Topping Audio A30 Pro Headphone Amplifier Review
James Michael Hughes auditions this very affordable, high-performance headphone amplifier…
A30 Pro Headphone Amplifier
Topping Audio products are still far from mainstream in the UK, but nevertheless are really beginning to cause a stir. This is undoubtedly down to their combination of high performance, small form factor, and very reasonable price. In this review, we're looking at the A30 Pro, which retails at £249 and shares a similar size and profile to the E30 and E50 DACs I reviewed earlier this year. As with the two DACs, the A30 Pro has a built-in power supply. The company claims a feisty 6W RMS per channel into 16 ohms (THD <0.1%) for it, and 5.5W per side into 32 ohms and 840mW into 300 ohms.
This diminutive headphone stage offers a choice of single-ended RCA inputs or balanced in via XLR. There's a traditional unbalanced 6.3mm jack, a 4.4mm socket and a four-pin XLR balanced output for headphones, plus an analogue volume control and three-position gain switch. In terms of residual noise, this unit is said to be extremely quiet; a mere 3uV residual noise is claimed, which is very low indeed. My subjective listening tests didn't contradict this either – far from it. In terms of build quality and looks, it's very good for the money, with impressively surfaced metal casework. The dinky dimensions – 174x138x45mm and 870g – make this hard not to love.
This unit can drive efficient headphones to play very loudly if desired. I used a set of Ether open-back 'phones from Dan Clark Audio. The A30 Pro had an immediate sound, with lots of detail and firm bass.
Considering its very modest price, it was seriously impressive. Indeed, to put this in perspective, compared to the headphone amp in a Technics SU-G700M2 amplifier – itself a very well-designed affair and better than most budget standalone headphone amps that I've heard – the Topping Audio came out on top. Trying the headphone socket on a Marantz 30n SACD player – again, something that Marantz designers put some effort into – and the difference was even more marked in favour of Topping. The latter served up greater separation and superior transient attack.
For example, when playing How To Be Dead from Snow Patrol's album Final Straw, the Topping reproduced the music with loads of life and sparkle, and vocals sounded clearer and better separated than the Technics. It gave a very clean and crisp sound, but it wasn't analytical or mechanical – quite the reverse, in fact. Bear in mind that the headphone amp in the SU-G700M2 is a dedicated high-quality Class A design, rather than simply the output from the power amp padded down. So the fact that this Topping headphone amp was able to improve on it is impressive!
If possible, always try to use the balanced four-pin XLR connector socket to connect your headphones, rather than the normal unbalanced 6.3mm jack – because the former delivers a very significant sonic improvement. You will experience more immediacy, greater clarity, wider stereo soundstaging and increased dynamics. The balanced output shows this wee thing in all its glory, as hardcore head-fi fans will already surely know.
Overall then, Topping Audio's A30 Pro offers an awful lot for a little money – which is precisely the appeal of the brand in the first place. A firm thumbs up then for this little headphone amplifier. If you're looking for an inexpensive, crisply styled and compact way of making a decent pair of headphones sing – then put this at the top of your shortlist.
An avid audiophile for many decades, Jimmy has been writing about hi-fi since 1980 in a host of British magazines, from What Hi-Fi to Hi-Fi Choice. Based in London, England, he’s one of the UK’s most prolific record and CD collectors – no streaming service can yet match his amazing music collection!
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