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Measurement and Review of Hifime Sabre 9018 USB DAC

amirm

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#1
Time for measurement and review of another budget DAC: the Hifime Sabre 9018 USB audio DAC. It retails for $80 shipped from Amazon. The closest device I have to it is the Fiiio E10K USB audio DAC which costs nearly the same at $76 on Amazon. Click to see the detailed review of Fiio E10K.

Overview
The Hifime comes in one of the lowest budget packages I have of any DAC. It is a tiny, plastic unit with permanently attached 3-4 inch USB cable and a 3.5mm headphone jack. It has a sole red LED light indicating it is on. Even the plastic package it came in screams low-budget. It is the kind of thing that hangs at check-out counter asking to be bought on impulse.

In this comparison, the Fiio E10K blows it away with larger brushed aluminum case, independent line and headphone output, analog volume control, detachable USB cable and blue LED for what that is worth. :)

The low budget theme continues with standard support up to 96 Khz as detected in Roon player:

upload_2017-12-12_16-33-11.png


Thankfully it also supports 88.2 Khz which the Fiio strangely leaves behind.

Compatibility was excellent with simple plug-and-play in Windows 10 Creator's edition.

Measurements
Let's start with J-test and see where the noise floor and jitter components land:

Hifime Sabre 9018 DAC compared Fiio E10k DAC J-test.png


We see increased noise floor over Fiio E10k with those jagged pulses indicating deterministic sources. This one is a win for Fiio E10K then. But, the Hififme Sabre 9018 DAC has higher output by a db or two which is an advantage.

Moving right along to Harmonic distortion with 1 Khz we get:

Hifime Sabre 9018 DAC compared FIio E10k distortion test.png


The same higher noise floor is seen here. But on distortion front, the Hifime Sabre 9018 pulls way ahead with far less distortion spikes. The Fiio E10 is especially bad here with distortions that seemingly go forever.

Let's look at how good the two DACs are in resolving a very low level sine wave at -90 db:

Hifime Sabre 9018 DAC compared Fiio E10K linearity test.png


The higher noise level of Hifime Sabre 9018 comes to bite it again showing all those wild oscillations instead of the much cleaner output of Fiio E10k.

Final test is that of anti-aliasing and frequency response. White noise at 44.1 Khz is played and spectrum is shown up to 130 Khz:

HIfime Sabre 9018 DAC compared Fiio E10K filter response.png


Here, we see that the Hifime Sabre 9018 DAC does much better in suppressing ultrasonic images.

Since both of these have headphone amplifiers, here is the output impedance test:

upload_2017-12-12_17-12-17.png


It is kind of hard to summarize here as the outcome is mixed. I guess if I were to pick one as a DAC, I would pick the Hifime DAC because deterministic distortion is more audible than increased noise. Better to spend a bit more and get rid of this difficult decision!

As a headphone+DAC combination, the much lower output impedance of Fiio E10K wins by a mile as does its higher output power.

Listening test
As a first test, I compared the two as DACs, taking the line out from Fiio E10K and headphone out from Hifime to my Stax Pro headphones powered by srm-007t amplifier. In quick AB test, the Hifi me sounded better with more detail, openness, etc. All of that disappeared like a fart on the wind once I matched its level with the Fiio E10K in Roon. Then the two were in a tie.

Next I tested the two as headphone amps, powering my Sennheiser HD650 directly. Here, the Fiio E10K comes out ahead with at least 25% more power. While the Hifime Sabre E10K is louder than my laptop output, it just can't compete with Fiio E10K DAC.

Left as louder output, the Fiio E10k sounds better. But again, once the levels of equalized, the difference goes away.

Summary
The higher volume and better controls/connectivity of the Fiio E10k is the winner here for headphone listening. As a DAC, neither excites me and I encourage you to spend another $40 and get something much better (such as the Topping D30 USB DAC as of this writing).

As always, comments, corrections, etc. are welcome.
 
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Blumlein 88

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#5
Keep up the good work Amir. Thanks.

I am wondering if having done a few of these with more on deck, would you care to venture into a pass/fail set of criteria or a thumbs up/thumbs down.

I would put the Modi into the fail category as it has a fatal flaw in its USB deficiency. The Uphoria is very nice for its price as a DAC though beaten ultimately by the Topping. So a Topping is better, but the Uphoria still gets a pass rating. The topic of this review is probably a fail. A nearly identically priced Uphoria is better plus offers more functions. The Hifime could still get an okay for some particular uses where its size and simplicity are a big plus.

Anyway, curious about your thoughts on the matter.
 

amirm

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#6
I like to have such a stamp of approval but not sure what to use as a criteria. We should discuss and figure it out. Would be good to have a page with "ASR Approved" products.
 
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#7
I tested the HiFiMeDIY Sabre DAC 9018 myself a few weeks back. Unfortunately, all I have is RMAA and a decent audio interface (Creative EMU 0404), not a professional analayzer.

To make a long story short, its performance depended heavily on the USB port I plugged it into - on the same computer. On a good port, it measured pretty well in RMAA. On a bad port, dynamic range, noise, THD and IMD became significantly worse.

Could you test it like you did with the Modi 2? Hooking it up to different USB sources?
 

mindbomb

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#8
The pcm5102 dac in the fiio e10k has a reputation for poor distortion performance at full scale. Maybe it might fair a little better in a thd x level comparison?

Although most music does tend to have 0dbfs peaks, so it actually probably is the more apt comparison.
 
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#9
I tested the HiFiMeDIY Sabre DAC 9018 myself a few weeks back. Unfortunately, all I have is RMAA and a decent audio interface (Creative EMU 0404), not a professional analayzer.

To make a long story short, its performance depended heavily on the USB port I plugged it into - on the same computer. On a good port, it measured pretty well in RMAA. On a bad port, dynamic range, noise, THD and IMD became significantly worse.

Could you test it like you did with the Modi 2? Hooking it up to different USB sources?
It's interesting HiFiMe has another version of this DAC using the SA9227 in asynchronous mode but replaced it with this model I believe due to the power consumption (cell phones). I'd bet, and would be willing to send one to Amir for testing, that the earlier version I have would fare much better in the noise department.
 
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#10
I moved my Sabaj D4 back from my desk to my speaker setup while waiting for the used Emotiva XDA-1 I managed to win on eBay to come in, and needing a DAC for my desktop, decided to plug this in. Still sounds pretty decent even with measurement shortcomings, will definitely work for at least the next few days.

What I'd be curious at some point is to see the jitter measurements on the optical output. I remember once using it as an optical output into my Modi 2U (I had a minifridge in the room my computer was in and the compressor kicking in caused the M2U's USB input to stop working briefly) and then switching back over to USB after a while and noticing a blacker background. Now, it certainly could have been something else at play or my brain being tricked, but if you're ever bored, Amir, measure the optical output on this thing, please!
 
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#12
Hello, my first post here. :)
Firstly I would like to thank you for your awesome work for the community!

I have HifimeDIY 9018 and I´m curious if I should invest in something better.
Can you compare it to Sabaj DA2 or DA3 (or any other budget option, like smsl)? Are there audible differences when used just as a dac?
I have an amp - fiio k5 so I don´t care about its amp power that much...
Thank you very much
 

amirm

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#13
Hi there. Welcome to the forum. The Sabaj DA3 is a much better unit with lower output impedance, much better measurements, and batteries included. It is also nicer looking. :)

As just a DAC, I don't know that there is a noticeable difference. So upgrade if you want piece of mind and portability.
 

SiW

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#14
If I wanted to just use this as a USB to digital output converter, is there a difference between these units?

Is the Topping D10 a better USB to digital output converter?

Cheers!

Simon
 
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#16
I would say that the D10 is better because of the greater versatility - you get coaxial and optical outputs, along with the analog output.

I'd love to see Amir measure that optical output someday, just because I'm curious if the jitter is measurably bad, because I subjectively think it might be audible. I used to use the 9018 with the Modi 2 Uber and I recall noticing a fuzziness in the sound that went away via USB. Granted, this IS the Modi 2 Uber we're talking about.

I later got the FireStone Audio Red Key for $20 from Massdrop and use that when I need to USB-to-coaxial (sometimes I prefer that if I want to have one input for Windows audio, and another for WASAPI-exclusive audio).
 

SiW

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#17
Thanks guys.

I got the 9018 on offer on Amazon a while ago.

Which other usb to digital output converters (prefer coax spdif) are good to look for?

I’m based in the UK so can’t find all of the tested products over here.

Simon
 
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