Review: Melokin DA9.1 (ESS 9038Pro DAC/Amp)
Firstly I would like to thank QLS Hifi for sending me this unit for review, it has had well over 100hrs of burn-in.
*disclaimer: This sample was provided for the purpose of writing a review, no incentive was given to write a favourable review. All opinions expressed are my own subjective findings.
Gear Used: HP Laptop > DA9.1 > Symphones V8 build, German Maestro GMP 400, HiFiMan HE-500 and others.
HP Laptop > DA9.1 > Feliks Audio Espressivo MKII > German Maestro GMP 400
- · ES9038pro decoding method.
- · Directly compatible with original Italian Amanero USB module, you can install and use it directly.
- · Supports USB(Option), I2S / DSD single-ended signal(RJ45), I2S / DSD balanced signal(HDMI), Coaxial*2, Optical total Six-way source input, all ports support DSD input.
- · Analog audio output port includes standard RCA single-ended output and Amplifier Headphone Output.
- · Digital format:
- 16Bit to 24Bit, 44.1Khz 48Khz 88.2Khz 96Khz 176.4Khz 192Khz, DSD64(DoP) (Coaxial & Optical input)
- 16Bit to 32Bit, 44.1Khz 48Khz 88.2Khz 96Khz 176.4Khz 192Khz 352.8Khz 384Khz, DSD NATIVE:DSD64-DSD512, DoP:DSD64-DSD128 (I2S RJ45 & HDMI or Option's USB).
- · DAC Chip: ES9038PRO, I/V: OPA1622, Buffer:OPA1612, Headphone Amplifier: OPA1622.
- · Analog output:
- - 0dBFS signal RCA output level: 2.5V RMS.
- - Frequency response: 20Hz-20Khz.
- - S/N: <-125dB (A-Weighting).
- - Dynamic Range: >125dB (A-Weighting).
- - Crosstalk: >120dB@1Khz.
- - Total Harmonic distortion: <0.0003% (at 1kHz A-Weighting).
- · Headphone Amplifier output: 250mW/32Ω; 160mW/150Ω; 80mW/300Ω; 40mW/600Ω.
- · Headphone Amplifier output impedance: It is can be Adjustable (OIR key) to ≈0ohm, ≈10ohm, ≈120ohm.
- · http://www.qlshifi.com/en/wzcapi/da9.1.htm
Packaging, Build Quality and Accessories:
The DA9.1 came in a well padded cardboard box, with the brand name on the outside. The DAC is held tightly in place in a foam insert, with the power supply in a separate compartment. The packaging is nothing special; it is not some fancy box but does its job of protecting the product. All specs can be found in the manual, or online.
The DA9.1 is a well put together DAC, with a clean aluminium case and high quality sockets. The unit I am reviewing has the optional Amanero USB input, all the inputs and outputs on the back are tight and sturdy.
The headphone output on the front is high quality, and the volume control is smooth, there are small buttons to change the source input, output impedance, and the DAC filter. It is a neat, understated and sleek DAC, it also doesn't get hot after being powered on for a while.
Accessory wise you get the power supply, a 3.5 to 6.3mm adaptor and a USB cable. Nothing else is required; assuming the buyer has some RCA's to connect the DAC to an amp if they are using an external amp.
The DA9.1 uses the latest ESS9038Pro chip, along with having 7 filter settings. It also supports I2S inputs, unfortunately I do not have any I2S sources to test this input with, but the Coaxial, Optical and USB inputs are all excellent.
The output buffer op-amp is in a DIP8 socket, so you can roll op-amps if you like, there are also pre-amp and line-out pads on the board, if you want to solder on some wires with XLR leads it can be a fully balanced source.
The internals are all neatly laid out on the PCB, there is a high and low gain switch, along with jumpers to change the dither setting (on or off), and also the jitter reduction setting (on or off).
QLS state you can also change the crystal oscillator to one you prefer. On the front you can change the output impedance, there are 3 settings, 0 Ohms, 10 Ohms, 120 Ohms, this is excellent for high impedance headphones designed to be used with amps that have high output impedance.
The DA9.1 is incredibly detailed and the sound can be tuned with the filters, they are a little different so I would try them all to find the best match with your preferred headphones/speakers. It is not the most powerful combo out there, for example the Burson Audio play outputs quite a bit more wattage, but this has a few more features.
The DA9.1 actually needs some warm-up time, now I have never experienced this with solid state devices before but the DA9.1 definitely needs a good 5 minutes before it sounds its best. When you first turn the DA9.1 without letting it settle, it sounds really harsh, I still don’t know why it sounds this way when first powered on.
Powering my German Maestro GMP 400 it handles the lows with expert precision, but they do not sound thin. The lows can reach way down into the sub-bass with incredible linearity; I am surprised as these are quite power hungry headphones. The midrange is crystal clear with micro detail easily picked out, and the highs are effortless but not harsh in the slightest.
Going to my Inearz P350 which are quite sensitive, I manage to get good volume levels without channel imbalance, and the DA9.1 just powers them with finesse and grace but again without any kind of harshness. The sound out of the headphone output on the DA9.1 is super clean and transparent, it won’t power all headphones out there, but it’ll do a great job with most. Even when it is handed the HifiMan HE-500 it does a good job, not quite as dynamic sounding as my Keces S3 but still a punchy and detailed sound.
As a DAC only the DA9.1 retains the traits above, excelling in transparency, detail retrieval and neutrality. It is definitely on the analytical side of sound over a more romantic warmer sound, but in my opinion a DAC should not influence the sound. Ok so the ESS9038Pro does have digital filters, which do impact the sound somewhat but the core sound signature is the same.
Conclusion: For the price there are more powerful amp combos out there, but few offer the digital filters this DAC has. And also few are running the newer ESS9038Pro chip, which provides excellent sound quality. Use as a standalone DAC is outstanding for the price, it surpasses my JDS Labs EL DAC in sheer detail retrieval and absolute neutrality, whereas the EL DAC is ever so slight smoother and a little less focussed on absolute transparency like the DA9.1.
The DA9.1 has an ok built in headphone amp, it drives most headphones well, and the adjustable output impedance is great with certain high impedance loads. This little unit has tons of features for the price, and I can easily recommend it if you are after absolute neutrality and a clean sounding DAC/Amp.
Sound Perfection Rating: 8/10 (Excellent chip implementation, incredible detail and sound)