HiFimeDIY Sabre 9018 USB DAC Review


Conversation Architect
The biggest surprises come in small and unassuming packages. The Sabre 9018 DAC from HiFimeDIY comes in the smallest and the most unassuming of all packages. And it delivers the biggest surprises.

Review unit for this review was provided by Pristine Note.
The views in this review are entirely my own.

Sabre 9018 Features
• Sabre ES9018k2m DAC chip and SABRE9601 headphone and line out driver, BRAVO 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

Electronics: SA9023 USB receiver -> Sabre ES9018k2m DAC -> SABRE9601 driver

The Sabre 9018 has an exceedingly simple case with an USB input jack. The case is non-detachable and sturdy enough to survive accidental drops. The USB jack is well built and gold plated. The 3.5mm jack, also quite study, functions as both 3.5mm output and SPDIF port for further connectivity needs.

On a Windows PC this does not need any separate driver installation. The volume control is through the OS software.

Being very small, I just tucked it out of sight behind the CPU cabinet and forgot about it.

Point to note is that the Sabre 9018 does not support high resolution 192kHz, 384kHz or DSD files natively. This was a design choice to keep to the bare basics and ultimately keep the cost down. However, it will play such high resolution files, but with downsampling it to 96kHz.
In case you need a DAC with such capabilities, HiFimeDIY has another 9018 variant which supports all kinds of high res file formats natively.


Compared to the very basic audio processor on my motherboard, this DAC is a huge improvement in almost every aspect, soundstage, imaging, audio reproduction. Compared to the equally tiny Sansa Clip Zip, the soundstage is almost the equal. However, the imaging is quite better on the Sabre 9018. Highs, mids and lows are quite cleanly reproduced.
On a good pair of headphones, the bass is very clean and tight. The Signature Acoustics O16, which is generally quite weak in the bass department, responds quite well when driven off the Sabre 9018.

I did not find any discernible coloration in the sound. Vocals sound quite natural.

The SABRE9601 driver is quite powerful. All the earphone/headphones that I used to test this, I never had to go more than 30 on my computer’s volume. By my guess and going by some other reviews on the internet, the Sabre 9018 can drive higher impedance cans comfortably.

I also do a lot of gaming on my PC using my Kingston HyperX Cloud. So while testing the DAC, I also decided to try out some gaming. While the HyperX Cloud is quite bright sounding out of the box, the Sabre 9018 really brings out the best in it. While the brightness does not go away, the mids and the bass really pack a punch and make the HyperX Cloud a really good all-purpose set of cans.

I tried out Battlefield 1/4 and Witcher 3 and Tomb Raider and some other random games with good in-game audio. It makes the games a blast to play. The battlefield, cities, towns and tombs come alive with all the ambient sounds. The explosions and gun shots in battlefield sound brilliantly real. The already awesome background score in Witcher 3 and ambience coupled with the terrific graphics just take it to a level that I have not experienced since testing the iBasso DX80.

Final takes:​

The Sabre 9018 packs a punch that is way more powerful than it seems like. If you have a run-of-the-mill integrated audio or just want to gift yourself a little something this Christmas, the Sabre 9018 is what you want.

It is hard to get a better deal at this price point.

Amazon.in: Buying Choices: HiFimeDIY Sabre 9018 USB DA

Shout Out to [MENTION=157395]SignatureAcoustics[/MENTION] for providing the review sample.

From the Manufacturer's website:

The new Hifime Sabre 9018 DAC is a great sounding audiophile 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).
• 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
• Circuit/implementation
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: Asynchronous USB Audio / Asynchronous Digital to Analog Converter
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