Because Sage is so well balanced, neither bright nor dark, finding a suitable source won’t pose any difficulty. I will say the brighter and more detailed the source, the better Sage will sound, since it leans warm. But it’s neutral enough that even a very warm DAP does just fine.
Opus#2 is my reference player. Highly neutral, with a touch of warmth, and tons of dynamism and musicality. Sage’s soundstage is at its full potential. You get all the depth and naturalness inherent in Noble’s tuning. The bass has heft and texture, and more control than on any of my other DAPs. The treble is thick and pure, extending as far as Sage can manage. Opus pushes as much clarity into the vocals as Sage can render. On a player of this caliber you also get to hear just how detailed Sage is. It may never sound like Encore, but it does have more than a little skill of its own.
With the Opus#1 you get one lively f**king player. You could call it brighter than the Opus#2, but that would paint the wrong image. Opus#1 is just aggressively neutral. Yet it possesses such strong dynamics that it’s bass and treble pop with excitement. Sage benefits beautifully from this sort of energy. As well as the crystalline clarity of the Opus’ mid-range. Lacking the maturity of the bigger Opus#2, #1 screams high-res. It puts it’s talents on front street, which Sage, being more laid-back, gladly accepts.
Cayin’s i5 loses some of that clarity and detail. The soundstage is ever so slightly smaller than the Opus#1. What Sage enjoys here is insane amounts of power, bass, and musicality out the ass. Being a much warmer DAP, the i5 is not the best pairing, but I challenge you not to get swept away by the sheer passion of its tuning. It sort of takes all the things Sage does, the good and the bad, and takes it to 11. For critical listening, this may not do. But for the pure love of music, i5>Sage is a rockin’ good time.
If all you’re looking for is an adequate player on a budget, the Shanling M2s delivers 90% of what the Cayin i5 does. Their tuning is nearly identical, the Cayin merely sounding a little more robust and more refined, with a bigger soundstage. The M2s is really not far off. Shanling is warm, impactful, and oh so smooth. It creates one luscious melody, and just like with the i5, Sage responds beautifully.
The Noble Audio Sage does a lot with very little. With just two Balanced Armatures, you are treated to remarkable tonal accuracy and a master class of tuning. I prefer Sage over Jupiter, or even Rhapsodio Solar, which is over twice the price. All the frequencies are just so well measured and pleasing to my ears. Of course, I have TOTL IEMs I like more than Sage: the U12 and Encore to name a couple. But at this price point, Sage is an easy recommendation. It’s an unconventional melodious blessing.