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Review and Measurements of Sabaj Da3 Dac compared to Dragonfly Black

amirm

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#1
This is a detailed review and measurements of Sabaj Da3 DAC and portable headphone amplifier. For comparison, I selected the Dragonfly USB stick DAC and headphone amplifier. I purchased both units myself. As of this writing, the Da3 retails for USD $120 from Amazon including prime shipping. The Dragonfly black is a bit cheaper at USD $100 with Prime shipping.

From functionality and usability point of view the Sabaj Da3 leaves the dragonfly in the dust. Its OLED display while small, shows sample rate, output connection type and volume level. Volume level is achieved with up/down controls on the unit. The Dragonfly has only an LED which changes colors. Decoding what it means requires the enigma code book of the world war one. The Da3 also has "balanced" and unbalanced headphone outputs. For this review I only tested the latter.

Physically the Sabaj Da3 is larger as you can see from a picture of both connected to my laptop:

Sabaj DA3 DAC Dragonfly Black Review and Measurement.psd.jpg


The Da3 is clearly larger but it is quite light. It is thicker than a cell phone but half the width. It has some kind of rubber silicone covering its entire back which makes it pretty sticky on the table. The headphone cable has to work hard to pull it off there as a result.

From aesthetic point of view though, the sharp corners are hard on the hand and ugly to boot.

Both are plug-and play in Windows 10 creators edition. I was also able to "gen up" the asio interface on both using ASIO4ALL library for measurements.

Speaking of measurements, I am sure you all are anxious to see them. These are performed using my new Audio Precision Analyzer (APx555). I am still fine tuning its operation so don't directly compare these results to tests done with my previous analyzer.

Measurements
Let's start with our "dashboard" view of each unit. First, Sabaj Da3:
Sabaj DA3 dashboard measurement.png


We see a nice, nearly 2 volt RMS output into my high impedance analyzer load. Distortion is about 0.003% with full amplitude digital signal at 1 kHz.

SINAD is a new measure: it shows what amount of the signal is distortion and noise free. We see about 90 dB of usable dynamic range that is free of noise and distortion.

Now the Dragonfly black:
Dragonfly Black DAC dashboard measurement.png


Right away we see quite worse performance. Output drops to 1.2 volts RMS. Distortion increases to 0.02% or more than an order of magnitude higher. And usable dynamic range (SINAD) is 72 dB or so. That is quite a gap in performance in all respects. But let's drill down some more.

Here is jitter and noise using our J-test signal with Da3 level matched to that of Dragonfly:

Sabaj DA3 DAC Jitter and Noise Measurement.png


The ticks at 1 kHz cadence are likely the USB package traffic noise which they both share.

Noise though, is lower in the Da3 (in red) at all but the extreme of our frequency range.

THD+N vs frequency shows Da3's advantage once again:

Sabaj DA3 DAC Dragonfly Black distortion THD+N Measurement.png


If you want to know the spectrum of the distortion, here it is:
Sabaj DA3 DAC Dragonfly Black distortion 1 khz Distortion Measurement.png


We see that the Dragonfly has significantly more second and third harmonics than Da3. The third harmonic on Dragonfly rises to just -70 dBr -- pretty high.

Now for everyone's favorite, linearity test:

Dragonfly Black DAC Dragonfly Black Linearity measurement.png


This test is still under refinement. But for now, the Da3 surprisingly almost matches the loopback performance of my Audio Precision analyzer! While ostensibly it has a "18 bit" resolution based on my 0.1 dB deviation metric, it remains well behaved up to -120 dB meaning it has essentially 20 dB of linearity.

The Dragonfly delivers good performance but deviations while small, start fairly early and hence its "15 bit" score. However, it remains well behaved to better than -110 dB so it has no trouble delivering good performance on 16 bit CD material and then some.

Where the Dragonfly beats the Da3 is in output impedance:
Sabaj DA3 DAC output impedance updated Measurement.png


At 1.8 ohms, the Da3 output impedance is still acceptably low but not quite as low as Dragonfly at 0.6 ohm.

Looking at output voltage (and hence power) at load impedances of 33 to 300 ohm we see this for Sabaj Da3 (and single instance for Dragonfly for comparison -- it should say 0.45 volts, not millvolts):

Sabaj DA3 output level vs distortion measurement.png


The Sabaj Da3 produces predictable performance for all loads with onset of clipping starting at 1 volt output almost regardless of load. So to compute the power, simply divide 1 by your load impedance. I have done the math for 33 ohm resulting in 30 milliwatts of power. I think the manufacturer spec is 50 milliwatt which you can get if allow more distortion than the minimum.

The Dragonfly on the other hand clips sooner and at higher distortion+noise level.

With balanced output likely producing even higher levels, the Da3 has very competent output drive capability for a USB powered unit.

Finally let's look at channel tracking as the volume is reduced from max to min:

Untitled-1.png


Deviation is essentially 0 dB until the end -- a superb performance. What is more, the volume notches are glitch-free unlike some other units I have tested. The last setting causes a mute and hence the sharp drop at the end. Well done Sabaj!

Not shown is the frequency response which was down just 0.2 dB at 20 kHz (flat to 20 Hz at the low end). So no worries there.

Power Consumption
There is of course no free lunch. The higher output power comes at the cost of more power consumption. The Da3 uses about 150 milliamp while idle and rises to about 180 milliamp when playing 44 kHz content. The Dragonfly on the other hand sips power at just 30 milliamps.

Subjective Listening
I don't have a ton to offer here as I am anxious to get this review out due to high demand. :) I did listen to my power hungry Sennheiser HD-650s with the Da3 using unbalanced output and it seemed to have sufficient drive for it toward the end of its volume scale. Sonically I did not detect any faults or signatures.

Conclusion
I must say, I was biased against this product going in. It looks a bit homely and the name is funny sounding. :) But the Da3 delivers where it counts. It has excellent measured performance easily besting the Audioquest Dragonfly Black. It is almost fault-free in every respect. Put it in a more sexy package and Sabaj could sell this for hundreds of dollars!

Recommended!

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

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maxxevv

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#3
Looks like its better suited for plugging into laptops then to handphones.
Probably need a OTG USB hub that can plug in a battery bank too if using handphones at that kind of power consumption.
 
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#4
Im using it as a desktop solution and bought it for that purpose. Reviews of users (amazon and like) comment on power hungry factor as well. If a mobile user is interested in this quality of reproduction id say SMSL Iq would be a better option due to integrated battery.

Edit: As i understand Sabaj and SMSL are actually the same company. Different brands for different clientele i guess.
 

amirm

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#6
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#7
Thought on measurement. Can we find out whats the Fast rolloff, Slow and Phase filters influence on signal
Edit: and volume, does quality degrades at max volume as we've seen on some devices tested.
 
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maxxevv

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#8
If a mobile user is interested in this quality of reproduction id say SMSL Iq would be a better option due to integrated battery.

Edit: As i understand Sabaj and SMSL are actually the same company. Different brands for different clientele i guess.
Oh yes, completely forgot about the SMSL IQ which was released a fair bit later.
 

rebbiputzmaker

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#9
From the Wiki:

"The Enigma machines were a series of electro-mechanical rotor cipher machines developed and used in the early- to mid-20th century to protect commercial, diplomatic and military communication. Enigma was invented by the German engineer Arthur Scherbius at the end of World War I. "
https://www.iwm.org.uk/history/how-alan-turing-cracked-the-enigma-code

Used during WWII. Broken WWII if not the only DragonFly users would have been only Nazi's Developed after WWI used during WWII. Was not used during WWI really. I was just trying to help correct your text, not have a confrontation.
 
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#10
A word of warning to anyone who is considering this for their phone: it may not work. I bought one to go with my iPhone 7 using the Lightning to USB 3 camera adapter and it kept rebooting the DAC every minite or so. It worked without issue with my laptop however.

I don’t know if it was just my unit or not, as I returned it and got a Topping NX4 instead. Which incidentally has developed it’s own problem after about two months of use.

While the price/performance of these Chinese DACs is impressive, I am becoming a little jaded on the quality.
 
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#11
I
A word of warning to anyone who is considering this for their phone: it may not work. I bought one to go with my iPhone 7 using the Lightning to USB 3 camera adapter and it kept rebooting the DAC every minite or so. It worked without issue with my laptop however.

I don’t know if it was just my unit or not, as I returned it and got a Topping NX4 instead. Which incidentally has developed it’s own problem after about two months of use.

While the price/performance of these Chinese DACs is impressive, I am becoming a little jaded on the quality.
If you google a bit you will find there were some issues and there are solutions for it. Altho first time i hear having issues with iPhone, usual issues were with android.
 
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#12
All my googling didn’t turn up anything that helped. Granted this was about three months ago, so that situation most certainly could have changed.
 
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#13
All my googling didn’t turn up anything that helped. Granted this was about three months ago, so that situation most certainly could have changed.
Actually no still no result googled it right now, i would be willing to bet that the problem is thunderbolt -> usb communication. The device had no issues recorded (not that i found) except the issue with android phones (some) due to how android sees usb. Firmware fixed it so it should be working now on all android devices. Weird thing that users reported that iPhone6 works out of the box with Da3 and it also uses the thunderbolt connector. Louie Rossman and people at iRehab constantly bash apples tech/ee solutions as the worst in the industry. Note please that im not working for Sabaj nor do im privy to knowledge unavailable to the public, i just have some advanced experience with computers (sales and repair cca 15 years of pain).

If you are still interested in using it with phone (still have the device that is) i would recommend checking different adapters (apple products or compatible per apple).
 

garbulky

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#14
A word of warning to anyone who is considering this for their phone: it may not work. I bought one to go with my iPhone 7 using the Lightning to USB 3 camera adapter and it kept rebooting the DAC every minite or so. It worked without issue with my laptop however.

I don’t know if it was just my unit or not, as I returned it and got a Topping NX4 instead. Which incidentally has developed it’s own problem after about two months of use.

While the price/performance of these Chinese DACs is impressive, I am becoming a little jaded on the quality.
Try connecting a battery pack to the micro usb port
 

Timbo2

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#15
Thanks! I've been looking forward to this. Looks like I lucked out when I bought this almost a year ago.

As was commented - the thing sucks power relative other DACs when connected to my Android based phone. If you use high impedance headphones like my Sennheiser hd600 it's worth the trouble to cable them for balanced operation. You get a lot more headroom available.

Also when using DSD or higher bit rates it seems to get even warmer. My bet is that is uses even more power than the 180 milliamps at 44kHz that Amir measured. DSD 512 seems to get unit the warmest.

I also agree with the aesthetic complaint. It's not perfectly rectangular so it feels odd. And more importantly it has very sharp edges and corners. I can see it scratching a phone if you aren't careful with it.
 
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#17
Try connecting a battery pack to the micro usb port
That was one of the first things I did when I saw the problem... I tried both a battery pack and a connection to a USB port on my computer.

I don’t have the device any longer, so I am not able to troubleshoot any more. I just wanted to give folks a heads-up.
 

Timbo2

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#18
For grins I pulled out my Drok USB 2.0 Multimeter and had Foobar convert a track to DSD 512. Not having any pink noise I picked the loudest most compressed track in my collection and outputted it through the balanced output to my HD600s. At maximum volume (not on my head) it was pulling 0.22A.
 
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#19
Could you clarify the dashboard measurement a little? Why does it show 0.7 dB of channel mismatch for the Sabaj Da3 while your gain vs channel matching measurement does not?
 

amirm

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#20
Could you clarify the dashboard measurement a little? Why does it show 0.7 dB of channel mismatch for the Sabaj Da3 while your gain vs channel matching measurement does not?
Where are you seeing the 0.7 db difference? Here is the relevant part of the dashboard:

1529257706866.png


On top the two waveforms are on top of each other. On the bottom, the levels show just a 0.003 volt difference. That is .01 dB difference if my math is correct.
 
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