Head-Fi.org › Forums › Equipment Forums › Dedicated Source Components › HifiMeDiy Sabre USB DAC (UAE23) and AudioQuest DragonFly - Brief Comparison
New Posts  All Forums:Forum Nav:

HifiMeDiy Sabre USB DAC (UAE23) and AudioQuest DragonFly - Brief Comparison

post #1 of 40
Thread Starter 

I had a chance to briefly compared the HifiMeDiy Sabre USB DAC (UAE23) and AudioQuest DragonFly, both are USB DAC based on Sabre DAC.  UAE23 is using Sabre ES9023, as for the Dragonfly I'm not sure of the model of the Sabre DAC chip.

 

I bought the UAE23 in May 2013, and the Dragonfly I borrowed from my brother.  Equipment used for testing:

ASUS Eee PC 1215B Notebook, Windows 7 Home Premium 64 bit,  Foobar 1.29.

Yamaha Headphone HPH-200.

Songs: Some Classical Albums, Paul O'Brien - Walk Back Home (Stockfisch Records), & Chesky The World Greatest Audiophile Vocal Recording.

 

 

 

 

AudioQuest DragonFly

Although sound signature is individual preference, it is pretty clear that Dragonfly is technically better than UAE23. Dragonfly is much louder, faster transient, more impactful, better perceived detail and clarity. Playing same song, 55% Dragonfly volume is about equal to the 100% of Hifimediy volume.  So for driving high impedance phone, Dragonfly has more voltage to offer.  I did try HifiMeDiy UAE23 with my T1 and HD800, although it manage to achieve enough loudness for casual listening at 100% volume, but for some recording it might not be loud enough on high impedance headphones.  So for loudness, Dragonfly clearly wins.  I'm amazed how Dragonfly can achieve so much higher loudness driven from the same USB port.
 
Tonal balance is very good from bass to treble, although treble might sound a tad too bright with bright headphones.  The Yamaha HPH-200 is a tad bright, but the treble is still alright with Dragonfly.  But I can imagine, I don't think I will use my Superlux HD681 or HD669 with Dragonfly.
 
On Dragonfly, music is more lively and energetic, with better power, transient, punch, and clarity.  Dragonfly also sounds more airy on classical pieces.  But it also might sounds too aggressive if paired with aggressive sounding headphones, which can also lead to harsh sound, depending on the headphones and the recording.  But on classical and audiophile recordings, Dragonfly shines.
 
Dragonfly supports all sampling rate from 44.1k to 96k. The Color indicator of the playing sampling rate is also very useful to make sure that the WASAPI driver works properly on Windows 7, to set the DAC's sampling rate to match the song's sampling rate.  
The LED color on different sampling rates: 44.1k - green, 48k - blue, and 88.k - amber, and 96k - pink.  
One important note, Dragonfly support 88.2k while hifimediy USB Sabre DAC doesn't support 88.2k.  So if you are WASAPI fans like me, we cannot play 88.2k with WASAPI on hifimediy USB Sabre DAC.
 
One thing I don't really like from the DragonFly build, is the rubbery coating on it's body, which usually doesn't last very long till it become sticky.
 
HifiMeDiy Sabre USB DAC (UAE23)
Smooth and musical, I think is the best way to describe UAE23 sound signature.  Although not as technically excellent as Dragonfly, I do really like the sound signature of UAE23, especially for casual listening with IEM.  UAE23 sounds smoother than Dragonfly.  The treble is so silky smooth and really2 nice on vocal.  With treble rich recording such as some of the Stockfisch recordings I have, I prefer the UAE23 sound signature over the Dragonfly, especially when using my favorite IEM, JVC HA-FRD80, which has clean (analytical) and mild V shape tonal balance. Although depend on pairing, but the smooth sound signature of UAE23 is really music to my ears. Especially for closed miked vocal on modern music, the smooth sound signature is actually preferable. I have other more expensive DAC to compare with, such as Mytek Stereo 192-DSD DAC which also use Sabre DAC, Dr. DAC2 DX, etc, and I really amazed how HifiMeDiy Sabre USB DAC (UAE23) can achieve such a high quality and musical sound signature at this price range.
 
Bass and treble are very well extended.  Bass is big and deep, a tad more than natural (which I like).  Mid and Treble are silky smooth.  Treble never sounds harsh even when paired with rather bright headphones. Sweet and nice sound signature.
 
Detail is very good on UAE23, although Dragonfly still wins, but I have no complain with detail retrieval ability of UAE23.  I'm rather picky with detail, it is very important for classical music and complex orchestra, and so far UAE23 delivers good amount of detail for all the music I played through it.  
 
Imaging is excellent on both DACs, never feel small and congested.  Imaging is wide enough, good depth, good sense of space, and realistic presentation with very good instrument separation.
 
I bought 4 units of UAE23, for me, and my friends.  One of them has more than $ 100k high end setup in his home, one is a senior audiophile, and the other one is a sound engineer.  Regardless the price, we all satisfied with the sound signature of UAE23.  I even prefer the UAE23 sound signature over my new toy Fiio X3.
 
Some cons on the UAE23, mainly is the lack of support for 88.2k sampling rate.  I have many 88.2k albums :(
During silent, a very soft noise can be heard using sensitive IEM, but very soft, not to the level of annoying.  The lack of sampling rate indicator is also something that can be improved on UAE23, to make sure the WASAPI driver works.  Maybe a drive issue, on my office HP laptop, HP Elitebook 2560p, Windows 7 Enterprise 64 bit, I always have sampling rate mismatch distortion noise when switching from one sampling rate to another sampling rate.  Same foobar with WASAPI (both WASAPI event and push).  So whenever I change album with different sampling rate, I have to unplug the UAE23, and plug it back again to solve the problem.  The distortion noise sounds like soft clipping noise.
 
Verdicts:
Both HifiMeDiy Sabre USB DAC (UAE23) and AudioQuest DragonFly are excellent DACs, regardless their price.  They both have different sound signature to suit different musical preferences and recordings.  Dragonfly is better with fast and rhythmical music, better impact and punch, more energetic.  While UAE23 with it's sweet and smooth sound is very nice for Jazz and vocal.  I found both are good with classical, with Dragonfly being more airy and better perceived detail.
 
As for build quality, no contest here, Dragonfly is much better, solid and high quality build (hopefully the rubbery coating will last), while HifiMeDiy UAE23 feels cheap with it's DIY plastic case.  But for me, what important is their sound quality which is very good and satisfying :)

 

Update 30 August 2013:

Regarding the distortion every time I switch from one sampling rate to a different sampling on my HP Elitebook HP2560p laptop (foobar 1.2.9 with WASAPI), I found the problem is not with UAE23, but with the USB port of the HP laptop that seems not very compatible with the UAE23 tenor chip.  Because I don't have that problem on my desktop PC and my ASUS laptop. On my HP laptop, I installed a PCI Express card to USB 3.0 adapter, so using a different USB controller, and UAE23 works fine with the USB 3.0 port. 

 

Update 17 September 2013:

After spending more time with both Fiio X3 and UAE23, now after burnt-in and used for more than 1 month, Fiio X3 sound has been improved, more natural and musical, no more harsh treble as when new.  So now, overall, I prefer the Fiio X3 sound signature than the UAE23, as being more natural, detailed, and more powerful.  UAE23 does lack in driving power, and more suitable to be used as DAC, while still providing the possibility to drive directly from the output, some easy to drive dynamic IEMs, for less demanding music (less of explosive bass).

 

Update 23 January 2014:

Have been testing both Dragonfly and UAE23 recently, with some BA drivers IEM:

UE TF10 (3 drivers)

ATH-IM01 (1 driver)

ATH-IM02 (2 drivers)

ATH-IM03 (3 drivers)

ATH-IM04 (4 drivers)

 

While Dragonfly sounds with flying colors on those BA drivers, UAE23 failed completely.

UE TF10 & ATH-IM04 sounds muffled with UAE23, while the ATH-IM01 & ATH-IM02 sound harsh and metallic with UAE23.  The ATH-IM03 still can be considered ok and acceptable.  The sound difference with Dragonfly for some BA IEMs was very obvious.  The sound made me and my friend wondered what was wrong with the UAE23.  But when we tested dynamic driver IEMs with the UAE23, we tested JVC FXD80, ATH-IM50 and ATH-IM70, the dynamics sounds fine.  I guess UAE23 output impedance maybe pretty high.  It is alright with dynamic, but doesn't always match the BA drivers.  I heard BA drivers impedance over the frequency spectrum usually not linear, and high output impedance on amp might cause severe unbalanced frequency spectrum.

Dragonfly output impedance is actually not very low, almost 5 ohms as I read somewhere, but it sounds good with the BA IEMs listed above.

 

So if you plan to use UAE23 for BA drivers, please be careful, if possible try first before you buy.

 

Update 24 January 2014:

Curious with the matching of UAE23 with BA drivers, I did some measurement on the output impedance of my DACs and amps.

The result, UAE23 output impedance is astonishingly high, more than 200 ohm :confused_face(1):

I didn't believe it in the first place, I thought I made some mistake in the measurement, but I re-measured many times, it is consistently high above 200 ohm.

While the new Dragonfly I bought from Amazon for $99, version 1.0c, output impedance is only around 0.4 ohm.  Maybe DF v1.0c version has lower output Z compared with the DF v1.0 which I remembered was around 5 ohms mentioned else where.

Some other DAC I measured, Centrance DAC, Output Z: 9.78 ohm which is according to spec on it's web.

With this measurement, IMHO Hifimediy UAE23 should be used as DAC, and not a proper DAC + Headphone amp.


Edited by earfonia - 1/23/14 at 10:29pm
post #2 of 40
Thanks for the impressions! The hifimedyi sabre dac looks like an amazing product for the price. Even more interesting now with an async version available.
post #3 of 40
Thread Starter 

Yes it is!  HifiMeDiy UAE23 is an amazing product for the size and price :)  Especially the sound quality, is actually many times the price :)

 

Regarding the U2-Async version of the HifiMeDiy Sabre USB DAC, I did some email chat with Nick from HifiMeDiy, according to him, the first batch has some problems which they have resolved in the newer batch.  My cousin in US bought it, and his impression was not good, due to the intermittent 'dull sounding' (as what he described) problem.  The unit sometime sounds dull, sometime back to normal.  Nick said U2-Async sounds very good, maybe not big difference over UAE23, but we might expect some improvement over the UAE23.  I hope it's true, and hopefully I would have a chance to try it :)  

 

My curiosity is to compare HifiMeDiy Sabre USB DAC, UAE23 and U2-Async, with HRT MicroStreamer, to hear the difference... that would be very interesting :D

post #4 of 40
Quote:
Originally Posted by earfonia View Post

Yes it is!  HifiMeDiy UAE23 is an amazing product for the size and price :)  Especially the sound quality, is actually many times the price :)

 

Regarding the U2-Async version of the HifiMeDiy Sabre USB DAC, I did some email chat with Nick from HifiMeDiy, according to him, the first batch has some problems which they have resolved in the newer batch.  My cousin in US bought it, and his impression was not good, due to the intermittent 'dull sounding' (as what he described) problem.  The unit sometime sounds dull, sometime back to normal.  Nick said U2-Async sounds very good, maybe not big difference over UAE23, but we might expect some improvement over the UAE23.  I hope it's true, and hopefully I would have a chance to try it :)  

 

My curiosity is to compare HifiMeDiy Sabre USB DAC, UAE23 and U2-Async, with HRT MicroStreamer, to hear the difference... that would be very interesting :D

And very relevant to my interests.

 

 

It's between the U2 asynchronous and microstreamer for me (aside from perhaps a higher end DAP than my ipods), and on paper the U2 asynch seems to be on par with the microStreamer, amp section aside. However the microStreamer seems to be very well received, and it doesn't appear very many have even tried the U2!

 

but at 1/3 the price, the U2 seems to be the somewhat obvious choice...

 

do you know whether the U2 available currently from hifimediy is the updated version or not?


Edited by dnullify - 8/27/13 at 9:36pm
post #5 of 40

Hi Earfonia, thanks for the review, nice read.

 

I would love to know what your friends think, especially the one with the expensive setup or the sound engineer. How does it compare to other much much more expensive DACs. I guess if they like it's probably a good idea to sell and get the U2 + power supply.

Seems hifimediy are bringing things out all the time though, the DAC market is moving so quickly. Look below for some inspiration for the next upgrade. :)

 

e.g. Seems LKS do a dual 9018 if you like Sabre.

DIY (if you can get the right circuit board with I2S). I hope hifimediy bring out a single/dual 9018 with DSD/I2S kit.as per this page

 

And last but not least, this site seems just too brilliant, if I ever get time to read it all.

post #6 of 40
Thread Starter 

Hi, thanks for the links!  Surely interested to see ESS Sabre 9018 DIY kit for $99 :D

 

I myself using Mytek Stereo 192-DSD which uses ESS Sabre 9016, which sounds more natural (and cost much more) than the ESS Sabre 9023 in HifiMeDiy UAE23.  Mytek also smooth sounding, but much more natural than UAE23.  Different kind of smooth signature.

 

Well, we know there is no perfect systems that performs perfectly for all recording and for everyone :D  So it is about personal preference and system matching.

What I heard from my friend with 100k+ setup, is the obvious smooth sound signature of the UAE23, might not suit everyone taste.  UAE23 sound signature, as mentioned in the review, is very smooth almost no grain at all, and also rather laid back, and a bit dark on the upper mid, that makes vocal rather laid back.  It is very nice for those who likes laid back and relax sound signature, but for those who like forward, fast pace signature, UAE23 might not suit their taste, or at least for some recording.  My sound engineer friend hasn't explored much of his UAE23.

 

To me, I find the smooth and laid back signature of UAE23 to be nice, especially for vocal and jazz, relax presentation.  But we do need to find the right IEM to match it's presentation.  For example, Yamaha EPH-100, I found to be more matching with my X3 than the UAE23.  EPH-100 is dark in nature, with UAE23, some vocal recording rather veiled compared with the natural bright Fiio X3.

 

What is very addictive from UAE23 is the bass, really deep and well extended.  I really addicted with UAE23 bass :D  Especially for double bass in jazz recording, simply awesome :D

 

I would like to see HifiMeDiy to have the amped version of UAE23 or U2-Async (like Dragonfly and HRT MicroStreamer), to make the output more powerful and energetic, but still maintain the smooth signature of the Sabre 9023.

post #7 of 40
Thread Starter 

I tried HifiMeDiy UAE23 with amplifier last night, using Dr. DAC2 DX as the headphone amplifier, I would say I like the sound, certainly more power and dynamic.  Direct from UAE23 output, with headphones like Sennheiser HD25 SP, I felt a bit under powered, dynamic is not so engaging.  But with amp, the dynamic sounds much better.

 

 

If I may suggest to HifiMeDiy, to build another model of this nice USB DAC, with 2 outputs.  One output direct from DAC like what we have with UAE23 now, and the other output is amplified.

So when using headphones, it will have enough power to drive headphones.  And it would be more fun if the built-in power amp is using replaceable op-amp, so user can replace the op-amp to suit their sound preference :D  And that would be awesome!!!

post #8 of 40

The Hifimediy is a pure DAC, and lacks an amp circuit like the Dragonfly has. It's pointless to compare both outputs directly.

 

Nice review though.

post #9 of 40
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by eke2k6 View Post

The Hifimediy is a pure DAC, and lacks an amp circuit like the Dragonfly has. It's pointless to compare both outputs directly.

 

Nice review though.

I initially thought so... and then HifiMeDiy told me that the Sabre DAC has small Op-Amp integrated in the chip, that enable it to drive high sensitivity earphones directly from the DAC output.

We can see the diagram of ESS DAC here:

http://www.esstech.com/PDF/ES9023%20PB%20Rev%200.2aPB%20110117.pdf

 

Driven out of curiosity, I tried the DAC line outputs of several other DACs, to check if they can drive high sensitivity earphones directly from line-out like the Sabre DAC, using RCA to female mini jack adapter.

I tried:

HRT Streamer II+ (old version)

Dr. DAC2 DX

Mytek Stereo 192-DSD

 

To my amazement, their RCA line out are quite capable to drive my IEM nicely.  Good dynamic and impact, and never felt under powered.  I used JVC IEM for the test, HA-FRD80.  It uses micro dynamic drivers, and has excellent bass and detail, that makes me easily hear if there is any drop in bass impact or blurring detail if there is any power issue.  Volume must be set by the windows volume fader.

I compared the RCA output of Streamer II+ with and without amp.  At that time I used my iBasso D6 as the portable amp.  So the comparison was:

HRT Streamer II+ RCA output >> JVC HA-FRD80

HRT Streamer II+ RCA output >> iBasso D6 as amplifier >> JVC HA-FRD80

 

Guess what, the direct output without amp sounds better!  Cleaner with better detail, and better bass and treble extension :D

So I found some DACs line outputs are actually powerful enough to drive high sensitivity earphones, and the direct line-out even sounds better without amplifier :)

I'm glad I found a good way to test transparency of an amplifier this way.

And now I begin to dislike my iBasso D6 amp section for being less transparent frown.gif

post #10 of 40
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by dnullify View Post

do you know whether the U2 available currently from hifimediy is the updated version or not?

 

I just got an email from HifiMeDiy to confirm about U2-Async batch:

"yes the ones shipped now are all newest batch.

The issue we have fixed which occured on a few units from the first batch was that it was not recognized on some computers."
post #11 of 40
Quote:
I initially thought so... and then HifiMeDiy told me that the Sabre DAC has small Op-Amp integrated in the chip, that enable it to drive high sensitivity earphones directly from the DAC output.

 

lol That op-amp is not to drive a headphones. Maybe it is loud enough but output impedance kill the SQ and it hasn't enough current. UAE23 just from output sound really bad. You can use Objective Amp for best quality, and for best value combo :>

post #12 of 40
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by StartRockToday View Post
 

 

lol That op-amp is not to drive a headphones. Maybe it is loud enough but output impedance kill the SQ and it hasn't enough current. UAE23 just from output sound really bad. You can use Objective Amp for best quality, and for best value combo :>

 

I agree, not to drive headphones... but high sensitivity IEM works well with the DAC direct output.  The Yamaha HPH-200 in this test do feel a bit under-powered driven by UAE23, while Dragonfly shines better with HPH-200.

I suggest you try it yourself, not with headphones, but with High sensitivity IEM as I clearly wrote in my post.

 

From all the IEMs that I have, and have tested with UAE23, here is my conclusion:

vSonic GR07 Bass Edition : not a good pairing, too slow and smooth.

JVC HA-FRD80 & JVC HA-FXD80 : Very good, excellent bass with good, balanced, overall tonal balance, & never feel under-powered.

JVC HA-FXC80 : Very good, the natural bright signature of FXC80 complement well with the slightly dark tonal balance of UAE23.

Yamaha EPH-100 : Not bad, but Yamaha EPH-100 better paired with Fiio X3. Not due to the power, but tonal balance become too dark for my taste.

Superlux HD-381F : Good pairing, rather dark, but very nice vocal.

Klipsch X10 : Good pairing, natural tonal balance, much better than X10 + iPod.

 

I also mentioned in my post, using Dr. DAC2 DX as headphone amplifier for UAE23 does improve the sound quality, but to my ears, driving high sensitivity IEM mentioned above (especially JVC HA-FXD80) from the UAE23 direct out is not bad at all :)

 

I also tested the UAE23 direct out with big headphones such as my T1 and HD800, loud enough for some recording, but generally not enough loudness for many recordings.  The sound not too bad, but clearly not a recommended setup.

 

Anyway, I use UAE23 as a very simple portable setup, mostly to listen music while working in office, so adding a headphone amplifier in the chain is too troublesome for my case.  I prefer simple, small, light, plug and play kind of setup, and UAE23 works well for me for that purpose :)

 

When you said "UAE23 just from output sound really bad" what IEM or headphones you tested it with?

post #13 of 40
Quote:
When you said "UAE23 just from output sound really bad" what IEM or headphones you tested it with?

 

Both... <no offence> I really not like sound out of it. I feel it as a muddy, flat and characterless.

 

Quote:
Anyway, I use UAE23 as a very simple portable setup, mostly to listen music while working in office, so adding a headphone amplifier in the chain is too troublesome for my case.  I prefer simple, small, light, plug and play kind of setup, and UAE23 works well for me for that purpose :)

 

An option for you might be Fiio E6, which works well with UAE23. It is cheap, light, small, and the sound is quite good.

 

Best Regards :)

post #14 of 40
Quote:
Originally Posted by StartRockToday View Post
 

 

Both... <no offence> I really not like sound out of it. I feel it as a muddy, flat and characterless.

 

 

 

x2. I was so disappointed that I put mine up for sale immediately. Then I added on my amps, and I said "Oh!"

post #15 of 40
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by StartRockToday View Post
 

 

Both... <no offence> I really not like sound out of it. I feel it as a muddy, flat and characterless.

 

 

An option for you might be Fiio E6, which works well with UAE23. It is cheap, light, small, and the sound is quite good.

 

Best Regards :)

 

No worry, we all have different preferences, listening to different recordings :)

I guess it's the pairing.  UAE23 is not really natural, too smooth for some, with the laid back mid, it might be too relax (lifeless) for some, especially with bad pairings.

I don't like the UAE23 sound with Vsonic GR07 Bass Edition, too slow and too smooth, no music energy.  But with JVC HA-FXD80, UAE23 sings quite well, especially for vocal and jazz, it is pretty good actually.

 

So, my conclusion is, since UAE23 has it's own unique sound signature, one should consider it carefully whether it will suit his / her sound preferences.

And it is true, for many cases, adding an amplifier in the chain improve the sound quality of UAE23.

New Posts  All Forums:Forum Nav:
  Return Home
  Back to Forum: Dedicated Source Components
Head-Fi.org › Forums › Equipment Forums › Dedicated Source Components › HifiMeDiy Sabre USB DAC (UAE23) and AudioQuest DragonFly - Brief Comparison