The Hidizs S3 PRO doesn’t have the most power, but what it lacks in power, it makes up in features and refinement. If you like MQA, this is the dongle to buy for less than 100 bucks.
Since Apple initiated the move away from smartphone headphone jacks, dongle DAC development has exploded. These little marvels let you turn an ordinary phone into a high-resolution digital audio player. USB DAC/Amp combos are almost innumerable on Amazon and other outlets, and I have been lucky enough to hear many of the most popular ones.
One of those was the $119 Hidizs S9 PRO Balanced DAC/Amp, which I found a great little powerhouse, driving full-sized headphones with ease. This time around, I’m looking at its little brother, the single-ended Hidizs S3 Pro Dongle DAC, which seems to exchange some power for finesse. It’s also a little cheaper at $69, a reasonable price for a DAC/Amp dongle built around one of the pricier ESS chips.
So is it worth your hard-earned cash? Well, read on, and I’ll talk about who this dongle DAC is for and how it sounds!
Disclaimer: This unit was sent to us by Linsoul Audio in exchange for our review. However, no input was given or promises made regarding the content contained in this evaluation.
The Hidizs S3 Pro has a cylindrical metal (aluminum) housing and short braided cable (3.54 inches long, mixed copper and silver) permanently terminated with a USB-C connector. It seems both lightweight and sturdy.
On the main body (the cylinder), which is about the size of a U.S. penny, there’s a tiny LED light that indicates the sampling rate of the track playing (Red: 44.1k-48k, Blue: 88.2k-384k, Pink: MQA).
Inside the housing resides an ESS9281C PRO DAC/Amp SoC, which is specced to provide very low distortion and PCM support up to 32Bit/384kHz, DSD support to DSD128, and MQA decoding (rendering only). The company also calls out four Panasonic capacitors for “cleaner, warmer, and more transparent highs.”
The S3 Pro is compatible with Windows PCs (Windows 7 and earlier versions are not supported), Android, macOS, iPadOS, and iOS. You get a USB-A to USB-C adapter in the box to connect to laptops, but if you want to connect to iOS devices, you will need a lighting OTG adapter or cable, which you can get from Hidizs for around fifteen bucks.
One novel feature the S3 Pro has is the option of three different firmware, which gives you three sound signatures to choose from. The first is Treble focused, the second is Balanced, and the third is Bass focused.
To change the firmware, you download the firmware update tool, update guide, and firmware file folder to your computer, then connect the dongle and follow the instructions. It looks like a pretty straightforward process, but to me, this would be better handled via an app, where you could switch this on the fly. The Shanling UA1 Pro does this.
Speaking of connections, the S3 Pro supports control of playback/pause, volume, and phone call functions when a remote-equipped earphone is connected, which you see on more and more dongle DACs these days.
I connected the Hidizs S3 Pro to my Samsung Galaxy Tab S8 and played some music from the TIDAL app for my sound tests. All my sound impressions come from the pre-installed firmware.
With a rating of 55mW (@32Ω), the compact S3 Pro is at about the middle of the pack for output power, so don’t expect it to drive large planar magnetic headphones with authority. On the other hand, it will drive the majority of IEMs with ease, along with many full-sized dynamic driver headphones.
In my case, I tried a bunch of IEMs and Dynamic Driver Headphones with the S3 Pro, and it wasn’t to find some that had excellent synergy with this dongle DAC. It was clean and balanced enough to make expensive IEMs like the Audeze Euclid and inexpensive options like the TINHIFI T3 Pro shine.
I also liked the S3 Pro with a full-sized headphone like the Focal Elear. This dongle had the gusto needed to drive them to loud volumes with full dynamics.
Most of my listening was done with the Euclid Planar Magnetic IEM, and listening to this combo was a pleasure. I loved how well-tuned the Hidizs dongle was out of the box, not playing up any particular part of the audio spectrum. It allowed the earphones to give me just what the artist intended without artificially boosted bass or highs.
No matter what I listened to, the highs were sweet, the mids were natural, plus the bass was controlled and deep. The mids can get a little edgy on the Euclid with lesser dongles, and I didn’t hear that with the S3 Pro. It’s very refined for the price.
As far as the DAC section was concerned, I was highly impressed at the S3’s ability to separate the various elements of the mix. Listening to the MQA recording of Patricia Barber’s “This Town,” I loved how the Hidizs dongle brought out the upright bass and piano textures.
While the performance was a little compacted from front to back, the separation from left to right was superb for a sub-$100 dongle.
Compared to the Helm Audio Bolt, my choice for MQA dongle DACs under $100 in the past, everything was just more defined on the S3 Pro, and the background was “blacker” or less noisy to boot.
The Wrap Up
While the Hidizs S3 Pro isn’t the most potent dongle, you get decent output and a smooth, refined sound for the price. I also like the lightweight form factor and MQA/DSD decoding options. For $69, to me, this dongle is a no-brainer unless you need a little more power. In that case, you can look at the Shanling UA 1 Pro, which has a little more juice, but no MQA. This is an excellent way to transform your smartphone into a high-resolution music player for very little cash! The S3 Pro is Highly Recommended!
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I’m an audio writer who started as a young audio salesman/consumer electronics professional back in the late 90s. That’s where I discovered the magic of 2-Channel sound. My hunger for great sound has led me on a delightful music quest that continues today.