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Review and Measurements of Speaka USB DAC and Headphone Amplifier

amirm

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#1
This is a review and measurement of Speaka USB "thumb drive" DAC and comparison to AudioQuest Dragonfly Black. It is on kind loan from member Reinhold.

The Speak USB DAC is only available in Europe for a measly sum of just 10 Euros. So it would seem to be an unfair fight to compare it to AudioQuest Dragonfly Black which retails for $100 or 81 Euros although this includes Amazon Prime shipping. Either way the Dragonfly is a much more expensive DAC. So why the comparison? Because there is a rumor that the two are based on the same design.

The Speaka USB comes in a nondescript gray aluminum (?) packaging of a thumb drive with a cap. There are two LED lights on top and that is it.

Speaka USB DAC Picture.jpg


Power consumption is 70 milliamps. The Dragonfly black on the other hand draws 50 milliamps. This indicates to me that the designs are different.

Output impedance is very low at 0.7 ohm. This is at reduced volume to avoid clipping. At that threshold the Speaks delivers 1.32 volts into a 33 ohm load while the Dragonfly only musters 1.18 volt.

Speaka DAC Output Impedance.png


Let's get into more detailed measurements to see how the two compare. As usual, if you are not familiar with what these graphs are, refer to my tutorial on understanding audio measurements: https://www.audiosciencereview.com/forum/index.php?threads/understanding-audio-measurements.2351/

Measurements
Let's start with frequency response:

Speaka Frequency Response.png


We see very good channel balance (output levels) with tiniest bit of droop by 20 kHz.

Next let's look at jitter and noise, comparing it to Dragonfly Black:

Speaka J-Test.png


Both have some spikes here and there so a step below good desktop products. Noise floors seem the same but the Speaka has higher output so enjoys a better signal to noise ratio (by about 5 dB). So the winner here is Speaka.

Next is everyone's favorite test, USB linearity. This test remains preliminary until I refine it more but I think the overall picture is pretty clear:

Speaka DAC vs Audioquest Dragonfly Black  Linearity Measurement.png


The Speaka does very well and keeping its output close to idea (flat line). Using my 0.1 dB criteria, it stops at 15 bits of resolution but going beyond nothing bad happens with max error remaining pretty small.

The Audioquest Dragonfly Black though, starts to deviate early and drops like a rock after -96 dB. This tells me that this is really a 16 bit DAC implementation and a lousy one at that. Deviation starts to get large at -75 dB which translates to just 12.5 bits of resolution.

Speaka is easily the winner here.

I was asked to also compare the Speaka to Topping D30. Here is that measurement performed side by side:

Speaka DAC vs Topping D30 USB Linearity Measurement.png


The Topping D30 is again the next class up with almost perfect reproduction until we get to 18 bits. After that its deviation is small. Speaka holds its own but you do get more when you buy the Topping D30.

Digging into linearity in time domain using -90 dB sine wave we get this:

Speaka DAC -90 db Linearity Measurement.png


We see the issue with Dragonfly Black right away. The output is diminished in level which is the deviation we saw in Linearity graphs earlier. As such it is also swamped with more noise.

Here is the Topping D30 (from a previous measurement):

24-bit -90 db.png


It is clearly less noisy which again, is reflected in more accurate response in linearity measurements earlier.

Listening Tests
After level matching in Roon, there was no audible difference between Speaka and AudioQuest Dragonfly Black in quick AB listening.

Unleashing the full output of the Speaka though, put it way ahead of AudioQuest Black. Using my HifiMan HE400i, I had plenty of response and authoritative performance with the Speaka DAC whereas the AudioQuest Dragonfly Black was anemic. I had about 10% reserve on Speaka but none on Dragonfly Black.

Results were similar with Sennheiser HD650 which are the least efficient headphones I have.

Conclusions
The Speaka USB DAC is the audio bargain of the century. It is a competently designed thumb-drive sized DAC with no obvious flaws. It has just enough drive to produce good listening even with less efficient headphones. It easily blows away the Dragonfly Black and earns my high recommendation!

It falls short of higher priced desktop DACs like Topping D30 which play more formats, more inputs and better measurements. On the latter though the difference is quite small.

Much thanks to member @Reinhold for bringing this unit to my attention and allowing us to discover another great jewel. Wish they were available in US and elsewhere outside of Germany. Maybe a group buy can be organized to buy them for interested members.

As always, questions, comments, corrections, jokes, etc. are all welcome!
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RayDunzl

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#2
Seems like the name-brands are coming up short against the I-never-heard-of-brand-x devices...

Is that happening or have I misconstrued what I've read and invented some anti-bias?
 

mindbomb

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#3
I think something is wrong with the d30's linearity test. You measured this previously in the dx7 review and it was worse.
 

amirm

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#4
I think something is wrong with the d30's linearity test. You measured this previously in the dx7 review and it was worse.
This is a completely different measurement using USB. The others were with S/PDIF using a different test signal and automated sequence. That is why I am saying the data is preliminary.

That said, the Topping D30 do better on USB versus S/PDIF. See this measurement from battle of S/PDIF vs USB thread: https://audiosciencereview.com/forum/index.php?threads/battle-of-s-pdif-vs-usb-which-is-better.1943/



The much lower noise will definitely improve the linearity scores at such small signal levels at -110 dB and such.
 

amirm

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#5
Is that happening or have I misconstrued what I've read and invented some anti-bias?
That is what is happening. Would be hard to plan it even if we tried. :)

There are so little measurements out there that we are bound to discover more of these "inverted truths."
 

duo8

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#8
It would be nice if you can provide some internal shots, from another thread it was suggested that it's the same as the monoprice X1.
Also can you try them with the most sensitive IEMs you have and see if there's any hissing?
 

amirm

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#9
Hi amirm,

big thanks for your great work. The measurement looks awesome.
Btw. the DAC was a gift not a loan.

Best regards,
Reinhold
Oh, thank you very much. In that case I can take a shot at taking it apart at some point.
 

amirm

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#10
Also can you try them with the most sensitive IEMs you have and see if there's any hissing?
I tested it just now with my Etymotic ER4SR and there is no hiss. I don't know how sensitive they are relative to others but with Speaka, it is far, far louder than my regular headphones. Can't go above 70% volume without it getting uncomfortable.
 

stalepie

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#13
What's it look like inside? What is it using? I was thinking of getting this one: https://www.ebay.com/itm/272844061105 (SA9023A+ES9018K2M+TPA6133A2 USB stick) but hadn't had such good success with cheaper USB sticks (as mentioned previously, I think u ordered that PCM270x one I mentioned but haven't gotten to it yet, Amir). I'm still curious "how low can you go" when it comes to "transparency" but maybe that was already answered in that old Tom's Hardware article about onboard PC sound.
 
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#14
In that case I can take a shot at taking it apart at some point.
Sure :D

Sadly the last one has been sold four hours ago from the Onlinestore (https://www.conrad.de/de/usb-audio-dac-96-gsas-speaka-professional-001489578-1489578.html), but in the past they got some back in stock again. Maybe you are lucky.
 

Sami

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#15
Conrad shops availability:
Berlin Kreuzberg: 6
Dresden: 5
Frankfurt a. Main: 1
Leipzig: 1
München Moosach: 2
Wernberg: 7
 
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#19
This is a completely different measurement using USB. The others were with S/PDIF using a different test signal and automated sequence. That is why I am saying the data is preliminary.

That said, the Topping D30 do better on USB versus S/PDIF. See this measurement from battle of S/PDIF vs USB thread: https://audiosciencereview.com/forum/index.php?threads/battle-of-s-pdif-vs-usb-which-is-better.1943/



The much lower noise will definitely improve the linearity scores at such small signal levels at -110 dB and such.
I wonder how the D30 would measure, if you try it with your lab linear supply.
 

svart-hvitt

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#20
That is what is happening. Would be hard to plan it even if we tried. :)

There are so little measurements out there that we are bound to discover more of these "inverted truths."
But who would consider AQ a serious audio company (serious as in science, research and facts driven)?
 
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