Announcing new Hifime DAC's with ESS Sabre 9018

Posted by HiFimeDIY 29/01/2015 21 Comment(s) DAC's,News,

We are proud to be releasing several new DAC's made with the Sabre ES9018K2M DAC chip. This chip has great specs like 127dB DNR-120dB THD+N and patented Time Domain Jitter Eliminator.

First out is Hifime 9018, which uses the same small compact box as our U2 and UAE23 Sabre dac's. We used a double PCB to be able to fit in this small box. 

Hifime 9018 uses the Savitech SA9227 USB receiver in asynchronous mode (more about that here) and support sample rates up to 384Khz/32 bit. It has a MAX97220A headphone chip that can drive headphones down to 16 ohm as well as higher impedance headphones as the Sennheiser HD650. The volume level goes quite loud, more than enough for 300ohm HD650's-

It works without drivers in Mac, Linux, and requires drivers to be installed in Windows. Note that 384khz only works with ASIO which is accepted by some programs only, and not by Chrome, Youtube etc. Chrome on Mac's also doesn't support 384kHz. It uses by default USB Audio Class 2 which is required for sample rates above 96kHz. It will switch down to Class 1 if USB High speed mode is not available.  It also have (like the U2 and UAE23) an optical output, which works up to 192khz. In addition to normal PCB format It can play DSD files.

We think the sound of this DAC is really great! Another cool features is that it works with Android 5.0! This makes it a super small portable highly audiophile solution. Only caveat with phones is that it draws much more power than our smaller "Android" DAC. The Nexus 6 battery last 6 hours when playing constantly with the 9018. 


  • Compact size
  • Audiophile Sabre ES9018K2M chip
  • No drivers required for Mac and Linux. Drivers available for Windows
  • Accepts all sample rates up to 384Khz/32bit
  • Asynchronous USB transfer
  • Analog and digital (optical) output from 3.5mm connector
  • Volume level responds to computer hot keys, -however only in 8 steps. This is the behaviour of SA9227 USB receiver. You can fine tune volume level in software.
  • Works plug-n-play with Android 5.0 Lollipop (Nexus 6 tested). Responds to system volume level/vol+/. keys.


  • SNR: 112.5dB @ 1kohm, 109dB @ 600ohm
  • THD: 0.0035% @32ohm, 20mW
  • Crosstalk: 1kHz,10kOhm: -125dB, 1kHz, 32ohm -125dB
  • Output power: 1.05Vrms/2.94Vpp@1khz. 31mW @ 32ohm. In real life this DAC is much more powerful than UAE23/U2. It can drive most 16-300ohm headphones.
  • Power consumption: Standby 170-190mA. Max draw 270mA 

Then, In just a few weeks we'll have its bigger brother ready, the HiFime 9018D. It comes in stylish small aluminium box and has a digital controlled lossless volume control, and a display showing the sample rate. 

Benefits of the 256 step digital volume control.

This DAC utilises a ultra low power MCU chip to control the volume level output from the DAC chip.  This is different from controlling volume at USB level which reduces the signal level going into the DAC chip and causes loss of dynamic range and lower SNR when volume is reduced. Using a digital volume control this way will be better than an analog one unless you have a analog volume control that has a lower noise floor than the DAC itself. You would need a exceptionally low noise analog volume control to beat the Sabre chip impressive -127dB.

An explanation from Sabre chip makes ESS Technology:

The specifications for the two 9018 dac's are the same except for the volume control, switch and display.

We will also make another version of the 9018 featuring a i2S input using HDMI plug. This dac can be connected to a USB to i2S (HDMI) device, or a small i2s (TTL) to HDMI board.

More info on this devices will follow. 

21 Comment(s)

02/02/2015, 02:23:08 PM

Will you release a version with spdif inputs as for the 9023?

13/02/2015, 06:56:00 AM

We haven't planned this yet, but it might happen at some time.

04/02/2015, 05:14:43 AM

Will the bigger 9018 one has SPDIF optical input?

13/02/2015, 07:00:00 AM

No, it is also only USB. They are very similar, the differences for the 9018D are that the gain is set higher, it has a display showing sample rate and volume level, it has a MCU to control volume level output from DAC chip in 255 steps, and it has a switch to chose USB Full Speed or High Speed mode (Full speed mode doesn't require drivers).

04/02/2015, 04:44:53 PM

If would order right now a desktop version with usb and 2 switchable spdif inputs (at least one optical), rca output and a separate headphone connector. What about it?

13/02/2015, 07:01:00 AM

Thanks for the feedback, we will consider it for a later version.

05/02/2015, 01:22:54 AM

Any version with Line/RCA output planned. Feels that when used with PC, a very likely usecase is to connect to HiFi, instead of headphones only.

13/02/2015, 07:04:00 AM

You can of course connect the output to an amplifier, preamp or other line level device. Both of them will work well with line level, and probably you don't need the bigger 9018D if you don't need the volume level control from the DAC.

13/02/2015, 09:29:45 AM

More thinking in terms of audio quality. Since your device is headphone output, you may have put in a headphone amp, versus suitable amp for line level output. Also, AC powered for cleaner power supply may be useful.

13/02/2015, 09:51:00 AM

The es9018k2m output is differential which means that it requires a OPA or driver chip, it can't be connected directly as the es9023. The chip we used, max97220a is suitable both for line level as well as lower impedance loads.

05/06/2015, 04:39:39 AM

Then what is the best volume setup if one would like to an amp? Max volume 0?

16/02/2015, 07:34:27 PM

Should have made the MCU display at the top instead at the back directly opposite of the output, would make it way more usable. Oh well, I guess it's too late now since I assume that you've already begin production.

17/02/2015, 02:56:00 AM

Thanks for the feedback. We made it this way because it avoids any extra customisation and we can use a standard case design, and a standard display.

13/03/2015, 01:52:00 AM

For the 9018D, what volume setting best level matches a line output?

13/03/2015, 01:52:00 AM

Line output varies from 0.7V to 3V, normal range is 1.5V to 2V

David W.:
13/03/2015, 01:01:56 PM

Question: In which mode the 9018 DAC operate? IOut or in VOut? is max97220a on the 9018 DAC (especially the 9018D), the only chip after the DAC chip? (thus max97220a doing multiple role as I/V, LPF and line/headphone driver?)

13/03/2015, 02:36:00 PM

ES9018K2M works in Vout mode and max 97220a is the only chip after the dac.

25/03/2015, 06:52:01 PM

Would this new 9018 dac be a good investiment over the U2 (HD650 using a E12)? I like the U2 sound, but always considering something higher :P

26/03/2015, 07:57:00 PM

Hi, the 9018 has a more detailed sound than the U2, it should also work better when not using the E12. However it does require drivers in Windows, and it has only 8 steps volume (so you might have to use that E12 if you can't find a good match). The 9018D will work good with the HD650 without any other headphone amp.

06/05/2015, 04:30:16 AM

I want a the dac to connect directly to a PROCEED AVP and PROCEED AMP with old THIEL 1.2 SPEAKERS. Is the 9018 the same (sound quality) as the 9018D in these setup?

07/05/2015, 02:43:27 PM

Is the volume control on the 9018D controlled from system volume, or do you have to use the buttons on the device?

HiFimeDIY Web:
20/05/2015, 02:46:19 AM

You can control it from system volume, but only in 8 steps. And it only works for PCM, not DSD files.

15/06/2015, 07:21:37 AM

Hi, this DAC sabre 9018 and 9018d is compatible with USB 3.0? I have Astell&kern ak120 and it doesn't work with usb 3.0 ( with 2.0 works great but I don't have this standard on my laptop). Which will be better ak120 or Your DAC 9018/9018D? I will be connect to amplifier with speakers ( not headphone). Thank's for reply.

15/07/2016, 03:13:01 AM

Sorry about the delayed reply, we're found we were not notified on new messages recently. This (an all our DACs) should work on USB 3.0. USB 3.0 is backwards compatible and supports also all devices that works in USB Low, Full or High speed mode. However there are some issues with some brands of USB 3.0 ports in Windows that causes problems. If you have problem with your astell&kern sound card then I would suggest you try to update the driver or bios on your computer.

21/07/2015, 06:00:21 PM

Any plans to create a 9018 series dac that can be connected to an external PSU like the usb dac 2? I have a USB isolator, would I get comparable performance combining the 9018 with a USB isolator? Thanks

15/07/2016, 03:16:00 AM

Hi, yes this a very late reply, but we have now made a sample for a new DAC that can be used with an external power supply. It also has a isolator chip (i2s isolation) that also supports high resolution.

10/08/2015, 10:28:14 PM

I've been looking for a Raspberry Pi DAC that uses the ESS 9018k2m to see how well it does. Will you be creating a board for the Pi?

14/10/2015, 01:42:38 PM

Any plans for 9018 usb dac but with external power supply option and rca outputs? Really hoping for this. Thanks.

05/02/2016, 01:15:40 PM

I am also interested in a 9018 dac with coaxial in and RCA out, with external power supply ?

15/07/2016, 03:17:45 AM

One with external PSU is coming, but not RCA out. We suggest a cable like this:

31/12/2015, 04:38:25 PM

Any plans of using ESS SABRE9018AQ2M chip anytime soon with your DAC's?

02/04/2016, 06:27:53 AM

I'd really like if your company would sell a 5.1 DAC for Home theatre use. Have you considered there's a market for a good sounding and not expensive multichannel DAC?

Erin Stevenson:
02/01/2017, 09:26:17 AM

Hi RicRen, I'll support your suggestion for a 5.1 DAC! I have a 7.1 system that I'm sure would go from great sounding to pretty damn awesome!

czap olivier:
03/04/2016, 05:55:15 PM

je viens de vous adresser un mail concernant ma dernière commande sur un U2... je souhaite réellement UN SABRE 9018 AVEc UNE ENTRÉE OPTIQUE , toslink et SORTIE RCA ,au minimum; pour un amplis en RCA avec la stabilité d une alimentation . extérieure , la je suis preneur.

05/06/2016, 08:20:28 AM

Hello, any plans for 9018 usb dac but with external power supply option and rca outputs? Thanks for reply.

15/07/2016, 03:22:22 AM

We are working on a exciting new DAC, it has optional external power supply, isolated signal. Output still from 3.5mm connector.

21/07/2016, 01:38:31 AM

Which is the output impedance of 9018 and 9018d?

27/08/2016, 10:12:11 AM

interested as well for a coaxial input (coming from my m2tech hiface)

15/05/2017, 08:24:34 AM

Hi,thanks for the great design and construction of the uda18. It sounds awesome. Currently it is connected analog via the headphone jack.Does this dac (still) have an optical output via / within the 3.5 headphone jack? If so does this work with usb input in high mode (used with windows 10 drivers)? Thanks in advance and keep going making great products. I would appreciate / support a 5.1 / 7.1 dac coming in future.

24/05/2017, 02:27:03 AM

Hi, thanks for your feedback! The UDA18 doesn't have optical through the 3.5mm jack. The UH1 does have optical output on the fron 3.5mm jack.

Leave a Comment

US :