That would explain some inconsistencies as you mentioned.
Would it be fair to say though that dac producers, say, wanting a more neutral detailed dac would more often than not go to, say a sabre dac? ie would something like that play to a dacs strengths or would what the dac itself brings into the equation not be a majority of the influence?
I appreciate your info on these factors
It's tough to make a generalization like that. I feel like any one I come up with is fundamentally flawed. Each chip has its own specs, its own complexities, its own requirements. Integrating that chip within the confines of a successful design which accomplishes the designer's intent - that is the goal. And it's easier said than done. Does your design call for current or voltage output? Integrated line driver? Low power draw? Built-in digital receiver? What are the clocking requirements? Can it be easily customized to disable the internal filter or upsampler, should your design have a custom filtering or upsampling? There are many things to consider.
I'm convinced a skilled designer could make a good to great DAC with any chip, and likewise a poor designer could screw up even the most elite chip on the market.
Plus, there are other concerns to be weighed.
Cost: the top ESS Sabre chips go for quite a bit more than the competition. Paying $30/chip doesn't sound like much but compared to less than $10/chip for much of the competition, multiplied by the thousands of units you hope to sell.... it adds up.
Marketing: ESS is hot right now. The top Cirrus or Wolfson chips are perceived by some as old/unremarkable. So even if they may be the best fit in your design, they may not fit from a marketing standpoint. Then again, there's a bit of backlash among some groups, so Sabre is not necessarily a sure thing either.
Supply: The TI PCM1704 is discontinued and harder to come by in large batches. That would have to be figured out. Even newer, mainstream chips may be hard to source from reliable suppliers at certain times. You don't want your product on backorder for something as simple as this, nor do you want to be forced to revise your DAC 1 year into the life cycle because TI changed from PCM1792 to PCM1792A which called for tiny changes to be made.
See where I'm going with this? You gotta judge each DAC on its merit and not simply the brand of chips involved.