As mentioned above, Craig from Whiplash audio was kind enough to send me a production Topaz
unit, and I've lived with it for just under two weeks.
First and foremost, while the unit is small, and indeed appears portable, it needs to be powered by its AC adapter. From what I understand, StyleAudio took the Ruby and made sizable improvements to it, to where it now requires AC power (over and above USB) to function to its max potential.
As such, it's more of a "desktop" unit as it must remain tethered to a plug and cord.
Given its size, I freely admit that it was a bit discombobulating to hear such tremendous sound emanating from such a tiny box! I've owned in the past: Hornet, Move2, PAV2V, Bithead, and Cobra D10 and if memory serves me right, the Topaz is a good notch above in terms of total power.
But power is nothing without refinement, richness, lushness, etc and the Topaz provides that very nicely as well.
I fed the unit both Redbook and 96/24 audio through USB as well as standard flac through my SqueezeboxV3.
I wouldn't say the unit had any particular flavor all its own besides "quality". I think we all here understand that, even though it's a vague way to describe something. If something sounds dull or lifeless or closed or muddy, we very much know that something's amiss.
The Topaz just projects quality and power. It's up to the headphone, where the rubber meets the road, to convey particular flavor.
First and foremost, the Topaz drove my 701s quite well. Not supremely well, but know that I have the uber strong C2C as well Headroom's balanced desktop, so those are my reference points.
My Senn600's were driven with no issues whatsoever, and the ultimate experience was very very nice. To those who persist on saying that these headphones have "veil" truly need to mate Senns with power, and the inherent liveliness of these cans will shine through.
But the greatest synergy to me came through with my BeyerDT990s. Just phenomenal power and quick slam, these cans just sung rich and true with the Topaz. Amazing to hear.
All in all, though, as robust as its amp is, it's the DAC where this puppy really shines. I was very very impressed at the clarity and sparkle coming out of the Topaz.
This is very weird to say, but the Topaz had nearly all of the shine as my PS Audio DLIII on the top and mid end, but just lacked a bit on the bass end. I now know what people mean when they say that DACs have "bass". Well, the DLIII has balls to spare.
But that's more of a complement to the Topaz than anything else, b/c it just has an amazing DAC section.
In thinking about the price, yes it is a decent chunk of change, but the overall package does make for a rather compelling value equation. This thing betters the Musical Fidelity X-DACV3 that I had as well as a Y2006 Headroom Micro, so it's playing with very well respected competition.
The Topaz is on its way to MoNelly, and he has a Pico Amp/DAC in his grubby hands, so his head to head impressions should be interesting. He also has a very efficient RS1, so the Topaz should rock his socks.
If you're looking for a small form factor desktop amp, say for a bedroom, you should give the Topaz a listen. Also, given that it has preamp outputs, this thing could serve well on a work desk, with RCAs feeding an integrated amp to speakers.
To end, I have to make a comment on the "Spotlight" USB cable that Craig also loaned to me. At first I was skeptical, and in fact couldn't even hear a difference when A/B'ing his vs. a standard old thing that we all have lying around the house.
But... to be fair to Craig, and I'm still wincing trying to believe this is the case, but after using the Spotlight USB cable for 2 weeks, and then going back to the $1 cable, something was amiss.
So the next day after I shipped the amp and cable to MoNelly, I sat down for a listen.
I turned everything on, started listening to things on my balanced amp, DLIII, and my 701s, and I was... "eh?" What's going on here? It didn't actually come together until a few hours later that the only thing different about the system was that I swapped the USB cable.
So obviously, take that for what you will. This is a case where I'm almost distrusting my music memory, but my initial reaction was strong and very weird.