Topping x Shenzhenaudio EX5

General Information

ba3f2f9510ed68b88e47d41fe399b0fa_22eba3de-0664-4bb3-a6aa-9c10ad9c64ac_2048x2048.jpg

Features:
  • Dual ESS ES9038Q2M SABRE HIFI DAC Chips
  • Support DSD512 Native and PCM 768kHz
  • MQA Full Decoding via USB
  • 2nd Generation 16 Core XMOS XU216
  • Bluetooth 5.0 LDAC transmission
  • THD+N as low as 0.00010%
  • 4-PIN-XLR and 6.35mm Headphone Output
  • 1300mW X2 Output Power
  • Less than 0.1 ohm Output Impedance
  • 4 Output Mode Options
  • DAC + Pre amp applicaion/ Bluetooth receiver/Tablet and phone DAC application

SPEC:
USB IN:44.1kHz-768kHz/16bit-32bit,
DSD64-DSD512(Native),
DSD64-DSD256(Dop)
Renderer, MQA Studio, MQA
OPT/ COAX IN:44.1kHz-192kHz/16bit-24bit, DSD64(Dop)
BT IN:AAC/SBC/APTX/APTX LL/APTX HD/LDAC

EX5 LineOut XLR:
THD+N @A-wt : <0.0001%@1kHz
THD+N @No-wt: <0.0004%@10-20kHz
SNR @A-wt: 125dB@ 1kHz
Frequency Response: 20Hz-20kHz(+0.1dB)
Output Level: 4.3Vrms OdBFS
Noise@A-wt: <2.5uVrms
Channel Crosstalk: -85 @1kHz
Channel Balance: 0.3dB
Output Impedance: 200Ω

Latest reviews

corgifall

500+ Head-Fier
Pros: Warm sound signature. Decent power output. Wonderful looks and retro display. XLR outs.
Cons: Volume range isn't very large. Only 1.3 watts of power. Not an analytical unit like Toppings other units.
IMG_5674.jpg


While I’ve always used some type of “stack” for my desktop DAC/amp setup, I’ve always wanted to try out a desktop all in one. I’ve been fairly impressed by most of the portable units such as the iFi hip dac and FiiO’s line up and always recommend them for most starter setups since you can use them on the go and at home for most headphones. I never really jumped on board with all in one desktop units since they come in close to the same cost as a separate DAC or amp and I personally like the idea of swapping amps out if I really like a DAC. When I was asked to check out the EX5 from Topping I was excited to test it out and see where it fits in with other units in the sub $500 range. The EX5 comes in at $349.99 and uses a ESS ES9038Q2M DAC with a built-in amp.

Thanks to Shenzhen Audio for hooking me up with a review unit. While I always appreciate stuff being sent in to test and review, It never affects the rating of my review.

The EX5 can be picked up here:
https://shenzhenaudio.com/collectio...hi-res-audio-hifi-decoder-headphone-amplifier

Gear used​

S.M.S.L. SU-9/SP400, iFi hip dac, THIEAUDIO Clairvoyance, DUNU EST 112, Sennheiser HD560S , DCA Aeon 2 Noire.

Looks and Feel​

I wasn’t told what color I would be receiving but I was hoping to get the silver finish since I have a desk full of black devices and I was hoping for something a little different on the desk. I love the finish that’s applied to the EX5. It has a bead blasted matte finish and looks and feels like quality. The body is a type of metal vs plastic and has enough weight that it doesn’t move as much when swapping headphones via the xlr jack. The display has an almost retro amber lit simple number display with big numbers and easy to read words. My friend happened to see the unit sitting near his turntable setup and he thought it may have been an old headphone amp I had brought over and was instantly interested in knowing what the unit was. All in all, I’m a fan of the looks.
IMG_5676.jpg

Accessories and unboxing​

Inside the box we get the unit, antenna for bluetooth, power cable, usb cable and finally a remote. I like to think that this is a nice standard set of accessories to include. The unboxing experience is pretty much standard compared to S.M.S.L products anyways. Cardboard box, foam and everything was wrapped to protect from scratches.
IMG_5678.jpg

Power switch and volume knob​

I was surprised to see a power switch next to the standard PC power port. The S.M.S.L gear I’ve reviewed recently just relied on the user turning on the unit from the front. While you could leave the EX5 on all the time, I found the unit to get fairly warm in standby and I'll get into my thoughts on that a little later in the review. The volume knob is both a power button when held in, an input select when pressing the knob in and finally used for adjusting volume. Volume adjustment has a clicky feel and goes through the range and medium to fast speed. I also got no channel imbalance at low volumes(which is common for most devices) but I’ll complain about the fact that 0-15 was practically useless on my most sensitive iems in high gain later.


Sound(overall)​

These final impressions were done off the Topping EX5 with no external amp usage. This will be what the EX5 sounded like with all the headphones I used. Things like headphone pairings or using different external amps will produce different results and impressions vs what my ears hear on my specific gear.


The EX5 goes for a neutral/warm signature overall. This gives a small boost to the low end with a better focus on mids. I found the EX5 to be really nice to listen to when I was just relaxing in my chair at my desk. The lows and mids have a nice lush sound but the treble feels a little relaxed for my normal preferences. The detail retrieval is fairly good but headphones that lack treble won't really benefit here. Even on harder to drive headphones, I still felt like the EX5 kept its warm signature and never felt lacking.


Imaging/Soundstage​

The stage is fairly wide but lacking in depth. Wide but a wall of sound that's in your face. I would have liked to see a better balance here but some will like this kind of soundstage. I personally prefer both a wider and deeper stage. The imaging was pretty good. This is always something that is more specific to headphones but the EX5 didn’t cause any weird problems.


Inputs and outputs​

We get USB-A, coaxial, optical and bluetooth for inputs. We get a set of RCA and XLR outputs which is really nice to see for $350.
IMG_5677.jpg

Personal grips with the EX5​

While I’m fairly happy overall with the EX5, the unit requires the remote to change a lot of settings. This isn’t a deal breaker by any means but simple things such as changing from low to high gain requires the remote. Changing a lot of settings requires the remote as well but the gain select was the thing that got me the most as I forgot the remote in another room and spent a better part of the day looking for it. Another thing that somewhat bothers me is the heat the unit produces in standby. The unit doesn't get hot but stays warm if you leave the power switch on the back of the unit on. I tend to prefer a unit that stays cool or uses less power when I turn it off from the front. The flip side to this is that the unit will activate and turn on the second it picks up a source signal from something like the USB port which I do like.


Single ended power output​

The EX5 isn't a truly balanced design so we get 1.3 watts into 32 ohm out of the quarter inch jack or XLR jack. I really liked the SH-8S amp which wasn’t truly balanced so I’ll give the EX5 a pass for not having a different power output for the XLR jack. The line outs do have a noticeable volume difference so keep this in mind when doing line out to a different amp or speaker amp. I didn’t pick up and floor noise even on high gain so this unit should play nice with super sensitive IEMs.

Volume range on high/low gain​

The volume range isn't super wide and they stay pretty conservative which means most headphones will get in the higher 60-90 range on high gain. Using my sensitive iems, the lowest volume I would use for maybe sleep didn’t happen till 22 on low gain and 15 on high gain. My aeon 2 noire, which is my current hardest to drive full size can, didn’t even produce volume on low gain till 25 on low gain and 18 on high gain. I almost maxed out the Aeon 2 on low gain. I would prefer a higher range of volume but the tradeoff was that I got no floor noise from high gain on anything I used with the EX5.


IEM pairing opinions​


Moondrop Blessing 2​

I went with a $350 IEM since this is one of the common recommended Hybrid IEMs. I think the warmer sound of the EX5 did really well with the B2. The B2 still has a nice impactful bass and the mids still have a nice focus. The treble was always hit or miss with me depending on the source gear. The top end has a tamed feeling and I found the B2 paired with the EX5 quite the treat. The wider stage works well here.
IMG_5681.jpg

THIEAUDIO Clairvoyance​

One thing I love about the clairvoyance is how spacious and airy it sounds while still maintaining both a detailed and smooth sound signature. While I found the pairing with the EX5 enjoyable. The Clair sounds better with more resolving and detailed source gear. The warmer sound made the Clair sound a bit too dark for my tastes and the wide but no depth stage kinda killed the feel of the Clair when I know it performs better on other gear.
IMG_5680.jpg

Over ear pairings​


Sennheiser HD560S​

I really don’t like the 560S personally but I got a set for my dad to check out as he likes neutral headphones. The 560S stays fairly boring but accurate sounding to my ears. Low end does sound a tiny bit better vs something like the SH-8s amp which is a little more accurate sounding. Mids were phenomenal with this pairing and I liked the way the highs sounded overall. The wider soundstage worked well here. I still don’t personally like the HD560S but this pairing was more musical vs some of the more intense gear I have.


DCA Aeon 2 Noire​

The Aeon 2 Noire suffers from a dry sounding bass but the EX5’s warm signature does help a little with the Noires sound signature. The mids and highs stayed fairly accurate but I did hear some compression I didn’t quite get with the S.M.S.L SU/SH-8S combo but for the price, I find the EX5 super acceptable for the Noire. The Noire is also just a really bizarre headphone to power. The wider stage sounded nice on the Noire but I really didn’t like the lack of depth.
IMG_5679.jpg

DAC/Amp comparisons​

iFi hip dac​

The hip dac is usually what I recommend for most people starting out since you get something to use on the go and something you can also use at home on a desktop. The EX5 sounds way better in overall detail retrieval and staging. I like the hip dac because it has a decent balanced power output but it struggles with properly powering full size headphones and the difference is noticeable when switching between the hip dac and the EX5. The hip dac is still my choice if you have to stay under $200 but for the price of the EX5, I think I'll be recommending the EX5 going forward.


S.M.S.L. SH-8S/SU-8S​

This combo comes in at $590 and is a “stack” vs an all in one unit like the EX5. Does the increase in price equate to a better sound signature? In pure detail retrieval, absolutely. The 8S stack really does bring out a lot of details in all the headphones I used. The most noticeable difference between the two will be the fact that the EX5 goes for a warmer sound and ends up being more musical and enjoyable for longer listening sessions. The 8S stack goes for a more detailed and accurate sound signature. While I prefer the 8S for reviewing headphones, I would use the EX5 if I wanted the chill out while listening to music. The soundstage is also way different between the two devices. The EX5 is wide sounding but it lacks a lot of depth. The 8S stack has a more focused stage and while not as wide sounding as the EX5, it has way more depth and sounds better and balanced to my ears for most of my headphones. Would I recommend the 8S stack over the EX5? Depends on what full size cans you plan to use. The 8S will power most of the hard to drive headphones really well. The EX5 walks on thin ice with its lack of volume range.
IMG_5617.jpg

Overall thoughts​

I was really surprised by the overall sound quality and looks of the EX5. This is a special collaboration unit between Shenzhen Audio and Topping and I think this is a fantastic unit overall. It gets a full recommendation from me and I think I’ll be recommending the EX5 more often for those looking for a low to mid priced desktop DAC/amp. I would like to see less reliance on the remote for adjusting settings and a louder output volume near the 65+ volume range. I haven’t had a chance till now to try out any Toppings all in one units but I was fairly impressed overall and look forward to checking out more of their product line in the future. Thanks for reading!
Last edited:
corgifall
corgifall
I used the default which is the fast linear apodizing. I think it’s probably something to do with the internal amp. I didn’t have a chance to output to another headphone amp to test the DAC alone.
  • Like
Reactions: 430633
shenzhenaudio
shenzhenaudio
Thanks for the review!
hevelaoak
hevelaoak
so can I use a normal balanced 4 pin XLR cable to the unbalanced XLR headphone out? I know it shouldn't be a problem but is there anything else you want to point out other than the XLR out being there just for convenience? thanks for the review

Comments

There are no comments to display.
Top