≡ Menu

Review: Wolfson WM8740 USB DAC from China

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in this post are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, MusicServerTips.com will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.” Click here to learn more.

Unfortunately, high-quality digital-to-analog converters (DACs) can be really expensive for what they do (that is converting digital pulses into analog waveforms). Luckily, eBay is flooded with cheap DACs with bold audiophile claims. But how good are these actually? Let’s find out.

I have recently purchased a Chinese made DAC on eBay for under $50 from seller along1986090 (btw, I highly recommend this guy) with the Wolfson WM8740 chipset and full USB audio support. Not only did it work perfectly right out of the box but the quality is absolutely mind-blowing – not just for the price.

Before purchasing this DAC, I drafted my personal requirements.

All I was looking for was a cheap DIY solution to test new loudspeaker setups. In addition, I wanted to be able to use the DAC as an external soundcard for my laptop. I prefer watching movies or listen to some occasional background music without chirping high-frequency noise generated by onboard sound chips.

Here’s what arrived in my mailbox after 2 weeks:

dac1

Figure 1: WM8740 DAC board arrived!

My DAC is powered by the 24 bit/192 kHz Wolfson WM8740 chipset. Audio manufacturers such as Arcam or Cambridge Audio just to name a few are also using the exact same chip in much higher priced products.

The board dimensions are 11.5 x 8.5 cm. It features a height of 2.5 cm. You also need a power supply which is not included with the DAC board itself. The required voltage is 9V AC. Ask the seller for a suitable supply as it tends to be a lot cheaper than purchasing locally outside of Asia.

So what are the obvious downsides?

Unfortunately, its potential is held back a bit by the onboard DIR9001 digital receiver which is only capable of 96 kHz max sampling rates. But nevertheless this should be fine for most people and I personally cannot hear the difference between 96 kHz and 192 kHz anyway (can you?).

USB is also somewhat limited to 16 bit/48 kHz only due to the ageing PCM2704 chipset by Texas Instruments. But as I said, you are going to be fine if you down-sample high-resolution audio with no audible loss. Fortunately, you won’t need any drivers for USB audio. Everything is plug-and-play right out of the box. Windows or Mac computers would recognize this DAC like an external soundcard.

I even tested this little beast with the Apple Camera Connection Kit and a USB hub. I was instantly able to play lossless files from my iPhone. How cool is that?

dac2

Figure 2: USB chipset by Texas Instruments

If you absolutely must have 24 bit audio via USB and don’t mind paying a few extra bucks, you can bypass the limitations of the DAC with an external USB to SP/DIF converter. But from an economic standpoint it makes little sense as this would easily cost more than the DAC itself.

Let’s look at other features of this little DAC board. You also get one coaxial input which is great if you plan to hook up an older CD player or DVD player for improved sound quality. It’s a shame that the Chinese designers did not implement any optical inputs. If this feature is important to you, check out how to get a coaxial to optical converter off eBay or from Amazon.

Update 29, September 2015: Check out my article on how to cheaply retrofit an optical output to this DAC.

Other than that, I must say that the board layout itself is absolutely well executed. The same goes for the parts quality. Even for this low price you get Sanyo OSCON and Nichicon capacitors as standard.
After initial inspection, I cannot tell whether the parts are genuine or fake.

The output buffer dual OP amp is installed on a DIP socket for easy removal. You could replace the cheap default choice with another “audiophile” operational amplifier such as the LME49720 or LM4562. This costs you only a few dollars and I highly recommend it for slightly improved sound quality.

dac3

Figure 3: Rear view of DAC board

So how does this little gem sound?

Absolutely stunning! I and my friend Alex did a head-to-head comparison with his expensive Marantz SACD player (a $1500 machine) and to our surprise, this Chinese DAC was audibly better than the Marantz’ built-in DAC.

To be fair though, the difference was not night and day and rather subtle. But who would have expected this level of performance from such a low budget module from eBay? The sound is crystal-clear with razor sharp resolution, yet full-bodied with a mellow tone and great dynamics. I also extensively tested the USB input with my music library and I honestly couldn’t find any faults. I haven’t done extensive testing against megabuck DACs but I am pretty sure this little guy can more than hold its own against stiff competition.

So if you are looking for a great DAC and don’t want to spend a fortune, look no further than this Wolfson DAC board. It’s a real giant killer and a downright steal for the price.

I should mention that you are not going to get an enclosure for this but you could install this board inside a CD player or simply drop it into a generic box. Both work equally well.

Updates as of December 20, 2016

Beware of fake boards. I’ve seen a number of them popping up across the internet. On some boards I found no ground plane, fake capacitors and bad soldering joints. Other than that, I still consider this DAC a great value.

  • Blink June 16, 2015, 18:10

    Please note that following your suggestion, I bought the same DAC from eBay. The problem is that I cannot control the Master Volume from my PC.
    Could you please advise which software you use to control volume?
    Many Thanks

    Reply
    • Michael June 16, 2015, 21:27

      I basically use Foobar for volume control but most of the time I send the DAC output to my STAX SRM T1 amplifier which controls the volume.

      Reply
      • Steve Lindon August 30, 2016, 21:24

        Hello,

        After reading your review I purchased one of these and I am really happy with its performance. I was just wondering if changing the op amp makes a real difference and also is there a driver for the USB to allow ASIO in j river? My current system is a Ferrograph F307 amp with Ruark Sabre MK1 speakers and now this DAC. Cheers, Steve.

        Reply
        • Michael August 30, 2016, 21:50

          Hi Steve,

          Yes, the opamp cleans up the midrange and I find it quite noticeable. It costs only 4-5 bucks so worth giving this a try. As for the USB port, this would work without drivers. I think you can get Asio4All working with this DAC in JRiver.

          Regards, Michael

          Reply
          • steve August 31, 2016, 08:35

            Ok Michael. I will give both a try. Many thanks for your reply!

          • steve September 4, 2016, 17:53

            Hi Micheal. Sorry for all of the questions but i was wondering if there is a particular psu you recommend for this dac? Im just using a cheapy 12v 500ma ac ac adaptor. Many thanks. Steve.

          • Michael September 4, 2016, 21:49

            Hi Steve, that sounds fine although a linear PSU would theoretically be the best choice. Check out the noise cancellation PSUs from ifi Audio, pretty expensive but their measurements look impressive. You can always return those for a refund if you don’t hear a difference.

          • Steve Lindon September 5, 2016, 20:37

            Ok i will check the site out many thanks! Can i just ask if the original op amp in your dac was a jrc5532dd or something different? Its just that mine is a jrc5532dd and I read somewhere that they sound very similar to the lm4562. As you can tell i don’t really know alot about op amps. Many thanks again.

          • Michael September 7, 2016, 22:52

            Yep, it was a 5532 but probably a fake. Try a genuine LM4562, you won’t regret it.

          • Larry September 13, 2016, 17:44

            Hi Michael, I too have purchased this DAC because of your review. It really does sound very good. I am going to try your suggested opamp. Are there other mods/parts replacements you can recommend to improve things further? I am comfortable working on PCB’s
            Thanks, Larry

          • Michael September 13, 2016, 21:51

            Hi Larry,

            You could swap out the WM8740 for the WM8741 if you’re comfortable with desoldering surface mount components. Other than that, I’d tackle the power section – specifically the 3.3V and 5V lines which are too noisy but inherent with the design. Diyinhk.com offers low noise power kits. This way you’d bring the DAC to reference class level. The PCB design is actually pretty good.

            Regards, Michael

        • Steve Lindon September 5, 2016, 20:37

          Ok i will check the site out many thanks! Can i just ask if the original op amp in your dac was a jrc5532dd or something different? Its just that mine is a jrc5532dd and I read somewhere that they sound very similar to the lm4562. As you can tell i don’t really know alot about op amps. Many thanks again.

          Reply
          • steve September 8, 2016, 15:10

            Fantastic. I’ve just ordered a lm4562. Many thanks for your help!

  • haja September 11, 2015, 11:59

    hi, I bought a china DAC that cost US$9.70 including shipping. it sound better that my US$71 Fiio 10K Olumpus 2.

    Reply
  • Ian September 15, 2015, 03:20

    So if I connect this via USB, will I get 24-bit 96KHz as shown on the PCB and in the Ebay listing description, or will I get a down sampled 16/48 result? I was thinking of getting a Cambridge Audio DAC Magic Plus to plug into my Synology DS415+ NAS box which supports SACD files amongst other things. However after seeing your recommendation, I am keen to buy this if it offers a similar USB DAC result. I also use foobar by the way.

    Reply
    • Michael September 15, 2015, 22:54

      Unfortunately, this little DAC only does 16/48 max. sample rate through USB because it is using an outdated chipset. But you could hook up an external USB/SPDIF converter via coax that does the trick. I’m not listening to high-res material so I’m fine with the limitations.

      Reply
      • Ian September 16, 2015, 02:10

        Thanks Michael, oh well I thought my dreams had been realised for a moment! The search continues….

        Reply
      • Ian September 16, 2015, 10:23

        Another model I have seen for the same money is here and amongst other things says, “Supports USB 1.1 and USB 2.0; Analog input, stereo output; Analog output: RCA, stereo headset; LPF OPAMP: TI LM4562 x 1; Main OPAMP: TI LM4562 x 1; Digital output:: S / PDIF; Sampling rate: 24 bit / 96kHz (Max.); Power supply: DC 5V (USB powered)”

        Not sure if it (a) works in foobar as an output device and (b) outputs 24/96 via USB.

        http://www.dx.com/p/usb-2-0-hd-hi-fi-192khz-24-bit-asynchronous-audio-dac-sound-card-silver-270469#.VfklLpdp4-I

        Reply
      • Ian September 28, 2015, 18:47

        Thanks for your help which set me on the right path to what I needed. After some research and questions here and elsewhere, I have ordered a bundle consisting of SMSL M8 DAC + SMSL P1 Linear Power Supply + SMSL VA2 Headphone Amp + SMSL W6 OFC Braided RCA Phono cables. The whole lot cost £255 which included a 10% discount.

        http://smsl-audio.com/index.php?c=msg&id=1274& (M8)

        http://smsl-audio.com/index.php?c=msg&id=1309& (P1)

        http://smsl-audio.com/index.php?c=msg&id=1262& (VA2)

        http://imgs.inkfrog.com/pix/pulid2013/2300210_W6_03.jpg (W6)

        Reply
        • Michael September 29, 2015, 12:52

          The SMSL M8 DAC is fantastic! I also bought one and will do a review shortly.

          Reply
          • Ian September 29, 2015, 15:13

            That is good to know and I look forward to your review. My only reservation was the lack of balanced TRS or XLR outputs, but hopefully that will not be an issue for me. However it does have digital I/O but only up to 192KHz and I require correct SACD playback. My next challenge is to find a good pair of headphones, to replace my old and worn out Sony MDR-333 that I bought in early 1991!

          • Ian December 4, 2015, 19:23

            I’ve used my new setup quite a lot since my last comment, and yes you are quite right…..it really is fantastic! My initial concerns about the unbalanced connections, proved to be no problem at all in any way. I’ve been playing a wide selection of music on SACD, DVD-A, Blu Ray, DXD, HD FLAC, Vinyl rips upto DSD128. The only downside is that my old collection of red book CDs now sound horrible in comparison, although a few have surprised me too by sounding way better than before. My monitors are hand made Quested S7 active reference model which are very smooth and revealing, and the ultrasonics extend to 75kHz at -3dB and subsonic down to 30kHz at -3dB without a separate sub speaker, and they deliver approx 400watts RMS, so not too shabby! My headphones are AKG K712 PRO and are in my opinion magnificent. I know it is a cliché but this setup is making music sound fresh, exciting and brand new all over again. Even when I first experienced a good audiophile setup in 1984/5 with a CD player, although it sounded impressive I found it to sound un-musical; with CD we gained clarity and convenience, but lost the organic and natural experience that vinyl or tape (2″ reels) gave us.

  • Anonymous September 20, 2015, 18:21

    What if I need a Toslink input. All the Toslink to RCA converters have their own DAC’s built into them. Then a good DAC like this one can’t be used. They are all very cheap also so I’m leary of buying one and finding the DAC was poor quality. Any suggestions?

    Reply
  • Jon September 20, 2015, 18:22

    What if I need a Toslink input. All the Toslink to RCA converters have their own DAC’s built into them. Then a good DAC like this one can’t be used. They are all very cheap also so I’m leary of buying one and finding the DAC was poor quality. Any suggestions?

    Reply
    • Michael September 20, 2015, 21:14

      Normally, a Toslink to Coax converter should keep the signal in the digital domain with no DAC in the mix so no issue here. Toslink receivers in DACs do the same by simply converting optical pulses into electrical SP/DIF. It may as well be possible to DIY a simple circuit for optical inputs and attach it to the Chinese DAC.

      Reply
  • Nic November 25, 2015, 03:39

    Does anyone know what O AMPS work best on this DAC, for soundstage?

    Anyone with a list of OAMPS that work well to test?

    Thanks

    Reply
  • Yoong January 16, 2016, 15:05

    I have this. and I use this without buffer op-amp at all. The sound is a lot better. Does using this DAC without buffer op-amp have consequences?

    Reply
    • Michael January 17, 2016, 01:04

      The WM8740 has the capability to drive a line output directly but it isn’t optimal according to its data sheet. But who cares when it sounds good 😉 Just make sure you have negligible DC offset to protect your components downstream.

      Reply
  • mark February 4, 2016, 12:07

    Hi, I bought one of these, but the sound level is so low, I am maxing the external amp and can still barely hear it. Am I doing something wrong, is there an easy way to boost the line level amp signal, or should I return it?

    Thanks,

    Mark

    Reply
    • Michael February 4, 2016, 22:00

      Sounds like a defective unit to me…output level was high enough on mine to drive a power amp with a passive pot in between. Have you tried swapping the OPAmp? Should sit firmly in its socket. Are you using coax or USB?

      Reply
  • Kent March 23, 2016, 00:39

    Waiting for this dac board to arrive, ordered from Ebay.
    Same selle could also sell a better opamp, psu and wm8751 that my friend will solder.
    About powerfiltering, have no clue how to do it or what to buy.
    Any suggestions how to do a better powerfiltering?

    Reply
    • Michael March 23, 2016, 01:43

      A linear power supply will greatly enhance this DAC.

      Reply
  • eklof April 25, 2016, 15:47

    Can I connect the 9v output of a transformer I have to the wolfson dac in place of a wallwart?

    Reply
  • Michael April 25, 2016, 18:08

    Yes, as long as you get stable 9V AC. Check with a multimeter.

    Reply
  • Bruno May 11, 2016, 06:34

    can you please let me know waht model is it

    Reply
  • Bruno May 11, 2016, 08:36

    i`m interested in using this dac. can i have a step by step tutorial. I will be using it to connect my old laptop to my yamaha amp

    Reply
  • Bruno May 11, 2016, 08:43

    Can please tell me what do you mean by ” But as I said, you are going to be fine if you down-sample high-resolution audio with no audible loss “. Most of my music files on my laptop is 320 kps. Will this board works for me

    Reply
    • Michael May 11, 2016, 21:25

      Yes, this appears to be fine

      Reply
  • bruno May 12, 2016, 09:28

    Your article is very interesting. I’m have already ordered this dac. I am not well.conversant with dacs. How to improve the sound quality of this dac and get the maximum of it

    Reply
  • Bruno May 12, 2016, 16:08

    Is it a line level output Dac?

    Reply
  • Bruno May 12, 2016, 16:26

    Is it asynchrous ?

    Reply
    • Michael May 13, 2016, 19:42

      No, unfortunately it is based on an old Texas Instruments chip so no async operation unless you get an off-board USB to SPDIF converter.

      Reply
  • bruno May 13, 2016, 09:47

    Hi one last question.Ihave searched the internet but got no answer.
    If I use a dac with an opamp to connect to line in of my amp can it cause damaged to the input ¿
    as the output is not line level will it cause distortion ¿
    Will it be better to have a line level dac or an opamp¿

    Reply
    • Michael May 16, 2016, 19:55

      You need a preamp or passive attenuator between the Wolfson DAC board and your amp

      Reply
  • Bruno May 16, 2016, 17:59

    Any USB to SPDIF converter you suggest?

    Reply
  • Bruno May 17, 2016, 15:37

    thanks Michael. The Gustard U12, the M2Tech Hiface or the Breeze Audio units are all dacs, so i can buy one of them directly and connect from laptop to amp without using a USB to SPDIF converter?

    If i understand well Passive attenuator should be used when line out is above normal level that is more than 2volts?

    Are SMSL M8 better than the dacs you mentionned?

    Can i use this passive attenuator http://www.befr.ebay.be/itm/AAS40ASCRCA-40dB-Adjustable-Stereo-attenuator-with-RCA-phono-/182127041746?hash=item2a679e1cd2:g:wh8AAOSwPgxVLjaf

    l know that i asked a lot of question but i wanted to thank you as you really help me

    Reply
  • Bruno May 29, 2016, 08:37

    hi
    I have found 9v ac 1 amp adaptor on ebay and aliexpress. Will i be able to use it with this board? If no, anylink where can i have a 9v ac 0.5a adaptor? thanks

    Reply
  • Jonathan September 26, 2016, 08:16

    Hi,

    I’ve ordered the equivalent dac from the seller mentioned but it seems slightly different from yours on the spec sheet. The problem is that I’m getting random spitting sounds out of the RCA inputs when using a RCA to 3.5mm headphone socket. This is from both my phone and computer using USB in.

    Reply
    • Jonathan September 26, 2016, 08:27

      RCA outputs I mean.

      Reply
    • Michael September 26, 2016, 09:43

      Sounds like a defective connection. Try coaxial inputs as well to make sure USB is not the culprit. If the results are the same, play with the RCA connectors. Could be a bad solder joint. Can you upload a picture of the board (top and back side)?

      Reply
      • Jonathan September 26, 2016, 10:16

        Here are the pictures.

        https://goo.gl/photos/8MWUV8ygquoxNYDs6

        https://goo.gl/photos/r7M24riK5r7JWAJq9

        Also, is a coaxial cable required for coaxial input or will a RCA cable suffice?

        Reply
        • Michael September 26, 2016, 21:24

          Hmm, can’t spot any faults at first glance. Yes, any RCA cable would do although the impedance isn’t strictly 75 Ohms. But good enough for testing to identify whether the problem is coming from the analog or digital side.

          Reply
          • Jonathan September 27, 2016, 00:43

            Seems to have been fixed with coaxial input. Registers as digital output on computer but is there any possibility of the output being modified by the motherboard dac?

  • MrPokeboy8 October 12, 2016, 18:53

    I just wonder if it is possible to skip the AC power in this. What does the AC even power in this board? I see “+5V, +3V” in the item description which indicates DC, but there is also “+/-10V” which I have no idea what component needs that. My main point is that, I wondering if it is possible to make this board portable in a small case powered by a USB external battery (or maybe devise a plan for internal batteries).

    Reply
    • Michael October 13, 2016, 21:10

      Certainly possible. The DAC needs multiple voltages to operate both for the digital and analog stages.

      Reply
  • MrPokeboy8 October 12, 2016, 18:56

    I just wonder if it is possible to skip the AC power in this. What does the AC even power in this board? I see “+5V, +3V” in the item description which indicates DC, but there is also “+/-10V” which I have no idea what component needs that AC power. My main point is that, I wondering if it is possible to make this board portable in a small case powered by a USB external battery (or maybe devise a plan for internal batteries).

    Reply
  • Adam November 7, 2016, 02:26

    Hi there, thanks for a fantastic resource for people like me searching for DACs on a budget.
    I would like to buy one of these WM8740s on ebay, but I’d prefer one in a ready-made box like this (difficult to find time to customise own box sadly):
    http://www.ebay.com.au/itm/Finished-WM8740-DIR9001-DAC-Board-Support-coaxial-and-USB-input-L1610-2-/112149311025?hash=item1a1c9eae31:g:q3EAAOSwCGVX6OQZ
    As far as I can tell, it uses the same PCB layout, the only differences I can see are the caps (indeed, the description does not list Nichicons etc unlike along1986090’s), some parts are oriented differently, and board doesn’t say ’24 bit’ on it. Many of the
    Would you be concerned about such differences, or would it be likely to sound identical as long as the parts are within spec? Cheers.

    Reply
    • Michael November 10, 2016, 00:30

      Hi Adam,

      Looks like a good find – could be a copy though. Layout is absolutely crucial. The only way to find out is to get the original and compare both…

      Reply
  • NSA November 22, 2016, 14:05

    I have a similar issue as Mark above, in where the output volume is incredibly low. I purchased it from the same retailer you listed above, but the volume is incredibly low and increasing the amplifier volume increases the noise to the point that it is unusable. I am using windows 10 and it automatically installed the DAC drivers, is it because of that? Should i use another software for the driver? Also, what is a good software to control the volume? The one on windows doesn’t allow me to adjust the volume.

    Reply
    • Larry December 11, 2016, 19:06

      Do you have windows volume set at 100% ?

      Reply
  • RW January 27, 2017, 07:38

    Have any amp recommendation from minishow0328 ?

    Reply
  • Wyatt February 16, 2017, 02:40

    Also bought this car,standard sound very good,replaced op amp for op 275 as recommended on sellers site,big improvement,bought a pair of op 134s for another project,i thought I,d give them a whirl with brown dog adapter (I think that’s what it’s called,?)I own a aune t1 with a very good Millard valve in output stage,very happy with sound of this USB DAC until I changed op amps on 8740,the 8740 has now become an extremely good DAC,not that it wasn’t good anyway,am going to sell aune ,PS using 12v AC power supply

    Reply

Leave a Comment