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Originally published at Highresaudio Magazine by Lothar - 05.03.2012 - 0:29



Reference DAC with ES9018 Sabre32 from ESS Technologies


exaSound Audio Design is proud to introduce the e18 DAC –  the first 8 channel 384kHz/32bit asynchronous USB device designed for audiophiles interested in playing DXD studio masters files.

The e18 DAC supports stereo and 8-channel modes at sampling rates up to 384kHz/32bit with remarkable bit-perfect low-jitter accuracy. The e18 delivers reference performance for high-end stereo, digital crossovers and cutting-edge audiophile multichannel applications.


George Klissarov, the founder of exaSound explained: “We started the development of the e18 DAC from scratch – from a blank piece of paper. Our design goal was to remove all unnecessary layers of processing associated with music playback. We started with the best possible source – a DXD multichannel studio master file. We wanted to play it with as little processing as possible. Our aim was to deliver all the bits and bytes of a 32bit/352.8 kHz DXD file bit-perfect and jitter-free to the best DAC chip that we can find. The only way to achieve this goal was to take control over the entire sound-processing chain – player, sound drivers, audio interface, DAC hardware, and volume control. we developed from scratch our own drives, the asynchronous USB interface , and the exaSound e18 DAC.
When the entire sound processing chain is done right the results are stunning. The sound is really detailed, dynamic and natural. The improvements are not subtle at all. Detail is much clearer, sound is much less harsh, and the bass is so much stronger, tighter and deeper. The sound-stage is really 3D.”

The e18 DAC is the first computer audiophile device that makes possible the leap from high-end stereo to an ultra-high-end multichannel, perfected for music experience. e18 can play stereo and up to 8 channel high-resolution files with sampling rates from 44.1 to 384 kHz and bit depths from 16 to 32 bits.
The same audio system – amplifiers and speakers can be used for stereo and multichannel without configuration changes. A playlist of high-resolution media files with different sampling rates, bit-depth and number of channels are automatically played in their native format.


Source material is always processed at the sample rate and the bit-depth requested by the player. It is up to the user to configure the player software in bit-perfect mode or to apply as much up-sampling and DSP processing as desired.



ESS Technologies ES9018 Sabre32 Reference DAC Chip


The e18 DAC is built around the ESS Technologies ES9018 Sabre32 reference DAC chip. ES9018 delivers 32-bit precision capable of resolving the smallest signal details. The chip features patented 32-bit Hyperstream™ architecture and Time Domain Jitter Eliminator. It delivers the industry’s highest performance levels that will satisfy the most demanding audio enthusiasts.


True Asynchronous USB Interface – Computer Jitter Elimination


Additional jitter elimination is achieved by using an Asynchronous USB Interface. The e18 DAC runs as a master device, and the computer is acts as a slave. The precision of the playback timing is determined only by the e18 oscillators. The timing is not degraded in any way by the computer clocks or by USB interface delays.


Three precision quartz oscillators – Further Jitter Reduction


e18 DAC uses three precision quartz oscillators instead of PLL with a single oscillator. The first two oscillators allow very accurate I2S interface clocking with minimum jitter for the 44.1 kHz and 48 kHz sample rate families. The 44.1 kHz family includes 44.1, 88.2, 176.4, and 352.8 kHz and the 48 kHz family includes 48, 96, 192 and 384kHz. The third oscillator provides a reference master clock with 0.13ps precision for the digital to analogue conversion.


Bit-Perfect PC ASIO Driver. Automatic Rate Switching.


PC playback quality is often limited by the operating system. exaSound has developed custom ASIO driver for e18 DAC, that is completely independent from the Windows sound system. The ASIO protocol provides many benefits for audiophiles, including high fidelity bit-perfect playback and automatic sampling rate switching. Source files are played at their original bit-depth and sampling rate without any processing or re-sampling.



Mac OS X Support


OS X driver.


High-Quality Headphone Amplifier


The e18 DAC comes with high fidelity headphone amplifier capable of driving the most demanding headphones. The headphone amplifier is built on current-feedback architecture and delivers 1300 V/μs Slew Rate and 0.7A current peak value.


Volume Control


High-resolution volume control is always performed by the DAC chip. Users can control volume using the computer screen, from the device front panel or with an IR remote control. The integrated volume control allows the e18 DAC to be connected directly to analogue power amplifiers without using a preamplifier.


Digital Ground Isolation – Noise Reduction


The USB controller, memory buffer and FPGA core are isolated galvanically from the DAC and the analogue circuits. Giant Magnetoresistive (GMR) isolators are used to isolate the grounds. The barrier capacitance between the analogue and the digital grounds of the e18 DAC is only 17pF. This strong decoupling blocks virtually all the common high-frequency noise and ground loos caused by the computer.


Seventeen Power Cleaning Stages – Channel Crosstalk and Noise Reduction


The e18 DAC  uses seventeen independent internal power cleaning stages to further minimize noise, jitter and channel crosstalk. Every subsystem is powered independently . The reference voltage sources used for the DAC outputs have less then 2uVRMS noise in the audio frequency range.


Remote Control Learning Mode


The e18 DAC can be trained to work with most IR remote controls.


Low-Jitter S/P DIF Inputs


Two S/PDIF inputs provide jitter reduction and superb D/A conversion when used with disk transports.


Top Quality – Designed and Hand-Made in Canada


The e18 DAC is designed and built for uncompromising sound quality. Top-grade custom clocks, operational amplifiers, low noise voltage regulators, Giant Magnetoresistive (GMR) isolators, 0.1% thin film resistors, tantalum polymer capacitors, gold-plated connectors and solid aluminum case are used to achieve reference-class performance. All e18 DACs are hand-built and individually tested.


Technical Specifications:


  • D/A Converter IC: ESS Technology ES9018S Sabre32 Reference DAC
  • Sample Rates – Asynchronous USB ASIO: 44.1kHz, 48 kHz, 88.2 kHz, 96 kHz, 176.4 kHz, 192 kHz, 352.8 kHz, 384 kHz
  • Sample Rates – SP/DIF:
  • Coaxial IN1: 44.1kHz, 48 kHz, 88.2 kHz, 96 kHz, 176.4 kHz, 192 kHz
  • Optical IN2 (TOSLINK): 44.1kHz, 48 kHz, 88.2 kHz, 96 kHz
  • Total Harmonic Distortion + Noise: 0.0009% @ 1KHz, 0dBFS
  • Intermodulation Distortion: 0.0005% @ 19KHz + 20KHz 0 dBFS, 2nd order IMD
  • Signal-to-Noise Ratio: 123 dB, A-weighted, 2 Vrms
  • DAC Master Clock Jitter: 0.13 ps rms
  • Frequency Response: 0 Hz – 20 KHz (-0.15dB)
  • Phase: Non-inverting
  • Channel Separation: 110 dB @ 1KHz for adjacent channels, 130 dB @ 1KHz between channel groups
  • Digital Inputs: USB 2.0, SP/DIF Coaxial, SP/DIF TOSLINK (optical)
  • Number of  Channels and Sample Rate: USB: 2 to 8 channels S/PDIF – 2 channels PCM
  • Operating System Requirement: Windows 7, Windows XP or Windows Vista, Mac OSX
  • Digital Volume Control Steps: 0.5 dB
  • Volume Matching between Channels: Better than 0.1 dB
  • Line Output: RCA jacks with gold-plated contacts
  • Line Output Level: 2 Vrms (unbalanced)
  • Line Output Impedance: 200 ohms
  • Line Output Offset: < 5 mV
  • Headphone Amp Current Output: 700 mA peak
  • Headphone Amp Output Impedance: 0.25 ohm, 20-20KHz
  • Headphone Amp THD+N: 0.004%, 2Vrms into 60ohms
  • Headphone Jack: 1/4″ TRS Unballanced
  • Power Consumption: < 8 W
  • Dimensions (W x H x D): 6.5 x 2.2 x 7.9 inches (165 x 55 x 200 mm)
  • Weight: 1.653 lbs (0.75Kg)


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