ShenzhenAudio & Topping EX5 Review

Topping EX5

MQA & Bluetooth

The EX5 features the 2nd gen XMOS XU216 USB controller and it fully supports MQA. If you don’t know what that is, let me explain. In a nutshell, Master Quality Authenticated (MQA) is an audio codec that lets you stream songs in Master/HiFi quality. After capturing and recording the performance, MQA folds the file to make it small enough to stream or download. They call this ”Music Origami”. Products with a full MQA decoder, like the Topping EX5, unfold the file to deliver the highest possible rate for the user. Popular streaming service Tidal supports MQA and you may want to try it. The premium-tier USB controller inside the EX5 also natively supports DSD512 & PCM up to 32bit/768kHz.

Wireless-wise it does have access to the latest arsenal such as the LDAC, and AptX HD via Bluetooth 5.0, thanks to the premium-tier CSR8675 Bluetooth chipset. Topping states that they bypassed the decoder of the CSR8675 and connected it directly to the dual ES DACs to improve SQ.

I paired the EX5 with my Android phone. The process was quite straightforward and hassle-free. My phone detected the LDAC codec immediately and was ready to stream. I used Tidal and the same headphone setup and the result were quite satisfactory. The sound quality was quite good, the details and the dynamics did not take a huge hit and managed to surprise me.

Topping EX5

Specifications & Technical Data

USB IN:44.1kHz-768kHz/16bit-32bit,
DSD64-DSD512(Native),
DSD64-DSD256(Dop)
Renderer, MQA Studio, MQA
OPT/ COAX IN:44.1kHz-192kHz/16bit-24bit, DSD64(Dop)
BT IN:AAC/SBC/APTX/APTX LL/APTX HD/LDAC
EX5 LineOut XLR:
THD+N @A-wt : <0.0001%@1kHz
THD+N @No-wt:  <0.0004%@10-20kHz
SNR @A-wt: 125dB@ 1kHz
Frequency Response: 20Hz-20kHz(+0.1dB)
Output Level: 4.3Vrms OdBFS
Noise@A-wt: <2.5uVrms
Channel Crosstalk: -85 @1kHz
Channel Balance: 0.3dB
Output Impedance: 200Ω
Dimensions: 17.4cm x 13.8cm x 4.5cm
Weight: 750g
Power Input: 100-240VAC 50Hz/60Hz
Signal Input: USB/OPT/COAX/BT
Line Out output: RCA/XLR
Headphone Amp Output: 6.35mm/4-PIN-XLR

Sound 

The EX5 has a neutral signature with a slightly tamed upper mid-range. It sounds dynamic, detailed, and musical to my ears. Imaging and positioning are both very good. For a $349 USD do-it-all device, it has excellent sound quality and I am very impressed by its performance.

Low

The bass is powerful, textured, and authoritative. The low end feels dynamic and impactful. The resolution is really good as well, you don’t feel anything is lacking here. For example, the brass family is beautifully reproduced by the EX5 and the transition from lows to mid-bass and then the midrange is quite smooth. The whole range feels quite coherent and no region feels detached. The extension is also great, you feel the rumble and the harmonics of the sub-area. Excellent performance for the price tag.

Mid

The midrange is sweet, detailed, and airy. Topping found a great balance between sweet and detailed. The vocals are clear, defined, and textured. The detail-retrieval is impressive, the guitar riffs are quite engaging to listen to as well as the vocals. Mid-dependant instruments such as the flutes, oboes, clarinets feel natural and breathy to my ears, really impressive from a $350 USD 2-in-1 device! The upper midrange, however, is slightly tamed compared to what we usually see from Topping. It is definitely nothing extreme, the upper midrange still has adequate energy and crispiness. The cymbals and hi-hats follow the midrange slightly less pronounced. On another note, the resolution and the clarity of this section impressed me a lot. This section, as well, punches above the price tag of the unit.

High

The EX5 reproduces the treble range skilfully, the treble feels accurate, transients are fast and snappy. Just like the rest of the spectrum, the treble range feels dynamic and agile. Detail-retrieval is excellent here as well. This range boosts the perceived clarity of the signature and the EX5 reaches the top octave without getting harsh. The treble carries good detail and definition while presenting the harmonics brilliantly. The EX5 shows great balance throughout the spectrum. The extension is just as good as it is at the lowest notes. Overall, the EX5 has excellent tonality and it stays true to the mastering. 

Topping EX5

Technical Performance

As I mentioned earlier, the EX5 shows excellent balance throughout the ranges so the coherency is great. The ranges or individual bands do not overlap each other or try to steal the show from each other. Additionally, the instrument separation is excellent, no matter what you plug into it. I got a brilliant presentation with Etymotic EVO, Sennheiser 58X, and the Hifiman DEVA. The EX5 is an excellent all-rounder that plays well with most of the earphones and headphones in my inventory and that’s really nice. Picky sources are hard to love, in my opinion.

Apart from that, the PRaT is excellent, like I said, the EX5 punches above its price tag with its technical performance and it is quite surprising to see a mid-tier 2-in-1 device performs this well. The soundstage, on the other hand, is wide but not so deep. The depth was good with the 58X but so much with the DEVA. The synergy card is at the play here. I must also say that I had no problems with the IEMs I paired with the EX5, depth-wise. Apart from that, thanks to the balanced and airy signature and great instrument separation, the imaging, and the positioning are both quite good. Overall, the EX5 is a technically impressive DAC & AMP combo.

Comparisons

vs. SMSL SH-8s & SU-8s

SMSL’s $590 combo is a strong rival but the EX5 competes with it well. The resolution and the detail-retrieval are better on the SMSL’s higher-priced bundle but the EX5 is not so far behind. There are couple of signature-based differences, the SMSL bundle is slightly more analytical compared to the EX5 and they have sharper transients. The note thickness is slightly thicker on the EX5 but the margin is really small. Also, the PRaT is slightly better on the SMSL bundle, compared to the all-in-one EX5. Both of the devices are the flag-bearers of their price brackets. Apart from sound, the EX5 offers more Bluetooth codec options compared to the SMSL SU-8s. The EX5 features the superior LDAC codec, which can transmit data up to 990 kbps. 

vs. Khadas Tone Board 2

Khadas’ $199 USD DAC & AMP is quite popular among audiophiles and it is a really good product that also punches above its price tag, however, the EX5 sounds more refined, coherent, and detailed compared to the Tone Board. They have a similar tonality and if you are a Tone Board 2 owner who wants to upgrade, the EX5 might be your best bet without letting go of that sweet signature. From a technical standpoint, the EX5 offer much better detail-retrieval, imaging and stereo positioning compared to the Tone Board 2. The price difference should not be overlooked though, the Tone Board 2 is $150 USD cheaper then the EX5. It all comes down to your budget at the end of the day.

Topping EX5

Last Words

I’m very pleased with the Topping EX5. The collab device offers excellent performance and a wide feature set for the price. The build quality is excellent, like usual, the sockets, plugs, and buttons feel very sturdy. The device does not take much space, looks really good, and plays just as well.

Taking the design, performance, and price into account, the EX5 is a strong contender in the sub-500 price bracket. To me, it is very easy to award it with our Recommended Buy Award.  The Topping EX5 now has a spot on our Recommended DAC/AMP combo buying list.

 

Page 1: Topping, ShenzhenAudio, EX5, Packaging & Accessories, Design & Build Quality, Controls, Power

Page 2: MQA & Bluetooth, Sound, Low, Mid, High, Technical Performance, Comparisons, Last Words, Specifications

4.4/5 - (217 votes)

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Long time Tech Enthusiast, an ambitious petrol-head, Yagiz likes his gadgets and always finds new ways into the tinkerer's world. He tries to improve anything and everything he gets his hands onto. Loves an occasional shine on the rocks.

3 Comments

  • Reply August 11, 2021

    James McCook

    Thanks for the clear and concise review. Our opinions on sound are consistent, the EX5 is a device worth its money. I’m excited about the next all-inclusive device to be made by Topping.

    • Reply August 11, 2021

      Yagiz

      Thank you for reading, James.

      Stay Safe!

  • Reply August 13, 2021

    sanakimpro

    Can you please review the Topping A30 Pro amplifier?

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