Going from a USB to an I2S Based DAC - Advice please.

Hi All,

I currently have this as my following setup.

Living room: Asrock J1900 DC ITX/Streacom F1C Evo (Totally fanless and external PSU) > Arcam IrDAC USB Async > Naim XS2 > Bowers and Wilkins CM series.

Bedroom: Pi Zero > Phat Dac > Onkyo Mini HiFi

I’m considering changing from the IrDAC to something I2S based, I have a few spare Pi’s kicking around here, not that there is anything wrong with the current setup, just looking for any sonic improvements if there are any? - Don’t get me wrong it sounds amazing, but always room for improvement.

The IrDAC is a PCM 1796 based DAC, I have looked all over the net but can’t find any comparisons with the IrDAC and any I2S based dacs.

I did try my Pi3 with the Phat DAC which is a PCM5102a based DAC in a A - B test and the Phat DAC is VERY good but no were near as good as the IrDAC, it’s missing detail and top end extension. I’m not criticising this DAC at all, for the money it is incredible.

Do any I2S dacs support DSD? As my Arcam IrDAC doesn’t.

Will I gain much going from Async USB to I2S?
It’s such a minefield out there looking at I2S dacs, there are so many!

I have a JustBoom Amp Zero Phat on it’s way this week which I can’t wait to try :slight_smile:

Thank you.

At the end of the day there are two basic requirements for Digital replay:-

  1. Bit accurate audio Data

  2. Low Jitter clock at the point of Domain conversion (A/D & D/A)

ASync USB if implemented CORRECTLY meets both these criteria - but this is not necessarily the case for I2S output direct from the RPi - it depends if the DAC can be “Clock Master” meaning the Audio Master Clock is fed from the DAC back to the RPi.

I must add that many Async USB solutions in fact don’t use the Audio Master clock for the ASync feedback flow control (USB interface) so neglecting the main advantage of Async USB!

From the available documentation its not clear how easy it is to make the RPi accept an external I2S clock - even you could your still left with I2S limitations such as a Max of 192KHz and no native DSD (although DSD64 can be packaged over 192KHz I2S).

RPi with Asycn USB can support 768KHz and DSD512 and is Audio “Clock Master” so I really don’t understand why the myth of better sound via direct I2S!

The few RPI I2S DAC’s hats I’ve measured have such high Jitter that my normal jitter analyser cannot lock to the clock - now thats NOT a good sign!

I think the reason is the price category. In this range it’s hard to find a better usb dac. But if you raise your budget… There are many better solutions with usb and/or with SPDIF.

Erh - Yes I can see that being the case, but are people really so concern by say an extra S$25 when Clocking problems are solved? not to mention DSD and 384/768KHz support?

Are you sure that with extra 25 bucks it’s possible to buy a better dac? If I pick up the hifiberry dac+ pro + 25 USD it’s the price level of dragon fly black which is worse than hifiberry dac+ pro. Or?

Regarding to DSD and 384/786KHz support. As far as I know a few of them support DSD DoP and 384KHz. But I think this is an almost “useless” feature. I had have a DSD capable Denon DA-300 and an older non DSD capable M-dac. M-dac is far better without any DSD or 384KHz magic.

A basic 8 core XMOS device with surrounding circuitry is going to add US$7-8 to a DAC BOM, if you want MQA then double for a 16 core XMOS device.

Keep an eye out for some budget USB DACs to be launched by the likes of Pro-Ject that support 768KHz and DSD512

Thank you :slight_smile: - the MDAC is a decent but older design - and its biggest weakness is lack of native DSD support IMO.

I can well believe that the Denon with DSD is worst then the MDAC with PCM - this does not mean DSD is a bad format, but only that the Denon is poor.

Ah ok now I see your point. I’m only an end customer I can’t build dacs. Only buy what is for sale. If somebody will build a better dac in this price range I’ll buy it. And yup 25 USD doesn’t matter from this point of view to get better SQ.

When time allows, I’d be happy to design some “budget” DAC’s for DIY.

In the next couple of months I’ll have a small SMD line install so would be able to manufacture small runs of “populated” DAC boards etc.

Just some DAC’s for fun projects - keeping the cost down :slight_smile: