HQ9038 Tube Dac



Hi to All. It is not often that write a review for one of the kit I build. It is not really my job, and since all of us have different taste, perception, system configuration, names it, it is almost impossible to get a clear picture from a review. Also I want to point out that I have no association with Quanghao and/or HQ Audio. However I built some of his kit in the past such as the AD1865 with 6H30 Tube output DAC or the ES9018 DAC and they were always first quality, and I liked them.

I completed the ESS9038DAC with Pure Tube IV and HV power supply months back and I was finally able to hear it into a great system into a dedicated listening room at my friend house. His system uses Wilson Audio Speakers, Borbely Milenium monoblock amplifiers, and a very customized tube preamplifier. Cables and power cords are of excellent quality from Furutech, Cardas, Siltech, etc…We compared this dac to various dac we built over the years, and his current reference dac. A MAC Mini with JRiver music server was used as source, using the DAC usb Amanero interface. 
To resume the new HQ Audio ESS9038PRO Dac was a revelation and we were completely in love with it. Don’t know if it is the new ESS9038 chips and/or the combination of the very nice Tube IV section, but It was miles ahead of the other dac we compared it to. Every aspect of the sound was better, Huge and airy soundstage, crystal clear highs, mids to die for, gorgeous bass, great instrument separation. We could hear details into the music that seem obscure by the previous dac. Music was alive, just right.

Final verdict: this dac will be my reference from now on. I already planned to have it modified to add balanced outputs. My own Pure IV stage has only the SE outputs, not like the one offered on the GB3 that already has both BLA and SE output. I also added K&K audio CCS to replace the tube anode 33K resistors. I still have to compare the dac with these new CCS since our original listening was done with the original 33K passive resistors.

Some mentioned the high cost of this kit, but keep in mind that all PCB come already assembled and tested with good quality parts, PCB are of first quality, and that the kit included everything to make it work, including a nice looking enclosure. You’ll have to spend thousands more to get a complete, ready to roll, superb dac. All in all it is I think it is a fair price.

Now my friend wants one to. That’s the cost of listening to such great dac.

Take note that this dac kit is only for the 220/240V parts of the world. Since I’m in North America I had to make extensive modifications to make it work on 120V using custom power transformers PCB and I had to replace/mod the controller PCB to accept 120Vac. The conversion can be done, but it is for expert only!

Great kit, very recommended to anyone that wants the latest ESS9038PRO dac.


PS: As it turned out, this story was far from over. Taking my findings under advisement, team hq audio felt that they could do even better and decided to retune their voicing. "We are planning to send an updated DAC back to you. Our plan is that this will primarily be updated to have an even more neutral sound, higher detail and a more controlled size of the images than what you tested. The updated DAC will also have the newest software installed which fixes the 352kHz blinking and adds the display on/off function." Stay tuned then for the real conclusion to these exciting developments. WIth hq audio in end-run mode, I asked whether wiring the Raspberry module internally to the selector switch to add a 'server' input wouldn't be preferable to having to use the external USB input as in my first loaner. If changed, one could then connect a standard PC/Mac to the USB input and run Ethernet or external SSD/HHD sources in parallel without having to reseat a single USB cable. "That sounds like a good idea and we will evaluate your suggestion."

Srajan Ebaen

Thong ke