General Information

DAC: Sabre ES9281PRO
Input: USB-C

Outputs:
3.5 mm (single-ended)
2.5 mm (balanced)

Signal level:
Single-ended: 1.4 V @ 32 Ohm , 2 V @ 600 Ohm
Balanced: 2 V @ 32 Ohm , 4 V @ 600 Ohm

Formats support:
PCM up to 384 kHz
DSD up to DSD128 DoP
MQA rendering up to 384 kHz

EarMEn-Sparrow-New-1_2000x.jpg

Latest reviews

voja

100+ Head-Fier
Short write-up about the Sparrow
Pros: Extremely small & portable (smaller than two 20 cent coins)
Plug & play
Build quality (chassis, cables)
Design
Transparent sound signature (little to no coloration)
Technology & chip used
Price-to-performance ratio (value)
Cons: Without a protective case or glass available on the aftermarket, the glass is prone to being scratched (especially if you plan to wear it in your pocket)
Occasionally the playback stops for a second or two
Do not expect it to drive power-demanding headphones at loud levels
JYxmq6o.jpg

If you are not familiar with EarMen, you can read the excerpt from my TR-Amp review:
“Whether it’s their genius and sneaky model names, or the devices themselves, EarMen is doing it right, and I love it! There is a great challenge in succeeding when you are a fairly new company to the market — it’s hard to reinvent the wheel. Auris Audio is only 7 years old, it’s a fairly young company, yet they did it their own way and succeeded in doing that. If you are not familiar with Auris Audio, you may be asking “What is Auris Audio and why is it relevant to EarMen?”. First, let’s make this clear: Auris Audio is the parent company which mainly specializes in manufacturing high-fidelity and luxury amplifiers, and EarMen is their sub-brand that focuses on more budget friendly (without the compromise of quality!) portable devices.

The combination of leather & wood has become Auris Audio’s trademark — once you see it, you know it’s Auris. Founded in 2013. by Mr. Milomir Trosic, Auris Audio has achieved major recognition and success, well deserved success and recognition. Both Auris Audio and EarMen focus on producing quality products - they prefer quality over quantity. You will notice that they haven’t just released a large quantity of models, but rather focused on putting out fewer quality product ranges (both EarMen and Auris Audio), and this is something that I respect on a high level. How many times did you come across a company with dozens of different models and product ranges of a relatively similar product? I can tell you that the answer is probably more than necessary. Both Auris Audio and EarMen have focused on using the highest quality components from the best companies - Electro Harmonix, Tung-Sol, JJ Electronic, Sabre, XMOS, Texas Instruments, Cirrus Logic, they have it all. Last but not least, Auris is known for manufacturing, assembling, and designing their products in Europe. Not only that, but all products from Auris Audio are handcrafted.”

Unboxing experience

The Sparrow is packaged inside a large slim box. As usual, EarMen kept it clean and minimalistic. On the front, you will find an illustration of the device itself, while you will find some brief specifications on the back. On the inside, you will find the Sparrow and the two cables nicely placed inside a single piece of foam. Nothing spectacular, but also nothing to complain about.

A fun little easter egg that I found is that the front illustration of the Sparrow is printed in a 1:1 scale, i.e. it matches the real size of the Sparrow.

Formal format of what you get inside the box:
1x Sparrow amplifier
1x USB-C to USB-C cable
1x USB-A to USB-C cable

Build Quality & Design

The construction of this little guy is fairly simple: the body/frame is made from CNC aluminum, while the front and back panels are made of glass.

The frame is machined from a single block of aluminum. You can see the whole process in this GIF:

Sparrow Giff Animation.gif


The Sparrow is among the smallest portable DAC/AMPs available on the market. It is tiny. To put its size in scale, a 20 cent coin is 22.25mm in diameter, while the Sparrow is 42mm in length – this makes it .50mm smaller than two 20 cent coins. Not only does it fit into a pocket, but it comfortably fits into a watch pocket (that small pocket that can be found on jeans).

From a design perspective, it looks great. I love the combination of the silver lettering, glass panels, the Hi-Res logo on the back, and the LED EarMen logo. Altogether it looks minimalist & elegant. However, there is something that I think is missing: a protective case. The glass panels look great, but since the Sparrow will most likely be carried in pockets, it will get scratched up. One way to avoid that is by offering a protective case as an accessory. Another way is by offering a screen protector.. although it might be more challenging due to the carved nature of the glass. That is just about the only complaint I have in terms of the design, other than that, it is classy.

15BFjvj.jpg


Technology & functions

If you have taken a look at EarMen’s offerings, then you are probably aware of the TR-Amp — a portable amp that has the power needed to drive full-sized headphones. Well, the Sparrow is essentially a portable Amp/DAC that is aimed towards the IEM market. One of the drawbacks of the TR-Amp is that noise is audible with higher sensitivity IEMs or headphones.

This isn’t the case with the Sparrow. It uses the flagship Sabre ES9281PRO chip from ESS. After inquiring about the specifications, I found out that it has a SNR (signal-to-noise ratio) of 122 dB, a THD + N (total harmonic distortion + noise) of -112 dB, and 124 dB DNR. In comparison, TR-Amp has a SNR of 114 dB and a THD+N of -120 dB.

When it comes to outputs, you have the standard 3.5 mm, and of course, the balanced 2.5 mm. A balanced output is a must, especially when you are making a portable device that is specifically aimed to be used with IEMs. For example, TR-Amp lacks of a 2.5 mm output, but benefits from a 6.3 mm output.

As stated on the EarMen’s product page, all 32bit/384kHz formats are supported (PCM, DoP, DSD64, DSD128 and MQA).


Technical details in a formal format:

Input​
USB C Female​
Output​
3.5 mm​
2.5 mm Balanced​
Power​
2.5 mm Balanced​
3.5 mm​
2.0 Vrms into 32 Ohm​
1.4 Vrms into 32 Ohm​
4.0 Vrms into 600 Ohm​
2.0 Vrms into 600 Ohm​
Audio formats​
DSD​
64 / 128 DoP​
DXD​
384/352.5 kHz​
PCM​
Up to 384 kHz​
MQA Rendering​
Up to 384 kHz​


Experience

Technical specifications aside, it is performance and user experience that matter the most. I have been personally following the EarMen threads from the very beginning, I was there when the company became a sponsor of Head-Fi. I have been seeing that some people abroad did experience EMI noise. However, for the past 5 months of using the Sparrow, I never encountered that problem. I truly tried to forcefully make the noise appear, but I had no success in that. I went as far to directly put the Sparrow on top of my laptop and phone, but no noise was audible. To give you a better idea of my casual usage, I would usually have my laptop on the bed and the Sparrow would be connected and be placed right besides it. I never took the Sparrow with me outside, so I am not sure whether that would make any difference, but from my casual usage, this problem never came up.

Update: After further experimenting, I was finally able to hear the talked about EMI noise. It was the strongest when the phone was in diract touch with the Sparrow. Since I used the standard TR-Amp cable for the 5 months of usage (the stock one was too short to be used on a laptop while the laptop is placed on your lap), the EMI noise never occured. However, after placing the phone in direct touch with it (with the TR-Amp cable), it was audible, but much quieter than on the stock cables. This makes me question whether the stock cable length is the problem, the shielding, or another factor. As I use the Sparrow with my laptop, this isn't a problem for me (my phone is never close to amps and DACs), but it certainly presents a problem for someobdy who plans to have the Sparrow in the pocket (in direct touch with the phone).

One problem that did occur during my usage period is that the Sparrow’s playback would stop for 1-2 seconds, but this only happened around 3 times. Besides this, I had no problems. I actually still use the Sparrow in my daily setup: Sparrow + iBasso SR2.

Power. At first glance you wouldn’t expect much, but when you pair it with various full-sized cans, you realize that that it is quite capable. The only time I found it lacking in power was when I paired it with planar-magnetic headphones (Dekoni Blue, Hifiman Deva)… but as many of us know, planar-magnetic headphones are very demanding. You can read the full list of earphones/headphones that were used with the Sparrow at the bottom of this review.

RDMSXIw.jpg


Conclusion

I can firmly say that this little device met my expectations and will continue pleasing me after 5 months of usage. The Sparrow costs $199, making it among pricier dongle AMP/DACs. However, based on what people have said (across several different forums), it is superior in performance to its competitors. This is what I believe makes up for the higher than usual price tag. One thing to keep in mind: what this device is trying to achieve is packing industry-leading technology in as little space as possible. With this being said, by no means should it be compared to anything other than devices alike (dongle DAC/AMPs of a similar form factor), DAPs and portable amps that are the size of TR-Amp cannot be compared, they serve a completely different function and form factor.

As I dislike warmth coming out of my source, I have always enjoyed EarMen products for their transparent mid-range and slight emphasis on lower & higher frequencies. The Sparrow is no exception, and this is why it will stay in my rotation.



Headphones paired:
Sennheiser HD598
Sennheiser HD6XX
Dekoni Audio Blue
Ollo Audio S4X
Sivga Phoenix
Sivga P-II
iBasso SR2
Hifiman Deva

IEMs paired:
Jade Audio EA3
KBEAR TRI i3
KBEAR Diamond
Fiio FD1
Audiosense AQ3
Hifiman RE600s V2
Hifiman RE800 Silver
BQEYZ Spring 1
BQEYZ Spring 2
Last edited:
zolom
zolom
Thanks
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joydivisionnewdawnfades
joydivisionnewdawnfades
Very good review, i like too the sound of the sparrow but i have to sell it because of the EMI noise (when i use it in streaming on my iphone (with two different cables plugged in the apple camera kit))
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Dobrescu George

Reviewer: AudiophileHeaven
Fly With Me – Earmen Sparrow Ultraportable DAC / AMP
Pros: + Driving power
+ Nice overall sound
+ Detail
+ Clarity
+ Dynamic sound
+ Good build quality
Cons: - Slippery
- Expensive, there's tons of competition in the price range, even earmen's own TR-AMP product
Fly With Me – Earmen Sparrow Ultraportable DAC / AMP


Earmen Sparrow is like a tiny thumb drive that can actually drive IEMs and Headphones. It costs 200 USD, being one of the most expensive DAC/AMPs that exists in this tiny shape, and it has a type-C port, and a driving power of 4.0 V on the Balanced output. It will be compared to Lotoo Paw S1, Centrance DACport HD, and iFi Hip DAC. The pairing list will include Final Audio A8000, Sivga P-II, and Meze Rai Penta.






Introduction

Earmen is a company from Europe, and they are friendly with their customers. Sadly, there have been incidents with some batches of their products that had bugs, but they eventually solved all of them quickly through their warranty center, which is located in an entirely different country from the main company. You can totally purchase their products and rely on them, but be careful because after a while you may need that warranty. Happily, they are the type of guys who will help you recover it, even if you somehow manage to lose it. The name sparrow seems to come from the company wanting to design is as a killer against the Dragonfly series from Audioquest.


It should be noted that I have absolutely no affiliation with Earmen. I’d like to thank Earmen for providing the sample for this review. This review reflects my personal experience with the Earmen Sparrow. Every opinion expressed is mine and I stand by it, the purpose of this review is to help those interested in Earmen Sparrow find their next music companion. Since I reviewed many competitors as well, this review isn’t trying to sell the Sparrow to you, but rather trying to help you decide on what is the best choice for you, based on pairings, comparisons and descriptions.



Product Link

You can get the Earmen Sparrow from here: https://earmen-shop.com/products/sparrow



Packaging

First things first, let’s get the packaging out of the way:




We’re talking about a high-end DAC/AMP at this price point, and it does come with some extras, like two cables. There is no carrying or protection pouch included, and given the shape and design one would have been welcome, because the unit is covered in glass on almost all sides and is always at risk of being scratched.



Build Quality/Aesthetics/Functionality

The technical data about the Sparrow is not entirely transparent, and things like output impedance, or actual power delivery aren’t stated officially, but happily it has a really beautiful aesthetic, and this is how my dream ultra portable DAC/AMP looks like. Smol, glassy, and made like a tiny tank. Really tiny one. It is a slightly slippery device, so be careful when handling it.




I would recommend using double sided velcro strips to attach it to your smartphone while using it. It has no bluetooth like FiiO BTR5, but it has MQA decoding abilities, along with DSD and DXD decoding abilities. It is also one of the very few DAC/AMPs that stays fairly cool during usage, and which can drive Sivga P-II well from the balanced output.


The balanced output sounds much better than the Single Ended one, and it has more driving power too. It is easily recognized by all my smartphones, windows computer and laptop, and doesn’t need a driver installed. The two cables that come with it are not very good, they are not shielded, and are noisy, so I totally recommend something like a ddHifi Cable or this one from Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/CableCreation-Braided-Compatible-MacBook-Resistance/dp/B01CZVEUIE

The unit is light, and feels well made, and the Earmen Logo lights up during usage, and in different colors depending on what you’re decoding. The DAC inside is an ESS ES9218PRO, a really ballsy one actually. In fact, it is the only ultraportable DAC/AMP that has this DAC in the PRO version.


Despite all of this, it doesn’t really drain too much battery from my Xiaomi Note 9S or Huawei P20, so I can easily recommend it for portability. It doesn’t take noise from being close to a smartphone either, and I experienced no issues with it while using it, although I had to replace the original cables for the noise to go away. The sound is seriously good when using MQA and Tidal, so at least give it a trey if you can.



Technical Data




Video Review







Sound Quality


Here comes the part that saves this review from sounding a bit negativistic. The sound of the Sparrow is actually really good. It doesn’t have much of a signature, but it has a really clean sound, with tons of detail, a wide soundstage, and reminds me an awful lot of NextDrive Spectra X. Please be careful, the volume from the balanced output can be really loud at 10/100 with IEMs, so it has tons of power to spare, but if you don’t adjust it carefully you may lose an IEM or an ear.


The overall sound of the Sparrow can be described as extremely clean and precise, with no elevation at any point in the sonic range. It has a linear performance, with a quick, tight bass, deep soundstage, and with an energetic treble.

The bass is generally really quick and snappy, but can get really low and hit you with extreme impact. The deep rumble is outstanding and reminds me more of what stuff in the ~500 USD price range can do. The overall extension is better on the balanced output, with even more impact, and the bass is extremely clean.

In fact this is a very persistent characteristic of the sound of Sparrow, it is clean to the point of insanity. There’s no background noise, there are no uncontrolled passages, and regardless of what you connect it to, it has really good authority. The dynamics in the mids are extremely good for the price, and the overall texture is somewhat smooth, grain-free. It has that special juicy presentation for guitars that I enjoy greatly, and in my book the mids are a 10/10.




The treble is also nicely done, with a good extension up to the highest octaves, with really nice details and a wide soundstage. The overall sound is slightly aggressive and forward everywhere, so metal music lovers will surely appreciate the Sparrow. The name starts to make sense, and it is a good counterpart to the Dragonfly series. The Audioquest gems are known to be a bit laid-back and relaxed.

Especially if you hear them side-by-side, you know that Sparrow is much quicker, more punchy, more dynamic. The treble is my favorite part of the Sparrow, being so brilliant in extension and energy that I’m rocking to Dance Gavin Dance and Closure in Moscow even while writing those very words.



Comparisons

The main comparisons I picked for your reading pleasure are with Lotoo Paw S1, Centrance DACport HD, and iFi Hip DAC. It may seem a bit odd that I picked mostly competitors that are priced lower, but as we’ll explore in the conclusion, for the position the Sparrow occupies in the market, it has a slightly lower value ratio than most competitors.


There are tons of good USB DACs in this price range, like the Earmen TR-AMP (which is just 50 USD more than the sparrow), or the NextDrive Spectra X, but those are the ones you guys asked me the most about, so I decided to help as much as I can.

Earmen Sparrow vs Lotoo Paw S1 (200 USD vs 170 USD) – As I’ll mention in the value part of this review, the value of S1 is quite a bit better than that of the Sparrow. The support of Lotoo is good, but the key thing here is the EQ, which the S1 has. That’s a really nifty feature and I wish Earmen would make an app that could apply EQ to all outgoing sound for their Sparrow. Another nifty thing for S1 is the 4.4mm balanced output instead of a 2.5mm one, but S1 is nowhere near as portable as the Sparrow. I would describe the S1 as being more open, happier-sounding, warmer, and more detailed. The Sparrow is more engaging, has a more vivid and colorful midrange, and the Sparrow has a more juicy mid paired with more treble extension.

Earmen Sparrow vs Centrance DACport HD (200 USD vs 180 USD) – Here, the Centrance DACport HD is aimed at those who want to use it with really hard to drive cans that cross the entry-level price point. They totally did it with their DACport HD, and it has a beautiful driving power, a warm, forward and aggressive sound with tons of power. The big surprise to me was that the Sparrow doesn’t have much less power if it is running balanced. The whole point of the DACport HD is that the sound is better on 3.5mm, where the Sparrow sounds the best on 2.5mm. The sound is a bit more detailed on the DACport HD, but the Sparrow has a more vivid and colorful midrange. I like both, and I would always grab the Dacport HD for a HD660S, while I would go for the Sparrow for almost all IEMs. This is mostly because I don’t have many aftermarket cables, and most hard to drive headphones can be adapter to 3.5mm, but it is harder to outsource a balanced 2.5mm balanced cable.

Earmen Sparrow vs ifi Hip DAC (200 USD vs 150 USD) – The Hip DAC’s a huge competitor for the Sparrow, and there’s good reason for the Sparrow to fear it. The Hippy DACy has a really forward and aggressive sound that’s a bit warm, has a ton of detail and is really good for IEMs and most headphones. The Sparrow has a bit more driving power on Balanced, and is a bit more juicy in the mids, but the soundstage is larger on the Hip DAC. The Hip DAC also has a slightly better bass impact and a more detailed midrange, while the Sparrow has a better treble extension, more sparkle and a more refined overall sound.



Pairing

The pairing part will include pairings with Final Audio A8000, Meze Rai Penta, and Sivga P-II. I went with pretty pricey IEMs because the Sparrow is aimed at harder to drive and more picky partners, and it wouldn’t make much sense to invest in it if you’re mainly using 100 USD IEMs.


All of the partners I picked are easily driven By the Sparrow, and it could easily drive a HIFIMAN Deva, iBasso SR-2, and even an HIFIMAN Arya too, so don’t be shy with pairing it when you got for its mates.

Earmen Sparrow + Final Audio A8000 – (200 USD + 2000 USD) – A8000 is a bit of a benchmark to me, and the Sparrow passed the test! It got good details, not a lot of background noise, and a ton of impact in its sodun. The dynamics are ok too, and the overall engagement factor is great, making me keep this pairing in my ears and not yearn to switch to something else soon.

Earmen Sparrow + Meze Rai Penta – (200 USD + 1300 USD) – Meze Rai Penta is actually helped a bit by the Sparrow, as it gives them a sparkly sound in the highs, which they direly needed. They have a smooth top end, and are somewhat too laid back for rock and metal. Sparrow seems to help a bit with that and give them a beautiful, musical sound with more life and more engagement.

Earmen Sparrow + Sivga P-II – (200 USD + 400 USD) – I was really surprised to hear that the Sparrow had enough power to drive the P-II on balanced. The sound is really balanced, sparkly, fun and engaging. I’m impressed by the speed of the bass and nice extension in the treble, and the wide soundstage. Overall, a really recommended, albeit slightly unlikely pair.



Value and Conclusion

The value of the Sparrow is visibly less appealing than that of most competition. Where the TR-AMP has been a genius product, the Sparrow is lacking in the package, with both default cables being pretty disappointing. This means that there’s nothing in the package besides the Sparrow that is working, and just like Earstudio HUD100, I can’t give full thumbs up for the value.




The build quality is really good though, and it doesn’t disappoint in any way. Although the body is not marketed as being covered in gorilla glass or any other type of protective glass, I found no scratches after taking photos of the Sparrow and using it for a while, and as you can see from the photos, I’ve been a bit adventurous with it and taking it outdoors.

The decoding abilities are impressive, with MQA, DXD and DSD, along with PCM all being read by the Sparrow. In fact, it is one of the very few DAC/AMPs on the market that has the ES9218PRO on the market, and it manages to take full advantage of it.


The sound is clear, punchy, and it has plenty of dynamic and driving power. The sound is so good that it is probably in my top 3 best portable DAC/AMPs below the 300 USD price point, and just like the TR-AMP, Earmen shows us that they can totally make something that sounds good.


At the end of today’s review, if you want something made in Europe, by a company who knows what they’re doing, if you want to hear one of the best a mini DAC/AMP has to offer, and if you like a clean, clear, detailed and sparkly sound, with excellent dynamics and punch, the Earmen Sparrow is really easy to recommend to you.



Product Link

You can get the Earmen Sparrow from here: https://earmen-shop.com/products/sparrow



— Please remember to stay safe, and always have fun while listening to music!—







Full Playlist used for this review


We listened to more songs than those named in this playlist, but those are excellent for identifying a sonic signature. PRaT, Texturization, Detail, Resolution, Dynamics, Impact, and overall tonality are all revealed by those songs. We recommend trying most of the songs from this playlist, especially if you’re searching for new music!

If you have a dime to spare (donate), it would make my day much brighter, as it would help me improve things around the website and increase the frequency of my posts.

Youtube Playlist



Tidal Playlist

https://listen.tidal.com/playlist/64555551-ec3c-4279-ae44-248fdfcf6c4b



— Contact Us —





























CLEANCRISPDETAILEDDRIVING POWEREARMENENGAGINGEUROPEAN
Last edited:
voja
voja
I agree about 200 bucks. However, you cannot say that someone who is looking at a device size of two coins will consider a large device like the TR-Amp. Besides, the balanced 2.5mm output on the Sparrow is the key feature. TR-Amp lacks of it, and that is a highly sought after feature for IEM users. The noise present on the TR-Amp isnt ideal with high sensitivity IEMs, while the Sparrow provides a noticeably lower noise floor, making it ideal for IEM users, aka the target audience

Just like you have earphones, portable headphones, and full-sized headphones, you have ultra-portable, portable, desktop, and full-sized sources. I don't think that someone looking to buy a larger device like the TR-Amp will look at the Sparrow as an option. Sparrow is a device that has a specific target audience, while TR-Amp is a more versatile option. This is not to say that TR-Amp is better or worse, it just means that somebody who mainly uses IEMs and uses them on the go will more likely want the Sparrow
Dobrescu George
Dobrescu George
@voja - That's a good input too. I will be doing my best to try and compare things with more attention. I think the best way to handle this is to make the main comparison items a related product where I have a good comparison point, but explain above that there are other options too that do a different job.

The main thing here is that most of the people who come to be for help ask basic questions too, they really ask about this type of comparison a ton, so I try to keep answer them in the main review. I understand that it may not facilitate or advantage a company, if I put up an ultraportable against a larger device, but it is made to help the readers who want and need this type of comparison too.

You can check the type of questions I receive on my YT channel... Even without taking into account the type of mails I receive, the conversations on YT are public.
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senorx12562
senorx12562
I believe the dac chip used is the es9281 soc, rather than the es9218. Thanks for your efforts.

ngoshawk

Headphoneus Supremus
EarMen Sparrow: Seasonal changes, but the sound remains.
Pros: Superb sound
Superb build
Portability
Cross-platform usage
Adds clarity to pretty much all devices attached
Cons: Large packaging
Slippery little bugger
No dedicated volume itself?
Too bright for some, possibly
Much competition
EarMen Sparrow ($199): Seasonal changes, but the sound remains.

Sparrow

9zTH0j7.jpg


Introit: Following on the heels of the TR-Amp, the Sparrow is oriented towards Smartphone use, and includes a 2.5bal headphone jack. “Dongles” such as these are becoming more in vogue, but one would be remiss if you did not mention the history here. Giving yet another option that is cost effective while allowing the user to bring their balance headphones along and hook into their smartphone, this market gets ever crowded. Knowing the quality offering in the TR-Amp (one of my favorite portable amps), Miroslav offered the Sparrow. I humbly accepted and afford him gracious thanks for the continued support.

It takes something “different” to separate one of these dongles from another and here the Sparrow is a very fine DAC/Pre-amp/Headphone amp. Using an excellent Sabre DAC, the Sparrow comes with MQA capabilities. You can even run two sets of headphones from the unit at once, which affords you the ability to share your music.

One would also be remiss in not mentioning those that came before such as the Audiodirect Beam. My first foray into the portable dongle/DAC it was good. Since then many have come along including the Sparrow, and the Beam has also been updated as well. The volume control was interesting, especially on a smartphone, but it worked. Todays “dongles” are much more refined, showing those that have a smartphone what can be done at the affordable price. Options are good...

The Sparrow is mine to keep but may be asked back for at any time. Until then, the unit is mine to use and keep, but not resell. That’s uncool.



Specs:

InputUSB C Female
Output3.5 mm
2.5 mm Balanced
Power2.5 mm Balanced3.5 mm
2.0 Vrms into 32 Ohm1.4 Vrms into 32 Ohm
4.0 Vrms into 600 Ohm2.0 Vrms into 600 Ohm
Audio formats
DSD64 / 128 DoP
DXD384/352.5 kHz
PCMUp to 384 kHz
MQA RenderingUp to 384 kHz

Dimension LxHxW (mm)42 x 8 x 22


Gear Used/Compared:

Noble Sultan
Dunu SA-6
Noble Savant II

MBP
iPhone XS Max

Earmen TR-Amp
iFi Zen CAN
iFi Hip-DAC


Songlist:

Joey Alexander-Warna album and others
Mark Knopfler-Laughs And Jokes And Drinks And Smokes
Santana w/ Mana- Corazon Espinado
twenty one pilots album, Trench
Tedeschi Trucks Band
Big Head Todd & The Monsters-Beautiful World
Mark Knopfler-Down The Road Wherever
Elton John-yep, still good, still cool
Tidal MQA


EFtHZsz.jpg


Unboxing:

Coming in a fairly plain black box, EarMen continue their subdued ways of presenting the product. Nothing wrong with that. One only need look at Burson and how their products are presented to appreciate starkness in presentation.

Opening the flat box yields a gray semi-hard (semi-soft?) foam insert, which cradle the Sparrow and two provided cables nicely. Also included are spec and warranty cards. Nothing fancy, nothing extraneous needed.


Build/Finish/Functionality:

Moving drastically away from the TR-Amp’s industrial look, the Sparrow presents itself as a black monolith, not unlike the one found in a 2001, A Space Odyssey. There is as much hype surrounding it as there was the peculiar monolith. But that hype is due to the accolades and accords given the other EarMen (and Auris) products. Having heard the Euterpe (and enjoyed it immensely), I value the TR-Amp as my go to portable amp due to its ability to work through a USB-C while being charged. A nicety when it comes to portables.

Since the Sparrow is driven by the source in which it hooks, you need not worry. Coming with both a 3.5se and 2.5bal headphone jack, you can utilize the plethora of headphone choices we seem to have. Currently enjoying the crispness of the Noble Sultan through my MBP and listening to Jesse Cook, I enjoy the trio. Vibrant would be an apt description. Back to finish, the Sparrow is clean with its curvaceous lines and seemingly completely smooth, including the markings on the back and lighted logo on the front, which glows in differing colors depending upon the source frequency. Small and a bit slippery, but oh so portable. Simple plug and play at its best.

A note about connectivity, though. Upon first getting the Sparrow, I had no problem hooking it directly to my MBP with the provided cable (USB-C to USB-C). After about two weeks, that connection stopped, and I had to utilize the USB-A to USB-C cable and a dongle. I did note a slight drop in quality, and attribute this to the dongle. Why you ask? Well, when using the excellent DDHiFi “upgraded” TC05, the sound was excellent. I will add that I used the DDHiFi TC28i for my iPhone XS Max without issue as well. My suspected problem is that if I do not restart my MBP after a long time, the audio portion gets a bit finicky, sometimes when an update of something is needed. This has happened across a few devices, and I really hate restarting my MBP, so that should tell you that the issue is most likely due to the MBP. I have multiple tabs and about 20 reviews in queue open, so this is quite the hassle. That said, every single time I have “restarted” the MBP, audio function (including all cables with the Sparrow) work flawlessly.


To sum: The Sparrow worked flawlessly across multiple platforms, as I expected.


Insides:

The ESS 9281 Pro Sabre chip runs clean and clear, with a good vibrant tonality to it. I have come to appreciate the Sabre chipsets as being on the more energetic side of life. With the ability to run MQA through Tidal, which is becoming the norm, you still get very good value out of the diversity of the chipset. Powering up to 32/384 PCM and DSD128 in addition to the MQA, the Sparrow provides all the necessities for a small portable dongle. Some may balk at the price, but when you consider the other options at this price are not portable, there is a sense that not only is the market moving higher, but the demand appreciates this upscale movement. Spending this could be considered not only a good first step, but to many, it may be all they need as Smartphone sources get better and better, closing that gap to quality mid-fi DAP’s. Whether the industry likes it or not, Smartphone sound is getting better (some erroneously argue it has surpassed mid-fi DAP’s), so the smartly modify to meet the demand. This can also afford those same manufacturers to move to an even higher scale with their sources. Look at the plethora of $2k DAP’s currently sprinkled across the market and you understand. So in that perspective, what one is willing to pay for the increase seems to be moving higher and can thus be justified.

Back on task, the 2.5bal and 3.5se work flawlessly as mentioned by the Sultan, which runs the “normal” Noble cable (really friggin nice, it is) and my BQEYZ Spring 2 2.5bal cable works as well. In fact, it is advertised that both jacks and be utilized simultaneously. I have tried it, and there is no perceivable loss of sound/volume to me.

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Sound:

Single-end:

With items such as this, I have the hardest time. DAP’s can be quite easy in comparison due to the various architectural presences and innards, but here the differences can be enough to not give me confidence. Thankfully, the difference between the TR-Amp and Sparrow are immediately noticeable. The TR-Amp runs on the warmer side of life. The Sparrow adds that springlike vibrancy to your sound. There is not hiding that the mids to me are elevated to the point of a crisp, cleanliness that is of very good quality. There is a good vibrant detail to the Sparrow, which to me results in good texture. By this I mean that I can discern the finer points of layering, and when a bass-heavy song such as Jesse Cook’s Azul comes on, I can discern a pretty decent reach down low through the Sultan, even if the sound is detailed. Sometimes that is not the case, as the bass texture can overrun a good mid of guitar work. Not so here, and I am pleasantly satisfied with the result.

Treble is neither biting nor sibilant. A certain amount of restrained sparkle comes through as a result. I appreciate the tenacity of the treble not to become biting nor overly sparkly. Tamed would even be too strong a word, but a certain subdued-ness is present, which I appreciate. I am not dissatisfied with the se sound and appreciate that many people will still have only 3.5se headphones, and they shant worry about any perceived lack of sound quality.


Balanced:

Switching to the Dunu SA-6 for the balanced portion, you immediately notice the difference. While the vibrancy of se is still there, you get more. Kind of like going to 11 on that proverbial Spinal Tap amp. Bass reaches lower (yes, I know two different IEM’s...), with more punch and detail. Almost like the clarity level has gone up as well with the added punch.

Dynamically, through the song Gravity you get the staccato of a vibrant punctual sound. Succinct to a point, the Sparrow on balanced is a quick little critter in its transitions. There is no hesitancy, but it never came across as urgent. Always flowing with a syncopation that belied that urgency, with an attitude of subtle laidback nature to it. Fall At Your Feet promotes this flowing, syncopated nature very well. The vocals come across with that sense if vibrant, clear & concise nature providing a path to a certain serenity. Maybe that is too gushing, but the difference makes you not want to go back to 3.5se again. Not that the 3.5se is dull or lifeless, but the difference is a wonderful fruition in the Sparrow, and to me certainly justifies having both, and the increased price.

I do note a certain push up top, which can become a bit too much when the volume rises, but that is just me. That clarity pushes the level of which I can tolerate, not a discrepancy of song or combination source/Sparrow. No, it is down to my tolerances. I suffer in pleasure. @Wiljen likens the difference to between driving a McLaren and a Mustang. The Mustang seems almost pedestrian after the McLaren. That is until you realize that even a V6 Mustang is capable of a low to mid-6 second 0-60mph time...so take that as you may. Pretty darn quick versus OMG!-quick.

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Comparisons:

I could compare to an older dongle I received, in fact it is purported to be the first, the original Beam, but that would not be really fair. Priced at the then price of $99, I touted the Beam as possibly the only dongle you would ever need. As mentioned above though, times have changed, and the market has moved upscale as technology increased as well. The Beam was good for its time. The Sparrow is better, as expected.


Earmen Sparrow ($199) v Earmen TR-Amp ($249):

Pretty much the next level up, the TR-Amp can be used as a pre-amp out as well. Running only single-ended headphones through either the 6.35 or 3.5, there is a distinct disadvantage here, leaning towards the Sparrow. But, the TR-Amp is so good, you do not miss it one bit. At the time I was coming off a string of balanced IEM’s and devices, so the TR-Amp was held with a bit of consternation. That is until I heard it. To say that it could easily sub into a desktop set-up in an executive’s office would be laughable, were it not true. Those other execs who laugh at the site, pardon themselves after hearing the TR-Amp so that they may purchase one for their office, and slyly slide their lesser systems off the shelf behind their desk until their very own TR-Amp arrives. It is good. It is powerful. And it is and excellent option at the next level. My current go-to portable amp, it is.

But here is where that misses the point. The Sparrow is the dongle that can make you appreciate the TR-Amp for what it does on the home front, while the Sparrow would be the one that gets used on the airplane between London and Delhi on those long flights. So small, you only need disconnect and put in the laptop bag to appreciate its portability. As you land, you switch to your Smartphone, not missing a beat, and with a sound that can nearly rival the TR-Amp quality-wise if not power-wise.


Earmen Sparrow ($199) v iFi Zen CAN ($149):

Coming in for a long-term review over the last week, the iFi arrives on the heels of the pretty darn good Hip-DAC, which is another direct competitor to both the Sparrow and TR-Amp. Running $50 cheaper, the Zen comes with more features, including the time and tested bass-boost and 3D sound enhancement. I pull no punches. I am an iFi fan and own much gear of theirs from my Black Label/iDAC2/Tubes2 stack to the fantastic iDSD Pro. So, I like ifi...a lot. That said, the Hip-DAC did not wow me like others, nor on the same level as my owned iFi gear.

Through initial listening, the Zen CAN is changing that. From the off, I prefer it to the Hip-DAC, and would easily choose the former over the latter. But here if we look strictly at portability and playability, the Sparrow is a plug-n-play forget. You get what you get. And it is good. The Zen provides more functionality, which is quickly becoming a hallmark for iFi products. Great readers of the current AND upcoming markets, iFi never fails to impress; and with the Zen CAN so far, they have another hit. If you want a dedicated desktop DAC/amp, the Zen CAN is a worthy choice, with plenty of power. If you value that portability and ease of use between your desktop/laptop/Smartphone, then the Sparrow is the easy choice, even for the extra green.

Earmen Sparrow ($199) v iFi Hip-DAC ($149):

I mentioned in my review, how I was not that enamored with the Hip-DAC. That is not a knock on the device itself, but more of what other iFi products I have in my stable. I would gladly take the xDSD or xCAN over the Hip-DAC, even with the portability issues. And to be frank, the size difference is not that much. For what it is though, the Hip-DAC works and works well, plus you add in the near-trademark iFi 3D and xBass and it is one to consider.

But, if you want to simply add purity to your sound, and have an ultra-portable device, the Sparrow is a no brainer here as well. I like the sound presentation more as well, which is weird coming from someone who prefers the darker sounds of products I have on hand. Both a good. Both are worth a look, but it is the Sparrow that accompanies me to school everyday and on trips.

Finale:

As the market moves ever higher in function and quality, the accompanying price does so as well. Knowing this, one still may be loathe to fork over two Ben’s for such a small artifact as the Sparrow. But to think that way would be antithesis of not only the process involved but the very reason such a device exists: so, you can have your music quickly and across many platforms. Plug the unit into your laptop at work for the day. Pull it, and plug it into your DAP, or easier yet your Smartphone for the commute home. The Sparrow fits into your pocket, or easily attaches to your Smartphone via Velcro or hangs loose if you prefer not to dim the unit up.

Simplicity now comes with a higher cost, but that cost can now be justified across multi-platforms with the accompanying USB-C cable. Top that off with excellent sound, especially with the 2.5bal jack and you have what is to me a pretty much no brainer. There is a reason the Sparrow is named such...for eating Dragonfly’s and this one certainly does in my mind.

I again thank Miroslav and EarMen for the unit and support, it is very much appreciated. I now carry the Sparrow with me every day to school, and use it when I can, between my queue. A worthy addition to my rotation and regular set up.

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B9Scrambler
B9Scrambler
Vunderbar!!
ngoshawk
ngoshawk
Much obliged, sir. :)

Comments

zolom

500+ Head-Fier
I guess it might not be a fair comparison, but still, can someone post an SQ comparison of the Sparrow balanced vs. Chord Mojo (SE), using good overheads?

Thanks.
 
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