Fresh from the West Coast, today I’m checking out the new Hifime S2 – a portable DAC amp retailing for just $99. A $99 DAC? Big whoop, right? WRONG. This tiny portable device packs a ton of power and the new Sabre ES9038q2m DAC Chip – the same DAC chip found in the $299 Audioquest Dragonfly Cobalt. But at such a budget-friendly price, how good can it sound?
Hifime S2 Review
The S2 comes with no accessories – not even the micro-USB charging cable needed to juice up the battery. But in 2019, most folks will have a spare micro-USB cable laying around. Still, it kind of bums me out that the company doesn’t include at least a micro-USB to USB-A cable for charging the unit and using it with a computer.
Overall, the Hifime S2 feels relatively lightweight and well-made. Inside the plastic enclosure, the ES9038q2m converts digital audio to an analog signal. As the latest offering from Sabre, this chip features in a number of new mobile DACs (but has never appeared in one this inexpensive).
There are two inputs on the S2. Users can opt to connect the DAC via micro-USB or optical, and optical takes precedence if both are plugged in at the same time. In this case, the micro-USB simply powers the S2 while the optical connection handles audio.
Output comes in the form of a single 3.5 mm port, and there’s no volume adjustment on the unit itself. And while some users may find the lack of extra features a downside, this design choice does allow for a lighter unit, with the S2 weighing in at only 0.7 ounces.
When it comes to power, the S2 doesn’t hold back. The built-in amp has enough gusto to handle anything from a 16 ohm earphone to the 250 ohm DT 770. And while, the DT 770 did require a fairly high volume (about 80% on my iPhone), the S2 could still push it further.
Due to a lack of an internal battery, the S2 relies on the USB connection for power. With a computer, this is fine, but it can be a little less optimal when it comes to mobile use. If using the Apple camera adapter, prepare to lose a good deal of battery life from your phone while running the S2.
Sound quality is rich, articulate, and accurate. With it’s full, resolving sound, the S2 does justice to every one of my test tracks. And, in some cases, it definitely feels a bit too revealing (like on some electronic tracks, where a few layered samples really show their rough edges). While the bit-perfect audio can sound great with well-recorded material, anything with sub-par recording quality will show its true colors when playing through the Hifime S2.
Overall, the sound quality is very impressive, though. I actually held of on completing this review for a few days so I could have that much longer to enjoy the S2. Unlike other, cheaper DAC amps out there, I never get the impression that my music could improve when using the S2. Instead, everything sounds natural, clean, and, well, just right. Not a manufactured or artificial sound, but a place that sound quality would naturally progress to where everything that can be heard is heard the way it was recorded.
For streaming purposes, I still have to recommend the Audioquest Dragonfly Cobalt. This DAC uses the same chipset as the S2, but costs three times as much. Though it sports a more portable form factor, it also utilizes a better microprocessor, allowing for a more fluid and seamless streaming experience. For mobile users, too, Audioquest comes out on top. Thanks to a 33% reduction in the amount of power it uses, the Dragonfly Cobalt sips less battery from your device, extending your juice while you listen on the go.
However, if you’re planning on using the DAC while plugged into a computer and don’t mind not having the best possible audio while streaming, the Hifime S2 might still offer some value. To be sure, this device sounds great and won’t break the bank…but some corners seem to have been cut to offer it at this low of a price.
At $99, this DAC amp combo offers an impressive sound. And while it may not be the best option out there for portable use, when paired with a computer it still manages to deliver a mighty fine sound. Our take? Budget users who won’t be streaming audio should strongly consider the Hifime S2.
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