ESS vs AKM DAC: The Key Differences!

ESS and AKM both make good-quality chipsets for the DACs. Also, all the brands use both of these chipsets more or less the same. So, it’s common to question if they have any differences or not. 

So, which one should you choose, ESS vs AKM DAC

The key difference between ESS and AKM is in their sound signature. AKM provides balanced or bright music which is clear and soft. In contrast, ESS provides harsher and louder sounds. AKM has some products with more depth rate than ESS. Moreover, the price range of ESS chipsets is a bit higher.  

This is just a part of the whole discussion. To decide which chip you should consider for your DAC, read the whole article. 


  • The sound signature of ESS is the V-shaped.
  • AKM can sample 64-bit.
  • LG Quad DAC uses the ESS DAC chipset

ESS vs AKM DAC: Quick Comparison

ESS and AKM are both renowned brands that make good quality chipsets for DACs. Although they are almost similar, there are still some features that make them different. Let’s see them at a glance. 

Sound SignatureV-Shapedbalanced or bright
Sample rate768kHz, 1536kHz768kHz, 1536kHz
Bit Depth24bit, and 32-bit24bit, 32-bit, and 64-bit
Product LinkCheck price on AmazonCheck price on Amazon

Without a proper explanation of all these variables, it’s difficult to understand. That’s why I have prepared a whole discussion on the differences between ESS and AKM DACs.


ESS vs AKM DAC: Sound Quality Comparison

Before deciding which brand DAC you should buy, consider one thing. Are DACs worthy of you? It depends on the purpose of your headphones. 

Although both are good brands for DAC, there are some differences in their sound quality. In fact, there’s even a slight difference in the sound quality of two DACs from the same brand. While comparing the 9028 and 9038 chips, this becomes clearer.

And by the sound quality of DAC, we basically mean 3 variables. Let’s discuss those. 

Sound Signature:

The sound signature of AKM can be considered balanced or bright. You can point out every instrument and every detail in the sound clearly. The sound that AKM DACs produce is not too harsh. 

It brings a soothing and calming vibe to your ear. Genres like blues, folk, classical, jazz, etc. are well suited. Especially if you are a music professional or a sound engineer, you will like this better. Because it can seize individual instruments more precisely.

On the other hand, the ESS DAC sound signature can be considered V-Shaped. That means, it is harsher and will give a piercing sound in your ear.

ESS DAC chipset
Source: Headphonesty

ESS DACs will provide more loud and crisp sounds. If you are a Pop, Metal, Rock, or Hip-Hop fan, this one’s for you. 

For deep analysis, and soft music: AKM DAC
For metal, and rock music with extra loud sound: ESS DAC


For recording studio songs, AKM DAC is perfect.

Sample Rate:

The more the sampling rate, the higher the audio quality is. A higher sampling rating means you will get a more realistic sound. So, it’s an important variable to consider before buying DAC. 

Two hyped models of ESS; ES9039MPRO, and ES9039PRO have sampling rates up to 768kHz PCM. ESS ES9018S model has a sampling rate of 1536kHz

AKM AK4499EX model has a 1536kHz sample rate. And, the AKM AK4490EQ model has a sampling rate of 768kHz

Winner: Both AKM and ESS have the same range of sample ratings. So, in that case, both are similar. 


To avoid audio latency, use DAC.

AKM and ESS DAC sets
Source: ASR Forum

Bit Depth:

Bit depth determines the sound resolution and sound quality. The DAC converts the sound from digital to analog. Meanwhile, there are many other noises present other than the actual music which are called digital noises.

The bit depth of the DAC is responsible for minimizing those noises. So that, you only hear a higher resolution of actual sound. So, it’s good to have a higher bit depth in your DAC. 

Almost all the models of ESS DACs are 32-bit. For example, ES9038Q2M and ES9028C2M Mobile Audio and ES9068AS stereo audiophile DACs. 

Also, there are a few models of ESS DACs with 24 bits. For instance, ES9023P stereo audio DAC. However, ESS still doesn’t have any 64-bit DACs

Similarly, AKM manufactures mostly 32-bit DAC chips. In particular, AKM AK4452, AKM AK4452, etc. Unlike ESS, AKM also has one 64-bit DAC chip, which is AK4191EQ

Winner: If 32-bit is sufficient for you, you can go for any of those DAC. But if you want 64-bit, AKM will give you that option. 


You can override the DAC’s power capacity.

ESS vs AKM DAC: Price Comparison

While comparing two products, price is an important variable. I am going to discuss the price range of different products of ESS and AKM DACs. 

ESS Dongle vs AKM Dongle:

Different brands make dongles with both ESS and AKM chipsets. According to the brand and quality, the prices vary. Let’s see some of the dongles with these two chipsets. 

ESS Dedicated Dongles:

Dongle ModelChipset ModelPrice Range
THX Onyx Portable DAC ESS ES9281PRO$200 to $210
Meenova Pro USB CESS ES9280c$90 to $100
Upgraded Hidizs S9 ProES9038Q2M$120 to $130
ASUS ROG Clavis USB-CESS 9281$108 to $115

AKM Dedicated Dongles:

Dongle ModelChipset ModelPrice Range
Shanling UA3AKM AK4493SEQ$109 to $115
Sevenhertz 71 7HzAKM AK4377$35 to $40
Hidizs S9 Headphone DACAKM AK4493EQ$100 to $110

Dongles with ESS DAC chips are a bit pricey because of their quality. If you want a dongle with an ESS chipset, you have to pay at least $90. 

But if you consider the AKM chipset, you can get a dongle for only $35 dollars even. Expensive dongles with AKM chipsets and other specs are also available according to the brand. 


Portable DACs can be as good as DAPs.

AKM DAC chipset
Source: HiFiDUINO

ESS Dedicated DACs vs AKM Dedicated DACs:

The price of the chipset used in DAC varies with different things. Including the sampling rate, bit depth, etc. The price also varies with the brand of the DAC and other DAC specifications. 

Let’s see some of the ESS DAC models and their price range. 

DAC ModelChipset ModelPrice Range
Sennheiser Consumer Audio DACESS 9028PRO Sabre$2350 to $2400
Topping DM7 8 CH USB DACESS 9028PRO Sabre$2400 to $2450
Benchmark DAC3 HGCESS 9028PRO$2200 to $2250
S.M.S.L D1se High-Resolution Audio DACESS ES9038RO D/A $715 to $725
Cambridge Audio DacMagic 200MESS ES9028Q2M$500 to $550
Gustard X16ESS ES9068AS$500 to $550
Topping D10S ES9038Q2M$110 to $115
S.M.S.L SU-9ES9038PRO$455 to $470

Based on this table, DACs dedicated to ESS chipset seem to have a wide price range. The price of DACs with ESS is a little higher than AKM because the chipset is of good quality. You can get DACs for up to $2400. 

Most of the good quality DACs with ESS chipsets are a little pricey. 

Now, let’s take a look at some of the AKM based DACs. I have also given those AKM DAC price ranges. 

DAC ModelChipset ModelPrice Range
RME ADI-2 DAC FSAK4490EQ$1300 to $1350
Monolith Liquid Gold DACAKM AK4493EQ$800 to $810
Topping DX3 ProAK4493$250 to $255
Schiit Modi 3+AKM AK4490$130 to $140
S.M.S.L M400 Audio DACAKM AK4499$810 to $820
Topping D90AKM AK4499$750 to $755
Topping D70sAK4497*2$650 to $655

As you can see, DACs with AKM chipset are in the middle priced range. They don’t have a wide variety of price ranges like ESS dedicated DACs. 

Whether to first buy AMP or DAC is a common confusion. Especially if you are on a budget. In that case, going with an AMP first is a better idea. 

Winner: If budget is a consideration, AKM is better. But if budget isn’t an issue and you are a metalhead, go with the ESS. 


You should monitor the sound levels while using DAC.

Has the Average Price Increased with Time?

Yes, the average price of all the DACs and chipsets has increased with time. In one year, manufacturers change most of the DAC prices up to $20 to $50. 

For example, the price of the Topping D90 has been increased from  $699.99 to $749.99. And, the price of the Topping D90 MQA has been increased from $799.99 to $849.99.

Oppo Sonica ESS DAC
Source: Head-Fi

ESS and AKM Compatibility with Other Devices

In terms of compatibility, there are no significant differences between ESS and AKM.  Almost all the DACs support Android, iOS, Windows, and Mac. There are products with both chipsets that make dongles dedicated only to iOS. 

And almost all the DACs with both chipsets support most phones. For example,  the Samsung Galaxy series and iPhone 6-14. 

So, if your concern is about compatibility, don’t worry about choosing any of them. Just focus on the brand of the DAC. Because, which DAC you are going to buy, doesn’t only depend on the chipset. 

There are many other things you have to look out for before buying a DAC. For instance, whether the DAC is wired or not, its sound quality, etc. So, decide after considering them all.  

Final Verdict

For deep instrument analyzing experience, choose the AKM chipset. It costs less and you will find an AKM chipset with a more depth rate. 

If you are a fan of rock or metal songs, ESS chipsets will assist you better. And the quality of these chipsets is also better. Although the price will be a little higher.

ESS Sabre9018
Source: XCite

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Do FLAC Files Require A DAC?

No, it doesn’t. FLAC is available in many varieties with sample rates ranging from 16 to 32 bits. FLAC consumer files from Bandcamp, Qobuz, Tidal, and Deezer are unlikely to require a DAC. Generally speaking, you should spend your money on storage rather than a DAC.

Are An Amp And DAC Both Required?

Yes, the ideal listening experience requires both a DAC and an amp. DAC converts stored audio signals from digital to analog form. On the other hand, your speakers are powered by an amplifier. It produces sound from the signals. So without either, you can’t appreciate good music.

Do Expensive DACs Actually Matter?

Expensive DACs may have a better electrical noise shield. And they perform more closely to the manufacturer’s specifications. Yes, you did read that right. The same chip will produce subpar results in a circuit design that has been poorly executed. 

End Words

That was all from our end on AKM vs ESS DAC. Both are too similar in terms of performance to distinguish between. But some distinctions do exist. Hope we have given a proper discussion on those for you to make an ultimate decision.

If confusion arises don’t hesitate to ask an expert or comment down below. We will surely try our best to help you out.

Until next time!

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