Topping D90 - Reviews
Detailed Neutral DAC - $699 for details that normally cost $2000+
Pros: Extremely Detailed, Neutral, very accurate and has preamp function. DSD and fantastic price. It is not a colored sound. Great build quality. XLR out is fantastic in measurements and sound quality. Support using both RCA and XLR out at same time (useful if you have more than one amp or perhaps want to use a subwoofer).
Cons: It's so neutral that it is ruler flat, to some that is excellent, to others it may sound lifeless. It is not colored, don't expect this to widen the soundstage or make the sound more musical. It is not warm either. RCA out uses only half the DAC.
This is quite the DAC, $699 for this package is quite interesting.

If you like neutral and detailed sound, you'll fall in love with this DAC, but there are some drawbacks.

For starters the DAC sounds lifeless, don't expect it to increase soundstage, add warmth, improve musicality etc. This is not an audiophile's DAC. It measures almost perfectly with a SINAD of -120dB and THD of 0.000093% on CH1 and 0.000096% on CH2. Impressive measurements making this DAC so neutral and clean it is perfect for mixing or professional use.

If you like ruler flat neutral this is your DAC, otherwise you may be a bit perplexed.

How do you resolve this?

You can opt for a different DAC, such as a Denafrips Pontus or even the Ares II. Or you could add a tube preamp such as a Freya+ from Schiit Audio. Freya+ with Tung-Sol tubes will add warmth and musicality while slightly increasing soundstage, making it close to the performance of my friend's Yggdrasil G1. Another benefit of the preamp is you can then use solely the XLR out of the DAC giving you the best performance (RCA only uses half the DAC). Then if you need single ended out you would take that from the preamp.

Some have reported worth sound quality when using the preamp function, but I did not notice any difference, and measurement wise it is essentially the same (THD still 0.000096% or better).

The included aluminum remote on some Topping D90 orders is worth the $20 extra, it is much nicer than the cheap plastic remote.

Drivers are extremely smooth on Windows 10 and Mac OS, in comparison my SMSL Sanskrit 10th MKII had horrid drivers on Windows causing freezing on occasion until I updated them from the manufactures site. You will not have any trouble with Topping's drivers that they provide to Microsoft.

Summary: This DAC has the details of a $2000 DAC but lacks the textures and qualities a lot of audiophiles may seek, making this a very perplexing product. Honestly, without the Freya+ I don't think I would've kept this DAC. But I do not regret the pairing between the two, in my opinion this setup is superior to the Yggdrasil G1. Now how it compares to Yiggy G2 remains to be heard :D.

Thanks for reading,
Tom.
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Cat Music
Cat Music
For me, the solution to counteract that flat sound is to pair it with a warm sounding amplifier, like a Feliks Echo, or a Flux Acoustics FCN10.
Pros: Smooth, non-fatiguing sound. Pre-amp option. I2S input. Remote control. RCA and XLR outputs can be separately disabled.
Cons: Bit flat-sounding. Pre-amp output setting lowers sound quality.

Thanks to Shenzen Audio for sending me the Topping D90 for review.

After I reviewed Schiit Audio's Bifrost, I had quite a few people interested in my reviewing the equally priced Topping D90. Topping has been known for its DACs that measure very well, which appeals strongly to a subset of people who want some form of verified performance measure.

While I'm personally not interested in DACs that use the AKM4491 or 4493, my recent good experience with FiiO's M11 Pro and it's AKM4497 DAC made me more interested in the AKM4499-based Topping D90.

I tend to be somewhat wary of well-measuring DACs. Another well-measuring DAC, the Benchmark DAC 1, was a popular DAC over a decade ago when I started on Head-Fi, yet it wasn't exactly the most musical — it tended to sound rather bright, and "digital". Likewise, some of FiiO's DAPs, while measuring well, up to at least the M11, sound a bit sterile.

The DACs that buck this trend have been from Chord, with their FPGA+transistor designs, though somewhat dependant on how they are set-up with a suitable transport.

So, it was with interest that I agreed to review the Topping D90. Functionality-wise, it's about the size of the Schiit Bifrost, and slightly slimmer. Whereas the Bifrost focusses on upgradability and is PCM-only, the Topping attempts to be a jack of all trades, supporting up to 768k input (via USB) as well as DSD. It also supports a pre-amp output (bypass-able for a possible increase in sound quality).

XLR and RCA outputs can be switched on and off separately for a choice of where music goes, the pre-amp can be bypassed, and the digital filters on the AKM4499 can be changed as well.

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I ran the D90 initially straight from my Mac Mini Roon server via USB. With both connected to an Audio-gd Master 9 or ALO Audio Studio Six, I could readily A/B them. I subsequently tried both from a Soundaware D300REF streamer, the D90 connected via I2S (and AES briefly) and the Bifrost via S/PDIF.

I2S, for the unfamiliar, is a connection between internal DAC components. While S/PDIF, AES and Toslink carry both digital data and the clock signal in one connection, internally, a DAC separates out the components, transmitting them over separate lines, in much the same way you have composite and component video, with their one and three connections respectively.

Taking the I2S connection outside the DAC, there is a potential for improved sound quality, though whether it makes for an improvement over AES and S/PDIF is likely DAC-dependent. There are also a number of different connection arrangements, so you have to ensure that your digital transport's I2S is compatible with the With the Topping D90's I2S. To that end, the D90 has a special mode, accessed by holding the front power button down while switching it on at the back. This allows a compatible I2S mode to be selected.

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Initial impressions reminded me of the FiiO M11 Pro, which uses the AKM4497. The D90 has a smoothness to the sound which makes for pleasant listening, though, regardless of filter choice, was a bit flat-sounding, and with pre-amp mode on, didn't bring out quite the level of nuance and detail that the Bifrost 2 can. The Bifrost 2 brought out a bit more depth and feeling, such how it reproduced instruments on David Chesky's Jazz in the New Harmonic. The subtleties of both the decay of notes and their echo off the recording venue were more noticeable from the Bifrost.

Turning off pre-amp mode brought things closer to the Bifrost, if not quite up to Yggdrasil level. With more apparent detail and less of the "flatness", the D90 seemed to do its best not to impose itself on the music.

Switching to the D300REF as a source seemed to overcome the D90's limitations, bringing it (in a very expensive manner) up to near Yggdrasil level. Listening through an Audio-gd Master 9 with Van Den Hul The Orchid cables to a pair of Final D8000 Pro, the Yggdrasil still just had an edge on depth and nuance when listening to Jazz in the New Harmonic by David Chesky (192/24) or Mark Ribot y los Cubanos Postizos (16/44.1 TIDAL) with the D90 set to filter 1 (linear phase).

Slightly confusing the issue was a small mid-bass hump in the Yggdrasil, a result of uneven crosstalk caused by the DC offset circuit in the output stage that can make the DAC sound like it has a bit more bass on some tracks.

Compared to my other, usual go-to DAC, the Chord Hugo 2, the Topping/Master 9 or THX AAA 789 combo couldn't compete to the direct headphone output in terms of nuance and detail, though only on the best-quality recordings I have here, such as Decca masters and recent Chesky recordings.

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Since I wanted to experiment with up-sampling to the D90, I switched to using a Kitsune tuned Singxer SU-1 USB to S/PIDF and I2S converter. Some quick experimentation with HQPlayer to see what, if anything could be achieved by PCM up-sampling, I had some pleasant results from the SINC filters, which produced a very "floaty" sound and the million-tap closed-form-M which emulates something similar to the punchy and precise filter that Schiit Audio uses. The latter I reckon was about spot-on for most music, balancing up the overt smoothness of the DAC beautifully and making for very pleasant listening.

What was most surprising about the comparison, however, was how close it was possible to make the D90 come to the Yggdrasil for about two-thirds of the cost (or more if you include a HQPlayer licence). For most music I don't believe I would be able to make out the difference in a level-matched comparison.

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That left my impression of the Topping D90 of a DAC capable of being quite detailed and smooth in the right system, such as one with a good USB, IIS or coax/AES transport. In others, and especially with the pre-amp circuit engaged, it can end up sound a bit flat and un-involving. All the same, one can't ignore the great value it provides for the $700 asking price.

Impressions from viewers of my video confirmed this, with some reporting (mainly the new MQA version) a positive experience, and others feeling it sounded too flat.

As with all DACs, system synergy has to be considered, but I can still recommend the D90 as a standalone DAC, especially for people who wish to go the extra mile to get it sounding good in their system.
vladpetric
vladpetric
Your reviews are always appreciated, @Currawong

And I like your analogy, because all measurements are done in the frequency space - nothing in the time domain.
shenzhenaudio
shenzhenaudio
Yviena
Yviena
@Currawong Have you tried out DSD upsampling with the D90 yet, DSD direct mode is supposedly active when set to DAC MODE, bypassing the built-in ∆Σ modulator which supposedly should increase SQ even further.
Pros: Optical input works
Cons: Catastrophically broken USB implementation
Cannot turn off display
FIRST AK4499 DAC TO MARKET
The Topping D90 was the first commercial DAC using AKM's latest and greatest DAC chip, the AK4499. On paper, this DAC chip boasts a THD+N of -124dB, which is lower and better than AKM's previous flagship, the AK4497 at -116dB. Many people believe that DAC technology has been more or less figured out at this point, and that a $100-200 DAC is good enough for most purposes. Therefore, at $700, the Topping D90 is held to a higher standard and must perform flawlessly for it to be a good buy.

Upon release, certain sites measured the D90 and gave it the highest praise. This is exactly why I bought the Topping D90. I thought it would be the last DAC I would ever need to buy. Unfortunately, the Topping D90 stumbled right out of the gate for me.

BROKEN USB IMPLEMENTATION
The first input I tried was USB. Immediately, there were two issues:

  • USB noise interference
  • Popping sound a few seconds after audio playback stops
There was a faint, but very audible noise coming from my headphones when no music was playing. To make sure it was the D90 and not my amp or cables, I plugged in several other USB DACs into my amp, as well as trying multiple cables. (None of the cables cost more than $15.) No other DACs exhibited the noise. In addition, after a few seconds of no playback, I heard an audible pop. Apparently, in Windows 7, the driver goes to sleep after a few seconds. This is documented at: https://www.head-fi.org/threads/topping-d90.926531/page-2

This is ridiculous. I have plenty of older DACs that don't exhibit this behavior. It doesn't matter if you set Windows settings to always never have the USB device or port sleep. The driver is ordering the DAC to go to sleep, thus the popping.

Fortunately, my PC tower has optical out. The D90's optical input works perfectly, though you're limited to up to 24-bit/192khz instead of up to 32-bit/768khz. I was happy with using optical input exclusively.

CATASTROPHIC FAILURE
For this review, which came 3 months after purchase, I wanted to see if the issues mentioned above were due to Windows 7's USB audio implementation. So I obtained a Windows 10 test laptop. The issues became worse when I plugged the D90 into the laptop. The audio I heard crackled heavily for 1 minute. And then suddenly, the laptop no longer recognized the D90. I tried plugging it back into my PC tower. Nothing. The D90's USB input had completely died. Fortunately, optical input still worked. Did the USB input break because I had the optical cable plugged in with a music signal at the same time? Who knows, but it still shouldn't have broken like that.

CAN'T DISABLE DISPLAY
One additional point of contention is that the display can't be turned off while the unit is operating. You can change how bright it is, but you can't turn it off completely. This is a major distraction when watching movies in a darkened room. You'll need to cover up the display with some electrical tape. Easy fix, but on a $700 unit, this shouldn't even be an issue.

CONCLUSION

With the D90's USB input giving me issues from the very beginning, then suddenly failing on me when writing this review, I can say with certainty that you are playing a slot machine when buying this device. It does have a 1-year warranty, but the exorbitant shipping cost for warranty service from North America to China has discouraged me from sending it in. At least I can still use the unit's optical input, and it does work well enough there, so I'll give it an extra half star for that.

Not recommended at all.
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headwig
headwig
I've used the D90 MQA for a month now with Windows 10 and have not encountered any of these USB issues, any background noise, or any popping sounds. Did you test with a different USB cable? Have you considered exchanging the unit in case yours is faulty? Have you downloaded the latest drivers and firmware from Topping's website?

Edit: The catastrophic failure you describe would seem to confirm the hypothesis that you just got unlucky with a faulty unit. Noise and popping sounds on the USB may have been symptoms of this too.
Gippy
Gippy
Hi headwig,

Please read the link in the review for more details as to how I tried unsuccessfully to correct the USB issues. I tried everything you suggested. I am not exchanging the unit, as mail processing is still significantly delayed during COVID-19, and express shipping the unit to China would cost over $100.

Correction: I stated in an earlier reply that the iFi MiDSD BL had special drivers that disabled sleep mode. This is incorrect; I downloaded special firmware that disabled sleep mode. To my knowledge, the D90 non-MQA does not have new firmware.
John Massaria
John Massaria
Drivers from Topping web site make a huge difference as well.. (http://www.tpdz.net/download)
I know the USB on Topping doesn't use the power line in any USB wire- not sure if that the wire you are using is defective or unit- but having a broken unit doesn't mean ALL D90s deserve that rating- would have been nice if Topping sent a new D90 for review and forget the defective unit altogether- talk to your APOS/Topping dealer maybe- send Topping a sample link of your review- I would today! WHY not? -their service is first rate for things like this is my understanding.

My D90 is dead quiet on all USB wires I tried- I will say I prefer the all copper USB by Kimber for sound - I hope you get a new unit- you are missing out -
Pros: Neutral, Plenty of inputs, Value for money
Firstly I would like to thank Topping for sending me this sample to review.

*disclaimer: This sample was provided for the purpose of writing a review, no incentive was given to write a favourable review. All opinions expressed are my own subjective findings

Gear Used:
TV > D90 (optical) > Rotel RB-06 > B&W 606
PC > D90 USB > Keces S3 > HE-500 / HE6SE
Pixel 3a (LDAC) > D90 > Rotel RB-06 > B&W 606

DSC_6505.jpg


Tech Specs:
http://www.tpdz.net/productinfo/398270.html

Packaging, Build Quality and Accessories:
The D90 comes in the new style of Topping packaging, a sleek matte black box with only Topping written on the top. It feels quite premium and is very strong, lift off the top of the box and the D90 is held tightly in place by a foam insert, there are separate slots for the accessories. I really like the new packaging, it makes the products feel a little more premium.

Again like the DX7 Pro, the D90 is much sleeker than earlier Topping products, the case is perfectly machined and shaped, and it feels very solid. The inputs on the back are all of excellent quality and the front display is clear and easy to read. There is a power button on the front along with selection buttons that also act as volume up/down in pre-amp mode. Topping are really working hard to make good looking, great sounding bits of kit.

Accessory wise you get a remote control, Bluetooth antenna, power cable and USB cable. To be fair there isn’t anything else needed so that’s good.

Features:
The D90 is a DAC and it can also be used as a pre-amp, you can change between fixed and variable output easily. It has USB / I2S / Coaxial / Optical / AES and Bluetooh inputs. The last one is something that Topping are putting in to a few of their models and they are using the latest codecs for the best fidelity playback whilst wireless.

The DAC has digital filters (AK4499) which is fairly common, sound differences are subtle but you can fine tune it to your liking. There are single ended and balanced outputs.

DSC_6500.jpg


Sound:
For the most part I left the D90 in mode 3, I did try the other filters and as previously put they make a small difference. I have also mainly been using the D90 in my hifi system as it fits perfectly into the system. However you use the D90, it will allow you to forget about getting the best out of your source and let you focus on components downstream. The D90 has got to be one of the most linear and detailed DACs that I have listened to. It is incredibly faithful to the recording, completely getting out of the way of the music, which is what I want a DAC to do. It does not flatter you with false warmth, it purely presents the music in a neutral manner.

There is width and depth to the soundstage, there is hard hitting bass, defined midrange and sparkling highs, whichever input you use. Bluetooth is of course the least faithful, however don’t let that make you not use it. The D90 manages to lose very little when used in Bluetooth mode, and it is by far the best implementation I have heard.

We are definitely at that point with DACs where the D90 provides, in my opinion, all the fidelity you could possibly want out of a digital source. Distortion levels are way beyond the capability of our hearing, the frequency response is as flat as you can get, all wrapped up in a neat package. As far as standalone DACs go, if you don’t need network streaming capabilities, the D90 should suit most peoples needs. The sound is never forced, it is grain free and crystal clear. There is also never any glare up top, Toppings implementation of this particular AKM4499 chip is superb as it is analytical but not clinical or cold.

Suffice to say the D90 is an excellent, true to source DAC. It will fit neatly into any system, the pre-amp mode works excellently in any hifi setup with a power amp, yet the pure DAC mode can be hooked up to any headphone amp or integrated amp without issue. The digital filters allow you to tune the sound to a small degree. Pair this DAC with the new A90 amp and you will have a reference point but also an enjoyable system that will power 99% of headphones on the market today.

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Conclusion:
The price point for the D90 is exceptionally good if you take into consideration how well it performs. It doesn’t have tons of bells and whistles but it does have a superb bluetooth implementation which many don’t. Sound wise the D90 delivers a true to source sound that is detailed, open and neutral, but without a cold or clinical tonality. If you want a DAC that you can forget about, the D90 is excellent, it lets you focus on the components further downstream.

Sound Perfection Rating: 10/10 (I cannot fault it, in general or for the price)
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