Alright, so here is where things start getting interesting. Topping has always been considered a high value price to performance company. Their products have won over many customers in the past. So I was eager to check out their propositions as well. For DAC reviews I pretty much always have them set up in my two channel system. And thanks to the Corona home office situation, I had more time than ever to play with my stereo on a daily basis.
I have used the D90 in the chain with my Schiit Ragnarok driving the Kef LS50. I love the Kef for their clean nature, they are perfect for picking out changes in the system. The D90 has been fed by my self-made Roon ROCK via USB.
What surprised me right from the start, was what a well organized stage the D90 creates. It stretches well in all dimensions, but performs exceptionally well when it comes to depth and layering. I did not expect that from a DAC of that price. The D90 keeps its structure well and provides superb imaging. I can easily tell you where the musicians were standing when the tracks have been recorded.
Personally, I like using live recordings to evaluate certain aspects in a product. Staging, resolution and imaging are just a few of them. A great album for that would be Placebo’s MTV Unplugged concert in London from 2015. It generally has great dynamic range and gives you a wonderful overview of how a product performs. With the D90 I get a great sense of space between the musicians. The audience also is well resolved, where the applause doesn’t come out as one collective mess, but more of individuals next to each other. Just like it should be.
The D90 has a nice and clean sound, where nothing really gets overstated. It doesn’t put any more effort into bass than it does put into mids or treble. The overall signature is linear with a reference type. But let’s dig a bit deeper into the D90’s performance here.
It does have good extension into both ends of the register. But what the D90 misses to me, is body and soul. It does create a very detailed and precise sound, but body-wise it is more on the lighter side. This is mostly audible for me with vocals. Here the D90 can sound a bit cold and analytical.
The D90 overall has very nice and detailed texture, it provides high resolution and creates a well rendered picture. Its stereo separation and imaging are probably one of its biggest assets. The D90 does separate instruments and musicians with a clean cut and displays them on a very dark background. Where the D90 strikes is definitely in its technical performance. It’s a sound that is very accurate and spot on in many aspects.
The Topping isn’t exactly warm sounding, if that’s something you’re after. With the D90 you have to color the sound at a later stage using Class A or tube amplification, if you want something full or lush. The D90 gives you a close up look at your music. It presents details and information at a high rate. In terms of richness it is at a very neutral level. It doesn’t sound overly dry nor wet.
The D90 has superb transparency and neutrality. It presents everything with the same spot on accuracy from bass to treble. It won’t put much body into your music, but will give you the utmost details of it. The D90 creates a more digital sound, that can wow one with precision and imaging especially.
In this section we’ll find out how the Topping D90 compares against other D/A converters out there. My personal experience with digital to analogue converters might be limited. But I want to give you two comparisons that hopefully help you in your decision and understanding how the D90 sounds.
We’ll check out together how the D90 fares up against the almighty Chord Qutest, which I recently re-acquired, as well as the first gen. iDAC-6 by Cayin. I can only compare the D90 to other products that I have direct access to. I can’t tell you how it compares to something I haven’t heard or only heard briefly.
Stated prices are in USD and correct at the time of writing.
Cayin – iDAC-6 (999$ – discontinued)
The iDAC-6 has recently been refreshed with a new generation by Cayin. The version I have is the one from about four years ago. It comes with dual output (tube/solid state) and an AK4490 chip. Back then, everyone seemed to have jumped on the 4490. In/output wise the iDAC-6 and D90 are pretty identical, but the D90 features Bluetooth 5.0 on top of all digital inputs.
On a sound quality point of view, these two perform at different levels. The D90 sounds cleaner and more open. It creates sharper separation and a wider and deeper sound stage. It’s especially in layering and resolution where the D90 puts the iDAC-6 in its rear-view mirror.
The D90 gives me better positioned spatial cues, where I can pin point musicians in the room with better ease. In comparison to the iDAC-6 it provides a more detailed and airier presentation. The sound stage is less compressed and enjoys a more organized structure.
The iDAC-6 however does what the D90 misses out on. It gives instruments and notes more weight and body. It sounds fuller, lusher and just more organic and analogue. Especially when you switch to the tube output, things get a lot richer and lusher. It’s a feature that makes the Cayin unique. The iDAC-6 to me sounds more musical, more emotional and just overall more enjoyable. The D90 on the other hand convinces with its micro details and superb resolution.
Chord Electronics – Qutest (1,895$)
Just a couple of weeks ago, I got myself a Qutest. Since the giveaway in September 2019 I had a Qutest shaped void to fill. Some people might say it isn’t fair to compare the D90 to something three times the price. Isn’t it though? If the D90 wants to take a piece of the cake, it has to survive in the ring against the mightiest.
On paper the D90 and Qutest are vastly different. The Chord uses a custom coded Field Programmable Gate Array. Chord is known for their extreme performance DACs. They are consistently regarded as the best in the market. The Qutest is a Line Out only DAC, which gives the upper hand to the D90 if you want to use it with power amplifiers. Input wise, the Chord comes with USB, 2x BNC (Coax) and optical, while the D90 trades one of the coax inputs for an I²S and tops that off with an extra Bluetooth input. The Qutest only features one set of RCA outputs, while the D90 doubles down on analogue outputs with an extra XLR output.
The Qutest does what the D90 can in terms of technical performance, but it takes it a step further. It creates a wider and deeper stage, where information from the back is brought out with ease. That however does not mean, that the D90 can’t compete – au contraire. The D90 might not be performing with the finesse of the Qutest, but it puts on quite a fight. The Qutest isn’t miles ahead, but it just does a better job and rendering and resolution.
The D90 has a more analytical sound in comparison to the Qutest. Also, the Chord’s digital filter settings are less subtle than the ones of the D90. With the Qutest you can alter the sound in a more noticeable manner. The D90 sounds dryer and more digital compared to Chord’s also neutral but more natural tuning. The Qutest gives higher levels of richness to flavor its sound. The D90 gives a sharper cut to its instruments, while the Chord does smooth over edges just a bit to make them softer.
Both the D90 and Qutest are quite similar in their overall tuning. They both go for a neutral sound where the key strength seems to lie in technicalities. The Qutest does go a longer way to achieve the goal, but the difference between them is not a huge night and day one. Sure, the Qutest outperforms the D90, but in general, the D90 does puts on a tough fight – for quite a bit less money.
This has been my first ever experience with Topping. And they did indeed surprise me. The D90 has solid build quality, comes with a vast number of digital inputs and on top sounds really good.
The D90 is a supremely linear DAC that provides a reference guided signature, that is only flawed by its cold vocals, and missing emotions and blood to me. It however reproduces a very high amount of information and displays them with excellent precision. I’d be lying if I didn’t say the D90’s performance speaks books. For 699 USD this is very hard to not recommend to anyone who wants something detailed and precise. Topping shows that a very good DAC doesn’t have to break the bank and can come in a neatly compact package.
To me, the D90 is in the sub 1000$ region, what the Qutest is in the sub 2000$ range – a benchmark. It is the current product to beat. To the Best DAC list it goes, a new recommended buy!