Colorfly CDA M1

Review Date: 29 January 2022

Serving AUX feed to Shure KSE1500 (SE Port)

SPECIFICATIONS

  • DAC Chip: Colorfly custom “Alpha” ESS Sabre based
  • RT6863 high-performance independent Op-AMP
  • 32-Bit/768kHz PCM signal decoding
  • Native DSD512 decoding
  • Colorfly U8 HiFi music player architecture
  • Ultra-low jitter 100M active crystal oscillator
  • JitterKill 2 independent clock architecture
  • Dual Headphone output(3.5mm SE & 4.4mm BAL)
  • Supports both High & Low impedance modes
  • Swappable connector cables
  • Multi-platform compatibility
  • USB Connector: Type-C
  • Bitrate support: PCM 32-bit/768kHz, DSD512 natively, DSD256 DoP
  • SNR: 120dB
  • THD+N: -100dB@600Ω, -98dB@32Ω
  • Output level: 2Vrms(3.5mm), 4Vrms(4.4m)
  • Output power: 100mW(3.5mm), 200mW(4.4mm)
  • Frequency response range: 20Hz-20kHz
  • DNR: 120dB

Headphones:

  • FOSTEX T40RP MK3 (Magnetic Planar, 50 Ohm, 91db Sensitivity)
  • Beyerdynamic DT880 (Dynamic Drivers, 600 Ohm, 96db Sensitivity)

IEMs:

  • Etymotic ER4SR (Single BA, 45 Ohm, 96db Sensitivity)
  • TRN VX Pro (8 BA + 1DD Hybrid, 22 Ohm, 106db Sensitivity)
  • TIN HiFi T3+ (Single DD, 32 Ohm, 105db Sensitivity)
  • Shure KSE1500 (Single Electrostatic 200V, KSA1200 Energizer)
  • Kinera Idun Golden (3BA + 1DD Hybrid, 32 Ohm, 112db Sensitivity)

Earbuds:

  • VE Asura 3.0 FE (Single DD, 155 Ohm)
  • VE ZEN 2.0 SLQ (Single DD, 320 Ohm)

Sources:

  • Windows 10, Foobar 2000 (USB 3.0 Power)
  • LG V50 ThinQ (UAPP USB Exclusive Mode, Bitperfect)
  • Sony Xperia X Compact (UAPP USB Exclusive Mode, Bitperfect)
  • HiBy Music Player App (USB Exclusive Mode)

Comparative Reference DAC/Amp:

  • iFi ZEN DAC V2 + ZEN CAN Stack (15.1 Vrms)

LISTENING EQUIPMENT USED IMPARTED HUGE INFLUENCE TO SOUND IMPRESSIONS & RATING

Colorfly CDA M1 is a specially built Dongle using Colorfly own customized DAC which is based on ESS Sabre chipset. Similar to the one they used in their flagship DAP of Colorfly U8.

Build, Functions, Usability

Coiled up with TRN VX Pro

Beautifully built, CDA M1 comes in a fairly sized package for a Dongle. It has USB C female port which will work with any USB C cables. CDA M1 comes with a short USB C to C cable that is somewhat fancy looking, twist braided with shiny jacks. While it does look fanciful, I wished that they opted to use something a bit more solid. The issue I found with the stock cable, the twist braid exhibited tendency to unwind itself especially when the user move about frequently. To resolve this issue, I ditched the stock USB cable entirely and use a basic USB C to C instead from my other Dongles.

There’s two tactile buttons on the side which serves as volume adjusters. Now, CDA M1 apparently does not have independent volume adjustment. Those two buttons simply acting as remote controller to change the volume level on the host. On most other Dongles, I would normally set the volume to max and leave the volume adjustment to the unit, CDA M1 will not work this way. Click the volume adjustment up and the volume slider on the host will change as well. Not something that I particularly like. I would rather that CDA M1 comes with no hardware adjuster if it is meant to just only serve as a remote controller.

The setback that I observed with volume adjustments, jump increments between levels are not refined. For example on HiBy Music Player, scaling from 7 to 8 can result in volume jump that is a bit too much on highly sensitive IEMs. I have this problem consistent across TRN VX Pro, TIN HiFi T3+ and Kinera Idun Golden. Not so much on the harder to drive stuffs like Etymotic ER4SR, VE ZEN 2.0 SLQ, Fostex T40 RP MK3 and Beyerdynamic DT880. It is a bit better with UAPP as UAPP has adjustments for volume jump increments.

CDA M1 also exhibited some parity issues with UAPP, of which the default settings for UAPP optimized for UAC2, the M1 seems to churn out much less power than it is capable of. This can be fixed by tweaking UAPP to allow individual channel volume and setting it to Max. Due to this finicky situation, I have opted to use only HiBy Music Player for CDA M1, USB Exclusive Mode and with Automatic Volume setup – finally CDA M1 shines to the fullest potential with output that is strong and wholesome.

Endurance wise, CDA M1 scored usable 5 hours of continuous playback on my Sony Xperia X Compact (Android 8, 2700 mAH, Airplane Mode, UAPP bitperfect). Driving TRN VX Pro. CDA M1 does get a bit warm to the touch after a while, which is normal for this type of Dongle. CDA M1 fell 1 hour short of the competitor like HiBy FC5 and Cayin RU6 which scored 6 hours.

Lastly, the gain switch does not seem to exhibit any audible change. Switching of Gain is achieved by pressing the two volume buttons at the same time. At least to my hearing I can’t tell the difference.

Sound Impressions

The highlight of CDA M1, the sound itself. CDA M1 is a very well tuned unit exhibiting amazing balance of neutrality. It does not sound digital or metallic even paired with natively bright sounding partners. The timbre is close to being analogue and organic, something which is not commonly found on ESS Sabre based Dongles. For example the general tuning for ESS normally ended up being bright and overly sparkly, CDA M1 thankfully does not exhibit that trait. Similar to the tuning of Questyle M12, HiBy FC5, THX Onyx and Audirect BEAM 2S in fact. For this very reason, I am liking this CDA M1 a lot.

What stand out the most for CDA M1, how crisp and polished dynamics presentation are. It is very clean and coherent, dynamic transients flowing effortlessly without any hint of artifacts or distortions. This is consistent from the most sensitive IEMs all the way to 600 Ohm monsters. This consistency is not an easy thing to accomplish.

If I must nitpick, I will say that I do observe some pronounced edginess to upper Mids especially when paired with an already bright sounding partners, Etytmotic ER4SR and TRN VX Pro for example. I can feel that peaky type vocals (Soprano) like Alison Krauss appeared sharper than usual. Thankfully it never actually goes all the way being sibilant. Other than that, I am hearing very well balanced dynamic range presentation which is wholesome and polished. Otherwise Mids came out as very neutral with good density and imaging. Instruments and vocals sounding natural and believable. On some recordings, especially when paired with Mids centric partners, ample intimacy and lushness to the presentation, just about right. This is especially important for indulgence of Jazz and Folk music.

Very well textured Bass, Mid-Bass presented truthful to the nature of the recordings with solid rumble, attack and decays, not forgetting the details while at it. Sub-Bass seems to take a back seat a bit, still audible, the presentation favoring subtle crispness over lush undertones. Crisp and prompt. Most enjoyable when paired with Shure KSE1500, Fostex T40RP MK3 and Beyerdynamic DT880, Bass responses exhibited rich density and textures, I can actually hear the flow of Bass notes as the transition goes from one level to another.

As for the highs, CDA M1 exhibited great control of Treble presentation. It has sparkle and air with realistic decays. Especially evident when paired with devices which are already bright sounding. It does not go over the board with unnatural brightness or the dreaded ESS “Pinna Glare”. Resistance to sibilance is admirably amazing. I can clearly hear Treble Micro Details especially when paired with Shure KSE1500, Etymotic ER4SR and TRN VX Pro. I love what I am hearing. There’s smoothness to the overall presentation that keep things addictive.

Technically, CDA M1 deliver in spades. Soundstage thankfully not as narrow as how normally an ESS based DAC/Amp would sound like. There’s good sense of staging width, depth and spacing. Spatial imaging is sharp and precise, very holographic with cleanly defined layers separation. Speed wise, equally impressive with no chance of CDA M1 sounding compressed or congested. CDA M1 is assuredly a very detailed and resolving Dongle. The resolution itself is right up there with the top dogs of #donglemadness. With amazing transparency, CDA M1 will satisfy those seeking analytical output when paired with equally resolving partners.

Driving Power

3 way battle. CDA M1 vs FC5 vs M12. Driving KSE1500 and DT880 600 Ohm

As per usual, 2022 #donglemadness contestants are subjected to extreme driving tests and trials. From Beyerdynamic DT880 600 Ohm to Fostex T40RP MK3 magnetic planar, to 155 Ohm VE Asura 3.0FE and 320 Ohm VE ZEN 2.0 SLQ.

Simply put, CDA M1 passed with flying colors. My extensive tests showed that CDA M1 was able to closely match the output as heard from iFi ZEN stack of ZEN DAC V2 + ZEN Can (15.1 Vrms) at approx 75% of overall fidelity (driving DT880 600 Ohm) – volume set at 18/32 on HiBy Music Player, playing Diana Krall “The Look of Love”.

In comparison:

  • Colorfly CDA M1 = 75%, Vol 18/32, 4.4mm BAL on High Gain
  • Questyle M12 = 80%, Vol 25/32, 3.5mm SE on High Gain
  • HiBy FC5 = 75%, Vol 56/128, 4.4mm BAL on Adaptive Gain

Comparison Factors (vs iFi ZEN Stack)

  • Listening loudness (proper level)
  • Dynamic transients and density
  • Headroom spacing and staging
  • Imaging strength
  • Details articulation

As can be seen above, CDA M1 actually has more loudness versus the M12 and FC5 (with matched loudness at proper listening level). However, the M12 has the upper hand with better dynamics density and note weight, better natural organic balance and slightly wider soundstage. CDA M1 and FC5 practically performed equally – at least to the limit of my hearing ability.

BAL and SE Differences

  • SE at 10/32 loudness driving VE Asura 3.0FE 155 Ohm
  • BAL at 7/32 loudness driving VE Asura 3.0FE 155 Ohm

The SE for CDA M1 is just not suitable for anything that require more power. As tested with the 155 Ohm Asura 3.0FE, the output was outright fuzzy and odd sounding. Switching to 4.4mm BAL and then it does sound a lot better with crisper dynamic transients, tonality all sounded proper. The 3.5mm SE has no issues with more efficient IEMs even serving as AUX feed to Shure KSE1500. Sounds equally great with TRN VX Pro and TIN HiFi T3+, be it SE or BAL, the only difference being loudness levels.

VERDICT

Colorfly CDA M1. Despite the quirks and cons as noted earlier, there’s no denying how great CDA M1 as a DAC/Amp Dongle – sonic wise. And that’s what matter the most, the sound output. CDA M1 exhibited great finesse to work with literally anything. Be it super sensitive IEMs or exceedingly hard to drive juggernauts. This agility, finesse and flexibility is a mark of a great Dongle – of being consistent with sonic performances coming from such a compact device. I am especially impressed with how balanced the output is – neither bright not it is warm. CDA M1 is one of the prime example of how a great sounding unit should be tuned, it is highly resolving as it is amply musical. Something that can be enjoyed be it for critical listening or casual use. A winner definitely.

💚Highlights

  • Well balanced neutral, near organic timbre, mature presentation
  • Clean and crisp dynamics
  • Great technicalities
  • Highly affordable

💔Lowlights

  • Volume adjustment not as refined as the competitors
  • Lower score on battery endurance to the host
  • Compatibility issues with UAPP, appeared weak unless tweaked
  • Practically no difference between High Gain and Low Gain
  • Finicky stock USB Cable, tend to unwind on itself

⭐⭐⭐⭐½ ($89.99)

Best Pairing: Flexible up to 600 Ohm

Back to #donglemadness

19 Comments

  1. SriV says:

    Appreciate your hard work and consistancy in this which is unique…may be youtube will be more visible?

    Now curious which will beat Tempotec e44 which is now cheaper at $65. Will it be ACMEE or Xduoo link2 bal both are higher priced.
    Thanks

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Andy.EF says:

      Thanks. I am not comfortable with videos so very unlikely there will be a YouTube thing from me. Lol. And yes more exciting stuffs coming up 😁

      Like

  2. Yuriy says:

    Andy, thank you so much for the long awaited review! Again I’ll ask for advice about the volume of the stage, holography, and especially about the analog sound and vocals – who should I give preference to – creative sxfi amp or this colorfly?

    Like

    1. Andy.EF says:

      No worries, very closely matched actually, but for the two things that you asked, then I would pick SXFi

      Like

      1. Deni says:

        Excusme.. sir andy, what do you think of the best for vocal and analog sounding under 100$? in taiwan the price for creative sxfi is around $200 (nt6000)

        Like

      2. Andy.EF says:

        If lowest possible option for the characteristics you seek is Avani. At $10 it is practically harmless for you to try. I have hundreds of dongles with me and yet I still use Avani and Abigail regularly when I need ultra compact setup. Avani is not exactly Analogue sounding but it does has a “warmer” and rich Mids centric presentation which I find very pleasing. Otherwise, the closest thing to being analogue will be CEntrance DACport HD, Cayin RU6, Apogee Groove, Lotoo PAW S2, and Ovidius B1, but none of them are below $100. SXFi is close enough to analogue sounding

        Like

  3. axelfreakz says:

    there are no hiss in balance?

    Like

      1. axelfreakz says:

        even multi ba?

        Like

      2. Andy.EF says:

        Absolutely, read my review and you will see I use it with TRN VX Pro which is a hybrid 9 drivers per side, 1DD and 8BA, at 24 Ohm TRN VX Pro being super sensitive. I also use it with 3BA of Kinera Idun Golden without any issues

        Like

  4. Puyy says:

    For headphones that are heavy to drive better colorfly cda m1 or fiio ka3 ?

    Like

    1. Andy.EF says:

      CDA M1, I already mentioned in KA3 review very explicitly that KA3 are to be used with easier to drive stuffs. Check it out

      Like

  5. Alex says:

    Hello. Who is better in sounding ka3 or colorfly? If dongle will be used with im-ear headphones (max 40om).

    Like

    1. Andy.EF says:

      Colorfly CDA M1

      Like

  6. Xmarksthespot says:

    Will this be a good pair with HE400SE?

    Like

  7. Fauzan says:

    How it compare to sonata e44 ?

    Like

    1. Andy.EF says:

      E44 will appear more energetic in comparison and M1 milder. Otherwise both operates on similar level of quality

      Like

      1. fauzan says:

        Thanks you 😊

        Like

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