ESS has been in business for a long time, and many will recognize the name from the PC side of its business. They used to be inside many audio cards in nineties and company went aggressively into the consumer business in the 2000s. Since 2015 some top phone manufacturers including LG (with V10 and G5), Vivo, Meizu and Xiaomi used company's DAC.
The LG G5 Hi-Fi Plus audio module for G5 phone with its Bang and Olufsen speakers includes the ES9028 SABRE Digital to Analog Converter (DAC) and SABRE 9602 Headphone Amplifier. The idea is to provide selected to provide a superior Hi-Fi audio experience. This is the technology that usually finds its way into higher end home amplifiers and receivers and LG has seen the need to use the High resolution audio and offer the SABRE to its audiophile customers.
ESS's audiophile technology supports the industry's most popular high resolution and lossless audio formats including FLAC, ALAC, AIFF and WAV. The LG HiFi Plus supports 32-bit, 384KHz high definition audio playback and can be used either as a module with the LG G5 or as a separate HiFi DAC by connecting to any smartphone or PC.
We got to experience the ES9028 SABRE Digital to Analog Converter (DAC) and SABRE9602 Headphone Amplifier playing on the reasonably priced Beyerdynamic DT-770 Pro 80 Ohm headphones that are currently selling for €139 in most parts of Europe and $149.99 in the USA.
Dan Christman, ESS's Chief Marketing Officer and Diane Vanasse, Director of Marketing Communications wanted to show us that the ES9028 SABRE DAC and SABRE9602 Headphone Amplifier can sound great on normally priced headphones. HI fidelity headphones easily sell for a few hundred to a few thousand USD, and audiophiles are a special market. It is the sort of market which will pay an arm and a leg for the right plugs so it is pretty picky.
LG G5 end users will get the glimpse of that with the LG Hi-Fi Plus with B&O module. Music does sound better compared to the other phones. Dan chose my favourite song that has a lot of range, Eagles – Hotel California Acoustic Cover (Hell Freezes Over, April 1994). We were able to compare two demo boards – a new board for the ES9118 (SoC - integrated DAC + Amp) that will come in some future products and a board for ES9028 + SABRE9602 (same as LG G5). The LG G5 Hi-Fi module sound was amazing in the demo.
The second demo used a Black Box which you toggled between two demos:
ES9018 + SABRE9602 (same as LG V10) driving DT770 in classic single ended mode (share ground) versus 2x(ES9018 + SABRE9602) driving modified DT770 with separate balanced (differential) drive for each channel (L and R).
The ES9118 SABRE HiFi System-On-Chip (SoC), with integrated DAC, headphone amplifier and output switch, uses the company’s patented 32-bit Hyperstream architecture to deliver up to 126dB Signal-to-Noise Ratio (SNR) and -113dB Total Harmonic Distortion plus Noise (THD+N) of audiophile quality audio all the way to the headphones.
The new ES9118 SABRE had the best sound and this is something that will come to mobile phone solutions in the future. The runner up was the LG G5 Hi-Fi module which was the best sound we heard from a phone, or a hardware that will work out of one. It should not be hard to compare an LG G5 Hi-Fi B&O ESS powered audio module against an LG G5 standard stereo 3.5 inch output and see the difference.
The LG G5 has made a huge step oward those who like the hi-fidelity sound out of their phones.