Update 8/16/20 | Stage II Upgrades:

On Friday night, I completed the Stage II upgrades on my ES9038 DAC. This time around, I replaced the digital section’s 47µF capacitors with Panasonic Pureism™ capacitors. As well as the two 10µF capacitors near the output of the LDOs on the analog side.

After that, I went back and replaced the remaining stock resistors with Dale and Vishay 1% or better replacements. In addition to the stock resistors, I also replaced a few of the ones I added in the in Stage 1. This was due to the fact that some of those resistors were only within 10% of the recommended resistance value.

ES9038 Upgrade| Build Video #0

Music by Khronos and Fat Cat Beats: All tracks found in this video can be found under their “Chill” music category. If you liked it, go check out more of their material! Or if you make non-commercial/monetized videos (like myself), they offer their stuff for free. https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC2il…

Table of Contents:

  • Desoldering DIP8 Sockets: 35 seconds
  • Total removal of DIP8 Sockets, with Chip Quik: at 9, 17 and 21 minutes
  • Desoldering of Resistors: Not possible to show, due to constant flipping of the board.
  • Desoldering of Capacitors: 11 minutes 9 seconds
  • Soldering Resistors: 24 minutes 51 seconds
  • Soldering Capacitors: 40 minutes 50 seconds
  • Soldering DIP8 Sockets: 1 hour 5 minutes

I talked about the upcoming ES9038 Upgrade in the SS2590 preview article and this is directly connected to that. I did all of this work, to prepare for what is going to be a big showdown. The main battle is between dual discrete Burson Audio Single-DIPs and dual discrete Sparkos Labs Single-DIPs.

Original DAC Parts:

Stock ES9038Pro parts with Sparkos Labs Op-Amps installed.
A shot of the original parts. They used the version of SILMIC I don’t care for, the black label (often fakes). The rest I replaced were Nichicon FW and Fine Gold.

ES9038 Upgrade

I included a full run-down of the through-hole parts that make up the analog and digital sides of the DAC. Here they are again:

ES9038Pro Prepped for new parts
Shot of the parts removed, that I replaced in this first stage of upgrades.

Capacitor List for ES9038Pro V1.2 DAC:

  • 7x 47µF 25V (Fine Gold and Oscon) – Digital Side
  • 10x 47µF 25V (SILMIC-II) – Analog Side
  • 3x 100µF 25V (Fine Gold)
  • 1x 3300µF 50V (KMQ)
  • 3x 6800µF 35V (LA Nover RH43)
  • 2x 10µF 16V (Fine Gold)
  • 2x 100µF 25V (Fine Gold)
  • 4x 10µF 25V Bi-Polar (MUSE ES)
  • 1x 0.1µF 400V (RIFA MKT)
  • 1x 47nF 600V (RIFA PHE 426)
  • 4x WIMA 101 100V (100pF)
  • 4x WIMA 103 100V (10nF)
  • 13x WIMA 104 100V (100nF)
  • 4x 2200pF (222) 100V (Arco Film)
Shot of the new parts soldered in the ES9038Pro V1.2 DAC. Not one pad was lifted in the process.
Shot of the initial soldering attempt, came back and cleaned it up (all of them, including stock joints)

1% 1/4W Metal Film Resistors:

  • 4x 20 Ω
  • 4x 47 Ω
  • 4x 100 Ω
  • 4x 140 Ω
  • 2x 220 Ω
  • 4x 470 Ω
  • 4x 680 Ω
  • 4x 1 kΩ
  • 2x 2.4k Ω
ELNA SILMIC-II and SILMIC Super Gold in the ES9038Pro
Shot with some of the new capacitors in place and a few resistors remaining. It’s a SILMIC party!

I didn’t have all of these parts on hand and I am torn about replacing the LA Novers, because I know those are not fakes. The big thing about this article, I have an hour long video showing the entire process where I take all of these parts off and replace them, without lifting a single pad or damaging anything.

I thought about speeding the video up, but people can speed it up themselves if they want, using the option on YouTube.

Another angle of the upgrades to the DAC, sockets and everything in place.
Shot of the finished ES9038Pro upgrade!

Overall, I am really happy with how this turned out. I had one hiccup, where one of my 10µF 35V SILMIC-II were defective, or at least had too high an ESR. The first time I put all of this together and felt confident in it working, I got the dreaded “NLOCK” message. This message is displayed when the PLL (Phase Locked Loop), is unable to “lock.” I replaced the one 10µF SILMIC and the NLOCK screen went away.

The soldering picture of the bottom-side (three pictures up), was taken before I did the final soldering pass, so some of these are cleaner now. I also re-did more of the stock soldering, removing his solder and adding mine. I saw a lot of soldering joints that could be improved, so I did!

Close up shot of the new capacitors, resistors and socket upgrades.
Close up shot of everything, make note of the ELNA SILMIC Super Gold

In the 2nd round of upgrades I’ll be adding in the rest of the resistors and Panasonic Pureism™ capacitors, on the digital side (possibly replacing two of the SILMIC-II). I’ll have to decide on that between now and then.

Initial impressions of ES9038 Upgrade round 1, are very, very good. If you are going for a reference tone, this combo seems to be ideal. I noticed much better high frequency extension, on speakers and with EL-8 planar-magnetic headphones.

Another angle of the upgrades

The mid-range is more balanced with the rest of the track now, it’s not so scooped. With the high frequency now balanced with the mid-range, I found myself turning the treble on the Kenwood C-2 Basic down (for once)!

The bass was not affected very much, perhaps a very slight drop in dB. I wish I had at least done some frequency response test on the DAC, prior to doing this mod/upgrade. I’ll definitely do those tests on this version, before doing round 2 upgrades!

TE 508-AG10D socket
Image Src: http://www.enrgtech.co.uk

These 508-AG10D op-amp sockets from TE are excellent! The clamping pressure is insane compared to what the stock units had! They have absolutely no issue holding DIP-8 risers and further adapters + discrete op-amps. These are going to be perfect for my purposes.

The only caveat is the way the plastic molding is milled. They didn’t make it obvious which side is the “front”, both ends have gaps in them (neither of which are the standard indicator). They do have the pins numbered and on one end, there is a circle with an A in it, that is the “front” side.

Stay tuned for the 3rd round of upgrades and the SS2590 Review!

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