Let’s have a conversation about Topping. A quick Google search reveals a lot of strong opinions about the brand; most of them are quite positive but there’s a lot more to the story.
Topping have proven to be a formidable brand in the desktop audio category and products like the Topping D30Pro DAC and A30Pro Headphone Amplifier are selling faster than they can produce them.
The brand has made some great products of late and seems to specialize in building DACs and amplifiers with ridiculously low noise levels. The measurements of recent models have been so impressive that most analyzers cannot directly measure the THD+N without using a secondary amplifier and dividing the results by the amplification factor of that secondary.
The “objectivist” crowd have become great fans of this budget brand from Asia.
Not many years ago, the numbers Topping is delivering were considered nearly impossible and certainly not something the budget space would ever produce.
Today, the Topping D30Pro and A30Pro join that list of insanely good components with a total cost of less than $800 including the XLR interconnects if purchased as an Apos Ensemble. I was sent the Ensemble to try out by Apos Audio for a few weeks before sending it on to another reviewer and thoroughly enjoyed my time with it.
Little Boxes Made of Ticky Tacky
Both models are small desktop stackable components with a footprint small enough to be used in a cubicle or home office space while still delivering full sized component sound. They look rather small when removed from the box; but make no mistake — they can play with some far more expensive products in their respective categories and even best them as I discovered.
The D30Pro DAC is quite the departure from products we’ve seen in the recent past from Topping with 4 Cirrus Logic 43198 chips handling the decoding duties. Most Topping DACs and all of their current catalog have used either ESS or AKM series DAC chips so whether it was chosen for its mellow, warm sound or partially due to the shortage of other available DAC chips, it is unique in the Topping line and a slight departure from what we have come to expect from the Topping sonic signature.
Supply Side Magic or Meh?
The upside of using the Cirrus Logic 43198 chip is that there is something special about its tonality. Astell & Kern often uses the 43198 in its products for this reason; FiiO and Opus have also selected this specific chip for their products as well.
There is a warmth and richness to the sound of well implemented 43198s that has proven to be elusive in the sound of comparable DACs using the chips from its primary competitors.
A DAC is not merely the sound of its chipset; the power supply, output stage, and the choice of other components weigh heavily on the final outcome — but in the case of the Topping with the Cirrus chip, the tonal balance is definitely tilted in one direction.
While the signature is fairly linear, there is a mild lift in the midrange with a little more note weight than I have heard in other Topping DACs including the flagship D90SE which I have on my desk at present.
The D30Pro doesn’t deliver the micro-detail of the D90SE ($899 at Amazon), but it does forgive poor recordings and has a smoother delivery than the D90SE that will please those listening for pleasure.
Do some audiophiles listen for pain? I think that might be the cause for some who want to over analyze every aspect of the sound and not focus on the emotional connection to the music.
The Topping customer is a headphone listener for the most part; although an increasing number have been inserting the DACs into the signal chain that also includes a pair of active/powered desktop speakers.
The downside of the Cirrus 43198 is that the chip is a generation behind current offerings so it lacks MQA and top end DSD support. Those with investments in DSD512 or MQA encoded tracks will need to look at one of the other products in the line.
99% of listeners don’t even know what MQA or DSD are, but audiophiles who are insistent on having both will not find that the Topping D30Pro delivers what they desire.
If you live on a diet of 16-bit/44.1 or 24-bit/96kHz recordings and streaming platforms like Tidal or Qobuz, the D30Pro will raise your listening experience to another level.
Having a Solid Head on Your Shoulders
If you’re looking for a very capable desktop headphone amplifier, the Topping A30Pro is a great place to start and finish; although it is not without some strong competition.
The A30Pro offers trickle down technology from the A90 flagship amplifier and in many ways can be considered to be the little brother that could. It doesn’t offer the sound degree of resolution or detail, but it’s never going to embarrass itself in comparison to the older brother that is more expensive. The price on the A90 has dropped a lot recently but it’s still on another level of performance.
While it has balanced output connectors, power remains the same across all outputs as the A30Pro is not differential.
This has resulted in some hue and cry over the connectors, but the upside is that the signature remains the same regardless of which connection is in use and there is ample power to run just about any headphone using the single-ended 6.35mm output so the additional power of a differential amp is really not needed here.
I had no trouble running the dreaded Fostex T50RP and HiFiMAN HE6 using the A30Pro and didn’t feel that either was particularly underpowered. When paired with lower impedance / higher sensitivity headphones the ability to lower the gain helps with headroom and when paired with IEMs the ability to set gain to its lowest level helps prevent hiss between tracks.
One of the best things about the Head-Fi revolution has been all of the healthy competition within the segment. Every new advancement from one brand or the other has inspired others to go back to the drawing board and create something unique.
The desktop headphone amplifier category is a crowed place right now and that level of competition is a very good thing for consumers; better performance, flexibility, and more affordable products.
The 30Pro combination is an interesting offering as it doesn’t take the crown and run away with it like some of Topping’s other products; it has to stand and fight contenders from Schiit, SMSL, iFi and others with a good feature set and ample power — but with a few shortcomings that prevent it from achieving a one punch knockout.
When compared with the Schiit products in the same price bracket, the 30Pro combination delivers similar power and format support; neither supports MQA or DSD.
The 30Pro is more forgiving while the Schiit is more analytical in its presentation.
When compared to the SMSL product line, the Topping loses on format support as the SMSL does support MQA, DSD512, and higher resolution PCM than the D30Pro can muster. Again the SMSL is more analytical while the D30Pro is a bit more forgiving and relaxed.
On the amplifier side, the A30Pro delivers roughly the same power output as the SMSL but lacks the differential output of the SMSL, so those looking for a truly balanced and differential output will likely gravitate to the SMSL.
It would be easy to say this is a miss for Topping as their previous models have delivered reference level measurements, support for every format, unmatched flexibility, and build quality you don’t usually find at this price level.
The A30Pro and D30Pro miss out in a few areas but where they really deliver is the most important one — sound quality.
Unless you need DSD and MQA support, the D30Pro can handle 95% of the digital music currently available.
The A30Pro has more than enough power for the types of headphones you would use with it.
The overall tonal balance is balanced and clean sounding and the more I listened to it — the more I realized that far too many audiophiles are obsessed with numbers, statistics, and measurements that don’t tell the whole story.
If you want a desktop DAC and matching headphone amplifier that can really perform with some of the best headphones around — the Topping D30Pro and A30Pro combination is one helluva smart purchase and one you will be unlikely to regret for any reason.