t get copy and paste reviews.
So, these ones could be the right USB DAC for your Raspberry Pi
Hifimediy Sabre USB DAC 2
This is a dac closely resembling Nwavguy’s ODAC. You should however not expect the same build quality and attention to details. But this has an advantage over it’s famous competitor: it can eventually be fed with an external psu (external PSU will improve dramatically audio quality, not relying on Pi’s polluted DC, and releaving you from buying a good psu for the pi itself). Furthermore it can output Spdif signal via coax, you can use it as a cheap transport. My friends at Tforum report that it’s capable of driving low-impedance headphones, altough a custom headphones amp is commonly suggested.
-Cheap NO LONGER AVAILABLE ON EBAY
-Can directly drive headphones
Bang for the buck
Schiit Modi DAC
This is the latest dac from the guys from Schiit. For less than 100 bucks you get an async usb receiver (the highly regarded CM6331A) paired with the legendary AK 4396. For sure a really hard to beat combo for that price. This DAC sounds really really good, and it’s design just increases its appeal. RaspyFi is being developed while listening to this dac. Is this enough for you?
-Features one of audiophile’s favourite DAC
-Excellent performance/price ratio
-Elegant design Get it on Schiit’s Store
I also reccommend to read the (italian) review by stereo-head.it , is well worth it!
Take it as a statement. This DAC set lots of controversies since the beginning of it’s development by the heretical designer NwAvGuy. The ODAC was designed to prove that engineering a really transparent musical device required a careful trial and error approach, debunking some audiophiles myths. It was built to have outstanding measurable specs. I bought it as soon as it came out, fascinated by the phylosofical meaning it had. You know, I’m quite pragmatic and I don’t like the “esoteric” fuzz most designer use to develop their produtcts. This DAC, when it came out, outperformed most highly regarded dac as of S/N ratio, db range and so on. Just math, only objective evaluations (that’s where the name comes, O stands for objective). Well, I love it. But honesltly I have to admit that nowadays you can have something better in that price range, especially with Diy. I dropped it in favour of my Diy XMOS2 + Sabre Dac
If you’re in headphones mood, then you should definetely consider also the Nwavguy’s combo of ODAC + H2. Again, this device came trough a pedissequal engineering process, aiming to obtain verifiable transparent performances. If you wish to know more about this, well here are your answers. I did not listened to it, but if I should put on an headphone system, this will be my device of choice.
-It’s engineering is carefully documented
-A complete USB to Headphone device Get it on Epiphany Acoustics
-The combo will sound theoretically better than separate devices
XMOS ES9023 Asynchronous DAC Decoder USB to Optical Coaxial 384K 32Bit Weiliang
This device seems really interesting, and not only thanks to the longest name ever seen on Ebay. What you get here is a boxed unit featuring the ESS 9023 DAC (my favourite so far, until I’ll listen to 9018), paired with an XMOS2 receiver. You also get otpical and coaxial S/PDIF out. I cannot imagine something more flexible out there. So, on paper this seems really promising. Please don’t take this as a blind endorsement, I didn’t listen to it so cannot pronounce about it’s sonic qualities. Just saying we have a potential bang for the buck champion.
-XMOS2 async receiver
-Features one of audiophile’s favourite DAC
-Already boxed and finished
-Analog JACK, SPDIF out (optical and coaxial)
-Really flexible device
-Can be fed with an external PSU (definetely suggested)
Usb to Spdif
If you need to get Spdif out out of Raspberry Pi, or any other device relying on USB just buy it. There’s not much to say on the Hiface Two. It’s a status symbol, the guys at M2Tech did an excellent job. This features an XMOS receiver that will go as high as 24/192. It’ compatible out of the box with RaspyFi and all other Linux distros. Of course it works as well with Pcs and Mac.
XMOS 192kHz high-quality USB to SPDIF
This could be a solid and cheaper alternative to the Hiface II, the module is exactly the same found on my XMOS2 to i2s receiver, which I strongly recommend. With this you get spdif out, in a nice box… Maybe gold could not be your favourite colour, but I mean… This is definetely worth!
-Async USB Transport
-Compatible with RaspyFi out of the box Get it on
-Boxed and ready to play
-Cheaper than an Hiface Two
DAC SABRE 9023 + XMOS2
I may be biased. But guys, this is definetely the best combo you can have for the 100 euros pricetag. This DAC is well known, and its sound is recognized to be one of the best nowadays. This guys makes excellent products and this DAC is a masterpiece. It’s so tiny but it features a ultra low noise regulator and the semiconductors are carefully selected. In few words, it sounds amazingly good. I DEFINETELY suggest you to visit it’s store, if you’re a diyer looking for hi quality stuff, this is the place
I paired with an USB XMOS2 receiver. This features a full thesycon windows driver, and it’s compatible of course with Linux (RaspyFi as well). This can go as high as 384khrz!!! If you wish to feed it with a custom PSU, instead of USB’s DC, you can. You can also change some resistor to match your dac’s impedance… What do you want more? I sugest also to visit it’s store…
I’ll cover the building of this DAC, you can find my preliminary thoughts here
-Sounds amazing, for less than 100 euros
Buy on ebay:
As an alternative, you can also try this DAC
I received mine few days ago, so haven’t tried it yet. So I cannot say anything on this DAC, only that is compatible with the i2s transport listed above
DAC Mini AK4396
If you want to try a diy AK4396, which is an highly regarded piece of silicon, just go with this DAC. It has an high reputation on DiyAudio and amongst other audiophiles circles. Furthermore, you can decide where to push its performance. A respected user of Tforum and DiyAudio published a BOM that will raise its performance a lot. You can find all info here.
If you wish, you can also connect it directly via i2s to the XMOS2 USB TO I2S following this guide .
-A custom solution, in every aspect Get it on ebay
I’m currently building another step up of my Reference DAC. It sits on a completely different level from the ones you have seen before on RaspyFi, in terms of performance, build complexity and pricetag. But on paper, it seems that I’m gonna end up with something truly impressive. It will feature :
- The top end ESS SABRE 9018, in a 7.1 configuration (yeah, I really meant 7.1)
- XMOS2 USB Input via i2s
- Optical and coaxial input
- Both balanced and unbalanced analog out
- Separate and improved clock
The Recipe is :
- A custom 4x8vac 1A PSU custom built from Audiophonics.fr
So, on paper, this DAC could be an ending point for every audiophile around. But its building is something really challenging, so please start this adventure only if you are an experienced DIYer. I’m going to document the building of this DAC in a future article, since it really deserves a careful and comprehensive explanation. I looked out for months to find the best recipe for me, this is what I ended up with. So again, if you want something really over the top this is what you’re looking for, mind that it’s gonna need quite some time and expertise to be built.
Medium Price DACS
(Please note: I don’t own any of these DACS, but if I would spend some more to have one, I’ll have one of these)
This is one of the most interesting DAC available today, an async USB DAC as compact and as good sounding is difficult to find, you’ll read about the only contender later on…
I suggest you to read this article by John Atkinson, which can describe this DAC way more better I could ever do.
-Confortable with it’s tiny dimensions
-Excellent measurable performances
-Can directly drive Headphones
Musical Fidelity V-DAC II
I’ve dreamt a lot about owning this DAC. If you need to be flexible, for example using a cd player with coax output, a blu ray with a optical output and RaspyFi with USB input, this could be your DAC. The USB receiver is not the best one available (Ok let’s say that people is not so enthusiast about it), but you can always use a Hiface Two to improve USB performance.
So, if you need lot of flexibility and a good sounding DAC. This is your choice.
A respected diyer regards this DAC as the best you can get under 1000 euros. I must confess that I desire it a lot, and if everything goes well I’ll buy this in few time (birthday…) . This DAC has all the flexibility you can have with the V-DAC II, but it features an async usb receiver (XMOS) . So you can reasonably espect an higher quality out of it if USB is your source of choice. Plese note that the price tag of the MyDac is higher than the one of the VDAC II. But if you can go that extra mile, go with this. All I know of this DAC comes through reviews, and my friends spoke to me about the MyDac with enthusiastic words. The implementation seems very good on paper. Please note that Micromega has built its reputation through the years with excellent products, especially with cd players. So you should go confortable with this firm.
I want it.
The guys at M2Tech just released this DAC. I consider this as a contender for the Dragonfly DAC. Because of it’s tiny dimentions. On paper this little device has excellent capabilities: 384kHz/32bit, async transfer (based on XMOS as Hiface Two) and can drive medium to high impedance headphones. I don’t know which DAC chip it relies on, but sure we’ll find out when a friend of mine will end his review.
The only concern is that it needs at least 500 mA at 5v to work properly, so no direct connection with the Raspberry Pi. But we can always use an additional psu. See later to find out.
SOMETHING TO IMPROVE YOUR USB DAC
I found a pretty valid comment from Klinkt Beter (one of the best contributors here on RaspyFi) stating that he could improve his system overall performance connecting his dac to the iFI iUSB psu:
Here’s what he said:
tried many things:
1. soundlogic XT 5600mAh battery pack with micro usb cable to pi
2. Tentlabs tube heater supply calibrated to 5V direct on the 5V GPIO headers (which claims to have very low noise and is powered by a lineair supply using a real transformer)
3. usb power output of the iFI iUSB power supply using a cheap 1 euro micro usb cable to the pi.
The iFi wins on all levels as it also directly powers your usb dac and ignores the usb power from the pi on the USB outputs, only passes the signal through.
The iUSB has a second USB output which can be used to power the pi, or to use iFI’s special cable that combines two USB host connectors and on the other end one printer style USB connector to have even more power to your dac.
The Tentlabs heater supply has slightly better transients and more bass, but sounds more aggressive to my ears. The iFI is lighter and more spacier, which is what I prefer.
Power output of iFI iUSB -> PI micro usb input
USB output of Pi -> USB input of iFI iUSB
iFI iUSB usb+power output -> dac
Basically, what this device does is replace the crappy usb dc with a stabilized one, they report their psu to achieve a 0,1 uV noise factor, that is (if verified) pretty remarkable. You can find out more at http://www.ifi-audio.com/en/iUSB.html
I want to test it out, I’ll report my results as well.
You can also give a look at RaspyFi’s DAC compatbility list