Hifime UDA38Pro DAC (ES9038Pro + SA9227)
The Hifime UDA38Pro utilises the ESS Sabre ES9038Pro DAC chip that has received a lot of attention and praised as the most important new DAC chip in ages. It has impressive specifications and some great features like the THD compensation that minimises THD (distortion) caused by external components. It also benefits from ESS’s patented 32-bit HyperStream DAC technology that is also present in other ESS Sabre chips like the ES9018.
We have paired the ES9038Pro with OPA1622 output stage amplifier that can drive a wide range of loads including low and high impedance headphones and also line level loads like preamps and amplifiers. The ES9038Pro DAC chip creates a detailed sound quality that also have a mature, profound feel to it making it sound very real.
The UDA38Pro comes in a small portable case that can be powered from USB only or with an additional external DC power supply (5V-12V supported). There is a 3.5mm mini-headphone jack output and a stereo RCA pair. A digital volume control sets the output level from the DAC chip to obtain lossless volume adjustment in 58 steps. The DAC is clocked by a 80MHz TCXO and accepts inputs via SPDIF optical and USB. The USB input is asynchronous and accepts all PCM sample rates up to 384kHz/32Bit (including all MP3, FLAC etc) and DSD64 and DSD128. SPDIF input that accepts rates up to 192kHz/24bit.
No drivers are required in Mac, Linux and Windows 10 (Windows drivers are available for Win 7-9).
The DAC can get power from USB and doesn’t need any external power supply to function with a computer. With some Android phones it will require external power to work. It also needs external power when used at full volume with low efficient, power hungry headphones like the Hifiman HE-5LE, as they draw to much current and will make the DAC partially cut out in peaks. Power consumption is around 450mA without external PSU and 115mA with external PSU connected.
It accepts a wide range of external power, from 5V to 12V DC, minimum 500mA We recommend 9 to 12V and min 1A.
We have tested the DAC with many different headphones and made it work with both sensitive in ear monitors as well as more demanding headphones like HD650 and even Hifiman HE-5LE (38ohm/87.5db). Android phones vary a lot on how they supports USB DACs, and compatibility can also change after Android OS updates, so it’s not easily said what phones are supported. So far we have tested the DAC with a few phones we have available.
Google Nexus 5X (Android 8.0.0) works (only tested with external PSU).
Xiaomi MAX (microUSB) also works without external power supply.
The Xiaomi Mi MIX (USB type-C) works, (also without external PSU connected however we experience some skips and ticks when power supply is not connected.)
The DAC will consume quite a lot of battery from a phone when external PSU is not connected. However it can be convenient to be completely mobile for a listening session and then quickly charge the phone.
- USB (all USB ports accepted) All PCB sample rates up to 384kHz and DSD64/128
- Digital Optical SPDIF. Up to 192kHz
- 3.5mm headphone jack
- RCA stereo
- Chips: ES9038Pro, SA9227, OPA1622
- 58 step Digital lossless volume control
- Two inputs: USB (type-B) and SPDIF Optical selectable by switch
- Optional DC input. Can run on USB power when DC power is not connected
- USB input supports all frequency rates up to 384kHz 16/24/32 bit and DSD64 and DSD128
- Optical inputs supports up to 192kHz
- Asynchronous USB transfer.
- DAC is clocked by 80 MHz TCXO
- Output: 3.5mm and RCA
- DC input: 5-12VDC min 500mA. 9-12VDC 1A recommended (not included)
- DC input plug: 5.5/2.1, inside pin is positive.
- Output power on USB power (5V): 70mW@30ohm, 3.75mW@600ohm
- Output Voltage on USB power (5V): 1.5Vrms
- Output power with external 9V power supply: 125mW@30ohm, 11mW@600ohm
- Output Voltage with external 9V power supply: 2Vrms@32ohm, 2.6Vrms@10Kohm
- USB Power consumption: 450-520mA without external power, 110-120mA with external power
- Size: 10 x 8 x 3 cm
Olav Rønnestad Birkeland –
Sound OK when connected to laptop on batteries only. But when source is plugged in to the wall, it creates a lot of noise/ hiss that I can’t get rid of. Tried a lot of different cables, different headsets. Don’t know if it’s a ground loop or what, but at this price point I expect it to outperform my old HRT Music Streamer II, but it does not.
It also gets very hot when used. ES9038Pro is known for getting hot, and perform worse when it gets warm. This does not seem to be addressed either.
Also, seems like there is a problem with QA, you can randomly get a bad unit. Just check the review on audiosciencereview.com, worse measurement ever.
Just recently received this item and I was very impressed. I have used other DACs priced around $2000-5000 with mono power amps of Mark Levinson, but this small one has the best resonating sound of all. It is spacious and precise in the high tones and natural, velvet, and expanding sound stage.
I know there is a negative review but I highly suspect it is because it did not have power supply and used USB power instead. That negative review says distortions but I am clueless why such review exists. I am pretty sure there is nothing like that. I use DC 12V 5A 60W power supply. It is more than what this unit requires but more is always better than less for power supply. For this price, I highly recommend this unit.
M.D. Kim –
I couldn’t sleep after ordering UDA38pro and seeing a bad review of it. But it turned out that the ES9038pro was real. The wide stage and natural sound made me like the sound of the ES9038pro. There are a litte problems. The noise is caused by the electromagnetic wave and it is a little bit larger for mobile devices. But more than offset this all is the special sound of the ES9038pro. I bought UDA38pro very well.
During break-in of my freshly arrived UDA38Pro, I started listening with just a stock power supply and stock USB-cable. I found the sound a little too noisy for audiophile use. Disconnecting the stock power supply, running solely on USB power, eliminated most of the noise, but in order to let this DAC really show its full potential, some (limited) extra investments are needed. In effect, it appears to be more sensitive to the choice of power supply and USB cable than for instance my Focusrite Forte DAC/ADC.
I now use the following accessories (listed in order of importance for boosting perceived sound quality):
1. iFi iPower 12V 1.8A power supply, 49 Euro
2. Supra USB 2.0 cable 1.0m, 37.50 Euro
3. Audioquest Jitterbug, 39 Euro
Combined with my Nura headphones, this yields a big 3D soundstage with incredible amounts of detail and dynamics, wow! Also my speakers sound much better with this DAC, including a wider stereo image and tighter bass.
Thomas Weise –
I use these dac whit my 4000 euro amplifier from Naim. Its much better than my old expensive dac. The sound is liquid and reminds me about my old records player. This is the best dac I have listened to.
I always felt skeptical about investing in DAC, but man this little device proved me wrong, what a difference, it’s a day and night difference compared to my focusrite. Worth every penny.
Coming from Resonessance Labs Concero HP with the Sabre chip ES9018-2M, and also using the internal DAC of the Woo Audio WA7 2nd gen for awhile, uda38pro is definitely an upgrade coming from both. uda38pro’s sound is more clear, natural, and musical. There is also more space between instruments and the details stand out more. This is what I am using to feed the WA7 and the combo sounds fantastic with HD800S. Like others said, use an external power. The signature does not change but the sound definitely get slightly enhanced and opens up a bit more. I am using a DC 12V 2A that I had sitting around. For $250 and after using it for a few months now, this is a no-brainer recommendation.
just got my uda38pro had uda 18 so far during break i can say that shines with my akg 240 headphones very clear open and vocals are so good i must add u must use an extrnal power i use 1amp 12v.
i enjoy hearing sacd and dsd hi res audio with foobar
very very happy.
value for money
nice upgrade and will update when break in will be done
bass still not as tight as i would have wanted but the uda 18 took some time too to open up
dont hesitate thank u guyd keep on developing i will for sure be back to buy more
I own the ES9018 which I really like. Compared to the ES9018 the sound of the UDA38Pro DAC is so much clearer and a new dimension opens. Best choice for the money.
Shigeyoshi Kadooka –
Very nice sound !
I used output supply of DC 12V 2A.
From low to high sound area I could hear in reluctance.
This UDA38PRO is very calm
This DAC is amazing, clear, transparent, natural, warm with details, with body and incredible 3D sound.
The music literally jump in your face.
A real eargasm.
My system: Raspberry with Moode, usb cable with external low noise 5V, UDA38pro, Yamaha A-S500, Boston acustic A25.
I use external 12 V power supply.
Received it today via GLS. I’m absolutely in love with it !
Plugged it into my laptop which has Windows 10, switched the input to USB and it worked out of the box, just as advertised. Maximum format supported by the control panel is 32-bit, 384khz. I tried it also on another PC with Windows 7. Here I had to install the driver which can be found in the Support menu to get the full format support.
In comparison to my older DAC which has a dual AK4490 balanced output, this ES9038Pro feels superior and the difference is noticed already on first use. However, one missing feature for my taste is a Bass Boost functionality for which I use a Software Equalizer. For anyone using a PC, I would recommend APO Equalizer and Peace GUI.
The AMP is powerful and extremely loud, so careful with the volumes 🙂 The volume knob is smooth and nice to operate.
The device only gets mildly warm and not hot at all, so this is great as well.
Note: I use this DAC with my Sony MDR-Z1R headphones.
The DAC is outstanding in terms of sound. I consider it slightly better than the Sony DAP ZX300. It is not day and night differences, but audible if the UDA38Pro is fed with a good source. For that, I noticed that it should be fed with a 9-12V power source. I was using a battery pack that has 12v out, and I find that the soundstage deepens and widens as compared to a 5V LPS. I am still playing with various options, but it seems that the DAC is quite immune to jitter and a iPurifier2 did not drastically improve the sound quality. I also feel that the USB input is better than the optical. But I only have one player with optical out, so I cannot be sure. I would like to see coaxial on the DAC, but I can’t complain for the price. Overall, I am enjoying this DAC immensely through a PS Audio LANRover like device to achieve galvanic isolation, and I feel that this is the most important enhancement (together with using a higher voltage power supply) if I were to rank.
Joel L. –
Having owned the HIFIME TYPE C USB DAC (ES9018K2M+SA9023), I knew I would not be disappointed with Hifime’s products. However, I do have to say the UDA38Pro really impressed me. Personally I prefer the sound signature of Sabre dacs, especially the 9018 ones. Being used to my RL Concero and W4S Dac-1, the UDA38Pro surprised me with how natural and transparent DSD tracks sounded through my DT880 250ohm. At this price point, buying it is a no brainer if you appreciate the performance of Sabre dacs. I currently run it through the iFi iDefender with iPower, and prefer my set ups with it (more power and better resolution I feel?).
For the beginning, I checked it with Crossfade LP2 headphones, and I imediatelly noticed wider soundstage comparing to 9018 based dac I used before (same range price, Apogee Groove), however I lost the bass power that Groove provided and I could not live without it. 🙂
I checked it later with my Stax combo, and started to appreciate more in this combination. The overall transparency and detail was a pleasure to listen to, for good recordings.
The only thing that I miss from my previous 9018 based dac used for Stax, was the… power button. 🙁 It would be great to have a way to turn off all the lights when not in use.
Adding separate power supply did not improve noticeable the sound in my case. The bass was still shy, but that is not a big problem since I will use them with Stax.
The UDA38Pro exceeded my expectations. Having heard MANY dacs in the sub $500 range over the years, I was initially skeptical of the performance capable of an ES9038Pro based unit at such a low price. I was pleasantly surprised to find this dac to not have the typical Sabre sound of cheaper dacs. This dac is more three dimensional with a beautiful midrange. Make sure to give it the best quality power supply possible and you will be rewarded.
A very technically capable DAC – neutral, smooth, realistic texture and detail. It has a sweet and liquidic character, an extremely pleasant and addictive sound. For me it is close to perfect.
I can only compare to the Audio-GD R2R11 DAC and I think the UDA38 Pro is superior. The R2R11 had an unnatural coarseness to the sound, lacking in fine detail and sounding smeared with more complex music.
the lossless volume works very well, there is no quality loss at any level. as mentioned by another reviewer it doesnt get very loud till about halfway, its a very steep logarithmic curve.
Raymond Au –
USB input from MacOS, playing flac on foobar 2000
OPT input from Chromecast audio streamed from my android phone
Output through RCA to my Linn integrated Amp, with Sonus faber Concertino speaker
When listening to OPT, turn on the Mac with USB connection will break the OPT transmittion, need to reset it in order to resume the music
The Volume control is not efficient, need to turn up the volume very high in order to send enough sound signal to the amplifier.
Mainly Listening to Jazz and classical music.
The sound is very balanced. It is not low heavy or sharp high. The sound can be regard as the most smoothest and natural-sounding I have ever heard. It is also dynamic with detail. It is easy to listen and can attract me listening more and more.