Topping D10s Review and Measurements

Discussion in 'Digital: DACs, USB converters, decrapifiers' started by purr1n, Dec 25, 2022.

  1. purr1n

    purr1n Desire for betterer is endless.

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    I've rarely liked DACs based on ESS chips. The very few exceptions have been DACs from the handful "Sabre-whisperers": LH Labs (ugh), Matrix X-Sabre (OG and Pro), MOTU, and now Schiit. In general, I've found ESS DACs unlistenable in the highs with excess "digititus" (what I would describe as glare, stridency, etch, harshness) and fake macro-detail along with indistinct bass texture and zero depth to instruments in the soundstage (although soundstage placement was often deep). A Sabre based DAC would be warm, lean, neutral, but it was always the horrible highs that annoyed me. Sometimes these headache inducing effects would be immediate, other times, it would take maybe a minute.

    What piqued my interest in the Topping D10s were three things: (1) the TOTL low power ES9038Q2M chip - of which some feel does sound less "Sabrey" than with past chips; (2) the dirt-cheap price - usually entry level Topping has been more expensive that I would have liked considering the China labor, access to chip parts, and crap generic casework, despite the LED panel displays); (3) rollable opamp - here I'm figuring if they are using a lean or bright sounding opamp, I would swap to something less bright.

    So if the D10s different from the rest? Slightly.

    With dynamic headphones (Mini S and Grado RS2X with F cush) from a Piety headamp at high gain, it took maybe about one minute two minutes before the glare induced headache. Interesting enough, the D10s was very tolerable with the ZMF Caldera, a planar with its more liquid less grainy presentation (despite a small low/mid treble peak). FWIW, the music I used for was an assortment of songs from Dua Lipa that I would listen to while driving on the local highways in my car with the slightly tweaked speakers. The Dua Lipa stuff is consistently mixed and mastered decently with good fidelity (for what it is) without it being too bright.

    PXL_20221223_223609181.jpg


    The obvious competition for the D10s would be the Modi+. For those living in North America, the Modi+ is easily accessible at $129. The D10s is either $139 or $109 from Amazon, depending upon which merchant wants to dump this. Supposedly I ordered one with the OPA2134 opamp, but got the LM49720 / LM4562 piece. No worries because I feel the LM4562 would be the better sounding one here. And as for rolling opamps, I'm not going to bother - this is about as good as it gets tonally for the D10s - because nothing is going to fix that glare. It goes to say that there's a lot more to DAC design than the highest SINAD per use of chip. There's USB, power supply, clock, IV stages - basically a lot of little things which need attention.

    To be continued...
     
    Last edited: Dec 25, 2022
  2. purr1n

    purr1n Desire for betterer is endless.

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    Switching between the Modi+ and D10s, the immediate differences are that the Modi+ has a more solid snap and thump, a significantly more immersive soundscape (with all sorts of reverb and trailing decays filling out the headstage), more granular microdynamics (e.g., better presenting the nuances in Dua Lipa's singing in IDGAF) and more fluid easygoing transients (this is not say that the Modi+ is polite, it's not and actually less soft than the MOTU or Modi 3E). The D10s wins in bass texture. The overtones in the bass lines are easier to make out in Don't Start Now, Love Again, etc. However, that's about it. In numerous back to back AB comparisons, the D10s actually sounds a bit softer (not necessarily a bad thing), but also more veiled and grayer background, at times mushier, less resolving, with compressed dynamics (and with more glare). In a nutshell, the D10s sounds like it has the volume compressed upward with simplified presentation of information.

    In many ways I am surprised because the ES9038Q2M is the latest and greatest. Usually higher SINAD D-A parts results in better microdetail and microdynamics. On the other hand, sometimes I wonder it just doesn't matter past a certain point and if the DAC chip manufacturers are also playing the SINAD game. I think what's particularly impressive is what the digital team has done at Schiit with the "measly" ES9018.

    I'm going to do the double-blind box test where I ask my wife or kids to randomly switch wires with a box hiding the DACs in the next few days to see I can tell which one is which each day now that I am familiar with the sound of both DACs.
     
    Last edited: Dec 25, 2022
  3. purr1n

    purr1n Desire for betterer is endless.

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    Topping D10s In A Nutshell

    + Great price. Look for a merchant dumping it for $109. Don't pay MSRP at $139
    + Sounds decent with more liquid sounding planars or darker dynamics like HD650
    + Can roll opamps to taste
    + Decent tonal signature (slightly warm, not lean and bright)
    + Good bass textures - overtones of bass instruments not buried

    - Glarely headache inducing highs with many dynamic headphones
    - Underwhelming simplified presentation for class of D-A chip (ES9038Q2M)
    - Slightly flat and boring microdynamics
    - Not the most resolving of low-level information - missing ambient and reverb decays
    - USB A connector on the back

    PXL_20221225_214814964.PORTRAIT.jpg
     
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    Last edited: Dec 25, 2022
  4. purr1n

    purr1n Desire for betterer is endless.

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    Topping D10s
    0db steady state 1kHz sine into 100kohms
    upload_2022-12-25_16-45-34.png

    Curious. Technically cannot hear any of this stuff. However do wonder if the pattern or characteristics of the harmonic distortion produced by a steady-state signal may be indicative of the harsh highs of the D10s. Note: normally we will see grass at odd harmonics at an even low level for ladder type DACs. The D10s is a delta-sigma design. The third harmonic is sticking out here more than the rest of the odd orders.

    Topping D10s
    -30db steady state 1kHz sine into 100kohms
    upload_2022-12-25_16-48-0.png

    Topping D10s
    -60db steady state 1kHz sine into 100kohms
    upload_2022-12-25_16-50-31.png

    Topping D10s
    -90db steady state 1kHz sine into 100kohms
    upload_2022-12-25_16-51-47.png
     
    Last edited: Dec 25, 2022
  5. purr1n

    purr1n Desire for betterer is endless.

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    Topping D10s
    0db White Noise to 90kHz
    upload_2022-12-25_17-5-13.png

    Topping D10s
    0db White Noise to 90kHz (44.1kHz)
    Close up to see cutoff filter
    upload_2022-12-25_17-9-11.png

    Topping D10s
    0db White Noise to 1MHz
    upload_2022-12-25_17-5-52.png
    The spike just under 400kHz could be a sub-frequency of the delta-sigma sampling rate of the ESS chip. Or maybe it's the switching frequency of the power supply. Bunch of spikes between 70 and 100kHz - in theory not audible.

    Modi+
    0db white noise to MHz
    Apples to Apples (to above)
    upload_2022-12-25_17-13-11.png
    The Modi+ is much cleaner in the ultrasonic region than the D10s. Could oddball ultrasonics in a steady-state sine measurement be indicative of non-measurable behaviors that we hear with complex signals?
     
    Last edited: Dec 28, 2022
  6. purr1n

    purr1n Desire for betterer is endless.

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    Topping D10s
    THDN (db) vs Frequency at various output levels
    90kHz bandwidth
    upload_2022-12-25_17-26-58.png

    Modi+
    upload_2022-12-25_17-30-29.png

    At highest output levels, the THDN rises in the highest audible frequencies (starting from 1kHz) on the D10s. The THD+N on the Modi+ remains consistent throughout 20-20kHz. Could this be an indicator of why the D10s sounds harsher in the highs?
     
  7. luckybaer

    luckybaer Friend

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    Marv, thanks for taking time out to upload your thoughts on the D10s. Any thoughts on its performance as a DDC, seeing as how it has SPDIF out?

    <Not trying to start a USB Nervosa Epidemic - just curious how it stacks up to other DDCs that have passed through SBAF’s test bench>
     
    Last edited: Dec 25, 2022
  8. limesoft

    limesoft Friend

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    Apogee Element uses a “measly” ess 9016 chip but sounds marvelous, the usual ess bad characteristics we talk about are stripped out completely. Unfortunately to this day fancier chips don’t mean much, implementation is still king. If topping slapped on a new modern chip in a crap environment there’s no magic that can save it
     
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  9. goodvibes

    goodvibes Acquaintance

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    I haven't been a fan of earlier ESS chips either but some implementations have been fine voicings for their purpose. The last batch are VG and seem to have lost that ESS slightly strident character. Maybe average implementation may not be as 'sweet' a voicing as AKM but depending on preference, could easily be preferred. I find the current ES9038PRO with Apodizing filter pretty great. I think the Questyle CMA15 is a good representation.
     
  10. Pocomo

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    I used one of these for a couple of years to add SPDIF out to an Nvidia Shield box via USB. Not a hifi application, but it was perfectly reliable over that time. I may still have it somewhere if some SBAFer needs it.

    These days I use an Apple TV which feels far superior to me; toslink comes out of the TV into my 2ch rig.
     
  11. Baten

    Baten Friend

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    I thoroughly dislike apodizing but to each their own. My main DAC recently is an Aune X8 (not the newest TRS balanced one), Linear Phase Slow, with op-amp swapped to MUSES and I like it a lot. Can't compare to the Modi+ in this thread but it sure beats Topping D50 thrash!
     
  12. purr1n

    purr1n Desire for betterer is endless.

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    I get the feeling that the latest ES9038 are more forgiving with respect to the "Sabre nasties". The older stuff, the 9016, 9018, and 9028, they've been around for a while, so I would surmise that companies like Apogee, MOTU, Schiit (where the designers do listen to stuff) figured out a way for them to not sound nasty. Also, ESS had been the only game in town since TI/BB and AD don't give a crap anymore (not enough money in it) and the AKM factory burned down (they are now back up, but supposedly charging anyone outside of China up the wazoo).

    ESS used to be the domain of Chi-Fi (the bad kind), so this probably explains why almost all Sabre DACs used exhibit such "digital" nasties. Then again, this wasone the most horrid sounding DACs I had ever heard (highly recommended by many HC'ers o_O): https://www.changstar.com/www.changstar.com/index.php/topic,883.0.html
     
  13. purr1n

    purr1n Desire for betterer is endless.

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    I wish I can find my old Modi 2 Uber because using the Modi+ has Unison USB which would be somewhat unfair. Anyway I will at least compare the below for now. I'll grab an iFi Zen Sig with all the inputs on the back.
    1. PC (rando USB port) --USB--> (Unison USB In) Modi+
    2. PC - USB -> D10s --SPDIF --> (Coax In) Modi+
    3. PC* - USB -> D10s --SPDIF --> (Coax In) Modi+
    * With the PCI USB breakout card: https://www.superbestaudiofriends.o...usb-break-out-pci-usb-card-with-unison.11822/

    (2) PC - USB -> D10s --SPDIF --> (Coax In) Modi+
    Sounded rather harsh, it made the Modi+ have about 2/3 the harshness of the D10s. Small details were dropped such reverb trails of Dua Lipa vocals (and this is with Spotify too). Less expansive stage as the result of loss of ambient cues.

    (3) using the Renasys PCI USB breakout card
    Somewhere in between (1) and (2) with respect to harshness, overall about 1/3 the harshness of the D10s was transferred over to the Modi+. Same amount of small details dropped. Stage expansive somewhere in between (1) and (2).
     
  14. limesoft

    limesoft Friend

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    I think you're right, it's a bit easier with the newer chips to get them half decent sounding (even a tiny Earmen Sparrow dongle isn't half bad - I bet it sound better than the topping).. when it comes to delta sigma I've only heard impressive sound from sabre implementations and to lesser extent burr brown. I tried AKM and others but they rubbed me the wrong way. I still think sabre is the only d/s dac that can have it's digital "flavor" properly removed and scaled up to something truly impressive - seems it takes some solid know how to do this as it's quite rare.. For me it's mostly been the Apogee Element which strips down all the digital nasties and sabre flavors, there are few others but they haven't quite reached this level. I hear good things about the new Schiit (ES9028 DAC board ).

    Chifi + Sabre has typically always been bit of a disaster, apart from Shanling for some reason - they seem to know their shiz.
     
    Last edited: Dec 26, 2022
  15. Roget

    Roget Acquaintance

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    Purrin, can you retest. There are different results on Audio Science Review.
     
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  16. purr1n

    purr1n Desire for betterer is endless.

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    The latest AKM Velvet stuff is colored on the low end and bright on the higher end. I have not heard their chips since they restarted production after their factory burned down. Supposedly the do sound slightly different. There's one AKM based DAC that that I really liked, the Burl B2, but that used the prior generation AKM 4399.

    Apogee went all in on Thunderbolt. I have my eye on their stuff, but I wouldn't know where to start with the latest desktop offerings. Maybe @Psalmanazar or someone else would know.

    With ChiFi and Sabre, generally those who can do interesting IV stages other than OPA1612 make decent sounding stuff.

    No. The onus shouldn't be on me.
     
  17. limesoft

    limesoft Friend

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    Apogee have some new gear that plays on both Apple and Windows, usb and standalone. Apogee Symphony Desktop (even better than Element apparently, with DSP so you can do EQ hp correction on optical input), and the new Duet 3 which runs on usb computer power. For me the Symphony Desktop has me very interested - if it's essentially more of what the Element gives that's success.. oh and the Dangerous Music dac has me intrigued but I have no way of hearing one.

    * They have a low budget one now called "Boom" I wonder if it's actually good or if they neutered it completely
     
    Last edited: Dec 26, 2022
  18. Cspirou

    Cspirou They call me Sparky

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    @Roget - ASR measurements are habitually awful and biased. It’s a joke that people refer to them with authority.
     
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  19. Psalmanazar

    Psalmanazar Most improved member; A+

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    The Thunderbolt chipsets Apogee were using in the rock solid Elements and TB Ensemble were discontinued. I guess they're saving them for the Symphony II I/O until they replace that with a USB unit with built in DSP for monitoring. Apogee has gone back to USB for the Symphony Desktop, Duet 3, and Boom with more stable Windows drivers than most (but still contracted out) from an Apple partnered company.

    Apogee uses a discrete I-V stage, OPA1642 opamps for the line outs usually, the mic pres are OPA1612 controlled by THAT 5171, and the headphone amps are TI chipsets.

    Apogee is quality sound but has higher latency. Most manufacturers who claim or measure very low latency over USB do so with poor, minimum phase anti-alias filters like RME and now Metric Halo claiming that the minimum phase AA filters are better than the linear phase ones on the chips they use. Using the worse filters shaves milliseconds off the round trip latency of the device.
     
  20. Psalmanazar

    Psalmanazar Most improved member; A+

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    AKM sold out to mass market hifi with the Velvet Sound chipsets. They admitted to making changes at the instigation of manufacturers resulting in the softness, mud, and tizz. ESS is the only one left making new chipsets.

    The last full power Cirrus thing was the CS4398 and that is limited by the built in I-V stage. The last AKM was the AD1955. Lynx and Bricasti basically max these out. Prism used their own weird solution with the filters from the CS4398 but sold their non measurement business to Tracktion.

    Topping is nothing more but offbrand audio gear. Almost all Chinese brands of audio gear are offbrand or OEM made. I would include Chinese OEM made electronics in here too, eg Warm, Alctron, current SSL, Focusrite, RME. Behringer is utter crap. All of it should be treated as disposable and not be paid too much more aka don't buy it.
     

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