10 Years HiFiBerry – Our DACs

When we started the company in 2013, our first product was the HiFiBerry DAC. But it didn’t look like today’s boards: You still had to solder connectors onto the Pi and the DAC. While the product looked quite simple – one important design goal was the same in 2013 as is is 2023: Offer great sound quality and great value.

When our company was not even a year old, the Raspberry Pi foundation surprised us with a new product: The Raspberry Pi B+. Changing from a 26-pin header to a new 40-pin header gave us some headaches: The existing DAC that was just created didn’t fit the new Pi anymore. Not just was the P5 header gone, but also the physical layout of the Raspberry Pi changed in a way that the old DAC couldn’t be mounted anymore. While challenging at this point. Within less then 2 months a successor was created and tested: The HiFiBerry DAC+:

The first units were shipped in August 2014. There where some major differences to the first DAC: The DAC+ integrated a hardware volume control and no soldering was required anymore. This was the first product that you could just plug onto the Pi.

From the first days of DACs for the Raspberry Pi, there was a discussion going on in audio enthusiasts groups: What about the jitter on the clocks of the Raspberry Pi? Digital music is usually recorded with 44100 or 48000 samples per second. However, the Pi wasn’t designed with these sample rates in mind. The result: A lot of jitter on the digital audio signal. Even our first DAC already did not use this signal directly, but used a so-called “phased locked loop” circuitry. This basically acts as a “cleaner” to create a high-quality clock from a poor clock signal. Could it still be improved? Probably. The next evolution of the DAC was the DAC+ Pro:

Featuring two separate clock circuits for both 44.1 and 48kHz sample rates, this DAC quickly became the choice for audio enthusiasts looking for the best option on the Raspberry Pi.

As active studio monitors became more popular, it was time to bring a DAC with balanced outputs to the market: The DAC+ Pro XLR:

Based on the DAC+ Pro circuitry this DAC now offered fully balanced audio outputs.

What next? Our sound cards had been used purely for “passive” listening applications. This changed in 2018 with the DAC+ ADC:

As was our first sound card that integrated a Analog-to-digital converter. This now allowed all kinds of creative audio processing with the Raspberry Pi. Especially musicians love the DAC+ ADC. It allows you to connect a stereo source or 2 mono audio sources to the Pi, record it or just process it and play it back. During the Covid pandemic these products used together with software like Jacktrip’s Virtual Studio allowed lots of musicians to still jam together while staying home.

Can we still do better? In 2020 we designed and launched our best and most complex DAC: The DAC2 HD:

We had to deal with a lot of challenges. One major challenge was to make sure even with the relatively noisy power supply from the Pi the DAC will still perform great. This required a 2-stage/3 voltage power supply design. Another challenge was the limited space constrained by the HAT format. This is the reason we still don’t offer an XLR version of this DAC – adding two big XLR connected simply doesn’t leave enough room for the complex circuit.

Even today, this is still our reference DAC offering lowest noise floor, lowest distortions and best dynamic range. It also offered the option to use a DSP add-on board to run digital signal processing directly on the hardware – fully independent from the software you’re using on the Pi.

We knew that the DAC2 HD was not for everyone. As many users prefer the more affordable DAC+, we still wanted to bring the option to use the DSP add-on to the masses creating the DAC2 Pro:

The successor of the DAC+ Pro not only added the option to use the DSP add-on, but also was our first DAC that integrated a headphone amplifier.

This short overview doesn’t include all our DAC products. We still offer DACs designed for specific applications like the DAC+ RTC with an integrated real-time clock, the DAC+ Zero for the Pi Zero or the DAC+ Light that offers great audio at the lowest price.

Looking back at this history of innovative DACs, you probably already know that you can expect more from us in the future. We’re looking forward to the next 10 years of HiFiBerry DACs.

December 4, 2023

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