Hidizs Sonata DH1000 DAC & Amp - first impressions & review

Discussion in 'Portable Source Gear' started by IryxBRO, Mar 4, 2018.
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  1. IryxBRO
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    It’s always been interesting to observe how new companies evolve and increase their presence on the market over time. We’ve noticed Hidizs since their first product release that had a huge success — AP100 Hi-Res player which became and still stays our favorite choice…

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    Preceding with 2 years of silence, in 2017 Hidizs finally presented their new linup of Hi-Res music devices: AP60, AP60II, AP200. Great new portable DACs for different budgets.

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    We have already covered AP60II and AP200 in our reviews (available at head-fi.org) and now it is time to share our opinion about their new product in a very new niche — Hidizs Sonata DH1000 which is portable USB DAC & Amplifier that was disclosed on 27th of February, 2018 on Hidizs new Kickstarter campaign.

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    Despite that all of current Hi-Res players from Hidizs support USB DAC mode, separate standalone USB DAC Sonata DH1000 is still a logical step:

    • it is universal external USB DAC & Amp designed for a specific function and that has a higher driving ability
    • it can be purchased even by those who already have music source but wants more driving potential for their headphones or other equipment despite the brand name of source devices
    • it delivers much better sound quality when compared to players in DAC mode due its technical design and element base
    Thanks to the manufacturer and their thorough approach in R&D, the device usage scenarios are numerous:

    • Use it to connect to your smartphone (Android or iOS) to get the maximum sound quality and inrease driving potential
    • You can use it with your PC (Windows, MacOS) as an external sound card
    • Connect it to your portable Hi-Res player (USB OTG) to get more driving potential for your headphones or stereo system
    Conseqently, any device that can be used as digital transport over USB would automatically get very good digital to analog converter together with powerful amplifier if used with DH1000. How is it superior to other DACs or portbable Hi-Res players? Let’s find out…

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    Design and elements:

    Hidizs stays consistent in their perception of package and overall modern design. The box is matt black with satin finish and various logo imprints at the front and complete technical specifications at the back. The device itself is held at place by the foamy podium, packed in semi-transparent bag and has protection film applied to both front and back glass covers.

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    Box contents consist of DH1000, USB->microUSB cable, microUSB->microUSB cable, USB type-C->microUSB cable, short user guide and couple of leaflets. Such set is completely enough for almost any future usage scenarios.

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    DH1000 choice of body materials and feel leaves nothing more to be desired. Matt gray aluminum alloy sides and curved glass covers over front and back sides. Very pleasing to hold — feels very stiff and expensive. As mentioned by Hidizs, there would be black, silver and gery color cover panels to choose from.

    Front side contains Hi-Res certification logo and small blue LED above it to signal about charging process. Back side has some infromation like logo, name and short maker text.

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    All of the inputs and charging ports are located at the bottom: microUSB port for charging, another microUSB for Android and Windows devices connection and one full-sized USB to connect to Apple devices or to Android devices in private mode.

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    All outputs are collected at the top side: 3.5mm unbalanced audio out which stands out from the case a little bit, 2.5mm balanced audio out, power button and small green|red LED to indicate working|charge state.

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    Left side has separated +|- volume buttons (which actually have very pleasing feel — smooth movement with soft click at the end) and that is it. No other controls. Right side is completely blank and left free of any controls.

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    Dimentions wise DH1000 cannot be called huge. It is larger than regular protable Hi-Res player but much smaller than a regular 5.5inch smartphone. Here is the picture of my Xiomi Redmi Note 4X next to Hidizs DH1000 | Hidizs AP100 | Hidizs AP60II. The depth is also regular for high resolution audio device — 1.3cm.

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    Just to summarize — Sonata DH1000 feels very solid in every aspect of design. The choice of materials is perfect, precise crafting is done using CNC machining, even control buttons feel precise and expensive. Well done!

    Technical specifications:

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    DAC+AMP specifications:

    • 2 x ES9018K2M DACs (for left and right channel)
    • 2 x ES9601K amplifiers (for left and right channel)
    • Quad-crystal oscillators to reduce jitter at different sampling rates
    • Up to 600Ohm loads
    • Native support of DSD 64|128
    • Dual balanced design
    So, technical specifications look very attractive but would it really outperform our avaible high resolution players and other devices? Before starting our tests, there is a little more information about DACs and amplifiers.

    Short description of ESS ES9018K2M DAC from the official website:

    ES9018K2M
    32-bit Stereo Mobile Audio DAC

    The ES9018K2M SABRE32 Reference DAC is a high-performance 32-bit, 2-channel audio D/A converter targeted for audiophile-grade portable applications such as mobile phones and digital music players, consumer applications such as Blu-ray players, audio pre-amplifiers and A/V receivers, as well as professional applications such as recording systems, mixer consoles and digital audio workstations.

    Using the critically acclaimed ESS patented 32-bit HyperStream® DAC architecture and Time Domain Jitter Eliminator, the ES9018K2M SABRE32Reference DAC delivers a DNR of up to 127dB and THD+N of –120dB.

    The ES9018K2M SABRE32 Reference DAC’s 32-bit HyperStream® architecture can handle up to 32-bit, 384kHz PCM data.

    The ES9018K2M SABRE32 Reference DAC sets the standard for HD audio performance, SABRE SOUNDTM, in an easy-to-use form factor for today’s most demanding digital-audio applications.

    Short description about ESS ES9601K amps:

    SABRE9601K
    SABRE Headphone Driver

    The SABRE9601 Headphone Driver is the industry’s highest performance, standalone headphone driver targeted for audiophile-grade portable applications such as mobile phones, tablets and digital music players.

    The SABRE9601 Headphone Driver delivers 122dB SNR and –117dB THD+N, a new benchmark in standalone headphone driver performance that will satisfy the most demanding audio enthusiasts.

    Like ESS’ high-quality SABRE32 Reference DACs, the SABRE9601 Headphone Driver sets the standard for HD Audio performance with SABRE SOUNDTM for today’s most demanding audio applications.

    And remember, that Hidizs took 2 of each chips, used it for left and right channels separately and also worked on adding trully balanced logics for their 2.5mm balanced audio out.

    Now, back to real life and comparisons…

    Our user case scenarios:

    One of our main intention was to compare the sound of AP60II & AP100 players with and without DH1000 with the same headphones. Another user case is to try DH1000 with Windows based laptop to understand how it improves the driving ability and how it performs when used as external sound card. The next concern is how such external DAC would influence audio when connected as preamp to home stereo system. And finally — using USB DAC with a smartphone.

    DH1000 VS Hi-Res players:

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    AP60II is almost perfect beginner grade extra small Hi-Res audio player. Equipped with excellent AK4452VN DAC chip and MAX97220 amplifier it really sounds good. The main disadvantage — it only has 35mW output power and can hardly drive high-load headphones. Our favorite 40Ohms professional monitor headphones Audio-Technika ATH-M50 is not a huge load but obviously lack some power over intire frequency range diven by AP60II if compared to the output power of AP100 or AP200. Moreover, higher frequencies start to suffer from distortion when AP60II volume is set above the level of 75.

    Connecting DH1000 to AP60II is easy — we have taken the provided microUSB->microUSB cable, connected both devices together and AP60II reported that external audio device was connected. It directed digital stream to DH1000 right after that.

    The sound quality has increased dramatically in every aspect. First that we’ve noticed is how much power audio output DH1000 has — 120mW — almost 4 times as much which results not only in higher maximum volume in headphones but also in more powerful and balanced sound throughout entire frequency range. Lows became faster and more tight, highs showed much more resolution and details with no distortion. Moreover, channel separation became wider…

    In overall, sound is very balanced and natural with no additional warming or cooling and no apparent accent on either frequency range. If Hidizs DAP are usually sounding "analytical", this DAC&AMP defines this statement to even further extent. All coloring left for final drive equipment like headphones, amps, etc and initial audio output stays as neutral and natural as it can be throughout entire frequency range.

    *Note: such audio characteritics would stay constant no matter the connected source - any source would act like a transport and would not influence sound quality prodcued by DH1000.


    As an outcome — AP60II would be used with DH1000 to drive our headphones from now on. Such sandwich is just much better…

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    Unlike AP60II, AP100 has 100mW output power and is more than enough to drive our favorite hedphones. But not more than that. It would still suffer from higher load and you’d still need additional amplifier to increase its potential. Sound wise, we still like DH1000 more — its channel separation is wider and sound feels more balanced. But to tell the truth — the difference is less obvious, at least when unbalanced audio output is used.

    Unfrotunately, AP100 cannot be connected to DH1000. It doesn’t support such type of connection and doesn’t recognize external audio device. We wonder why Hidizs didn’t include coaxial input into DH1000 scheme to accept AP100 player as a digital transport… The only hope now is that they would app some changes to AP100 FW to introduce digital stream over USB.

    Testing with Windows laptop:


    We think that it is unnecessary to mention how bad the sound from a regular laptop is. It can hardly drive 40Ohms load, resulting in very weak sound with small amount of details and high amount of distortion at higher volume.

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    So, we’ve taken very popular approach: Windows 10 + Foobar2000 + WASAPI driver and connected DH1000 as an external sound card. MicroUSB->USB cable does the trick and Windows 10 tells us that Tempotek HD USB Audio device was recognized. No extra drivers needed.

    The peculiar thing is that DH1000 device properties in Windows 10 and in Foobar2000 WASAPI configuration reports that this device is capable of accepting 32bit|384KHz stream (which is also true for the chosen DAC chip). Hidizs specified only 24/192 in technical specifications. So, it would be our future quest to investigate on that but only after we would find the appropriate audio material… Anyway, our configuration was set to 24/192 to check our favorite flac files and DSD 64|128 playback. Everything went fine except that we have noticed that using WASAPI (push) would not work properly and sound is distorted. WASAPI (event) is usually works fine but sometimes might produce some minor glitches. Direct stream (DS) is totally ok under any circustances.

    Therefore, we think that current DH1000 firmware is yet to be finilized. We have very early sample to play with and hope that minor glitches reported to Hidizs would be eliminated with the release of final and stable FW.

    In terms of sound quality when connected to PC — it is the same as in case with AP60II — remember that sound is produced by DH1000 and PC or other equipment is only used as a transport for the digital stream and do not influence the resulting sound quality of DH1000. Much better in every aspect if compared to bare laptop audio output.

    Testing as an external DAC & preamp for home stereo system with YAMAHA amplifier:

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    This is the most interesting test for us because we listen to music at home more often than on the go… So, we’ve taken AP60II as a source + DH1000 as DAC with preamp and connected to AUX of our Yamaha 120Watt home stereo system amplifier (2 x 60Watt stereo speakers) to understand how it would influence the sound and would the difference in sound be heard when compared to lower power output of AP60II when used separately.

    The answer is yes. It does influence the sound to the same extent as we’ve heard it in our headphones. Despite the fact that output audio signal from AP60II is driven by full-sized speaker amplifier the difference is still apparent when DH1000 is connected as preamp… Sound becomes more balanced, less distorted at higer volume, channel separation is wider, highs and lows are much more detailed. This is not a mystery — higher useful signal amplitude at amplifier input results in less extrapolation of a signal in its inner circuit which is much better rather than amplifying distortions or|of a weak sound. As an outcome — this is completely useful scenario.

    This user case involves another concern — how to control AP60II if it is intergtaed in home audio system and situated far away from your seat? Easy — Hidizs AP60II (as well as AP200) supports Hiby Link smartphone application that would allow you to connect to your player using Bluetooth. You’d get list of the music files from AP60II unpon connection and would be able to change tracks, volume and so on…

    The only drawback in this user case is non-removable battery inside Sonata DH1000. In case if we would like to use it as a part of home audio system — it would always have to stay charging which is very bad for any type of cells… The good thing is that it would accept charge and would be playing simultaneously — thanks to 2 different ports.

    Test with a smartphone:

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    Again, unnecessary to tell that smartphone audio capabilities are very limited. Usually, the audio output power is 10-20mW and entire audio processing logics based on integrated chips with no supplementary element base. In fact, very few smartphones can deliver more or less acceptable sound quality… and forget about the driving ability…

    In terms of Android smartphone connection to DH1000 there are to choices: regular connection with microUSB->microUSB cable (or microUSB->microUSB type-C cable) over USB OTG or in private mode with USB->microUSB cable when smartphone would be charged from DH1000. By the way, Hidizs clams that all MacOS and iOS devices would work only with regular USB port connection.

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    We’ve successfully connected Xiaomi Redmi Note 4X (Qualcomm based, Android 7.0) smartphone to DH1000 using microUSB->microUSB cable and could stream music from any application… Hidizs states that in order to get the highest quality possible on Android OS is to use Hiby music app which would recognize external USB audio device and bypass all system mixers to deliver bit-precise stream over USB. Sounds the same approach to what Foobar2000 + WASAPI do under Windows environment. Tried — it worked. For those who already own AP200 Hiby music app should be very familiar…

    Again, the sound quality is the same as in any other user scenario because our smartphone is just a transport… But huge positive difference in comparison to audio that a smartphone could produce by itself.

    One more important advantage of DH1000 over AP60II, AP100, AP200 used in USB DAC mode: unlike all other players with additional USB DAC function, Sonata DH1000 doesn’t have apparent audio lag. It means that you can watch videos if you want and the sound would not desynchronize with the picture. This is great!!! All other players that we’ve tried in USB DAC mode would have 0.3-1sec audio lag that makes watching videos almost impossible and very uncomfortable. Sonata DH1000 doesn’t have this problem!

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    About balanced output: unfortunately, we don’t have neither the appropriate headphones nor other audio equipment with balanced audio input to check how it performs. According to Hidizs, balanced power output reaches 150mW that increases total driving ability of this DAC even more. From our practice of audio equipment integration, we know that using balanced connection can drastically improove sound quality in terms of THD and SNR but only in case if balanced audio output schematics and logics are designed in a right way. And seems that Hidizs did a good job here: judging upon their balanced schematics picture — reverse signal phase is present for both left and right channels and would cancel the noise, producing more of a useful signal. Anyway, just keep in mind that the full potential of DH1000 can only be discovered when balanced audio output is used.

    Conclusion:

    Our conclusion is that Hidizs Sonata DH1000 DAC&Amp is the best sounding DAC we’ve used before. It is more powerful that any regular portable Hi-Res player and more capable of producing rich and balanced sound throughtout all frequency range. Additionally, in comparison to any Hi-Res players we have here — the sound of DH1000 has more resolution on high and low frequencies.

    Its driving ability should satisfy many demanding headphone sets and would increase the audio quality even if connected as preamp to home audio system.

    The build quality is also perfect — eye catching choice of materials and very pleasing feel in hand.

    And the last and very important — it does the job of a universal external USB DAC&Amp perfectly. No major problems while connecting to various devices, no extra drivers needed and no obvious audio lag what makes it perfect to watch videos and movies.

    Discount of 20% for any purchase from Hidizs store is available on my review resource
     
    Last edited: Aug 23, 2018
    Ramprasad likes this.
  2. Hidizsofficial
    Hi Alex,

    Thank you for your review on DH1000, those are very nice pictures !
     
  3. IryxBRO
    Thanks for the feedback :)

    I hope others would join this thread soon
     
  4. Hidizsofficial
    Dobrescu George likes this.
  5. IryxBRO
    Yep, agree - good review there....

    And I also completely agree that absence of the volume level meter of any kind is not vital but still a drawback... just not very convenient to press many times up and down to understand what volume is set right now.
     
    Dobrescu George likes this.
  6. Johnclark
    DH1000 likes like a interesting product!
     
  7. IryxBRO
    Yep, falling in love with Sonata more and more... It starts to be the mandatory equipment in my case...
     
    Dobrescu George likes this.
  8. WayneWoondirts
    Dobrescu George likes this.
  9. Hidizsofficial
    Yes, Thanks for sharing, this is another great review!
     
  10. Dobrescu George
    \Interesting take :)

    I haven't tested DH1000 with Roon or any other software that might cause issue, also I only use default windows driver mapping and output for all my software, so strange that DH1000 ran into issues for them, but it is good to know for peple who might use this software :)
     
  11. IryxBRO
    Enjoying DH1000 further. No other issues so far. I must admit that this is very good device to watch video concerts like Metallica Through The Never. Absolutely perfect sound from blueRay rip... and no distracting lag
     
    Dobrescu George likes this.
  12. Dobrescu George
    I managed to find only one thing that might be counted as an inconvenience, but I only noticed it recently.

    See, I alkso have FiiO Q5, which turns off on its own after a while, if it doesn't get any signal. DH1000 doesn't seem to do that on its own. Not a very big deal or thing, but I just didn't notice it before.
     
  13. IryxBRO
    maybe you should submit your notice to Hidizs user and support group in FB. They might fix that in the next FW.
     
    Dobrescu George likes this.
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