S8 Review - Head-Fi
Hidizs S8 – Mini DAC & AMP
Zelda | January 24, 2020
Pros: Very compact design
Includes all cables needed
Clean and detail sound quality
Cons: Volume adjustment is not very accurate
Can be bright sounding / bass light
Price: US$ 79.
Available in Black and Silver colors.
The S8 unit was kindly provided by Hidizs company for the review.
The S8 arrives in a very small simple cardboard box. Upper layer inside holds the S8 device and below are all the possible cables with micro USB on one end to connect to the S8 itself and different plugs on the other: micro USB, Type-C, Type-A and Lightning for Apple devices.
The S8 DAC is a very small device. Build quality is solid for being so compact and light weight. The main frame is all CNC-machined aluminum with the top and back sides of glass, and there are two volume buttons made of plastic. There are just two connections, micro USB for audio input which can (potentially) connect with any digital audio device with the corresponding cables and standard 3.5mm output.
I have used the S8 with Win 10 notebook and different portable audio players with Type-C. It was compatible with Win10 system, no drivers needed, and also with Hiby and iBasso Android OS based players. It was not recognized by the Fiio M6 even though all the other DACs worked fine with M6. Do note that for the device to be recognized the headphones must be plugged first to the S8. Also, when unplugging the headphones music will be paused.
With iBasso players the audio volume can be only handled through the Hidizs S8 buttons, while with a PC and Hiby players it can be adjusted from the source volume too. The S8 has 16 digital volume steps. The volume changes are not subtle enough, usually either too low or too loud, so further adjustment from the sources may be needed.
For such a small device the S8 is powerful and can get to quite loud volume levels even with high impedance gears. The specifications suggest up to 150ohm, but it has no issues driving 300ohm earbuds like the VE Zen, or a relatively low sensitivity IEM like the final E5000. It may be either the supposed ‘impedance detection’ working or simply having a high jump between volume steps that when switching from sensitive to more demanding sets the extra volume clicks needed are 2 or 3.
For sound presentation, I’ve tested the S8 tends with earphones/headphones with varied sound signatures, from warm and bassy to midrange centered and treble, detail oriented. In general, the S8 presents a cleaner and clear sound, more linear through lows to mids and highlighting the treble. It has an unavoidable forward and aggressive character that depending on the headphones used can become quite tiring and unforgiving.
The DAC itself does not tend to add any coloration though can sound a bit colder, more specially in the midrange. There is good control and extension on the bass which sounds good with neutral or midrange headphones but can sound light and softer in impact with warmer, bass oriented ones missing in mid-bass power. For example, the Campfire Audio Polaris 2 and final E5000 IEMs will sound just less bassy with a cleaner and bit forward mids (which can be good), but with the Meze 99 headphones the low-end and warm tonality is quite missing. Treble is quite the opposite. The S8 gives an extra treble boost that adds more air and clarity, good extension and highlight small details, but result in more aggressive highs. It can be tiring and show harshness and unwanted sibilance with bright headphones like the Dita Audio Fidelity or planar Sendy Aiva and Hifiman Sundara. Soundstage does not sound larger but the presentation is airier and open.
The ZuperDAC-S implements a ESS Sabre DAC 9018 and supports only up to 192kHz / 24 bit quality. Build quality feels tougher with all metal chassis versus the metal & glass combination on the S8. Both DACs have no inner battery and have volume control; the ZuperDAC buttons are harder to press. Volume changes are similar on both, not very accurate being both limited to 16 digital volume steps.
In terms of sound, these are quite the opposite. The ZuperDAC-S emphasize the low-end with a powerful impact and warm tonality, thicker and less forward midrange and much smoother highs. Whatever that doesn’t pair well with the S8 will have much favorable synergy with the ZuperDAC, and vice versa. The S8 highlight more detail and gives higher resolution.
Another ESS Sabre DAC, a ES9118 model with same file quality support as the Hidizs S8 of up to 384kHz / 32-bit. All metal build with bit sharper corners than the S8. The Beam has a different volume control that adds a clickable play/pause control, which can be too sensitive.
Sound presentation falls somewhere between the S8 and ZuperDAC-S, but closer to the ZuperDAC-S. Among these three small DACs the Beam is the most balanced and comfortable to listen. It has less bass than the Zorloo but still warmer and stronger than the Hidizs S8. Midrange is forward like on the S8, more textured too but less clear and detailed. Treble is smooth, laid-back next to the S8 but more present than the ZuperDAC.