I think the huge difference in unbalanced vs. balanced sound quality needs to be pointed out. This is an advantage that stacks up in favor of the ES9038Pro for the no-holds bar patrons of HiFi HW (large budgets). Sadly it is true, in order to get an amplifier with XLR-In will cost a pretty penny. There are a few exceptions to this rule, especially if you go with used equipment (I do this, such as my Pioneer VSX-919AH or Kenwood C-2) or DIY.

When using my XLR/balanced setup the sound stage seems to expand by at least 2 fold, it’s immediately noticeable if sitting near the sAp-10 with both RCA and XLR hooked up from the ES9038P (switching between the 2 inputs because the ES9038P can output both). It’s not only sound stage size that changes, the texture of the highs and lows have more detail. The dynamic range seems to be better too, the XLR input from the ES9038P seems louder on the sAp-10 by a few decibels, nothing crazy. Just the change in the details you can pick up on, like someone hitting a mic stand or the pianist foot tapping against the ground while playing brings an old album alive again.


When we are comparing brass instruments you might as well lay down the cards on balanced audio, it’s not even close, especially on the high frequency side. The RCA output of the ES9038P is a tad darker, even when running through the C-2 with V6-OPA-D “Vivid” op-amps for the flat amp. Perhaps this is why I kept hearing a high frequency shift with the Burson Play for most of the review (because of the darker RCA signature).

Balanced vs Unbalanced Art of Digital Audio

Perhaps the ES9038P has a darker signature on the RCA outputs than the XLR or, it could also be how the sAp-10 handles the two input types. Sadly I only have one amp that can take XLR in, so I can’t confirm this observation. I do have another XLR DAC on the work bench (see DSC1 article).

Eventually I want to be able to back up my statements about the sound and show them on an oscilloscope or in RightMark. However, this requires a ton more work and research. If you don’t do it correctly, the measurements are worthless and you just confuse or misguide your readers. I’ll hold off on doing that until later reviews.

This is if you use the shielding as your ground (which does work), some cables are optimized for this method. Others have 4 conductors or more inside. The main difference is the fact their are at least two conductors for the differential signal.

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