9028 vs 9038: Which Is the Better Chip for DACs?


The making of a great DAC hugely depends on its components. And what’s more important than a chip to impact the quality of the DAC?  

While discussing the topic of DAC chips, two particular DAC chips stand out from the crowd. The ES9028 and the ES9038— Two of the best DAC chips used by many popular brands.

But which chip actually aces over the other in 9028 vs 9038?

The ES9038Q2M has better jitter cancellation capability and clock gearing systems compared to the ES9028Q2M. In terms of digital input versatility, the 9038 model brings DoP input that lacks in 9028. Along with that, customizable filter characteristics are also top-notch in the 9038 model.

There is a lot more to discuss! In this article, we will sort those aspects down with an in-depth comparison.

Spare a few minutes and read it out till the end!

9028 vs 9038: A Quick Overview

If you’re an audiophile, then you need no introduction to DAC chips. DAC or digital to analog converter comes with a core named DAC chip.

As you require a standard conversion from digital to an analog signal, chips cover a better sound experience. Depending on their configuration and hardware capabilities, the performances can vary highly from chip to chip.

Source: aliexpress.com

Before going deeper on the Sabre  9028 vs 9038 debate, let’s have a quick look at the comparing factors below:

Comparing Factor90289038
Jitter CancellationAveragebetter; free from input clock jitter
Digital Noise Reduction129dB of DNR128dB of DNR
Clock Gearing SystemAverage power consumptionfewer power consumption
Versatile Digital Inputsupports S/PDIF, PCM but DoPsupports DoP input
Quad Flat No-lead (QFN) package32-QFN30-QFN
Integrated DSP FunctionsProgrammable Zero DetectProgrammable Automute

From what we gathered from the Ess Sabre datasheet, both chips look to have their separate sets of advantages. While one might provide the best performance, the other can do just as well for a lightweight experience.

In the next segment, we’re going to elaborately discuss the comparing factors between the two chips. It’ll help us better understand where the two chips excel.

9028 vs 9038: Detailed Comparison

Out of all the best Ess sabre DAC chip, we’ve picked 9028 and 9038 to compare. It’s because they fall in the same chipset category. Let’s dig deeper into the Ess 9028 vs 9038 debate:

Jitter Cancellation

ES9028 and ES9038- both utilize time-domain jitter cancellation technology. As a result, you get a jitter-free recording grade with the sound. 

Meanwhile, users highly praise ES9038 for its unmatched audio quality. Consequently, this standard is totally free from input clock jitter. 

However, 9028 is not that far behind from 9038 type indeed. Along with that, you can also explore the use of USB DAC for its direct relation to jitters!

If you’re in search of DACs with good jitter cancellation, we’ve got some great recommendations for you. We’ve gone through the forums and subreddits while talking to fellow reviewers. People around those places believe that of 9038 DACs are better than other DACs in terms of jitter cancellation. And from our observation, these 3 DACs were the best in jitter cancellation:

Topping gets the best out of their es9038 DAC chips to maximize noise reduction and jitter cancelation. We highly recommend you try them out.

Winner: 9038

Digital Noise Reduction

In terms of digital noise reduction, 9028 has a slight edge over 9038. You get 128dB of DNR in 9038. Meanwhile, 9028 comes with 129dB DNR. But these two DAC chips have the same THD+N. 

As a result, you can have the highest performer chips in the market here. In addition to that, 9028 and 9038 bring 32-bit audio DAC which does little to impact the sound. 

But engaging with an unprecedented dynamic range makes these models top-notch. And don’t forget the key by-product through these processes. 

You will get ultra-low distortion from here. Along with that, both of them support asynchronous and synchronous sample rate conversion modes. 

Comparison in digital noise reduction between ess9028 and ess9038

Winner: 9028

Clock Gearing System

ES9038 has a better reduction system of operating frequency. As a result, you get less sampling rate. It will lead to less power consumption indeed. 

Meanwhile, the system clock gearing of ES9028 comes with a full-sized synchronization technology. You will find an incredible oscillation of 5 femtoseconds.

Winner: 9038

Versatile Digital Input

While exploring digital inputs of DAC chips, you might stumble upon S/PDIF, PCM, etc terms. 

The S/PDIF (Sony/Philips Digital Interface) is basically an audio transfer format interface. It’s a vital part of the digital audio input of these two DAC chips. And, both nicely utilize this digital interface.

Meanwhile, ES9028Q2M also comes with Serial Low-power Inter-chip Media Bus (SLIMbus). Along with that, you will also discover PCM or Pulse-Code Modulation here. 

Now, you know how efficient and up-to-date the ES9028Q2M chip is! However, DSD input might also be there in some cases. 

Source: hifimediy.com

In the meantime, ES9038Q2M supports all of these along with adding some new technologies too. 

Yes, it enables DoP input too! Supporting up to 768Hz PCM along with DSD256 through DoP is quite a top-notch trait to have.

Winner: 9038

Sound Quality

9038 is more of a quality chip in comparison to 9028. However, users claimed 9028 had the cleaner sound quality. 9038 highly maintains jitter cancellation technology. It lets the overall DAC produce cleaner and sharper sound.

As soon as the new ones come into the picture, 9038 might deliver you more comfort. Along with that, you will find here superior detailing of the sound system. 

On the other hand, 9028 has an excellent midrange and vocals that made sound alive. It’s a great chip for DACs that power amps directly.

In 2021, Fiio released the Fiio M17 DAP equipped with dual es3098pro. It provides crystal clear sound and a quality listening experience. So if you’re a fan of a high-quality listening experience, you can try the Fiio M17!

Winner: 9038

Customized Filter Traits

The ES9028 allows having a programmable filter of users. As a result, you see a customized roll-off response.

You might be wondering:

What does roll-off response mean?

Roll-off comes as the steepness of a transfer function with frequency. In other words, it represents the approximate inferior bass and superior treble limits in a frequency response arc.

Along with that, 9028 and 9038- both come with bypassable sample filters too. 7 presets are an addition to the 9038. As a result, it leads users to have a customized sound signature. Just like a sonic maximizer!

Winner: 9038

Dedicated Headphone Amplifier Control

9038 can power down Headphone Amplifiers or HPA. As a result, auto shutting down at the 0 input has become possible. 

Basically, it operates to lower the power. Along with that, HPA auxiliary input is also available there. 

Meanwhile, programmable HPA charge Pump frequency also includes the list. However, DACs using es9028 do not come with all of these specifications.

Winner: 9038

Who Wins?

From what we saw, the 9038 turns out to be a more balanced and up-to-date DAC chip. This makes ES9038 the best DAC chip in this comparison. However, the 9028 model also boasts most of 9038’s features and can do a decent enough job.

But as per user satisfaction, 9038 is the favorite pick of the two. 9038 boasts overall better sound quality, jitter cancellation, etc, making it superior to 9028. And that’s how the 9038 chip makes DACs worth the money for you! 


Is an ESS Sabre DAC Good Enough?

Yes, ESS provides outstanding performance as it has patented 32-bit HyperStream architecture. Also, bringing out more than 135dB DNR in itself is quite exceptional. You will easily find this DAC in most audiophile products. Companies such as Audiolab, Macintosh, Onkyo, etc., utilize the DAC.

Are AKM DACs Good?

Yes, AKM DACs come as more improved and balanced products. It can nicely capture the audio tone. In the meantime, maintaining notes of particular instruments is exceptional. You barely notice any kind of noise from it. As it stands, AKS is one of the smoothest DAC in parts of the midrange.

Are External DACs Better Than Integrated DACs?

Yes! Built-in DACs have quite a few limitations over external DACs. But they do not come with the latest technology or high-quality components. So, there’s a chance to face a lackluster sound. External DAC brings updated technology. So, upgrading the listening setup including a portable headphone amp is better.

Final Words

That brings the debate of  9028 vs 9038 to its end. We tried to provide all the important and relevant information we could gather about the two DAC chips.

The best way to decide your preferences is by trying them both! It’ll let you experience the differences and help you decide on your preferred DAC chip.

Happy listening!

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