Saturday, 25 September 2021

MEASUREMENTS / REVIEW: Topping D90SE DAC - Part I: The Hardware, Filters, MQA, and Jitter Performance

Today, let's start with what I'm aiming to be a 3-part review/discussion of the Topping D90SE DAC. I figure I'll take my time on this since things are busy around here and I hope not to purchase more hi-fi DACs going forward, so I might as well savor the moment. ;-) As a "more objective" audiophile who has a vision of aiming for "high fidelity" / "transparency", there is a clear target and end-point to what's needed from hardware performance especially with DACs.

Readers of this blog know that I've had a number of Topping devices reviewed here over the years. In fact, for any single brand of DACs, I think I've reviewed more Topping gear here than other brands. This, I believe, is a reflection of a brand that provides multiple products at price points with features that actually speak to me as a consumer interested in value which includes features, and price. I have certainly not been disappointed by overall quality to this point.

At a current retail price of around US$900, this is not an inexpensive model. As per most of my reviews, I bought this through usual retail channels so what I'm reporting on here is not any potentially specially-selected unit sent from the manufacturer.

Feature-wise, this is a DAC only but accepts multiple inputs - USB, HDMI-style I2S, S/PDIF Coax, S/PDIF TosLink, and wireless Bluetooth 5.0 (SBC, AAC, aptX [LL,HD], LDAC). While it has both unbalanced RCA and balanced XLR outputs, there is no headphone amp. For that, Topping recommends grabbing their top model the Topping A90 (~US$500).

What makes this DAC interesting in mid/late 2021 is that this is reputed to be the highest fidelity converter in the world (available to consumers) at this point in history, Topping's "flagship" device. 

Let's take a look...

Saturday, 18 September 2021

MEASUREMENTS: USB Isolation with Nobsound ADuM4160 device and hi-res DAC. The world these days, and the audiophile microcosm.


After writing about very high resolution measurements with the E1DA Cosmos ADC last week and touching on basically "state of the art" fidelity like the Topping D90SE, for this week's post, I thought it would be good to talk about something more "fundamental". Often spoken of among audiophile tweakers but rarely have I seen evidence of actual value/effect for many of these devices.

Before I begin with this post or even show you anything, let me just say that I do not believe audiophiles need USB isolation for use with devices like DACs unless you know you have noise issues. I think we've all see indiscriminate suggestions that audiophiles need all kinds of noise filters and isolators (like this, or this). Sometimes these things cost quite a significant chunk of change compared to the downstream device (like DAC) itself!

Over the years, I have tried out a number of USB DACs with computers and simple streamer devices like the Raspberry Pi. With a normal set-up, I cannot say I have ever heard an issue with any of the various decent DACs I've tried. Likewise, measurements already suggest that in general there are no major noise issues with at least reasonable modern devices.

However, there are times when the system is complex enough where indeed you do see ground loops and noise like the 8kHz USB PHY noise pop through. A couple months back, I showed you some of this when we took the rather useless AudioQuest JitterBug FMJ for a spin in some of these situations! Today, let's look at the effect of that little inexpensive Nobsound ADuM4160 USB Isolator (typically can be purchased for <US$25) you see in the picture above.

Saturday, 11 September 2021

EARLY LOOK: E1DA Cosmos ADC - affordable high performance measurements for the audio hobbyist!

As you can see in the picture above, I have one of Ivan Khlyupin's (aka IVX) Cosmos ADCs. It's not available yet on the market, so watch for when it's released from E1DA in the days ahead. Thank you Ivan for reaching out and sending this unit for me to use!

[If you're wondering about the E1DA name, as explained by Ivan, it comes from the pronunciation of "Ivan" as sounding like "E1" in Russian as opposed to the Americanized "Eye-Ven". "DA" as in "dah" ("да", "yes") - so it means "Ivan Yes".]

While this unit is one of his builds for external testers, I suspect that it should be much the same as the final product when available hopefully later this month. Obviously there could still be some changes with the final production release.

I think the price is slated for around US$150. Also, in the days ahead, E1DA will be releasing the "APU" (Analog Processing Unit) that can complement an ADC for measurements with the ability to notch out the 1kHz fundamental among other features allowing even more accurate measurements of very high performance gear. And there's also the Cosmos DAC coming as well to complete the "trinity".

For today, let's have a peek at the Cosmos ADC. Let's explore how to get it going, some of its features, and although still early days, we can take a quick look at measurements with this tool, with some DACs I have here.

Saturday, 4 September 2021

Archimago's Musical Performance Track (AMPT): Standard test track for listener evaluation of source playback. [RME ADI-2 Pro FS R BE, Topping D10s, D10 Balanced, TEAC UD-501, Squeezebox Touch recordings.] Loss of RMAF, Bluetooth aptX Lossless. PS: Topping D90SE.

Over the years, we've seen websites, blogs, and videos try ways to demonstrate the sound of a hi-fi device or for the adventurous, even try to convey the sound quality of listening rooms. For example, there are binaural recordings at audio shows, soundroom demos, speaker comparison samples, etc. This is not an easy task because high-fidelity is about nuances and slight variations; not wholesale "obvious" differences for many devices like DACs or high performance amplifiers. Unlike what you might read in audio reviews, assuming you have a decent DAC already, a replacement would be unlikely to result in obvious changes in characteristics like bass response or claims that jitter effects are somehow obviously audible! Sorry folks, a lot of that kind of talk is just fantasy.

While it is convenient to view and listen to typical YouTube clips, I think we can all appreciate that sound quality would be highly affected by: the recording microphone, room acoustics, set-up quality, the lossy audio compression from YouTube among others that I may have missed. Dissociating the effect of the different components would be impossible. And obviously any time you use a transducer to convert the sound pressure into electrical signal (ie. speaker, microphone), there will be a significant reduction in resolution if we're trying to determine the effect of something like a DAC!

Then there's the issue of what music is being used? Is it music that audiophiles have general access to? Is it material that audiophiles/music lovers would even generally listen to? Obviously this bit is very subjective but I think there's something to be said about esoteric test material that might be recorded amazingly well, but just not adequately popular to have "mainstream" level acceptance. When "subjectivist" audiophiles complain that test tones are artificial and synthetic, is it that much different from listening to a handful of albums that barely anyone cares about? ;-)