DAC Chip: ESS Sabre ES9281 PRO (Quad Configuration)
PCM 32bit–384khz, SNR: -130db, Power: Undisclosed, USB Type-C Male, 3.5mm SE (Microphone: YES), 26g Rugged Plastic Chassis, OFC Cable, RGB
LISTENING EQUIPMENT USED IMPARTED HUGE INFLUENCE TO SOUND IMPRESSIONS & RATING
- Clean flat neutral timbre, natural and well balanced
- Well rounded and controlled dynamics, great coherence
- Crisp and smooth Treble with polished decays, great extensions
- Naturally placed Mids, richly textured with realistic tonality
- Solid, fast Mid-Bass response with visceral texture, realistic decays
- Smooth Sub-Bass presence, well nuanced decays
- Realistic guitar and stringed instruments tone, polished edge
- Great balance between technical and musical ability
- Wide spacious soundstage, stellar spatial holographic imaging
- Reference grade Macro and Micro retrieval, great transparency
- Superb speed and transients, will never get congested
- Stellar resistances to sibilance, very forgiving to Lo-Fi recordings
- Does not drain host battery too fast
- Excellent source for AUX and Pre-Amp feed
- Runs perfectly on Android, iPhone and PC
- Perfect for highly sensitive IEMs/HPs/Earbuds
- BEAUTIFUL configurable RGB Light!
- SHOCKINGLY Weak driving power for a Quad DAC Dongle
- No user selectable gain options, no adaptive gain as well
- No Volume adjuster on Dongle unit
- Slightly warm to the touch after prolonged use
ASUS ROG Clavis. This I believe is my 10th Dongle that runs on ES9281 variant and the only one that it configured in Quad DAC formation. However it is best that I start this with the one glaring negative that I find very disturbing, this is the WEAKEST Dongle with driving power among all of the ES9281!, period. When I first received this Clavis from Amazon, gleefully I chucked in my FOSTEX T40RP MK3 and I was literally left aghast that I needed 100/100 volume to match near decent loudness. I was so shocked and disappointed that I totally ditched the idea of testing this Clavis with anything demanding, including my equally finicky TIN HiFi P1.
Trying to make sense out of all this, I attached it to my ASUS TUFF DASH15 Laptop which already have ASUS Armory Crate software installed. The Armory Crate software allowed me to configure the Clavis to my liking (including EQ presets which I never touch and RGB lighting theme). Through Armory Crate I performed FW update to the latest version. While attached to my laptop, the toggle switch on the Dongle side was set to “PC Mode” and I observed that the power was not as anemic as how it was on my Samsung S20 (USB 3.0). But I wasn’t convinced enough to run a very demanding Magnetic Planar on this Dongle still.
Now that all has been reconfigured, I set the toggle to “Mobile” mode and attach it directly to my S20, yep it is still weak. With my Etymotic ER4SR the volume needed over 75-80/100 for proper listening level.
Ok now the worrying part is all out. Let’s talk about the good part. Clavis is an exceptionally clean sounding unit. Among the cleanest I have tried so far. If I may say this, it is even cleaner sounding than L&P W2 or REIYIN DA-03. When paired properly with less demanding partners, I am amazed with timbre hygiene and coherence presented. The great thing is, it does not sound sterile while trying to achieve this, making the likes of HiBy FC3, BEAM 2SE and Hidizs S3 Pro unnaturally pristine sounding in contrast. There’s great balance to dynamic range that does not emphasize any of the frequencies beyond what is natural. It is super transparent and detailed.
Despite needing almost max volume for proper loudness, Clavis actually synergize well with my Etymotic ER4SR. The sound exceedingly clean and coherent. Meticulously balanced on all frequencies. Realistic dynamics with engaging vibrancy. It is as smooth as it is crisp. Macro and Micro details all retrieved expertly. Great transparency yet still forgiving to Lo-Fi. Similar results exhibited with HZSOUND Heart Mirror, not as technically adept as ER4SR, but in return there’s generously spaced wider headstage retaining the precise holographic imaging and a bit more of vibrant dynamics.
Moving on to Moondrop Aria, Clavis wide soundstage projection complemented Aria innate staging perfectly. It is audibly wider than it was with Heart Mirror. Aria remained truthful to warm Harman Curve with cleanly controlled Bass responses and smooth edged Highs. Similar results observed with VE Asura 2.0, with even wider soundstage, yet still Mids focused (Asura native signature). Both exhibiting great holographic spatial imaging. No denying here Clavis synergize well with both.
Clavis crowning glory is when I used it as an AUX feed to my Shure KSE1500 Electrostatic unit. Assuredly among the very best AUX feed I have ever listened to on my Endgame IEM. It is so very well balanced naturally with meaty dynamics, surgical details and pristine clarity. KSE1500 being ultra-transparent was able to project the very best the Clavis could muster and that is nothing short of amazing. Helped a lot by exceedingly clean output that is truly reference grade.
Despite all this, I am partially disappointed that a DAC/Amp of this pedigree falling short in driving heavy and demanding load. FOSTEX T40RP MK3 and TIN HiFi P1 are among my favorite listening devices, not being able to use them properly with Clavis is a sore letdown for me. Had the driving power been higher, I have no doubt that Clavis would have scored perfectly with 5 stars rating, unfortunately that fell short due to the glaring Cons.
PS: I am sending an email with my feedbacks to ASUS and hope that they can do something with upcoming FW update to address the driving power issue, I believe the limitations are somewhere in the the software.
Best Pairing: Sensitive and less demanding pairing below 100Ω
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