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Author Topic: exaSound e18 High End 8 channel USB DAC Review  (Read 36604 times)

Matt

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exaSound e18 High End 8 channel USB DAC Review
« on: June 29, 2012, 09:22:37 am »

Overview

As a result of this thread, I contacted several manufacturers of nice audio hardware.

George Klissarov, the owner of exaSound, was one of the first to reply.  He sent me an e18 demo unit right away.  Then he worked with me on several e18 + JRiver issues, helping improve the experience for both of our users.

The e18 is an audiophile 8 channel DAC.  It competes primarily with other expensive audiophile DACs.  More information here: http://www.exasound.com/e18DAC/Overview.aspx

The e18 particularly excites me because most audiophile gear is 2 channel only.  George went so far as to say he's had a tough time getting reviewers to look at the 8-channel e18 (even in two channel mode) because they focus on 2-channel DACs only.  

This is totally lost on me.  If you ever watch a movie, you need more than two channels.  If you want a subwoofer, you should have more than two channels.  If you ever bi-amp or tri-amp, you need more than two channels.  If you have SACD or other HD audio, it often uses more than two channels.  And even if you don't need extra channels, they future proof your purchase.

Good Stuff

Flawless driver design
The e18 has the best driver I have encountered.  I believe less-is-more from audio drivers.  I want the driver to be reliable, bit-transparent, and otherwise get out of my way.  If you've ever configured a Creative card to be bit-transparent and get channel routing right, you'll understand why this is important (it's a nightmare to configure the Creative, and many other cards, in my opinion).

Here's how the e18 driver panel looks:


In house driver development
Like I said above, the drivers are great.  And they're written in house by exaSound.  I like in-house design, because often when I talk to hardware makers about issues, they have no real ability to debug or fix their driver issues since they bought a driver package from some third-party.

No noise on boot / sleep
It's stone silent when the computer's power state changes.  Since the unit is powered externally, this makes sense.  It's still important, as a lot of good studio-quality hardware knocks you out of the room on power changes if you have your amplifiers on.

Ultra low line noise
Playing silence at full volume with my ear right next to a big speaker is as quiet as anything I have ever tested.  Other consumer-level cards like Creative and Asus have also mostly figured this one out, but the e18 may be somewhat better.

Impressive specs
The specifications for jitter, distortion, etc. are basically perfect:
http://www.exasound.com/e18DAC/Specifications.aspx

External / USB design
I like the idea of putting the DAC as far away from other powerful things (like the amplifier or computer) as possible.  The stand-alone USB design of this unit makes that possible.

Reliable
I used the e18 in my home theater for about a month.  I never had a drop-out or other hardware glitch.

Great sound
Since I have analog connections that are slow to switch, there's really no way for me to properly A/B test the e18.  The e18 sounds great to me.


Wish List

Price
The retail price of the e18 is $1999.  It's comparable to other limited production audiophile DACs, but out-of-reach of many normal people.  I would love to see a scaled down unit coming in closer to the price of the high end consumer cards from Creative and Asus.

Volume not remembered
By biggest problem using the DAC is that it comes on at -40dB as a safety check.  Since I use Internal Volume in Media Center, this meant I had to do an extra step each time I sat down on the couch to get the e18's volume back to full level.  George has promised a coming fix for this.

More power on the headphone output
The headphone amplifier sounds great, but is only borderline powerful enough for power hungry headphones like Sennheisers.  The listening volume was comfortable at full volume on HD 650's.  But this means there isn't really any headroom if some processing (like Replay Gain) was reducing the volume.

Ability to overdrive outputs
The e18 outputs at the reference RCA voltage.  This is a good default.  As a power amplifier user, I'd like the ability to optionally get a little more voltage.

Turn on and off with USB
Since it's a stand-alone external unit, you have to turn it on and off by hand.  It would be neat if talking to the ASIO driver would turn it on and off automatically.

WDM driver
The hardware is ASIO only.  There is not a WDM driver.  This is a mixed bag.  It means Windows won't ever accidentally play sounds to it, which is good.  But it also means you need to use loopback (still experimental) in JRiver if you want to use the hardware for gaming, browser-based video playback (Netflix), or use it in other programs.


Configuration with JRiver Media Center

Since the driver is straight-forward, there isn't much to do.

Set the program to use ASIO in Options > Audio.  I used these ASIO settings:


I prefer Internal Volume + Volume Protection.  I leave the e18 at full hardware volume.  This is done for improved signal headroom in our audio stack.  More on that here: http://wiki.jriver.com/index.php/Volume#Internal_Volume_Headroom


Conclusion

To me, the e18 is basically a perfect hardware and driver combination.

Kudos and thanks to exaSound for what they've built and for giving me a chance to enjoy it.
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mojave

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Re: exaSound e18 High End 8 channel USB DAC Review
« Reply #1 on: June 29, 2012, 11:25:06 am »

Nice review, Matt. I'm glad you could play with some new hardware. I looked at the e18 back in March when another Interact member mentioned he had one. Did you try any 352.8 kHz files? You can find some here (scroll down on the page).

Having a simple ASIO driver is very nice. The only suggestion I would have is that "Surround Left/Right" be called "Rear Left/Right."

Quote from: Matt
By biggest problem using the DAC is that it comes on at -40dB as a safety check.  Since I use Internal Volume in Media Center, this meant I had to do an extra step each time I sat down on the couch to get the e18's volume back to full level.
Since you mention volume   :), my biggest problem with Volume Protection in JRiver is that it resets the volume to 20% after 30 minutes. It really should use the value set in Options > Startup > Set volume to x% first for those of use that like to start at 35% or some other value. I listen at various times throughout the evening or at work and usually 30 minutes have gone by. I start a song, realize the volume is too low and raise the volume, and then restart the song.

Quote from: Matt
But it also means you need to use loopback (still experimental) in JRiver if you want to use the hardware for gaming, browser-based video playback (Netflix), or use it in other programs.
I hope this moves past the experimental stage. I use it all the time and really like it for gaming.



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pcstockton

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Re: exaSound e18 High End 8 channel USB DAC Review
« Reply #2 on: June 29, 2012, 12:28:46 pm »

Overview

This is totally lost on me.  If you ever watch a movie, you need more than two channels.  If you want a subwoofer, you should have more than two channels.  If you ever bi-amp or tri-amp, you need more than two channels.  If you have SACD or other HD audio, it often uses more than two channels.  And even if you don't need extra channels, they future proof your purchase.


I think many people are content to not get all audiophiled out with multichannel audio for movies and tv shows.  I am happy to let a yamaha (and a cheap one at that) do all of the work of DAC'ing, decoding and amplifying to a $800 Energy 5.1 speaker set.

I have never once felt I needed to put any more effort or money into TV.  How good do I really need that documentary to sound?

2 Channel audio, i.e. music, is a completely different matter.  For me of course....

-patrick
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Re: exaSound e18 High End 8 channel USB DAC Review
« Reply #3 on: June 29, 2012, 04:28:52 pm »

Hi Patrick,
How about multichannel high-end recordings created to impress the most demanding audiophiles?
http://www.highresaudio.com/studio_master.php?fids=47%A248%A235%A236%A268&cr=Surround.
The HighResAudio site also offers stereo studio masters at sampling rates up to 352.8 kHz.
http://www.highresaudio.com/studio_master.php?fids=54%A255%A2112&cr=352.8

Regards,

George
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pcstockton

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Re: exaSound e18 High End 8 channel USB DAC Review
« Reply #4 on: June 29, 2012, 04:55:47 pm »

Hi Patrick,
How about multichannel high-end recordings created to impress the most demanding audiophiles?

Regards,

George

George,

I dont know who those people would be.  I certainly don't know any.  I would venture to say the were created for a rare/non-existent audiophile, who in turn didn't buy them.

Many "audiophiles" dont mix their HT and Audio systems, assuming they have both.  If they do it is only the front speakers and maybe a universal disc player which do double duty.  Most 2 channel enthusiasts are happy to watch TV and Movies in 2.0 on their stereo kits.  Most HT people are content to listen to music through their AVR and front speakers.

If people want to go nuts in both camps I would imagine they would have separate systems.

Reason?  Not many HT setups can do 2 channel music as well as a dedicated system.  Also most hifi/audio mfrs dont create multichannel systems.  Then you always have people like me who appreciate a 5.1 system but who is not going to spend tens of thousands on it in order to bring it to the level of a very nice 2 channel set-up.  Those people also feel that an inexpensive 5.1 system gets the job done just fine.

But if you REALLY care about 2 ch music, and build up a dedicated system to do so, where does multichannel music find a place?

Lastly, multi-channel music is silly to me, and maybe others agree.  For me it is right up there with 3D TV, i.e. it is a gimmick.  I want a cohesive image, not sounds coming from all over the place like a Star Wars action scene.

Just my 2 cents,
Patrick
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Listener

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Re: exaSound e18 High End 8 channel USB DAC Review
« Reply #5 on: June 29, 2012, 06:39:08 pm »

Matt,

Thanks for the great review.

1. Would the e18 be usable in MC for independent multi-room two-channel applications? (the same or different audio going to several rooms)?  I know that the way you open each pair of channels separately causes problems for some devices with ASIO drivers. 

2. If so, can you use different sample rates/bit depths for each pair of channels?

3. Does the combination of MC and the e18 device recover gracefully from sleep/wakeup cycles (with MC not playing music when the PC went into sleep mode)?

Bill
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Matt

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Re: exaSound e18 High End 8 channel USB DAC Review
« Reply #6 on: June 30, 2012, 08:46:41 am »

Did you try any 352.8 kHz files?

I should have, but didn't.

exaSound is also working to add DSD-bitstreaming support.


1. Would the e18 be usable in MC for independent multi-room two-channel applications? (the same or different audio going to several rooms)?  I know that the way you open each pair of channels separately causes problems for some devices with ASIO drivers. 

I did not test this.  But it's rare for an ASIO driver to support this, so I doubt it.  It might be interesting for JRiver to be able to do mixing from multiple zones to a single ASIO device, but this would be kind of a big change, so let's discuss it later in a different thread.

Quote
3. Does the combination of MC and the e18 device recover gracefully from sleep/wakeup cycles (with MC not playing music when the PC went into sleep mode)?

Yes.

I never turn my computer off.  I sleep it most nights.  I didn't have any power-related issues with the e18.  I did turn it on and off manually each time I used it instead of leaving it on 24x7.
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Matt Ashland, JRiver Media Center

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Re: exaSound e18 High End 8 channel USB DAC Review
« Reply #7 on: July 01, 2012, 06:30:14 pm »

Thanks, Matt.

Bill
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dean70

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Re: exaSound e18 High End 8 channel USB DAC Review
« Reply #8 on: July 02, 2012, 05:32:42 pm »

All it needs is 2 or 3 12v trigger outs (with adjustable delays) to power up the amps and it would be perfect.  8)
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GreggP

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Re: Re: exaSound e18 High End 8 channel USB DAC Review
« Reply #9 on: January 26, 2013, 12:12:03 pm »

I would've responded earlier, but I just discovered this thread. As for "audiophiles" that listen to multichannel or surround sound...

I don't consider myself an audiophile, but I have reasonably high end equipment. My DAC is similar to the exaSound e18, but instead of a USB interface, mine uses FireWire. It feeds a multichannel amp that features 5 Hypex UCD amp modules. I built the DAC and amps myself with the goal of making a commercial product, but that didn't pan out. The amps power a set of Era D5 speakers, plus I have an Era powered sub (I think it's the 10 or 12). Anyhow, it sounds pretty good. I'd compare it favorably to a lot of dedicated high-end stereo setups, with the added benefit of being capable of playing surround sound with great sound quality.

As for surround being gimmicky... Yeah, maybe to some, but it depends on your musical tastes. I like all sorts of genres. Some, like electronic or progressive rock really lend themselves to the immersive experience with surround. A few of the Pink Floyd albums, like Dark Side of the Moon, are great in surround. Also, many live concert recordings are offered on Blu-ray. It seems silly to me to waste lossless Dts-hd or Dollby-hd high resolution audio on mediocre equipment, but that's just me.
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RC23

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Re: exaSound e18 High End 8 channel USB DAC Review
« Reply #10 on: August 30, 2013, 09:55:28 am »

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pschelbert

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Re: exaSound e18 High End 8 channel USB DAC Review
« Reply #11 on: August 30, 2013, 03:57:40 pm »

I actually have two 60 channel AD/DA. Well analog in/out they are about 12 channels each( (Motu828mk3 and RME Frieface UFX).

If you want to filter digitally a four-way stereo system you need 8 channels. Now if you do a 4 speaker setup or a 6 speaker setup, its:
2x4 front= 8channels (Stereo system)
(3-way): side 2x3=6 channels
(3way): back 2x3=6 channels

Summing up, you get 20 channels. Surround for example like ambisonic


George,

I dont know who those people would be.  I certainly don't know any.  I would venture to say the were created for a rare/non-existent audiophile, who in turn didn't buy them.

Many "audiophiles" dont mix their HT and Audio systems, assuming they have both.  If they do it is only the front speakers and maybe a universal disc player which do double duty.  Most 2 channel enthusiasts are happy to watch TV and Movies in 2.0 on their stereo kits.  Most HT people are content to listen to music through their AVR and front speakers.

If people want to go nuts in both camps I would imagine they would have separate systems.

Reason?  Not many HT setups can do 2 channel music as well as a dedicated system.  Also most hifi/audio mfrs dont create multichannel systems.  Then you always have people like me who appreciate a 5.1 system but who is not going to spend tens of thousands on it in order to bring it to the level of a very nice 2 channel set-up.  Those people also feel that an inexpensive 5.1 system gets the job done just fine.

But if you REALLY care about 2 ch music, and build up a dedicated system to do so, where does multichannel music find a place?

Lastly, multi-channel music is silly to me, and maybe others agree.  For me it is right up there with 3D TV, i.e. it is a gimmick.  I want a cohesive image, not sounds coming from all over the place like a Star Wars action scene.

Just my 2 cents,
Patrick
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RC23

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Re: exaSound e18 High End 8 channel USB DAC Review
« Reply #12 on: August 31, 2013, 12:49:28 am »

I am on the same way as Peter aka pschelbert. My coming 5.2 setup for music and home cinema will be built up of following loudspeakers:

4-way stereo
3-way center
1-way rears
2 subwoofers

All loudspeakers are DIY and without passive network controlled by an active network done by Acourate. Acourate delivers digital frequency crossovers and room correction with FIR filters. http://www.audiovero.de/en/

This setup comprises 15 analog channels driven by JRiver and two Focusrite Saffire 40 Firewire interfaces.

I have heard a benchmark test of very good loudspeakers with passive crossover and the same loudspeakers with a quick and dirty digital frequency crossover done by Acourate. The result was clear: Active loudspeakers sound better than passive loudspeakers!  

Ruediger

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pschelbert

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Re: exaSound e18 High End 8 channel USB DAC Review
« Reply #13 on: September 01, 2013, 01:31:57 am »

The 8-channel sound card is just right for a stereo 4-way system.
I can confirm, that an active speaker is way better than the same passive (I compared Apogee Duetta, Marin Logan SL3) and am about to do it for an Martin Logan Summit-x.

With JRiver the crossover can be embedded, using the VST-framework.
Means the crossover is actually implemented using VST-plug-ins inside JRiver:

under: tool/Options/DSP&output formats/manage plug-ins/add plug-ins...


good luck, enjoy

Peter


I am on the same way as Peter aka pschelbert. My coming 5.2 setup for music and home cinema will be built up of following loudspeakers:

4-way stereo
3-way center
1-way rears
2 subwoofers

All loudspeakers are DIY and without passive network controlled by an active network done by Acourate. Acourate delivers digital frequency crossovers and room correction with FIR filters. http://www.audiovero.de/en/

This setup comprises 15 analog channels driven by JRiver and two Focusrite Saffire 40 Firewire interfaces.

I have heard a benchmark test of very good loudspeakers with passive crossover and the same loudspeakers with a quick and dirty digital frequency crossover done by Acourate. The result was clear: Active loudspeakers sound better than passive loudspeakers!  

Ruediger


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Matt

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Re: exaSound e18 High End 8 channel USB DAC Review
« Reply #14 on: September 01, 2013, 11:28:23 am »

With JRiver the crossover can be embedded, using the VST-framework.
Means the crossover is actually implemented using VST-plug-ins inside JRiver:

under: tool/Options/DSP&output formats/manage plug-ins/add plug-ins...

Just a little note that using Parametric Equalizer that's built into MC is a good choice for doing cross-overs.

Feel free to start a thread if you'd like to discuss.
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Fitzcaraldo215

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Re: exaSound e18 High End 8 channel USB DAC Review
« Reply #15 on: September 22, 2015, 04:56:49 pm »

Late to the party here, but, Matt, I think you might mean Room Correction under DSP Studio.  That is where I do my crossovers into Dirac Live and my Exasound e28, which is a truly fabulous piece of gear.  The e18 may offer most of that unit's audio prowess for much less money.

I am also a life long convert to Mch audio.  Old habits and mind sets die very hard among audiophiles.  Yes, the available music  releases in Mch audio overwhelmingly favor the tiny niche of classical music, which is my great love. Fans of pop music and other genres are not so lucky.  But, I have thousand of classical Mch discs in my library, and it is growing.  I no longer buy stereo recordings because I think it is a significant step down in reproduced realism relative to the many live classical concerts I attend.

I have chosen an integrated home entertainment system as my favored system.  It was built starting with my former very high quality stereo, and it still plays great stereo, if required.  But, it now also plays Mch audio and audio/video. I use JRiver plus Dirac to control everything, after having eliminated my Mch prepro.  There is no reason I need a separate stereo system.
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ST

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Re: exaSound e18 High End 8 channel USB DAC Review
« Reply #16 on: December 14, 2016, 01:12:53 am »

I actually have two 60 channel AD/DA. Well analog in/out they are about 12 channels each( (Motu828mk3 and RME Frieface UFX).

If you want to filter digitally a four-way stereo system you need 8 channels. Now if you do a 4 speaker setup or a 6 speaker setup, its:
2x4 front= 8channels (Stereo system)
(3-way): side 2x3=6 channels
(3way): back 2x3=6 channels

Summing up, you get 20 channels. Surround for example like ambisonic

Sorry to review this old thread but I hope you help me with my setup.

My configuration intended setup is:-

2 x 2 front and rear (4 channels stereo) . Front channels with its own DSP plugin ( let's call it DSP A). Rear channels with DSP B

2 x 2 side ( 4 channels stereo). One stereo channels with DSP C and the other with DSP D.

Is there any way that I could use JRiver to setup to implement different DSPs for each pair. I am dealing with stereo 2.0 media only.

Thank you.

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My complete system setup in website
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