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A low cost, portable dac/amp with a crisp, neutral sound signature, that delivers better than average power specs (293mW@32ohms / 114mW@300ohms), and uses the ESS9038Q2M chip, capable playing up to PCM768kHz and DSD512.

Topping NX4DSD

Rating:
4.5/5,
jaekyll likes this.

Recent Reviews

  1. johnnyb
    Topping's top-of-the-line portable DAC/Amp
    Written by johnnyb
    Published Mar 23, 2018
    4.5/5,
    Pros - ESS Sabre chipset, Good power, handles lots of file formats (and obviously DSD)
    Cons - No Apple Support, No balanced output
    Topping has recently released a new dac/amp called the NX4DSD. In researching the market to upgrade my current portable amp, I came across this model, designed and manufactured in China, and available online via AliExpress and now on Massdrop.

    Design and Advertised Specs

    While the NX4DSD is rated at approximately the same power specs as the NX4, it adds DSD capability and revamps the amplifier section. So even though it shares the "NX4" designation, it is quite a different unit, and is priced 50 USD higher as a result.

    The NX4DSD uses good parts: an Alps switched potentiometer, a high grade USB decoder chip (XMOS XU208), the very detailed ESS9038Q2M dac chip, and quality opamps (OPA1652, OPA2140, OPA1688). The NX4DSD also includes a 2400mAh rechargeable Li-Ion battery that is advertised to provide about 7 hours of listening enjoyment.

    Form Factor and Packaging

    The result is a very nice portable amp. Aluminum shell, quality feel to the volume control, and the ability to charge while playing. The NX4DSD doesn't provide power to charge your phone, as some similar devices do. Also, unlike the Topping NX4, the NX4DSD is limited to Android and PC USB devices (sorry Apple IOS users!).

    I ordered the NX4DSD from AliExpress. Shipping to the US took all of the advertised 12+ days, but progress was track-able via the shipper's website. It comes wrapped in quality packaging that is noticeably heavier than the dac/amp itself. Strangely enough, it includes printing on the outside which lists all of the device specifications (packaging designed by engineers!) NX4DSD comes with rubber straps to attach it to your phone, rubber bumpers, and an assortment of USB cables (including both micro USB and USB-C OTG cables) -- good options for plugging in. No 5v USB charger is included, so pick up a quality USB charger separately if you need it.

    751.jpg 749.jpg

    The device itself is surprisingly small and light -- similar to a thin pack of cards. I found the volume control to be a little bit difficult to manage because it is partially inset, but it has a solid feel to it. My phone is fairly large compared to the size of the NX4DSD, which presents a minor challenge getting to the volume control easily when they are back-to-back. This is probably managed best by using those rubber straps.

    Sound

    I've listed to the NX4DSD using the following members of my headphone collection: Senn HD650, AKG K7XX, Beyer DT880-250ohm, Grado SR125i (w/ mods). It's a very clear, neutral sound. Bass is solid and well defined. Not quite the depth or impact that I have on my desktop unit, but very respectable and great quality and detail in the low end. I enjoyed nice detail and attack on the low end from the Alisa Weilerstein in Shostakovich's Cello Concerto #1. The NX4DSD actually seems to be a better match to my K7XX than my desktop amp, as I found the bass to be better defined when listening to them side by side.

    I really love a warm midrange and have always gravitated to that warm sound. Warmth is not the NX4DSD's strong suit. But it is not cold and bright, and I don't find the NX4DSD to be tiresome as some complain about regarding ESS Sabre DACs. It's a pleasure to listen to, especially with HD650 which brings its own warmth. Mids are not as forward as my desktop amp, but the NX4DSD has nice balanced presentation. Handles complex orchestral music very well, with not as much depth on soundstage as my desktop unit, but separation of instruments is very good. Vocals are transparent and natural, especially on the HD650 which seems to always do good things with the vocals.

    Highs are very nice. Cymbal hits in jazz music sound shimmery, like they should. Nothing unnatural sounding. I can hear the subtle color changes that Philly Joe Jones plays on his ride cymbal. I can hear the hall in classical pieces. Great attack on the high end -- percussion really stands out. There's nothing "rolled off" about the highs, but I don't find them to be overly bright or annoying.

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    Usability

    I didn't do much testing of Bass boost on this unit, as I didn't find it to be necessary at all. I found it to be a modest bass increase -- not dramatic. I used Low level amp setting for the low impedance Grado's, but High for everything else. While the Low setting sounded quite good even on 300 ohm HD650's, it was missing some of the detail available when set on High.

    The amp gets a little warm when operating, as expected. Also, USB pairing with my Android phone was as easy as could be -- better than I've experienced with other DACs. No difficulties, driver problems, or glitches. I used USB Audio Player PRO with bit perfect turned on for all of my listening. Handled FLAC 16bit/44.1kHz and 24bit/96kHz without any problems. I turned on upsampling to produce 24bit/768kHz digital signal. This worked at first, but then produced pretty ugly noises which I attribute to limitations of my phone's CPU.

    What about DSD? This is my first DAC capable of it, so I tried some sample files that I could find on the internet. DSD64 worked great! Initial impression -- fantastic realism! Turned a great acoustic recording into two guy's standing in my living room with guitars. More to come on that -- maybe a future post...

    Other devices may have features that are missing from the NX4DSD. As mentioned, no Apple IOS support is a big one for some. Also, devices at a higher price tag may have MQA or balanced outputs, longer battery life or more power for 600 ohm headphones. As it stands, I'm happy with the feature set (for now!)

    Summary


    I was in the market for a new portable dac/amp, as I wanted to start bringing higher impedance cans with me on business travel. The NX4DSD is a pretty inexpensive way to get a taste of a great DAC chip -- the ESS9038 -- and I don't believe there's much sacrifice at all for choosing this instead of one of the more expensive brands. Great value for the money!
    1. Lespectraal
      Have you tried the Q1 Mark II?
      Lespectraal, Aug 27, 2018

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