• WANTED: Happy members who like to discuss audio and other topics related to our interest. Desire to learn and share knowledge of science required as is 20 years of participation in forums (not all true). Come here to have fun, be ready to be teased and not take online life too seriously. We now measure and review equipment for free! Click here for details.

Review and Measurements of Hifime UDA38Pro DAC

amirm

Founder/Admin
Staff Member
CFO (Chief Fun Officer)
Joined
Feb 13, 2016
Messages
13,990
Likes
6,337
Location
Seattle Area
#1
This is a review and detailed measurements of Hifime UDA38Pro DAC which is built on the flagship ESS DAC chip, the ES9038Pro. I purchased this a few weeks ago based on suggestions from members that this is by far the cheapest implementation of ES9038Pro. I paid USD $260 including shipping from Hong Kong. I was told in the confirmation that I would get a tracking number but none came. I complained to Hifime and they never responded but the unit arrived the next day so I did not chase them anymore.

I must say, it is rare that I am so disappointed from the look of a unit as when I received the UDA38Pro. It is a cheesy, China-special box that should be retailing for $20 instead of over $200:

Hifime UDA38Pro DAC Review and Measurement.psd.jpg

As you can see, it is a tiny little box. It can be powered from USB or external adapter which was not supplied. A tiny toggle switch selects between USB and Toslink inputs.

Output is provided in both RCA jacks and 3.5 mm headphone jack. The level in both is adjusted using that volume control. In my sample, the shaft is crooked or the knob is pushed in too far as it would rub against the case with the most unsatisfying feel. I pulled it out a bit and it rotates a bit easier.

The volume control has limits but apparently controls the levels digitally. As such, it jumps in large steps, making level setting a bit difficult.

The unit is USB UAC-2 compliant so I did not have to install any drivers to use it on Windows 10 Creators edition.

Let's get into the measurements and see how she did.

Measurements
As usual, I started with the dashboard view of the device. I must say, I was not prepared for what I saw at max volume out of the RCA jacks. The output was severely distorted. I was seeing 2.5 volt output so I thought I should set it to 2 volt which is the nominal output of RCA jacks for consumer products, hoping that gets rid of the massive amount of distortion. Well, it was not meant to be:

Hifime UDA38Pro DAC Dashboard Measurement.png


We usually resort to FFT spectrum to find distortion as seeing it in the scope display on top level usually is very hard. Not here. The waveform externes are clearly rounded which indicates massive amount of distortion. That is reflected in whopping 4% THD+N and SINAD of just 27 dB!!!

This was with USB. I thought maybe an external power supply helps it. So I hooked up my lab supply at 12 volts and it made almost no difference!

I thought I give it another major break and test it at just 1 volt output:

Hifime UDA38Pro DAC Dashboard at 1 volt Measurement.png


Now we are getting half-decent results but distortion is still two orders of magnitude worse than it should be. SINAD of just 71 dB out of the better channel is still horrible. Company claims this for THD+N in dB:

1534179197122.png


Yet with 100 K ohm load of my analyzer which is much easier to drive than 32 ohm, its performance is nearly half as much.

This is broken as broken ever comes.

I thought maybe the headphone out would save the unit. No such luck:

Hifime UDA38Pro DAC THD+N vs Power Measurement.png


The unit only outputs 59 milliwatts of power at 33 ohm and with very high levels of noise and distortion. Here is what the dashboard looks like at max headphone volume level:
Hifime UDA38Pro DAC Dashboard Max Headphone Volume Measurement.png


Just 1.8 volts of output with massive distortion. Again, adding the lab power supply made no difference.

At this point I aborted further measurements.

Listening Tests
I connected my Hifiman HE-400i to the headphone out and started to listen. I could not get decent levels out of it until the volume control was around 3:00pm. By then bass distortion was horrendous. Any increase in level would cause them to massively distort.

Using my sensitive IEMs helped the situation a lot by pushing distortion further out to higher levels. You could get good, loud sound without severe distortion. But even there, if I pushed the unit a bit more, bass frequencies would fall apart.


Conclusions
The Hifime UDA38Pro DAC is a completely broken implementation of a DAC and headphone amplifier. It clearly has never been measured or even listened to. I guess it is possible my unit is broken but what is my recourse with the company? They would not even respond to my simple request for where my unit was. Still, I will reach out to them and see if they care.

As it is now, the lesson is clear: do NOT go by what chip is inside a DAC. It is the implementation that matters the most. The DAC chips routinely perform better than the enclosure and designs they are put in.

Look for verification of DAC design through measurements. Hifime provides essentially nothing. That should have been a warning sign.

-------------

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

If you like this review, please consider donating funds for these types of hardware purchases using Patreon (https://www.patreon.com/audiosciencereview), or upgrading your membership here though Paypal (https://audiosciencereview.com/foru...eview-and-measurements.2164/page-3#post-59054).
 

Soniclife

Addicted to Fun and Learning
Joined
Apr 13, 2017
Messages
583
Likes
189
Location
UK
#8
Wow, I wonder if the inside is just sawdust.

Credit card charge back if they don't refund.
 

mi-fu

Active Member
Joined
Jun 7, 2018
Messages
147
Likes
111
Location
New York
#12
Last edited:

gvl

Senior Member
Joined
Mar 16, 2018
Messages
484
Likes
132
Location
SoCal
#14
I'm very happy I successfully fought the temptation to buy this type of devices in the past. Usually the thinking goes like look it is a good price, and they probably used a manufacturer-recommended reference design for the implementation so what can possibly go wrong? Not.
 

gvl

Senior Member
Joined
Mar 16, 2018
Messages
484
Likes
132
Location
SoCal
#15
It has glowing reviews on their website, lol.

This DAC is amazing, clear, transparent, natural, warm with details, with body and incredible 3D sound. The music literally jump in your face. A real eargasm. My system: Raspberry with Moode, usb cable with external low noise 5V, UDA38pro, Yamaha A-S500, Boston acustic A25. I use external 12 V power supply. Realy reccomended!!!
 
Last edited:

gvl

Senior Member
Joined
Mar 16, 2018
Messages
484
Likes
132
Location
SoCal
#16
For a sanity check need to try an external PSU, just the ESS chip itself draws 100mA I think.
 

Krunok

Major Contributor
Joined
Mar 25, 2018
Messages
1,170
Likes
347
Location
Zg, Cro
#17
I paid with paypal. What is their policy on such things?
PayPal policy is simple - if the seller can't prove that they shipped you the item you wil get your money back. ;)

Just kidding - open a PayPal complaint stating that the product doesn't work correctly.
 

amirm

Founder/Admin
Staff Member
CFO (Chief Fun Officer)
Joined
Feb 13, 2016
Messages
13,990
Likes
6,337
Location
Seattle Area
#18
For a sanity check need to try an external PSU, just the ESS chip itself draws 100mA I think.
That is the first thing I tried. It improved the response by one dB or so.

Here is the strange thing though. It initially pulled 300 milliamps from my lab supply. But after the first try, it doesn't pull much at all yet the red LED on the back lights up. I am thinking the regulator gave out or something even though I am at 12 volt.
 

Patrick1958

Member
Patreon Donor
Joined
Jun 28, 2018
Messages
29
Likes
7
Location
Belgium
#19
Purchased it beginning this year, been listening to it for about two weeks, wasn't totally overwhelmed with the sound and then when i got the Topping D50 never used it anymore.
These measurements clearly demonstrate why i preferred the Topping D50 over the UDA38pro. And i say preferred because the Topping died on me, halfway in a song it began to stutter and crackle and went dead. Currently using a Gustard X20pro (2 x ES9028pro) and this sounds 100 times better then the UDA9038pro.

As Amirm said, don't buy a product just because it has a top of the line dac chip, implemention is much more important.

This is the third dac Amirm tested with ES9038pro that goes south.
Is this particular ES chip so hard to implement properly?
 

gvl

Senior Member
Joined
Mar 16, 2018
Messages
484
Likes
132
Location
SoCal
#20
That is the first thing I tried. It improved the response by one dB or so.

Here is the strange thing though. It initially pulled 300 milliamps from my lab supply. But after the first try, it doesn't pull much at all yet the red LED on the back lights up. I am thinking the regulator gave out or something even though I am at 12 volt.
Weird. 300mA is 3.6 watts at 12V, does the USB spec allow more than 2.5W these days?
 
Top Bottom