EarMen Sparrow Portable DAC/Amp Review 5

EarMen Sparrow Portable DAC/Amp Review

Closer Examination »

Packaging and Accessories

EarMen operates web shops in the US and Europe, but this sample shipped from a PR agency, so we begin directly with the product packaging. The box used for the EarMen Sparrow is larger than I thought it would be, adopting a flat profile similar to a paperback book. On the front is the company name and logo along with the product name and a render of the actual product in the middle, with side profiles showing the I/O options. Salient marketing features greet us at the bottom, which continues on the back with some specifications and certifications as well as contact information for the company. A seal on either side keeps the contents inside in place in transit and indicates any tampering should it have been opened before.

Opening the box, we see some paperwork right away, including a user manual in English (online copy here, also available in other languages). It contains more specifications and actually confirms the power output in mW for those who don't fancy converting Vrms with impedance (resistance in this case) to power (P=V²/R). It is here I noticed that the specifications don't add up, with the user manual citing lower numbers than on the product page. For example, the product page claims 2.0 Vrms on the balanced output at 32 Ω compared to the 1.85 Vrms in the manual, but the bigger difference is that the second set of numbers are actually at 150 Ω for both outputs rather than 600! This is certainly an issue, one I have asked clarification on. For what it is worth, based on my testing, I am going with the numbers in the user manual. The reported THD (total harmonic distortion) values are also incredibly low, as expected from a product using the current flagship ESS Sabre mobile DAC. A warranty card confirming the two-year warranty on the Sparrow has also been included, and then we see the reason for the larger packaging in the form of a large, thick foam sheet that has the actual contents inside cut-outs for protection.

At launch, the EarMen Sparrow had a few signal distortion issues. It was quickly found that the cable manufacturer the company was using had decided to skip on shielding the cable core; thus, the 4G/5G signals were being picked up by the cables and passed on to the Sparrow, which resulted in the occasional hissing (or worse) when listening to anything connected to the device. That was quickly addressed with some new cables EarMen shipped to owners, and the current SKUs all ship with braided, shielded cables. Note that there is still the rare possibility of it happening, but it now comes down to the über-sensitive DAC SoC itself. EarMen recommends using an even longer 20 cm long cable, but that defeats the whole point of the device, where I would rather the cable be as short as possible! We see a USB Type-A to Type-C cable included, as well as a USB Type-C to Type-C cable, both braided in black and with "EarMen" written on the side meant to connect to the device. The Indian market alone has the Type-C to Type-C cable replaced by Type-C to Lightning, presumably based on market research showing customers in India interested in the EarMen Sparrow are also typically iOS users.
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May 16th, 2022 09:18 EDT change timezone

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