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49 of 49 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars HiFiMeDIY Sabre USB DAC: Affordable Higher-Fi
I purchased the HiFiMeDIY DAC more out of curiosity rather than an actual need. Simply put I wanted to compare the performance of a DAC using one of the famed ESS Sabre D/A chips with the other audio gear at my disposal without having to spend hundreds or even thousands on higher end gear from Peachtree Audio, Oppo, JDS-Labs, McIntosh, etc. The HiFiMeDIY DAC fit the bill...
Published 22 months ago by SSD

versus
1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars It's ok
Nothing special with this DAC, I expected better sound from Sabre DAC.If you need small and cheap DAC for your PC this one probably for you.
Published 13 months ago by ronni


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49 of 49 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars HiFiMeDIY Sabre USB DAC: Affordable Higher-Fi, February 25, 2013
By 
SSD (Gaithersburg, MD) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: HiFiMeDIY Sabre USB DAC Digital to Analog Audio Converter 96khz/24bit ES9023+SA9023 + USB to Optical Converter (Electronics)
I purchased the HiFiMeDIY DAC more out of curiosity rather than an actual need. Simply put I wanted to compare the performance of a DAC using one of the famed ESS Sabre D/A chips with the other audio gear at my disposal without having to spend hundreds or even thousands on higher end gear from Peachtree Audio, Oppo, JDS-Labs, McIntosh, etc. The HiFiMeDIY DAC fit the bill and this review details my (subjective) conclusions.

The HiFiMeDIY Sabre DAC is an external USB D/A audio converter designed by the DIY community and based on the entry level ESS Sabre ES9023 D/A chip and the ubiquitous USB 2.0, full-speed compliant Tenor TE-7022L audio streaming controller from the Galaxy Far East Corp. (GFEC). The HiFiMeDIY DAC is a device of remarkable simplicity but in the same time a model of efficient circuit design. Power is supplied by the USB to a Linear Technology LT1763 low-noise, low drop-out (LDO) micro-power regulator while all other functions: USB control, data retrieval, pin-addressing, clocking, oversampling, D/A conversion, low-pass filtering, etc., are split between the Tenor and the Sabre chips. This arrangement eliminates the necessity for any other processor (dedicated to some of these functions) on the circuit board. The data transfer in the HiFiMeDIY DAC is synchronous (the USB data link is controlled by the computer rather than the DAC). This is, arguably, not the best arrangement for audio purposes due to jitter issues (this jitter issue depends greatly on the other duties of the computer's processor.) Nevertheless, the Tenor chip features integrated phase-locked loop (PLL) to support single crystal operation (12MHz) and has some buffering capability, which helps mitigate jitter to some degree. In addition, and perhaps more importantly, the Sabre chip has its own jitter elimination capability - the famed (if still somewhat cloaked in mystery) ESS Hyperstream with Time Domain Jitter Elimination technology. Performance-wise the HiFiMeDIY DAC is capable of 8 - 96kHz at 16/24bit decoding (except 88.2kHz, which is not supported by the Tenor chip) and has a listed dynamic range (S/N) of 112dB. The technology packed in this little (2in x 1.5in x 0.5in) device is basically the same (with minor differences) as that in the Peachtree DAC-iT (the Dac-iT uses the ES9022 chip, which is essentially the same as the ES9023), the NwAvGuy's Objective DAC (ODAC), the Audio-Quest DragonFly, the NuForce uDAC-2, and others like these that are selling for five to ten times more than the HiFiMeDIY. Since the Sabre ES9023 chip features integrated low-pass filtering and a direct coupled 2Vrms line driver, all these DACs produce "sound" of a similar quality - the differences in implementation, for instance different power supplies (e.g. Peachtree DAC-iT features a separate switching power supply), different USB transceivers (such as the now phased-out Texas-Instruments TAS1020 found on the DragonFly), different clocking schemes, etc., could provide subtle differences in the sound signature - but are, as far as the line output is concerned, little more than window dressings.

On to the computer/audio gear used during my initial listening tests:
MacBook w/ Mac OS X 10.4.11
MacBook-Pro w/ Mac OS X 10.6.8
Dell Optiplex GX620-MT w/ Windows XP/SP3 and Linux Ubuntu 12.0.4/LTS (dual boot)
XMOS USB 2.0 Audio Reference Design Asynchronous DAC,
Matrix M-Stage Headphone Amp,
Audio-Technica ATH-A900 closed-back headphones (40ohm),
Superlux HD-681 semi-open headphones (32 ohm), and
Sennheiser HD598 open headphones (50ohm).
Playback software: Audacity, iTunes, VLC, Windows Media Player

Audio interconnects: RCA-to-RCA and 3.5mm to RCA adapter, both Auvio brand sourced from Radio-Shack (these Auvio cables are not cheap, as far as RS stuff goes, but they are actually pretty decent). Also used were two generic USB-hubs/multi-card reader combo devices (from Sabrent and Inland) and generic USB cables sourced locally from Micro-Center. Also to note, the 3.5mm analog jack of the HiFiMeDIY DAC doubles as optical S/PDIF out. I have not tested the S/PDIF output due to a lack of a 3.5mm optical adapter, however, the red LED light is clearly visible through the output jack when the DAC is plugged into a USB port. A brief setup note: The HiFiMeDIY DAC is plug-and-play on all three computers used and did not require downloading of any kind of drivers in Mac OS, Windows or Ubuntu. However, using the default drivers, I haven't been able to select the sampling frequency or the bit depth on Windows and Ubuntu. I suspect that the generic drivers on those systems default to either 44.1kHz or 48kHz and 16bit. The DAC seemed to work equally well when connected directly to a computer USB port or to a port on one of the USB-hubs. For most of the listening session I have used the MacBook-Pro as the source, the other two computers being used mainly to check the compatibility of the DAC with those older operating systems.

Before moving on to sound quality, I must mention that although the HiFiMeDIY DAC is marketed as a DAC with some direct headphones driving capability, personally I would not recommend it being used in such a fashion. While the device can indeed drive low impedance headphones directly, the sound quality obtained that way is rather poor (simply because the Sabre chip output line-driver is just that - a line driver, IT IS NOT a headphone amp! Moreover, the whole thing is powered by the USB - and because of the way things were implemented here - direct drive of some low impedance loads, e.g. 30-60ohm headphones puts a very large strain on the LT1763 voltage regulator and the pump-charge circuits inside the Sabre chip.) Personally I use it with a dedicated headphone amp (the Matrix M-Stage mentioned above). Since all my headphones are low impedance (32-50ohm) and the open-circuit output of the Sabre chip is actually just above 2Vrms, I set the Matrix M-Stage gain to 0dB (no voltage gain - thus, in effect, using the headphone amp as a current buffer). For the purpose of my initial listening tests I also connected the XMOS DAC to the second line input of the M-Stage. (The M-Stage has two line inputs, 47kohm, and a face-plate mounted switch which allows one to toggle between the two inputs and thus compare two input sources.) Note: the HiFiMeDIY Sabre DAC does require 2-3hr of break-in time.

I will spend little to no time here comparing this DAC with the sound-cards in the computers. Of the three computers I have here the MacBook-Pro has the "best" sound, but by comparison with either the HiFiMeDIY DAC or the XMOS Reference DAC, listening to it is, more or less, a waste of time. So, the comparisons will be drawn here solely between the HiFiMeDIY DAC and the XMOS. (Note: The XMOS USB 2.0 Audio Reference ADC/DAC is actually an evaluation board from XMOS - available at Digi-Key at about three times the price of the HiFiMEDIY DAC - featuring the 24bit/192kHz Cirrus Logic CS4270 audio codec (differential multi-bit sigma-delta conversion, switched capacitor) and the 32bit, 500MIPS/8threads, XMOS XS1-L1 event driven processor. It supports all sample rates from 44.1kHz to 192kHz and uses two dedicated on-board clocks (for 44.1kHz and 48kHz and their multiples). In addition, the XMOS DAC uses the SMSC USB-3318 high-speed USB 2.0 transceiver, clocked separately by a 13MHz reference crystal and the NCP699SN18T1G low quiescent current LDO voltage regulator from ON Semiconductor. The XMOS solution is largely considered one of the best implementations of the "asynchronous" USB Audio currently available although a pricey one, see for instance the 6moons review of the April Music Stello-U3.)

The Sound (overall conclusion): Dynamic, detailed, well staged and layered, airy, clean, clear, well balanced and noise-free.

More specifically, the HiFiMeDIY Sabre DAC is performing, essentially, at the same level as the XMOS with a few differences owed mainly to the particular implementations of the low-pass filters in the two devices and their inherent noise levels. Thus, while I would rate the level of detail retrieval in the Sabre to be similar to that of the Cirrus Logic in the XMOS, the higher gain digital filter in the Sabre (versus the digital (-50dB)/analog (-40dB) combo low-pass filtering in the XMOS) rends a better, more airy stereo image, albeit at a price: slightly increased graininess (especially in the upper registers) and more pronounced sibilance (at times). By comparison the XMOS sounds a bit more laid back with a slightly veiled, smoother presentation but very musical and somewhat more forgiving, particularly with some of the more compressed (i.e. loud) material (which is, unfortunately, found on most of the new music CD nowadays). The only other notable difference is a slightly emphasized low-end with the Sabre: the bass has a tad more impact than with the XMOS - though not enough to require EQ changes with any of the headphones. The Sabre also has the upper hand in the S/N arena, presenting a truly black background (better than -95dB/the M-Stage level) when compared to the -87dB THD+N of the Cirrus Logic codec used in the XMOS DAC. However, the XMOS has the advantage of a full sample frequency range (including 88.2kHz, 176.4kHz, and 192kHz) and has better soft mute and pause controls (and is also an A/D converter). On the timing/jitter front, the HiFiMeDIY DAC seems (at least to my ears) capable to match the asynchronous solution in the XMOS, since I couldn't detect any rhythm/pace issues even when the DAC was connected to an USB-hub and the hub was simultaneously used to transfer some large files to a USB memory stick. Jitter performance may, however, vary depending on the computer used, the quality of its usb connections and any other devices used (USB hubs, cables, etc.) As a rule of thumb I'd recommend plugging the DAC directly into the computer rather than a USB hub (whenever possible).

To conclude, the HiFiMeDIY Sabre DAC is a remarkable piece of audio gear with outstanding sound quality (especially when used with a headphone amplifier) and which features the same ESS Sabre DAC technology found in higher end/higher priced audio gear. The closest (in terms of sound signature) would be the Objective DAC (sold by JDS-Labs for roughly 2.5x the price), the uDAC-2 (at 2x the price - note that this DAC also features an integrated headphone drive stage. The uDAC-2 may be a good buy for someone who doesn't have a separated headphone amp, though some reviewers have pointed to the fact that its headphone amp, which is based on a Maxim op-amp, it's rather lackluster,) the AudioQuest Dragonfly (at 4x the price - the Dragonfly features asynchronous USB transfer and it also includes a headphone driver stage) and perhaps the Peachtree DAC-iT (at about 8x the price). For me the evaluation of the HiFiMeDIY Sabre DAC started as a low-expectations, guilt free indulgence of curiosity for the price of a tank of gas. Nevertheless this little USB DAC is now a permanent staple in my desktop setup. Without reservations - 5 star.

UPDATE 03/19/2013: Did a bit of digging on the net and found the drivers for Windows 32/64bit on the HiFiMeDIY website (just type HiFiMeDIY in Google search and it is the first thing it pops up). Search for the HiFiMeDIY Sabre USB DaC and on that page you will find links for the driver download. The driver is called TeraDAK TeraLink-X2 (something like that). The 32bit driver works on my XP machine but either version of this driver should be good for Vista and Windows 7 as well. In fact there is an express recommendation there to use this driver for Windows 7 due to some noise issues with the default windows driver. The Windows installer will complain about the authenticity of the software when you try to install (not a Microsoft approved program, all that... but I did it anyway and it seems to work quite well). In the new USB Audio Control Center that pops up you can select the sampling rate, bit depth, etc. It also seems to have ASIO support. Also, there is a controller for the similar HiFiMeDIY Sabre DAC with optical to USB recording capability (this device looks identical to the USB DAC reviewed here, except that the S/PDIF is an input not an output). Note that you'll need the device connected to the computer when installing the driver. As an added bonus (aside from being able to play high resolution files) with the new driver, selecting 24bit processing allows for use of computer/digital volume control without loss of signal resolution. I've tested it with Audacity, VLC and Windows Media Player and they all work just fine.

UPDATE 01/29/2014: Note that the newest version of this DAC replaces the Tenor USB receiver with a Savitech SA9023 USB receiver which supports 88.2kHz. The data transfer mode was also changed to adaptive from synchronous (so a bit of an improvement there as well). This new USB receiver also allows asynchronous data transfer and a similar DAC, marketed as HiFiMeDIY U2 (featuring the same SABRE D/A converter, and asynchronous transfer) is now available on Amazon and elsewhere for a few $ more.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars It's a budget DAC, February 28, 2013
By 
SG (Nashville, TN USA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: HiFiMeDIY Sabre USB DAC Digital to Analog Audio Converter 96khz/24bit ES9023+SA9023 + USB to Optical Converter (Electronics)
Make no mistake, this is not your fancypants DAC from Fiio, Schiit, or elsewhere. It's designed to get maximum performance for the least buck. This means a simple enclosure which consists of nothing more than a USB connector and an SPDIF/3.5mm jack. Plug in your headphones if they are efficient, or get an interconnect cable to interface with your amplifier. It gets the job done for only $50. As is well known it contains the same components found in the monumentally more expensive ODAC. Only issue that some people raise is that the signal is not isolated from the USB port which is supposed to introduce some noise. I did not notice much of a problem at all, so I can't really support that notion.

You will be hard pressed to find a better DAC for $50 and there are probably marginal differences in performance between it and most DACs under $200. When you pay more you really are only paying for something that looks nicer and perhaps has more ports or settings, not necessarily more functional. There is one other DAC at this price point that is comparable and that is the UD100 but that doesn't even come with an enclosure, you have to DIY (do it yourself). So at least this thing has some sort of plastic shell. Plus, it weighs almost nothing and would be very suitable for some sort of portable setup.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Saved me from the on-board noise!, February 18, 2014
By 
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This review is from: HiFiMeDIY Sabre USB DAC Digital to Analog Audio Converter 96khz/24bit ES9023+SA9023 + USB to Optical Converter (Electronics)
Bottom Line Up Front: This is an astounding DAC! Buy it.

The Problem:
My computer soundcard is so noisy, when a song got quiet or a track was changing, you could hear the sound-card in the computer generating noise as it took resources from the CPU. It was very distracting, especially when playing games. I heard it both on my PC, as well as my Mac Mini, so I decided to do something about it.
I've been looking for an external-from-the-computer DAC for a while now, and I have used the Peachtree DAC-iT, Emotiva XDA-1, Halide DAC HD, among others, however I was annoyed at how large and expensive they were.
Then I found this little guy. It reminded me of the Halide DAC in size, however this DAC is 90% cheaper! It also does what I want it to do, and more importantly doesn't do what I don't need, such as the big box DAC's.

Pros:
- The obvious: the sound quality. Clean, balanced and detailed. It's not that I can now hear subtle cymbal clicks, but I can tell the drummer is hitting it with a mallet, not a stick. Sound stage opens way up and engulfs you through your headphones. Just good.
- The Price.
- NO DRIVERS!!!
- Cost. Boom.
- This can output 2Vrms. Most line signals need to be above around 1V to be properly handled. 2V is particularly useful when I take this from the Mac (which is where most of my listening is at) and plug it into a USB hub port on my monitor for my PC. I use a tube amp at the Mac, but I don't need it with this thing. It provides plenty of push for my AT Q-702's.
- The Price.
- Compact and non-intrusive. With box DAC's you need an external power supply, which commonly infers either a wall wart or a thick IEC cable. Since this is powered by the bus, one cable does it all!
- Reliable. See below.
- Solid construction. I'm known to pull by the cable from time to time, and when I do I notice how solid the build is. Strain relief and build is very well executed.
- SPDIF out. This was an afterthought for me, however I turned out using it a few times when I had to do a long run to my stereo via optical.

Cons:
-Yeah I'll say it; It's ugly. It a cheap plastic box with a little LED on it. I wish it were more streamlined like the Halide or the Meridian Explorer, but the cost justifies the look.

Other Thoughts:
I've had mine for a few months now, and It's running all the time. Sound hasn't degraded, and I don't have to spend time wondering why it's not working, because it just does. I may order another one so I don't have to transfer it between my PC and Mac.

Also, some people may be turned off about the lack of 192kHz sample rate ability, however since humans can't hear anything above 20kHz and music is sampled well above the Nyquist Frequency anyway, anything over 48kHz isn't worth spending more money on, unless your dog wants to hear the high sonic artifacts of your music.

I am extremely happy with this little DAC, and I would recommend this to anyone who wants a massive sound improvement from their computer without spending a lot.

UPDATE: April 2014
After having the device for a couple months, I decided to buy another one to tinker with. I was able to separate the power from the USB host, and use a rectifier I made that was connected to a molex output from the PSU on my computer, and the sound became even more transparent. I'm going to be re-wiring the device to have RCA connectors on it, so I can use is like the Halide DAC. This little device is very DIY friendly, and I would recommend to anyone who has some knowledge in personal digital audio to test it out!
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars HiFiMeDIY Sabre USB DAC = Great little gizmo!, August 26, 2013
By 
S. M. Geer "deranged record collector" (Metropolitan Cornfields of Illiana) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
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This review is from: HiFiMeDIY Sabre USB DAC Digital to Analog Audio Converter 96khz/24bit ES9023+SA9023 + USB to Optical Converter (Electronics)
As I've accumulated more and more music as strictly digital files over the last few years, it became increasingly apparent to my ears that, despite a modestly good desktop sound system, the output from the soundcards in my various PC's was lacking the fidelity and definition I would have liked. Eventually I began sending the PC audio output to my home stereo and, at that point, it was even more evident a better solution was needed. I conferred with a few friends who inhabit the audiophile world about a resolution to the sound issues and all of them unequivocally recommended an outboard DAC. Of course, there was no consensus as to manufacturer and cost but the best advice suggested that above a certain price-point, the rule of diminishing return for every dollar spent took hold.

So, before spending beaucoups $$$ on any of the more esoteric or renowned DAC units that had gotten good recommendations, the cheapskate in me took a chance with the HiFiMeDIY Sabre DAC. Being so inexpensive, even if it didn't offer any great improvement, I wasn't tossing out a lot of cash. Well, I definitely have no remorse about purchasing this HiFiMeDIY DAC. This unit is not only a great bargain, but it truly delivers the goods. Its sound quality now brings my digital music to a level that comes a lot closer to rivaling my other music sources (note: I said closer to, but not equal).

Yes, it's cheaply made, but it plugged in and it worked right out the box with both Windows XP and 7. It has a few quirks which are probably related more to one of the computers I use than the DAC. Anyway, I immediately noticed a distinguishable enhancement over the standard output, although not a huge 'night and day' difference in sound, but a pleasantly noticeable improvement. It took some of the "murky goo" out of the middle frequencies, tamed some of the sibilance on high stuff and vocals, tightened up and better defined the low frequencies and presented a little broader soundstage all around. And after about 30-40 hours of break-in time it got even better. For this price, who'd have thought? It won't overcome the limitations of low bit-rate MP3's but with good-to-better quality digital files in any format, it clearly has advantages. The HiFiMeDIY Sabre DAC = Great little gizmo!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars sounds good when it works, have had some non-fatal problems, January 19, 2014
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This review is from: HiFiMeDIY Sabre USB DAC Digital to Analog Audio Converter 96khz/24bit ES9023+SA9023 + USB to Optical Converter (Electronics)
I generally use this DAC as analog input to a NAD preamp for headphone or amp+speaker use. It can also drive the headphones directly (Denon AH-D2000 & Sennheiser HD595) but I don't use it that way. Sounds better using an amp for the headphones. I have not tried the optical output.

The Good: Compared to various Denon, Marantz, and NAD players, as well as ASUS XONAR internal DAC cards, I think this sounds quite good for the price. Maybe slightly light on the bass end, but detail and soundstage seem good.

The Less-Good: I had trouble getting this to connect via Dell laptop winXP through a USB extension or hub. However, plugged directly into the laptop USB port, it connects at least 90% of the time. Sometimes I have to disconnect/reconnect. Once connected it continues to work until disconnected.

The Bad: I use the 3.5mm analog output, and it is difficult to get both channels working (making contact). This is with every 3.5 mm plug I've tried so this one IS the DAC socket. With enough twisting and pushing and pulling and carefully setting it down on the desk I can eventually get the connection for both channels. This problem was out-of-the-box, not something that developed over time.

If I didn't have these problems I would give it 5 stars based on value. There are better DACs out there but maybe not at this price.

Also, if it didn't sound as good as it does, I would have given only 3 stars due to the annoyances trying to get it to work.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Line Out, May 21, 2014
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This review is from: HiFiMeDIY Sabre USB DAC Digital to Analog Audio Converter 96khz/24bit ES9023+SA9023 + USB to Optical Converter (Electronics)
I wish I had known about this product sooner. I've heard plenty of dacs, and I'm not going to bother listing them all, but this easily performed as well if not better than any of the ones I've heard sub 400 dollar range. Anyone who gives this a bad review is most likely using it as a headphone amplifier, which really is not its purpose. It's designed to operate as a line out to a dedicated amplifier then to your headphones, using it to drive headphones would probably sound worse than onboard audio.

It just sounds so natural, with a flat frequency response and wide sound stage. It just sounds like it's effortlessly doing its job and being much more of a workhouse than its tiny size would lead you to believe.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great upgrade over built-in soundcard, January 30, 2013
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This review is from: HiFiMeDIY Sabre USB DAC Digital to Analog Audio Converter 96khz/24bit ES9023+SA9023 + USB to Optical Converter (Electronics)
This DAC is a great upgrade over the built-in audio of my laptop and even the Asus Xonar DX in my desktop. It's a night and day improvement over built-in soundcards in my opinion. I currently use it at work with my laptop and Grado SR-80i's as a DAC/Headphone amp, using the ASIO drivers supplied by the manufacturer and Foobar. I'll probably buy another one for my desktop at home. I'm also considering buying the version with optical in and coax in to use with my main stereo.

UPDATE 3/31/13
I've been using this dac for a couple months now and I'm continually impressed with it. Bass and treble extension is much improved over the built in soundcards of my computers, and the separation of instruments is very noticeable. I always look forward to re-listening to my music with this dac.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Get it, you won't regret it, June 10, 2014
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This review is from: HiFiMeDIY Sabre USB DAC Digital to Analog Audio Converter 96khz/24bit ES9023+SA9023 + USB to Optical Converter (Electronics)
Excellent sound for a cheap price, honestly for under 50 bucks I can't recommend anything else. The sound is a definite upgrade over my laptops onboard chip
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5.0 out of 5 stars very worthy!!, June 8, 2014
This review is from: HiFiMeDIY Sabre USB DAC Digital to Analog Audio Converter 96khz/24bit ES9023+SA9023 + USB to Optical Converter (Electronics)
This price-point makes this almost a steal!! minimal difference I Mean MINIMAL- between this and similar inline DAC's costing 3 or 4 times the $$. Really. In my humble 4.1 stereo this unit provides the detail and dynamics and 'air' that was missing with digital music before. I had a well-know DAC brand which actually was more $$ and wasnt quite satisfied. The sonic improvement,while not drastic..allowed for subtle nuances in the music that i was missing before. Took a chance on this brand and glad that i did!
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4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent audio, September 17, 2013
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This review is from: HiFiMeDIY Sabre USB DAC Digital to Analog Audio Converter 96khz/24bit ES9023+SA9023 + USB to Optical Converter (Electronics)
Terrific sound. I would recommend this to any of my friends. Increased the audio fidelity substantially - I use it constantly.
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