Sabre ES9023: Why does it sound so bad?

well the title might be overdoing, but indeed, I was slightly disappointed.
Well, first, my system: Raspberry Pi with Volumio + HifimeDIY ES923 Async USB-DAC , connected to my stereo amp. Ok, it sounds fine, but it is MILES away from my good old CD-Player which was not exactly highend at its times (Yamaha CDX 396).

So what is wrong? I am using the uppraised ESS9023, even in async mode. Somone suggested the power supply, but when I powered it from a fully loaded battery (the cleanest source one can have), nothing audible changed. Someone claimed that Hifiberry with the I2s connection would be better. But is it really? Michelangelo’s blog post says yes. But, hey, USB or I2s, it’s all about zeros and ones, right? And these 30 buck platine shall be so much better? In other forums people talk about “burning-in”, but again - hey - it’s all digital, no?
Maybe someone can enlighten me. I would be really grateful!

Try using a pc rather than the pi as a source and see if the sound quality improves. Try a laptop that’s running off battery only.

It could be that the pi processor is being overloaded because of the USB problems.

If there is a difference, you could try applying the USB patch mentioned elsewhere on this forum.


That’s the kind of questions I really like.
I have more than 30 years of audio electronics construction work behind me and I feel the need to give you a straight answer even though I know that it is going to be a bit controversial.

NO my friend those 50 USD cards can never reproduce music to satisfy a man (or woman) who loves music.
Most of those are built to reproduce sound NOT music.

Regardless if you use RPi/I2s or USB/I2S are you using the I2S audio standard to transport the audio stream to the DAC chip
The I2S standard consists of 3 signals. Two clock signals (bit clock and LR clock) and a data stream.
Those signals has to be synchronized to each other in a certain way.
In most cases you have a third clock (master clock) to take care of too.

When those signals are not fully synchronized then the problems begin.
As you understand we are not talking about ones and zeroes any more but the relation between those signals in time.
And I can tell you that it is NOT an easy task to achieve.

This is one of hundreds problems a constructor has to take care of if the “thing” can play music and not sound.
Do you believe that it is possible to achieve for 50 bucks?
I hope you understand that I really agree with you and appreciate that you sending that kind of questions.
Words like HIFI and high-end are soooooo misused those days.
Finally. On the other hand there is DACs out there that costs 20000 USD. What in the world motivates those prices?
I REALLY understand that people are confused.

Best regards G

Great ! First of all: thank you both for your answers!

@Twerp: Thanks for the hint ! will do that soon when I find the time and calm to really listen carefully to not miss any audible differences.

@BRG: Well, thanks ! That’s the type of answers I like! But you know that this is pretty much oposed to almost all the statements made here in the forum, right? Hifiberry and ESS9023 are praised as really good stuff and the whole page is about hifi, right? It doesn’t mean you’re wrong but it should give rise to a discussion. So: HELLO GIRLS AND BOYS! Could you please just kick in and contradict?!!

Concerning your explanation: well, ok, it’s about zero’s and ones in continuous time which is more difficult. But if finally all signals are transmitted over I2s, even in my old CD-player, what did the Yamaha guys do so much better 12 years ago, and how coud I achieve that quality with the raspberry pi as the digital source? Well, and if your answer to the last question is that the raspberry will never achieve that, then what the hack are you doing in this forum?.. :wink:

curious and excited about the discussion which might take off now…

Hi again.
I don’t really know how that Yamaha player is constructed so I can’t tell you what they did right.
But I know that at that time they used methods with less digital processing and lower bandwidth.
Other kind of digital filters or no filters at all.

I use a mini pc as music source myself and never said that you can’t achieve good results with RPi as source.
In fact I have done several commercial DAC constructions for RPi .
I said that it is NOT so simple to achieve high end with that.

Well start play some music on the RPi and and place the probe of an oscilloscope between two different ground points on the RPi board.
It should be NOTHING between them. Ground and ground should have the same potential.
You will be surprised to see that it almost plays music between them.

Now some basics to succeed.

  1. Try to isolate the two systems from each other.(RPi and DAC)
  2. Try to minimize the jitter
  3. Try to build linear power supplies
  4. Try to reduce the interference between them
  5. Try to build an output stage that can handle all kind of loads.

Probably the Yamaha people considered some of those tings 12 years ago

What I am doing in that forum? Trying to learn myself new things like you and many others.

Best regards G

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Don’t forget to get a bit-perfect output. I know this is quite easy with J.River Media player, but you should be able to use Foobar.

Here are some links that might help: … dows-7-x64 … sio-wasapi … 493608.pdf

PS: I’ve just hooked up an I2S Es9023 and it sounds fine to my ears. I will do a direct comparison with my CD player.

Before that I was using a cheapo PCM2704 USB DAC and although having a much lower line-level output, it sounded ok. That was 16/44 of course.

Which version of Volumio are you using? Are you using wi-fi or ethernet? How powerful is your PSU?

@BRG: thanks again! Now it might be me who is slightly provokative.

Could you be a bit more precise?
1.) : Isolating the DAC means that I2s solutions like the Hifiberry are out of game. One would need a USB isolator, something like this, right? … rrency=EUR
2.) Well, minimising jitter is all we want, no? “minimise jitter” is a statement which is a bit like “avoid noise”, or “play good music”.
3.) Building linear power supplies: hm… yeah. Might need to learn soldering, but I am pretty scared off because building a psu involves high voltage which is much less docile than the USB 5V. Maybe i can just take a USB-battery, plug the pi or DAC to the battery and branch the charger to the battery the same time? Thus, it would work like a huge capacitator and should dampen the noise, no? Would that work or is it a stupid idea contradicting physics?
4.) “Try to reduce the interference” comes back to “isolating” from point 1.) right? did I miss something here?
5.) I don’t get this point simply due to the lack of vocabulary: what do you mean by “output stage that can handle all kind of loads”?

Sorry if that’s not the level of discussion you are used to, but I am learning a lot here!

@Twerp: Thanks ! Will come back to you with my experiences once I made some progress. Maybe it helps other people as well.

Best regards,

Not to mention that Rp’s “not so great” USB Broadcomm linux driver, right?
Especially if you use ethernet cable connection and play hi-res FLAC file. … spberry-pi … ues-on-pi/

I use the raspberry pi along with a hifimediy sabre 9023 dac (adaptive). I dont have the usb powered version but the following: … duct_id=87

with an external psu: … uct_id=108

and to be honest I am very satisfied.

I have done a/b tests with a cd player (advance acoustic with nos tubes) and although the cd was the winner, the difference was not huge and I have to admit that the above dac was one of my best purchases ever.

No i am waiting for the updated async version to build a second rpi based system.

Yes, try this fix for the USB:


Thanks, will try it once I find some time. Unfortunately, I am outta house for the next week, thus no volumio.
Or are you in Manchester by chance (i’ve seen the UK in the signature :wink: )? That is where I will be these days, so any suggestion for some good hifi testing opportunity is welcome.

I have both. Hifiberry and hifimediy the external power one.
My speakers and 2 class A mono blocks are diy so is the pre I was using with cdp.
So when connecting the hifiberry directly to the amp through an alps pot. I lost bass, image and detail. Even compared to the USB hifimediy. After time Of frustration and confusion going back and forth between the dacs I hooked the hifiberry through the preamp and the bass, soundstage and detail came back. I still need to listen some more to be sure . It feels like the cd sounded better. This is what an output stage would do. Both dacs have a " built in" output stage, but not ones that can really drive everything. Out of the five factors #5 would be probably the most significant one to influence. After you try a preamp go for other electronic stuff, but these are difficult to achieve. The power supply is not so easy to improve and isolation is difficult too.
Good luck.
Btw if you have access to a good system with an active preamp try the pi & dac there and hear if there is a difference

What do you want for nothing?
The technology from ESS is great. The conversion is perfect and the jitter attenuation works fine. But these chip is designed to get out the best for real cheap audio equipment, computer sound device, digital radios etc.
Most implementations used on the Raspbi have neither analogue output stages nor a good designed power supply. It is not comparable with a mid priced CD Player. The Raspbi with Volumio and the right DAC could beat out many high end player and streaming solutions.
DIY gives the possibility to reach this ‘high end level’ with less costs.
But not with 50$.

…about the bad sound of ESS9023, with a RPi2…

I compared with the same kind of powering, and I found that a PCM5102 sounded sooo much better.

I discussed with some of my diy friends, and it seems that ESS chips have listening specificities that will not please to everyone.

For my part, I have never heard a dac ESS that I like.

I have a three i2s DACs, and an JDS Labs ODAC USB DAC. All of the i2s DACs sound better than the USB DAC despite the i2s DACs each individually costing less than the ODAC. The USB DAC was noisy, so I bought the best isolated power supply available at the time (iFI-iUSB pwr supply). The $200 isolated supply did not help much, so possibly my laptop running jRiver software was the source of noisy reproduction. I switched to i2s DAC and Volumio on a RPi 3B. The sound is as good as any CD player I have ever heard. I only play loss-less (mostly FLAC) files. If you are playing MP3 files, your sound will NEVER be very good. My i2s DACs are a BB P5102A, a BB PCM5122, and a ESS9023 (BB = Burr-Brown=Texas Instruments). I would not say the three DACs sound exactly alike, but they are very close. My ears are probably too old to pick a winner, but I can easily hear distortion, frequency peaks and roll-offs, and lossy recordings that lack detail. I need to listen to all thre i2s DACs with headphones, because I find it easier to pick up nuances, with quality headphones. Soundstage does seem to be an issue with low priced DACs. “Vinyl” seems to do that better, but since most LP records were digital at some point in the reproduction process, I can’t blame Digital, so maybe it is a compromise in low end DACs. Someone suggested a pre-amp, as the cure, so I will try putting my Nelson Pass line stage after the DAC, and see if that imroves my soundstage. I am saying, I see no reason for an ESS9023 to sound bad, and it is certainly not a bad value for the sound it reproduces. I would keep the cables between the DAC and the amplifier as short as possible. Use a 3 Amp 5 Volt POWER SUPPLY (not a phone charger) for the Rpi, and if your DAC has its own power supply, linear is better. Also, do not use software volume reduction (software volume control). Set the software level at 100% and leave it there . Use the volume control in your amplifier, pre-amp, line stage, or stepped attenuator, instead.


I have an USB ES9023 DAC and it sounds so much better compared with the laptop. The price was around 35 EUR and I am very satisfied with it.


I think that your case is a case of jitter. If using the raspberry pi is your game then get Hifiberry Digi+ pro. This one has i2s out that has been reclocked with 2 crystals. Use the i2s out to bypass your USB on your ESS dac to go straight to the dac chip. This is what I’m doing. You could also use the spdif off course but if you already have a board that would accept i2s than that would be my advise.

After that I would start looking at the regulators on the power supply. And the output. Might be better to roll opamps or maybe go for a discrete opamp solution.

I myself am using a Burr Brown PCM1794 dac because I love current output dacs. This also might be why you don’t like the ESS over your CD player. current output dacs tend to have their own sound that’s different from voltage output dacs.

Ok I see now what device you are using. There is too much that is NOT going on in this device. I mean power is over USB which is not clean. Support circuitry is basic or non existent.
Sabre dacs can be good. But like all dacs, the (support) circuitry is what makes a dac good or bad. What makes Hifiberry and Allo (and alike) good is that they use fairly good power supplies. And they are designed to get the best out of a little package. But if you want to invest a little bit more and go for something out of the DIYINHK dacs stable or Twisted Pear options. Hell, there are some good boards out of China on eBay.
Something with i2s in. And use a HAT that has i2s out with reclocking circuitry like the Hifiberry Digi+ Pro. Put it in a box and you’ll be a happy camper.

The Allo Kali combo seems to have found a solution to the sync problem. I can only judge by the setup I’m using, from them (Piano2.1, Kali, reasonable PSU) which sounds awesome to my ears.

Not sure though, you can used it with the Sabre chip.