Topping D50 Dac -Review

The Topping D50 Dac - Review by @prfallon69

Introduction.

The Topping D50 is a stand-alone Dac in Topping’s affordable but well regarded series of Dac’s.

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I had been looking for a stand-alone Dac to pair with my Matrix M-Stage HPA3u Amp/Dac. I bought the Matrix unit as an affordable partner to my Sennheiser HD800. The 3u, as I shall now refer to it has plenty of power whilst being able to add a touch of warmth. This would be beneficial to my HD800. The 3u was also getting praise at the time as a good unit to pair with my headphones especially the HD800.

Whilst it is indeed a good Amp/Dac I felt the need for a different Dac to use with my other gear. Hence the purchase of the Topping D50.

In its latest iteration the D50 uses dual ESS SABRE ES9038Q2M dac’s. There are also 3 OPA1612 Opamps in the output stage. These are well regarded Opamps. The D50 has adjustable volume can be used as a Pre-Amp. It can be connected to an Amp or Powered Speakers using the D50 to control the volume.
I will go into further detail later. Suffice to say on receiving it I felt It would be a really capable Dac. For the UK price of £143 I wasn’t to be disappointed.

Review Equipment and Material

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Matrix M-Stage HPA3u Amp/Dac. The HPA3u’s specifications are:

Headphone power output: 2800mW @ 33ohms; 420mW @ 300ohms; 210mW @ 600ohms

SNR: >-120dB

THD: >0.0003% at 33ohms 90mW

Output Impedance: 0.2ohms

D/A Chip: Texas Instruments DSD1793

Headphones used in my review are the Sennheiser HD58X, HD650 and HD800. I also used my Campfire Andromeda’s. For the purposes of the review though I will be writing about the pairing of the HD800 with my setup.

The source for my music would be my Pioneer XDP-300r DAP. My primary source of listening is through Spotify. With this option unavailable I will listen through some iTunes downloads and a few Albums I have in flac. I am still in the process of transferring my main body of offline music across to my relatively new DAP. My musical tastes are wide and varied with a particular liking for Acoustic music.

Topping D50 Build

The D50 is very solidly built. It is made from a solid Aluminium brick into what Topping refers to as a CNC Unibody. Whatever it’s construction this is one heavy unit for its diminutive dimensions. It weighs in at 480g and it’s dimensions are 11.9cm x 11cm x 2.6cm. I bought my D50 in Silver but there’s also a Black option. There is a very nice but small White OLED screen. This proves easy enough to read and very clear. Alongside the Oled screen is a rather useful finger controlled joystick. There is the obligatory power button. And around the back are the various I/O ports and power socket.

Features

Around the back of the Dac are RCA connects for output to an Amp. Beside these there are input connects for a single COAX cable and S/PDIF. Next is the USB and finally there’s the power socket. Power is input via a provided USB Cable DC5v/1A a plug is not included but your standard USB phone charging plug will suffice. An altogether better option in the long term would be to source your own mains powered solution.

As already alluded to earlier the T50 sports dual ESS SABRE ES9038Q2M dac’s. Along with 3 OPA1612 Opamps in the output stage. The T50 uses second generation XU208 XMOS for the control of the USB interface. For computer users there is software available from Topping for download. Here is a link to Toppings website
http://en.tpdz.net/

Extensive measurements have been taken for this Dac. The most comprehensive I have seen can be found at audiosciencereview.com.

The OLED screen can be set to Auto On/Off as well as Auto Close. Once the power button is pressed to start the Dac the menu can be accessed via an extra press of the power button to reveal a hidden menu. You can move through this quickly and easily with the joystick. The OLED screen gives great clarity and is well implemented. As the Dac can be used as a Pre-Amp there is an adjustable Volume level . There’s also Mute, Screen Brightness and Select Input options too.

Part of the hidden sub-menu is a 7 Mode PCM Filter menu. As usual you can cycle through them via the joystick. The filter modes available are as follows:

Mode 1: Apodizing fast roll-off filter

Mode 2: Minimum phase slow-roll off filter.

Mode 3: Minimum phase fast-roll off filter.

Mode 4: Linear phase slow-roll off filter.

Mode 5: Linear phase fast-roll off filter.

Mode 6: Brick wall filter.

Mode 7: Corrected minimum phase fast-roll off filter.

All of these filter modes make a small change to the sound. Some more so than others. But they’re very subtle. My current favourite being Mode 5 but this is subject to change.

The D50 supports USB DSD64 - DSD512(native) and PCM 16bit/44.4Khz - 32bit/768Khz. Coax and Optical support highest PCM 24bit/192Khz and DOP DSD64.

If you’re using an Apple or Android device it can be connected via the respective USB or Lightning OTG cable. Though be aware that Topping say that not all Android devices are supported so it’s worth looking into if you’re going down that route.

Sound

Connecting my Dac to my Amplifier was a straightforward task using a two way RCA cable. I connected my Dap into the Dac via USB and an OTG cable.

The difference in sound via the T50 was apparent from the off. Using my HD800 headphones the sound wasn’t quite as warm as it was before when using the Matrix’s Texas Instruments Chip. There is though more clarity and the improvement in the micro detail is quite pleasing. I don’t detect any excess noise and it doesn’t throw up any unnecessary silibance. Though some might see it as being a little on the bright side as well as a tad analytical. Tonally I feel the D50 gives you an accurate representation of the musical notes.

The notes don’t quite sound as thick as with the TI Dac but I wouldn’t class them as sounding too thin. The Bass is still apparent when playing one of my current favourite tracks Chan Chan by Buena Vista Social Club. You’re never going to get deep rumbling bass from the HD800 but what is there remains intact. The bass remains tight and continues to extend low.

The Mids retain great clarity and imaging is also noteworthy. Voices sound clear and precise. The D50 also adds what I can only describe as a little extra zing in the notes. For example whilst playing a live acoustic track-Wicked Game by Stone Sour, the Guitars sound outstanding and the track has an extra crispness to it. Each pluck and twang of the strings very pleasing to the ear. They have an added weight to them.

The Highs also seem to have acquired an extra edge in comparison to the TI Dac. There isn’t any added Silibance and all the attributes associated with the HD800 remain, such as great Transient Response and Attack. I don’t experience any major changes in the soundstage though I did feel that it improved the feeling of height and airyness.

Conclusion

In comparison to the Texas Instruments Dac in the Matrix M-STAGE HPA3u the Topping D50 Dac offers a cooler more analytical sound. Though this isn’t to its detriment. The TI Dac is warmer and less detailed across the board. It lacks the refinement of the D50. Also the implementation of the D50’s filter modes are a great bonus.

What you get when you purchase the Topping D50 is an up to date chipset well implemented in a great package for a lot less than it big brother the ESS SABRE ES9038PRO.

For headphones such as the HD800 you have to pair it well with both Amp and Dac. I don’t feel like the D50 is necessarily a good pairing for it because the HD800 benefits from a warmer Amp/Dac pairing. If you like the ESS SABRE DAC chipset then the Topping D50 is is definitely more of the same, but with the benefit of it being an upgrade to pre-existing Topping Dac’s. At the £143 I paid for it I can wholeheartedly recommend it.

-Paul-

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Well done! The extensive photos and detailed description of the unit’s operation really give me a feel of what the device is like in person, even though I’ve never seen one in real life.

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Thank you.

-Paul-

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Great review! I’ve been wanting to get one of these but have held off, because I have a couple other priority buys ahead of it, your review helped temper my “need” to buy it. Also I agree with @pwjazz the pictures and review helped put it in perspective, I also didn’t have a good idea of how it looked in the “real” world. Once again good read!

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Yes, thank you. It’s a great Dac but you’ve got to like that kind of sound. It measures really well and has gotten lots of praise in certain forums. ASR gave it a great write up too. It is a very small but quite heavy unit. But at least it won’t move about much.:slightly_smiling_face:. It’s very well made and for the price it’s about as good as your going to get.

-Paul-

Nice review!

Definitely helps to see the unit in context like that. I don’t think most people realize quite how compact the D50 is from the bulk of other pictures of it that are out there.

Interesting to see you currently favor the linear-phase fast-roll off filter. I generally wind up preferring the linear-phase, fast-roll off modes on DACs that allow you to choose a filter (that’s the mode I’m using on the RME ADI-2 Pro, and was the best sounding option on the Pro-Ject Pre-Box S2 Digital as well - though the Pre-Box S2 Digital is a 9038 based converter (amazingly even smaller than the Topping unit).

To illustrate the differences the filters have on frequency response, here’s a comparison of the typical filter behavior (plus an additional filter for special purposes) coming off an ESS 9038 series (I don’t have one for the 9028, but the fundamental pattern is the same):

Anyway, again, nice review and thanks for taking the time to post it!

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Excellent review. Very descriptive both in pictures along with great presentation. I see you made it to Core level. With all your activity in our community you well deserve it. I believe we have learned from each other and look forward to learning more from you. Great job.

Great review. The joystick looks a bit odd as most DACs I have seen prefer to go with a knob or seperate buttons. Is it easier to control and as sturdy as a knob? Looks pretty thin in the pictures.

Thank you very much. I am always learning form you guys. I am trying in my my own way to give give back.

-Paul-

Thank you very much. The effect of the filters is subtle and I think it going to take me a while to settle on which one is really the one to go with. As with everything else it takes time to digest the full effect of the equipment. Thanks for the chart a picture paints a thousand words as they say.

-Paul-

Yes the joystick is kind of small as is the unit as a whole. However it’s robust enough and doesn’t stick out too much giving it better stability. It does it’s job and it is easy enough to control the menu with. Buttons and knobs are always going to be preferable unless they’re very well made and are used for a specific purpose. I don’t really have any worries about the robustness of the Dac. It’s very solid.

-Paul-

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Paul, That was an EXCELLENT review!
I have the D50 and was curious about the adjustable gain/volume control on the dac.
What would be the benefit of using the gain on the dac verses an amp (JDS Atom) or PC?

Currently I have the dac set at 0 dB, computer at 88% output and adjust listening levels with the amp.
Would other volume settings work better?

Thanks.
John

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Thank you for your compliment. To be honest I have only ever changed the volume via my Amp. I haven’t used the Dac for a few months as I mostly just push everything through my Dap and obtain extra amping through my Atom if needed. I am sorry I aren’t able to help on this but maybe somebody with more technical experience with Dac’s as a whole like @Torq could help you out.

I tend to listen to my iems a lot now and use my Dap. I agree with you though that the D50 is an impressive little Dac for the money. I understand that there’s a new model D50s coming out soon, it may even be out already. Again sorry I aren’t able to help you out.

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If you have an amp, you want the computer output set at 100% and the DAC at 100%.

Doing volume control on the PC/in software will result in the output not being bit-perfect (though it should be audibly transparent). Similarly, unless the DAC is using an analog attenuator (whether digitally controlled or not), it’s reducing the bit-depth of the signal to effect it’s volume control.

With the D50 specifically, if using Spotify (specifically) as the source, I found the output to be quite fatiguing and somewhat harsh unless I set the D50 to -3 dB output (computer still at 100%). With lossless content, and other lossy-streaming services, it was fine at 0 dB.

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Some DACs have better THD+N at levels slightly below 0dBFS, so if you’re playing music that actually hits 0dBFS you can technically improve things by turning volume slightly below 100%.

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There is that.

Though in this case I think it’s a combination of the way Spotify does their Vorbis encoding (LOTS of which hits 0 dBFS, where it doesn’t in other sources), coupled with insufficient headroom to cope with inter-sample overs in the D50.

It does not occur with Google Music, Apple Music, Amazon Prime or any other lossy source I’ve tried. And is fine with full-range lossless material.

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WOW! This site is great!
Thanks guys for all the feedback.
BTW, The Atom / D50 combo is totally silent and crystal clear,
John

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Does this mean Spotify music is more dynamically compressed than other streaming providers?

No, not necessarily.

In theory, it could also mean the opposite.

I am not even sure if that is what causes the harshness I heard with the D50 (at 0 dB) and Spotify. It’s just a theory. I never bothered to capture the data, unpack it, and analyze it to see.

Some other, simple, possibilities include:

  • That Vorbis (or the encoder used) hasn’t kept up with AAC and MP3, so has issues they don’t.
  • That the encoding settings used push peak levels too high.
  • That the encoding scheme can represent steeper transients.
  • That the masters used to do the encoding differ between services.

All speculation.

In general, I find Spotify to be relatively more fatiguing compared to the alternatives anyway. Enough so that I stopped using it and dropped my subscription.

I know lots of people still favor it for its catalog, but for me it’s been so long since I had to go to Spotify to find a track that wasn’t on my lossless services (or in my local library) that I saw no reason to keep it around.

I only mention the -3 dB thing as that seemed to help. But that was never necessary with local or TIDAL sourced content.

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Makes sense. The D50 actually does best in distortion measurements at 0 dBFS, and it does so well in general that I doubt the difference between 0 and -3 dBFS would be audible if not for something extreme like what you suggest.

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