We are happy to provide you with another review compendium! This time we have compiled reviews on the small but mighty TOPPING L30 amp. Links to the original postings are in the headline for each post, but we’ve condensed and edited some language for brevity and clarity in our compendium piece so you can get the info you need all in one place. Enjoy!
This is a compact unit but with nicely thought out controls: There was a plastic cover in the front which had very clear labels on it. But once I pulled it off, I realized the real labels are not as easy to read. So you may want to leave that plastic on it.
Headphone Amplifier Audio Measurements
As usual, I feed the amp a superbly high quality analog 1 kHz tone at 2 volts, set the volume/gain to output 2 volts ("unity gain") and see how much distortion and noise we get:
Wow, this is incredible. You can barely see a distortion spike at -150 dB, some of which is from the analyzer output. SINAD which is the some of noise and distortion, is now dominated by the noise of L30 and the analyzer itself, producing near limit of 121.4 dB. This lets the the L30 to reach the top of the ladder by a hair:
Quite an accomplishment!
Noise performance by itself is excellent:
The right side shows that even when we drastically reduce output to just 50 millivolts, we still have the full dynamic range of the CD, placing the L30 again at the top of the class:
Most important test here is power so let's see what the L30 can do into 300 ohm (high) load:
Wow! There was a time when we thought the Drop THX AAA was the best we could do and here comes the L30, with so much lower noise and distortion. Note that this test for historical reasons does NOT use the lowest distortion mode of my analyzer. So actual distortion is limited by this test setup. The L30 is likely even better than what is seen.
Same beautiful dance is shown with opposite load of 33 ohm:
Channel balance was exceptionally good for an amplifier with analog controls:
If the other samples in the field are this good, this alone differentiates the L30 strongly from the competition for those of you with sensitive IEMs/headphones.
The race toward perfection and beyond continues in headphone amplifiers at incredibly low prices. The L30 is the latest offering, firmly grabbing the top of the class and holding on to it. Its functionality is excellent and price is very reasonable.
I can't recommend the Topping L30 strongly enough. It is superb engineering in small package and low cost. Get one and thank yourself that you live in this era and not a few years ago.
With Topping’s own NFCA (nested feedback composite amplifier) modules, similar to what is being used in the A90 Flagship headphone amplifier, the L30 can provide excellent AC & DC performance.
This translates to the L30 being able to provide ridiculous THD numbers in the order of 0.00007%. This THD number is very similar to the THD values of the currently popular THX AAA amplifiers.
The L30 also implements Toppings’ UHGF (ultra high gain feedback) Technology, which gives it the ability to drive even the most demanding headphones. At 3.5W into a 16Ω load, I do not doubt that the L30 can drive most modern headphones.
With these 2 technologies, the L30 has very low distortion and heaps of power. This makes the L30 a contender in the headphone amplifier market, and I’m waiting to hear this translating into how the L30 sounds.
Aside from being a headphone amplifier, the L30 is also designed to be a preamplifier. Integrating this with the E30 will make a great upstream section to a pair of headphones and a pair of powered speakers or a speaker amp. With an output impedance of just 20Ω, the L30’s preamp will be able to pair well with most amplifiers.
The L30 was designed to be paired with Topping’s E30, I got a silver L30, which is a perfect match for my silver E30.
Despite getting the E30 a few months before getting the L30, Topping is very consistent in how they finished the case on the E30 and the L30. So, even those who are obsessive about having a perfectly matched pair would not be bothered with possible batch-to-batch inconsistencies.
Upfront on the L30, there is a 3-way switch that allows me to select between off, headphone amp, and pre-amp mode. This is a feature that I rarely see, as most headphone amps with pre-amps just automatically turn off the pre-amp section when headphones are plugged in, or even worse just leave both the pre-amp and headphone section on all the time.
One thing that I believe I need to mention with the L30 is that the wall wart on the L30 is a transformer that converters the voltage from your system voltage(110V or 220V) to 15V, which is what the L30 accepts. This is a slight departure from the more common switch-mode power supplies that are used in most electronics today.
Switch-mode power supplies are the most prevalent power supplies used in most electronics today, because of low manufacturing costs, and the ability to accept a wider range of voltage input from 110V to 220V.
However, switch-mode power supplies are less resistant to harmonics from the power system, and may also generate high-frequency noise due to the switching transistors inside.
Topping’s decision to do away with the switch mode power supply was to ensure that the L30 would have a quiet and clean power supply. The power supply, therefore, blocks out line noise, while reducing harmonics that would come in from high speed switching transistors.
With cleaner power coming into the L30, the first thing that I noticed with the L30 is the distortion-free presentation. I can say that the L30 remained clean, and when I plug in sensitive IEM’s I can’t perceive any noise at all.
At the other end of the spectrum, the Topping L30 was able to take anything I threw at it. The L30 was able to power all my headphones, including my Sennheiser HD600, and my MrSpeakers Aeon Flow Closed with some power to spare.
When I plugged in the Topping L30, I found that it has an even-handed tonality. While amplifiers at this price point tend to emphasize treble too much to disguise itself as detailed, or they emphasize the bass to sound more enjoyable, I’m glad to hear that the L30 did neither of these things. Topping went for pure neutrality, without any disguises or gimmicks.
Details and texturization
Details and texturization are quite good for the price point, and picking out details within the sound is not that hard. During calmer parts of the song, the L30 performs superbly. I’m able to hear even microdetails and overtones in the vocals and the textures of the voice of the artist.
However, once the passage goes into a faster pace, the L30 starts to show some of its faults. It starts to trip over its own feet a little bit. When there are quick successive drum beats, the L30 sort of blurs them together a bit, and they don’t sound as distinct as I expect them to be.
The soundstage on the L30 slightly narrow, but does not end up feeling closed in.
The sound coming out of the L30 is quite impressive for the price point because it remains natural and detailed, only falls short when the song starts to get too busy.
Stacking with the E30
Both halves of the E30+L30 stack are feature-rich for their price point, and that’s why Topping has been advertising them as “hot hatches”.
Aside from aesthetically being a perfect pair, the E30 and L30 were designed to be sonically complementary. While the L30 has a very neutral sonic presentation, the overall sound of the E30 is slightly warm, and rich, with good depth for such a small DAC.
As a system, I was impressed with how well the nuances of the music were presented. Even microdetails, such as the shifting of the fingers on a guitar, and the way the piano keys are being struck, are well presented.
While being able to present the details quite well, the stack is still very enjoyable. The relationship between these two components is truly synergistic.
I first listened with my Sennheiser HD600 plugged in, and I can say that there was enough power to drive the HD600 to a respectable level even at just 0dB gain. Volume was not at all lacking, and dynamics were not subdued.
On the other end of the spectrum, I tried a pair of Mr. Speakers AEON Flow closed. This headphone has a much lower impedance of just 13Ω but requiring the amp to supply quite a bit of current due to the lower 92dB SPL. Despite this, the Topping was able to power the AEON to a respectable volume level at maximum gain, with some power to spare.
The AEON Flow is quite a source revealing headphone, and I’m quite impressed with how the L30 was able to handle the AEON Flow properly.
It would seem unfair for me to be comparing these 2 amplifiers, as the SP200’s price tag is double that of the Topping. With the SP200 has balanced input and output connectors, the entire circuit inside the amp is just single-ended, so balanced here is just for convenience. Without the supposed advantage of balanced circuitry, I think it’s almost fair to compare the 2 amps.
In terms of power, the SP200 has quite a bit more power, as I can’t even max out the volume dial on the SP200 on any headphone that I own, while I end up pushing the L30 a bit more. But then again, both amplifiers were able to power all my headphones to a respectable level, so I’m okay with the power output on both.
Overall tonality is similar on both amplifiers, with the SP200 sounding slightly brighter. It’s interesting though, that while the SP200 ended up sounding slightly brighter, the L30 seems to have a slightly splashier and less defined treble.
Both amplifiers have pretty much the same amount of bass, but the presentation is just slightly different. The SP200 tends to be more clinical, while the L30 has a slightly smoother and warmer bass, this leads to the L30 slightly lacking dynamics when compared to the SP200.
Although the Topping might end up lacking in power compared to the SP200, I can say that the L30 creates a slightly smoother overall tonality. While the SP200 is more clinical, and just a hair faster, I found the Topping has a more enjoyable presentation.
I’ve had the E30 for quite a while, and I was impressed with what the little E30 was able to do. When the L30 came out, I was excited to find out if this little amp would be able to impress me as much as the E30 did. And I was not disappointed.
To me, this amp is quite close to what I would imagine a wire with gain would sound like, with an overall neutral tonality without ending up too bright. Despite being neutral, I also found it to sound natural and detailed for the price point.
With a pre-amp out, low noise floor, natural tonality, lots of power at 3.5W into 16Ω, and a low output impedance for the headphone out, the L30 is a versatile little amplifier that can be a great fit to supplement a growing collection of headphones.
The Pitch –
Topping utilise an ultra-high performance NFCA module identical to that utilised in the flagship A90. It is an amplifier topology that uses voltage current hybrid feedback architecture in conjunction with ultra-high gain feedback to provide very low distortion, high current output and a high dynamic range. The NFCA module also drives the pre-amp circuit promising strong performance for external speakers as well. Audiosciencereview have done several deep dives on Topping’s technology and have found it to offer lower noise than even THX’s modules in some instances making it one of the best measuring systems on the market.
As many will know, the power supply is integral to the performance of a high-end amplifier and, thankfully, Topping have opted for a linear power supply on the L30 as opposed to switch-mode that is more commonly seen around this price. Linear power supplies are not as efficient, larger and are substantially more costly to produce. However, they provide a much quicker transient response in addition to lower noise output. This means there’s less chance of introducing noise from your power network into the amplifier which should translate towards better noise levels and higher fidelity.
The L30 is a very appreciable step up over the older A-series amp designs from Topping with a design congruent with the E30, Topping’s accompanying DAC. In terms of design and build quality, it also handily beats out competitors around this price like the JDS Atom and Schiit Magni 3.
There are no balanced inputs or outputs as this is a straight-forward single-ended headphone amp that focuses on the essentials.
The pot has very satisfying action too, being heavy and fluid, similar to a more expensive amp such as the THX 789 while the very lightweight plastic Atom presents little competition in this regard. Still, I applaud Topping for offering such an appealing form factor at this price as it is appreciated, but not expected by most buyers.
The L30 is easy to setup, especially with its straight-forward connectivity. I observed no hiss or pop when plugging in or unplugging headphones nor when switching between outputs or power state which is a blessing for sensitive IEMs. The L30 does get warm during use, but after several hours of listening on high-gain was still perfectly comfortable to touch and no harm to surrounding equipment. I found that the amp was not heavy enough to remain planted when unplugging and plugging in headphones, but this may change as the port wears in, being quite tight out of the factory. There is a several second delay when switching between HPA and Pre-amp output, otherwise, nothing intrusive to the listening experience was noted. In pre-amp, you can also use the volume dial to adjust output volume which is handy and adds to the amp’s versatility.
Frequency Response –
Testing Methodology: RMAA via Startech External Sound Card
As one would expect, the L30 offers a linear frequency response through the audible spectrum. This is ideal, indicating that the source introduces minimal colouration on its own, enabling the qualities of the attached earphone or headphone to shine through.
Output Impedance & Hiss –
Testing Methodology: SPL volume matched comparison through an inline splitter to THX789 + Khadas tone board to Campfire Audio Andromeda
I am delighted to report that the L30 introduces no hiss on the Campfire Audio Andromeda nor the original Solaris which is likely the most hiss sensitive in-ear I have on hand up until 50% volume – at which point the volume will likely perforate your ear drums. In addition, there was minimal deviation in sound signature from the THX789, which offers a 1-ohm output impedance. In fact, the L30 outdoes the pricier source here with a lower 0.1-ohm impedance which is even lower than the Atom’s 0.6 ohm figure. This makes the L30 perfect for sensitive, low impedance in-ears in addition to planar magnetic headphones – especially in conjunction with its high current output. Another aspect of the L30 that greatly aids use with sensitive monitors is its essentially non-existent channel imbalance at the lowest volumes. This means the dial is fully usable right down to near silence where even the Atom and THX789 introduce some imbalance at lower volume settings – of course, the output of the DAC can be adjusted to compensate for this.
Driving Power –
The L30 offers loads of driving power on paper and 3 gain settings which makes it a bit more flexible than the Atom and Magni 3. In particular, the low-gain setting provides an ideal range for sensitive IEMs while the high-gain setting offers a lot more headroom for most headphones. Admittedly, I didn’t find myself using the 0dB middle gain setting, however, it is handy for gear that falls between these two extremes such as portable headphones or less sensitive in-ears like the Final E5000. Volume was never an issue for me. Though not the hardest headphone to drive, listening through the Audeze LCD-1 (16-ohm, 99dB) I only required 20% of volume dial in high-gain, no doubt higher volume listeners or those with less sensitive gear will be served here well too. Sonically, the high current delivery works well in tandem with a very low OI. Of course, synergy is still a factor and enthusiasts will be able to refer to the impedance curve of their particular headphones to see how the OI will affect the sound. These factors contribute to a well-damped sound with a tight, controlled bass albeit not quite as much depth as larger amplifiers subjectively speaking.
Testing Methodology: SPL volume matched AB with Audeze LCD-1 connected to in-line splitter between THX 789 and Topping L30 both connected to Khadas tone board with RCA splitters.
The L30 offers a linear, balanced and slightly energetic presentation that is a pleasure to listen to. In this respect, it provides contrast to the slightly warmer Schiit amp while the Atom offers a slightly flatter sound yet, subjectively speaking that is. My comments below will be in comparison to the THX789 since this is a popular reference for many buyers and the amplifier I am most familiar with personally.
As compared to the THX 789, the L30 offers a slightly more linear low-end that is expressed in a smoother manner. Whether due to the higher power output or other reasons, the THX789 offers just a bit more bass extension and slam at the very bottom. The L30 is a bit flatter in terms of dynamics but also a touch more natural in its note presentation. It has a more even sub-bass to mid-bass transition that isn’t quite as textured or hard-hitting but also a more accurate note timbre, the low-end showcasing subjectively greater balance. Both are very articulate and well-controlled here, the L30 having slightly quicker decay and a hair more definition in the mid-bass due to the slightly smaller note size. Both I would also characterise to offer a neutral tone, neither really adding much colouration into the presentation, the THX789 sounding a bit more weighted.
The midrange presentation is also very similar between both amplifiers, being transparent and accurate. Both are neutrally toned, linear and even; a given when taking the measurements into account.
Highs are also presented in an accurate and linear fashion, and similar to the rest of the sound, I hear a slightly smoother note presentation when compared to the THX amp. The lower-treble especially, delivers accurate positioning but percussion and strings have a shade less attack and crispness. In turn, there’s slightly enhanced smoothness and a good amount of texture similar to that on the THX789. The THX789 offers an appreciable jump in resolution, especially with regards to sparkle and micro-detail that come across clearer and cleaner.
In terms of soundstage presentation, the L30 gets good marks on soundstage expansion. It isn’t as wide as the THX 789 but well-rounded and ahead of the Atom and Magni 3 in terms of raw overall expansion. Still, directional cues come across cleanly and it also portrays a convincing sense of distance if not the most multi-dimensional presentation.
With the L30...this one of the most well-rounded entry-level sources I’ve come across. The power output is easily sufficient for less efficient headphones and even high-impedance models, sacrificing just a little sub-bass authority to the much larger THX789. Furthermore, it offers a strong experience for sensitive IEMs with its very low noise floor, minimal channel imbalance through the volume range and sub 1-ohm output impedance. Its build and design also outclass immediate competitors too which makes it nicer to use on a daily basis with no sharp edges and a really high-quality weighted dial. In subjective listening, the L30 also delivers parity with class-leaders. It offers, to my ears, a slightly smoother note attack in general and not the widest soundstage but good note texture and coherence in terms of imaging. I can still see some springing for the Atom for the flattest possible sound, however, you do sacrifice some driving power and it’s a large step down in build quality on top. Though the L30 isn’t an especially feature-rich amplifier, it absolutely nails the fundamentals making it an easy and versatile recommendation from me.
The success of the nested-feedback Topping A90 headphone amplifier is undeniably high. If you went past worldwide politics and you’ve opened your mind, then I will tell you that A90 competes with the best solid-state headphone amplifiers ever made at any price point. Don’t believe me? Try it for yourself, but when you do that, forget where it was made. It was only a matter of time when Topping would start trickling down technology from that one, that time is now and I’m presenting you the newest and the smallest L30 headphone amplifier that is carrying a lot of tech from its bigger sibling.
Design & Build Quality
Simply put, L30 follows the same footprints with their E30 DAC, it has absolutely the same case, same weight and shape. It is surrounded by an aluminum case, you can have it in matte silver or matte black if you want.
I personally find it good looking and due to the fact that it is about the size of an external 2.5” HDD drive, you can integrate it even in a Mickey Mouse Hi-Fi setup. You can’t really go smaller than this and if desktop space is important to you, it should fit those requirements really well.
Controls & Connectivity
L30 is a simple and straightforward device, it’s only a tiny headphone amp in the end, right? On its front panel you can spot a Preamp/Headphone Amp/Off switch, a gain switch with -9 dB, 0 dB and +9 dB gain positions. I personally love that unity gain and I wish all headphone amp manufacturers would offer a unity gain (0 dB) for the cleanest possible signal. There is also a single 6.35mm (1/4”) headphone jack and a volume wheel on the right. It’s a single ended unit, so not XLR jacks on its front or back plate.
On the back there is a single RCA input and since it can also work as a Preamp - there is an RCA output and a 15V AC input as well.
Under the hood of L30
Before I tell more about the L30, I want to have your attention of that enormous external power supply, I’ve had a gut feeling and I’m glad that I followed it. Imagine my reacting when I have opened that heavy-duty external PS and a huge laminated core single phase transformer was sitting in there! That is right folks! No BS switching power-supplies in here, no cutting corners and that makes me extremely happy.
Probably the most important thing to know is that L30 uses absolutely the same Nested Feedback Composite Amplifier (NFCA) topology of its bigger brother A90. As I have explained in my A90 review, it exhibits a higher gain, higher slew rates and much lower distortion.
Output power was halved, but at 3.5 Watts in 16 Ohms and about 280mW in 300 Ohms, plus a voltage swing of 26 V peak-to-peak, L30 feels more like Goliath than like a David to me. Output impedance is impressively low, at just 0.1 Ohms, you can be sure that damping factor is unaffected at all and you can basically drive highest sensitivity headphones with great results.
Okay folks, let’s do some music listening.
I. Preliminary Impressions & Tonality
After three days of listening, I am having absolutely the same feelings I’ve had with Topping A90, with Benchmark HPA4 and with Sparkos Labs Aries. L30 is a colorless amplifier type, that is not adding anything into the mix and doesn’t withdraw anything from there as well. I’ve grown-up listening to a lot of recordings of my father, like The Beatles, Deep Purple, Scorpions and Queen, that were listened and re-listened hundreds of times. If there would be a deviation in their tonality, I would spot that right away. Bottom line is that L30 follows the footsteps of A90 by offering a super clean sound, without leaning towards a clinical side, L30 is still natural and engaging sounding, unlike entry-level THD designs. I’m actually very surprised by the performance I am hearing out of the little guy.
The craziest part is that transparency and detail are at the highest levels possible. I’m serious, it will put on a plate everything is there to hear, all the good and all the bad. I’ve thrown everything at it: high-sensitivity IEMs, portable headphones, desktop planars, you name it. In return, L30 always sounded snappy, engaging, with a faster pace and in a clean and transparent way.
II. The Bad / Output power
I will slightly alter my reviewing process as I want to mention all the bad parts of this unit before going forward. When you put the little one driving heaviest loads as Audeze LCD-4, Hifiman Susvara and Arya headphones, then I’m here to say that it was good sounding, but not great sounding. The power output and power storing in those electrolytic caps are the culprits in here. Do note that I’ve fed it a stronger signal than usual, Matrix Audio Element X offers 2.3 V Rms of power on the RCA out instead of the standard 2V and yet I wanted to raise the volume a bit higher. With such heavy loads, the little L30 will be struggling in offering you tons of headroom or effortless presentations.
With all that said, the rest of the gang were driven at close to their maximum potential. Kennerton Wodan, Magni and Gjallarhorn, Focal Clear and Quad ERA-1 sounded almost the same as they did on the single ended output of the Topping A90. If are worrying about driving high-impedance dynamic headphones, you shouldn’t, as L30 would be slapping those membranes until they turn red.
III. Resolution & Transparency
Resolution is the second name of L30 and transparency its surname. When it comes to things like these, you can’t get better than this at any price point. I’m going as far and say that the little L30 sounds a bit more detailed and transparent that both SMSL SP200 ($265) and Drop THX-AAA-789 ($299).
Nothing really stands out and yet everything is exactly at its right place. Since bass or midrange are not elevated at all, it might sound like a boring amp at first, but the more I listened to it, the more I started appreciating its honesty and uncolored sound. Please don’t confuse a super-detailed, linear and transparent amplifier with clinical, boring, bright or soulless sounding, because that is not the case in here. Bright or clinical is one thing, but not interfering with your music is something else my friends. L30 will still awake emotions, will move your body and will make you smile.
IV. Noise Floor & IEM Pairings
Topping measured its noise floor at 0.9 micro-Volts on the high gain and 0.7 micro-Volts on the low and mid gain. However, AP555x audio analyzer is still adding its own noise in there too so the actual measurements are even lower than that.
As you can imagine, any IEMs I’ve tried with it, be it Meze Rai Penta or FiiO FA9 and FH7, they all worked as a charm with the little guy. I didn’t spot any hums, any buzzes, any hissing, just a pitch-black performance on both the low and mid gain position on any volume level. L30 is an extremely IEM friendly amp, it works as magic with them and I don’t see a point of buying anything costlier than this.
V. Transient Response
As its bigger brother, L30 is a speedy sounding amplifier and that is a natural phenomenon when noise is going out of the picture and nothing stays in the way of the audio signal. L30 can be also considered as a sleeper type headphone amp - its small and it will lower your expectations once you look at it, but after pressing play, keep your hands on the chair handles, close your eyes and prepare for a fast ride.
I want to clarify that only with Audeze LCD-4 and Hifiman Arya I’ve felt a lesser kick and impact, but with everything else like Kennerton Wodan, Focal Clear and Quad ERA-1 it was punching like a natural boxer and it was keeping up with demanding music.
All those lazy sounding portables like Meze 99 Classics and Sennheiser Momentum 2 started running faster as if someone spook them from behind. It changed them…in a good way, I’m still spotting the naturalness in both, but their laziness is gone forever.
VI. Soundstage & Depth
Besides the limited headroom I’ve experienced with difficult loads and the weaker slam with high-end planar-magnetics, the left to right soundstage size did also take a hit. The small soundstage I’m experiencing is not only the fault of the little L30, but also of the DAC that feeds it.
Of course, the damage is not that big, I’m exaggerating a little, but it’s there - especially with open-back headphones the width of the stage was shrinking in size compared to all-balanced solid-state amps.
VII. Frequency Response
Okay folks, this is an easy one and a quickie. L30 was revealed to me as a wire with gain, it was super transparent sounding and it was straight as a line in terms of FR. No dips, no rises, no nothing, just a long smooth line from sub-bass to upper-treble.
Sub-bass and mid-bass were rocking my world even with blues, not only with electronica. L30 carried lots of bass information from the lowest octaves and it presented them lightning fast, decaying everything in the same fashion.
Midrange performance is one the most important aspects, at least for me it is and if I can’t find a natural tone, everything will just sound bad to me. Those entry-level THX amps are still sounding decent in here, but on a more serious note, they lack midrange density and warmth. In this regard, A90 and L30 are better as I am carried away by music much easier, voices are going deeper, string instruments sound more natural to me, there is none of that plasticky sound in here.
Treble is of course going up and up, it goes past top-octave and there is still plenty of information that will be rendered by the little one. L30 is still a wide-bandwidth amplifier, exactly like A90, I simply say that I have no objection in terms of treble performance. Its clean, extended, textured and easy going in the same time.
All in all, L30 covers our hearing range in full and even more, it simply extends from bottom to top and that is perfect by my standards.
I was quite a fan of the Topping A90, a Big fan, a Big-Big biggity-Big fan. I loved it and I raved about it. It was simply almost on the same level with my $3000 reference headphone amplifier and yet it costed exactly 6 times cheaper! How could I not be impressed by it?
I’m having the same feelings about the tiny single-ended only L30. The power output dropped in half, soundstage shrunk in size too. It already proved its value multiple times as you are getting the same wire-with-gain flavor with only $139! It worked great with IEMs, portable and desktop headphones and almost everything I’ve said in my Topping A90 review, can be said in here too, it is really that good. Considering its performance and price point, I’m happy to recommend the Topping L30 as a great sounding tiny headphone amp.
The L30 shares the casing with the E30 DAC and is designed to create a small desktop stack. The shell is brushed aluminum anodized in your choice of black or silver. The Face of the L30 has two three-position switches on the left, then the 6.3mm headphone jack, followed by the volume knob on the far right. One gripe, there is no LED or indicator that power is on on the front face so you just have to know that if the left switch is in the middle or upper position the unit is on, if it is in the lower position the unit is off. The unit is extremely lightweight so is best placed in an area where it isnt subject to bumps and bangs as it will move easily.
Not too long ago, Topping introduced a new flagship Amplifier the A90 and a lot of what started there has found its way down the budget ladder and into the L30. The L30 uses a voltage-current hybrid feedback architecture that started out in the A90 as well as their nested Feedback model. Another thing worth noting is that there are no socketed op-amps or removable parts internally so those interested in op-amp rolling will want to look elsewhere. THD is roughly 0.00007% while still being able to push 3.5 Watts into a 16Ω load.
Any amplifier is only as good as the power it is fed and this is one place the attention to detail that Topping is putting into its products is very evident. The power supply is a wall-wart but not the typical switched model that we see almost everywhere today. This supply is heavier than the unit itself and is a full-blown transformer we’d expect to find in a more expensive model. I spend a lot of time commenting on how budget products can be improved by improving the power they are provided. In this case, the supply that comes with the L30 is as good as I have seen in an external power supply provided with any product below $500 and certainly is not the limiting factor for the L30.
The L30 is both a headphone amplifier and a pre-amp depending on how it is set. The face has two 3-position switches that control modes. I was able to use my Magaosi K5 on low gain with no hiss, and my He6 on high gain with some headroom (admittedly not a ton, but some). This is about as versatile as one could hope for in any amp let alone a budget one.
In pre-amp mode, I paired the L30 with a couple different sets of powered monitors, first the Kanto YU4. The L30 did a nice job of providing a unified volume control for the YU4 and worked well when paired to the E30 as a compact office desk system. The second set of powered monitors was the Elac Navis (borrowed). These are much larger and more powerful floor standing speakers with 300W worth of amplification per speaker. When the E30/L30 were paired with these, there was no lack of bass and the sound was well defined and clean. In a blind test, I think I’d have trouble telling the difference in my Bel Canto and the E30/L30 pairing. It should be noted that output impedance is 20Ω when using the RCAs for the pre-out.
About the best thing one can say about an amplifier is that it contributes nothing to the sound and the L30 comes very close to that. There is no range that is pushed to the front, nor are there any gaps or recesses where anything has been de-emphasized.
I’ve heard some comments regarding the L30s ability to handle fast passages and have to say I found no such problems with the L30 and wonder if maybe those impressions were more due to either the dac feeding it or the headphone it was feeding as I tried to make it mis-step and could not using several different sources and headphones.
The Topping L30 enters the budget amplifier field at a time when the consumer has more options than ever before and better measuring products than ever before. For the time being, the Topping L30 has grabbed the top spot in the budget amplifier field and may well hold onto it for awhile as it is hard to imagine anyone coming out with something much more versatile or much less expensive without having to cut corners that hurt the product. The L30 is an amazing product by itself and when paired with the E30 DAC is a monster combo in a mini-stack package. Highly recommended.
Build wise this thing is actually fantastic. This is a super super well-built amp. It has some simple features: we have the on-switch, which makes it either a headphone amp or a pre-out. You have three gain options for: negative nine, zero, and plus nine decibels. It's a single-ended output. The volume knob is on the front and it's a super, super smooth potentiometer. In the back we have RCA -in and -out for the preamp and then it takes 15 volts AC. It's in a metal chassis and it’s got a little bit of heft to it, but it's not very big. It's a pretty small amplifier and pretty cheap.
Let's start off with some headphones that I know are very hard to drive. With the beyerdynamic DT80 600 Ohm it's producing sound, but it's not producing sound at a high level. I'm not getting a lot of low frequency response out of it, and that's not the fault of the amplifier, but this amp is not necessarily going to drive this headphone as well as it should be driven.
Next is a bit of an oddity: the Sony PFRV1. This headphone is being driven relatively easily.
The next is going to be really hard to power: the famous Mod House Argon. This is getting decent bass response, actually. It is giving it some juice, but it's not enough for it to sound really good in the high frequencies, but it is more than listenable levels. Tt does start to distort once you get up to a pretty good level with the Argon.
There are a few headphones that I have that this can drive well. The beyerdynamic tygr 300r is very easy to power. You use medium gain, you give it some juice with this headphone, but the excellent pairing is L30 with the TYGR 300 R. It doesn't take a lot of juice and this is an extremely — I haven't said it yet — this is an extremely clean amplifier. The two pair very well together because I feel like the 300 has exceptional resolution for its price point, and when you pair these two together, it really is something special.
Let's go with the Edition XX now. The Edition XX particularly comes to life on this amp. I feel like this amplifier does a really good job of unlocking the potential hidden in the Edition XX. I feel like a lot of times on most amps this headphone does not sound particularly incredible, but specifically on the TOPPING L30 it does come to life. It drives it very, very easily.
With the L30 and my Dynav2: one once again this is a really good sounding combination. This headphone does take more power, though; I'm really straining this amp to try and get to a good listening level on this headphone. At moderate and low levels it sounds really good, but the amp I don't think quite has the juice to drive this headphone, though it does sound very clean in combination.
With the Sennheiser HD 6XX, L30 powers the 6XX very easily and it does a couple interesting things. One, I'd like to point out again this is an extremely neutral, extremely clean amp. It doesn't seem to drive low-end in these as well as some other amplifiers do. I’m not entirely sure if that's because of the internal drive architecture or because of the power output of this. It sounds extremely articulated in the high frequencies and very clean through the highs in the
mid-range, which plays very well to the strengths of the hd6xx. While it does produce low-end,
I find the low end on this to be less pleasing with the 6xx than with another few amps.
It has a very, very low noise floor and is very clean, very enjoyable with the right headphones. If you're using any sort of IEMs, if you're using the Edition XX, or if you just want a very clean focused mid-range and high-frequency experience that’s very neutral on the 6XX or the HD600,
this L30 would be a great experience.
This would very easily power things like the HD58X, it would probably work well with things like the 4XX. I don't know if I would particularly recommend this amplifier with HIFIMAN Sundara; I'm sure it could get there, but there are factors about Sundara that make it sound just better on a beefier amplifier. For something like that you're probably better off with the TOPPING A90.
The final wrapping points are that it is an amp that I can definitely recommend, but once again it's going to be recommended to specific use cases. It's one of the cleaner amps that I've heard, but really 100 percent is going to depend on what you're using it with. Are your headphones easy to drive? L30 is a great little amp. Do you have a headphone that's harder to drive that you listen to at low volume levels and you don't expect crazy bass performance out of it? L30 is a pretty great little amp. I think most Audio Technicas in the 80 series, like the 8900x or 81000x, I think those would be relatively easy to drive on this as well.
I’ve had the chance to review Topping’s $129 USD E30 DAC as well as their $499 A90 flagship headphone amplifier this year, and they are two of the easiest products that I’ve been happy to recommend to readers without question. The A90, in particular, has carved out a new performance delta and remains to be the solid-state headphone amplifier by which all others are measured.
But while the Topping A90 is unquestionably an ‘end-game’ solid-state amplifier, not everyone needs to drop half a grand to make their headphones sound great. Enter the Topping L30 ‘Linear Headphone Amplifier’, to introduce it by its formal name.
Form-factor wise, it’s the analogue counterpart to the E30 DAC, sharing the same basic footprint and overall dimensions – the two make for a perfect desktop ‘stack’ for a whisker under $279. The L30 combines an impressively high maximum power output of 3.5 Watts at 16 ohms with a dynamic range of 141dB, all the while keeping Total Harmonic Distortion and Noise (THD+N) to a paltry <0.00006%.
In order to warrant the price-drop over the A90, the L30 forgoes a few of its brother’s features – namely the inclusion of balanced architecture. The L30 sports a single full-sized 6.3mm headphone-out, a pair of RCA analogue inputs, and a pair of variable RCA outputs. That’s it.
It’s a pretty minimalist kind of device not only in terms of its desktop footprint but also the way it goes about doing its job. It’s a headphone amplifier and pre-amplifier, and that’s about it.
Build and form-factor
If you’ve come across the Topping E30 before then you know exactly what you’re in for in terms of how the L30 is put together. The L30’s main chassis is an all-metal unibody, made from nice-to-the-touch brushed aluminium. It’s solidly put-together and feels surprisingly premium given its price.
The L30’s ‘face’ is a clear, shiny gorilla-glass like panel, with markings for the increments on the switches written underneath in somewhat hard-to-read white writing. There’s a minuscule white LED dot on the front of the L30 to indicate that power is on – it’s kinda hard to see, but on the flip-side, at least it’s not blinding you while you’re getting work done at your desk.
The two three-way toggle-switches are precise, with a nice firm throw. So firm, in fact, that when you go to switch them upwards you inevitably lift the whole unit up off you desk. Therein lies one of the downsides of the L30’s form-factor. Because the L30 is only about the size of a passport, it can happily pop onto the smallest of table-tops, but it’s also liable to be moved around easily when cables are tugged or when you’re adjusting its controls.
My only real complaint with the L30’s form-factor is that the volume pot is sometimes hard to reach and manipulate because it sits adjacent to the 6.3mm headphones out.
The analogue-out RCA output on the back of the L30 is variable, meaning that the L30 can work happily as a pre-amp upstream of a power amp or pair of powered monitors. It’s a nice feature to have at this price and adds to the overall value equation of the little Topping amp.
Sound Quality and Performance
Sometimes, what’s written on the tin turns-out to be the case. The A90 has the description ‘Ultra-High Performance Headphone Amplifier’ written on the front of its case, and we now know that this not mere advertising puffery but an entirely accurate statement. The L30 tells us that it is a ‘Linear Headphone Amplifier’, and that is perhaps the simplest way to describe the sound of the L30: absolute linearity. Like its NFCA-equipped stablemate, the L30 is an absolutely colourless window into your music playback, and it will reveal the qualities and capabilities of your headphone’s transducers to a fault. The Sennheiser HD600 is my North Star when it comes to looking for truth in audio. It’s not only a warm/neutral take on a ‘reference’ sound, but it also happens to be very revealing of source gear. The L30 + HD600 combination sounds absolutely brilliant. Not only does the L30 ‘get out of the way’ and allow the HD600 to unleash its stellar mid-range rendition of instruments and vocals, but it also does it with a bit of soul, and character.
The HD600’s were truly wide-awake at 9:30 on the L30’s volume pot, showing-off a nice degree of kick-drum slam as well as a bang-on sense of top-end extension evident in the soaring violin tracks. Two things were entirely conspicuous: the complete absence of any harshness and distortion; and just the most wonderful tonal richness and lush detail from the venerable Senns. 300 ohms = no sweat for the L30.
The L30 is a reference amp, no question. Its completely black background, combined with absolutely no emphasis nor dip at any frequency means that you’re hearing the abilities of your headphones (and that of the recording technicians) and nothing else. It’s astonishingly impressive.
The benefits of the NFCA amplification technology are evident when pairing the L30 with IEMs. Using my most sensitive and revealing pair, the Craft FOUR from Craft Ears Four, the L30 was absolutely dead silent with no music playing, even in high gain.
“But what about planars?” you might ask. Good question. Time for Final Audio’s big, heavy flagship, the D8000 and some ‘Porcelina Of The Vast Oceans’. The D8000’s like a bit of juice, and immediately preferred to suck +9dB of gain from the L30, reaching ‘too loud’ at 9:30 on the volume pot. The restrained kick-drums in the intro sound promising over the D8000, threatening to reveal a torrent of low-end slam at the ‘real’ start of the song at the 2:12-mark. There’s definitely impact there all right, but not the real sense of scale and thickness that the D8000 can impressively reach with a higher-powered source.
The L30 is a stunning device for $139.99. In fact, it’s stunning full-stop. If you’re not fussed about going down the rabbit-hole of balanced cables and aren’t likely to add a pair of low-sensitive planars into your collection anytime soon, then the L30 is an absolutely bankable recommendation if all you are looking for is one audio input, and one headphone output (plus, being a pre-amp is nice and handy too).
In this reviewer’s opinion, the Topping L30 is the pick of the bunch in the entry-level amplifier stakes, and well worth the $40 price differential over its $99 competitors. In fact, it’s probably the only headphone amplifier you’ll really need for a long time. It’s superbly built and it’s audibly faultless if you’re looking for a faithful and enjoyable solid-state amplifier.