If I ask you a few years ago about TOPPING you would raise your shoulders, however, nowadays it is a different picture as this brand also rhymes with good sound quality at very affordable prices. TOPPING took by storm the affordable audio market by releasing interesting desktop and portable units, their DX and D lines are still very popular among audio enthusiasts.
When TOPPING released its highest performance D70 DAC not too long ago, it sent shock-waves in the audiophile community, it again raised the bar of what can be achieved with a modest sum of $500.
Grab a glass of wine, lean back and continue reading as our detailed D70 DAC review is incoming shortly.
1. Unboxing & Package Contents
The unboxing experience is really good, I already see signs of safety, care and attention to detail. D70 came double boxed for extra protection. The second black box is surprisingly thick and is surrounded by lots of foam. Inside the package, you’ll find the D70 unit, a simple but nice-looking remote control, a USB Type-B cable, a power cable, a warranty card and the user manual, all the usual stuff.
What really caught my attention was the user manual. It is a rare sight when an audio manufacturer is publishing actual audio performance measurements in the user manual. From harmonic distortion to FFT Spectrum and RMS levels, everything is included in the manual. Even I2S interface phase settings are specified and DSD channel settings as well. I like that all the usual audiophile marketing snake-oil is not present in the manual, just pure specs, and facts. They got my attention with the release of D70, now they got my respect.
2. Design & Build Quality
I was actually quite stunned by the clean look of D70, how nicely it is put together and how solid it feels in the hand.
Fit and finish are excellent, I think it looks really simple and will not attract a lot of attention to it. As a result, the WAF (wife-acceptance-factor) is really high. The display is dimmed by default so the cat eyes of our bellowed ones will hardly notice it.
Size-wise it is basically identical to that of Benchmark DAC3, Mytek Brooklyn DAC+ or to the Denafrips Ares and has almost the same footprint with the Benchmark HPA4, I think these two look good together. Black on black is my kind of beauty.
D70 is nor too heavy or lightweight, small or huge, at 2 Kg (4.4 Lbs) and with a case that measures only 25 x 20 x 5 cm it can be easily integrated into any office or home setup.
What stood up from the moment I picked it up was the case-work, it is much thicker than I anticipated. The whole case is a milled CNC aluminum case, only the front, and the back-plate were attached separately by some screws. The front panel looks sandblasted, which should resist scratches in the long run.
3. Controls & Connectivity
On the front panel a standby On/Off button can be spotted, a big and easy to read OLED screen, two volume buttons and a select button that will browse through all the digital inputs. Speaking about those, on the back D70 has an impressive number of digital inputs: the usual USB, Coaxial and Optical is the norm nowadays, AES and especially I2S (LVDS) are a rare sight and are considered extremely good digital inputs, I will be testing all those shortly.
D70 is a fully balanced DAC, so it is normal to have an XLR balanced out and a single-ended RCA out.
You should know that the buttons on the front panel will control only the basic features of D70, only the remote control will unleash the full potential of D70. With it, you can select the desired analog output, they are both working together by default; however, I do recommend shutting down the output which you will not be used for a cooler case. You can select 6 digital filters that are integrated inside the DAC chips themselves, they do make a change but a really small one, most of them are playing with the sub-sonic treble area. I personally feel filter 3 sounds the most technical and musical at the same time and offers the best of both worlds.
The remote will also offer 3 brightness levels and the usual stuff like volume adjustment and selecting the digital input.
The volume control of D70 reminds me that it can also be used as a pre-amp for a power-amp or for some powered active speakers.
4. Tech Specs & Detailed information
First and foremost, TOPPING D70 is relying on the velvety sounding AKM AK4497EQ DAC chips, two of them for a 100% dual-mono balanced operation. AK4497 is part of the Verita Velvet Sound architecture of the Japanese manufacturer. Up until a few months ago this was their flagship chip, dethroned only by the newest AK4499EQ.
The USB decoding chip is the famous XU208 from XMOS, together with custom drivers from Thesycon, D70 can natively decode DSD512 (basically a sample rate that is 512 times that of CD) and PCM up to 768 kHz at 32 bits.
The S/PDIF receiver chip is again a high-performance AK4118 chip, that was actually developed to work in tandem with AK4497 for the best results when Optical, Coaxial or AES digital inputs are used.
D70 uses two high-performance Femto-second crystal clocks from Accusilicon, one works at 45.1585 Mhz and one at 49.1520 Mhz for best results. Both clocks are part of the AS509 Professional Series that are offering very low phase noise, long term stability and of course low jitter.
D70 uses lots of audio grade capacitors from Nichion, few of them are Nichion Muse – highly regarded by the audio enthusiasts.
Power filtering is done by a very stable toroidal transformer, followed by a few ultra-low-noise power regulators to provide clean power to the sensitive analog and digital circuitry.
On the D70 official page, TOPPING is also offering few measurements, same can be found in the user manual. D70 is having a linear frequency response and a low harmonic distortion of -108 dB and an impressive channel cross-talk of -137 dB. The line outputs are following the international standard of 2Vmrs on RCA and 4Vrms on XLR out.
5. Sound Performance
Since D70 has the same depth as Benchmark HPA4 and almost the same width, I decided to use it not only with my KEF LS50W active loudspeaker system but in a headphone-based setup as well. I will not split my listening tests into how it sounded with headphones or speakers, because it sounded the same in all of those instances so I will just continue describing what I’ve heard.
If you ever tested a Benchmark AHB2 or HPA4 you probably know how transparent and colorless are both units, with them you will be listening to your source and to the speaker or headphone diaphragm, with them I am picking the sound signature of any source quite easily.
I am listening to it for about 2 weeks and it stayed powered On all this time to burn-in all those capacitors and warm-up the rest of the circuitry.
D70 was used in a balanced configuration for the best results. I first connected it to Benchmark HPA4 followed by two pairs of very sensitive IEMs and later on was used driving 2 planar-magnetic headphones.
Listening to Moonlight 3rd Movement (Presto Agitato) in Hi-Res by Yundi revealed an incredibly black and noiseless background. Even my FiiO FA7 IEMs didn’t pick the background noise of the source. There is a big empty space between those piano notes. This track moves so much air around and D70 actually captured the weight and the heavy tone of the piano, not a lot of digital sources will have a life-like piano reproduction like this one.
When I moved to big cans, but especially to the very linear sounding, Hifiman Arya, it revealed that D70 was doing a lot of justice to the resolution levels of Arya but induced just a hint of warmth and naturalness that Arya can lack at times. D70 is matching really well with linear or cold sounding equipment and adds just a little bit of character and charisma to spice-up the whole presentation.
On the wrong setup, Arya will sound cold and lifeless, it can be even forward and cramped with the wrong source. D70 is brightening the day a little bit for them, it adds some midrange magic, a weightier tone, a little bit of substance and opens up the window for a wider soundstage and for a deeper sound.
Dual AKM designs always impressed me in terms of scale, however, dual AK4497 in a desktop form is a first for me.
I appreciate that TOPPING went with an open wide and holographic experience, even crowded music like modern rock or metal can be disentangled and analyzed with ease.
Listening to Deep Purple - Lalena (Remastered, Hi-Res) everything was put in front of different layers for me to dissect. The smoky and easy-going presentation remained intact and every note was heard heavier compared to their newer records. The track still sounds old and unchanged and impressively deep. Moving on to Why Didn’t Rosemary from the same record revealed how much air D70 is capable of moving around, the bass guitar sounds especially good and really groovy. I started immediately tapping my foot as D70 is doing a lot of justice to classic rock tunes.
D70 somehow manages to show the outline and the texture of musical instruments but without over-sharpening them, how for example older ESS Sabre designs are doing. I still hear people smoking, breathing and laughing in the background but without it being too distracting from the main act of music listening.
In terms of detail retrieval, D70 is good, however, it never drove attention to all those micro-vibrations and micro-details, it never tries to show its muscles.
For absolute levels of detail retrieval D70 is not enough, but it will show the difference between a 16bit PCM file and a 32 bit one so don’t worry too much about this.
Having an open wide kind of sound and a really good depth I can easily pick and listen individually to any musical note I want; the so-called pin-point imaging is one of its strongest points. I started listening to some local folk-rock and the jumpy performance almost threw me out of my chair, D70 is really engaging sounding, with few particular songs I just feel the urge to move my limbs and air-guitar a song or two.
D70 is not a super-relaxing type of DAC, it is not smoothing out the dynamics and transient response but it also not a hard slamming and fatiguing type of DAC.
This is a very gentle part, balancing out the overall performance without making it too fast or too slow sounding. A hysterical sounding DAC will mess too much the slow and relaxing type of music and vice versa a slow sounding source will kill all the energy and dynamics of a fast kicking song.
I feel D70 is staying somewhere in the middle, as it is neither too fast nor too slow. On rare occasions I wanted my music slamming me harder and on other occasions to slow it down a bit. D70 can change its pace, rhythm, and timing depending on the music it is playing.
In all honesty, D70 is having among the widest and deepest presentations I’ve tested in a DAC, no matter the cost. In this respect, D70 is fighting with the best I’ve tried.
When it comes to the frequency response D70 doesn’t show deviations from linearity, it is an honest sounding DAC without rising or lowering a particular range too much.
Listening to some faster electronica tracks revealed a nice sub-bass performance. Noon by Infected Mushroom sounded very punchy, it slammed quite hard, especially with the Quad ERA-1 headphones. Sub-bass notes went low but didn’t linger too much. D70 has a speedy presentation when it comes to bass, it hits fast and hard but doesn’t vibrate more than needed. Almost the same happened when I listened to Invisible Sun by The Prodigy (Keith, you are not forgotten!), at 0:37 but especially at 0:41 mark sub-bass rumbled and was felt instantly. It is deep but controlled and detailed.
Mid-bass performance is again on a high level, deep-reaching, punchy and very outlined. D70 is not overdoing it too much, you will hear it only when it is called for. All in all, there is nothing to complain about its sub or mid-bass performance.
Midrange, Ah! The magic velvety midrange. It always grabbed my attention with a slight warmish tint. D70 is impressive mostly in this region, no matter the music you will be listening to, it will always sound natural, having very good flow. D70 is somehow bonding all the notes together and caries all those to the listener in a very non-Delta/Sigma kind of way.
On some older recordings, it sounds as it might be hiding a small vacuum-tube somewhere inside, people that appreciate the soul of the recordings and their technical aspect will surely appreciate the D70 performance. All in all, D70 is having a heavier and a meatier tone than regular Delta/Sigma DACs.
For a life-like presentation was important to have a grain-free treble performance. Treble is sounding extended up to subsonic levels but without putting on the fire of the upper treble. Treble is not harsh or bright sounding by any means, it is quite defined but not a lot, it has substance but doesn’t attract a lot of attention to it. You can make it even more defined and extended in the treble area by using a different digital filter, filter 5 will give you that, but it somehow shifts its performance to a colder and brighter side.
6. A word about digital inputs
A decided testing all the digital inputs of D70 looking for the best one.
When I connected D70 to the Chromecast Audio embedded into my TV via the Optical input I was actually quite surprised by the clean signal out of D70 directly to my KEF LS50W loudspeakers. The gap between optical and USB is not that big anymore, how I felt it on different digital sources. I listened even to some Hi-Res files streamed directly from Tidal Hi-Fi with great results. There were no stutters, hiccups or weird noises. Just a clean, widespread and musical performance.
Since coaxial and optical inputs are sharing the exact same decoding chip, coaxial should really sound the same.
The XMOS chip on the USB type-B input is a really nice chip, combined with two femto-second Accusilicon chips the sound was ever clearer, more detailed and really focused. There is nothing to complain about its performance via USB, connected to my desktop PC I had zero problems with it. I consider the USB inputs among the best digital inputs on this unit.
6c. I2S (LVDS)
Luckily, I have at home a really advanced S/PDIF interface, called Matrix Audio X-SPDIF2 and I could actually test the I2S-LVDS input via a super short HDMI 2.0 cable.
Well, how should I put it…this is the best digital input D70 is having. Forget USB, it sounded even more impressive, it actually kicked a tad harder, carried just a bit more air with every note. It sounded even livelier and life-like, the last bit of performance was squeezed from it via I2S. If you have the cash and really love your D70, you still can improve its performance.
AES input sounds about on the same level with USB or lowers a bit, hard to tell, it sounded less tight and focused than USB but more natural and smoother. It is a preference thing, but I liked USB more.
I would rank I2S as being the best, followed by USB, very closely by AES and then by coaxial and optical. Your mileage may vary as I am not using fancy digital cables.
TOPPING D70 ($500) VS Matrix Audio element X ($3000)
If you are laughing, this is not a joke, since D70 can really compete with pricier units.
Both are nice quality units, element X is wider, deeper and taller, it is much heavier as well. This does not come as a surprise since element X besides being a DAC, it is also a balanced headphone amplifier, a digital player (via a smartphone app) and a wireless streamer with some impressive networking capabilities. It is doing a lot more and as such is costing a lot more. element X is offering 4.4 Vrms on the balanced output, D70 is offering 4 Vrms. Benchmark HPA4 has 2 XLR inputs and the power of any input can be increased or decreased individually (Love this feature a lot!) so both were volume matched in no time, with a press on the HPA4 touch-screen I would choose one or another. To measure and perfectly match both I also needed a MiniDSP EARS system.
If you are a newcomer around here, I will just remind you that element X for me is among the best sounding ESS Sabre-based DAC I had the pleasure of listening, it is quite a different animal compared to other ESS Sabre designs, it is technical and musical in the same time.
I was really pleased to hear that element X is not losing to D70 in terms of flow and musicality and both were literally on the same page and very close to each other.
Since D70 is impressive in terms of soundstage size, I was a bit scared it would dethrone the element X but that was not the case. Both were shoulder to shoulder in the scale department, they sounded big and bold. Pinpoint imaging was better on element X since it will pick-up smaller nuances easier, it will also deliver a better detail retrieval but D70 was never too far behind. Funny thing is that D70 is exactly 6 times cheaper, yet in some aspects both sounded very close to each other.
On faster-paced music element X will be always the winner with its hard-hitting nature and great slam, it sounds too engaging at times. D70 is somewhat calmer and smoother that worked better with slower-paced music.
Switching to Pink Floyd, TOPPING D70 would always grab me emotionally and would whisper to me: look at how well I am playing this guitar, look at this deep-reaching voice, look how smooth everything sounds. element X was not as catchy sounding, it was more linear and maybe too serious at times. For this type of music, I think D70 is more appropriate.
Detail retrieval is better on element X, there is no contest about that, it will show more nuance, more treble information, an additional layer in the bass department, basically more of everything.
There is no denying that TOPPING D70 is a nice looking, built to last and impressive-sounding DAC. This is my first contact with TOPPING but I am hoping it will not be my last. I liked their technical approach by putting measurements and by staying aside from audiophile marketing talk.
At just $500 I consider it a really nice unit that can compete with much pricier designs and I have no complaints in terms of its sonic performance.
- Built to last and beautifully CNC-ed case, has a simple design as well
- Widest selection of digital inputs! Love the I2S and AES inputs
- The remote control is a God-sent for loudspeaker listeners
- Mostly natural, liquid and smooth sounding with a great tonal balance
- Has an open wide soundstage and very good depth
- Precise pinpoint imaging and layering
- Among the most enveloping and relaxing sound performance I've experienced of late
- A silent and black background
- Impressive value
- Not the fastest or punchiest sound