Topping E30 DAC Review
James Michael Hughes discovers a delightful diminutive desktop DAC…
Measuring just 125x90x32mm, the Topping E30 is a tiny outboard DAC/preamplifier capable of handling digital media up to 32-bit, 768kHz PCM and DSD512. It uses the well respected Asahi Kasei AK4493 digital converter chip and has USB, coaxial and optical inputs, plus a set of variable analogue outputs.
For the optical and coaxial ins, an AK4118 receiver chip is used, which was chosen for its low jitter; the USB input uses an XMOS XU208. The E30 requires an external 5v DC power supply (not included) and also runs from a USB socket or USB phone charger.
The handy display tells you the sampling rate chosen and the volume/output level. There are six anti-aliasing filer options selectable via the supplied remote control. The casework is made from aluminium and is very well finished. Given all this, it's hard to believe the E30 costs just £115.
To get some idea of how good the E30 might be, I partnered it with Denon's latest DCD-A110 CD/SACD player. This costs £2,899 and has an excellent built-in DAC. I connected the player and E30 using identical Audio Note cables so I could easily switch between the two.
Rather than use a mains USB power supply, I used a mobile phone power bank lithium battery to provide the E30 with a nice pure DC supply. The E30 sounded extremely good, and to my surprise, this wee DAC compared very favourably to the Denon's internal digital converter. The latter was just a touch more incisive, and on lots of music I slightly preferred it – but the difference wasn't massive. The E30 was a tad smoother and sweeter but marginally less immediate.
Playing the Oscar Peterson Trio's album We Get Requests, I liked the Denon's internal DAC's extra presence. Its slightly more forward sound gave piano and cymbals more crispness and bite. But on Joyride by Roxette, Marie Fredriksson's voice sounded cleaner and less sibilant via the E30. The DCD-A110's extra bite was not really advantageous given such a forward recording.
The E30 offers six anti-aliasing filter options, which work above the audio band. The first is a standard 'brick wall' type that sharply attenuates frequencies above 20kHz; by 24kHz, the signal is -100dB. The other filters offer gentler, less aggressive attenuation. Filter 4 has 40kHz as the -100dB point, offering a less-steep roll-off. Filter 5 has an even shallower roll-off, being around -50dB at 44kHz, but then there's a very abrupt notch filter at 44.1kHz, reducing this frequency to -100dB.
In my system, I only heard marginal changes as I scrolled through the filters. I listened carefully, but differences remained minor. Perhaps this is to be expected as if the filters are well designed and do not cause 'ringing' within the audio band, then there shouldn't be too much difference between them. Another factor is how well your amplifier handles high-frequency noise. The most significant difference (on paper) is between filters 1 and 5. The latter is close to having no anti-aliasing filter at all. Anyone remember Opera Audio's Consonance CD player, which dispensed with the AA filter on the grounds that the cure was worse than the disease?
What did make a big difference was the power supply. Using a mains powered USB, the sound wasn't as clean or well separated as with the battery power bank. It seemed to make recordings sound slightly coarser and more congested. So, I would strongly recommend the use of a good power bank for the best results. You'll get greater clarity and better space and depth around voices and instruments. You should really notice this when using headphones, as they're usually more revealing than loudspeakers.
The Topping E30 is certainly great value then and should rejuvenate older CD players with less advanced DACs. It also has other uses and will prove useful in any situation where a good outboard DAC able to work with a wide variety of formats is needed. Having a variable 2V output means it can also double as a high-quality digital preamp, directly feeding a power amp. 2V should be adequate for most power amps, even if it's a little on the low side.
Overall then, this a one hell of a good DAC – a really nice surprise from a brand that's hardly mainstream yet. It offers super sound quality, versatile operation and excellent build at the price. All of which makes it an affordable audiophile bargain of the first degree. All I can say is… top that!
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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