Pros: great balanced sound, no charging needed, portable, no lag in videos, great design
Cons: master->slave cable
What innovations in ultra portable personal audio products to expect now when most of the popular brands have already exploded with their interpretations of HiRes smartphone / laptop companions — smallest DACs & AMPs… Plenty of formfactors, equipped with screen or extra buttons, different connectivity options out of the box, with and without the battery — choose whatever you like. Despite all of that, Hidizs with their new ultra portable audio product has found one more way to differentiate and intrigue — Hidizs S9 has both single ended and balanced outputs on board!
Hidizs S9 technical specifications:
DAC chip: AK4493EQ (new generation premium 32-bit 2ch DAC with VELVET SOUND technology)
Dynamic range: 123dB
Output power: 90mW SE | 125mW Balanced
Native DSD: up to 512
Outputs: 3.5mm SE + 2.5mm Balanced
Indicator light: multi LED, sync with sampling rate
Supports: Windows, Mac OS, iPad OS, Android
Hi-Res Audio 10 certification
Shell material: aluminum with glass panels
Size LxWxD: 6 x 1.7 x 1.1cm
Packaging and design:
Hidizs S9 comes neatly packed in relatively small black matt box with shiny silver logo and specifications imprints. Traditional package by Hidizs for the most of their products.
Inside the box you would find S9 DAC resting on the special soft insert and list of additional accessories hidden underneath. Box contents consist of:
transparent plastic holder / clip
USB type C -> USB type C cable (65см)
USB type C -> USB type C cable (15см)
USB type C -> USB A adapter
S9 is a small unit (close to AA battery size) but still shows quite complicated design. It’s shell is made of aluminum (CNC) whereas both front and back sides are covered with glass panels.
Such approach is inherited from other Hidizs products and reflects the design principles of this brand. Personally, I like such combination which adds the value to the device in terms of overall feel.
There are no buttons and no screen, side edges are left free of any elements. USB type-C port is located at the bottom edge and both SE & Balanced ports are situated one over the other on the thickest part of the shell — its top edge.
The only indication that S9 is currently in use is represented by semi transparent Hidizs logo under the front glass panel. Not only it gets lit (purple) upon incoming power supply, but also its color is synchronized with the sampling rate of the currently played track.
Plastic clip / holder that comes as a part of the bundle is really great accessory. It securely holds S9 at place, protects it from physical impacts and allows to attach it to clothes. It doesn’t limit the connectivity or usability of this device.
Both short and long cables are similar — soft and flexible transparent braid, aluminum type-C connectors and banding protection at both sides. USB type-C -> USB A adapter is applicable whenever someone wants to connect to laptop or PC.
Hidizs S9 in use:
Fortunately, most of the current Android based smartphone platforms (as well as iOS) already support OTG connection and feeding audio through it. No additional drivers are needed, everything is plug&play. The only question is that it seems that both cables have host and slave sides (host is connected to a smartphone, marked with Hidizs logo) and would not work other way around. This also raises the question of cable compatibility in future if original one would fail or get lost one day…
Anyway, just connect it (LED indicator on S9 should get lit), run your favorite music app (I am using HiBy Music) and hit PLAY button. From the opposite side — headphones — S9 would automatically switch between SE / Balanced depending of the current physical connection. Furthermore, unlike many other DAC&s — this device doesn’t have any battery inside and relies on the power fed by USB. Great that there is no need to charge it independently but the battery of your smartphone would drain faster.
By the time of writing this review Hidizs has not yet provided any dedicated Windows ASIO driver for S9. It is now being recognized by Windows 10 as USB DAC with its native driver and allows all sound to be passed to it with no obvious audible lag between video and audio streams. Which is great. Traditionally, ASIO driver that would probably show up soon would have better (if you can differentiate it) audio quality but the situation with the lag would get worse. I would recommend to use native Windows 10 driver and avoid installing additional TUSB ASIO drivers.
Tested with Xiaomi Redmi Note 8Pro, Lenovo Y500, Hidizs Seeds SE and Hidizs Seeds Balanced versions of IEMs.
As expected, in overall the impression of the sound quality of Hidizs S9 is close to what one should expect from the entry level HiRes DAP — much, much better than regular smartphone output, significantly better than regular laptop output and little bit behind of what such DAP as AP80, for instance, may offer. Smartphone lacks the clarity, resolution and power, its sound is quite blurred, weak and mixes up all instruments, especially at higher volume. Laptop holds better but lacks the overall clarity, bass extension and mid bass power.
S9 improves almost every aspect of the sound of both devices. It sounds more neutral but at the same time more transparent and holistic. Mid bass gets the appropriate power and tight feel, both frequency response ends are more extended while their textures get more pronounced.
As to the 3.5mm SE V/S 2.5mm Balanced comparison: here I can say that the best analogy would be as if you switch from gain low to gain high. +30% of power create more driving potential and deliver more juicy sound, especially obvious at lower volume. Moreover, not compromising the noise floor. By the way, the background stays dark with both outputs, any interference from a smartphone has not been observed either.
Current amount of ultra-portable HiRes DAC&s on the market makes it quite confusing to take a right choice of the most appropriate option. Hidizs S9, apart of being based on mighty DAC chip and having highly competitive specifications, has its own unique feature that positively differentiates it from its closest rivals. Having both — SE and Balanced — outputs addresses more audio fans, gives more freedom in IEMs / headphone selection, significantly increases the output power and improves the driving potential. This is one of the most unique, handsome and powerful ultra-portable DAP&s that has ever been rolled out to masses until now. Happy to possess and gone for the further experiments