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Good Sounding Cheap USB DAC

A Review On: Hifimediy Sabre USB DAC

Hifimediy Sabre USB DAC

Rated # 4 in DACs
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Price paid: $52.00
3Pillars
Posted · 26152 Views · 7 Comments

Pros: Works with no drivers needed. Sounds good, and I mean not just for the price.

Cons: May have some noise on max output in some systems

 

I found this little DAC online and found some good commends in diyaudio.com. I was looking for a 24/192 DAC, but needed something to hold me over until I found the right DAC. My old DAC was hampered by the USB to SPDIF device's 16/44 limit.
 
Here is the info from hifimediy.com:
 
"HifiMeDiy Sabre USB DAC. 96khz/24bit - ES9023+TE7022 + USB to optical converter
 
This small and simple dac uses the ES9023 dac chip from Sabre with SABRE DAC technology. It's is a quite new chip that features outstanding audio quality in a simple implementation. The ES9023 dac chip has a driver built in which outputs 2Vrms line level signal,and are able to drive low impedance loads like headphones, but at 32ohm the output power is reduced to 1Vrms, so connecting to an amp/preamp is recommended if your headphones are low efficiency.
The LT1763 low noise regulator is used.
 
Output on 3.5mm headphone jack. New batch has a bonus feature: the ouput also acts as a optical output if you plug a optical cable in place of the normal 3.5mm cable. So this device can also act as a USB to optical converter.
 
This DAC chip does not have any DC voltage at it's output, eliminating the need of a DC coupling capacitor at the output. 
 
With patented HyperstreamTM architecture and Time Domain Jitter Eliminator, the ES9023 delivers jitter-free studio quality audio with 112dB DNR. 
 
With this DAC we combined the Sabre DAC chip with the quality Tenor TE7022 USB receiver. It accepts up to 96khz/24bit input signals from USB, and it will upsample lower input signals to feed the ES9023 dac chip with 96/khz/24bit signal. This makes it possible to get a great dynamic range of 112db. (in case a 16 bit receiver like pcm2706 were used it would have been limited to 96dB.) It responds to changes in system volume control (on MAC with volume hotkeys). No drivers required for Windows, Mac and Linux."
 
Description: The small black matchbox-sized plastic case has 3.5mm jack with a red light emanating from it with a 3" USB cable. There are no other physical features to the unit. After putting a ferrite collar on the USB cable, I plugged in Win7 recognized it within a moment. I restarted Foobar and it worked. Very simple.
 
Impressions: While I did not compare it to another DAC, the sound is excellent. Strong bass, nice air and smooth treble. Female vocals are particularly nice. On classical, I noted a hint of congestion on crescendos, but well articulated otherwise. Certainly, not a deal breaker. I was able to pickup small background sounds better than my previous DAC+USB converter. I would say the mids are slightly forward, but not unpleasantly so. I listened to bassy dance music, blues, jazz, classical, and rock. Mostly redbook ALAC/WAV files with some hi-rez FLACs.
 
Issues: Some have reported noise, and recommended a USB isolator. On my rig, it was quiet at my fairly loud music levels.   However, at max volume on my 5 watt Vincent HP amp, I did note some noise on my HE500 with the music paused. With the volume @ 12 o'clock, the noise was not noticeable. Only at max could I hear it. I connected my Koss Portapros directly to the 3.5mm jack and it was dead quiet. Likely, it is the tube stage in my amp. It was fine for me, YMMV. 
 
All in all, it was well worth the $52 (delivered) I paid.

 

7 Comments:

How can you notice "hint of congestion on crescendos" if you don't have any kind of reference to compare it to?
H'zone: a fare question. To directly answer your question: I noted a slight breakup of cohesion and a slight harshness during the peak of the crescendo on the 24/92 classical music file I own. I was impressed with the hi-rez jazz, blues and rock. The electronica music was not sufficiently high enough quality to tax the unit. Most of my music is Redbook-16/44 stuff.While I did not directly compare this unit to another unit, I have worked in the AV business on and off since 1986; both in Hi-End 2-ch and in AV as a designer and installation PM. I have designed hundreds of systems and I have critically listened to many, many 2-ch and 7-ch systems for many years and have had excellent mentorship by highly knowledgeable people in the industry. I have listened to $250k 2-ch systems and $1m 7-ch systems. My listening skills have been tested and passed muster by some of the best is this industry. You are right to question any one persons impression. I always do, but I have been greatly aided by many folks on this forum and am passing it on.While I am relatively new to the headphone world (<2 years for seriously listening), I know how 2-ch and 7-ch systems should sound. I will directly compare this unit to others when I have the opportunity. I will update my review as soon as I have some good comparison info to share.Thank you for calling me out and not just taking my work for it. Unfortunately, I do not have the funds to compare it to other unit as I do not work in the hifi industry anymore and have no opportunity to compare it to other DACs readily right now.
I'm impressed with this so far! I basically do all my home listening on my laptop while sitting on the couch, so from a more superficial "clean solution" point of view, I've always been looking for a simple setup that doesn't involve an overly convoluted chain of boxes next to me on the couch. I went through various portable USB DAC/Amp combos (Fiio E10, HRT HeadStreamer, iBasso D7) that are all good, but never did quite what I wanted. Then I got the JDSLabs C421 when that first came-out and finally got something that did what I wanted at the amp level. When the JDSLabs standalone ODAC finally came-out, I thought about it, but again, didn't want a chain of boxes sitting next to me. While the HiFiMeDIY does have a small "box", it is so small and light that it presents no real footprint or weight--it simply feels like part of the cable.

I was looking at the HeadStage USB DAC cable, but since that is a 75cm cable, it would seem just as messy as another box, even if wound. The HiFiMeDIY has a really short USB cable, which actually seems cleaner, even with the small box. Plus it does 24/96 and even has an optical option in the output...for cheaper than the HeadStage. I ordered from the US site early Mon morning, and it arrived via USPS Wed mid-morning--not bad, considering I live in Boston and it came all the way from Oregon... It worked automatically on my MacBook Air w/10.8.2--I simply plugged it in, and it showed-up as "SABRE 24/96 DAC".

I no longer have most of my old equipment, except for the E10, using its line-out. While the E10 isn't exactly high-end, they are in the same price range. It's a pretty drastic improvement over the E10's DAC--cleaner sound top-to-bottom and no noise at all. It doesn't have the E10's excessive warmth that tends to muddy things for me, but it also isn't harsh or treble hot (to me). I'm pretty happy with the overall sound, especially for ~$50, and completely love the pairing with the C421. I have both OPA2227 and AD8620 versions of the C421 and found that my DT-880's work really well with both C421/HiFiMeDIY combos. I also found that my DT-990's work really well with the OPA2227 C421/HiFiMeDIY combo. The only combo I didn't like as much was DT-990/AD8620/HiFiMeDIY, since the lesser amount of warmth in the HiFiMeDIY (relative to the E10 DAC) and the lack of any warmth in the AD8620 can expose the notorious sibilance in the DT-990's, making things too harsh and fatiguing at times.
Great review. I would like to know if you have tried the DAC without the ferrite collar and if you notice any differences or noise. Thanks.
Excellent, great review. I just purchased one this morning off of the US site and should have it in a few days so I'm pretty excited. To hear BG say that it's an improvement to the e10 which in its own right is highly regarded as "the" starter DAC on the market is a pretty big deal. I plan on using this with either and Headstage Arrow or a Fournier Tube Amp (I think lol) so this should help me out quite a bit either way. And if I decided to go with an All in one unit instead I'll still use it for its optical out that my laptop doesn't have. This thing is solving a lot of problems already and it hasn't been shipped yet lol

Thanks,


Nice little DAC.
If I connect my Clip+ to it will I get a better sound?
REVIEW UPDATE: Over a year has past since I posted the above review. Much has changed in my life and I ready to update the review. I little background first: I have upgraded my equipment a bit. First I acquired a Woo WA7, which has a good dac. I also got a CK²III amp and a highly modded DNA Sonett 1. on the HP front, I got the Mad Dogs Ver.2. I listened to the Alpha dog prototypes at the NYC meet but was not blown way like so many others have been. I'm not sure I will do the upgrade.
 
I have compared the Hifimediy DAC to the WA7 and the Woo soundly topped it every way as it should. That said, it still makes a good portable HP dac/amp for my laptop. So how did it fare? Well, on internet streaming music (Pandora and Jazzradio.com), the differences are minor as expected. On ALAC and FLAC redbook, the difference become much more noticeable. Firstly, the sound is compressed; the soundstage is closed and there is not much air. While it would be unfair to describe the sound as having toilet paper tubes on your ears, the Woo is more open with more definition. The highs on the Woo are smoother and the bass is tighter. On hi-rez music, the differences are more pronounced.
 
I could compare it to other DACs, but there is no point. It is still a decent DAC and the one to beat at the $50 asking price.
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