There’s a B stock A3 listed now on the Schiit website.
nope lol not doing it! I just had to shell out some dough for my end game AIO so I’m not buying stuff for review for a little while! I’ve got enough stuff backlogged any ways haha
Right on oops, enjoy and good luck with that backlog!
Here is my brief review of the L30. As always, this is available in Spanish (and English) on my blog and on Youtube.
Before starting, I would like to point out that this amplifier was offered to me with a 25% discount from the normal price by Shenzen Audio, in exchange for this review. As always, the opinions expressed are my own honest opinions and I have not received anything further in exchange for this review.
The Topping L30 is the latest release from the Chinese audio company Topping. The amplifier is aimed as a match to their DAC, the E30 and costs around 130€ (at the time of writing this), which puts it in direct competition with amplifiers like the JDS Labs Atom and the Schiit Magni or Heresy.
A couple of days ago I posted a short review on the JDS Labs Atom which has formed part of my signal chain practically since its release and has been used to test out all headphones and IEMs that have been through my hands. As I have not yet received the Heresy (yes, I’m still waiting, but it’s only been 6 months since I purchased it), I will use the Atom as a reference point for comparisons in the review.
The amplifier is packaged in a simple white box, with the Topping brand on the top. Inside the box they include the amplifier, a 15VAC power supply, a couple of manuals and, for some reason, a ¼” to 3.5mm TRS adapter.
All in all it is a very simple packaging, with nothing out of the ordinary except for the included adapter, I think this is the first time I have ever received a TRS adapter with an amplifier.
Build and aesthetics…
The unit is a pretty simple black metal box, with a perspex type panel on the front, also black, with two metal toggle switches and a volume control that is plastic but is nicely finished to match the unit. The volume knob has a red accent around it which at least gives it a little touch of colour.
The volume control is located on the right hand side, with the headphone output (¼”) just to the left, with the 2 toggle switches on the left of the front panel.
The letters on the front of the unit are printed in grey, on a black background, and behind the perspex, which makes them rather hard to see. This is not a huge issue as the unit’s functionality is rather simple.
Finally, on the front of the unit, there is a small white LED that indicates when the unit is powered on.
On the rear of the unit we find the RCA inputs on the left, the RCA outputs, and then the power socket on the right. These are all clearly labelled with white text, so they are much easier to see than the front panel.
That is it for the unit, except for the 4 rubber feet on the bottom.
The amplifier is quite small and light, with the form factor matching the E30 DAC, as mentioned previously. It is both narrower and slightly shallower than the JDS Labs Atom, while being a little bit heavier due to its metal case.
As always, aesthetics are a very personal thing, but in my own case I like the look of the unit and prefer it to the Atom, although I do find the location of the volume knob and headphone output to be better positioned on the Atom, at least for my personal use scenario.
As far as build quality, here there is no doubt that the Topping L30 is superior to the Atom, the metal case, feeling of the switches, volume knob etc. are all sturdier feeling.
The Topping L30 is a pretty simple unit to operate. As mentioned in the build, there is one unbalanced input and one unbalanced output on the back, with a single headphone output on the front.
What we do get on the L30 is the option to activate the preamp output without having to remove the headphones from the socket. The left toggle switch has 3 positions, off (to power off the unit), HPA (to power the headphones) and PRE (which deactivates the headphone amp and activates the outputs). When in PRE mode, the volume control adjusts the output and can be used for controlling things like desktop monitors or other items that don’t have a (easily accessible) volume control.
The second toggle switch is to control gain. In this case, we get 3 gain levels, -9dB, 0dB and +9dB. This comes in handy when switching between headphones and IEMs with different sensitivities, allowing much more control with the volume knob. I don’t really feel that 3 gain levels were necessary but I am not complaining.
All in all, in comparison to the JDS Labs Atom, the L30 has functions that I prefer but one that I miss., which is the second input. As I noted in my Atom review (you can find it here: Review - JDS Labs Atom), I do find the second input to come in very handy.
In the case of the L30, the second input is not there but they have added a switch for choosing output, something that I miss on the Atom. If a perfect world, I would have liked maybe a fourth position where the headphone amplifier was active and the output was a fixed line out, allowing me to feed it into another headphone amplifier at the same time, but, that is something that is probably only useful for a very small amount of people and not necessarily those that this amp is aimed at.
One thing to keep in mind is that the output is changed with a simple flick of a switch, so be careful with volume levels when doing so. If you are listening to speakers at a high volume and switch to headphones without lowering the volume, this could end up in tears (and vice-versa).
Sound and performance…
Again, as I mentioned in the Atom review, I do not have the equipment to perform measurements of this kind of equipment. For those of you that would like to see the exact measurements, I suggest that you check out Audio Science Review, where they have posted detailed measurements (you can find it here: https://www.audiosciencereview.com/forum/index.php?threads/topping-l30-headphone-amplifier-review.15226/ ).
As far as my subjective opinion, the Topping L30 is a neutral and transparent amplifier, much the same as the JDS Labs Atom. Personally I cannot tell the difference between the two and any difference I think I do notice in sound, is 99% certain to be inside my head.
In terms of power, the L30 is much more powerful than the Atom, however, I have never really needed to push the Atom to its limits with any headphones I have tried, the max I have run it at is probably around 2 o’clock on high gain, which is more than plenty. That means that the L30 has much more power to spare, so no complaints here.
As far as measurements, the Topping L30 outperforms anything in its price bracket and those that are above it, such as the THX amps and other very clean amplifiers, at the price of 130€. There is virtually no distortion, no noise, nothing that is not way way below the threshold of human hearing.
As far as my subjective measurements (i.e: my ears), I can’t tell a difference between this and the Atom, as both do incredibly well. If I said I could hear a difference, I would probably be imagining it or just hoping to hear it.
It doesn’t have any fancy things going on, no balanced outputs or inputs, no VU meters, nothing other than simple single ended inputs and outputs, however, what it does do is perform very well.
As I mentioned, I have never found the Atom to be lacking in power but if anyone should need more, the L30 delivers it.
As far as build quality, it is a rather large step up from the Atom in this regard and if stacked with the E30 DAC (which I look forwards to trying), it offers a great little stack that would be more than enough for the majority of people’s needs.
I can’t compare it to the Schiit offerings, which is a shame as I think they would be closer in terms of build quality, but I have no doubt that performance wise the Topping would not fall behind.
There are a few good options now for around 200€, such as the Atom Stack, the Schiit Modi+Magni/heresy stack and now this little Topping stack that are all proving that good performance is no longer expensive.
I am very pleased with the purchase of the L30 and it will certainly be sticking around in my system.
Another excellent review @SenyorC. I like the fact that it seems much better built, the case at least. The extra power too, POWER… Lol.
In a world with so many options and ever decreasing levels of distortion one has to ask what separates the many acceptable solid state amplifiers from the truly great! There’s a dozen designs that all push the lower limits of measurable distortion, all of which falls far below our human threshold of hearing.
To explore that concept I figured it would be worthwhile to start by having a set standard for absolute greatness, and I’m happy to say the Bricasti M3 with Headphone is exactly that for me. After years of reviewing and Hi-Fi show demo’s, press exclusive listens it is the only product offering that long awaited greatness I’ve been hunting for! With a truly amazing solid-state amplifier and top of the line DAC in tow I feel fully equipped to explore and discover what separates solid state amplification. In the entry level market segment. I’ll be primarily reviewing the Topping L30 Linear with comparisons to SMSL SP200 and the JDS Labs ATOM.
Some factors at play will be;
- Gain Stage & Options
- Total Power Output
- Build Quality
- Sound Quality
In the entry level point of the market I feel the combination of these four things to be the deciding factor. An a shout out to the Appos Audio Team for shipping L30 out to myself for review! I always enjoy both their customer service and timely shipping.
Each of the products in this review are well manufactured, no sharp or sloppy seams in the chassis, good action on the knobs and switches alongside sturdy input and output jacks.
SP200 is the heaviest and most robust, however it houses a portion of it’s PSU within it self. Atom and L30 both have external switching power supply units so their considerably lighter. From a build stand point I enjoy having an internally housed PSU so I’m able to just use a PWC-143 IEC C13 connector. The PWC-143 IEC C13 is the trapezoidal “computer power cable” connector I’m confident most all of us are familiar with.
I also like that SP 200 has dual 3 XLR input and 4pin XLR output despite technically being a single end’d amplifier. Bonus points there, how ever sadly SP 200 falls short in one crucial area…Volume Pot or volume knob!
The potentiometer and attached knob on SP200 are… soft and flimsy. Honestly there’s as much precision when adjusting the volume either. Matching was a bit hard as I usually couldn’t get SP200 dialed in to L30 and Atom… rather I had to set SP200 and adjust the other two to match it.
The undisputed champion however for Knob Feel in this review has to be Topping L30. Good weight and a buttery smoothness with just the right amount of resistance make L30’s knob feel just right. Tho L30 has another advantage when it comes to volume adjustments in it’s three different gain stages.
Build quality is good, I found no deficiencies with how L30 is built and operated. Each of the switches have good action and all the input and output jacks are solid without any wiggle.
JDS Labs Atom is the lightest and it sits kinda in a unique spot for a few reasons. Firstly, it’s volume pot isn’t as nice as L30 but it’s a step up from SP 200. Also the Power switch is built into the Vol Pot! While not every one will enjoy this as I do, I found it’s resistance for an “on switch” to be good. I experienced no issues with accident power cycling. I also liked the feel of Atom’s buttons more so than the metal switches on the other two units. So functionally it has a different feel and operation to it which some may enjoy more.
Sadly tho in some systems or stacks I found Atom to weigh too little, so much that it was often at the mercy of heavier RCA Inputs that needed a slight angle in their routing.
Power and Gain Stage
Power and Gain are as follows for each amplifier;
- SP 200
- 3W x2 into 32ohms
- 440 x2 mW into 300 ohms
- 220 x2 mW into 600 ohms
- With Two Gain Stages at
- +6dB (Low-gain)
- +18dB (High-gain)
SP 200’s high output power is well suited for difficult to drive headphones like Hifiman HE 6 or vintage dynamics like older AKG K series open backs. In many cases tho I felt it had too much gain for really smooth precise volume control with the myriad of sensitive and low impedance cans on the market today.
- JDS Labs Atom
- 1W into 32ohms
- 502 mW into 150 ohms
- 125 mW into 600 ohms
- Two Gain Stages at;
I enjoy Atom’s gain options as it’s allows for use with more sensitive headphones while maintaining good precise volume control and it the same precision is available for harder to drive dynamics. I will mention with some of my low sensitivity Planar-Magnetic headphones ATOM often ran out of steam and had some negative impacts on their sound quality. More modern Planar’s like the Hifiman HE 4XX and Audeze LCD X did fine!
- Topping L30
- 2.3W x2 into 32ohms
- 280 x2 mW into 300 ohms
- Three Gain Stages at
- -9 dB
- 0 dB
- +9 dB
Finally! A buttery smooth volume knob and three different gain stages!!! This advantage of having additional options for gain stage really allows us as listeners to have very fine precise volume control. That and enough gain is always better for overall sound quality, excessive gain is never beneficial.
Overall I feel only L30 has enough suitable options for gain to cover the widest variety of headphones. Atom does better with lower impedance headphones and SP 200 excels with lower sensitivity and/or higher impedance headphones. But neither of these amps provide correct amplification for as many loads as L30 does. Correct being neither to little power nor too much gain for the given load and source material being listened to.
The listening chain for this review was as follows;
- jRiver Network Output into;
- Network input Bricasti M3 [Direct Stream DAC] output into;
- SP 200 via XLR
- L30 via RCA
- JDS Labs Atom via RCA
- Network input Bricasti M3 [Direct Stream DAC] output into;
I also picked a single track I was familiar with for each headphone to gauge the amplifiers performance.
- Pistol Annies - Lemon Drop
- Picked for the Audeze LCD 2 PreFazor
- System of a Down - Mind (Vinyl Re-Issue)
- Picked for Dan Clark Audio Aeon 2 Closed
- Alice in Chains - Rotten Apple
- Picked for HD 600
- Rob Wasserman: Duets - Ballad of Runaway Horse Sung by Jennifer Warnes
- Picked for Ether CX
- Lisa Hannigan - Sea Saw
- Picked for AKG K501
For this review subjective comparisons and all listening was volume matched.
To establish my base point I did some listening with my 2012 PreFazor LCD 2.2, I chose this headphone as it’s a bit more demanding from an amplification stand point than most newer modern Planar magnetic headphones in it’s price bracket. Additionally it’s shining quality is a powerful, clean and detailed low frequency presentation. Tho when under driven it’s bass quality diminishes.
That said, technically M3’s headphone amp is only “$500” I say that in quotes as it’s unavailable separate from the DAC. Thus it does not exist separate of M3 and has a unique relationship of being built to function directly with/from M3. That said, I didn’t find any of the “entry” level amps to match M3h’s staging, detail or overall presentation.
But that’s no knock again’st them as again M3’s Headphone Amp is built specifically to and for M3’s unique balanced topology. Still tho I will admit as of lately I have not really enjoyed my LCD 2 PreFazor as I feel when it’s under-driven it’s not really better than the the current production Audeze LCD 2 Classic Open with Vegan Pads.
However on a truly top of the line amplifier the legacy LCD 2 Prefazor out performs it’s replacement!
Still before focusing on how the budget amps compare to one another, allow me to take a moment to examine a single transformative benefit that the top of the line solid state implementation brought to one of my favorite headphones!
“Lemon Drop” by the Pistols Annies features one of the best recorded Kick Drums I’ve heard. The sheer impact and weight captured and mixed into the track is stunning. LCD 2 PreFazor’s appeal to me is it’s powerfully realistic WEIGHTY low end and on a lot of amplifiers and systems it’s some what lacking.
So when I’m listening to a track and honing in on the low frequencies I’m focused on two things;
- Composed of Body and how the Attack and decay of the envelope are presented
- Both how much texture is discernible both in the sustain and release of lower frequencies
Plenty of systems capture and recreate detail, but each struggles with impact differently. Even with M3 as a DAC L30, SP 200 and Atom all failed to present enough force on the attack and a clean enough transition thru the envelope and sustain to recreate that kick drum in a truly realistic way. While none of them sounded “fake” they all lacked about a half second on the release, and this lack of resolved force on the tail end of the kick drum is what makes it genuinely REAL for me!
With amplification that can allow the driver to fully recreate that wave form as M3h does, the PreFazor LCD 2 proves it’s worth and provides a realistic immersive low end response.
As a whole, each of the budget amps lacked the cohesion and overall level of micro-detail and discernment M3h brought. There were many occasions where M3h resolved just an extra few moments of sound on the tail end of both vocalists, drum kits, brass instruments and more. The presence of these added final moments are the kind of nuance top of the line amplification brings to most quality transducers or headphones.
Moving on, readers of my content in the past may remember my frustrations with the JDS Labs Atom and my own Pre Fazor LCD 2. For this review I chose only to compare L30 and SP200 again’st Atom with my HD600 and my AKG K501. I found ATOM had NO subjective advantages over L30 with planar magnetic headphones. Given how close the two are in price I felt it’s exclusion to be justified.
What I like about “Rotten Apple” as a track is the tone of the guitars. There’s a very bluesy feel to both the 6 string lead, back up and bass guitar tracks. With some amplifiers there’s a noticeably dry fatigue that can be present on these guitar mixs, additionally the vocals feature some over-dubbing to create both a unique tone and texture. I can’t say there’s only one lead vocalist as I hear two distinct voices in the mix. I also enjoy the overall position of the bass and drums within the mix with the drums placed distinctly back in the mix and often panning from left to right.
For low frequencies I found L30 had both the best detail and most defined attack. SP200 and Atom where both rounder in the sense that there was some exaggeration on both the decay and sustain of those low frequencies.
The kick drums and bass guitar also had way to much body on both SP200 and Atom for my tastes, enough that these instruments lacked a sense of impact, impact that was present on HD600 with L30.
Regarding the mid-range frequencies I will admit I enjoyed Atom’s softer presentation. It help de-emphasis the slight bit of shout HD 600 has and really maximized the natural tonality of the headphone. However this also made it difficult to discern or hear the distinction between the two over-dubbed voices in “Rotten Apple.” SP 200 some how overemphasized them enough that the harshness really took away from the “bluesy” feel of the vocal track. There was too much rasp and emphasis on breath without sufficient body from their chest.
I found Topping L30 to yet again perform best here as well, it maintained excellent body without sacrificing tone or discernment.
At the top end I’ll admit SP 200 took the lead. It presented high hats with excellent extension, that slightly more defined release helped create a more convincing sense of width and space within the track. Tho there was sometimes a slight clash between the harsh shout and emphasized breathing in vocals again’st the drums. Topping L30, while not having quite as much extension, proved it self far more cohesive having better nuance! Yes at times it was not as extended, but created a more cohesive space despite not having as much perceived width. I also felt ATOM had this strength as well.
Despite costing almost twice as much I was a bit disappointed to find SP200 didn’t really prove it self advantageous over the Topping L30… an the JDS Labs Atom while respectable, didn’t quite keep up with L30 either. For users of 300 Ohm Dynamic Headphones I’d strongly recommend spending the extra $39 for Topping L30 over something like the JDS Labs Atom.
Lisa Hannigan’s “I Don’t Know” has both her rich vocals layered atop an excellent performance of strings and brass. Double Bass, Guitar and Violin are all present here alongside a well mic’d drum kit. The double bass in particular can sound distant and thin when there’s not enough voltage present to drive K501 properly.
The AKG K501 has both 120 ohm resistance and a lower sensitivity of 94 dB/mW, this combination makes K501 a bit more difficult to drive compared to a lot of more modern headphones. I ran L30 on it’s +0 setting, SP200 on Low Gain and Atom on it’s High Gain setting.
While listening particularly to that double bass I felt only L30 had the right mix of body and punch. SP200 had a lot of impact and PUNCH but lacked any kind of dynamic contrast and came across as mostly a blurred kind of thud. Less like a large stringed instrument and more like some one beating on a drum sort of, granted the THUD had some weight and force behind it but not much definition.
Atom while having better definition still couldn’t quite bring enough body and umph to the sound of it, L30 again proved to have the best mix of both definition and body.
Moving on into the mid-range I was shocked to say that L30 lacked a bit of discernment here. There is a distinct texture to the bowing of the Violin right after Lisa’s vocals come into the mix. It’s quiet but the musician sustains a single note but there’s a tiny bit of vibrato that can be heard. However with K501 and L30 on +0 that slight shift in tone or the vibrato just comes off as noise? More of a sort of buzzing or humming than a discernible shift in the sustained note. SP 200 proved to be a touch better in this regard but not by much, interestingly enough I enjoy Atom the most for this portion of the track. It was a touch airy but still allowed that discernment to be evident plus that slightly smooth presentation of Atom helped the Brass Instruments maintain a proper timbre.
At the top end I found SP200 had the best extension, the drum kit in particular was more defined with more nuance and dynamic contrast.
I love this piece of music this rendition sung by Jennifer Warnes features what is essentially a duet of her voice and a double bass. However there is a plethora of smaller, quieter sounds in the background. A ever constant but quiet stringed instrument strummed rapidly, background vocalists who occasionally harmonizer with Jennifer and a cello that creeps into the track ever so quietly from time to time.
Starting with that beautiful double bass , with L30 set to -9 dB I found it performed best. Noticeably round but with acceptable definition. A good mix of body and texture, I found Atom (1.0x Gain) was too soft with too much body and SP200 (+6 dB “Low” gain) was a tad too hard with over-emphasized texture. The envelope as a whole was more even with L30 than either other amplifier for Ether CX.
Moving onto the Mid-Range I again found L30 had the best presentation, again SP 200 was a bit too hard. Some texture in both vocals and strings overshadowed finer details and Atom was a touch too soft, that big beautiful double bass simply had too much decay and I couldn’t quite discern as much with it over-shadowing the mid range. I feel a lot of these advantageous may have to do with L30’s lower gain output when I switched into +0 gain and volume matched I started to have similar issues with an uneven envelope and excess texture.
At the Top End I found L30 to be a touch rolled off missing some finer detail but SP 200 put emphasis on the more prominent “sssss” sounds in Jennifer’s Vocals. Atom actually did the best up top!
My rip of System of a Down’s “Mind” is pulled off a vinyl system I know from a ripper whose system I feel is clean enough to review with. What I like is the track is mastered much better on Vinyl than previously on CD. Dynamic Range is right at 9 dBs. I prefer to have at least 10 but for a Nu Metal band this is pretty great, I’ll also add this is a track I like to listen to at an average of 86 dB’s so peaks of around 90 dB’s and as low as 82. Given it’s a fairly quiet rip I find I usually need a touch more POWER to get the listening level I enjoy. There’s also a touch of low level noise off the Vinyl it self that is sometimes masked on less resolving amplifiers.
The track it self features a hard hitting bass riff, Serj’s beautiful complex and unique vocal tone, fast guitar shred and really explosive drums. That and it alternates between quiet and LOUD passages often! Just the sheer aggression of the song as a whole really makes an excellent track for testing I feel! When under-driven Aeon 2 Closed presents underwhelming dynamics and excessive bass bloat taking away from the the overall high energy aggressive feel this track has.
Starting with the bass , it’s just such a nasty riff. The release of each of the low notes extends all the way out until the next strum hits, there’s a metallic sharpness on some of the higher notes that really plays nicely again’st the sheer power and weight of those lowest lows.
That said, given that I enjoy this track a little louder I’ve got the gain of L30 set at (+0) and SP 200 still on it’s low (+6) and this is one track where SP200 proves to have better definition and nuance. It maintains that power longer as each note is released, and hits HARDER at the start of each attack. L30 is in this instance the slower less defined amp. Atom again has no real say here as it’s a slow soft mess when I push the volume up with this track and load.
Now regarding the vocals and guitar I did find L30 to once again take the lead. It rendered a more even mixture of Serj’s rasp and the chesty depth in his voice.
On the top end I did prefer the slight lack of extension on L30, it masked enough of the rip’s noise to have the same perceptive extension as SP 200 which had some issues with perceptive detail given how the more discernible noise also detracted a bit from extension and shimmer of the high hats themselves.
At only $139 I really feel Topping’s L30 lands it self as the true king of entry level solid state amplifiers. It’s three optional gain stages and overall power output allowed it to handle a wide range of headphones well. An while it’s no giant killer nor replacement for a truly top of the line solid state amp, I feel overall L30’s even presentation and detail are more than enough to allow a lovers of music to simply sit back, listen and enjoy!
Great writeup. Lots af detail. It was a great read. I can see lots of work went into it.