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Earmen Sparrow Review (Portable DAC & Amp)

amirm

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#1
This is a review and detailed measurements of the Sparrow Portable MQA DAC and balanced headphone amplifier. It was sent to me by the company and costs US $199.

The Sparrow comes in a tidy package with a couple of USB cables:

Earman Sparrow IMD Review DAC and MQA Headphone Amplifier.jpg


There is a USB-C connector at one end and dual outputs: unbalanced 3.5 mm and balanced 2.5mm. Sadly there are no volume controls on the unit so you must use your source volume control.

Testing of the Sparrow was more difficult as usual because it somehow exposes itself as 48 kHz/16 bits forcing resampling of test signals. I worked around this but it limited the number of tests I could run. Note that this is an issue with my test setup and won't impact your use of the unit. Indeed I used Roon player to perform some of the measurements.

Earmen Sparrow Measurements
Here is our usual dashboard:

Earman Sparrow Measurements DAC and MQA Headphone Amplifier.png


Nice to see our nominal 2 volt output, matching what we get out of desktop DACs. Not so good is very elevated (by desktop standards) distortion. The ranking across all DACs therefore is rather poor:
Best portable headphone dongle.png


Jitter test however showed cleaner results than many such dongles:

Earman Sparrow Jitter Measurements DAC and MQA Headphone Amplifier.png


Most important test for a portable headphone amp though is power so let's see that for 300 ohm load:
Earman Sparrow Measurements DAC and MQA Headphone Amplifier power into 300 ohm.png


These are very good numbers for a portable product:

best thumbdrive DAC 300 ohm.png


As you see, in balanced mode it way up there.

Here are the results for 33 ohm:

Earman Sparrow Measurements DAC and MQA Headphone Amplifier power into 33 ohm.png


So once again competitive even without using its balanced output:

best thumbdrive DAC 33 ohm.png


Earmen Sparrow Headphone Listening Test
I started my listening tests using the inefficient 25 ohm, Ether CX headphone via a balanced cable. I was very impressed with volume level and impact of bass frequencies indicating sufficient power. Sure, the last 20% of the volume could make slight static but stay below that and performance was very good.

I then switched to Sennheiser HD-650 using unbalanced mode, here the output level was just sufficient. I would use balanced cables with high impedance headphones for good results.

Conclusions
The distortion rating of Earmen Sparrow is high. Based on that I was going to give it poor scores but the powerful output stage, especially in balanced mode, rescues it and pushes it to above average subjective performance. There are other choices out there with slightly less power but much lower distortion so you decide which is best for you.

I am going to put the Earmen Sparrow on my recommended list on strength of its output power.

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As always, questions, comments, recommendations, etc. are welcome.

Any donations are much appreciated using: https://www.audiosciencereview.com/forum/index.php?threads/how-to-support-audio-science-review.8150/
 
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Matias

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#8
No way I would get this instead of a Tempotec Sonata HD Pro, which is a fraction of the price.
 

YSC

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#9
Seems like in portable stuffs only the AK and cowon ridiculous priced DAPs are worthwhile in the SINAD and power side, others are more in the 80db range like the Sony and all recent portable dac tests are
 

pavuol

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#10
Thumbs up for company for being honest/brave and providing a sample!

Sparrow is powered by ES9281PRO, the flagship of the ESS line, which can provide best-in-class audio performance at 124 dB DNR and -112 Total Harmonic Distortion plus Noise (THD+N). The ES9281PRO is the first USB product that offers an integrated hardware MQA (Master Quality Authenticated) renderer that makes MQA playback easy and cost-efficient.

Not many dongles featuring this newer DAC, one of them is Zorloo Ztella MQA already reviewed (note there is also a non-MQA version with different DAC). Ztella showed better SINAD results, while Sparrow provided a bit more power @33Ohm unbalanced.
 

ZolaIII

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#11
No way I would get this instead of a Tempotec Sonata HD Pro, which is a fraction of the price.
Well this is more up against TempoTec Sonata iDSD Pro regarding DAC & balanced out but it loses all the same.
DAC got it's name from authors nickname " vrabac". While it's not their first ESS product they missed with this one (actually they missed & with older ones which had tube stage out (utilising Ei tubes) especially with price but not regarding DAC), so this is even more disappointing giving that in mind.
Tumbs down for re branding and misleading info (regarding manufacturing).
 
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PeteL

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#12
Not bad output, but Again it is a Dongle, with no Battery. I have difficulty calling something that has no power supply an « amp » those output power can be meaningfull, but this is clearly meant as a Android phone portable thing. Out of curiosity, does anybody knowin this group the max current that Android allows to pull for a usb load? I can’t seem to find this spec. That could directly affect the real world output power of this, and i think that’s the bottleneck, but I’m not positive.
 

Berwhale

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#13
Out of curiosity, does anybody knowin this group the max current that Android allows to pull for a usb load?
The standard max would be 500mA from the USB2.0 spec.
 

PeteL

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#14
The standard max would be 500mA from the USB2.0 spec.
Yes I know this standard, but I don’t think that smartphones would allow you to pull half an amp, their battery would drain in no time, Typically Android would have a hard maximum, but also a minimal, that cell manufacturers would have to comply too. i’ll do further research.
 

staticV3

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#15
Yes I know this standard, but I don’t think that smartphones would allow you to pull half an amp, their battery would drain in no time, Typically Android would have a hard maximum, but also a minimal, that cell manufacturers would have to comply too. i’ll do further research.
Both my Samsung S5e and OnePlus 6T can supply at least 370mA.
I think it's up do the manufacturer and ROM dev to set a maximum permitted power draw according the the phone's hardware.
 
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#17
Seems like in portable stuffs only the AK and cowon ridiculous priced DAPs are worthwhile in the SINAD and power side, others are more in the 80db range like the Sony and all recent portable dac tests are
You know the AK have good SINAD? I would love to see the measurements that show that. Genuinely would, not being snide.
 

Rottmannash

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#19
Read a review on HeadFi last night and one reviewer (cqtek) was able to get a clean signal w/ 1.4 V into 32 ohms unbalanced.
Sparrow-35mm-032-00020-Saturacion.jpg
 

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