Topping is a magical company, not new, but not quite as known as FiiO yet. This being said, they are growing quickly, and not just because I tell you so, but because they've made some amazing improvements lately, as we will explore in today's review. You can always order their products from online stores like Aoshida, where you have some of the best warranty out there, and they reply to your mails within minutes, so you know you'll have excellent support, but there are also many local sellers for Topping products, making them easy to explore and easy to get a listen to, if something from their offering catches your eye. Overall, you can rely on Topping, and they are some of the better companies for warranty out there.
It should be noted that I have absolutely no affiliation with Topping. I'd like to thank Topping for providing the sample for this review. This review reflects my personal experience with Topping E30. Every opinion expressed is mine and I stand by it, the purpose of this review is to help those interested in Topping E30 find their next music companion.
First things first, let's get the packaging out of the way:
Topping E30 is priced at 130 USD globally, although when you factor in the tax and shipping, it may cost a bit more in your country. This being said, we are talking about a 130 USD product, but the package is so great, it makes it feel like 500 USD at least. Topping did not skip on anything, and managed to not only add some interesting extras, but besides the E30, which is a great tiny unit, you also get all the paperwork you could need, a power cable, a USB Cable, and even a Remote!
I don't mean to be this excited usually, but getting a remote with a 130 USD DAC is big news, and a big deal, many people even go as far as to purchase a separate volume control because their DAC doesn't have a remote, and there are DACs that cost over 2000 USD out there, but which don't come with a remote, or a USB Cable, so I'm going to consider that the package for E30, for 130 USD is excellent.
The USB Cable is great, and for the quality of e30 I don't feel you'll feel compelled to upgrade that cable first. Investing in a good RCA cable that doesn't have noise (which can run to be almost half the price of the E30), will yield better sonic improvements than changing the USB cable.
What to look in when purchasing a high-quality entry-level DAC
I really hope you gave my little video a go, because it will give you a great start on what feelings I had towards E30 a few weeks ago, when I first unboxed it.
Most of those feelings remain, and it is a beautiful little device, with a great build quality, there's a little display at the front, which has the orange color as the main font color. There's also the Topping logo, along with the E30 name, and the high resolution data rates around the display, and there is a touch on / off button on the right side of the display.
In the back, there's an Analogue output, in the form of two RCA cables. There's also a SPDIF Coaxial input, an Optical input, and a USB input, which is controlled by the latest XMOS XU208 Gen 2 Controller. There's also a power input, at the right side, since E30 needs to take power from an AC transformer, but you get a USB cable in the package. You can always use something like an iFi iPower accessory, but you could get away with something like an iFi iDefender+ or an iFi iPurifier+, depending on how clean your computer's USB outputs are. For me, it worked alright using a free USB port from my PC, but things were better when using iFi's iPower.
If you're a DSD enthusiast, you will be happy to hear that E30 can decode anything, up to DSD 512 natively, and it will decode DSD256 via DoP, thanks to the excellent AK4493 DAC inside. Speaking of DACs, you'll be amazed by the specs it has on paper, with a dynamic range of 119 dB, SNR of 121 dB, and with a crosstalk of -130 dB. Those numbers are crazy good, and they're at the level of DACs that used to cost over 400 USD not so long ago, like the Pro Ject S2 Digital. Even compared to some high-end DACs, like the Young MK III from M2 Tech, E30 manages to score some amazing specs on paper
The cool part about E30 is that the aesthetic itself makes it look like it has a purpose there. Despite being smol, almost the size of a thicker smartphone, it looks high-end, and it has a good weight, also some rubber feet applied, so it doesn't slide on your desk while you're using it.
I just recently started reviewing DACs that don't have a volume control, because most of the DACs I reviewed to date do have a volume control, and E30 has a volume control as well, so if you have a pair of active speakers, like an Audioengine A5+ Wireless, don't worry, you can use E30 to control the volume! Furthermore, E30 comes with a full sized remote, which has controls for the display brightness, input selection, volume, the auto-standby feature, and switching between the six digital filter settings. Most competitor DACs don't come with a remote, which makes the E30 an instant winner in my eyes, and honestly, it makes it a power horse for your multimedia enjoyment, and even as an audiophile, it feels really nifty to have it.
It doesn't get hot during usage, and at least in black color, it fits up with my desk beautifully. Although it doesn't have bluetooth, the price performance ratio stays high, and a bluetooth receiver like FiiO BTR5, which has pretty much the same price, doesn't have RCA analogue outputs, and doesn't have a remote either. This being said, BTR5 and BTR3K are meant for a very strict portable usage, while E30 is very much a tiny desktop device.
Connecting the E30 to my Windows machine was smooth as butter, and connecting it to my android smartphone too. I was able to use FiiO's M11 to use the SPDIF Coaxial connection, as for optical, both my computer has an optical output, and I also have iFi's SPDIF iPurifier which has an optical output feature, converting the SPDIF Coaxial output of FiiO M11 to Optical, allowing me to compare the inputs of E30, and whether it has a similar performance between them. To my surprise, it is a very consistent DAC, and it will sound awesome regardless what input you decide to use, the USB being the most practical for me, to connect it to many devices, and the optical being the favorite for those who have a Chromecast device or a TV / embedded soundcard passing through the signal.
I want to start by saying that the digital filters sound really close to each other, and although you won't notice much of a difference between them, you shouldn't be disappointed, this means that all of them sound awesome, and regardless which one you chose, you should have a great time. I actually would be curious to read your impressions too, so please comment if you played with them, and which you thought sounds best.
All of those tests, which took me quite a few days to be honest, have shown me that E30 is one of the more clean, clear DACs out there, with a vivid presentation, colorful overall presentation, and with a slightly organic sound. I don't think it was any burn-in being done, but I lined E30 against something really neutral, like theYoung MK III, and against something quite organic, like the Mytek Brooklyn DAC+, and E30 is actually a bit organic, and has quite a musical and fun sound, although it has the treble presentation very sparkly, and the bass pretty quick.
The bass is clean, deep, but also natural to slightly quick in speed. It is the type of bass that you forget exists when analysing a DAC, and if you've been listening to a ton of EDM, you know that both depth, and speed are important for conveying a convincing image, and well, E30 nails both of those pretty well. In fact, it is so clean, that I sometimes forget that it exists in the chain, and that feeling has been going for me for the entire review, it is the type of DAC that disappears from the listening chain, and the closest thing I have around that does a similar effect in the less-expensive options is the TR-Amp which also impressed me by disappearing from the listening chain, and letting music shine before the device.
The same happens in the midrange, E30 doesn't really have a character to speak about, except for a slightly organic and musical midrange. It is very neutral, so if you're looking for something that's more rich, or warm, E30 will not be for you. Instead, E30 will be for your, if you're looking for a wide-sounding, precise and neutral DAC, that has excellent depth and width for 130 USD, and which could be able to stand there and play some music, taking a step back when it comes to presenting itself.
The treble is not quite as spicy as that of the Young MK III, but for 130 USD, it is really airy, and with a lot of sparkle. Indeed, this was an issue in the past, because many DACs in the very entry-level price range used to fake detail and an organic sound by smoothing out the treble without adding detail or anything, but rather, by not having treble. This is where E30 comes in handy, because instead of trying to do something it can't it actually can present a natural midrange, and have a nice extended treble, so rock, punk and more aggressive music sounds really good, but when it is playing jazz, it doesn't feel too forward in the treble either.
The dynamics are also great, especially for the price paid, and although there are DACs out there that can do a more vibrant, more punchy performance, like the Aune S6 PRO, it also costs considerably more, making E30 a really easy choice if you're on a budget. Even Topping has high-end offerings, which I will be reviewing in the near future.
Despite the fact that E30 has the ability to be powered from a USB source, like a power bank, I don't feel it is practical to use it as a portable DAC. It is clearly a desktop device that would look beautiful on your desk, and would compliment your entire setup, regardless whether you have a large amplifier, like an Audio-GD Master 19, or something tall and mystique like Wells Milo.
There's something magical about E30 and the way you have enough inputs and outputs to make it work with pretty much anything, regardless whether you needed a DAC for your Chromecast, or if you needed a DAC for an active speaker system, or for a pair of monitors.
Furthermore, even if you have multiple devices connected to the same pair of speakers, and even if your speakers are floorstanders, like Taga Harmony 806f, you can still implement E30, and have both your gaming station, pick-up, music players, and everything you desire connected to E30. It doesn't have bluetooth, but I feel that you probably didn't want to use Bluetooth, because even with LDAC, it is not quite where DSD512 is, which is the highest decoding rate of E30.
Joking aside, there are solutions for Bluetooth as well out there, like FiiO BTR5 and BTR3K, and even Topping has some DACs that have Bluetooth features, if you don't mind investing a bit in the extra feature, but for now Topping designed what I consider a really pocket-friendly priced DAC where they implemented only what was needed, so they could keep the price as low as they could. A very adventurous option is connecting the E30 to a Bluetooth Box E from Pro-Ject, or a Triangle AIO Connect, both of which are bluetooth receivers with an optical output, adding that extra bit of functionality to your DAC and system.
If you want to get the cleanest sound out of E30, you should power the USB / Power input from a power bank, or a proper power, like the iFi iPower, but a USB port will do just fine, if you have an iFi iPurifier+ around. Speaking of which, you can always rely on iFi stuff, like the the iFi AC iPurifier if you need a cleaner power for your audio enjoyment.
I was actually considering actually comparing E30 with Chord Mojo or ifi xDSD when those two are being used as DACs, but they are far more expensive, a few times more expensive than E30, so in the end I decided to compare E30 to something closer to its price point, so I went with Burson Play (200 USD), Pro-Ject Pre Box S2 Digital (400 USD), and Cyrus Soundkey (100 USD). The S2 digital is pretty higher in price, but it has a performance that is somewhat similar, although there are merits to it, and I wanted to explain a little why you may want to invest in it, or help you decide if something like E30 will do just well for you. I am already working on the written review of Earmen TR-Amp, but after it I may have a chance to review the Donald DAC, which, being closer in price to E30, will get compared to it at that point.
Topping E30 vs Burson Play (130 USD vs 200 USD) - I'm starting with a very proper opponent, the Burson Play, which I loved and enjoyed to bits. Even better than their future PlayMate, somehow Burson managed to make a better DAC/AMP in the Play, at least for me and my typical usage. Somehow, the Play had more punch, more dynamics and more color, although the PlayMate has really good driving power too. It is just a touch too smooth and relaxed compared to the Play which was more neutral. The main difference between the E30 and Burson Play is that Play has a Headphone output, and a TON of driving power, so it will make little puppies out of Kennerton Thror, despite being so affordable. The DAC performance alone, though, is more transparent on E30, where it is a bit brighter, and a bit more digital with a bit of glare on the Play. Both are great, and both have a good number of inputs and outputs, but E30 is smaller, looks more trendy, and since it is a desktop device you will always see, I recommend going for it, if you like a cool-looking setup.
Topping E30 vs Pro-Ject Pre Box S2 Digital (130 USD vs 400 USD) - Pre Box S2 Digital is much much more expensive than E30, but if you're going to use both as DACs, which one will you end up using depends on what features you need, and which features you don't really need. S2 Digital has a headphone output, but which doesn't have a lot of driving power, so it is best for IEMs and Earphones, maybe some easy-to-drive headphones like the MAS X5h I just reviewed, but S2 is not made for heavy lifting, so even moderately hard to drive headphones like HIFIMAN Deva, or the 1More Triple Driver Headphones, will be either a bit quiet or underdriven. For IEMs, though, S2 is just perfect. You're not just paying for the headphone driving abilities, you're also paying for something extra, the ability to fully unfold and decode MQA. That is a relatively new feature and it costs quite a lot, so it is okay if you want to invest in it, but if you don't plan on using it, the actual sonic performance is similar between S2 and E30. The largest difference is that E30 is more neutral, where S2 has slightly more body, is more natural, has more dynamics and a bit more punch. For the price difference, though, you start learning that especially with DACs, increasing the price doesn't increase the sonic performance as much as it does with headphones, IEMs, or even Amplifiers.
Topping E30 vs Cyrus Soundkey (130 USD vs 100 USD) - The Soundkey is a good example of a little USB Dongle DAC/AMP, and I included because you may be wondering what the difference is between E30 and any USB DAC/AMP, like Audirect Beam, iBasso DC01, and NextDrive Spectra X. The largest difference by far, is that none of those doesn't have a line out, in analogue shape. All of them have a headphone output, but that has amplification done already, they aren't quite as clean as the output of E30 if you're connecting an amplifier later in the chain. For example, the Soundkey is more digital, has more treble, and the music has a bit less substance, compared to E30 which feels more transparent, more neutral, and more detailed.
In terms of pairings, you have a large selection of devices, and E30, being a really versatile, transparent DAC would pair really well with pretty much anything you could think of, but I tried taking advantage of the situation and going with three very different setups, to show and highlight how versatile the little E30 is. The main setups are Topping E30, driving Wells Milo, Driving an Ultrasone Signature DXP, Topping E30, driving JDS Labs Atom, Driving HIFIMAN Sundara, and Topping E30 driving Periodic Audio Nickel, Driving FiiO FH7. This should cover all grounds, and don't worry, you could always implement E30 in a system that is centered around a Chifi IEM, or a Planar Magnetic Headphone like Audeze LCD-MX4, or Rosson RAD-0, the key there will always be the AMP and whether it can drive the headphones or not, as E30 will always, and I mean always have a good performance for the setup, even if sometimes, you could invest a bit more in the DAC, as I will explain bellow.
Topping E30 (130 USD) + Wells Milo (1600 USD) + Ultrasone Signature DXP (500 USD) - Wells Milo is natural, quite detailed, and very refined, where DXP has a good punch, a wide stage, and presents music with a lot of life and color, and also an uplifted bass, so both make a great combo for metal, rock, pop, and pretty much anything, if you don't want a very sparkly treble or something that's exceptionally bright or dark, as this combo is already pretty natural. E30 being the DAC behind them makes the setup quite detailed, and gives it a good soundstage width, but also depth, and E30 has enough dynamics to make the entire sound really nicely balanced and crisp.
Topping E30 (130 USD) + JDS Labs Atom (100 USD) + HIFIMAN Sundara (350 USD) - JDS Labs Atom is much much less expensive than Milo, but still a great little amplifier that's pretty honest, and which is capable of driving Sundara (also Deva) well, as it has a natural sound with a good amount of body and impact. The driving power is also crazy high, and with it you most probably won't need any purifiers or power conditioners, because the power brick of the Atom weighs in about 1KG anyways. Sundara gets a pretty natural, wide yet sparkly performance from the E30 + Atom combo, there's a good amount of air between instruments, and the stage is pretty wide. The dynamics and details are also really good, and while this combo isn't exactly a DX229driving the Sundara as I'm used to, while I'm at the desktop, I can get used to it, it has an enjoyable sound, especially for pop, hip-hop and commercial music in general.
Topping E30 (130 USD) + Periodic Audio Nickel (300 USD) + FiiO FH7 (400 USD) - I'm actually enjoying this one pairing way more than I should, and it is all thanks to the way the Nickel makes FH7 more liquid, and how E30 gives them a good stage, and a good amount of dynamics and clarity. Everything is right where it should be, and FH7 actually has a great performance from this pairing, similar to how they sound out of a good FiiO DAP, like M11. M11PRO actually drives them quite a bit better, but it is also far more expensive than this little setup I have going here.
Value and Conclusion
The value of E30 is the best part about it, the affordability factor and how easy it is to control even a high-end system, from a small and pocket-friendly DAC. Not only that, but it can be the center of a larger system, having multiple inputs, so if you have a sonic system in your room, but sometimes want to party, yet sometimes want to watch TV, watch a football match, or play some games on your console, you can have your E30 do all the conversion, and rely on it, since you have a remote, and you'll never have to get up and change anything manually.
The bright display, paired with the nice design will also help E30 blend with your current living room, and you won't be pressed to explain what that little black box is, everyone will know what it does, and everyone will love it.
Even if you didn't know you wanted it, a fully transparent DAC will help you get the best of your system, by erasing its own presence. This is exactly what E30 is doing, it simply doesn't want to be there when it is playing, it wants you to listen to your music, and forget you just got a DAC, so E30 doesn't have much of a word, but if it has, it is a slightly organic, well extended, wide, airy DAC with natural to slightly quick speed.
At the end of this review, if you're looking for a very affordable, but high-quality DAC, to pair with virtually anything you have around, priced at just 130 USD, but transparent as you never imagined, with a vivid presentation, and good dynamics, you should totally check out E30 from Topping and Aoshida, and don't forget, best things come in small and simple packages!
While we listened to considerably more songs than those named in this playlist, those are excellent for identifying certain aspects of the sound, like PRaT, Texturization, Detail, Resolution, Dynamics, Impact, and overall tonality. We recommend trying most of the songs from this playlist, especially if you're searching for new most, most of them being rather catchy.
Pros: Good build, great sound, simple UI, DAC or Pre-Amp mode, remote included in package
Cons: Very sensitive to power used, no bluetooth option
Disclaimer: I was approached by HiFiGo about reviewing the Topping E30 and quickly agreed. Those familiar with Topping will know they have been producing a line of desktop products that outperform just about everything in their price range and measure extremely well. They have received praise from a number of sources for their DACs in particular so when the opportunity came up to try the latest release, how could I pass that up. I have no financial interest in HiFiGo or Topping and have received no compensation save the product itself for this review. If you are interested in further information, please visit the Topping Website.
The E30 comes in a small lift-top box with the topping name on top and the model name on the side along with Topping’s address. If you weren’t already familar with what you were getting, the box would do little to encourage a purchase and is very obviously more about transport than marketing the product. Inside the box a small closed cell foam surround protects the unit and keeps it separate of the cables, and remote that come with it. The two cables provided are a USB Type-A to barrel connector for 5Volt DC power, and a standard USB Type-A male to Type-B male for data communication. This was my first introduction to the USB-power connector cable and while it does make some sense, I question why they didn’t simply incorporate power into the data communication on one hand or provide a wall adapter for the provided cable on the other. I suspect the answers are that separate power is cleaner, and that this is a budget product so some cost cutting is to be expected.
The E30 is a small footprint affair with an aluminum case and glass front and rear plates. The display is 2 color on the front and a single on/off button is to the right of the main display. On the reverse we have a power input, usb input, optical input, and Coaxial input, followed by a pair of RCA jacks for output. The bottom of the case does have feet installed to keep it from scratching other surfaces and help prevent it sliding around. The unit is extremely lightweight so is best placed in an area where it isnt subject to bumps and bangs as it will move easily. With this designed ot be used with the provided remote handling the configuration duties, it is likely to end up on the Stereo rack or desktop and not touched much during use.
For such a simple looking little box, there is a lot going on here. Inputs start with either a 2nd generation Xmos 208 chip for USB duties, or the AK4118 receiver chip for s/pdif. Right off the bat, you can tell where the main focus is as USB input supports up to 32bit/768kHz PCM, DSD512(native at that), and DoP up to 256. The Coaxial and optical inputs by comparison only support PCM and only to 24bit/192kHz, so to get the most out of the E30, you’ll need to use USB input. It should be noted that a driver is needed for windows PCs in order to reach above 24/192 which is detected by default when the E30 is connected via USB. Next in the signal path is the AK4493 DAC chip. This is the workhorse of the AK line and while no longer considered a flagship, it has very respectable performance with a listed distortion of -113dB and a dynamic range of as high as 126dB. It should be noted that the dynamic range spec is for mono mode, and since the E30 does not use dual chips, dynamic range will probably be somewhere close to 114dB which is still quite good. I normally attempt to post pictures of the internals, but with the E30, that is a bit more involved. The rear face is held on with two Torx screws and is easily removed and the board slides part way out but is limited by a cable that runs from the front face to a central location on the board. Inspection shows the front face is also held on with screws and then a glass face mounted over that which means the screw heads are not accessible. I attempted to gently lift the face plate as has been possible on some others to see if I could access the screws but was unable to do so without risking cracking or chipping the glass so I gave up rather than destroy the unit.
Features and Controls:
It is hard to separate the features and the control mechanisms without ending up rehashing most of the same territory so I decided to combine them into a single section. First off, the On/Off. The unit can be turned on from the remote or the front face of the unit, or will automatically switch on when input is detected. I found that allowing USB to turn on the unit worked well but optical sometimes missed the opening note of a track by the time the dac reacted so for me it was best to use the remote to power the unit on and select the input before playing from an optical or coaxial source. This is by no means unique as pretty much every optical input dac I have behaves the same way. The unit can be turned off using the switch, the remote, or just by passing no signal to it for over 60 seconds (when enabled. Auto power on/off setting is controlled by the bottom left button on the remote labeled AUTO. Also worth noting here again is the this unit will not power on using only the USB input cable. It MUST have an external power source in addition to a data connection even when using USB for both.
Once on, pretty much all the controls are handled via the remote. It is important to recognize that Topping uses the same remote with several different models so not all buttons are applicable here. Starting down the left side of the remote, we have the power button in Red, the wheel which we will cover shortly as it has multiple functions, the headphone button which is unused, the FIR button which sets the dac filter modes, and the Auto button that was previously mentioned.
The FIR button allows the user to switch between 6 filter modes for PCM and 2 for DSD. PCM filter modes are: F-1 Sharp, F-2 Slow, F-3 Short Delay Sharp, F-4 Short Delay Slow, F-5 Super Slow, and F-6 Low dispersion Short delay. When in DSD mode the two options are F-1 39kHz ofr F-2 76kHz.
Down the right side of the remote, we have the mute button, the wheel, the Line out button and M button both of which are unused, and the Brightness button. Mute does exactly what it sounds like and will mute the device regardless of mode. In DAC mode, the output is fixed but in pre-amp mode the output is adjustable via the +/- keys on the wheel for use with powered monitors. Unfortunately, the manual doesn’t explicitly tell you how to switch between DAC and pre-amp mode. To do so, Press and hold the power button on the front of the unit, after about 3 seconds, the unit should display DAC or PRE to designate the mode. When in pre-amp mode the main display shows the volume level so that is another clue as it shows the sample rate when in DAC mode.
The left/right buttons on the wheel switch between inputs and the display will echo the input type to the user on the display as shown below. If an input is selected and their is no signal on that input, the device will display ERR. Finally the brightness control has 3 levels the lowest of which makes the E30 suitable for bedroom use while the brightest makes it more suitable as a runway light.
This is always the hard part, partially because a great dac should contribute nothing, and partially because unless you know the rest of the audio chain extremely well, it is easy to falsely attribute characteristics of other components to the the DAC. I used my Auris Euterpe and Sennheiser HD800 for the bulk of my testing with the Burson Swing/Fun pairing used as well for A/B testing of the Swing vs the E30. When using the the Burson Gear, I paired them with the He560 v1 since it works beautifully when paired to the power of the Fun.
The first thing I noticed comparing the internal dac of the Euterpe to the E30 is that it is a bit fuller particularly in the mids and a touch warmer and smoother as well. This is not atypical of ESS vs AKM comparisons as the AKMs tend to be a bit smoother and warmer but fall short of wringing out that last detail that the ESS rivals deliver. Having said that, I didn’t feel the E30 was lacking in the detail either and could not detect a step back from what had been presented using the internal dac. Warmer yes, a bit thicker yes, but less detailed, no. The E30 delivers some micro-detail but you do have to look for it. When compared to the Burson Swing, the Swing definitely delivers more detail, but not without being a bit thinner in the mids and a bit more clinical sounding in the overall. Overall I give the E30 high marks for having a very natural tonality and good speed so transients are well rendered provided the rest of the gear is up to the challenge.
I have always thought stage was more a function of the headphone than any other part of the chain and while I still hold that view, I will say that other components can detract from it. The E30 did a bit when paired with the HD800 and its legendary stage. This was where I found the issue with power supply most on display. Poor power gave me a less than expected stage size and detracted from the music. Using the Ipower returned my HD800 to its normal cavernous sound. I don’t feel the E30 did anything to detract from the stage size when adequately powered, when it was suffering from power issues, it is obvious.
Overall, I felt the E30 was a little rolled off at the top end compared to the Swing but roughly on par with the Euterpe which puts it in pretty good company. At the low end, the E30 had good thump, slam and rumble and no trouble at all delivering all the low end you would hope for. Mids as already mentioned have good body and a very natural tonality that was particularly enjoyable for strings.
One thing became readily apparent as I did my testing. The E30 is as good or bad as the power it is fed. I tried using my laptop as the power source and it was markedly worse than using a separate USB (1.4A), which was in turn not as good as using the iFi Ipower. I would highly recommend you not judge the E30 based on using the provided power cable plugged into a laptop or wall-wart without some form of power conditioning as it does the E30 a great disservice to do so.
Topping has been releasing some killer dacs and dac amps in recent years and has pushed the rest of the budget market hard to keep up and it is starting to show as recently we have seen several really good budget DACs. Some are more DIY such as the Khadas Toneboard, while others come from other Chinese vendors like SMSL with their 10th anniversary Sanskrit model, and still others from value oriented American brands like Schiit Audio with their Modi 3 release. Buyers can expect to get a lot for their dollar these days even in the sub-$200 market.
E30 vs Khadas TB – The E30 is definitely the more polished product here as the Khadas is a DIY affair that you will need to buy a case for separately. Having said that, by the time you make or purchase a case, these two are roughly equal on price. The TB lacks the optical input of the E30, but does have USB Type C and coaxial inputs and it can be setup to use an external power supply (5V same as E30) using pins 1 and 21 of the 40 pin header to connect to power. Again, you have to be willing to do some DIY, and again there is an additional cost so realistically you are now paying more for the Tone Board than for the E30. Sound wise, the TB uses a 9038Q2m ESS chip at the heart and sounds a bit thinner in the mids and a bit more analytical. I do think the TB has a slight detail advantage, but that may also be the fact that the thinner brighter signature makes them jump out more. Overall, I think the E30 is the better buy as it comes as a complete package with remote and a more engaging sound signature for less than you will pay to do it yourself with the Tone Board.
The SMSL Sanskrit has been a love/hate relationship for many over the years with some models having stellar specs but poor enough QC that it drove bargain hunters crazy trying to find a good one. The 10th Anniversary model seems to have corrected some of those issues and offers a list of specs in parallel to the E30. Both use the same dac chip, both have a remote, both have all the same input options, and both offer external power input to keep the usb clean. I did find that the tone was fuller and a bit cleaner on the E30. Between Topping’s reputation for reliability and their history of continuing to support their products after the sale and the improved sound quality, I’d call the E30 the winner between these two.
Lastly the American contender, the Schiit Modi 3. these two have similar form factors, both support all three input types, both support external power, and both have all metal construction. What the Modi 3 lacks is DSD support and if you want volume control, you’ll have to add the Sys for an additional $49 and even then, you don’t get a remote in the package. Both have enviable reputations for quality hardware, and both sound excellent with neither pulling dramatically ahead of the other. From a pure value proposition, to get what the E30 offers in the box, you’ll have to spend at least $20 more ($130 for E30 vs $148 for Modi3/sys combo) and you will have to be willing to go without the remote until Schiit offers one. For that reason, I’ll recommend the E30 as it simply sounds as good, measures as well, and offers more versatility than the Modi 3.
Topping has built a reputation for providing products that measure extremely well, sound great, and offer exceptional value. Most of the topping line packs a lot into a small price tag, and the E30 continues that trend. At $130 retail, it is among the least expensive desktop dac models available and packs in features that others at the price point don’t. The E30 is not only a great DAC, but can also be used as a pre-amp with powered monitors or a power amp that doesn’t otherwise offer volume control. Sound quality is very good with a natural tonality that was unexpected; to my ear the E30 tonality is better than the D50s or Dx7. Those more expensive members of the Topping family do have better detail rendering, more power, and more options, but they don’t have an improved tonality. The E30 winds up being an easy recommendation as few options exist that can match it in price, tonality, and feature set. If you decide you want an E30 for yourself, I recommend Hifigo.com or their AliExpress Shop.