Dongle DACs and TWS IEMs are falling from the sky in 2022 and every manufacturer and their grandmother seems to have both to sell to consumers; competition is a good thing if it promotes innovation and better products that are more affordable.
The flip side is a market oversaturated with average products that don’t push the performance envelope and and waining interest from consumers. Hidizs is taking the opposite approach by offering a small DAP (AP80 Pro-X), the DH80s DAC/Headphone Amplifier, and the Hidisz S9 Pro Dongle DAC.
All three products offer rather similar specifications and are aimed at 3 different types of customers.
Those looking for an affordable and extremely portable DAP that can accompany them on the camping trip or family vacation will be well served by the AP80 Pro-X, whilst those looking for a portable amplifier that has its own battery and can pull double duty on the desktop should take a look at the DH80s.
The Hidizs S9 Pro is roughly the size of a package of chewing gum (2.5″ x .75″ x .50″) and is offered with an aluminum shell and glass front/rear panel.
The Hidizs logo on the front of the S9 Pro doubles as the LED indicator that indicates the incoming signal’s bit-rate. The nose offers 2.5mm and 3.5mm headphone jacks and the tail has a USB Type-C port.
Fitting the ports on the S9 required a slight bump to the shell so an aluminum block is raised on either side for roughly the first ½ inch of the case. This block provides an anchor point for the provided belt clip so the S9 Pro can lock into place for more secure carry.
The simplicity of the exterior shell hides what lurks inside; the S9 Pro offers some serious horsepower including an ESS9038Q2M DAC; the two-channel mobile version of the Sabre 9038 Series chips.
This is coupled to Sabre 9602 amplifiers that provide up to 100mW of output power in single-ended mode and 200mW in balanced operation.
Format support is excellent; the S9 Pro will decode up to 32-bit/768kHz PCM, and native DSD512. There is no support for MQA.
The indicator LED illuminates in green for PCM files up to 96kHz, Blue for 176/192, Red for 352/384, and White for 705/768k. For DSD, Yellow indicates 64 or 128 while Purple indicates 256 or 512.
In addition to file compatibility, the S9 Pro offers support for Windows 10 and 11, Android, Mac OS, iOS, and iPad OS — including Apple Lossless Audio.
There were no issues getting the S9 Pro to work with a wide variety of sources; including a Samsung S21 and tablet, iPad and iPhone 13, Windows 11 laptop, and a MacBook Pro laptop.
It was plug and play with all of them and didn’t require any extra setup although some older versions of Windows may need a driver to function and Windows 11 only supports up to 32-bit/384kHz with the current driver.
Hidizs provides a Windows driver for those who wish to run files larger than 32-bit/384kHz; very few consumers are likely to do that and my own music collection tops out at 24-bit/192kHz.
From a power perspective, the S9 Pro offers more than enough for most IEMs and headphones like the Campfire Audio Cascade and Grado Labs SR325x. The Meze Audio 99 Classics should be a good match as well.
The $129 asking price feels rather low when you figure in the build quality, power, format and source compatibility. This is a very versatile Dongle DAC that takes up very little space in your pocket; the sound quality is just icing on the cake.
There is a slight hint of the ESS DAC hump in the low end, but the overall presentation is really very transparent and detailed. There is more than enough micro-detail to keep your attention and the power is certainly sufficient for providing a surprising amount of dynamic range.
If you are looking for a Dongle DAC that imparts a lot of color into the presentation — you will be disappointed by the S9 Pro which falls more into the neutral camp and is about letting you hear what your IEMs or headphones can do more than casting the spotlight on itself.
One of the big advantages of the S9 Pro compared to some of its competitors is its low power draw. Dongle DACs draw from the source device and some are capable of draining your battery faster than you would like. The S9 is one of the best in that regard; in our testing it used roughly 14% of my Samsung S21’s battery when used in single-ended mode during an 8-hour work day.
In a market that has become oversaturated with Dongle DACs, it is very difficult for a product to differentiate itself from the rest. The most expensive dongles offer multiple headphone jacks, balanced and single-ended connectivity, support for 32-bit/384kHz PCM or higher, MQA compatibility, and very robust build quality.
The Hidizs S9 Pro Dongle DAC offers almost everything you would need to drive a wide range of IEMs and headphones (32 ohms) and it doesn’t call attention to itself with an overly ripe tonal balance or forward sounding presentation. It gets the job done and stands out of the way so you can enjoy your music.
Am excellent value to say the least.