DAC Chip: ESS Sabre ES9280c (Single)
PCM 32bit – 384kHz, SNR: 120db, Power: 2 Vrms, USB Type-C Male, 3.5mm SE (Microphone: YES), Metal Chassis & SPC Cable
Listening Equipment: Etymotic ER4SR, HZSOUND Heart Mirror, Moondrop Aria, FOSTEX T40RP MK3, VE Asura 2.0, VE Duke, CVJ CSK, TIN HiFi P1, Shure KSE1500. Source: USB 3.0 Samsung S20 (Deezer HiFi)
LISTENING EQUIPMENT USED IMPARTED HUGE INFLUENCE TO SOUND IMPRESSIONS & RATING
- Balanced neutral timbre
- Well controlled dynamics
- Clean Treble with crisp decays
- Naturally placed Mids with neutral tonality, realistic vocals
- Mild Mid-Bass with equally soft Sub-Bass responses
- Tall Soundstage, decent width
- Great speed and transients
- Great with Lo-Fi and poorly recorded sources
- Works great with iOS via MFi certified adapters
- Great Macro and Micro details especially when paired with technically adept IEMs/HPs
- Drives FOSTEX T40RP MK3 at 75/100 for great listening level
- Soundstage while spacious, the height feels a little odd with forehead focus
- Sub-Bass a bit on the lean side
- Spatial imaging focused on L/R split, not as holographic
- Runs a bit hotter than most Dongles of the same size
ES9280c. This unbranded Dongle can be found sold in AliExpress and has been around for a while. It is not as popular as ES9281C because manufacturers prefer to have native MQA readiness of ES9281C.
Generally this ES9280c is a clean sounding unit, with great balance to not exhibit overly bright presentation as how it is with some ESS based DAC/Amps. Timbre and tonality is also very neutral especially when paired with an already neutral sounding IEMs/HPs/Earbuds.
ES9280c exhibited great synergy with many type from Magnetic Planar, BA, Hybrids, DD and even Electrostatics. The neutral and transparent presentation is consistent, meaning the respective IEMs/HPs/Earbuds will retain their native characteristics – which is really a great thing to have for anyone preferring their sources being transparent. With hard to drive units like my T40RP MK3, TIN HiFi P1 & VE Asura 2.0 155Ω the output was wholesome sounding with good density and dynamic range. Very usable.
However, one disturbing element at least to my ears, I felt that the spatial imaging somewhat odd with apparent forehead headstage for Mids and Vocals. On the other hand the L/R split which to me is not something I enjoy. I prefer to have holographic imaging more. So all these translated into something that I personally feel as out of place. Additionally on DF flat pairing, the Sub-Bass was somewhat lean that I almost can’t hear it. Other than that this ES9280c is a very solid DAC/Amp Dongle.
Best Pairing: Flexible for anything no lower than 91db Sensitivity
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