HiFime 9018 Asynchronous High resolution USB DAC

prerich45

New Head-Fier
Pros: Small size, does DSD and all bit & sample rates without a hitch, quiet, provides lots of detail, excellent soundstage and imaging, price is right!!!!
Cons: None, when used on a regular hifi system!!!!!
I have nothing to say but good things about this DAC! ASIO drivers seem to be written very well, Excellent sound-staging, imaging, power and weight in the bass is just right, and has plenty of top-end "air".  If someone wanted to get into DSD or other Hi-Res formats, but didn't want to invest a lot of money early....I would have no problems recommending this DAC.  I've compared it to my 1792A in my Essence ST - would I say that it's better than the Essence....no, just a little different - they are running neck and neck.  My 1792A is tricked out with Burson opamps, and this little wonder gave it everything it could take and then some.  The disadvantage with the ST is that it sits on the noisey PCI bus, but the 9018 usb is dead quiet! As I keep writing, I realize what I paid for the Essence and what I paid for the Hifimediy....and dollar for dollar, I have to take it back, - IMHO the Hifimediy 9018 is a better bargain!!!!! They are very similar in sonics, but the nod goes to the 9018 due to quietness and price! 
 
I don't know how this performs on headsets....yet! I have a pair of Grado SR225 awaiting their turn for a work out! 

BorisH

New Head-Fier
Pros: detailed sound, control throughout freq spectrum (tight bass, clear highs), instrument separation, tiny, plug and play, Android 5.0 support
Cons: output power, 8 level volume control, plastics, does get warm
Overview

The HiFime 9018 is a definite improvement compared to the sound card of my 2014 Macbook Pro. It sounds very natural and detailed. I would still recommend an amp to drive high impedance headphones like the HD650 (mentioned in the HiFime product description) and my pair of DT990 250 Ohm though… The DAC will drive them to a loud listening volume but nothing more. HiFime informed me that in order to make the DAC work with a variety of headphones they limited the output power as the Savitech USB receiver only has a 8 step volume control. The upcoming 9018D with its lossless digital 255 step volume control has a higher max output power and can be used for a greater range of headphones (sensitive IEMs till high impedance HPS).
View attachment
 
Comparison
With their similar price tags I compared the HiFime9018 to the Fiio E10k. I think they are really close with an edge towards the 9018s sound. Then again the Fiio has a more powerful amp stage and high quality finished housing. The Sabre ES9018K2M 32bit DAC chip is nice spec-wise but honestly I do not hear improvements in audio quality above 44,1kbps/16bits PCM files. DSD is another story...
View attachment  

DSD support
Playing native DSD128 stereo files in Audirvana Plus is where the HiFime 9018 really shines. I was really impressed with my first DSD128 experience and I think it has an edge over high-end FLACs.
While being impressed my biggest disappointment was with the DSD playback as well. The volume control is done by the USB receiver and this means that the signal is altered before going into the DAC chip and thus playback of DSD is impossible below 0db (highest volume level). If you use this DAC to feed an amp you're fine but when connected directly to headphones you're stuck at the highest volume level. Luckily for me this still is a comfortable level with the DT990 250 Ohm. The 9018D which I mentioned earlier also addresses this issue as the digital volume control has access to the DAC data path (explanation here).
 
Nice to know
"One more thing" which I find really nice is the tiny footprint and light weight. The housing does get warm due to the packed double PCB but nothing I am worried about.
The plastics give the unit a somewhat plain look and the finish is below level compared to others in its price range (read Fiio E10k). This being said it does feel very solid.
View attachment
 
Native android 5.0 support works like a charm on my Nexus 7 with an OTG cable, really nice for those bedtime listening sessions :).
 
The folks of HiFime are really nice and try to answer any questions you might have, thumbs-up!
 
Summary
The HiFime 9018 delivers! The Sabre ES9018 chip, usually found in higher priced DACs, produces a natural detailed sound which will leave you smiling while listening to your favorite tunes.
If you are looking for the best bang for buck USB DSD DAC to connect to an amp look no further. As a standalone DAC/headphone amp there are limitations for high impedance headphones (+200 Ohm) and DSD playback, in this case my recommendation would be to wait for the HiFime 9018D USB DAC (preorder). If you don't care about DSD playback ( you should :) ) and have relatively low impedance headphones you could go for the HiFimeDIY Sabre U2 Asynchronous USB DAC at $57.00.
BorisH
BorisH
You are correct. Basically your system volume is controlled by USB receiver on the circuit board and this only has a 8 step volume control. So your Windows/Mac volume slider will only work in 8 steps when the DAC is connected. As the volume is controlled by the USB receiver I recommend setting the system volume (and thus USB receivers volume) at 100%. By doing this you ensure that the full signal is going into the DAC chip to have the highest dynamic range. Also you will need to do this in order to play DSD files. The volume control of the USB receiver works by altering the digital signal going into the actual DAC chip. It will not be able to convert the digital signal if it has been manipulated by the USB receiver for DSD playback. This is no issue in your setup as your speakers have a volume control. This only affect people trying to listen DSD files directly from the 3,5mm output. The ES9018 is a capable DAC chip and I am sure you will appreciate it's HiFi playback. With a good set of cans you can easily follow each instrument throughout songs, it has great clarity.
ljbrandt
ljbrandt
I'm considering purchasing this DAC just for its USB->SPDIF (optical) digital conversion to use with an external DAC since it uses the  Savitech SA9227 chip.  
dafos58
dafos58
Thanks very much for your review. After reading it I bought one and totally agree with your findings. It's worth the price!
Top