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Review and Measurements of Breeze Audio ES9018 DAC & HP Amp

amirm

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#1
This is a review and detailed measurements of the Breeze Audio ES9018 based DAC and Headphone Amplifier. It is on kind loan from a member. This is a hard product to find online. I only found one reference to it on Aliexpress, selling for US $94. There are many variations there of the same theme.

Due to inclusion of AC mains power supply and hefty chassis, there is a very solid feel to this otherwise budget product:

Breeze Audio ES9018  DAC and headphone Amplifier Audio review.jpg

As you see, there are no switches so just plug in the headphone cable and go. The volume control has a stiff feel which is fine by itself but the knob is too slippery to be able to turn it easily. A textured one should have been used.

The back panel is simplicity in itself:
Breeze Audio ES9018  DAC and headphone Amplifier Back Panel Audio review.jpg

The RCA have fixed output.

Naturally there is no regulatory certification so cross your fingers that the mains input is properly wired and grounded.

DAC Audio Measurements
With full 0 dBFS digital input, the output was close to 2.4 volts or so which is fine. But for fair comparison, I dialed it down 1 dB to get it closer to 2 volt and got this:

Breeze Audio ES9018  DAC Audio Measurements.png


That is very high level of distortion dominated by the third harmonic. SINAD (signal over noise and distortion) as a result falls very close to the bottom of our list of all DACs ever tested (sorry forgot to highlight it):
Best Audio DACs Reviewed 2019.png


I think it is tenth from the bottom out of the list of some 140 DACs. Not good.

Surprisingly, jitter performance was not too bad:

Breeze Audio ES9018  DAC Jitter Audio Measurements.png


That spray to the left is likely power supply related and at any rate, too low level to be of any audible concern.

Linearity test was not so kind to it though:
Breeze Audio ES9018  DAC linearity Audio Measurements.png


Still, you have good accuracy well past what we need for CD/16-bit content.

Intermodulation distortion shows that there is plenty of non-linearities:

Breeze Audio ES9018  DAC IMD Audio Measurements.png


Headphone Amplifier Audio Measurements
Let's measure signal to noise ratio with just 50 millivolts of output to determine how well it does with sensitive IEMs:

Breeze Audio ES9018  DAC Headphone Amplifier Power 50 mv SNR Audio Measurements.png


Not the worst we have seen but not good either:
Best Headphone Amplifier SNR at 50 millivolt Measurements.png


Most important test for a headphone amplifier is power versus distortion and noise. Here it is with 300 ohm load:
Breeze Audio ES9018  DAC Headphone Amplifier Power 300 Ohm Audio Measurements.png


That is dismal amount of power for a mains operated unit. My standard is 100 milliwatts of power and we are way short of that at just 27 milliwatts.

Switching to 33 ohm load didn't improve the situation:
Breeze Audio ES9018  DAC Headphone Amplifier Power 33 Ohm Audio Measurements.png


There is some severe current limiting going on here.

Channel balance was OK until you got close to minimum level:

Breeze Audio ES9018  DAC Headphone Amplifier Power Channel Balance Audio Measurements.png


Output impedance was comfortably low:
best headphone amplifier output impedance measurement.png


Headphone Listening Test
I started testing with the Sennheiser HD-650 headphones using my bass heavy track as I always do. At first there was reasonable amount of power but the moment the bass notes arrived at somewhat elevated listening level, the sound broke up like I had not heard before. There was clearly, audible crackling and drop outs. The former was so bad that I feared for damage to my headphones.

Measurements predicted the shortfall of power as they typically do. :)

Conclusions
They say "don't judge a book by its cover" but in this case, you almost could. Without exception, these generic DACs have done poorly in my tests as the Breeze Audio ES9018 based DAC is no exception. Distortion is quite elevated from DAC itself. The headphone amplifier is decent if you keep the power low. But exceed its limits at your own risk as the severe distortion could be damaging to the drivers.

I don't know what options exists at this price point for a DAC and headphone amp. If there is none, and you can find this unit, I guess it would be an OK choice. But otherwise, I like to encourage you to buy something of quality.

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

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#4
the higher distortion is probably caused by a saturation in the output stage as we've seen in many AudioGD products. Probably, dialing the volume down a bit will help a lot in this regard.
 

LTig

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#7
The headphone amplifier is decent if you keep the power low. But exceed its limits at your own risk as the severe distortion could be damaging to the drivers.
I'm not sure if distortion is really damaging to a headphone - at least not to those with broad band drivers. If a max sine delivers 27 mW than a fully overdriven sine becomes a rectangle of the same peak level and its power will be 54 mW (twice the sine power). This may sound though as if the head phone is broken.
 

AudioSceptic

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#15
This is a review and detailed measurements of the Breeze Audio ES9018 based DAC and Headphone Amplifier. It is on kind loan from a member. This is a hard product to find online. I only found one reference to it on Aliexpress, selling for US $94. There are many variations there of the same theme.


Conclusions
They say "don't judge a book by its cover" but in this case, you almost could. Without exception, these generic DACs have done poorly in my tests as the Breeze Audio ES9018 based DAC is no exception. Distortion is quite elevated from DAC itself. The headphone amplifier is decent if you keep the power low. But exceed its limits at your own risk as the severe distortion could be damaging to the drivers.

I don't know what options exists at this price point for a DAC and headphone amp. If there is none, and you can find this unit, I guess it would be an OK choice. But otherwise, I like to encourage you to buy something of quality.
Well, at least you can fix the volume knob with a small elastic band. Shame the rest of it is not easily fixed.
 
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#16
Thank amirm for review. Saw this on aliexpress couple months ago. Always was curious is it any good. Now we see that it isn't :)
 
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#18
Well only way to find out is to send it in for a review :)
haha, gotta say, that's actually a good idea. Might do once I get an upgrade (NX4 DSD tempting me)

I've just noticed these surprisingly had low output impedance compared to my SE4 (I measured 11ohms or so), now that's a surprise.
 
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