• 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). There are daily reviews of audio hardware and expert members to help answer your questions. Click here to have your audio equipment measured for free!

Sabaj A20d 2022 Review (DAC & Headphone Amp)

Rate this DAC & HP Amp

  • 1. Poor (headless panther)

    Votes: 3 1.2%
  • 2. Not terrible (postman panther)

    Votes: 1 0.4%
  • 3. Fine (happy panther

    Votes: 34 13.3%
  • 4. Great (golfing panther)

    Votes: 217 85.1%

  • Total voters
    255

PH14

Member
Joined
Feb 27, 2022
Messages
23
Likes
9
Can someone tell dumb little me, who doesn't yet get all the tech measurements from Amir, what the reason is I'd get this one over the a10d? From what I read here, the measurement differences are really inaudible. MQA I don't care about. It's not a real balanced headphone amp either. In fact, it's headphone amp has less power than the 10 version. So the price difference really is just the screen and MQA?

I'd like one to combine with an amp like the a10a (if Amir gets around to testing that) or the SMSL A300 (if that ever gets tested at all). I'd like to have it run double duty as a good headphone amp as well. So where does the extra $100 go?
 

staticV3

Major Contributor
Joined
Aug 29, 2019
Messages
2,072
Likes
2,941
So where does the extra $100 go?
There's $120 difference between the two as far as I can tell.
$80 at least go to the MQA license, the rest goes to the better DAC chip (9038Pro vs 2x 9038Q2M), which nets you an extra 4-5dB DR on the A20d.

Also the A10d's headphone amp has higher gain for some reason (10dB vs 8 on the A20d), which explains the higher output voltage into high impedance loads that Amir measured.
 

PH14

Member
Joined
Feb 27, 2022
Messages
23
Likes
9
Thanks! Purely for the headphone amp then, the A10d is the better deal?
 

zc19920502

New Member
Joined
Jul 17, 2022
Messages
2
Likes
0
Anyone had listening experience comparison with Hifiman EF400 vs sabaj a20d? Hestiating which one to go for..
 

Skifaster

Member
Joined
Jul 20, 2021
Messages
8
Likes
8
So I just returned my DX5 to Amazon, Bummer, I had it less than a month and on Friday in went into update - upgrade circle of disruption and death, Could not get back and running, very frustrating..,,,, At least I can full credit for it. A year ago I started this journey with the SMSL M500 and then returned it due to the harmonic distortion issue. After that I bought a topping D70 S and Gustard H16 headphone amp /preamp. That set up performed flawlessly !, But I wanted an all in one DAC, Headphone amp and xlr/rca out to drive a Buckeye hypex amp and svs subwoofer. (JBL 580 Speakers)

Anyway, not sure which way to go now>>>>> another DX5 --- Sabaj A20 D, A10D ? SMSL M 500 ?
I need remote and all in one unit and I want reliability!!!

what say you??
 

AngryMetalGuy

Member
Joined
Jul 13, 2022
Messages
46
Likes
23
Location
Portugal
So I just returned my DX5 to Amazon, Bummer, I had it less than a month and on Friday in went into update - upgrade circle of disruption and death, Could not get back and running, very frustrating..,,,, At least I can full credit for it. A year ago I started this journey with the SMSL M500 and then returned it due to the harmonic distortion issue. After that I bought a topping D70 S and Gustard H16 headphone amp /preamp. That set up performed flawlessly !, But I wanted an all in one DAC, Headphone amp and xlr/rca out to drive a Buckeye hypex amp and svs subwoofer. (JBL 580 Speakers)

Anyway, not sure which way to go now>>>>> another DX5 --- Sabaj A20 D, A10D ? SMSL M 500 ?
I need remote and all in one unit and I want reliability!!!

what say you??
Follow up...
Hi, I've had DX5 and SMSL M500 MKII (I think this is the same has Sabaj A20D but in a different outfit) and SMSL D300 . I've return the DX5 mainly because of user experience having to disconnect DX5 from the mains by power switch to access full menu option doesn't make sense to me. Sometimes when switching power on I get a message that is updating CPLD even if not connected to USB that's strange, even with the firmware 1.40. The M500 MKII as a better chip and some more options to play around with sound. I really liked the design on DX5.
After all I'm keeping M500 MKII around.
As for sound I think (subjectively of course) their different the M500 as a more dimensional?!?! sound (voices a little forward) but between the speakers, DX5 seems more 2D sound but maybe wider. D300 for me was less clinical and less harsh.
 
Last edited:

Jimster480

Major Contributor
Forum Donor
Joined
Jan 26, 2018
Messages
2,190
Likes
1,471
Location
Tampa Bay
There's $120 difference between the two as far as I can tell.
$80 at least go to the MQA license, the rest goes to the better DAC chip (9038Pro vs 2x 9038Q2M), which nets you an extra 4-5dB DR on the A20d.

Also the A10d's headphone amp has higher gain for some reason (10dB vs 8 on the A20d), which explains the higher output voltage into high impedance loads that Amir measured.
Uh this is wrong entirely. 9038Q2M is around $14 and 9038Pro is $90 (maybe like $84 with big bulk). Most of the price difference is the more expensive dac and components that go with it. As I understand it, the mqa license is under $20.
Follow up...
Hi, I've had DX5 and SMSL M500 MKII (I think this is the same has Sabaj A20D but in a different outfit) and SMSL D300 . I've return the DX5 mainly because of user experience having to disconnect DX5 from the mains by power switch to access full menu option doesn't make sense to me. Sometimes when switching power on I get a message that is updating CPLD even if not connected to USB that's strange, even with the firmware 1.40. The M500 MKII as a better chip and some more options to play around with sound. I really liked the design on DX5.
After all I'm keeping M500 MKII around.
As for sound I think (subjectively of course) their different the M500 as a more dimensional?!?! sound (voices a little forward) but between the speakers, DX5 seems more 2D sound but maybe wider. D300 for me was less clinical and less harsh.
If the M500 is less harsh and clinical then basically it means that it has less performance In your situation. I'm not sure on the M500 overall performance from this forum but the sabaj here has great performance and I honestly doubt anything would be audible VS this and the DX5 for example.
Also the M500 uses a ESS 9038Pro (MKII) the D300 uses the new ROHM DAC. They aren't at all the same.
 

AngryMetalGuy

Member
Joined
Jul 13, 2022
Messages
46
Likes
23
Location
Portugal
Uh this is wrong entirely. 9038Q2M is around $14 and 9038Pro is $90 (maybe like $84 with big bulk). Most of the price difference is the more expensive dac and components that go with it. As I understand it, the mqa license is under $20.

If the M500 is less harsh and clinical then basically it means that it has less performance In your situation. I'm not sure on the M500 overall performance from this forum but the sabaj here has great performance and I honestly doubt anything would be audible VS this and the DX5 for example.
Also the M500 uses a ESS 9038Pro (MKII) the D300 uses the new ROHM DAC. They aren't at all the same.
Sorry but I think you didn't read it correctly, less harsh and clinical was D300, subjectively of course. M500 MKII and Topping DX5 were basically the same.
Thanks for the reply.
 
Last edited:

Jimster480

Major Contributor
Forum Donor
Joined
Jan 26, 2018
Messages
2,190
Likes
1,471
Location
Tampa Bay
Sorry but I think you didn't read it correctly, less harsh and clinical was D300, subjectively of course. M500 MKII and Topping DX5 were basically the same.
Thanks for the reply.
Ah! So the Rohm has a softer sound in your experience! I definitely want to try it and see if I can draw a similar conclusion.
Another friend of mine recently told me the same thing. He said it "doesn't make sense, but the sound is softer".
 

staticV3

Major Contributor
Joined
Aug 29, 2019
Messages
2,072
Likes
2,941
9038Q2M is around $14 and 9038Pro is $90 (maybe like $84 with big bulk)
Mouser prices (even with bulk discounts) are often quite a ways off what Chinese manufacturers pay locally.
As I understand it, the mqa license is under $20.
Regarding MQA, what matters is less how much Sabaj pay Meridian for MQA
and more how much we pay Sabaj for MQA.
There's the D90LE for example which is identical to the D90SE except for no MQA and that's $100 cheaper.
 
Last edited:

Jimster480

Major Contributor
Forum Donor
Joined
Jan 26, 2018
Messages
2,190
Likes
1,471
Location
Tampa Bay
Mouser prices (even with bulk discounts) are often quite a ways off what Chinese manufacturers pay locally.

Regarding MQA, what matters is less how much Sabaj pay Meridian for MQA
and more how much we pay Sabaj for MQA.
There's the D90LE for example which is identical to the D90SE except for no MQA and that's $100 cheaper.
The price difference is around $80, but I get what you mean. At the end of the day though; it just seems that today it would be worth it to get an MQA enabled DAC unless you don't plan to use something like Tidal. There are many affordable options under $400 total.
 

glc650

Member
Joined
Jun 30, 2021
Messages
46
Likes
16
I just got one of these and after a couple hours of use I found it to be a more polished/complete product than the Topping D90SE. So much so it has permanently replaced my D90SE. Why?

1) All settings are easily accessible via remote on the A20d. No more reaching over the top of and behind the D90SE trying to find the rocker switch.

2) The A20d's IR receiver actually receives IR signals. I was using a Harmony Companion Remote with Hub with the D90SE. I use IR blasters (more than and different from the two that come with it) and commands (from the remote or from start/end sequences) would frequently get missed. That was with the IR extender right over the IR receiver on the D90SE. With the A20d in the same place the D90SE was, and with the IR extender well away from the A20d's receiver (if it was this far from the D90SE's receiver all commands would be missed), I have yet to experience a missed command.

3) I had the D90SE set to automatically turn off the display (after 30 seconds I think). The display would frequently light up when switching songs even when the songs were from the same album (so same bit depth and sample rate). The A20d does not do this.

4) Turning the A20d off actually turns off the USB link between it and my Zen Stream. With the D90SE off, the Zen Stream would still "see it" over USB so it would stay on the USB output instead of defaulting to the coax output like it is supposed to when USB is not available. I don't use the Zen Stream's coax output all that often but when I do it is nice to not have to hop on the Zen Stream's web GUI and force it to SPDIF.

5) I use Roon and Tidal exclusively and I frequently had glitches/static/pops between MQA songs on the D90SE. This was with songs from the same album playing back-to-back. I think it was an issue (for whatever reason) with gapless albums but I don't know for sure because I stopped troubleshooting after trying a different USB cable between my Zen Stream and the DAC and after I bypassed Roon by using Tidal Connect directly on my Zen Stream (I also tried the Tidal app on my Macbook with the Macbook connected directly to the D90SE). The only thing that would "fix" the issue was setting Roon's 'MQA capabilities' setting to 'No MQA support' with Roon doing the first unfold. This forces Roon to not preserve MQA signaling after it does the first unfold so the DAC doesn't do any further unfolding.
 
Last edited:

RJO

Member
Joined
Aug 11, 2020
Messages
30
Likes
15
Got mine yesterday for my IEM and MacBook as directly connecting the IEM to my Mac initially causes static noise. I was under the impression that sensitive IEMs will do fine with this unit, however, whenever I insert my IEM thru a 6.5 adapter jack I’m still getting the same static noise; but it plays fine during playback. How do I mitigate this issue?
 

Jimster480

Major Contributor
Forum Donor
Joined
Jan 26, 2018
Messages
2,190
Likes
1,471
Location
Tampa Bay
Got mine yesterday for my IEM and MacBook as directly connecting the IEM to my Mac initially causes static noise. I was under the impression that sensitive IEMs will do fine with this unit, however, whenever I insert my IEM thru a 6.5 adapter jack I’m still getting the same static noise; but it plays fine during playback. How do I mitigate this issue?
What IEM do you have? Does the noise play when you are not listening to music? Or only during the connection process?
 

RJO

Member
Joined
Aug 11, 2020
Messages
30
Likes
15
What IEM do you have? Does the noise play when you are not listening to music? Or only during the connection process?
Only during the connection process with a Fiio FD7, there’s no noise before or once the music starts.

I don’t have this issue when connecting it with my Shanling M8 DAP, so it appears to be the A20d causing it.
 

Jimster480

Major Contributor
Forum Donor
Joined
Jan 26, 2018
Messages
2,190
Likes
1,471
Location
Tampa Bay
Only during the connection process with a Fiio FD7, there’s no noise before or once the music starts.

I don’t have this issue when connecting it with my Shanling M8 DAP, so it appears to be the A20d causing it.
It is likely just the casing because it is a grounded metal chassis just like your mac.
 

Diego Humanes

Member
Joined
Mar 29, 2018
Messages
83
Likes
30
Location
Bilbao, Spain
I just got one of these and after a couple hours of use I found it to be a more polished/complete product than the Topping D90SE. So much so it has permanently replaced my D90SE. Why?

1) All settings are easily accessible via remote on the A20d. No more reaching over the top of and behind the D90SE trying to find the rocker switch.

2) The A20d's IR receiver actually receives IR signals. I was using a Harmony Companion Remote with Hub with the D90SE. I use IR blasters (more than and different from the two that come with it) and commands (from the remote or from start/end sequences) would frequently get missed. That was with the IR extender right over the IR receiver on the D90SE. With the A20d in the same place the D90SE was, and with the IR extender well away from the A20d's receiver (if it was this far from the D90SE's receiver all commands would be missed), I have yet to experience a missed command.

3) I had the D90SE set to automatically turn off the display (after 30 seconds I think). The display would frequently light up when switching songs even when the songs were from the same album (so same bit depth and sample rate). The A20d does not do this.

4) Turning the A20d off actually turns off the USB link between it and my Zen Stream. With the D90SE off, the Zen Stream would still "see it" over USB so it would stay on the USB output instead of defaulting to the coax output like it is supposed to when USB is not available. I don't use the Zen Stream's coax output all that often but when I do it is nice to not have to hop on the Zen Stream's web GUI and force it to SPDIF.

5) I use Roon and Tidal exclusively and I frequently had glitches/static/pops between MQA songs on the D90SE. This was with songs from the same album playing back-to-back. I think it was an issue (for whatever reason) with gapless albums but I don't know for sure because I stopped troubleshooting after trying a different USB cable between my Zen Stream and the DAC and after I bypassed Roon by using Tidal Connect directly on my Zen Stream (I also tried the Tidal app on my Macbook with the Macbook connected directly to the D90SE). The only thing that would "fix" the issue was setting Roon's 'MQA capabilities' setting to 'No MQA support' with Roon doing the first unfold. This forces Roon to not preserve MQA signaling after it does the first unfold so the DAC doesn't do any further unfolding.
How does it sound regarding D90SE?
 

Carlo2AC

Active Member
Joined
Jan 30, 2019
Messages
100
Likes
36
I just got one of these and after a couple hours of use I found it to be a more polished/complete product than the Topping D90SE. So much so it has permanently replaced my D90SE. Why?

1) All settings are easily accessible via remote on the A20d. No more reaching over the top of and behind the D90SE trying to find the rocker switch.

2) The A20d's IR receiver actually receives IR signals. I was using a Harmony Companion Remote with Hub with the D90SE. I use IR blasters (more than and different from the two that come with it) and commands (from the remote or from start/end sequences) would frequently get missed. That was with the IR extender right over the IR receiver on the D90SE. With the A20d in the same place the D90SE was, and with the IR extender well away from the A20d's receiver (if it was this far from the D90SE's receiver all commands would be missed), I have yet to experience a missed command.

3) I had the D90SE set to automatically turn off the display (after 30 seconds I think). The display would frequently light up when switching songs even when the songs were from the same album (so same bit depth and sample rate). The A20d does not do this.

4) Turning the A20d off actually turns off the USB link between it and my Zen Stream. With the D90SE off, the Zen Stream would still "see it" over USB so it would stay on the USB output instead of defaulting to the coax output like it is supposed to when USB is not available. I don't use the Zen Stream's coax output all that often but when I do it is nice to not have to hop on the Zen Stream's web GUI and force it to SPDIF.

5) I use Roon and Tidal exclusively and I frequently had glitches/static/pops between MQA songs on the D90SE. This was with songs from the same album playing back-to-back. I think it was an issue (for whatever reason) with gapless albums but I don't know for sure because I stopped troubleshooting after trying a different USB cable between my Zen Stream and the DAC and after I bypassed Roon by using Tidal Connect directly on my Zen Stream (I also tried the Tidal app on my Macbook with the Macbook connected directly to the D90SE). The only thing that would "fix" the issue was setting Roon's 'MQA capabilities' setting to 'No MQA support' with Roon doing the first unfold. This forces Roon to not preserve MQA signaling after it does the first unfold so the DAC doesn't do any further unfolding.
Now that was a joy to read, i love comparisons that go into features and issues, thank you!
 

chrisr34000

Member
Joined
Jul 30, 2022
Messages
11
Likes
2
Great review, thank you for that!

Is is it possible to get rid of the front handles? I don't find them very appealing... Can you just unscrew them?
 
Top Bottom