Shoutout to my boy Marko for the loaner!
How does the Sabaj DA2 compare to other, small, compact DACS? Who is it for? How does it sound?
All of these answers and more, comin’ up…
Greetings bass head and Welcome aboard.
Stuart Charles here, HomeStudioBasics.com helping YOU make sound decisions leading to a beautiful audio experience that will make you fall in love with music (NOT gear), all over again, so…
At A Glance
In the Box
Sabaj DA2 Amp/DAC
User Guide (Not pictured)
Micro USB to Micro USB cable
USB Type-A to micro cable
USB Type-C to Type-C cable
- Output: Line Out
- Input: Micro-USB
- Output Power: 0.1W
- Signal to Noise Ratio: 108dB
- Bluetooth: No
- DSD: Yes, Native 512
- Support: 32-bit/768kHz
- Recommended Headphone Impedance: Up to 300 Ohm
- Material: Aluminum
- Dimensions: 54 x 17 x 6 mm
- DAC Chip: ESS Sabre 9018Q2C
The Sabaj DA2 is surely the tiniest and lightest DAC I’ve ever used and does feel a bit flimsy. It kind of makes the DragonFly Red/Cobalt, FiiO BTR3K, and Centrance DACport HD look and feel gargantuan in comparison.
The interface is incredibly simple; there’s a + and – for volume, and an LED indicating what type of file you’re playing. Blue means pretty much anything up to 32-bit/768kHz, and DSD will display purple/magenta. What Is DSD In Audio? Is It Worth Pursuing?
On the top, there’s your standard 3.5mm jack, and the bottom reveals a micro USB port. The DA2 utilizes an ESS Sabre 9018Q2C DAC chip and has an output impedance of about 0.4 indicating you’re going to get a very clean signal. What is Output Impedance?
There’s really nothing more to it than that.
How does it sound in relation to what I have on my desk?
Portable Puppy Shootout
DA2 vs. DragonFly Red
DF Red Specs
- Compatibility: Desktop: Windows 7 / 8.1 / 10; Apple OS X; Linux (no support provided)
Mobile: Apple iOS 5 and newer; Android 4.1 and newer
Use with mobile devices requires adapters (available separately)
- Connectors: Digital Input: 1 x USB Type-A; male
Analog Output: 1 x 1/8″ / 3.5 mm TRS stereo; female
- DSP: 32-bit ESS 9016
- Bit Depth: 24-bit playback
- Sample Rates: 44.1, 48, 88.2, 96kHz
- Audio Output: 2.1V
- Volume Control: 64-bit digital control
- Dimensions: 0.5 x 0.7 x 2.4″ / 12 x 19 x 62 mm
In going back and forth between these 2 for a couple of hours, I found the differences to be subtle but definitely noticeable. The DragonFly Red provides more slam, weight, and impact; particularly to bass notes.
Overall, it’s more of a grand, open affair, and portrays the music in a more crisp, vibrant light; something I’ve talked about quite a bit with the DragonFly Red and why I tend to recommend it so often over the nearly 50 Amps & DACS I’ve heard at the time of this writing.
The DA2 by contrast feels a bit more relaxed, laid back, but kind of lacking a bit of energy. It sounds great, but the soundscape isn’t quite as tight and snappy. It also feels more closed in on Jazz tracks like this version of John Coltrane’s Afro Blue. The Red is definitely more open sounding with more air.
Keep in mind the difference is fairly marginal but can be heard on certain tracks. Tei Shei and Blood Orange’s “Even If It Hurts” is a great example of the bass sounding a tad better on the DragonFly Red. With the DA2, it feels a bit foggy and lacks some impact.
slenderbodies’ “Anemone”, a track I’ve heard hundreds of times, sounds more forward and lively with the DragonFly Red; especially in regard to the hazy, almost incoherent vocals.
The song itself envelopes you the listener just a bit more.
At the end of the day, the differences between these 2 are subtle but definitely noticeable.
DA2 vs. FiiO BTR3K
- Audio Input: Bluetooth Connection (Bluetooth 5.0)
- Headphone Output: Unbalanced: 3.5mm Stereo Jack, Balanced: 2.5mm Stereo Jack.
- Channel Balance: ≤0.1 dB
- Volume Control: Side Buttons
- Battery Capacity: 330 mAh
- Power Input: 5 VDC, 500 mA (Recommended)
- Battery Life: Low-Power Mode: About 11 Hours (Balanced)
High-Power Mode: About 9.5 Hours (Unbalanced), About 7.5 Hours (Balanced)
- Charging Time: ≤1.5 Hours (5 VDC, 500 mA)
- Output Power: Unbalanced: 25 mW, 32-Ohm Load
Unbalanced 50 mW, 16-Ohm Load
Balanced: 78 mW, 32-Ohm Load
Balanced: 40 mW, 16-Ohm Load
- THD+N: Unbalanced: <0.003% (LDAC, 1 kHz, A-Weighted)
Balanced: <0.002% (LDAC, 1 kHz, A-Weighted)
- Noise Floor: High Power: ≤1.0 uV (Unbalanced), ≤2.0 uV (Balanced)
Low Power: ≤4.5 uV (Unbalanced), ≤4.5 uV (Balanced)
- Signal to Noise Ratio: Unbalanced: ≥119 dB (32 Ohms, A-Weighted)
Balanced: ≥122 dB (32 Ohms, A-Weighted)
- Sampling Rate: 48 kHz / 16-Bit (USB DAC)
- Chips Used: 2 x AK4377A (DAC), CSR8675 (Bluetooth)
- Supported Audio Formats: AAC, SBC, aptX, aptX LL, aptX HD, LDAC
- Mic: Supports Bluetooth Calls
Built-in Omnidirectional Microphone
Supports External Microphone (CTIA Cable)
- USB Port: Type-C
- Drive Ability: 16 to 100 Ohms
- Frequency Response: 20 Hz to 20 kHz (aptX)
20 Hz to 40 kHz (LDAC)
- Output Impedance: Unbalanced: <0.3 Ohms, 32 Ohms Loaded
Balanced: <0.5 Ohms, 32 Ohms Loaded
- Amplitude: Unbalanced: 0.9 V (32 Ohms / THD+N <1%)
Balanced: 1.59 V (32 Ohms / THD+N <1%, 1.8 V (Unloaded)
- Crosstalk: Unbalanced: ≥73 dB (1 kHz, 32 Ohms Loaded); ≥114 dB (1 kHz, Unloaded)
Balanced: ≥108 dB (1 kHz, 32 Ohms Loaded); ≥119 dB (1 kHz, Unloaded)
- Dimensions: 2.3 x 1.0 x 0.4″ / 5.8 x 2.5 x 1.1 cm
- Weight: 0.8 oz / 23.5 g
The differences between these 2 are even more subtle, but they’re still there.
The DA2 is ever so slightly more neutral and clean. It’s just a smidgen crisper, similar to that of the relationship between BTR3K and DF Red. The BTR3K dons a somewhat warmer flavor, but both sound very similar at the end of the day.
The DA2 is just a tad more articulate a bit less glossy. Both go incredibly well with the Koss KPH30i; one of the players in this demo.
- Here’s the full playlist!
So as for a hierarchy of how these 3 sound, the DragonFly Red is the most neutral, followed by the DA2, and then the BTR3K.
As for my personal preference?
I would lean towards the BTR3K or DF Red, but in reality, it’s very close. The DF Red does tend to do a better job of separating instruments and sounds; something I’ve always touched on in reviews and videos. The DA2 isn’t far behind in this regard but does sound more claustrophobic by comparison.
Even so, I like the DA2’s package. It comes with a USB Type-A to micro, a USB Type-C to Type-C, and a Micro to Micro.
I can easily pair it with my phone and be off to the races. Plus it’s around $150 less.
To be honest, this is the first portable DAC I’ve found to work seamlessly with my dinosaur LG-X Charge phone. I mostly listen to music on my desktop but found the DA2’s 3 cable options incredibly convenient.
A lot of companies don’t include as many which can be really irritating.
Out of the 3, I do think the BTR3K presents the best overall value, as you can use it Bluetooth or on your desktop charged full time. It’s the easiest to transport and move around with, something I really don’t care to do with many other DACS. You’ve also got the balanced 2.5mm option and it can take calls.
The downside is that the 3k doesn’t have as much power as the others, so if you do plan to listen mostly on your desktop with more demanding headphones, I’d go with a DragonFly Red or the DA2.
The DA2 does support higher sampling rates, but I’ve talked at length about how it doesn’t really matter in my What Is DSD In Audio? and What is MQA?! articles. IN reality, 96kHz is the ceiling and anything above that is inconsequential.
My preferences in order:
Well, that’s about it for today my friend! I hope you’ve enjoyed this Sabaj DA2 Review + DragonFly Red/BTR3K comparison and came away with some valuable insight.
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Which one of these are you going to purchase? I would love to hear from you. Until next time…
All the best and God bless,