Best portable DAC in Norwegian newspaper VG! 6 stars and best portable DAC of the Year in Lyd og Billede magazine!
The Hifime UAE23HD USB DAC with Sabre 9018 is a great sounding audiophile USB DAC at an unbelievable price. We have picked the most important features to create an incredible sounding DAC packaged in a simple, nice-looking case at the lowest cost possible.
The high-end 9018 DAC chip combined with the Sabre headphone driver give a very detailed sound with a great soundstage. The noise is very low and can be used with also the most sensitive headphones. It is tested to work and sound great with Audio Technica ath-m50 (38 ohm, 99dB), Sennheiser hd650 (300 ohm, 103 dB), IEM: JH Audio JH-13 (28 ohm, 116dB).
It works without drivers with all major systems and programs; Windows, MAC, Linux. iTunes, Spotify, and Android see compatibility list). iPhone adaptor available here (lightning to USB).
- ESS Sabre ES9018k2m DAC chip and SABRE9601 headphone and line out driver, Savitech SA9023 USB receiver chip
- Works and sound great with most headphone (including low impedance IEM and high impedance headphones) and all line-level devices (preamps, amplifiers)
- Accepts 32kHz, 44.1kHz, 48kHz, 88.2kHz and 96kHz input files @16 and 24 bit.
- Volume controlled by computer vol +/- keys
- Ultra-low noise regulator LP5907 with added noise-reducing aluminum solid capacitors (NCC PSF series)
- Patented Time Domain Jitter Eliminator (by ESS Technologies)
- Optical output
- No drivers required! Optional Windows ASIO drivers available
- 122dB SNR
- 110dB THD+N: 2V rms @ 600 ohm load
- 100dB THD+N: 30mW @ 32 ohm load
- No DC blocking capacitors on the output
- Power usage: 40-80 mA depending on sample rate and volume
- Dimensions:5.5 x 3.5 x 1.8 cm (without cable)
- Weight 30g
32kHz to 96kHz resolution
The Sabre 9018 DAC can play any format (MP3, AIFF, FLAC etc) from CD quality up to high resolution 96kHz files. It does not support 196k or 384kHz natively, nor does it play DSD files. Why? Most users does not have 192/384/DSD files and do not benefit from a 384kHz capable DAC when playing CD quality (or high resolution 96kHz) files. If you need a 192kHz/384kHz/DSD DAC then we have other options for you. We have intentionally omitted this for all of our customers who don’t play 384kHz/DSD so they can save and get a better sounding CD quality DAC at a lower price.
But I thought higher resolution is better??
If you have bough high resolution 192kHz/384kHz files then yes it is better to have a DAC capable of decoding 192/384 without down-sampling. However, most users play CD’s, FLAC, Apple lossless, MP3’s, iTunes, Spotify, Tidal high resolution etc, and will not benefit from a 192/384kHz capable DAC.
The benefits of max 96/24 includes:
- No drivers needed
- Responds to system volume level in detailed 64 steps
- Works with the USB isolator to further reduce noise from the computer and improve clarity and sound quality
- You don’t pay extra for what you don’t need
More technical background
The most important parts in a DAC are:
- DAC chip
- Headphone/output driver (if any)
- Power supply
We have chosen a great sounding and performing pair (ESS Sabre ES9018k2m DAC+SABRE9601 driver) and added DC noise filtering to improve the DC power quality from the USB port. There are high-performing aluminum solid capacitors together with a new ultra low noise regulator (LP5907). We spent a long time designing and optimizing the 4 layer PCB for the circuit in order to achieve the best performance and low ECM noise.
USB transfer mode
After careful experimentation we have chosen USB adaptive mode for this DAC. You can read more about the difference between synchronous, adaptive and async here: http://hifimediy.com/news/asynchronous-usb-audio–asynchronous-digital-to-analog-converters
The DAC 9018 is also the first DAC to use our new case. We have made a simple case at minimal added cost compared to our existing generic case.
I confirm the very good positive reviews from other customers, I compared this small DAC versus the other ones I own (in particular, S2). The results I got on my Hi-Fi system (Yamaha R-S500 amplifier + Bose 205 speakers) and Sony MDR-7506 headphones were excellent. Sound is crystal clear and neutral — that’s exactly what I was looking for! A short burn-in (1 hour) helped to further improve sound quality but was not strictly necessary for enjoying music listening. The tests I carried out convinced me to buy UDA18 for having a performing DAC that would make easier for me switching from USB to optical inputs. Thank you, HiFiMe Team!
I don’t know why you all giving 5 stars? I mean… the sound is really good but this DAC producing popping noises when music is not playing. When I browse internet it pops, when I explore system folders it popps and i have only 82dB efficient speakers and 20dB gain amp. DAC pops even with my low efficient headphones. They bragging that this DAC can handle 116dB headphones… whaaat? I think these headphones would explode! Oh and there is absolutely no warranty for this crap. I spoke with them for 5 days and they told me that i should set system volume for 100%… Nice solution, wonder how it’s working with 116dB headphones? Is that a chinese sense of humor? HIFIME REPLY: There must have been a misunderstanding regarding the volume level for 116dB headphones. Also we always accept returns if it doesn’t work as intended in your setup, and there is a 1 year warranty.
Bought the UAE23HD to use with my office laptop. I’ve been using a $50 pair of Sony MDR ZX610 24ohm headphones for 2+ years and although my laptop was able to drive them easily (24 ohms) they sounded okay but a bit muddy and bass-heavy, yet not very clear. After plugging the Sony in the UAE23HD, I was amazed what a difference in sound, clarity and volume this DAC/Amp delivered out of the box. I could drive my phones at %30 system volume. I then bought the Audio Technica ATH-M40X (45ohms) and my laptop couldn’t drive them at all. Then I plugged the ATH-M40X into the UAE23HD and WOW now I have a perfect setup in my office. These two go together really well producing enough loudness at 50-60% system volume, a crisp midrange, detailed bass response and highs that are not annoying. I’m still waiting on my ATH-M40X to burn in properly and refine the high frequencies. UAE23HD and Audio Technica ATH-M40X is a great match for me.
N. Wu –
For more than 15 years I am mainly listening to music from my PC and already experienced some huge sound quality improvements:
Onboard Sound -> Soundblaster X-Fi Titanium = huge difference
200 EUR Magnat full size speakers -> KEF iQ5SE full size speakers = huge difference
200 EUR SONY amplifier -> AVM Evolution A2 high end amplifier = big difference
With my latest setup (~190 kBit VBR MP3, Soundblaster X-Fi, AVM Evolution A2, KEF iQ5SE) I was quite happy for some years now. Then I heard about the HiFime USB DACs and decided to give it a try.
Today I received the UAE23HD and … wow:
Soundblaster X-Fi Titanium -> UAE23HD = big difference
I was already presuming that the Soundblaster X-Fi was the bottleneck in my setup, but I wouldn’t have thought that a 70 $ USB DAC would be that much better than a good sound card.
Music brought tears to my eyes again (the same music I was listening to for years). Thank you so much for this awesome product!! I will recommend it to others!
Yani M. –
Fantastic unit! A clear upgrade from the regular UAE23. I am very happy with the performance of this unit, especially for the price, although I am not assessing it based on the price. Thanks to the folks here for making it possible to break into some great quality sound for relatively little expense.
Just received this 2018 DAC and am a bit shocked at the clarity and overall great sound I’m getting from it now. At first I was a little disappointed until I warmed it up for about an hour and then loaded the ASIO driver with windows 10. The sound really came alive and started kicking butt. It was extremely dynamic with tight bass after loading that driver. The overall sound is so natural and live sounding now. What a great value, especially compared to the Dragon Fly Red which I also tested. The DR may have a little larger soundstage, but it did not seem as tight in the bass nor dynamic to my ears. This could be also due to the DR having the lower end 2016 DAC vs. the 2018 DAC in this HIfi. The overal fit and finish of this DAC with the plastic case may be on the lower end, but the sound is what really matters. I may wrap it up in some ultra strong tape to help protect it.
Again, don’t forget to try the ASIO driver because it drastically improved my sound.
Works AMAZING when connected to my surface pro through tidal / Spotify, but unfortunately it won’t connect to my LG V30 or PX5 headunit which is running 6.0. Therefore it’s gonna have to be a return back to Amazon because it’s not useable on a mobile device.
Just for fun I tried swopping from the usb cable from laptop to a Teac UD-501 to the UAE23HD and optimal cable to the toslink input of the Teac and that is now its permanent placement. Compared to the USB solution, sound stage and ambience is now in another league.
I was shopping for an inexpensive USB DAC for my my laptop/Spotify setup when I stumbled across a review of the Sabre 9018. I was running the headphone jack into my Nobsound HiFi 6J1 Vacuum Tube Preamplifier > TubeCube | 7 Stereo Vacuum Tube Amplifier: an awesome little 3.5 watt tube system ($225 total + tube upgrades). It sounded great, but instrument separation/definition and soundstage were lacking. It was also a bit harsh to my ears.
This is the best $70 I’ve ever spent on a music system. Hands down. All frequencies are smoother, yet clearer and more defined. Bass sounds much fuller and more rounded; treble is crisp, but not harsh. But, I’m amazed at the difference in midrange vocals. This is where things really bloomed. The DAC also completely eliminated a bad hiss I got from the headphone jack.
The Sabre 9018 DAC has brought my system very close to the warmth and clarity of my Music Hall MMF 7 turntable. I’m totally satisfied with this product and will recommend it to others!
I use this in office with my work laptop and a pair of iLoud Micro Monitor at very low volume. Makes the speakers come alive, and me glued to the table. Very good details, wider and a bit deeper soundstage, bass is extended and hits lower. Good dynamics and micro details. I know I nail it with this DAC as I’m just glued to listening compared to before I just constantly wanted to tinker with the setup to improve sound.
I have used 3 other DACs with this setup so far. Fiio E10K which sounded more polite with less dynamics and bass. Dragonfly black v1.5 which sounded as good as this Es9018k2m but with graininess. And also Mojo which sounds very very similar but let’s just say more controlled but by no means lacking. Overall I think I just prefer this ES9018K2M. It just makes the music feels right.
One thing to note however is EMI or RFI. I have to find some shielding.
I’m new to stand-alone DACs and wanted one for listening to my FLAC collection without having to go through my computer’s old ESS soundcard or having to burn to CD for listening on my component system. I settled on the affordable Sabre 9018. It sounds amazing with my Denon AH-D2000 headphones and drives them nicely with computer volume set at only about 30%. Lots of power to spare. If it ends up sounding even better after burn-in, I’ll be smiling! I haven’t tried the optical output yet but look forward to hearing how it does directly into my component systems. I have neither ‘golden ears’ nor experience with other DACs but I’m very happy with this purchase. A great value for the price.
To David regarding using the adaptive mode 9018 on Linux… I use Linux on Intel, Android and on Raspberry Pi with many HiFimeDIY DACs, the only difference I found was power consumption, the Async one does sound the best I agree, but I couldn’t drive it with some Android devices I think due to power, whereas the U2 and others worked ok from Android, although I get stutters with the 9023 U2, which could either be power or just a bad instance of this model. This Adaptive mode 9018 worked on all my Linux devices with no hiccups, I’d say it’s not Linux, but most likely the particular instance of the product, it may need to be returned and replaced.
The decision to go with adaptive over asynchronous was, IMHO, a cost-cutting solution that is bad for the end user. I’ve had excellent success with this product’s predecessor, the Asynchronous Sabre U2, but this one doesn’t work in Linux (with mpd) at all well. Jitter and stuttering aplenty, while the U2 works a treat. HIFIME reply: It works with other Linux devices, there might be settings you can change to fix this. Try adjusting buffer or process priority/niceness. This isn’t directly related to async vs adaptive, but some other settings with the 9018.
Works like a charm, plug and play on both Windows 10 PC & Android 7 Smartphone. Sound quality is great, more airness, better soundstage, deeper bass, better clarity. Not day & night difference compared to the pc headphone out, but you can hear the difference, specially with a little bit hard to drive over-the-ear headphones. On the smartphone, the difference is HUGE in both volume & sound quality.
Amplification-wise, the volume is like 25-30% louder than my PC headphone out and 40-50% louder than my smartphone (Xiaomi Mi 5). I don’t know if it’s enought for high impedance headphones, but for a wide variety of IEM’s and my ATH-M50x headphones they deliver more than enought power. Huge improvement on the bass and soundstage of the M50x, now they sound as good as they’re supposed to!
Iain Payne –
I found that the sound improved by a huge amount using ASIO drivers, with Windows 10.
This DAC works well. Very good sound for the reasonable price. My old laptop’s dac and headphones amp were so bad, and this is a good substitute.
Great product, great value of money and the BEST customer service you will ever have!
I use my medium range ASUS laptop with jriver media center with high resolution flac files , I bought this device for sound upgrade but unfortunately it’s just an amplifier , no quality upgrade .
if you are looking for headphones amplifier buy it , but if you think it will make your music sound better don’t .
This is brilliant product. A good DAC implemented and paired with excellent components and on top of that made USB audio driver compliant at up to 96 KHz / 24 bit for ease of use. This is all you could ever want regarding the sound quality for such a small, portable and affordable device. Nobody need more than thisdevice can output anyway unless you need to drive an extremely low sensitivity headphone loudly. 24 bit is more than enough for any practical uses that is way more important than to have 96 KHz. 32 bit sound for distribution and listening to music is utter pointless, even if the DAC-chip supports that, so nothing is lost by standards of what you can realistically perceive. Excellent details in the sound without needing to be artificially fatiguingly bright if played with revealing/detailed headphones. The output driver handles just about what you can throw at it at a decent volume. Hats of to the makers of this one!
Michael Larsen –
I have a Marant PM8005 and Mission LX-2 speaker, i wanted to upgrade my professional dac.
After searching thru some forums i bought the HiFime Sabre 9018 USB DAC
I bought it from amazon uk since i live in denmark i wouldn’t wanna risk ekstra taxes
Chosed fast delivery from england to denmark less than 18 hours i got it,payed 70.50 £
First impression: it’s tiny and has a little edge on the top play out of the box using tidal hifi and supra minijack to rca/phono biline (not the cheapest) and michael jackson’s Off the wall, katie meluas moonshine has as deep,full bodied bass as im use to,it still sounds a bit less blotted than im use to, shiller germnan electronic music sounds wide,the deepth also sounds a bit deeper,longer than im use to
For the money a good buy, especially if you only use a laptop or a pc with a cheap motherboard
Jathya Dharmasena –
What a lovely product. Worth every penny spent on it. So much detailed mids and highs. High resolution of details. I am re listening to my audiophile collection with this via Beyerdynamic DT990 Pro. Just like listening to live performance in a live event. And the bass! Its not the boosted bass and u should listen to this to know whst bass is. Outstanding product
A wonderful product. Before this one I was a user of 9023 chip variation. The main difference that was obvious right from pluging up was the higher output power – a lot more power than 9023. My audio technica ath m50x headphones sounds wonderful with them. The sound is more vivid, the soundstage is better and there is a little more clarity over the 9023.
It has great sound in combination with headphones; there is a lot of detail and a good sound stage. On my car radio there is an unbelievable gain in detail, especially in the low end.
However, I am having issues with the iPhone 6s, there is jitter every few seconds making it impossible to enjoy. It works quite well on my Dell E5570, but there still is jitter, though very little. No jitter on my desktop, but the highs are too harsh on my sound system and the sound stage is more compact compared to my Asus Essence STX II + OPA627 as buffer + LT1498 in I/V. It does yield more detail, but I know that is the trade-off by using the LT1498 in I/V; they are very open at cost of a little detail. The most obvious difference however is how voices and string instruments are very soft in comparison, they are blended into the background and therefore more difficult to perceive compared to my current setup.
Overall, I am enjoying it very much in combination with my Sennheiser HD449 headphones!
This is a great DAC. Used in a Linux system with QED interconnects, Linn amplification and Rogers Floorstanders. No issues with firmware. I played 24/96 masters FLAC, CD quality 16/44 files and radio streams up to 320 Kb/s. I listened to Jazz, Blues, Classical, Rock, Choral, Operas, Folk, Pop music.
The experience is wonderful. Badly recorded music are exposed, but this DAC is somewhat more forgiving than other I experienced. Well recorded music is close to perfection: extremely detailed and accurate at all frequencies, Bass have great extension, precision and accuracy. Mids are wonderful, highs detailed, agile and truthful. No harshness nor graininess. Dynamics is outstanding. Pace is superb. Incredibly revealing but beautifully musical. Soundstage truly shines: wide, deep and incredibly precise.
It works great with my PC (with a $50 motherboard) and android smartphone (OnePlus One). Plug and play. It added a bit of warm to the sound while expanding the soundstage. The clarity is also improve. It is however sounded a bit congested if you have a warmer headphone. The power output is okay, I’m only using like 30-40% of volume most of the time with my 64ohm earbuds and <50ohm IEMs. I usually at 80-90% on my smartphone before so it does have more than enough power to drive sensitive headphones out there. The build quality of the enclosure is okay but the integrated USB cable is somewhat worrying if you use this on the go a lot.
AMAZING!! I was about to change my Edifier D530 2.1 desktop speaker setup because of it not sounding right! Good that I didn’t 😀 When connected through this little wonderful DAC the sound became so much more musical and dynamic (flat eq before and after)! Accoustic guitars sounded live, bass was tight and much more in sync with the speakers. Lower mids got the much needed emhasis. Treble no more sharp but silky musical. I am amazed! Thank you! OSX El Capitan 10.11.4 recognized the DAC straight away! All music sounds so much more alive! Like it was supposed to sound!
Pros: Sound quality, no hiss, great value, optical output
Cons: Won’t win any design awards, no physical volume control
The HiFime Sabre9018 USB DAC is a great “no nonsense” product with a sound quality identical to the much more expensive Geek Out720. It’s not going to get any design awards but it does what it should and it does it very well.
The HiFime Sabre9018 USB DAC has really impressed me both with its performance and its excellent value. The fact that it works with (many) Android devices without an external battery, works very well (without any need for drivers) with computers and also offers an optical output option makes it very versatile as well.
For full review see:
Very good DAC with excellent sound quality. I had no trouble using it on Void Linux, both the 3.5 analog output and optical were instantly recognized with no configuration required.
I also had no idea my HD598 had actual bass, but this DAC’s amp made me realize.
The thing is aesthetically minimalistic and I’m not impressed by the build quality, I’ll admit, but this sound for this price greatly justifies that.
Art Simon –
Works great on my Fire 7" tablet. Sounds awesome, much better than my previous setup with an iPod and the Pure i20 dock. I also have the Hifime Sabre Android DAC and the obvious question is whether it sounds better than than that DAC. I’m running my tablet through the DAC into a pair of speakers. It’s a little louder than the Sabre Android DAC which is a good thing. My first impressions are positive, but I’ll need some more listening time to be more decisive. Very nice DAC though!
Jose antonio –
Con el dac9018,he consegudio explotar el maximo potencial en calidad de sonido a los archivos que utilizo,ogg vorvis y wav,en tienda de descarga,atraves de mi sony xperia z ultra,con un dac ecualizador behringer deq2496 y altavoces activos near05,la mejoria en comparacion a la conexion mhl o hdmi,es muy notoria,sobre todo la separacion de instrumentos es muy detallado.por este precio su calidad es excepcional.
Eyal S. –
Upgraded from a Fiio K1
its bass is much tighter and less bloated. I can now listen to more musical songs without having to up the volume so i can hear the singer…
The sound quality is great. The amp is only good with IEMs. The sound quality is not so good with philips X2 directly plugged. However, the sound quality is excellent when I pair the 9018 DAC with a Fiio E12 amp. The sound stage is not very big, but it feels like listening live concert in a room. The resolution is high and you can hear every detail with accurate position. The DAC is definitely worth the price. A good amp is a must if you use a headphone instead of an IEM.
I bought this a couple of days ago from Amazon (UK) and can only repeat the other comments – good and bad. The sound quality and amp are of a very high standard and astonishing for the price but the USB cable/connection is really poor and feels flimsy – the build quality is much worse than the Android mini DAC I also own.
How to resume my impresssion!!!
forget the 9023.
Using this one, i discovered a new time all my music and i find it even better that the asynchronous 9018.
The sound stage is so detailled.
I’m french and with the help of this one, i can now catch so easily nearly every english word unless it was so hard before with the Dragonfly or the 9023.
I use it on my raspberry pi with an iphone 1A power(the 5V source with lowest noise i found) using mopidy and the experience is so good now that i can’t imagine something sounding better.
I have this great little DAC for a week now and the sound is simply great. I use it with a vintage amp and my self designed and build speakers, a tree-way (Visaton RHT12S, Dynaudio D54, Vifa 21wp250) large floor standing speaker. I have no experience with high level DAC’s because i used my Sony H855TV dac.
The improvement is huge and the sound, witch already was good, is of a other level. The sound became more alive, dynamic with a deep soundstage and lots of tonal detail, separation and musicality. Good recordings sound great, less good recordings more flat then before. My wife thought i was using other equipment 😉 and i showed this little simple black box and she was stunned about the difference. Great job, Hifimediy guy’s, thanks for the great product!
Moved up from the Fiio K1 to this……. I cant believe i wasted my time with that. This makes the K1 look like a toy. Hifime did an amazing job with this. Seriously, this beats my desktop dac/amp combo… bottom line I am a happy customer 🙂
A big THANK YOU! Thank you for your passion and for your hard work – this DAC rocks.
I have the ES9023 as well but this one sounds much clearer & crispier and makes Monitor Audio BX2s vibrate just as they should with a Marantz PM6004 amp.
Received mine and while it´s still in breaking-in period (48h for now) the results are very promising and possitive.
I completely agree with Corley, for this task (Dac+integrated amp), this approach and implementation is very smart and the results are quite remarkable. The amp is VERY powerful and capable, it drives even difficult headhpones like my AKG K701 on the go with an astonishing ease but with headphones like AKG Y50 this dac really excels offering huge amounts of deep, controlled bass with detailed and transparent highs without any harshness.
Perhaps the only complaint to mention is that I would have preferred that the USB plug had been directly soldered to the board like all the others similar DACs. The integrated usb cable seems to be quite standard (WBT silver soldering? surely not…) instead of a direct, soldered connection perhaps would help even more to get a more quality sound removing the cord.
Corley Kinnane –
I’ll compare the Asynchronous 9018 and this one, the Adaptive 9018. I find the Adaptive model is a little more efficient with its amp and more dynamic in the balance between bass and treble at the expense of accuracy. The Async model is still better, but it depends on the purpose. I use the Async as a desktop converter mostly, since I then Amp it separately with a hybrid valve setup. Where this model shines for me is being able to drive my 600 OHM Beyer T1 headphones really well by itself. They can both do it, but the extra dynamic power from this model allows volume, dynamics, deep bass, crystal clear transparency and silky smooth trebles without needing anything else but my phone and this converter. I think the Async model has a more accurate soundstage, I think of the Adaptive as fun and energetic. They are both miles above the excellent 9023 models. There seems to be a logical problem with it sometimes dropping out every few seconds until you stop and start it again, then it’s ok.
Really good product ! The sound is really clear with good details. I have the Sabre ES9023 too, but I didn’t take the time to make a real side/side comparison since the ES9023 is in my car ‘home made’ installation… But this 9018 sounds to be a great update ! Works well with Linux, and Android Nexus 7 (2013 model – Marshmallow CyanogenMod based)…