This year was such a busy year for TOPPING and I’m sure it was their best one yet. TOPPING released two incredible DACs that can fight in the heavyweight category with bigger boys, D70 and DX7 Pro were such eye-openers that they made me wonder if much higher priced digital to analog converters made any sense. They are still tuning their top-of-the-line AK4499 based D90 DAC, but in the meantime, an update to their smaller and more affordable DAC category just happened with the release of the newest D50s DAC/Preamp and Bluetooth receiver. I’m told there is also an A50 headphone amplifier in the works that should pair nicely with D50s and the dedicated P50 power supply should solve any background noise issues you might have.
We will be testing today their super cute (you will see this word dozens of times in today’s article) and adorable D50s that is actually the successor to the D50 that looks basically the same except for one little trick.
So, what exactly was changed or maybe improved? Let’s take a closer look:
- The biggest change is the added Bluetooth receiver on D50s, TOPPING implements the best Bluetooth chip currently available on the market, CSR8675 from Qualcomm – this one is capable of receiving AAC, SBC, aptX, aptX-LL, aptX-HD, and LDAC for up to 990 Kb/sec wireless transmissions. This is a Bluetooth 5.0 capable chip plus the included antenna will surely help a lot in maintaining a stable and clean wireless signal that should withstand few concrete walls or just cover a much larger area.
- Instead of going for 3 x OPA1612 as they did on D50, the newest one has only two of them and a DIP8 socketed LME49720 op-amp – I know this chip pretty well, this is basically an updated LM4562 that everybody hailed as among the most detailed op-amp on the market. It seems that this change impacted the channel cross-talk quite a lot, it sits now at an impressive -130 dB compared to just -116 on D50. TOPPING used the same op-amp in their flagship series, D70 and DX7 Pro are also using them, so this is a very good sign in my book
- D50s come with a much-needed remote control, especially for us speaker-philes this is a very welcomed addition.
- D50s is a bit heavier since the Bluetooth PCB, socket and BT antenna on the back added a bit of weight. Apart from that, both use the same DAC chips, USB input chips, have the same size and shape.
1. Unboxing & Package Contents
The unboxing experience is really positive. Double boxed obviously, the product box is thick and hard as a piece of wood, there is lots of foam inside for extra protection. What I liked about this box is that it is really small, looks mostly like a smartphone box and everything was squeezed inside really clever. Every single square inch of space was used to the maximum.
Inside it, you will find the D50s unit, a screw-type Bluetooth antenna, a much-needed remote control, a USB Type-A to USB Type-B connection cable and a DC cable that powers the unit, this cable has a USB Type-A connector on the other side.
What is kind of missing from the package is the external power supply where the USB type-A cable should be plugged in. However, do note that any headphone charger will work just fine with it if it can provide at least 5V and 1A, it even worked connected directly to a USB port of my PC and of my TV.
Of course, it also comes with a warranty card and in typical TOPPING fashion with super technical User Manual – the type that I like the most. TOPPING published the actual measurements they performed on D50s using the best Audio Precision analyzers on the planet. If you are really into measurements look no further, the included manual has them all: FFT Spectrum on coaxial and on USB, RMS Level, THD+Noise ratio and the FFT spectrum of all 7 digital filters.
2. Design & Build Quality
It is super cute, super small but at the same time seems really heavy in the hand, it weighs 510 grams (1.13 pounds) so it gives the impression of a really well build and solid device. Its body was made from a single solid aluminum brick, milled on a CNC machine, it is a uni-body design without any visible screws (it has 4 of them underneath) so the fit and finish is excellent. Since it is so small with a dimmable display, the WAF is really high in this one!
Seriously, this is the best looking single-ended only DAC I put my hands on. It looks like a tiny version of Mac Mini with a tiny display in the middle. For laughs here is a banana for scale.
3. Controls & Connectivity & LCD Setting
The front panel looks clean and simple, on the left, there is a double function button: a long press will turn it On or Off and a short press will enter the menu. In the middle, there is a small but clear LCD screen that will show your selected input (4 of them), the volume level, media type (PCM or DSD) and the sample rate. On the right, there is a 4-direction joystick that helps navigating thought the menu. A short press on it will mute or unmute D50s, left and right will change the digital input and up and down will change the volume level. For a full 2Vrms please set it 0 dB or you can go lower than that, if needed it can work as a digital preamp.
On the back, you have your DC 5V input, a BT antenna socket, 3 digital inputs – USB, Optical and Coaxial and the standard RCA Line-Out.
4. Menu Options
Short pressing the On/Off button enters the menu where you can select:
- 7 digital filters programmed on the hardware level directly in the DAC chip, the user manual will show the exact changes those will apply to the frequency response, most of them will be altering the top octave
- You can change the brightness of the LCD with 3 positions and an Auto position (probably with an ambient light sensor)
- “Auto” setting at On or Off, if engaged D50s will automatically turn on when it detects a digital signal incoming and will turn itself Off if no signal is detected, leave it on On position
- Bluetooth: On or Off. If you don’t plan on using its Bluetooth receiver then I recommend turning it off so the case would be cooler. Once you engage it to search for it with your smart device, connect to it and stream some music wirelessly, it’s that simple
- Factory Reset – self-explanatory
What I really like on D50s and disliked on D70 and DX7 Pro is that you can control its every feature only by accessing the menu. With D70 and DX7 Pro, you needed the remote control to dim the display, and change filter settings. Normally, every setting on D50s can be controlled by its remote and that is super convenient once you move it into a speaker-based setup.
5. Tech Specs & Detailed Information
Tell me this, how on earth TOPPING was able to squeeze inside not one top-of-the-line ES9038Q2M but TWO of them for the best SNR this chip can offer? Its much bigger brother DX7s has also those, but it’s also three times its size and doubles the price.
USB connection duties are handled by an XU208 from XMOS that assures a stable and worry-free USB connection, if you install the custom drivers by Thesycon it should perform even better. Take note that only the USB input can decode PCM up to 32bit/768 kHz and natively decode DSD512 files, coaxial and optical are limited to DSD64 via DoP and to 24bit/192kHz PCM files.
Bluetooth is handled by the best-received chip, combined with a detachable antenna D50s that should cover a big open area or even an apartment pretty easily. D50s supports all major Bluetooth codecs, including the best ones as aptX-HD and LDAC, plus it supports Bluetooth 5.0 so the receiving quality should be top-notch.
If you have an OTG capable smartphone, it will work nicely with D50s and if you have an iOS device then a CCK cable will do the trick.
6. We researched and we got some tips!
Before going deep into its performance, in typical Soundnews fashion, we have some tips. First of all, as you might recall I hold my Benchmark HPA4 at highest ranks as I know it is not only very good at playing music but it is also an extraordinary tool that is putting any digital source at its magnifying glass and any imperfection will not hide from its gaze. The noise-floor of HPA4 sits somewhere between -150 and -160 dB, you will never hear it. However, if the source that is feeding it has some noise, HPA4 will show that to you.
I first powered the D50s by the frontal USB port of my desktop PC and there it was: the noise floor was very obvious as a low-intensity hum covered all my songs. I double-checked all my cables, everything was fine, the hiss was coming from D50s. I then decided to power it by a USB port from the rear, surprisingly the noise floor dropped considerably! Still, I was able to hear it even at normal listening levels and I was not very pleased with that.
I then decided by power it by an external power brick of a smartphone. Finally, the noise floor was super low, almost indistinguishable, yet, again I was able to hear it, but I needed to raise the volume up for that. Much better results, but I was still not very happy.
I then powered it by an external power bank, that is capable of outputting 5V and 2.1A and boy! What a change! Clouds disappeared, windows opened to my music and there were angels singing to me… joking of course. The noise floor dropped to a point where I can’t detect it anymore. If you have a D50 or a D50s I strongly recommend at least trying an external power bank.
Obviously, the power adapters of our smartphones are different, one will better filter the mains noise, another one might not filter it at all.
I see that TOPPING even developed an external power supply for it called P50 that should provide clean power, without bothering with external power banks.
OK, fellas, It’s time to carefully listen to some music.
7. Sound Performance
After solving all issues, I want to point out that D50s has a clear and transparent presentation with lots of details on the macro and on the micro-scale, it sounds expensive and definitely not like a $250 device.
Listening to David Bowie - Starman (2012 Remaster) revealed the shortcomings of the older recording, yet the musical and catchy nature of the track remained the same. The guitar plucks sounded real and very pleasing; David’s voice was like whispering to my ears at the start of the song. The chorus throws his voice deeper into the background and I liked that D50s was capable of showing depth information and layering even on this track. At 03:08 mark the midrange kicked in heavily and all instruments including David’s voice were chanting together in a crowded moment and yet the final result was not crowded at all, I’ve heard void spaces between each note.
Paranoid Android by Radiohead has so much information that it plays a lot with my imagination, this is the perfect song for the dynamic range tests, frequency response, and detail retrieval. The bells on the left side hidden deep into the mix are so easy to spot, the guitars are sounding alive and not metallic at all. The vibration of the voice has a longer decay and vocal cords are like scratching my eardrums a bit. This song has some deep sounding moments and the D50s was able to put every instrument on its shelf where it belongs.
When everything exploded at 02:54 mark, dynamics exploded as well carrying slam in the bass and fast transients in the treble, it was an engaging moment and without noticing it I started tapping my feet – a sign that I am enjoying its overall performance and everything clicked into place for me.
If you listen to Leonard Cohen – Never Mind between the 0:07 and 0:09 mark, basically for just two seconds if you have a revealing source you will feel the increase in the background noise, like a rise in distortion before Leonard opens his mouth. This small defect was easily heard on D50s and of course, his voice sounded so intimate it was almost bothering at times, especially listening on headphones, I felt like he blows a lot of air directly into my ears. D50s easily moves that air and since it has a faster pace, it didn’t have issues with a rise in dynamics. Mid-bass in the background was clear, was always there borrowed deep but never stepped into the light.
The much higher energy of Rage Against The Machine (RATM for short) – Take the Power Back even at the 0:04 mark, it already started showing me crazy fast executed drums that carried lots of air and slam. The chorus carries so much energy, I couldn’t help myself and obviously some head-banging followed and I started air-guitaring like I was THE air guitar World Champion.
I listened to another song by RATM – Bulls On Parade and again there is a hidden hum between the 03:00 and 03:03 mark, that is the noise when the guitar amplifier is engaged, with the right DAC this noise becomes so obvious you hear it from afar without closing your eyes, I’m actually pretty shocked how detailed, snappy and fast D50s sounds with every tune I threw at it.
Calming myself I decided to listen to some Rachmaninov – Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, Op.43 (Master version) it is a masterpiece performed on piano and again there were multiple times when I felt the fingers touching the keys or the feet touching the pedals, incredibly detailed performance. The soundstage level expanded tremendously as the track itself was recorded in a much bigger and wider space. I felt how musical notes flew farther away without decaying too fast, every note was born from thin air and disappearing much later out of thin air as well. This track is a very good example of how enveloping this song can sound in a speaker-based setup, as notes were delivered from different angles, it was like some magic trick happened with my speakers.
TOPPING D50s can be gentle if needed, it can be hard kicking, mean and loud, it can be intimate like Leonard Cohen showed me and wide open with tons of layers like Rachmaninoff sounded. The more I listen to it the more I started feeling a bigger pressure on myself, there should be some nasty ugly cons in it, it should fail with some music and yet it didn’t.
The frequency response is super linear and straight as a line as most ESS Sabre designs nowadays are sounding (there are just a few exceptions that sounded not so great).
Sub-bass was always fast, light on its feet, struck hard and gone deeper into the mix. Sub-bass performance is actually very good, Head of Nasa by Infected Mushroom and The Fat Of The Land by The Prodigy sounded tremendously good. Tracks like Diesel Power and Guitarmass showed every single bass layer there is to hear. Everything down to 30 Hz notes was felt with my entire body, it’s deep-reaching, layered and detailed but also controlled without any flabbiness.
Mid-bass performance is not elevated, like how some other units are doing in this price range. It is super linear but defined and clear sounding. There were multiple times when I spotted bass layers that hit me like waves on a shore, nothing to complain here.
As for midrange, I’m glad that TOPPING didn’t go for a V-shaped sound signature as SMSL did with their M500, D50s, by comparison, is not shy in showing off all those mid frequencies at their best. When the tracks asked for a smooth and musical midrange, D50s delivered plenty of those. When tracks demanded a technical and deep-reaching midrange, D50s was able to be technical without being clinical.
Treble is extended to the sub-sonic area; everything is outlined and revealing. The usual suspects like cymbal crashes and double drums carried a lot of energy, sounded clear with a sharp outline. Treble wasn’t clinical or bright or something like that, just extended yet never harsh on the ears.
8. Wireless Performance
Connecting a smartphone to the D50s is much easier than you might think. Just enable BT from the menu, then select it as its main input, search for “D50s” with your smartphone, connect to it and voila! Just press play on your phone and hear your music in the living room on some nice speakers. My phone is connected via LDAC codec – the best BT codec so far, it is also BT 5.0 enabled for a larger Bluetooth coverage.
I left it in my office and I walked with my phone around the flat, with 2 thick concrete walls and about a 5-meter distance the signal was still going strong, at a 10-meter distance again with 2 concrete walls it was still good and stable, only in my last room, about 15 meters away and 3 concrete walls the music started losing some beats. I do think with some thinner walls or just in an open space, it should deliver a much wider BT coverage.
With all that said, it still performed much better than the FiiO BTR3, BTR1, and Q5S, the included antenna is actually a small booster/amplifier for the Bluetooth signal so it all makes sense.
Streaming simple 16 bit FLAC files from Tidal Hi-Fi it sounded basically the same as wired, blindfolded I would not feel a difference. There was just a faint difference with 96 kHz and 192 kHz files, I felt it sounding smoother somehow on Bluetooth and losing just a bit in terms of dynamics and impact. However, again it sounded clear, expanded, alive, I liked its wireless performance.
This is not a true-streamer mind you since it doesn’t have any Wi-Fi or Roon capabilities, but at $250 that’s not possible, D50s already shook-up all my preconceptions about affordable gear.
9. A comparison with extra TOPPING on top
TOPPING D50s ($250) VS TOPPING DX7 Pro ($600)
Both are made by TOPPING, as usual, the build quality of both is really top-notch, both are CNC milled and beautifully crafted. Both are actually having the same Bluetooth capabilities so another plus for D50s.
DX7 Pro uses the best in class ES9038 PRO DAC chip of the moment, but it is only one chip, D50s uses the mobile version of that: ES9038Q2M but has two of them. DX7 Pro has all digital inputs you might want including AES and II2 and of course, adds balanced XLR outputs at 4 Vrms, D50s is lacking balanced outs and all those extra digital inputs.
The biggest change is obviously the internal balanced headphone amplifier that DX7 Pro is having, at 1700 mW of power it can drive basically any headphone, including ortho-dynamic ones.
When it comes to pure DAC performance, I redid my tests multiple times, including a few blind-tests that somebody helped me changing sources. Both were connected to Benchmark HPA4 so I could squeeze the last bit of performance from both.
D50s had a noisier background, just a little bit at maximum volume, but as I said the power brick of my phone and the external power bank are good but probably not as good as the toroidal transformer and multiple power filtering DX7 Pro has inside. D50s didn’t have the blackest background, it can be spotted mostly when music is paused or when there is extreme silence like classical music is having.
Due to (much) better channel cross-talk, DX7 Pro on the balanced out to HPA4 sounded more expansive and the left to right soundstage was wider and deeper, I had more space between my ears and more air between the notes so I could hear them better and appreciate them to their fullest.
Going past that, they both are sounding mostly indistinguishable. Seriously, I would pick one in a song and then I would pick another one in the next song. They both sounded extremely close to each other, to a point that I couldn’t distinguish them on some tracks. Frequency response, detail retrieval and transient response are basically the same on both units if DX7 Pro worked in single-ended mode (RCA out).
The jump from TOPPING D50 to D50s seems like a massive one: better SNR, better cross-talk numbers, dual DAC configuration and the best Bluetooth receiver with widest codec support is the cherry on top.
Performance-wise it sounded like a mature, serious and very expensive device. In terms of technicalities, it has everything I’d want: it sounds detailed, extended in the sub-bass and upper-treble, sounds linear without any drops in the FR, sounds extra fast and kicks hard when needed, can be also smooth and gentle with older recordings. Lacks brightness and it’s not clinical even with a THX AAA amp.
This is an amazing achievement for TOPPING, if you really don’t need an internal headphone amp, some additional digital inputs or the balanced XLR output then D50s at $250 is without a doubt an amazing value!
- A cute, small, sleek looking device, solid build quality
- Easy integration into tiny spaces, highest WAF known to me
- Sounds linear and super-extended on both ends (sub-bass and top octave), lacks any sound coloration
- Resolution and transparency are at high levels
- Precise pin-point imaging
- Extended soundstage, deep sounding as well
- Excellent pace, rhythm, and timing with fast kicking dynamics
- Very good control especially in the bass with a low distortion
- Excellent Bluetooth capacities
- The Best Value I know of
- Not the blackest background, there is still a bit of hum (TOPPING P50 power supply should solve this issue)
- Lacks few digital inputs and a balanced output