The D20 Standalone DAC
At this point I’m hoping that the dedicated standalone D20 DAC would fare better. I pulled out the trusty JDSLabs C421 which is a relatively affordable headphone amp and something I can see being paired with the D20. Again the comparison was with the E10, both the D20 and the E10 feeding analog signals into the JDSLabs C421. How do you think it would come out? A big relief as I found out that the D20 has a sound quality worthy of its external dimensions, at least when compared to the E10. A bigger, more natural soundstage and overall quite a significant step up in sound quality.
Compared to the Audinst HUD-Mx1
I can hear some people asking about the Audinst HUD-MX1, and so I pulled the Audinst out from storage. Another win by the Topping here. The Audinst sounded dry and brittle on the mids, compared to the smooth lush sound of the D20. Soundstage wise the D20 also wins by quite a margin. The HUD-MX1 has been quite the benchmark for the $180 price, and so by the result of this comparison, I can clearly pitch the D20 comfortably against $200-level DACs. Nice.
Compared to the Dacport LX
Then I remembered that one of my favorite USB DACs, the Centrance Dacport LX, received a price cut a while ago. That should put the LX roughly in the $250ish mark (Amazon still list the LX at $299, but I’m pretty sure Centrance have lowered the price on it). Checking on Centrance’s website, the LX is still at $299. Well, I guess it was a temporary sale. Anyway I’ve thrown in the LX to the mix and as I’m listening to it, I’m smiling in my face as I can confidently report how the Topping D20 has officially matched and bettered a $299 DAC. Now this is the kind of stuff that I can recommend to my readers with confidence!
Alright, so what do we have here? The D20 has that HRT MS2+ ish sound with a slight amount of grain and a warm laid back feel to it. In contrast the Dacport LX is cleaner with no grain but narrower in sound and with a sound signature that pushes the midrange more forward. The pace is a little faster on the LX as the D20 still follows the same laid back sound as the D2. Treble is more laid back on the D20 and midrange is smoother as well. The big win comes in the soundstage where the D20 clearly outsizes the LX’s. There is something about the simplicity of the LX that draws power straight from the USB port, so I guess I would always have a soft spot for the LX for that simplicity. But other than that, I really have no reason to go back to the LX. I should throw in a MS2+ in the comparison as well, seeing how the D20 have a very good chance of matching and even bettering it, but alas I don’t have an MS2+ around to compare it to.
Compared to the Matrix M-Stage DAC
I tell you what I do have stored in my storage room: the Matrix M-Stage DAC. Remember this DAC? I compared it a while ago to the HRT MS2+ and found the sound quality comparable aside from the stronger bass impact of the M-Stage. Witnessing the comparison result between the Topping D20 and the Dacport LX, I am feeling uneasy about the M-Stage. Ugh. The M-Stage is priced higher than the D20, is physically bigger, and the Topping match it in terms of connectivity (Coax, Toslink, USB). And so I pulled the M-Stage out of storage and listened to it. Ah, that nice bass weight that makes me prefer it over the HRT MS2+ and the Dacport LX. Mids sounded slightly congested and dryer in comparison to the Topping. High is more shrill and more sibilance prone. Soundstage is smaller than the Topping. Uh oh. This Topping is going to piss a lot of people off (at least M-Stage DAC and Dacport LX owners). How much is it selling for anyway? Parts Express have it for merely $149. I hope Topping is not raising their price after this review.
Reality sucks. A number of good, well tested, popular DACs have just lost an arm wrestling contest with a new $149 DAC from Topping. Sucks, assuming you own those other DACs. I hope a lot of you are still on the Fiio E10 cause if that’s the case I can recommend you this new giant slayer DAC from Topping. Then you would love me instead of hating me for writing this review. Despite the numerous wins on the comparisons, I do feel that the sound signature is a bit too laid back, too relaxed for me. I want more aggression, more snap, more punch in my music and so I’d probably go for something else for my personal use. The Matrix M-Stage still woo me better for its powerful bass impact and unless I really need those S/PDIF connections, I would gladly opt for the Dacport or the MS2+ as they give me a simpler set up and takes less space on my desk.
A word on the D2 and the D20. They come with walwart power supplies. The worst kind of power supply you can give for digital sources. I wish I have a proper regulated power supply for the Topping cause I’m sure it’ll give some serious sound quality boost. If you are thinking of going for one of these Toppings, try looking for a proper power supply as well.
I always thought that manufacturers somehow, secretly, would research their competitor’s products. And after establishing which competitor product stand directly in line with their product’s performance, would establish price based on that relative reference. Well, that may just be my imaginative conspiracy theory. But if that was true, then it looks like Topping conveniently skipped that part of their product development to come up with a $149 price tag for a product that conveniently matches and betters other $300 products. At least the D2 sucked so this doesn’t look like a Topping fanboy review.