To Be Determined

    Gustard’s X16 Digital-to-Analog Converter – My New Standard for Moderately-Priced DACs

    Issue 150

    In Copper’s last issue, I talked about possible upcoming changes to my lifestyle and living arrangements that might require me to rethink my large(ish) home stereo setup. In particular, whether I could possibly continue with a much smaller incarnation of the system that would still reasonably reflect my pursuit of what I consider to be the absolute sound. I’d been looking at several sub-$1K Chinese-made DACs that had been getting a lot of really good recent press. A couple of weeks ago, I reached out to one of those manufacturers, Gustard (pronounced “Goos-tard”), located in Shenzhen City in Guangdong, China. Gustard manufactures a variety of audio products, and the model that really interested me is the X16 digital-to-analog converter, which is a full-featured DAC that’s in a reasonably compact case. Its $499 MSRP is priced squarely in the middle of Gustard’s DAC lineup, and the X16 gets very high marks in many online discussions. The X16 also seemed to offer a feature set comparable to similar but significantly higher-priced DACs from other Chinese manufacturers.

    The X16 uses top-of-the-line ESS Sabre 9068AS DAC chipset, which handles digital files of every type, and provides full MQA decoding.

    The X16 uses top-of-the-line ESS Sabre 9068AS DAC chipset, which handles digital files of every type, and provides full MQA decoding.

    As most of you are probably aware, most of the world’s supply of DAC chips has been seriously impacted by a fire a couple of years ago at the AKM facility in Japan. Most of the Chinese manufacturers had been using AKM chips in their DAC construction, which is in pretty stark contrast with many manufacturers of higher-end DACs, who seemed to almost always go with American-made ESS Sabre chipsets. Despite that, the AKM-equipped DACs were getting very positive reviews just about everywhere, and I was definitely intrigued. But in the aftermath of the fire, and after having exhausted their supply of AKM chips, most Far East manufacturers have switched to ESS DAC chips, and Gustard has followed suit. Surprisingly, they’ve implemented one of ESS’ top level, two-channel audiophile-grade chipsets in the mid-priced X16 DAC. After having only spent a little over a week with it, I’m convinced that it will definitely be the one that fills the DAC slot in my new, smaller, more streamlined system – or will occupy a prominent position in my current setup!

    Gustard's X16 DAC presents a very solid first impression.

    Gustard’s X16 DAC presents a very solid first impression.

     

    Gustard’s X16 DAC Arrives After a Bit of a Snafu

    Almost two weeks passed since I contacted Gustard, and I hadn’t gotten a tracking number; I reached out to them again, simply to inquire as to whether the unit had indeed shipped. A couple of days later (it was a Tuesday, locally), I got an e-mail from them telling me that it had shipped the previous Saturday, and they provided me with a DHL tracking number. DHL’s website showed that a shipping label had been created, but that the package was not yet in their system. A customer service note stated that I should reach out to the shipper to confirm that they had called to arrange for a pickup.

    My particular home audio situation was a bit strained at the moment; my PS Audio Stellar preamp/DAC combo had suffered a circuit board failure, and had been away from my system awaiting a new board for almost two months. I don’t mean to whine, but I’ve been essentially dead in the water that entire time, and any DACs I had on hand were only 24/96 PCM capable, and I have no other preamp available to control the rest of my system. The Gustard X16 has balanced analog outputs and an analog volume control, so it had the potential to become something of a lifeline in the interim until my main unit reappeared. I had my PrimaLuna EVO 300 integrated tube amp hooked up to my Zu Audio Omen loudspeakers, but the EVO 300 doesn’t have enough juice to power the Magneplanar LRS loudspeakers that perform most of my heavy lifting. And I still didn’t have a DAC that would allow me to listen to any high-resolution digital files.

    That’s when a miracle happened; DHL picked up the package, and by the next day, it had departed Hong Kong, and arrived in Miami, Florida the following morning! Another notification told me that the X16 had cleared the initial stages of customs. Six hours later that afternoon, a notification informed me that there was a customs problem, and that I needed to contact DHL immediately to help in resolving it. No customer service would be available until Monday morning. To my great surprise, on Monday morning, another notification had shown up, informing me that the X16 had arrived overnight in Atlanta, and was currently on board a delivery truck headed to my home. I almost fell out of my chair!

    The X16 DAC Is a Model of Good Construction and Engineering

    Upon unpacking the X16, I was immediately impressed by the unit’s relative heft for such a compact device. It measures just a shade over 8.5 inches wide, a bit over 6.5 inches deep, and is 2 inches tall, weighing a surprisingly heavy 5.5 lbs. Right out of its shipping package, the X16 exudes the kind of quality of construction that ticks every one of my boxes – this unit is obviously not a toy. The fit and finish is simply marvelous, and the relative weight of the X16 guarantees that it won’t slip and slide about when connected with heavyweight cables, like my AudioQuest Yukon XLR output interconnects and the AQ Cobalt HDMI cable I use for my digital input connection.

    The X16's rear panel offers a surprisingly good selection of digital inputs and analog outputs for such a modestly-priced DAC.

    The X16’s rear panel offers a surprisingly good selection of digital inputs and analog outputs for such a modestly-priced DAC.

     

    All the inputs are digital, featuring the usual selection of USB, coax, and optical connections, as well as an AES XLR-type digital input, along with the one that makes me get a little weak in the knees – an I²S digital input. My Euphony Summus/Endpoint digital streaming setup was recently upgraded to include I²S connectivity; it’s definitely a superior digital signal delivery method, and I strongly recommend its use for those who have access. The X16 employs fully-balanced circuitry, and the outputs are all analog, including a pair of single-ended RCAs, as well as a pair of XLRs. It integrated perfectly into my own balanced system setup. The only other rear-panel input is a standard IEC power connector (I used an AudioQuest NRG Y3 power cable), and beside it, there’s a recessed sliding switch to choose between 110 or 220 volts. The unit arrived preset at 220 volts, but it only took a slight amount of pressure on the switch to move it to the 110-volt position (for use in the US). The power switch is located just to the right of the IEC input, and there’s a nearby connection terminal for attachment of the Bluetooth antenna.

    The X16’s front panel only includes the display window and a soft-touch volume wheel, for those who might need volume adjustment capability in their system (volume can also be adjusted with the supplied remote control). The X16 is available in black or silver finishes – the review unit arrived in black, and I found its appearance to be particularly handsome, and felt that it fit in nicely with my equipment stack.

    The X16 package included a standard USB cable, the remote control, and a Bluetooth antenna. Also included was a mini-CD disc containing the necessary computer driver for Windows users. The package did not include an AC power cable, there were no batteries for the remote, and there was no supplied operation manual. The X16 has a built-in high-quality linear power supply; I generally roll my own AC power cables with most new equipment, so the absence of a supplied AC cord wasn’t an issue at all. And I almost always have batteries of all types on hand. I had to go to Gustard’s website to download the manual, which was thorough, although the initial setup of the X16 is reasonably uncomplicated. Most of the information in the manual is for Windows users, and for those who use a freeware program like Foobar for digital file management. My Euphony Summus/Endpoint streaming setup is Linux-based (no drivers are necessary), and I use Roon for file management, so I could conveniently skip over the very detailed Foobar information in the manual.

    As fate would have it, the day before the X16 showed up, my repaired PS Audio preamp/DAC also arrived, and that made the setup of my normal listening system with PS Audio amps and the Maggie LRS loudspeakers a snap. Was it ever great to hear something approaching reference-quality music again after an over two month absence! Connecting the X16 to my normal system setup was fairly effortless; I put on some small-combo jazz music (set to repeat) and allowed it to play for a couple of days before doing any critical listening. I did sit down and take a quick out-of-the-gate listen; the initial sound quality was a bit harsh (a common online criticism) and somewhat clinical, but after a couple of days of continuous burn-in the X16 really opened up and began to sound supremely musical.

    The Good — and the Not-So-Good

    Before I get into a more detailed analysis of the X16, I want to highlight a couple of points that really jumped out during the review process. We’ll start with the Good:

    • The X16 is remarkably well constructed, and is a really robust piece of audio kit that offers an astonishingly good level of connectivity at its modest price point.
    • The included technology in the X16 is in line with DACs costing many times its modest MSRP, including a pair of ESS Sabre ES9068AS DAC chips, which are currently ESS’ top of the line 32-bit audiophile 2-channel chipset that includes full MQA decoding.
    • The sound quality of the X16 is beyond reproach, even giving my venerable PS Audio unit a run for its money. Any file I played of any origin, whether PCM or DSD, possessed levels of fine detail, nuance, and musicality that simply shocked me in a $499 DAC.

    Now, for the Not-so-Good (none of these are deal-breakers):

    • The front panel display type on the setup menu is almost microscopically small; I practically had to have my face directly in front of the X16 to be able to read the menu entries. It would have been really nice if the display window were large enough to accommodate a larger and more legible type font. And even though the display type for Bit and Sample rates is somewhat larger, it could have been even larger, so it could be seen from closer than a foot or so away.
    • The I²S input switches cannot be adjusted in the setup menu. This is a capability that’s available in other DACs that are in the same range as the X16. This isn’t entirely Gustard’s fault; the I²S protocol has a number of different variations and implementations, and it just so happens that with my particular equipment, the DSD and PCM channel switches need to be set to the opposite of what was factory preset in the X16. The very easy workaround is that you simply switch the positions of the output cables from left to right. It works perfectly, but it’s a bit less elegant than having the option to fix this with software, using the menu.
    • Full MQA decoding is only available with the USB input. I would have preferred full I²S compatibility, but I’m still on the fence about MQA anyway, so it’s not a big deal.

     

    The X16 is compact alongside the standard-rack-width PS Audio Stellar Gain Cell DAC/preamp.

    The X16 is compact alongside the standard-rack-width PS Audio Stellar Gain Cell DAC/preamp.

     

    Digging Into the X16’s Feature Set

    For my initial listening, I set up the X16 as the principal DAC in my restored main system, and connected the Euphony Summus/Endpoint streaming system via the I²S digital input. I then downloaded the X16 manual and read through all the pertinent information. Gustard’s main page on their website is entirely in Chinese, but hovering over the various menu options will reveal an English language pull-down to access some of the information in English (much of it isn’t translated, however). I then used the menu button on the supplied remote to access the menu screen on the X16’s front panel display. After basically getting on my hands and knees to get close enough to the display to read the available functions, I also figured out that you need to make your selection fairly quickly, or the menu rapidly returns to the default setting. If you’re using the X16 in a desktop setting, which would probably be more common for most users, the visibility (or lack of it) of the display is less of an issue.

     

    The X16 implements American-made Accusilicon master clocks.

    The X16 implements American-made Accusilicon master clocks.

     

    First of all, you’ll need to cycle through the digital inputs and make a selection (I²S for me). The next option is for the PCM digital filter; there’s a choice of three, and the default selection is “L-Fast,” which stands for Linear Phase Fast Roll-off. The manual describes it as the most accurate and acoustically neutral filter, and after experimenting with all three, my ears agreed and I chose it for all my listening. The next option is for a setting called “NOS,” which is set by default to the “Off” position. As a long-time tube amplification user, in tube jargon, “NOS” generally refers to classic tubes that are “New Original Stock,” which are unused old tubes from the glory days of tube production. But in terms of digital-to-analog conversion, NOS refers to “No Over Sampling,” and if you want to hear all your high-resolution PCM and DSD files natively (definitely my preference!), you’ll need to set the NOS to “On.” Otherwise, 8x oversampling is employed on all files, which may or may not be a good thing, but most of my experience in this area tells me that I want to hear my high-resolution files in the most unvarnished state possible.

    The next menu choice is for “BT Power,” or the Bluetooth control function; you can set it to a constant on or an auto function, depending on your needs. Next up is “Phase Invert,” and the default setting is “Disable,” which is the US standard; setting the Phase Invert to “Enable” changes it to the Japanese/European standard. If you’re using a fully-balanced rig (as I am), you may need to check your XLR pin configuration to confirm the correct setting. The last two settings are for the front panel LED display, and whether you want the display constantly enabled, or auto-on and off, and for setting the brightness of the display. I chose constantly on, and the brightest display level (8). I know a lot of people tend to listen to their stereo rigs in subdued lighting conditions (I generally do), and prefer to avoid glaringly bright LED displays, but in this case the display level could have been even brighter and I would have been much happier.

    Gustard emphasizes the X16's I2S configuration. Unfortunately, no customization is allowed.

    Gustard emphasizes the X16’s I2S configuration. Unfortunately, no customization is allowed.

     

    At this point, everything was basically ready to go, and I switched on some music to get a quick first impression of the X16. Despite the fact that the unit needed to be burned in for a couple of days, I still took a listen, and noticed right away that the left and right channels were definitely reversed. After confirming that all the cable connections were correct, I recalled having recently seen some information on another manufacturer’s site about frequent mismatches with I²S implementations. I’d run into the same thing myself in another situation, where the PCM channels were correct, but DSD playback was reversed. Fortunately here, the incorrect channel assignment was identical for both PCM and DSD, so it was a simple fix to switch the left and right interconnect cables, and all was right with the world again. As I mentioned above, some manufacturers offer software options to correct for I²S mismatches, but that’s not an option with the X16. Which I found to be curious, because Gustard features a prominent graphic on their website that highlights the I²S pin configuration. After making the cable switch, I let the music play for a couple of days and then began my critical listening to get a more in-depth opinion of how I felt the X16 sounded.

    Listening Results

     

    Elton John, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road album cover.

     

    I’ve ripped the DSD layers of over 500 SACDs over the last six months, and have also made a number of new SACD acquisitions, including a Japanese SHM SACD of Elton John’s Goodbye Yellow Brick Road. I thought its DSD files would be a good starting point to hear how the X16 handled well-recorded rock music. Upon playing the opening track, “Funeral For A Friend/Love Lies Bleeding,” I was immediately struck by how very powerful and organic the DSD track sounded via the X16. But the moment that really grabbed my attention came on the track that followed, “Candle In The Wind,” where Elton’s voice was presented with much greater levels of nuance and more detailed phrasing than I ever recalled hearing in this performance. His piano came forth from the loudspeakers with such utterly live in your room realism and presence that I sat motionless for the duration of the song. I was absolutely gobsmacked, to say the least!

     

    Deep Purple, Machine Head album cover.

     

    Next up was my DSD file from the Universal Japan SACD of Deep Purple’s classic Machine Head. Now, I’ve heard this music countless times, but on the opening track, “Highway Star,” I couldn’t believe the bruising muscularity, momentum, and drive as presented by the X16. Roger Glover’s classic bass riff, Ritchie Blackmore’s searing guitar, Ian Gillian’s piercing, banshee vocals, and especially the power of Ian Paice’s pounding drums were elevated to a potent level of punishing intensity. The performance even bettered that of my original Warner Brothers LP by a wide margin. Machine Head isn’t an audiophile quality recording by any stretch of the imagination, but the DSD tracks via the X16 came closer to that standard than any previous digital version I’ve ever heard. I ended up listening to the entire album, and it was quite an intense sonic rush!

     

    Karrin Allyson, Sweet Home Cookin' album cover.

     

    While on my ripping tear this summer, I had missed the SACD in my collection for Sweet Home Cookin’ by noirish jazz singer Karrin Allyson. When I ripped it and remedied my mistake, I was definitely underwhelmed by a first listen to the DSD files on my normal system. I decided to give it a listen on the X16, and the track I chose was “I Cover The Waterfront,” where Allyson’s smoky-sweet alto voice is on perfect display. The excellent cast of supporting players, including Bob Cooper on tenor sax and Alan Broadbent on piano, was presented with a more tangible level of realism with the X16 inserted into my system. I have a number of Karrin Allyson’s CDs, and they’re all generally excellent, but I always felt she suffered from a bit of a sophomore slump on Sweet Home Cookin’, her second release. Hearing the DSD files over the X16 has me definitely rethinking how I rank this disc in her body of work, and I’m now digging into more of her catalog of titles.

     

    Shostakovich Piano Concertos album cover.

     

    I don’t want you to get the impression that I only listen to DSD files. Actually, the vast majority of my collection and the bulk of my listening is done with rips of 16-bit/44.1 kHz Red Book CDs, and a disproportionate percentage of those are classical music titles. One of those titles is an album of Shostakovich Piano Concertos from Harmonia Mundi and Russian pianist Alexander Melnikov. This is a shockingly good recording whose sound rivals that of many higher-resolution formats. Upon taking a recent listen via the X16, I was astounded by how robustly the orchestral crescendos were rendered, and by the palpability of Melnikov’s grand piano. In between the two concertos, there’s a really great performance of one of Shostakovich’s Sonatas for Piano and Violin, and the interplay between Melnikov and violinist Isabelle Faust is breathtakingly beautiful. I’ve always known this is a great recording, but I just didn’t remember it sounding quite this good before, and yes, CD-quality files are rendered with superb musicality by the X16.

     

    Debussy Preludes do 2e Livre album cover.

     

    Staying in the Alexander Melnikov groove, Harmonia Mundi celebrated the 100th anniversary of the death of composer Claude Debussy in 2018 with a whole series of recordings from their roster of artists. I played Melnikov’s entry in the series, Debussy’s Preludes, Book II, and as I listened to this recording I’ve played many times over the last few years, I experienced another moment of near-catatonia. I was literally unable to move as I listened, and was nearly awestruck by the unparalleled level of realism of Alexander Melnikov and his piano. I own a number of really good recordings of solo piano, and I consider solo piano recordings to be an excellent indicator of any system’s ability to accurately portray complex and demanding music. Played through the X16, this Melnikov Debussy recording has definitely moved towards the top of the demonstration list!

     

    Patricia Barber, Clique, album cover.

     

    Another really superb recording that I reviewed in Copper Issue 144 is jazz pianist and vocalist Patricia Barber’s latest release, Clique. I’ve ripped the DSD layer of the SACD disc, and I also have the 32-bit/352.8 kHz DXD files. I had the following to say about this excellent release then: “Clique is an exceptional recording; one of those rare events where all elements of the creative process combine to yield a record of perfect performances and technical brilliance. Clique is a truly outstanding listening experience.” The DXD file is easily the finest-sounding digital music file on my entire music server, and it reached a new level of magnificence when played with the Gustard X16 in my big system.

    Conclusion

    While I hoped for good things from the Gustard X16, I wasn’t prepared to be blown away by its impressive build quality, musicality, and most importantly, it’s superior sound quality. And I can’t begin to tell you how many times I was literally stopped in my tracks by the almost hyper-realism of the X16’s portrayal of the music. It often revealed surprising levels of previously unheard detail in performances I’m intimately familiar with. And despite my grumblings about what I felt were a few technical glitches, I’m heavily focused on sound quality above all else, and the X16 certainly gets top marks for that. While my review to this point has focused on the X16’s integration into my current high-end audio system, next issue I’ll cover more of my experiences with it in the compact system I’m putting together for my possible upcoming alternate reality.

    Generally, in my reviews, I tend to focus on the affordable spectrum of audio equipment, and often find myself referring to a particular piece of kit as my “budget reference.” That’s definitely true of the X16 – it’s without a doubt my new budget reference for digital-to-analog converters. The fact that it features a pair of top-of-the-line ESS Sabre ES9068AS DAC chips at its $499 MSRP is almost incomprehensible to me. And I’ve seen it available online for as low as $449, making it an even greater bargain. In the Gustard X16, I’ve found my new reference, period – it comes very highly recommended!

    Gustard X16 digital-to-analog converter: $499.00 MSRP (USD), www.gustard.cn

    All images courtesy of Gustard, ESS, and the author.

    38 comments on “Gustard’s X16 Digital-to-Analog Converter – My New Standard for Moderately-Priced DACs”

    1. Great review! I just purchased an X16 and have the same experience as you ( except for the shipping issue. I ordered from Amazon and had it from China to Massachusetts in 6 days) Amazing piece of equipment. Using with a Node2i and replacing a Schiit Modi3+….into a Sound Artist SA200ia or a Schiit Freya/ VTA St120 tube Dynaco clone…both with either Magnapan MMG or KEF LS59 Meta…fantastic sound. Huge improvement to the Node 2i. Easily one of the best improvements I’ve made recently.

      1. The X16 is definitely a great little DAC, and shockingly good for the price! Glad to hear that your listening experiences are mirroring mine, and thanks for reading!

        Tom

    2. Hi Tom,

      I’m a big fan of the Gustard X16 as well. I’ve compared it thoroughly to the Topping D90SE and found the two to be equivalent in sound quality, but they do differ in features, as you hinted at in your review (better display, lower output impedance, i2s config options, etc.). When the DAC is paired with a preamp or integrated amp, the X16 certainly seems to be the best value of the two.

      I’m curious to know what technical glitches you encountered (if any) beyond what you mentioned in your “Not-so-Good” list.

      Also, for 16-bit, 44.1 kHz playback, did you disable NOS mode, or are you upsampling the signal in your media player? I’m just asking because I’ve found that using NOS mode at lower sampling rates results in significant roll-off of the highs.

      If you’re curious, here’s a post I made in the Roon community that illustrates how I’m using the X16:

      https://community.roonlabs.com/t/showing-off-your-roon-setup-description-and-photos-2021-10/173220/240

      Here’s a link to some plots I published comparing the filter response between the D90SE and X16:

      https://audiosciencereview.com/forum/index.php?threads/topping-d90se-review-balanced-dac.24235/post-920546

      This post shows my rig for listening comparisons. I was able to match levels between the two DACs to within 0.01 dB.

      https://audiosciencereview.com/forum/index.php?threads/topping-d90se-review-balanced-dac.24235/post-915790

      1. Hi, David,

        I saw your post not long after it went live, but had some out-of-town family over for the upcoming holiday that required entertaining, so I’m just now getting to answering you.

        In the initial setup, I turned the NOS setting to ON. I have to be honest, I’ve yet to listen to anything upsampled, but I definitely prefer to have all my higher-resolution files played natively, so no oversampling will be used for the vast majority of my listening. And in terms of the technical glitches, I’m mainly talking about the inability to make I2S switch adjustments in the software menu — fortunately for me, it worked perfectly that I could simply reverse the interconnect leads going to my preamp and that fixed everything. I’m not absolutely certain that would work for every situation, and as I mentioned, I had some experiences with another I2S device that inverted the channels with DSD files, but didn’t effect PCM playback. Not sure how the X16 would have handled that situation! And I was a little put-out that full MQA decoding is only offered for USB inputs, especially since I do virtually all my listening via the I2S input, but again, I really haven’t yet formed a concrete opinion on MQA, so no biggie. I do have a Tidal account, and I have a really good USB setup, and plan to dig into that more as I go along. And, of course, the other issue was how small the display type is. So, those are not, per se, technical glitches as such, just areas where I would have preferred other available options. At this price point, and in consideration of the amazing sound quality, I can’t complain!

        Thanks for the links you provided, I plan to have a look at those very shortly. Thanks for reading!

        Tom

        1. Cool. Thanks for your reply. I’m looking forward to hearing your impressions over USB. That seems to be the most optimized input on the X16. That said, I’ve yet to test the i2s input, hence my interest. 🙂

          On software upsampling, I agree that it is not needed for DSD and high-rez content. But when playing CD resolution content, either NOS mode should be disabled or the content should be upsampled before sending it to the DAC. I mean, it won’t break anything, but it definitely won’t sound right!

          1. I’ll post more of my findings with regard to MQA via USB in the next issue. And I’m planning on setting the X16 up in a much smaller system I’m currently playing about with, and will report on how that’s going as well.

            I really have no plans to use the oversampling function — I’ve really never experienced good results with oversampling in my previous evaluations with other equipment.

            Tom

            1. Hmmm. I appreciate your conviction. I’ll share a plot, but for correct Redbook playback from the X16 with highs that are not artificially rolled off, your only choices are oversampling in the DAC or software upsampling before the DAC.

                1. BTW, upsampling before the DAC, using Roon or HQPlayer, is pretty magnificent with NOS mode enabled on the X16. It’s fun to experiment with this. 🙂

    3. I just received my x16 yesterday and it is breaking in now streaming kuvo.org 24/7. I’m hoping in 100 hours or so it will be ready for some listening. I have been auditioning a Chord Qutest for the last couple of weeks but your review piqued my interest and I will be comparing the two

      For many years, all my digital listening has been done with a Windows PC. I have a lot of CDs ripped to WAV files on an external drive and stream them to the DAC via Foobar2000, which I have tried to optimize with WASAPI and the other settings I have found on the various forums. I also have a Qobuz subscription (again using WASAPI settings) and as I said stream kuvo.org which I find to have excellent sound.

      The Gustard manual wants me to install the ASIO component on Foobar for DSD playback settings. The creator of Foobar says “Please note that this component is meant for systems where ASIO is the only available output method. It is highly recommended to use the default output modes instead of ASIO. Contrary to popular “audiophile” claims, there are NO benefits from using ASIO as far as music playback quality is concerned, while bugs in ASIO drivers may severely degrade the performance”.

      Is the x-16 converting my WAV files to DSD? How should I optimize the x-16 to play WAV files?

      1. Bob,

        I have to be honest with you, for years I tried to use freeware sources for music playback with a Windows PC, including cocktails of DLNA and UPNP open source freeware to try and get bit-perfect playback of FLACs and DSD. Including JRiver Media Center, JPLAY, Foobar, Minim Server, etc. Playback was typically glitchy — it was good when it was good — but it was frequently glitchy. I first abandoned the PC and started streaming with a Sonore microRendu and then later an UltraRendu. At that point, I also had a reviewer account free from Roon, and Roon in combination with the Sonore streamers was completely glitch free. I since have moved on to a dedicated server/streamer/music player setup from Euphony, which betters the Sonore in every way. And the music player from Euphony is absolutely superb — it’s even better and more capable than Roon, but I like Roon’s library management better. So now, I use the Euphony hardware and music player, but I now pay to use Roon’s library management — it’s worth $12/month to me for all that it offers.

        I haven’t actually used Foobar or any open source applications for music play in over five years now, and when I recently looked into using Foobar, I couldn’t figure the basics out, and now Minim Server is payware. So I guess there’s no longer any free lunch in terms of roll-your-own digital music playback. After fooling with it for a week or so, I decided that there’s just no going back for me.

        When I got the X16, I glanced at the online manual information for setup using Foobar, and my initial thought was “Holy crap, this is complicated!” I don’t by any means intend to discourage your pursuits, but, unfortunately, I also can’t offer any suggestions with this. I’m truly sorry.

        Anyway, thanks for reading, and I really hope you figure this out. I’m still really smitten with the X16!

        Tom

        1. Tom, thanks so much for your response. I have experienced glitches. I’m still trying to figure out a way to optimize digital that works best for me. It’s a journey and I love this hobby!

          1. Bob,

            I also really enjoy it, but it can be a little maddening. I work with Macs at my day job, mostly PCs at home, but all my streaming equipment for my stereo setup is Linux. I generally rip all my digital files on the PC, but occasionally on a Mac at work during down time. And if there’s ever a problem with the streamer, it’s Linux. Keeping the various protocols correct for each can be somewhat of a challenge!

            And then, occasionally, things just stop working for seemingly no reason. My Euphony streaming setup has two Intel NUCs running Linux; one is for my library management and the other is for the music player and streaming function. A couple of months ago, they upgraded the second unit with an I2S output — which is really great, but that’s completely changed my startup protocol. I used to just turn everything on, but now, I have to boot both Euphony boxes, go into the file menu of the management box and tell it reconnect to the pair of 2TB SSDs that all my files are stored on, then reboot the streaming box before it will function properly. And only because I’m using a digital output other than USB. It probably took me four hours to figure out the sequence the first time I used the box with the new I2S board!

            Hey, what else are we gonna do with our time, anyway?

            Tom

              1. Exactly! I still spin the occasional LP, and actually review LPs regularly on another site, so I’m constantly futzing with the analog setup. It’s a never-ending battle!

                Tom

      1. Bob,

        No, unfortunately, even though most current implementations of I2S use HDMI connectors. They’re generally not compatible, and serve completely different functions. And most of the manufacturers that use I2S use differing pin configurations — for example, with the Gustard X16 and my Euphony Endpoint I2S output, there’s a pin mismatch between the two units. The left and right channels are reversed, but fortunately, it’s the same for PCM and DSD, so all I had to do was switch the output cables to my preamp. When I use my PS Audio DAC, everything matches perfectly, so the normal setup is correct. I’ve read that most DAC manufacturers have included the ability to make changes to I2S pin assignments in their setup menus — which is great, but the Gustard X16 doesn’t include that functionality.

        I’m pretty sure that most everybody (with a reasonably priced system, that is) who uses I2S actually uses an HDMI cable for the connection — I currently use an AudioQuest Carbon (you can find it on sale for about $50), but for a while, I just used a $5 Monoprice 4K HDMI cable, which worked surprisingly well.

        Tom

        1. And I thought trying to keep speaker polarity straight was complicated! 🙂 (Don’t get me started on XLR pinouts.) Maybe someday the industry will settle on a standard. Seems like there needs to be one for I2S audio connectivity.

          1. Right??? As if there isn’t enough in this obsession to try and keep straight in our heads!! The I2S thing is crazy stupid! And as much as I love the Gustard DAC, I’m very fortunate that a simple cable swap gets everything where it should be.

            Tom

          2. Before I went with the Euphony streaming system, I used a Sonore UltraRendu streamer for years (I still have it). Sonore makes a USB-to-I2S converter that has dip switches on the back to configure the pins, and they have a big chart on their website showing the differing configurations for various manufacturers. Oddly, most of them are pretty much the same, with the exception being PS Audio, which requires a different pin configuration than just about anything else. Go figure…

    4. And let’s not even get started with Bluetooth. At least half the devices I have in the house were or are fussy about pairing. I just upgraded my Roku (for the princely sum of $30 on a Black Friday sale) and had to futz with the remote and the stick for a half-hour before they’d talk to each other. Sometimes you just have to pick up an acoustic guitar…

    5. Tom – Based on your recommendation I bought an x16. I was auditioning a Chord Qutest. For me the x-16 beats it – clarity and sound stage (maybe sound stage improves with improved clarity). Over $1000 in savings. It seems to me that often recently when comparing components, power conditioners, cables, etc. it boils down to one of the options sounds like “there is blanket over the speakers”. Or at least a sheet.

      Anyway, now I have to figure out what I can do to improve what I am feeding the DAC.

      I’m also wondering if I should audition the x-26…

      And thanks to PS Audio for being brave enough to put up a review of a competing product!

      1. Bob,

        Good luck! I find that with at least a couple hundred hours, the X16 gets better and better — the top end smooths out significantly. Now, that said, with my PS Audio Stellar Gain Cell DAC, even though it uses a pair of DAC chipsets that are lower in the ESS line than the X16, it’s been “voiced” by PS Audio such that it’s an excellent sounding, very musical DAC. I’ve been going back and forth for the last week, and even though the X16 sells for $499 and the SGCD sells for $1800 — which is quite a difference in price — I still love how the SGCD sounds, as well. If I had to downsize tomorrow, the SGCD would probably go, but regardless, it’s still a remarkable piece of hardware.

        I don’t really think PS Audio probably sees a $499 Chinese-made DAC as offering serious competition to most of their DAC lineup, so I’m not too concerned about that. Of course, based on my experience, the X16 is an unbelievable overachiever, so there’s that!

        Tom

      1. Bob,

        It kind of varies with differing equipment; I can’t say this with absolute certainty — because I really don’t know the answer to this — but I’ve always thought that line-level equipment can operate with no cables connected without issue. It’s generally a problem with amplifiers, but when I got the PS Audio M700’s almost a year ago, they told me I needed to break them in for 300 hours before doing any critical listening. And they also told me that the way the Class D circuitry is designed in the M700’s, I DIDN’T NEED TO HAVE THE SPEAKER CABLES CONNECTED in order to break them in — just disconnect the speaker cables, crank the volume on my preamp up to about the normal loud listening level for me, and set some music or test tone on repeat and let it run for about12-15 days. That was, at that point, the craziest thing I thought I’d ever heard in my entire life! I did take a quick out-of-the-box listen — they sounded TERRIBLE — so I did as I was told, and it’s been pretty much Heaven ever since. So, go figure!

        I’m a firm believer with DACs, preamps, etc., just connect everything like normal, then just leave them on 24/7 for as many days as you can — just letting the caps, resistors, etc. get fully formed and warmed up. With my X16, I actually thought it sounded pretty good right out of the box, and sounded significantly better after just a couple of days. At the worst, put on some digital music and turn off your amps, etc. so you don’t have to hear it. I think any of the above will work.

        Tom

    6. Tom,

      Is the X16 still sounding good to you with more time elapsed? I have one arriving tomorrow to compare with my ten year old PWD Mk 1. Should be an interesting weekend!

      Thanks in advance for your thoughts.

      Lee

      1. Lee,

        Surprisingly, it still is! I thought it sounded good right out of the box, but it’s really gotten better as it’s gotten broken in. I usually let my electronics run pretty much 24/7 for months on end while they’re brand new, and I really think that helps them get where they need to be more quickly than a few hours use each day for the same period. I’ve switched back and forth between the X16 and my PS Audio DAC repeatedly since the X16 showed up in November, and I hate to say it, but the X16 just sounds more detailed, more natural, and more musical with everything I play. I probably haven’t listened to anything with the PS Audio DAC in over a month now.

        I keep reading bits about the Gustard special fuse that’s about $25 online — I’m not really an outboard fuse kind of guy (for example, the Synergistic Research fuses can be as much as $150 each!), but for $25, I might take a chance to see if it makes any difference. Especially since it’s custom designed for the X16.

        Let me know what your experience is — I also keep hearing that the next couple of steps up in Gustard’s DAC lineup are also very, very good — I might reach out to them and see if they’re interested in sending one. With things a little chilly between China and the US with the Ukraine thing currently going on, they might not be too keen on sending out review equipment.

        Thanks for reading!

        Tom

    7. Buenos dias, soy poseedor de un X16 algunos meses, es la mejor review que he leido del Gustard X 16. Destacaria lo silencioso que puede llegar a ser, y el detalle que tiene. Tuve un problema que no he podido resolver, hasta ahora.
      Por si alguien podria aconsejarme…
      He usado solo la entrada USB y el Bluetooth, funcionando perfectamente. Pero el resto de entradas no consigo que funcionen, saben como podria solucionarse? lo he reiniciado varias veces, e incluso llevado a taller de electronica, pero no han sabido solucionar el problema.
      Muchas gracias, de antemano.

      1. Rafa,

        The default input setting is USB — have you used the remote to change the input setting to whatever else (coaxial, optical, I2S, etc.) you were trying to use? I haven’t had that problem, every input I’ve tried has worked perfectly for me. Since the display is so small, it can be difficult to read the menu settings, I know it is for me. I wish I could be more help!

        Thanks for reading!

        Tom

    8. Con el mando a distancia no. Con el selector del x16 si. De hecho el Bluetooth lo conecto con el selector del x 16 y funciona bien. Pero las otras emtradas las selecciono y no emite señal el x16. La Is entrada no la he probado. Pero la coaxial y optica si. Y no funcionan.
      Gracias por la rapida respuesta.

      1. The X16, like most other digital audio equipment is a mini-computer — sometimes the signal gets “hung up” in transmission. For example, I’ve had a couple of instances with the X16 where I’ve either changed the input or restarted either my streamer or my preamplifier — and couldn’t get music to play. I had to completely unplug the preamplifier and/or the streamer and DAC to get things working again. Something like this happened very recently when I had a temporary power outage at my home. I know this sounds counterintuitive, but sometimes, it happens this way. I’d try that — I work in computers in my day job, and sometimes, the only way you can get them to completely reset is to completely disconnect them from their power source.

        It might be worth a try!

        Tom

    9. Gracias!!!
      Seguire intentando con otro taller de electronica. Estoy interesado en comprar el u18. Pero antes necesito saber que todas las fuentes de entrada funcionan.
      Pienso que conectando el u18 a un estremer con dirac. Tendria un conjunto de audio inmejorable relacion precio- calidad de sonido para Qbuz y amazon HD.
      A ver si tengo suerte y consiguen arreglarlo..

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