Hidizs S9 Pro is a small portable DAC and headphone amplifier carrying a very affordable price tag of just 119 USD. But don’t let its diminutive size and modest price fool you, it’s a very interesting piece of gear, the kind of product that is able to punch above its price. So let’s see what this DAC dongle is all about.
Build, Features, and Conectivity
As already mentioned Hidizs S9 pro is a small and fully portable device that can fit inside of your palm. It’s lightweight too, with aluminium frame and some sort of glossy acrylic material on the front and back. It sure looks like some sort of scratch-resistant glass, but I haven’t tried to put it to any kind of scratch test to confirm that.
Moving to the connectivity, there’s one digital input and it is in a form of USB type C on one side of the device, and a short detachable cable is provided in the box. The DAC is powered through that same USB port too, as it’s usual for all portable DACs. On the other side, we find two analog outputs: a 3.5 mm single-ended and a 2.5 mm balanced one.
As for the tech inside the Hidizs S9 pro, we find a Sabre ESS9038Q2M D/A conversion chip, capable of working with PCM files up to 768 kHz and DSD files up to DSD512 level. That’s more than we’ll probably ever need. On the amplification side of things, S9 pro offers 100 mW of power at its single-ended out, doubling that to 200 mW on the balanced one. Admittedly, this doesn’t look like much on paper, but it’s enough to power most reasonably demanding headphones out there.
A thing that I want to get out of the way first is that Hidizs S9 pro sounds almost equally good on both of its balanced and single-ended out. Sure, balanced out can go a bit louder and has a touch more drive due to its higher power. But everything else, including detail retrieval, dynamics, tonality, etc. is very comparable on both outputs, making this DAC a great choice for the users of both balanced and unbalanced headphones.
Tonally speaking, Hidizs S9 pro is a well-balanced product. The bassline is weighty but well-controlled and filled with plenty of texture. There’s a genuine authority and grip over the bassline that I really encountered on such small and portable products. Moving up the frequency spectrum and the midrange is present and rich with details. There is no midbass bleed or any sort of added warmth to it, but that doesn’t mean it’s automatically lean and thin. To my ears, it’s actually as crisp and clean as it should be, but still able to create respectably full and lush vocals when needed to. The highest frequencies are once again crisp and nuanced, without stepping into any kind of aggressive behavior. That said, if you’re after some sort of sweet and silky smooth treble, that’s not what this DAC is about.
Moving to the sheer drive, this small device really surprises me. Both drive and dynamics are great, once again resembling more to something I would expect from a decent desktop product. In this regard, the S9 Pro is definitely a good Sabre-based design – it’s alive, it’s exciting, and it makes my foot tap with rhythm. Just to be sure I’m not just having a good day, I had to put it up against some competition to weigh its true worth.
DragonFly Black is the closest one price-wise. I will not take much of your time here as aged DF Black is simply no competition in this duel. S9 pro offers more resolution, better grip over the bassline, more drive, and dynamics. It is also smaller and more portable. I can’t imagine any situation in which I would recommend DF Black over this one.
EarMen Sparrow is a fantastic little dongle in its own right, coming at $199. It rocks a similar form factor with a USB-C input and both single-ended and balanced output. I do slightly prefer Sparrow’s shorter and wider form and build overall. When it comes to the sound quality things are pretty equal if we’re talking about the balanced output. Both offer a similar level of insight, drive, and tonality. But once you move to the single-ended out, Sparrow takes a significant punch and the sound becomes less resolving, less airy, and sweeter up-top. S9 pro on the other hand keeps most of its sound fidelity on the single-ended out too, with only power output taking a hit. Combine this fact with a lower price tag and S9 pro comes out on top in my opinion.
Dragonfly Cobalt is the most expensive of the bunch with a $300 price tag. It offers a single-ended output only and it sounds pretty good. Its bassline and especially midbass is fuller, lending some warmth to the midrange. On the other hand, that same warmth makes it sound a little bit softer and less nimble with the bassline. When it comes to the highest frequencies, things are pretty much equal and both of these devices dig plenty of details and atmospheric cues. I know that some of you might prefer the softer and fuller sound of the Cobalt, but personally, I’m more inclined to a gripper and more driven sound of the S9 pro. Tonal differences and personal preferences aside, it’s hard to neglect the fact that S9 pro comes at almost one-third of the price of Cobalt.
Hidizs S9 Pro is a great sounding DAC and an astonishing accomplishment when the price is taken into the account. Preferences do differ, and some of you might prefer a bit sweeter sound signature, but if you find this typical Sabre tonality acceptable, S9 pro is currently hard to beat when it comes to price to performance ratio. Kudos to Hidizs for making such a great and affordable product, it has my full recommendation.
|HIDIZS S9 PRO – CHARACTERISTICS|
DAC chip: ESS9038Q2M