AKM Debuts New AK4499EX Flagship DAC Chip
One of the hidden highlights of last month's Munich High End hi-fi show was the launch of a new DAC chip by Asahi Kasei Microdevices Corporation, or AKM, to its friends.
It's unusual for StereoNET to talk about individual microchips – we're usually more interested in the products they go into – but we think this is significant for the hi-fi industry, in its own way.
How so? Well, most manufacturers of optical disc players and DACs don't actually make their own converter chips; instead, they buy them 'off the shelf' from specialist chip makers – like the aforementioned AKM, plus ESS, Texas Instruments/Burr-Brown, Wolfson, etc., and of course, formerly Philips, which back in the nineteen-eighties seemed to supply the entire hi-fi industry. Even today, only a few specialist manufacturers like dCS and Chord Electronics make their own DACs. These use code flashed to bought-in Field Programmable Gate Arrays (FPGAs) rather than using bespoke-manufactured silicon chips.
The new 'Velvet Sound Verita AK4499EX', as AKM calls it, is likely to appear in many future high-end DAC products, streamers and digital preamps in the next few years. This package completely separates digital and analogue circuitry; the partnering AK4191 chip handles digital filtering and the initial delta-sigma conversion stage, while the AK4499EX does the final digital-to-analogue conversion. AKM says it is based upon its high-end predecessor, the AK4499 current output DAC chip.
Together with the AK4191, the AK4499EX gives ultra high-resolution digital-to-analogue conversion, with a PCM sample rate of up 1,536kHz at up to 64-bit resolution. It also converts up to 44.8MHz sample rate DSD. Of course, there are very few commercially available recordings done at over 24-bit, 192kHz resolution (PCM) even now, twenty years after this standard appeared with the launch of DVD-Audio, so 64/1,536 is academic at the moment and likely to remain so for a long time. But it's still something of a milestone and offers great future-proofing.
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AKM claims it gives “a sound as if you were there” experience. This remains to be seen – and heard – but the company's past DAC chips have certainly been StereoNET favourites. In general, we tend to really like the products that use DAC chips from this respected Japanese manufacturer.
Obviously, the final sound of a digital audio product depends on more things than just a DAC chip – for example, the quality of power supplies, ground paths, clocking and the analogue output stage – but it's going to be interesting to hear what this new slice of silicon delivers, all the same.
David started his career in 1993 writing for Hi-Fi World and went on to edit the magazine for nearly a decade. He was then made Editor of Hi-Fi Choice and continued to freelance for it and Hi-Fi News until becoming StereoNET’s Editor-in-Chief.