TOPPPING D90 DAC Review Compendium

We’re continuing our compendium collection for you all! These are the top reviews on the web that we’ve combed through, cut down, and combined so you can get all the influencer opinions in one convenient place. Links to the original posts are in the headline if you’d like to read them in their entirety. If there’s a product that you’re interested in us collating a review compendium for, please let us know! Without further ado, here’s the TOPPING D90 Balanced USB DAC Review Compendium for you to read and enjoy. 

 

1) Audio Science Review’s piece on the TOPPING D90 DAC, originally posted on Dec. 23, 2019.

The D90 comes in a premium packaging that despite its rather small size, is very heavy….Power supply is of course included inside the unit which I appreciated. Less clutter on the desk.

For my testing, I focused on XLR outputs only. 

As usual, we start with our 1 kHz tone dashboard:

Topping D90 Balanced USB DAC XLR  Audio Measurements.png

Not that it matters audibly but clock accuracy is excellent showing a precise 1 kHz frequency. Output is 4 volts which is what we like to see form XLR output.

The star of the show of course is astonishingly small distortion. It showcases the performances of the AK4499 DAC chip which until now, would lose ever so slightly to offerings from ESS on distortion front. With SINAD of 120.5, the D90 barely misses taking the top spot in our SINAD graph:

Best USB DAC.png

With best case dynamic range of hearing being 116 dB, you are assured that the D90 is provably transparent. What you hear, is what your source has in it. Not distortion and noise from the DAC.

Using 32-tone test track to resemble "music," intermodulation distortion shows incredibly low unwanted distortions:

Topping D90 Balanced USB DAC XLR  Multitone Audio Measurements.png

The D90 is instrument grade digital to analog convert and can be used to test analog audio gear.

Testing intermodulation again but this time against level we get:

Topping D90 Balanced USB DAC XLR  IMD Audio Measurements.png

We see the improvement in both noise (sloping down part of the graph) and distortion (right side where the graph starts to climb up).

Linearity (precision of level) is nailed as well:

Topping D90 Balanced USB DAC XLR  Linearity Audio Measurements.png

Dynamic range shows the noise level:

Topping D90 Balanced USB DAC XLR  Dynamic Range Audio Measurements.png

Had this been a couple of dBs better, it would have improved the SINAD to take the first place. As it is though, it is exceptional. You can play at 120 dB SPL (live concert levels) and yet have no audible noise from the DAC!

I ran jitter with USB as usual but also added S/PDIF since there has been some concern about its performance:

Topping D90 Balanced USB DAC XLR  Jitter Audio Measurements.png

There are some spikes, especially with S/PDIF so it not as perfect as the rest of the performance from measurement point of view. Audibly though, it is more than perfect with spikes way below threshold of hearing.

THD+N versus frequency shows good performance but not as good as I expected:

Topping D90 Balanced USB DAC XLR THD vs Frequency Audio Measurements.png

This test uses 90 kHz bandwidth to capture harmonics of 20 kHz (the dashboard uses 22.4 kHz bandwidth). So the question is, are we seeing distortion products or other ultrasonic junk? For that, let's fun a spectrum analysis at 500 Hz where there is a hump above:

Topping D90 Balanced USB DAC XLR  500 Hz FFT Audio Measurements.png

Harmonic products are below 130 dB so that is definitely not a problem. Instead we see a pretty tall spike near the sample rate of the source. That is caused by aliasing due to reconstruction filter not having enough attenuation.

Conclusions

The Topping D90 produces lowest noise and distortion than 220 DACs tested so far. It shows that AKM is ready for business to compete with ESS on top of the performance charts. It has excellent build quality and comes from a manufacturer that believes in verification of design with measurement. Its measured performance is nearly flawless.To get rid of last few niggles, would cost you a few hundred dollars more. You decide. 

I live for such discoveries where a company cares about giving us the maximum performance they possibly can. And at a cost point that is thousands of dollars if not tens of thousands of dollars than high-end DACs.

For me, I am happy to strongly recommend the Topping D90 DAC.

 

2) Soundnews’ review of the TOPPING D90 DAC, originally posted on Jan. 15, 2020.

I knew TOPPING was brewing something new about one year ago, something that would sit on an iron throne in their product line, in the summer of 2019 I found out it’s their flagship D90 DAC that just entered its final polishing stage. 

I’m glad TOPPING took out the best parts of DX7 Pro and D70 as their newest metal enclosure, Bluetooth capabilities, high-performance Accusilicon femtosecond clocks, the best XMOS interface and put all that inside D90, they also replaced two AK4497EQ DAC chips with a single top-of-the-line AK4499 DAC chip and achieved a staggering measured performance of 127 dB of dynamic range and 122 dB of SINAD. It’s a first for TOPPING and it’s a first for DACs under $1,000, my curiosity level skyrocketed as usual and the moment I received it, I just unboxed it and started listening to music right away.

Design & Build Quality

TOPPING adopted the same enclosure DX7 Pro is having and I loved that one quite a bit. What is there to love in a simple black box you might ask? For starters there isn’t a single visible screw on any side, you can spot them only on the backplate and underneath it. 

D90 feels on the heavier side, with such a small foot-print and having 1.4Kg (about 3 pounds) of weight I feel its case is thicker than usual and I’m sure its toroidal transformer added a bit of weight too.

The case is beautifully crafted on a CNC machine. You can choose between a silver or a black case, I’ve seen them both and both have scratch-resistant surfaces. As with DX7 Pro, the rubber feet are placed in 4 individual carved spaces on the aluminum case itself so you can be sure those feet will not move an inch if you are repositioning your DAC quite often as I do.

I like that it has rounded edges, so it will not damage my headphones when I’m handling them around….All in all, I have nothing to complain about in terms of design and looks.

Controls & Connectivity

D90 is a pure DAC so obviously the headphone outputs have been dropped. Apart from that, it is very much the same in terms of connectivity with their D70 and DX7 Pro balanced DACs.

On the back all usual suspects a balanced DAC should have are present: you have your RCA and XLR outputs, a USB type-B, coaxial and optical inputs and some fancier inputs as AES and my personal favorite I2S (LVDS) input via an HDMI connector. Please do note, this is not an HDMI input that you can use with your TV, media box or video player, this is an I2S input that is just using the HDMI connector. Few people already asked me why their D70 and DX7 Pro are not working with their HDMI video devices…For D70, D90 and DX7 Pro I2S input you will need an external S/PDIF interface that can output an I2S data stream that will skip all the digital receiver chips like AK4118 or the XMOS ones and will send all that directly to the DAC chip itself.

An important thing to know is that if you want to unleash the full potential of D90, you will need to use the included remote. With it you can select from 6 digital filters that are working on the hardware level, you can select 3 brightness levels, desired input, and output, the volume position. If you press the center button it will change the output to RCA only, XLR only or RCA+XLR at the same time. If you plan on using just a single output on the back, I strongly recommend changing its output on that particular one without engaging both of them. By doing that, D90 will operate cooler and will be less prone to noise that might come from the other interconnect cable.

Tech Specs & Detailed information

The star of the show is obviously the newest and highest performance DAC chip by AKM, the AK4499 that TOPPING put inside it. This is a very special chip and I will explain to you why.

First of all, it is the first commercial DAC chip that challenged the mighty ESS 9038 PRO and surpassed some of its specs.

Secondly, AK4499 has the biggest die-size/surface area of any chips made by AKM. If you are into computers, you probably know how important is the die-size of a CPU or GPU, bigger size means it will have a higher performance and, in the process will consume way more electric power. The same applies to DAC chips, as strange as it might sound, bigger DAC chips means better performance and much higher power consumption.

Now, here is the interesting part: AK4499 is a quad-channel design, meaning a single DAC chip can produce a true balanced output, a single AK4497, for example, couldn’t do that. The clever part is that TOPPING used 2 outputs in parallel working as a single channel, by doing that they squeezed the best of out this silicon, I’m impressed.

The S/PDIF (optical/coaxial and AES) receiver duties are handled by the AK4118 from AKM that ensures low jitter and low noise and good compatibility. However, do note that these 3 digital inputs will be limited to 24 bits/192kHz files. If you want to squeeze the best out of D90, you will need to use USB or the I2S input.

The Bluetooth chip used in this one is the flagship one from Qualcomm, the CSR8675 that is capable of receiving all modern Bluetooth codecs as SBC, AAC, aptX, aptX-HD, and LDAC. If you are using it with a Bluetooth sender that is capable of LDAC then you can send music files up to 24bit 96kHz.

Sound Performance

I am not that easily impressed when it comes to audio sources, I evaluated more than 20 audio sources last year and out of all of those, probably only 3 of them created goosebump moments for me. D90 is sounding easily in the top 3 DACs I tested at my place at any price point. 

I will start by saying what I didn’t like about all AKM based designs I listened to until now. Absolutely all AKM designs, be it from TOPPING, Aune Audio, SMSL, xDuoo, FiiO and so on have a slight mellow approach to music reproduction….They never properly punched and slammed my body like a serious ESS based DAC did. This is the sole reason Matrix Audio element X stayed at my side no matter what, it can be gentle, but it can also be a wild beast unleashing fast and energetic bass notes that strike fast while being in total control and having everything breathing and at its place.

This is the first time I can say the same about an AKM based design. Ladies and gentlemen, D90 is fast, articulate and it hits like a train when it's needed. It doesn’t roll-off sub-bass information and my usual pugilist music as electronica and rock started throwing punches at me, I finally felt a crazy amount of energy and impact. 

Depth & Airiness king

The best part that I loved about AKM based DACs is their ability to present spatial cues around the listener. I don’t mean just a wider soundstage than usual, not at all, I mean that every single note is like floating individually to the other one near it, the gap between all notes is bigger, you feel like there is more air in the room. With D90 that feeling is multiplied and I am pretty sure I am hearing the airiest performance in a delta-sigma DAC I’ve heard so far.

I am hearing more air even with lower-quality recordings and there is more of it even compared to my reference element X, as painful as this sounds to me, this is the ugly truth. D90 is without a doubt the airiest DAC I listened to at my place with the most layered sound, with the deepest depth, and with a well spread-out soundstage.

Genre Master

Listening to the legendary B.B.King – The Thrill is Gone (featuring Eric Clapton) and then to Early In The Morning (featuring Van Morrison) felt like pouring milk and honey over my ears. It awoke so many feelings, so much emotion is still there waiting to be heard and feel, everything flows so easily towards me. I can’t believe I’m listening to a 40-year old recording, it sounds like it’s happening right now, so alive and natural. 

D90 is putting everything in front of me on a plate, like: here’s everything and listen to any sound you want from this plate. I am not even closing my eyes to hear every layer and every micro-detail. I’m astounded we have this right now at such an affordable price, I like where audiophilia is going, me gusta!

Former D70 didn’t impress me a lot when it comes to bass, it was fine but not very good. D90 offers more of it, better control and much-needed improvement in terms of pace, rhythm, and timing. D90 feels like a race car by comparison and can behave as one, D70, on the other hand, can’t keep up with a faster pace. Bass-heads out there will be impressed by the D90 and by its ability to move large amounts of air in an instant with an impressive start and stop of the transducers.

For me, D90 is definitely a genre master that plays exceptionally well everything from relaxing and soothing tunes to fast executed and wild slamming bass riffs. It has a perfect blend of musicality and technicality without skewing the frequency response at all.

Frequency Response

I will briefly go through it and will just mention that D90 has some impressive bass in terms of quantity and quality. This time around I felt it going really low, awakening those low-intensity hums and rumbles that only a really good source (and amplification) can offer. In all seriousness, up until this moment, the Matrix Audio X-Sabre Pro and the element X were the clear and undefeated winners when it came to bass response. I am not a bass head by any means, but if it’s there, I want to hear it and those two units offered the best sub and mid-bass performance. D90 is up there with both of them at just a fraction of their price, if bass information is important to you and if you like listening to some stand-floor speaker or desktop planar-magnetic headphones then D90 will unleash the full force of the low-end.

When it comes to midrange D90 is absolutely impressive and there is not much to say about it. I’m listening to a lot of blues, jazz, and rock, so mostly to instrumental music and D90 always delivered everything I wanted. 

Moving on to the treble area is done really easy and natural and I can hear everything crystal clear up to the highest registers without fearing a bright note will hit me soon and that I should prepare for that. D90 is somehow very detailed even past 16kHz and yet very life-life and very unoffensive. 

Wireless Performance

For wireless tests, I used a smartphone that is Bluetooth 5.0 enabled, which supports LDAC and AptX-HD so I could actually test the best D90 can offer in terms of wireless tech. You might be surprised how easy it is connecting your phone to it, just select BT from the remote as its digital input, search for D90 with your phone, connect to it and that is basically all.

Thanks to the included antenna of D90 that actually works as a signal booster, the signal was always super strong and, in this regard, it performed much better compared to other devices like the BTR range by FiiO, the UP range by Shanling and better than any Bluetooth capable DAP I have ever tested. The signal stays strong even with 3 concrete walls between the sender and D90….What surprised me a lot is that I couldn’t hear a difference playing a lossless 16-bit file on my PC via USB or playing it wirelessly from my phone to D90, 16-bit lossless files (CD quality) sounded impressively good. Only with 24-bit files, I felt a pronounced smoothness, laziness somehow, like that impressive speed and impact are not that impressive anymore and like some of the top octave notes are losing a bit of information and air around those notes. Not a huge difference, but a noticeable one.

Conclusion

I have huge respect for companies that are not rushing products and that are releasing them only when it’s done with their best version. D90 is such a device and TOPPING is such a company. With every new product, they would raise the bar of what affordable and high-performance would mean to me and D90 didn’t disappoint at all. On the contrary, it again opened my eyes to how good a digital audio source can sound at such a low price to pay.

Was I offended by it sounding about on the same level as my own $3,000 element X? Not at all, I’m actually very glad this happened and I envy all of you that will experience it for the first time. I remember I was impressed by it from the first second, those that are upgrading from lower-tiered DACs should feel a much bigger improvement. 

 

3) Headfonics’ review of the TOPPING D90 DAC, originally posted on Apr. 18, 2020.

Topping

I have no previous Topping exposure, even in chance 5-minute store demos to meetings with like-minded audiophiles so I cannot pull any historical comparisons with previous Topping DAC or DAC/Amp models such as the D50 or D70.

At $699 and using one of AKM’s new flagship chipsets, Topping are hitting what I might regard as a sweet spot in terms of affordability and feature sets for the D90. This value for money perception does seem to be a reoccurring Topping business theme.

Tech Inside

DAC

For the price point, it seems there is a lot of good things stuffed under the hood of the D90. For a start, the DAC inside is the flagship AKM AK4499 which is AKM’s first current-output DAC and their flagship chipset at the time of writing. 

The AKM4499 supersedes the AK4497, a DAC we have seen implemented in the Yulong D10 last year and in pure terms, it can churn out 140dB SNR and -124dB THD+N.

The SNR and dynamic range from the D90 implementation won’t get you those numbers, no system DAC rarely gets that high. However, the D90 does benefit from that enhanced performance spec on paper.

The specified SNR of 123dB unbalanced and 127dB balanced (A-weighted at 1kHz) is better compared to the Cayin iDAC-6 MK2’s 115dB and 122dB under similar loaded figures for unbalanced and balanced. I am presuming real-world testing will not be quite as high but as a performance benchmark that is impressive.

Decoding

The D90 looks very competitive indeed for decoding with a ceiling of PCM 32-bit/768kHz and DSD512 natively via USB and the same capability via its built-in I²S port.

The D90 uses an XMOS XU208 USB stage for decoding but for SPDIF it reverts to an AKM AK4118 chipset which decodes at a maximum of PCM 24-Bit/192kHz which is the norm for coaxial. For optical input, the D90 will decode to the max rate allowable which is 24BIT/192kHz.

Bluetooth

This is a nice bonus feature for me with the inclusion of a Qualcomm CSR8675 chipset, (and a small antenna at the back) to receive a wide range of Bluetooth codecs. This includes LDAC up to 24BIT/96kHz as well as aptX, SBC, and AAC.

Unboxing & Accessories

Topping has gone for something a little more considered in their packaging for the D90. I cannot tell you if this is an upgrade on previous stuff from them as I have never had one before. However, quite a lot of component systems I get comes in regular bland HiFi brown container packing whereas this comes in a compact branded black box.

The D90 does have a built-in switchable power supply that can change from 110-120 50/60 Hz to 220V-240V 50/60 Hz so there should not be an issue with local power standards using the cable.

Design

Form Factor

Out of the box, my initial impression is that it is very compact and small for a flagship DAC. Certainly, the dimensions are much smaller than the Cayin iDAC-6 i-series unit but still not as small as the Chord Electronics Qutest. Still, the D90 has a lot more features than the Qutest hence there are a lot more sockets to fit in but it is still very stackable.

Aesthetic

The design aesthetic is a little industrial for me so it doesn’t quite stand out from the crowd with its slightly angular curved finish and front plates larger than the main body housing….What I do like is that color-coding applies to the rear plate also. So many DAC’s tend to leave the rear plate relatively uncoated since you are unlikely to see it. The D90 stays all-black back to front.

Initial Sound Impressions

Setup

(Initial impression formed with a balanced Xi Audio Broadway Amp, USB out from an Acer Nitro 5 laptop. the software was Windows 10, Foobar 2000 and WASAPI drivers. Headphones used were the Dan Clark Audio Ether 2Meze Empyrean and Rosson Audio’s RAD-0). 

Overall, the D90 is not what I expected from an AKM chipset implementation and represents a break from the more colored house sounds of the 4490 and 4497. Of course, amps can weigh in with their own coloration which is why sometimes DAC’s are a bit harder to mail in terms of their own signature.

Tuning

The D90 bass via the Broadway is very nicely defined, nothing soft at all about it. It does seem quite linear right up to the lower-mids or relatively uncolored compared to the Cayin iDAC-6 MK2’s organic earthy sound. Not as crunchy or bombastic as the Qutest either but tighter and cleaner than the Yulong DA10 AK4497 implementation which I found very soft.

The D90 neutral low-end and softer treble adds a bit more ‘midrange emphasis’ to the presentation. However, upper mids percussion sound smooth and quite agreeable with plenty of staging width on display on the Broadway amp. That is one thing that initially struck me it just how good the level of instrumental separation is on the combos we used with the D90.

I would argue Topping has ever so slightly smoothed out the treble response on the D90. That means no glare, nothing brittle or hard sounding but sting a tiny bit of sting out of it at the same time.

If you are coming from an old Ak4490 DAC such as the NuPrime DAC-9 or Cayin’s iDAC-6 MK1 the treble is just so much more refined on the D90. Makes for a very natural and agreeable sound signature without any loss of headroom with neutral amps.

Stay Tuned!

As with any initial impressions of a DAC, there is a lot of contextual reasoning in describing how they perform. They are the system ‘brains’ and often their output is variable depending on the amp and source and input option you choose to hook them up with. Right now, I do feel this a relatively neutral signature but how much the Broadway is influencing that we will have to see.

For $699, however, D90 looks like it could be something of a bargain in terms of features and potential performance.

 

4) Headfonia’s review of the TOPPING D90 DAC, originally posted on May 14, 2020.

About D90

The D90 is a balanced DAC that uses a set of AK4499 chips to convert digital data into an analogue signal. It supports sample rates up to DSD512 and PCM 32bit/768kHz. Topping gave the D90 a multitude of different digital inputs. The D90 comes equipped with an AKM AK4118 digital receiver for its digital inputs except for the USB, which uses an XMOS chip.

For a jitter as low as possible, Topping implemented two Accusilicon femto second clocks. 

Topping supplies a ton of different measurement values for the D90. When you browse through the user manual, you will see that they provide measurements done with Audio Precision gear. The D90 has a dynamic range of 127/123dB (XLR/RCA) and a THD+N of 0.00009/0.00013% at 1kHz (XLR/RCA).

Build Quality

The build quality of the D90 is rock solid in my opinion. To me it looks like it’s made out of a solid block of aluminum. It doesn’t have any sharp edges anywhere. With 1.4kg it isn’t exactly heavy, but it also didn’t get pulled down from either the XLR or RCA cables I attached to it. The D90 stayed firmly put in my shelves.

The screen gives you a hand full of information. You can see the selected input in the top left corner and the current sampling rate below it. Almost centered you will see the volume setting in dB. The top right corner informs you of what kind of digital stream is currently decoded. Values are PCM and DSD. That’s about it.

Control

The D90 can be controlled either by using the buttons on the front of the unit, or by using the supplied remote control. There are no batteries in the package, so you will have to source your own AAA’s. The hardware buttons on the front-plate are limited in use though. You can only select the inputs with the button on the left side, or you can adjust the volume by +/- 0.5dB. The button on the left hand side also turns the unit off when you long-press it. With the remote you have a couple of more options.

Sound

I have used the D90 in the chain with my Schiit Ragnarok driving the Kef LS50. 

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. 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.

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.

Conclusion

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!

 

5) Thomas & Stereo’s review of the TOPPING D90 DAC, originally published on his YouTube channel on Aug. 19, 2020.

Now, in the interest of time, I'm going to skip a lot of things in this review. For example, the specifications. A few things to note: it does use an AK-4499 DAC chip as opposed to the ESS SABRE chips that I’m used to. It has a lot of inputs, all the inputs on the market they can think of: it has XLR output, it has different filters, so you can actually change the sound a little bit by playing around with the filters. Now for those of you who actually own this unit, it's a good idea to read the manual, because some stuff is not really obvious. For example, to put the dac into dac mode, apparently you have to hold on to the “select” button and “power on” at the same time. 

I'm going to quickly jump into how it sounds and it's actually a bit difficult for me to describe it, because there's not a lot of coloration in the presentation. The only thing I can think of that is a little bit different than the SMSL M400 — actually for me the main difference — is the fact that the top end is a little bit more expressive. Now the SMSL you can think of as having a slight veil in front, a bit rolled off, that's why I call it a “smooth DAC.” D90 is opened up on top where it's more expressive and it feels there's more clarity to it on the top end. For people who like detail this is exactly what you're looking for. 

Now when it comes to the mid-range I would say there's no dip in the mid-range, there's a lot of meat on the bone. The base is strong. When it comes to base definition, the sub-base area, it has very good definition. Now that is of course provided the rest of your system can keep up with it. I would say the main strength of this unit is the fact that it's very good at separating the high, mids, and lows. Very clear separation.

The D90 DAC is fast and it's all about precision and clarity.

I have to tell you a story to help me evaluate this unit. I have my friend whom I call Mr. Kanta and his system is usually around $30K, so he's more into the higher end gear. Mr. Kanta tried the SMSL M400 first, and he was like, “Oh my goodness! DACs today are so good, you know what, I'm actually tempted to sell my current DAC, which is over four grand US, and just replace it with this SMSL M400.” I told him, “Hey have you tried the TOPPING D90 yet? The TOPPING D90 is probably more to your taste.”

He plugs it in and five minutes later he told me, “Yeah, okay, that's it. This has cemented my decision in selling my current DAC. Now, as the time of this filming, his DAC is already sold and he is ready to replace it with the TOPPING D90.

We had a discussion about why is it that this TOPPING D90 can make him sell his high-end DAC? A good point that he brought up is that if you think in terms of absolute performance, absolute value, the TOPPING D90 does not outperform a $4,000 DAC, it's probably 85% or 90% of a $4,000 DAC, but that is everything. Meaning that the overall performance, base, instrument separation, speed, soundstage...every single element is close enough to the reference DAC for him to realize that, “Okay, it no longer makes sense to buy an expensive DAC.” Because a giant killer is relative. 

My definition of “giant killer” is this: if the overall performance is close enough in every single category, then for me it makes more sense to purchase the less expensive unit. That's why I call it “giant killer” ...that's why giant killers can be a $300 or $1,000 DAC, the price doesn't matter, because if a $300 DAC’s performance is close enough to a $1,000 DAC, that as far as I'm concerned is called a “giant killer.” This TOPPING D90 is a giant killer.

 

6) DMS’ review of the TOPPING D90 DAC, originally published on his YouTube channel on Nov. 6, 2020.

This is a very familiar layout, but there are some things that do make the D90 special. We have a lot of inputs on this DAC. It actually has bluetooth as well. The outputs are single-ended RCA and balanced XLR. The construction is pretty straightforward — it is a metal chassis, nothing super crazy thick, but it doesn't flex at all when I try and move it. It is reasonably small and the menus are pretty easy to navigate. 

This is a great deck for a couple of scenarios. Scenario one is where you have multiple amps, say a balanced amp and a single-ended amp set up at your desk. Scenario two is with a set of speakers, because this has so many outputs it's very, very small and you can control the volume on this with a remote. So really, you could run this out to a set of balanced monoblocks or a power amp and use this as both your DAC and your preamp, and send

bluetooth or any other host of signals to your speakers very easily. I for one very much like it in that setting where i'm using it with a set of speakers. 

Sound wise, it is a very transparent DAC. There's not much to say about DACs in this range, at this target. A lot of DACs are pretty similar in sound unless they're either really cheap, really, really, really clear, or super flavored sometimes. R2Rs, tube DACs, things like that will step outside of the normal, but for the most part, a lot of DACs have a relatively similar sound. 

This is no exception to that. It is a very clinical and very transparent DAC. You are not going to get the crazy gooey magic that you get sometimes with R2R and the super fast highs of R2R, but you're also not really inhibited I feel by this piece of technology.

There are of course stacks out there that are better, but they're significantly more expensive, enough to where the diminishing return is something that you're going to have to decide.

Because of its transparency and versatility, I do find it to be an upgrade from many other decks that I have around here. 

I also like that this doesn't use a big external power brick, I can just run straight in with an IEC.

Now I want to note something actually that recently happened: AKM, the company making AK DACs, had a fire at a production facility and unfortunately it looks like they're going to be very far behind for a while. Now that means that AK DACs on the market are going to become limited in the near future, at least that seems very likely. So I'm going to make a suggestion that if you are looking for a DAC in this price range, if you're considering this DAC, this is probably the time to buy it.

Is the price a little bit steep? It depends on where you're coming from. As a whole, for a stack — the D90/A90 — I feel like it's pretty reasonable, because this DAC does have a lot of features, this stack is going to be doing more than just running the TOPPING A90 off of it. You can obviously run the single-ended out to other things, and the number of inputs provides a great level of versatility: you could run balanced into the A90 and then run RCA out to speakers and still control the output of D90 out of the remote.

For a hi-fi listener who is willing to spend this kind of money on a DAC, I'd say: “Why not?” It's received very high ratings from both objectivists and subjectivists on its performance-listening, as well as its performance and measurements.

 

7) Tharbamar’s review of the TOPPING D90 DAC, originally published on his YouTube channel on Nov. 6, 2020.

A90/D90 Combo Review

Today I'm going to review this TOPPING A90 headphone amplifier with TOPPING D90 MQA DAC. They are designed to complement each other and they look really great together. I will start with A90 headphone amplifier: XLR analog input and RCA analog input, you can use it as a pre-amplifier if you want to use with your speakers or other power amplifiers, and also does have a gain setting for headphones. 

Overall sound quality is very clean, transparent, very clear, vivid, and spacious sound that it can reproduce when I'm listening with my headphones. Sound quality is very neutral — that's the one almost stand-out feature — without much of coloration or the frequency range  properly reproduced from deepest of base notes to highest frequency that’s humanly possible we can hear, it's very well reproduced with great authority.

D90 MQA Setting

Right now I’ve set it as a digital analog converter, but I can also change it to a pre-amplifier if I wanted to. To do that, just turn off the main-power button in the back, and then hold the front-facing selection button, and then I turn the main-power button back on, then it will take you directly to the main setting menu. Then use the arrow buttons to go to the number three position, where you can change it to DAC or pre-amplifier. The 11th menu position is “Save & Exit:” hit this button and it will save it in your settings.

D90 MQA Review

This is one of the DACs that people who are looking for a neutral, transparent, digital/analog converter that doesn't add anything to your music. My favorite part of our D90 MQA DAC is that it has a very clean, neutral, and transparent sound that it can reproduce with 100% honesty the original art as it is recorded without adding any coloration to your system.  

Not only does the D90 have MQA, but it has probably one of the best input selections that you can connect to, and also it is a fully balanced design (unlike other DACs that you can have in this price point), so in my opinion this D90 DAC deck is a really good choice for people who want something that has great functionality with a good performance ratio and the price is very reasonable.

Conclusion 

For those of you who like to listen to headphones as the main source of music, this combination is hard to beat. Very clean, neutral, and very good driving power — this A90 headphone amp can drive pretty much any headphone with a great authority. It’s also a really good DAC and it doesn't add anything unwanted to your music, so overall performance is really great; it can reproduce really, really quiet backgrounds whether you're going to use a headphone or stereo setup. D90 can totally show you and you can notice that right away, that background noise flow is non-existent, just incredibly quiet for this price point of equipment. It's very easy to recommend for your headphone setup or for your system. It can totally enhance your music enjoyment and it can totally give you better noise performance than many others at this price point. Highly recommended.