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Sabaj A20d 2023 DAC & HP Amp Review

Rate this DAC & HP Amp

  • 1. Poor (headless panther)

    Votes: 9 3.8%
  • 2. Not terrible (postman panther)

    Votes: 3 1.3%
  • 3. Fine (happy panther)

    Votes: 44 18.6%
  • 4. Great (golfing panther)

    Votes: 181 76.4%

  • Total voters
    237

amirm

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This is a review and detailed measurements of the 2023 edition of Sabaj A20d balanced DAC and headphone amplifier. It was sent to me by the company and costs US $420.
Sabaj A20d 2023 Balanced DAC stereo headphone amp review.jpg

As with last generation, the A20 comes in gorgeous packaging that completely sets it aside from its competitors. The display is ultra clear and very responsive and I like the large volume level indicator. Back panel shows what you expect:
Sabaj A20d 2023 Balanced DAC stereo headphone amplifier back panel review.jpg

The labels were a bit hard to read but that is a one-time aggravation.

The 2023 revision switches from ESS DAC to AKM AK4499EX.

Sabaj A20d 2023 DAC Measurements
When I first started to test the unit, I was getting high harmonic distortion, sinking expected SINAD by some 15 dB. It took a bit of looking but then found four "sound color" settings with all but the first one causing such distortion. I turned that off to get proper results:
Sabaj A20d 2023 Balanced DAC stereo measurement.png


This is excellent performance, easily landing the A20d in our top 20 best DACs ever measured:
best balanced stereo dac review.png

Top balanced stereo dac review.png


Unbalanced RCA performance is almost as good:
Sabaj A20d 2023 RCA DAC stereo measurement.png


Output was actually higher than the above and performance improves a bit if you let it go to the max:
Sabaj A20d 2023 Balanced DAC stereo THD vs Level measurement.png


You need exceptional noise performance to land in our top 20 list and A20d naturally delivers:
Sabaj A20d 2023 Balanced DAC stereo DNR measurement.png


Linearity is perfect:
Sabaj A20d 2023 Balanced DAC stereo Linearity measurement.png


Multitone distortion is vanishingly low:
Sabaj A20d 2023 Balanced DAC stereo Multitone measurement.png


In order to make our tests more comparable to what is published elsewhere, I added a test of 50 Hz tone driving into a very low impedance of 600 ohm as used by Stereophile:
Sabaj A20d 2023 Balanced DAC stereo 50 Hz measurement.png


As a way of comparison, here is how the dCS Rossini Apex ($32,800) performed in the same test:

922dCSRossfig15.jpg

The A20d beats the worst case harmonic of Rossini by 7 dB yet costs nearly 80 times less!

IMD performance is excellent:
Sabaj A20d 2023 Balanced DAC stereo IMD measurement.png


Jitter test shows a bit of internally generates spurious tones but otherwise is excellent:
Sabaj A20d 2023 Balanced DAC stereo Jitter measurement.png


We have the usual set of filters:
Sabaj A20d 2023 Balanced DAC stereo Filter measurement.png
Sabaj A20d 2023 Balanced DAC stereo frequency response measurement.png


Here is our wideband noise+distortion vs frequency:
Sabaj A20d 2023 Balanced DAC stereo THD vs frequency measurement.png


Sabaj A20d 2023 Headphone Amplifier Measurements
We have both 1/4 inch and 4.4 mm jacks but both convey the same signal so let's go with the latter:
Sabaj A20d 2023 Balanced DAC stereo headphone 300 ohm measurement.png

Sabaj A20d 2023 Balanced DAC stereo headphone 33 ohm measurement.png


These are extremely clean with good bit of power to drive just about any headphone. Despite lack of ultra low (negative) gain, noise performance is excellent at just 50 mv:

Sabaj A20d 2023 Balanced DAC stereo headphone SNR 50mv measurement.png


most quiet headphone amplifier review 2023.png


Conclusions
The 2023 revision of A20d brings excellence in every category from look and feel to performance across the board. It leaves nothing to complain about.

I am happy to recommend the Sabaj A20d DAC and headphone amplifier.

Manufacturer Specifications

NameSabaj A20d 2023
InputUSB. Optical, Coaxial. Bluetooth
Output6.35mm/4.4mm headphone, RCA. XLR
Output levelRCA 2.3Vrms. XLR 4.6Vrms
HPA power2W*2(160) 1W*2(322)
HPA gainLOW OdB. HIGH +8dB
THD+NHPA 0.0001% (-120dB) . DAC 0.00006% (-123dB)
Dynamic rangeRCA 126dB. XLR 131dB
SNRRCA 126dB. XLR 131dB
Output impedanceHPA NEAR 0Q, DAC 1000
BluetoothBT 5.0 (support apt-X HD, LDAC, apt-X, AAC, SBC)
USB transmissionAsynchronization
USB compatibilityWindows 7, 8, 8.1. 10, 11, Mac OS X 10.6 later, Linux
Bit widthUSB 1bit~ 32bit, Optical/Coaxial 16bit~ 24bit
Sampling rateUSB 44.1~ 768kHz DSD64-512, Optical/Coaxial 44.1~ 192kHz DoP64
Power Consumption<20W
Size200×60×210 (W×H×D)
Weight1500


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Michael Fidler

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Just superb! Looks beautiful too, they've done a great job with this one. It would be interesting to know what the 'sound color' settings do in more details but I'm guessing that they're there to simulate the low-order distortion effects of discrete and valve type gear. Undesirable to have them on by default in any case as these types of distortions have always sounded bad to me at least.

Does the coax/TOSLINK input have some sort of FIFO/averaging type system to do away with incoming jitter?
 
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amirm

amirm

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Does the coax/TOSLINK input have some sort of FIFO/averaging type system to do away with incoming jitter?
There is always buffering but the incoming clock must be used from Coax/S/PDIF and that extracted clock can have jitter. USB is different in that the DAC clock is the master and USB is used for data transfer.
 

Michael Fidler

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There is always buffering but the incoming clock must be used from Coax/S/PDIF and that extracted clock can have jitter. USB is different in that the DAC clock is the master and USB is used for data transfer.
I guess what I'm asking is does the clock have a sort of averaging internal locked loop with very low jitter that eliminates the (short term at least) effects of jitter on the S/PDIF input?
 
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amirm

amirm

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I guess what I'm asking is does the clock have a sort of averaging internal locked loop with very low jitter that eliminates the (short term at least) effects of jitter on the S/PDIF input?
There is a phased locked loop that filters out high frequency jitter. The corner frequency is implementation dependent but is usually a few Kilohertz. If the filtering is too strong, lock time (to a new sample rate) increases, causing user annoyance. For this reason, some implementations have programmable bandwidth for the PLL. This unit doesn't have that.
 

gvl

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Rossini looks better IMO, the 3rd harmonic is same level or lower and there are no high order harmonics present unlike in the Sabaj. Harmonics decay monotonically.
 
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GianDi

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is there life (or sound) at -130 db?
they are always the same devices; few integrate an hdmi in/out, or a digital coax out.
on decent analog volume control and one or two aux inputs they might lose a few sinad db, to become flexible digital preamps.
thanks to Amirm, who tirelessly publishes Friday evening measures.....
 
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amirm

amirm

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Rossini looks better IMO, the 3rd harmonic is same level or lower and there are no high order harmonics present unlike in the Sabaj. Harmonics decay monotonically.
THat's not the case. The noise floor in my FFT is lower and hence shows the extra harmonics. Stereophile tests simply hide those.
 

gvl

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THat's not the case. The noise floor in my FFT is lower and hence shows the extra harmonics. Stereophile tests simply hide those.
Fair enough, still the Sabaj seem to be more odd and high order harmonics happy than the Rossini, at the microscopic level anyway.
 
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respice finem

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The identical looks of the 2022 and 2023 models are IMHO not a good idea. Unless you are vigilant (and the vendor writes the model year correctly), one may get the 2022 version instead, and not even notice.
 

F1308

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Voted great, but antennas are to be placed
inside, as it happens in any smartphone...
 

polmuaddib

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Thanks for the review. It is a great performing DAC with an ok industrial design, but it does not compare to dCS's industrial design, which is more monumental, luxurios and ovarall, nicer.
I don't care it sounds the same.
 
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amirm

amirm

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Voted great, but antennas are to be placed
inside, as it happens in any smartphone...
You get better range with external antenna.
 

DuncanTodd

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It would be interesting to know what the 'sound color' settings do in more details but I'm guessing that they're there to simulate the low-order distortion effects of discrete and valve type gear.
Interested to read more about these too.
 

tree

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I understand the need to pursue good engineering but I do think that putting it above all other design goals, considering that most home noise floor is way above these numbers, can be a hindrance. Where is the trigger. Topping and the likes understood and introduced this feature in latest models. When I bought my DAC this is one of the base features I was looking for. Who has the power to go hunting for all these remotes or have a remote with endless macros.
 
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