User experience and connectivity
The E30 is a strictly wired affair – while some users might bemoan the fact that Bluetooth is not included, this omission has presumably helped to keep the E30’s price as low as it is. I was able to easily connect the E30 to both my Macbook and Android easily without the need for drivers. While I don’t have any coaxial digital sources, I was appreciative of the optical connection which allowed me to connect a Google Chromecast Audio, turning the E30 into a terrific little affordable digital streaming pre-amp – a combination I can highly recommend, but since they’ve stopped becoming manufactured Chromecast Audios are becoming harder to find these days.
The User Interface is fairly straight-forward – a short-tap on the front panel switches between inputs, and long-press powers the E30 on and off. A longer press during standby will toggle between DAC mode, with a fixed 2V line-level output, and pre-amp mode which lowers and raises volume in half-decibel increments. The brilliant thing about the E30’s remote volume ability is the fact that it can turn ‘dumb’ pieces of equipment into rather clever ones. Take the Burson Bang power amplifier, for example – it’s a pure power amplifier, whose only on-board control is a power switch. Stack an E30 on top and it becomes a potent little desktop HiFi rig which was a highly enjoyable pairing with my KEF LS50’s which I’ve been using lately in a nearfield set-up.
No less than six filter settings can be chosen from using the ‘F’ button on the E30’s remote. The stock ‘Short delay sharp roll-off’ filter setting (F-3) sounded great to my ears, and to be perfectly frank it sounded the same as all the other settings. Sure, it’s a nice touch to include these options, but if your ears are up to the task you might be lucky enough to notice a nominal difference between them.
The AC power cord supplied with the E30 is terminated in a type-B male USB connector, allowing the unit to be powered by your laptop or any number of other power-supply sources. I would highly recommend adding a proper power supply to the E30 because it did create some pretty horrid digital whining and clicking when the volume pot was turned up on my Questyle CMA600i headphone amplifier, but while music was playing at normal listening levels it wasn’t audible.
Listening and performance
In standard DAC-mode, I tested the E30 upstream from a range of headphone amplifiers and headphone combinations or order to see if the E30 would yield any particular weaknesses in its sonic presentation and to determine whether it had any particularly stand-out characteristics. Using the most revealing source-chain I have on-hand – the Sennheiser HD800s and Questyle CMA600i, the little Topping unit certainly impressed me with its clarity, well-organised and vivid imaging, and overall sense of organic and likeable sound.
Listening to Alice in Chain’s 1996 live recording of ‘Down in a Hole’ from MTV Unplugged, the E30 sorts-out the instrument and vocal tracks into clearly defined spaces on the sound stage in terms of both width and depth, and presents utterly realistic acoustic guitars. Switching quickly to the CMA600i’s internal AK4490-based DAC with the two devices grouped together on Roon, there’s a noticeably more vivid sound with more energy in the presence region on the CMA600i. The treble is etched-out with more definition with the Questyle’s on-board DAC, but it’s slightly more grating than the slightly more smoothed-out presentation on the E30.
When played alongside the multibit DAC on the Schiit Asgard 3 the E30 is harder to pull-apart, having nigh-identical timbre. However, after spending more time listening between the two the E30 did reveal greater structural definition and space between tracks, compared to a more integrated soundscape on the Schiit’s internal R2R DAC.
The greatest compliment I can give the E30 is that I forgot that I was listening to it. Like other highly competent DACs (often far more expensive than it), it simply gets out of the way and rewards the listener with a vivid, realistic and technically-astute sound – just make sure you give it a clean power supply.
It’s a great time to be a budding personal audio enthusiast when affordable audio gear is as well-packaged, well-specced, and well-performing as the Topping E30. In fact, audiophiles with a little more experience who know that investments in transducers and amplifiers will yield greater net audio performance in their system should absolutely consider the E30 as an affordable and utterly competent DAC that ought to last them a very long time without the worry of ‘upgrade-itis’ creeping-in. I finished the listening component of my review several days ago, and yet I still have the E30 sitting right here on my desk feeding much more expensive equipment, and I’m not about to take it out in a hurry – it sounds awesome.
The E30 gets an easy recommendation from me as an affordable and highly versatile DAC, and its remote functionality and overall usability make it an easy choice over pretty much everything else under $200. Thanks again to HiFiGo for sending us this sample!