Just a quick a dirty review of the very popular Topping D50s DAC. Known to measure very well, some of you have asked for my subjective opinion of this much-hyped DAC. Heck, you could even see measurements in the manual.
As you know, I’m all about the subjective. I believe measurements are great for repeatability and finding problem areas. But I’ve realized the important attributes that translate into the better enjoyment of music simply can’t be measured. However, if better measurements give you better peace of mind, all the power to you.
I haven’t read any of the reviews or even bothered to look at the charts before listening. The only thing that matters is how it sounds. So, let’s cut to the chase.
Build & Setup
As far as setup, nothing fancy here. I have a PS Audio Sprout100, a pair of LSA-10 Statements loudspeakers, Furutech DPS-4 speaker cables, a stock power cord, Mapleshade optical cable, Chromecast Audio, and Iconoclast UPOCC RCA cable. Listening was done through Spotify. You’ll get far better fidelity via Tidal or Qobuz – but I figured Spotify is more ubiquitous.
As far as the build quality, this DAC feels top-notch and looks sleek. It’s also weightier than I expected. I love how you could power it via a USB on your monitor or via a battery pack (more on this later). The auto-on feature and intuitive interface are also much appreciated. Overall, this seems like a very high-quality product.
The Topping D50s DAC could be powered by any USB port (5V). However, if you want to maximize its performance, use a battery. I use the Krisdonia for a lot of my gear, including the Chord Electronics Qutest. To me, the gains are well worth the price tag and any inconveniences.
- Much more solidity
- Smoother. Much less grain and roughness
- More weight and dimension
- Better focus
- More tonal colors
- Lyrics are more intelligible
Personally, I would power the Topping D50s via a battery 100% of the time. It’s tough to go back to anything else. For the listening tests, I’ve powered both the D50s and Chromecast Audio with the battery pack.
With seven different filters, there’s one for everyone. I spent some time going through the various filters. I ended up sticking to either Filter #3 (min. phase fast roll-off filter) or Filter #5 (linear phase fast roll-off filter). The other modes sound a bit cold and tilted towards the top-end. I just felt these two modes had more soul to them.
- FIL 1 (Apodizing fast roll-off filter) – Clean, crisp, quiet. Fantastic separation, layering, and soundstage. A bit cold though.
- FIL 2 (Min. phase slow roll-off filter) – Super quiet but not as dynamic. It has more of a crystalline sound. Perhaps tighter than FIL 1?
- FIL 3 (Min. phase fast roll-off filter) – Has more weight than #1 and #2. Not as clear and quiet as the previous two filters but has more warmth and rhymic drive. There’s a little bit of grain but dynamic and presents more accurate timbre
- FIL 4 (Linear phase slow roll-off filter) – Piano is smooth but voices have some edge to them. Voices aren’t as focused. Mids are carved out a bit. A little patchy.
- FIL 5 (Linear phase fast roll-off filter) – A “fatter sound” vs #3. It’s a clearer version of FIL 3. It’s not as warm but presents more depth and defogs more of the music.
- FIL 6 (Brick wall filter) – A little layer of coarseness over the entire spectrum. There’s something off about this filter. There’s a sense of hollowness and gaps. The lows and mids are bent and shaped in a weird way. A really confused sound.
- FIL 7 (Corrected min. phase fast roll-off filter) – This sounds like FIL 6 with more smoothness and a more nose-pinched sound.
The Topping D50s is impressive on many fronts:
- Incredibly quiet. Musical elements just float.
- This is a very insightful DAC. It digs into the mix. You’ll hear every detail, the timing of decays, and how the recording was structured.
- Bass is very well controlled with fantastic sub-bass definition.
- The soundstage is enormous. It just wraps multiple layers of music around you. This is one of its most stand out qualities.
- Plenty of air and life around performers and instruments. This especially applies to the top end.
- There’s no overemphasis of any particular region.
- There’s a “crispness” to the sound. Transients are super speedy and precise.
- Very dynamic. It’s able to go loud without inciting confusion.
- Outstanding separation, outlining, and separation.
- A very natural sounding top end.
- Sounds great with acoustic. Stringed instruments sound particularly tactile and brilliant.
At this price point, it doesn’t matter if it measures well. Tradeoffs are a given.
- It’s a very clean sound that borders on sterile. It is not a sweet or warm sounding DAC.
- Tonally muted. There aren’t a lot of tonal colors in its palette. Sometimes male and female vocals have the same shades.
- Although very detailed, I feel it’s presented in a way that is more superficial.
- It’s more piecewise than it is cohesive. It almost sounds contrived and more “computer than human” in the way it articulates.
- Rougher in the mids. Although high in resolution, voices have this really irritating coarseness and grittiness I can’t get myself to ignore. This was the deal-breaker for me.
- Lacks cohesion. The individual pieces of the recordings sound great – but the connective tissue doesn’t sound natural.
Over time, I just couldn’t get myself to fully engage with the Topping D50s DAC. Although impressive in its resolving and spatial abilities, it just wasn’t musically involving for me. For example, close-miked performances don’t have that intimacy I’d expect. I never felt like “they’re there.”
Aside from inaccuracy in tone, the D50s comes off a tad too lean and icy for my tastes. I prefer a richer more fleshed-out sound. There’s still a bit of “digital haze,” especially in the midrange, that just doesn’t sit well for my ears. There’s a balance between purity and realism – and the D50s tilts more towards the former.
All is not lost. The Topping D50s will surely benefit more when paired with tube amplifiers and darker speakers. Also, if you’re willing to trade tonal quality for transparency – this DAC will be well-suited. It does a superb job of revealing the various layers and inner-details of your favorite recordings.
vs. Chord Electronics Mojo
I have no clue how the Mojo measures vs. the D50s – but I would save up for the Mojo any day. It’s much more organic and natural sounding. It’s grainless, silky smooth, and simply more analog sounding. Although not as black backgrounded or top-end brilliant as the D50s, it has a far greater presence and gravity in all the acoustic elements. Timbre is also much more realistic- especially when it comes down to piano, double bass, and voices.
That said, the D50s has a more sparkly top end. It dissects and outlays the details very well. It has more shine and energy versus the Mojo’s more grounded and intimate presentation. It’s also quieter and does a more obvious job of pulling apart the music. You’re able to hear the individual nuances – and even more details in the low-end. The Topping D50s is precisely outlined, speedy, clean-shaven, and atmospheric. For what it’s worth, I do enjoy the D50s for large orchestral and live acoustic performances. So if you value transparency and clarity over warmth – the D50s may work well for you.
In the end, I found the Mojo to just have a better sensual flow, a fuller sound, and tonally closer to what the artist intended. Although not as revealing or treble-present as the D50s, there’s just more soul to the music.
vs. Chord Electronics Qutest
I powered the Qutest with the battery mentioned above with the red filter.
The Chord Electronics Qutest could be the end-game DAC for me 99% of audiophiles. If I hadn’t heard the Chord Electronics TT 2, I would be pretty happy with the Qutest. 🙂
The Qutest has the best of all worlds, especially when powered via a battery. Although not as warm and thick as the Mojo, it has better tonal balance while not sacrificing much in the realm of musicality. It has the quietness, clarity, speed, and resolution of the D50s and the weight, timbre, and density of the Mojo. You also don’t hear the music “in pieces” but as a silky yet textured stream of music. It also articulates with far more ease than the other two DACs. It just shapes and molds the music in ways the Mojo and D50s cannot.
In comparison to the D50s, the Topping has a slightly wider soundstage but is more anemic, metallic, and flat in comparison. But yes, the Chord Electronics Qutest comes at a much steeper price of $1,700. It’s not meant to be a fair comparison, but it’s here for the curious.
Although not a good fit for me, the Topping D50s DAC does offer a ton of value at only $250. If you’re looking to upgrade the sound from the built-in DACs in your laptops or integrated devices, the D50s is definitely worth a listen. In particular, it presents a very wide soundstage with imaging and layering capabilities to match. It also has a knack for clarity and transparency. Just make sure to power it with a battery.
For the money, I have no complaints. However, if you prefer a warmer, smoother, and more euphonic presentation (as I do) – you may want to look elsewhere. The lesson? Measurements won’t tell you whether you’ll enjoy a piece of HiFi equipment. The only thing that makes sense is to trust your own ears.
Merry Christmas ya’ll!