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Sabaj A20d Review (Balanced DAC)

ad_fletch

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So now we have many stereo balanced DACs with great performance, and only minor differences between them. This segment appears to be well served.

Could the brains trust please start working on a DAC like this with 2 channels balanced out (for power amp or active monitors) plus 1 or 2 more mono outputs for a subwoofer or 2, preferably with variable crossover point like an AVR?

I know MiniDSP SHD can already do this, but it's about $1500 shipped to my country. Surely SMSL/Sabaj/Loxjie or Topping could make a competitor for less, esp if it didn't incorporate MiniDSP perks like room correction or an app to control the DSP. Given the SHD's popularity, it seems like a good commercial prospect.
 

ceausuc

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I have a question. Can I output the full 5.14 volts from Sabaj A20d if I use XLR to RCA cables to Topping A50s amplifier?

Most dacs don't work (will actually be damaged) with such cables because they usually short 2 pins on the XLR side.
Topping for instance is very clear about it.
Get another amp with bal input instead...
 

Walter

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So now we have many stereo balanced DACs with great performance, and only minor differences between them. This segment appears to be well served.

Could the brains trust please start working on a DAC like this with 2 channels balanced out (for power amp or active monitors) plus 1 or 2 more mono outputs for a subwoofer or 2, preferably with variable crossover point like an AVR?

I know MiniDSP SHD can already do this, but it's about $1500 shipped to my country. Surely SMSL/Sabaj/Loxjie or Topping could make a competitor for less, esp if it didn't incorporate MiniDSP perks like room correction or an app to control the DSP. Given the SHD's popularity, it seems like a good commercial prospect.
I agree that this would be nice, but then the question becomes, "Why not add DSP capabilities since it is probably built into the chip we are using for the crossover?" At which point the software development cost and time goes way up and you now basically have a (hopefully) improved miniDSP 2 x 4 HD or a (hopefully) cheaper miniDSP SHD without streaming or Dirac. And maybe a better UI. So what is a company going to have to charge to make this worthwhile? At $300-$400 it would be hugely popular among the enthusiast crowd but probably not very profitable in the quantities it would sell in. I'd seriously consider buying it at that price if it was done well. At $700-$1,000 it would most likely be quite profitable but maybe not sell well.
 

Sami

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This review is not showing up in the "Audio Electronics Review and Measurements Index".
 

DACslut

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What's the most comparable DAC to this one without the inherent added expense and uselessness of MQA support? BTW, I already have the Sabaj D5.
 
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Veri

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I have a question. Can I output the full 5.14 volts from Sabaj A20d if I use XLR to RCA cables to Topping A50s amplifier?
Late, but no. RCA lacks the pins so half the voltage will be dropped. And that is best case, some XLR to RCA cables also cause additional distortion.
 

ceausuc

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What's the most comparable DAC to this one without the inherent added expense and uselessness of MQA support? BTW, I already have the Sabaj D5.

su-9n?

su-9n makes this Sabaj look pretty uninteresting.
 

DACslut

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su-9n?

su-9n makes this Sabaj look pretty uninteresting.
Thanks for replying to my post. Ya that one seems to pretty much check all the boxes for me. However, I wonder why SMSL didn't use the 2nd Gen XMOS XU216 like the Sabaj has and I'm not sure what you're supposed to gain with that new processor anyway?
 

ceausuc

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Thanks for replying to my post. Ya that one seems to pretty much check all the boxes for me. However, I wonder why SMSL didn't use the 2nd Gen XMOS XU216 like the Sabaj has and I'm not sure what you're supposed to gain with that new processor anyway?

I think XU216 is needed for MQA processing (being more powerful).
 

brandonhall

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So, I'm evaluating this DAC along with the Sabaj A20a amp using Tidal and the sound itself is fantastic. The problem is the playback speed.

Skipping ahead in tracks causes the DAC to switch to 44 and then back to MQA. Same thing with going to the next or previous track. It's every time and there's always a two second "hardware delay" as the DAC switches back and forth. It happens on Tidal, Roon, and Audirvana. Is this typical of MQA playback? I doubt it is because I would see this problem reported everywhere and a major downside of MQA.

To continue troubleshooting, I downloaded Roon and Audirvana to see if it was a software or hardware problem. The problem is also present in Roon and Audirvana. I opened a support query to Tidal and they asked for logs. There's more to this logs but this is relevant part:

Code:
(Fri Nov 19 2021 18:53:07) [WARNING] - AudioObjectSetPropertyData (kAudioDevicePropertyMute) 0 failed: kAudioHardwareUnknownPropertyError
(Fri Nov 19 2021 18:53:07) [WARNING] - AudioObjectHasProperty (kAudioDevicePropertyVolumeScalar) for channel 0 returned false
(Fri Nov 19 2021 18:53:07) [INFO] - Master volume cannot be set, attempting to set stereo channels...
(Fri Nov 19 2021 18:53:07) [WARNING] - AudioObjectHasProperty (kAudioDevicePropertyVolumeScalar) for channel 1 returned false
(Fri Nov 19 2021 18:53:07) [WARNING] - Couldn't set left channel volume
(Fri Nov 19 2021 18:53:08) [TRACE] - Calculating next range to fetch...
(Fri Nov 19 2021 18:53:08) [TRACE] - Starting download...

To me, this is indicative of a fundamental problem with the DAC and MQA playback. I don't know have the knowledge or know-how to test for confirmation but that's a pretty damning log from Tidal. Anyone else have experience with this DAC and MQA or MQA DAC playback in general? Is this a trade-off of an MQA DAC?

Thanks!
 

brandonhall

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I think I figured out the series of problems here. When the Sabaj A20d is in full decoder mode it is incredibly slow. There is clicking and swapping in and out of modes. Truly ruins the experience. In renderer mode, the Sabaj behaves as expected and there is no switching. In the Tidal software, the "Passthrough MQA" option doesn't actually force the Sabaj into renderer mode.

Regardless, the full decoder mode of the Sabaj is annoyingly slow and probably a dealbreaker for me.
 

Toku

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I think I figured out the series of problems here. When the Sabaj A20d is in full decoder mode it is incredibly slow. There is clicking and swapping in and out of modes. Truly ruins the experience. In renderer mode, the Sabaj behaves as expected and there is no switching. In the Tidal software, the "Passthrough MQA" option doesn't actually force the Sabaj into renderer mode.

Regardless, the full decoder mode of the Sabaj is annoyingly slow and probably a dealbreaker for me.
MQA playback of current DAC equipment has the problems you pointed out. The severity of the symptoms depends on the DAC used. I compared the SMSL M500 with the Topping E50, but the symptoms are slightly milder and easier to hear on the newer E50.
I suspect MQA started for commercial reasons despite the fact that the playback device is still incomplete.
I didn't have any critical thoughts about MQA at first, but recently it hasn't.
I can't feel the merit of sound quality, so from now on, No MQA! May shout.
 

brandonhall

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MQA playback of current DAC equipment has the problems you pointed out. The severity of the symptoms depends on the DAC used. I compared the SMSL M500 with the Topping E50, but the symptoms are slightly milder and easier to hear on the newer E50.
I suspect MQA started for commercial reasons despite the fact that the playback device is still incomplete.
I didn't have any critical thoughts about MQA at first, but recently it hasn't.
I can't feel the merit of sound quality, so from now on, No MQA! May shout.
This behavior in relatively high-quality DACs is simply unacceptable. Why would someone adopt MQA only to run into "convenience" issues with the implementation? Full MQA decoding requires exclusive mode and then switching time for each track to begin. No wonder SMSL released the SU-9n which removed MQA but kept the high-quality DAC chip.
 

Papaya_X

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Do you want or need a headphone amp? The Sabaj has the headphone amp in an entirely separate unit.
Yep, it is for a desktop usage. But I don't really care about being separate or included.
I know that the headphone part is better on the sabaj but how does it compare in the DAC part ? (for speakers)
 

brandonhall

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Yep, it is for a desktop usage. But I don't really care about being separate or included.
I know that the headphone part is better on the sabaj but how does it compare in the DAC part ? (for speakers)
For the money, my guess is the Topping DX3 Pro+ along with the PA3s would be hard to beat. The goal of all these products from SMSL, Sabaj, and Topping is provide reference quality (no coloration) sound at an unbeatable price. The differences are so small between these great products that it's just a matter of what features and stack you want.
 
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