Big thank you to Hidizs for sending the S9 Pro to review!
Full disclosure: This is a paid review but I made it clear to them that I do not guarantee positive reviews or recommendations – I make in-depth, honest evaluations based on my impressions and the ultimate value that the product may or may not provide.
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Today’s review will focus on the Hidizs S9 Pro, a small, portable DAC/Amp that just may give the Cobalt a run for its money.
Does it? Is it a better overall value?
Let’s dive in and learn more.
Hidizs S9 Pro
In The Box
S9 Pro Amp/DAC
Type-C to Type-C Cable
Type-C Female to Type-A Male adapter
- Dimensions: 18*59*8mm
- DAC chip: ES9038Q2M
- DSD: Native DSD64/128/256/512
- PCM: Support up to 768kHz/32-bit
- MQA Support: No
- SNR: 120dB
- THD: < 0.0006%
- Build quality: Aluminum-alloy CNC Integration (Black, silver)
- Transmission Interface: Type-C
- Output option: Compatible with both single-ended 3.5mm and balanced 2.5mm headphones
- Output power: Up to 100mW+100mW@ 32 Ohm – 3.5mm SE / Up to 200mW+200mW@32 Ohm Balanced – 2.5mm
- Power system: Plug and Play
- Supported System: Android, Windows, Mac OS, iPad OS
Well, it’s that time again.
Time to review another DAC. Oh boy!
Today we’re going to take a hard look at Hidizs’ S9 Pro and determine whether it’s worth a purchase by comparing it to a long-time favorite DAC as well as its successor.
We’ll make an ultimate determination based on build, sound, versatility/features, and price.
By the end of this article, you’ll know if the S9 is for you.
Before this article update, I was genuinely underwhelmed by the build of the S9 Pro.
Even despite being made of aluminum alloy and looking nice, it’s incredibly light to the point of concern.
After owning it for about a year, I can comfortably say that it really doesn’t matter much.
In other words, it’s been surprisingly durable and I haven’t had any issues.
Would I still feel comfortable if it was a bit heavier? Yeah, but it’s not a dealbreaker. You can put it in your pocket and it’s very low profile.
For comparison’s sake, my DragonFly Red at approx. 23g is light but feels robust; as if it could withstand some abuse.
The S9 at 11g just feels cheap and thin and could use some time in the gym.
That said, the S9 utilizes what’s known as CNC (Computer Numerical Control) which involves using computer-controlled machines to create precise and durable casings for the internal electronics, ensuring a sleek and robust enclosure for the sensitive audio circuitry inside.
When taking that into consideration + the fact that I haven’t had any issues, I can now safely say that the S9 Pro is a fine product.
Type-A to Type-C Cable
I haven’t had any issues with the cable itself, but it does feel a bit cheap and flimsy.
As for the interface, it’s rather simple; you’ve got a 3.5mm single-ended jack and a 2.5mm balanced jack.
On the other side, there’s a Type-C jack for use with your PC or phone, and the package also includes a Type-C to Type-A adapter. More on the adapter later.
The unit lights up according to the source file and supports up to DSD512 and PCM768.
- Yellow: DSD64/128
- Blue: PCM176.4/192 (kHz)
- White: PCM 705.6/768 (kHz)
- Purple: DSD256/512
- Red: PCM 352.8/384 (kHz)
- Green: PCM 44.1/48/88.2/96 (kHz)
I’ll be the first to tell you that I’m not a huge proponent of DSD or high PCM, but it’s there for you if you need it.
- Related: What Is DSD In Audio?
In other words, I’ve done extensive testing of DSD files in the past (with the FiiO K5 Pro/K7 and Zen most notably) and I don’t care to pursue them further for many reasons which I won’t get into here.
24-bit/44 or 48 is perfectly fine for me. Your mileage may vary.
The S9 Pro is incredibly convenient and simple to use. Plug it into your PC and start listening to music. It’s recognized immediately and requires no drivers.
Pairing with iPhone
It’s important to note that you can’t just use a standard Type-C to Lightning adapter with the S9. For instance, the one that comes with the Go Link, which is perfect in theory, doesn’t work.
To make this unit work with an iPhone, you’ll need to use the lightning cable from Hidizs which is unfortunately sold separately.
The real question becomes, “Is the S9 pro worth buying?”
What’s interesting to me is that the price here is absolutely in line with what I would likely spend.
So around $100-$120.
I also find it interesting that the S9 houses the same ES9038Q2M chip as the DragonFly Cobalt, and also comes equipped with some integrated DSP functions (Time Domain Jitter Eliminator, as well as HyperStream II architecture).
- Related: What is Jitter In Audio?
Now, I don’t have a Cobalt here right now, but I did demo it against the Red and didn’t think it was worth $300 in 2020.
It’s now 2+ years later and we have the same exact chip in a package costing 1/3 of the price (S9 Pro).
So you can imagine my eyebrows are indeed raising as I typically don’t care much about DACS anymore.
Hidizs has essentially backed me into a corner as I am pretty much forced to take a close look at one of my long-time recommendations in the still roughly $200 DragonFly Red.
In other words,
the Red housed the 9018 chip but I didn’t really think the Cobalt’s 9038 was worth $100 more at the time.
Now we have a product in the S9 that provides the same chip as the Cobalt but is cheaper than BOTH the Red and Cobalt.
While we’re dancing around the subject, how does it sound?
About as you’d expect from the Sabre variety: Crisp, cool, and open.
In other words, very similar to the DragonFly Red.
The real difference is that the Red provides more power than the S9, so if you have more demanding headphones I’m not sure the S9 would suffice although I’m finding it more than copacetic with the very inefficient 400se. \
It’s also much more powerful than the Go Link.
For evaluation purposes, I decided to go back and forth with a long-time favorite song I’m very familiar with: Common’s “The 6th Sense”.
It’s a crisp, well-mixed and mastered beat with plenty of nice bass impact and a good vocal section.
What I found is that as with my impressions of the Red (9018) and Cobalt (9038), I don’t find much of a difference here with the Hidizs (9038) either.
I thought the Cobalt was a clear misstep from AudioQuest when it first came out and still feel that way today. It’s an unnecessary overpriced product in my opinion.
So from my perspective, any perceived differences are subtle and aren’t what I’m truly basing this evaluation on.
What is important is that for $100 in the S9, you’re getting the 9038 chip, higher resolution in 32/768, and DSD512 along with a balanced 2.5mm option.
The only caveat here is that most companies (at least that I’ve had experience with) seem to be phasing out 2.5 in favor of 4.4.
Still, the added value here is excellent and could be another reason why a DragonFly in any capacity may simply not be worth the money anymore.
So let’s compare.
DragonFly Red houses the 9018 chip and provides up to 24-bit/96kHz resolution for $200. Volume controls must be used via your PC.
Power output is roughly 135mW.
DragonFly Cobalt houses the 9038 chip and provides up to 24-bit/96kHz resolution for $300. Volume controls must be used via your PC.
Power output is roughly 135mW.
The S9 Pro houses the 9038 chip and provides up to 32-bit/768kHz resolution for a shade over $100, feels significantly cheaper in terms of its build, but also gives you a balanced 2.5mm option if you so desire.
Volume controls must be used via your PC. Power output is roughly 100mW unbalanced and 200mW balanced.
I think it’s safe to say that the S9 comes out on top and provides better value than either the Red or Cobalt.
There’s also another layer to this.
It comes in the form of my current top portable option in FiiO’s BTR5.
The BTR5 also boasts a 2.5mm balanced option, is a Bluetooth DAC, is built better, and only provides around 80mW unbalanced (at 32 Ohm), but with balanced you’re getting 240mW at both 16 and 32 Ohm which is a little more than the S9 Balanced.
It can run 32-bit/384kHz and native DSD while utilizing the ES9219 chip.
There are onboard volume controls here and the price is very similar to the S9 at around $129.
I’m not that concerned about 20mW less power unbalanced and 40 more balanced (over the S9), but your mileage may vary.
In other words, the BTR5 is more than fine with the majority of headphones and provides plenty of power for me.
By contrast, 200mW balanced via the S9 is also perfectly fine. To me, this is kind of a wash.
This may be my imagination, but I do think the BTR5’s sound is a tad more refined/crisp sounding than the S9’s.
It also feels slightly fuller, but again, I may be overthinking it.
DON’T OVERTHINK IT!!
To round this out, let’s go over some things I liked as well as aspects of the S9 that can be improved.
We’ll then give a final verdict.
Things I liked:
- It’s a much better value than both the Dragonly Fred and Cobalt as it uses the 9038 chip but comes in at $200 less than the overpriced Cobalt.
- The sound is crisp and perfectly fine.
- The DAC is perfectly fine power-wise for me and will be for the majority of headphones. Again, don’t overthink it.
- It supports hi-res files/DSD and has a balanced jack. Again, I don’t care much about this but some people do so it’s still extra value at the end of the day.
Things that could be improved:
- The build quality of the DAC itself is super cheap and feels like holding a toothpick in your hand. It really is that plasticky and perhaps the cheapest unit I’ve held in my hands to date. Again, it hasn’t become an issue over the last year +, so I’m not really including this as a “con.” I just feel as though it could be heavier is all.
- The Type-C to Type-A adapter included in the box got stuck in my PC and is now in 2 pieces. Hidizs emailed me and said this is a glue issue, and others dating back to June 2021 have had the same problem. Click here to see the reviews. This is something that should have been fixed in the last year and apparently hasn’t been. That needs to change ASAP.
- I haven’t had an issue with the Type-C to Type-C cable, but others have. Something to keep in mind and is similar to the adapter issue.
- The unit reportedly doesn’t work with Samsung devices, but I don’t have a Samsung. If you do, you may want to steer clear of purchasing this unit for the time being.
- If you want to use it with an iPhone, you’ll have to purchase a separate adapter.
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In today’s climate, I think the DragonFly varieties are a tad dated, but they still sound good and I’ve owned the Red version since 2017.
I would just never buy one now considering they’re overpriced and there are much better ways to spend your money.
Note: I have reached out to Hidizs and they agreed to send over a new adapter.
Update: I have received the adapter and it’s been holding up just fine. The build, while very light, seems pretty robust after a ton of use so I’ll put the S9 Pro as my #2 go-to right behind the BTR5.
BTR5 (#1 Option)
S9 Pro (#2 Option)
Well, that’s about it for today my friend! I hope you’ve enjoyed this Hidizs S9 Pro Review and are better equipped to make a purchasing decision!
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Could you see yourself with a BTR5? Why or why not? I would love to hear your thoughts. Until next time…
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