Gustard X20 DAC
Sep 8, 2015 at 3:46 PM Thread Starter Post #1 of 1,320


500+ Head-Fier
Sep 14, 2014
Watertown, NY
Those that have visited the Gustard H10 thread -  and the Gustard Amplifiers and DACs thread -  will know me as "Captain" of the good ship SS Gustard.  We are a friendly group of "swabbies" that share a passion for affordable high-end gear that punches WAY above its weight class, or in keeping with our jaunty nautical theme, it rips a broad reach like nobody's business.  Gustard has quite a track record of these price/performance champions - the U12 USB- DDC, the X12 DAC and their previous king of bargains, the H10 headphone amplifier.  The Gustard crew has dished up another product that, in my humble opinion, may beat out the H10 for the "king of values" status.
With no further ado, here is the new Gustard X20 DAC - it's enough to bring tears to a swabbie's eye and definitely will stiffen your peg leg.




The following comes from Gustard's Taobao site with translation from Chinese to English courtesy of Google Translate:
GUSTARD Costa de DAC-X20 double ES9018 XMOS program supports DSD DOP 384K

The foregoing: Costa Germany is among the first to develop applications ESS9018 chip products. 2012 launched X10,2014年推出的X12 are subject to the majority of users, sales are ahead of the same products. The company did not stop there, is has been engaged in research and exploration ESS9018 this chip, and continue with the ESS official exchanges in various aspects of technology, after years of unremitting efforts, we are now on this chip ES9018 Cognitive mettle has reached new heights. With all these years of knowledge and understanding ESS9018 tried numerous times over the years analog mixer, after the X10 and X12 post, which lasted more than two years, after a number of adjustments, and finally launched a new DAC-X20. X20 digital circuit is redesigned on the basis of the original increase the stability, the first use of adaptive technology master clock . And use more humane modular USB daughter card, allowing users to have more choices when selecting products. The analog line is using the newly developed discrete analog line and X12 who made ​​the user's praise.

Thanks brothers love and support all the way, the first has been booked. Now only accept the second batch of book wholesale goods second time around mid-August.
X20 chip uses two main ESS Technology ES9018 Sabre Reference 32bit chip, with XMOS 32bit / 500MIPS performance digital signal processing unit.

Product Features:

• DAC-X20 core chip uses two ES9018, left and right channels for each one.
• the first use of adaptive technology and asynchronous master clock master clock technology, two clock mode can be freely selected.
• Full interface supports DSD decoding. USB support DSD hardware solution, Coaxial Optical AES / EBU support DOP decoding, which can be accessed several broadcast SACD listening to music. Full interface supports 24Bit 192khz (USB 32B 384K).
• using CPLD programmable logic device. MESNAC ES9018.
• 3-speed gain, volume can be adjusted, a total of 100 stalls adjustable volume attenuation from 0 to -99DB.
• USB sub card using XMOS program, PCM highest support 32B 384khz, DSD up to DSD128.
• six kinds of input methods: IIS fiber `BNC coaxial port` AES / EBU`USB, through the key switch.
• Adopt TFT LCD display, adjustable contrast
• power supply with two O-type transformers, digital and analog independent power supply, and the use of discrete components regulation.
• Fully balanced analog line discrete components. Unbalanced RCA output simultaneously.

Black: X20 = ​​3980 (no USB input)


Black: X20U = 4280 (with USB input)

The main chip: the ESS Technology ES9018 Sabre Reference 32bit chip differs from conventional sigma-delta D / A converter, ESS Sabre32 innovative patented circuit out of the general digital audio system timebase jitter, get a very wide dynamic. range, low distortion and precise sound field.  Left and right channels use a sound and stable dynamic enough rich detail.
The first use of adaptive technology and asynchronous master clock master clock technology, two clock modes free switch. Integer CPLD digital technology.
Analog Line is using the newly developed discrete analog line and X12 who has been unanimously praised by users. And with three gain.
Using two O-50W transformer  , O- power transformer silicon steel with high magnetic flux produced using completely non-cutting-type iron core, such a circular cross section with a transformer having a core made ​​smaller volume and good electrical properties, is ideal transformer.Compared with toroidal transformer:. A coil . The average turn length decrease 11.4% - 30%; b coil without knuckle, so the magnetic field distribution is more uniform. Features: no fracture core; approximately circular cross-section; flat circular structure, height shorter, larger diameter; more uniform magnetic flux leakage is smaller. Compared with the R-type transformers, coils unrestricted skeleton, and the coil close to the core, the coupling better and more efficient. Mellow degree of O-type transformers in sound quality, and in the actual comparison, there are significant differences.
USB version of the built-in USB Daughter Card: using XMOS used in professional audio field of X-CORE digital signal processing unit, which includes a powerful processing capabilities, is by far the industry's most advanced digital audio solutions. USB Audio Class 2.0 implements asynchronous transfer playback, and supports low latency ASIO, KS and other professional audio software interface, support for Windows and Mac operating systems. (Basic version without this daughter card)
USB 2.0 asynchronous interface can playback 1BIT / 2.8224MHz or 5.6448MHz DSD digital signal sampling rate. That is supported DSD64 and DSD128. Coaxial BNC fiber AES / EBU support DOP64, IIS support DSD64 128 256 512. SACD playback can be accessed by the number of broadcast music ʱ??
IIS pin definitions

Technical parameters:
DAC Specifications:
ESS Technology ES9018 Sabre Reference 32-bit DAC 
8 mono to stereo configuration 2, four D / A Converters per Channel 

Digital Input:

PCM: 16-24bit / 44.1,48,88.2,96,176.4,192 kHz
PCM: 16-24bit / 44.1,48,88.2,96,176.4,192 kHz

PCM: 16-24bit / 44.1,48,88.2,96,176.4,192 kHz
PCM: 16-32bit /44.1,48,88.2,96,176.4,192 , 352.8 , 384kHz
DSD: DSD64 , DSD128 , DSD256 , DSD512
DOP: DOP64 , DOP128 DOP25 6 , DOP512
USB:  16-32bit / 44.1,48,88.2,96,176.4,192,352.8,384 kHz 
DSDx64 (2.8224 MHz), DSDx128 (5.6448MHz) 

Analog Output: 
RCA Output level: 2.3 Vrms @ 0dBFS 
XLR output level: 4.6 Vrms @ 0dBFS (XLR interface definition: 1 ground, 2 hot, 3 cold) 
Frequency Response: 20-20K Hz +/- 0.15dB

Power Requirements:
Power Supply: AC 230V 50 / 60Hz (AC 115V 50 / 60Hz) 
Power consumption: <50W Machine size (not including protruding part): Width 380MM * 65MM * deep high 260MM.

Operating System Support: 
Windows XP / Vista / 7/8 systems need to install specific drivers
Mac OS X 10.6.4 and above systems without having to install drivers
FOOBAR2000 Chinese version DSD Kit:
DSD plug-in download to Address:
Machine Standard: GB three-prong power cord 1
  1. Our all products support 7 days unconditional return (Trial 7 days), the buyer will be responsible for the return postage.
  2. X20 free 2-year warranty ( failure within seven days of free return postage seller is responsible for a new machine, more than seven days Shipping AA) . Overseas (including Hong Kong, Macao , Taiwan) International and tax incurred by the buyers themselves responsible for 
    all repair only accept courier / post, no open reception
International guidance: X20 = $ 799, X20U = $ 866 
Sep 8, 2015 at 4:10 PM Post #2 of 1,320
I have made a few comments and observations about the X20 on the Gustard Amplifiers and Dacs thread.  To get the conversation going, I am assembling them here so that interested head-fiers can chime in. My apologies in advance if this isn't the correct protocol for this. 
I have some early impressions taken from my listening notes. I had a few good listening sessions over the weekend and directly compared the X-20 to the X-12. As I said before, you can definitely tell they are siblings. My X-12 has benefited from modifying the feat with constrained layer damping and also a good bit of 3M 5100S emi/rfi shielding. Even with these enhancements, the X-20, in stock form, still tops the X-12 in the areas that mean the most to me - soundstaging/imaging and macro/micro dynamics. These are not the kind of improvements that knock you out of your chair and make you wonder how you ever lived without it.  It's more subtle than that. You hear just a bit more with the X-20 - on the same general continuum, but reaching a little farther out on the scale in these critical areas. Here is what my notes were, listening primarily to the Chesky Amazing Binaural Sound Show CD. It should be noted that to switch between the X-20 and X-12 takes a few minutes and level matching with my spl meter added more time to the process.  Therefore, my results aren't as reliable as a quick A/B switch would be.
-- X20 slightly larger acoustic space, while X-12 seems a little constricted with a slight nasal sound to Dr. Chesky's voice.
-- X20 reverberations and sense of acoustic space is more realistic. Dr. Chesky's voice can be more distinctly heard and distinguishable from the reverb/echo. The X-12 does not seperate this out as well. It is harder to make out Dr. Chesky's words - the hall reverb seems louder in comparison to the voice and it doesn't decay as naturally - seems like the X-12's decay is blunted in comparison. 
-- X20 the whisper in the ear test is definitely more "spooky real" than it is on the X-12. Hard to tell what factors are causing this, but I suspect that the higher frequencies are coming through clearer on the X-20.
-- Hair cut test, not as easy to distinguish the differences in the two DACs, but still the X-20 seems to give better image localization particularly when the clippers are going over and around the binaural head. 
--X20 has two clock modes, "standard" and "auto."  The Auto mode improves the sound over the Standard mode in much the same way that the X-20 improves the sound over the X-12. Auto mode portrays a slightly larger, more natural acoustic space.  Decay trails out longer. Slightly better dynamics and image localization is improved. Subtle, yet noticeable and I can pick it out with rapid changes made with the remote control (this is an actual quick A/B where I no longer recall which setting it is on).
-- Just like the X-12, I am very impressed at how natural and grain free the X-20 sounds. There is no "Sabre glare" that I can detect in my setup.  Again, the two are very similar in this regard, but I just relax and go "ahhhhh" that little bit more whenever I have the X-20 in the loop.  I suspect that the beefier power supply, and complete dual mono setup of the X-20 has something to do with this.  I also suspect that new clock scheme represented by the "auto" setting is lowering overall jitter.  The Gustard site says - "The first use of adaptive technology and asynchronous master clock master clock technology, two clock modes free switch.Integer CPLD digital technology."  Who knows what that really means, but my listening impressions tell me that they are really onto something. 
I will be doing more critical listening with my preferred recordings, including some high resolution material from Sound Liaison and Chesky Records (96khz, 24bit) .  This will enable me to comment more on the reproduction of bass, midrange and treble as well as the elusive PRAT which I often refer to as "jump factor" and micro/macro-dynamic scaling.  The way my ears are wired, I can hear imaging/soundstaging subtleties easier than I can discern the slight difference in frequency response and PRAT. 
Yes, my listening was with the Tanly connected at all times.  I have asked Gustard to tell me more about the difference between "Standard" and "Auto" mode with the clocks.  The description on their product page would suggest that auto allows it to run in Slave mode, but I'm not certain. It certainly sounds better to me in the Auto mode.  I have about 70 hours of burn in on the X-20. I used the Purist Audio break in disc which does tend to speed the process. Also my experience with the X-12 was that it didn't take nearly as much burn in time as the H10. I was 95% there with only 50 hours on the X-12. Although I believe most of the burn in changes are complete, I won't be giving any "final" impressions until sometime next week.  That should be plenty of time to rule out any further break-in phenomena. 
I can't judge for anyone else, but the improvements I am already hearing are well worth the ~$300 price difference.  There is no question in my mind that I will be keeping the X-20 and selling my X-12.  I come from the old, dedicated listening room, big rig school of audio reviewing.  Most of the audiophiles I knew and who actually read my stuff, would not blink at paying 10X that price for commensurate sound improvements.
New guy here but I have to agree with Stuart on the X20. Mine came today and has been playing since it arrived. Early impressions are OMG! For reference I am comparing to a Line Magnetic 502ca, Oppo 105, Schiit Gungnir. I prefer to hook up new equipment cold out of the box and listen to them bloom as they settle in. The X20 has been one wow after another as I cycle through songs. YMMV

That's some very good units to compare to. My X-12 already spanked the Aune S16, the Rega Apollo R, Bel Canto Dac-1, and Meitner BiDat, to name a few. I am now only comparing to the X-12, since that is a known commodity around here.  I think some notes on direct comparisons with the Line Magnetic and the Gungnir would be very helpful.
A little show and tell of the test bed setup.  I've changed things around and now I have my Standesign rack in the bedroom with Townsend Seismic sinks and other goodies to eliminate physical vibrations and resonance.  My tablet is connected to the Tanly USB-DDC on the top shelf, the second shelf has the H10 and X12, and the third shelf down is the exclusive province of the new X20. On the bottom shelf is the Rega Apollo R, which is getting no love these days because the playback with the Tablet, J-River and the Tanly is just too good.

How's that for a bedside stack?! there any wonder why I don't get much sleep these days? 
Ok, I was wrong. The X20 actually requires MORE break-in time than the X12. I thought I was nearly there with about 70 hours....wrong again. I kept it playing continuously for four more days and now I have hit pay dirt. It sounded very good before, but now it is truly exceptional. I referred before to the X20 being on the same continuum as the X12 and just reaching farther out on the scale. That is still true, but now it is WAY out on the scale. The soundstage is much bigger in every direction. The black silence between images is truly black rather than dark grey and the images themselves are so 3D and palpable that the X12's seem more like cardboard cutouts in comparison. Bass has more depth and character- less of that one note hodge podge when it's way down there. Midrange has more body and bloom than the X12 and the treble is now even more relaxed while at the same time revealing all the details. Wow, just wow!

Another addition to my system has definitely helped me hear the differences in all their glory. That addition was the Audience AU24 USB cable. This one has separate leads four data and power and uses silver coated OCC copper. It's expensive, costing almost $900 for a 1.5m length, but holy cow, this cable gives amazing results. It lets through more of that low level live mojo that makes everything sound more real. It made hearing the differences between the X12 and X20 a cinch. I seriously would never have thought a USB cable could make such a difference. Yea, I had heard differences with other cables I tried, but this is an order of magnitude more. ..just crazy.

I can now say confidently that if you were on the fence about getting the X20 and spending an extra $300 or so, just do it! If the X12 is an over-achiever at an affordable price, the X20 is a flagship slayer at a stupid good price. You can trust the Captain on this one mates.

More details to come.
The X20 is definitely a keeper, so I decided it was time to return my X12 to stock form. I put the stock feet back on and removed the 3M AB5100S  emi absorbing material so that I could apply it to the X20.  The X20 is a lot easier to get into because the top plate lifts straight off once the small screws are removed -

Once inside, I was immediately struck by the build quality.  This unit is seriously designed and put together!  I had seen the pictures on Gustard's Taobao store, but there is nothing quite like seeing it and touching it first hand.

The Gustard boys have gone to great lengths to shield and isolate the various stages. It really looks like three cabinets in one with the solid metal dividers and the jumpers running from one section to another.  I expect that the AB5100S Material will not make as big an audible improvement in the X20 because of this, but I still feel it is a good prophylactic measure.  I beefed up the shielding of the dividing walls and also applied pieces to the major IC's. 

The X20 is now back in the wrack and I'm letting things warm up for a few hours before giving her another listen.  I have one other change to my system that I incorporated last night. I decided to bring the power conditioning beast, the Tice Power Block III, upstairs and use it as my first line of defense in front of the Quantum Octave power strip that I have been using all along.  I have also been using a Quantum Symphony in the power circuit for some added pixie dust magic electrons mojo.

I used the power amplifier circuit on the Tice, so I don't have any power constrictions.  The combination - Tice and Quantum, gave me the best listening experience I have had to date.  The Tice TPT treatment has always provided a more realistic, holographic soundstage in my big rig and I was pleased to hear the same effects in my headphone setup.  

I couldn't be more pleased with the X20. My version, the X20U, which has the onboard USB daughter card and remote, costs $866.  That, my friends, is ridiculous for this kind of build and sound quality.  I will be posting more from my listening notes and an additional comparison of the AB5100S treated X20 to the stock X12.
Cheers Swabbies!
After about six hours of warm up time, I gave the X20 another listen with the AB5100s installed. Eee-gads!...where did that beautiful treble air and hall space disappear to? It was dead quiet and black as a total eclipse, but sounded a little dull and plodding compared to it's previous sound. OK, perhaps I went too far. Perhaps the X20 keeps emi at bay on its own with the separate chambers, and treating all the ic's and crystals is just too much. Perhaps the 5100S material has too much mechanical damping properties and is adversely effecting the designed in resonant signature of these components. Regardless of what is causing it, I just couldn't leave it like this. came the top and out came all the material on ic's and crystals. I just left the material on the case walls and interior dividers. What I removed, I replaced onto the top lid right over the transformers.

I waited till this morning to give it another listen....ahhhh, now that's what I'm talking about! The air and space are back in all their glory and do I hear...yes, I believe I do...It's just a bit quieter/blacker between images and there appears to be a little more separation. Captain guinea pig is a very happy boy!

Let me be the first to say it - the X20 is the H10 of dacs! Those of you who own the H10 and have been following the H10 thread, know what this means and it's huge. The X12 came close, but was just shy of the magnitude of affordable goodness that the H10 represents. In my humble opinion the X20 equals, or even exceeds it.

Cheers Swabbies!
$800 without USB free shipping. That's amazing price. USB is $70 extra.

Yes it is!  I seriously doubt that you will find a better DAC at under $1000.
I recently swapped out the stock cabinet feet for Black Diamond Racing Cones and sat them on Golden Sound DH squares all on top of a Townshend Seismic Sink.  Just like with the X12, it really puts the frosting on the sonic cake.  When I was taking the stock feet off, the screw holding the foot closest to the IEC socket was harder to unscrew then the others and sure enough, it had a small nut on the inside that attached the ground wire from the IEC to the chassis (just like the X12).  I had to open her up again and re-attach the ground wire.  To do that, I had to remove one of the transformers and uplug some of the power leads attached to the backside of the IEC socket. One of these leads to the transformer was not fully seated, so when I put it all back together I treated the connectors with some Stabilant 22, and also made sure there was a really good ground connection to the chassis....well.... who knows which thing was the true causative factor, or maybe a sum of all them, but I got the quietest, darkest background I have heard to date as well as the best soundstaging I have ever heard with my headphone set up.  

Sep 8, 2015 at 5:58 PM Post #3 of 1,320
Stuart excellent thread on the X20!!! Mine has been the main DAC in my system since issues arose with the USB board in my Line Magnetic. Sent the Gungnir back to Schiit for the multi bit treatment. I am really looking forward to finally doing a four way shoutout once the Gungnir gets back.
I bought an Aurender N100 so I have been fighting the music server learning curve. I bought this just for the interface and so far it has not been a disappointment. Keep up the great work Stuart!
Sep 8, 2015 at 6:15 PM Post #4 of 1,320
Sent the Gungnir back to Schiit for the multi bit treatment. I am really looking forward to finally doing a four way shoutout once the Gungnir gets back.

those results are a must read for me.  Ideally you'd have a dedicated USB interface (so only one software driver in your PC) that's outputting to both DACs in parallel, and you'd roll inputs on your preamp to A/B them.
I bought this just for the interface and so far it has not been a disappointment.

that's confusing because the X20 only has analog outputs.  It can't operate as a USB interface.
Sep 8, 2015 at 6:21 PM Post #5 of 1,320
Mine is due in tomorrow - I can't wait!!!
Sep 8, 2015 at 8:41 PM Post #7 of 1,320
Stuart excellent thread on the X20!!! Mine has been the main DAC in my system since issues arose with the USB board in my Line Magnetic. Sent the Gungnir back to Schiit for the multi bit treatment. I am really looking forward to finally doing a four way shoutout once the Gungnir gets back.
I bought an Aurender N100 so I have been fighting the music server learning curve. I bought this just for the interface and so far it has not been a disappointment. Keep up the great work Stuart!

The comparison to the Gungnir multi bit should be very interesting. I have been following the R2R Vintage Dac thread with great interest. I've been very puzzled by numerous comments about the bad tone and glare of Sabre dacs as if it is inherent to the chip itself and not the implementation. There are also many comments that the only good DS dacs cost a small fortune. I categorically reject both these contentions. To me, the X20 is the perfect refutation of both.
Sep 9, 2015 at 8:37 AM Post #8 of 1,320
Captain Stuart - you mentioned you were still seeing improvements in sound after 70 hours. After how long do you feel it leveled off?
Sep 9, 2015 at 2:47 PM Post #10 of 1,320
I can't believe this.  I took the day off to receive the X20U and spend some quality time with her.  I open up the box and...... it's an X12.  I'm so aggravated..
Sep 9, 2015 at 3:02 PM Post #11 of 1,320
who did you order from?  I ordered from forexmen on ebay.
Now I'm feeling anxious like xmas -- can't wait to see what I'm gonna get.
Hope it's not a dragonfly dac or a thundercat.  Voltron would be cool, if it's the complete set in metal.
Sep 9, 2015 at 3:06 PM Post #14 of 1,320
Yes, paid $830 plus $55 for shipping.  Purchased from Axing0606.  Feedback was very strong - I hope it was an honest mistake.  I can't believe I remained civil when I sent the message to the Seller.  I asked for a full refund and shipping costs to return the wrong unit.  I'll probably buy from Shenzhen Audio or the other seller mentioned (Forexmen).  Sigh.
Sep 9, 2015 at 3:29 PM Post #15 of 1,320
Ya, IF I can navigate it. Got far enough to enter it into my cart, but Google chrome wouldn't translate the address fields. Also, the description says $860 for the USB version, but the price was coming out way lower in the conversion to USD. Not feeling good that I'm going to get it.

Users who are viewing this thread