Malaysian #donglemadness tour by Ben Aoak
#donglemadness mini-tour: the dongol madnos continues
good day everyone, today I’m going to share with you my thoughts and findings of the dongles from the mini #donglemadness tour that’s held locally in Malaysia. with this, I truly appreciate the insanely hard work that Mr. Andy has done for the community and for allowing me to experience a part of this madness. it is truly an exhausting but pleasurable one.these dongles are ranked in a simpler manner (because Andy already reviewed all of them in such great detail which mostly aligned to my thoughts especially on the characteristic, synergy & specs), but here is where things get a little different.this is a totally biased opinion and is very subjective which proves that in the end, it’s all matter of personal taste. these are all great dongles mind you, mainly separated by microimage dimension, microdynamics & my preferred decay’s characteristic; according to my trained ears. as usual, if you have any questions, please feel free to comment and discuss them below.
*my preferred signature is neutral with or without bass boost, with an exception for a little warm-tilted, mild V-shaped but to be honest, I’m a “signature agnostic” because anything can work. I listen to almost anything but currently lusting more on the modern sub-genres of Jazz, Progressive Rock & Metal, Drone, Experimental, Noise Rock, No Wave, Minimalism, Totalism, modern recording of Chamber, Orchestra, Concerto, or Modern Classical at large. I’m a musician myself and very passionate about music & music reproduction.
total test duration: 9± days
Moondrop Blessing 2 Dusk – multi-driver hybrid, neutral with bass boost IEM
Hifiman HE400se – planar magnetic, 91 dB neutral headphone
Audio-Technica ATH-R70x – dynamic driver, 470-ohm neutral headphone
ThieAudio Legacy 3, Tripowin Mele, CCA CA16, KZ EDX, VE Monk Plus
test tracks (FLAC files via LG G7 music player only):
Toe – New Sentimentality
GoGo Penguin – Raven
Eddie Daniels – Baiao Malandro
Scott Walker – Corps De Blah
Fear Before the March of Flames – High as a Horse
Sabu Martinez – Martin Cohen Loves Latin Percussion
Shye Ben Tzur, Jonny Greenwood and The Rajasthan Express – Junun
Gil Shaham & Orpheus Chamber Orchestra – Vivaldi: RV 315, ‘Summer’ Presto
Mozart – Die Zauberflote: Der Holle Ranche (Donna Robin)
Daughters – Satan in the Wait
Muddy Waters – Big Leg Woman
Shining – The Red Room
Shellac – Prayer to God
Swans – Oxygen
Billie Holiday – I’m A Fool to Want You
Ryo Fukui – It Could Happen to You
Radiohead – Nude
Spellling – Always
additional next-level special tracks (S rank+):
Codeine – Sea (slowcore)
Zu – Ostia (avant-garde jazz)
Orbs – Eclipsical (progressive rock)
Mastodon – The Czar (progressive metal)
Tera Melos – 40 Rods to the Hog’s Head (math rock)
Chick Corea & Gary Burton – Love Castle (modern classical)
Chick Corea – Light as a Feather / Spain (jazz fusion / Latin jazz)
Sunn O))) – Aghartha (drone metal – you can start from 5:30)
Swans – A Piece of the Sky (experimental rock – you can start from 6:57 or 9:36 – vocal @ 15:33)
Sumac – Image of Control (atmospheric sludge metal – you can start from 3:52)
Scott Walker – ‘See You Don’t Bump His Head’ (experimental)
Between the Buried and Me – Extremophile Elite (progressive metal)
Black Country, New Road – Sunglasses (experimental rock)
Shellac – Genuine Lulabelle (noise rock)
Pelican – City of Echoes (post-metal)
Russian Circles – Campaign (post-rock)
**you’re welcome to judge my taste once you finish all tracks above. DM for my fav 2021 releases (so far)
(total 9 minutes read +9 confusion)
- dongle name – output type ( Rank ) price
- CX-Pro 31993 – 3.5mm SE ( B+ ) $13
I think this is the first dongle I’ve ever owned and it’s a competent one for the build and the price. it does the job quite well and I find it has more focus on the vocal presentation. it’s able to drive the HE400se & the R70x but not strong enough, yet it doesn’t distort at max volume.
it produces a tad longer decay that makes the imaging and separation a tiny bit vague at times comparing to other big boys especially on the busy passages. the female vocal is outstanding with its overall average image size, sound stage, and depth.
the good part of CX-Pro is the microdynamics range as such can be seen (heard) on Tia Cabral’s vibratos on Spellling’s Turning Wheel which is micro-slightly better than Xumee’s.
it doesn’t scale very much with different quality of recordings & different quality of headphones. still, it’s a no-brainer dongle and it truly is holding the meaning of “portability”, if that’s mandatory for you. nothing much to praise or complaint.
- Xumee – 3.5mm SE ( B+ ) $12
imagine a cleaner & overall modestly better CX-Pro. it has the raw imaging force as CX-Pro, crispy but not really smoothed out to the micro-detail. Xumee has a faster & shorter decay, average sound stage with average depth. CX-Pro boasts better microdynamics than the Xumee, which also can be seen (heard) in Eddie Daniels’ Baiao Malandro.
it doesn’t scale very much and is very forgiving on low-quality recordings as CX-Pro does. it’s able to drive the HE400se & R70x at max volume but not to the deafening level. I’d pick Xumee above CX-Pro for fast tempo instrumental music, CX-Pro over Xumee for vocal forward recordings.
- Jcally JM10 – 3.5mm SE ( A- ) $40
this thing wowed me at first. after a full day of listening over and over, I just realized that the imaging capability of JM10 is not good enough and it’s kind of blunted to compare to the S9 Pro & B1. the image is there but it’s not as fully “developed” especially on the vocal. overall good presentation and separation although more like 2.5 dimensional.
it has crisp natural timbre & smooth natural, longer (linear) decays. it seems like a top performer at first, but after long hours of listening, I find it just a cat fur better than Xumee. the imaging capability is not too strong (remember, comparing to top dongles).
it has ample power to drive the HE400se & the R70x at 85% and it doesn’t distort at max volume. that’s almost equal to S9 Pro with the 3.5 out. something special about this one when pairing with the HE400se. it’s an ‘almost there’ great dongle in my opinion. a definite sidegrade to Xumee & CX-Pro in my book, a very good dongle on its own.
- VE Odyssey HD – 2.5mm BAL ( A- ) $30
delicate tonality with smooth unique natural timbre. it has good imaging with a wide sound stage, but not a quite great separation & layering. I think the absence of the microscopic mid-range response makes the treble a microscopic forward while the rest of the frequencies is a jot shy at the back.
it’s rather thinner sounding with smaller & lesser microdynamics than S9 Pro, to my ears. however, its overall presentation is quite realistic with a decay that is almost as natural as S9 Pro’s, only that Odyssey HD is not as ‘weighty’ as S9 Pro. the note is more on the light side and leaner at high volume. the great thing is that it has the ability to make my cheap IEMs & earbuds sound delicious with any type of recordings.
for low impedance IEMs, the power is equal to if not better than Xumee’s although it embodies a “balanced” 2.5 mm out. it’s able to drive the HE400se & R70x at maximum volume, yet it doesn’t get distorted. a great dongle for non-sensitive IEMs though. everyone must own one, or two.
- ASUS ROG Clavis – 3.5mm SE ( A ) $124
this one is a bit different, yet not quite unique. the power distribution here is not well implemented. it can’t drive the HE400se nor R70x to my listenable level of loudness. I need to crank it up for IEMs too, but it doesn’t clip or distort at max volume.
great imaging capability that’s a little bit 2.5 dimensional with an above-average sound stage. it’s a half step to the center that makes the sound seem ‘meatier’ comparing to Ovidius B1 & Hidizs S9 Pro. the separation however is not on par with the likes of B1 and S9 Pro. it’s also not as ‘polished’ as those two. Donna Robin singing Mozart’s Die Zauberflote: Der Holle Rache easily separates Clavis & B1.
Clavis has a delicious natural timbre with smooth natural decay that seems a tad longer than B1’s. the decay is also a little bit darker tone in color. perhaps that’s the reason for the whole super clean presentation or vice versa. I just wish ASUS can produce a ‘chad Clavis’ because Clavis is a very good dongle but lacklustered by its puny strength.
- Xnyocn Q2 – 3.5mm SE ( A+ ) $48
this one has very good 3D imaging with a clean background. excellent separation, layering & depth. crisp but not as super micro-smooth as top dongles. it has a quick natural decay that seems perfect for fast tempo music. it’s near perfect.
Q2 has a micro-treble forward and a timbre that is not as sweet as top contenders. perhaps a little too neutral. it’s lacking microdynamics as can easily be seen (heard) on Eddie Daniels’ Baiao Malandro. to my ears, it has the same characteristic as Odyssey HD but with slightly better imaging & separation. overall, Q2 boasts a really good presentation that surpasses my expectation.
at 85% volume for the HE400se & R70x, it does scale better in power distribution than S9 Pro with the 3.5 out. it also doesn’t care about one’s IEM or source’s quality. a very good dongle come what may-lah.
- TempoTec Sonata HD Pro – 3.5mm SE ( A+ ) $46
Sonata HD Pro has a great holographic imaging capability with great separation & layering. crisp & silky smooth presentation with natural decays. delightful neutral & natural timbre, analytical yet musical. almost magical.
after hours of studying, I find it behaves more like S9 Pro but is equipped with a more concave-like slope decay. great image and wide sound stage reproduction but not as polished and ‘open’ as S9 Pro. it’s also a bit shy on the microdynamics but still accounting for a realistic reproduction on the macrodynamic.
it has ample power to drive the planar HE400se & the 470-ohm R70x at 80% of volume. the power scales really well with high load impedance. under my observation, “Billie Holiday’s I’m A Fool to Want You” confirms the status of Sonata HD Pro as a “mini S9 Pro”. the very good soft-spoken dongle, very pleasant & enjoyable to listen to. one of the sweetest dongles.
- E1DA 9038SG3 – 2.5mm BAL ( S- ) $100
superb performance with ease. it boasts a crisp & smooth natural timbre. firm macro & micro dynamics (micro-dynamic is one of the main reasons that separate S rank and below). excellent imaging with 3D texture. outstanding separation & layering with a wide sound stage. it has the shortest (concave) decay among all top dongles. from this point, it’s all excellence in every way. I think the common understanding of DAC chip characteristics is not relevant anymore.
E1DA 9038SG3 has a reverb tail that ends earlier that gives a sense of the room’s edge and it’s slightly a different hue of the same color to S9 Pro’s. such differences can be seen (heard) in songs like Scott Walker’s Corps De Blah, Eddie Daniels’ Baiao Malandro, or GoGo Penguin’s Raven. both can be considered neutral & natural, but different.
90% of volume for HE400se & R70x (470 ohms). it doesn’t distort and the music doesn’t clip even at 100% of volume. I think that the power is sufficient, and it doesn’t get too hot physically. maybe a little warm.
like I said earlier, it’s all excellence about E1DA 9038SG3. it has no weak point frankly speaking (maybe the short decay). but to me, it just doesn’t enchant that ‘moist magic’ like S9 Pro does to my ears (brain), which is perhaps a more coherent image & after-image reproduction for certain recordings like Toe’s New Sentimentality. maybe all that’s only in my mind. an excellent dongle nonetheless.
- Ovidius B1 – 3.5mm SE ( S ) $149
sharp and holographic imaging with excellent separation. very analytical but very fluid too. it has a tad taller image & a longer decay than S9 Pro that feels ‘livelier’. one can actually differentiate if the song uses a digital or analog reverb. brutally accurate (because I listen to my own recording). like S9 Pro, B1 will sound more ‘luxurious’ with a better recording. I think this is something like NASA would proudly sell as its science museum gift.
one thing I notice after a long, detailed A/B comparison to S9 Pro & Groove, is that the B1 has a more forward presentation but is well backed by smooth linear-slope decays. its reverb tail makes an explicit reflection of the room than the S9 Pro, especially during the intense (sforzando) part. the image projection also is more balanced and horizontally well spread in the stereo field that might give a sense of a wider sound stage.
song like Eddie Daniels’ Baiao Malandro or Scott Walker’s Corps De Blah highlights the differences and makes me understand that there are different ways to astounding musical presentation. it’s like listening to mastering by James Plotkin and Carl Saff of the same album. (hint: d r o s e – boy man machine)
however, it starts to distort at 90% of volume with the HE400se & 85% on the R70x, which is earlier than S9 Pro or Groove. max safe volume capped at 80% of LG G7 with HE400se (more than adequate). because of its brutal transparency and vigorous nature, it appears noisier than others.
- Hidizs S9 Pro – 2.5mm BAL & 3.5mm SE ( S+ ) $119
amazing imaging capability with crisp and smooth micro edges in every note. plenty of space to breathe with a dark background that highlights every holographic image precisely. it has smooth natural convex-like decays that are glued to the body of every note seamlessly until the end. there’s no horizon at the end of the reverb tail, it just disappears into the darkness.
in my opinion, S9 Pro manifests the most natural decay among all others, to my ears. it’s shorter but well spreads to the direction of the sound and the room’s shape. realistic presentation and “expensive” feel of sonic qualities. I think this has to do with the quality of the components & materials used other than the terrific engineering implementation. it’s close to Topping EX5’s performance (ES9038Q2M), but a little tighter and narrower.
it’s tighter and cleaner than B1 too. plentiful of power to drive the HE400se & R70x at 80% through the 3.5 mm. it’s so pleasant to listen to music through this dongle. sometimes I even think that it’s not actually natural, but it’s just so good to my ears & I can’t stop listening to it (maybe the effect of EX5). it’s the Yin to the Ovidius B1, that’s how I picture them.
- Apogee Groove – 3.5mm SE ( S+ ) $199
superb conversion & power distribution with the most 3D image among all. the best separation and layering in a dongle one can buy (also the largest). one can literally see the image behind another image. it produces an enormous visual like physical sound’s supposed to be. very relax sounding among top boys but still energetic & will punch diligently if pushed. hard to distort & has the roundest edges. this chad dongo doesn’t get emotional easily but will punish with sheer fidelity.
100% hardware volume & 70% of LG G7’s can satisfy the HE400se & R70x’s appetite with no sweat. it has the best clarity, resolution, transients, dynamics, sound stage, clean with extended lows & highs.
Apogee Groove is an ancient dongle that I believe has all the ancient components that make the sound reproduction as realistic and analogous as it can be. OMA (Oswalds Mill Audio) founder, Jonathan Weiss once said, “sound waves can’t be miniaturized” and I agree with that statement most of the time.
well, most of your fav music technically was recorded with Apogee’s tech (assuming they’re modern recordings), why not listen through an Apogee? chain hook it to your belt loop and it will make you look smarter than the next person (except that if they use the Groove on the go too)
my favorite dongle? I think it has to be any of the S tier but to be honest, A+ is already super great. if I have to choose one, it’d probably the Hidizs S9 Pro. & the Ovidius B1.
to me, they come in a pair as Yin Yang. it’s like, ‘I’d marry the S9 Pro but I can’t live without B1′ kind of situation. although it’s “just a dongle”, you know it’s not that simple. so in reality, I’d buy the S9 Pro, for time being. it just suits me better.
thank you for your time.
Original Post can be read here: FB Link
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