Which headphone stack is better: SMSL SH-9/SU-9 stack or Topping A30 Pro/D30 Pro stack?
Mar 8, 2021 at 2:39 PM Thread Starter Post #1 of 37

Fly2High

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I spent a bunch of time figuring out which stack I wanted for DAC and HP amp. Now the Topping A/D 30 Pro is coming out soon and the numbers provided suggest it should be very good.

What I find very ironic is that the Topping D30 Pro/A30 Pro stack is within $9 US of the SMSL SH/SU-9 stack ($759 vs $750). They are in the same league, pricewise and in most specs.

From what I see, their numbers are very close. Both have 6W @ 16 Ohms but things seem to differ as the ohms get high. At 32 Ohms, SMSL has 3W vs Topping lists 5.5W. SMSL has 226mW @ 300 Ohms while Topping has 813mW @ 300 Ohms according to ASR.

Both have good specs and some nice features. Both have remote.
SMSL is Sabre ES9038PRO (x1) chips while Topping went Cirrus Logic CS43198 (x4).

SMSL
Pro:
Uses newer XMOS chip XU-216
MQA support,
higher DSD support up to DSD512
Bluetooth 5
dimmable multicolor display
digital volume control for perfect balance


Con:
IMD ESS hump - nearly nonexistent in measurements and inaudible
less watts for high ohm HP

Topping
Pro:
slightly better specs (SNR, THD, etc.)
more power when driving higher Ohm HP.
Pass through on both XLR and RCA
3 gain modes -14dB, 0 dB and 14 dB

Con:
DSD support is limited to DSD256
uses oilder XMOS USB chip XU208
pass though cannot pass input XLR out RCA (and visa versa) so you will need to connect both if you have active speakers on RCA and DAC on XLR for better HP power
Lacks MQA
analog volume control so balance is not perfect.
Lacks Bluetooth
Not sure if display is dimmable and it is red/orange monochromatic


I do not know if either is a fully balanced or not. The Sabre chip can handle 8 channels but the Topping is using 4 chips so I am not sure how balanced is working. I think I heard for THX, they are not fully balanced in the SMSL. Feel free to correct me on this point.

I do not know which op-amps the Topping A30 Pro are using but the SMSL SH-9 uses OPA1612(x3)

Anyone have any idea which is better for the money?

Until they are released, I would also love to know which sound better.

Which has a more adequate power supply? I heard that the bass in the SMSL is somewhat lacking in the SMSL because there is not enough power or cap storage. I wonder if Topping went bigger on the power supply and reduced features and support so as to improve sound.

Are the extra functional support that the SMSL offer are better than less with a trade off of less power in the SMSL? Or is DSD 256 enough, who needs Bluetooth and MQA but having more watts more important?

Thoughts????

Thanks in advance.
Frank
 
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Mar 8, 2021 at 2:45 PM Post #2 of 37

silent-circuit

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Depends largely on what you're wanting to do with them re: features vs. watts. The rest you seem to have answered for yourself, or come as close to answering as anyone can, given one of the things you're considering isn't yet available.
 
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Mar 8, 2021 at 2:50 PM Post #3 of 37

Fly2High

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yeah, I know I jumped the gun a bit here. I figure why not put that thought into everyone's head and maybe I will hear stories about how one or the other has worse QC or something. Hopefully, the DAC will shipped on March 12th and I will at least get comments comparing the D30 Pro to the SU-9.

Of course, I would like to buy once and be good for a rather long time. To a degree I want some amount of future proofing.

I know that the SH-9 cannot drive a Hifiman Susvara and I also know I will NEVER be able to afford them either (>$5,000). At the same time, I would not mind being able to drive and enjoy a high wattage headphone. ASR seems to think anything over 100 watts on 300 Ohms is enough but clearly that might not always be the case. Currently, I have a Hifiman Sundara and they are easy to drive. Either would be sufficient but I would like to get another headphone geared more for rock music with more bass. More watts could come in handy too.

At the same time, how important is Bluetooth and MQA? My stack will be used in the office where my digital storage will be. It could be cool, for holidays and background music, to move the DAC to the living room stereo and Bluetooth music from the computer to the living room. Yeah, I hope one day to get a modern stereo setup but my 90's hand me down components will have to do for now. With work from home, I find myself listening to music in the office more these days anyway.
 
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Mar 12, 2021 at 8:47 AM Post #4 of 37

Fly2High

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The SMSL SU-9 has an output impedance of (XLR/RCA) of 207/142 Ohms

The D30 Pro has output impedance of (XLR/RCA) of 40/20 Ohms

How will this affect pairing with other amps? What value of amp input impedance would be needed? If it was out of range, what affect would be seen?
 
Mar 12, 2021 at 10:37 AM Post #5 of 37

sajunky

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Topping Pro versions need a professional inspection. Your headphones are more expensive and hearing not replaceable. Check A30 Pro for:

1. ESD protection
2. DC out protection

Other than a critical parts, check:

1. Extremely low input impedance like in A90/L30? Not pairing well with some sources.
2. Nested loopback opamp design? Another THX789?
3. Dual Meanwell SMPS in +V/GND/-V configuration? /kidding, such fault was in A90, this is not balanced design/
4. Price.

There are low cost Class A non-feedback discrete amplifiers around $300. Having said that, I like A30 Pro much better than A90.

SMSL is a very similar supermarket type, it may have missing protection devices too. Check both brands for safety to avoid blowing your headphones.
 
Mar 12, 2021 at 8:52 PM Post #6 of 37

buke9

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I spent a bunch of time figuring out which stack I wanted for DAC and HP amp. Now the Topping A/D 30 Pro is coming out soon and the numbers provided suggest it should be very good.

What I find very ironic is that the Topping D30 Pro/A30 Pro stack is within $9 US of the SMSL SH/SU-9 stack ($759 vs $750). They are in the same league, pricewise and in most specs.

From what I see, their numbers are very close. Both have 6W @ 16 Ohms but things seem to differ as the ohms get high. At 32 Ohms, SMSL has 3W vs Topping lists 5.5W. SMSL has 226mW @ 300 Ohms while Topping has 813mW @ 300 Ohms according to ASR.

Both have good specs and some nice features. Both have remote.
SMSL is Sabre ES9038PRO (x1) chips while Topping went Cirrus Logic CS43198 (x4).

SMSL
Pro:
Uses newer XMOS chip XU-216
MQA support,
higher DSD support up to DSD512
Bluetooth 5
dimmable multicolor display
digital volume control for perfect balance


Con:
IMD ESS hump - nearly nonexistent in measurements and inaudible
less watts for high ohm HP

Topping
Pro:
slightly better specs (SNR, THD, etc.)
more power when driving higher Ohm HP.
Pass through on both XLR and RCA
3 gain modes -14dB, 0 dB and 14 dB

Con:
DSD support is limited to DSD256
uses oilder XMOS USB chip XU208
pass though cannot pass input XLR out RCA (and visa versa) so you will need to connect both if you have active speakers on RCA and DAC on XLR for better HP power
Lacks MQA
analog volume control so balance is not perfect.
Lacks Bluetooth
Not sure if display is dimmable and it is red/orange monochromatic


I do not know if either is a fully balanced or not. The Sabre chip can handle 8 channels but the Topping is using 4 chips so I am not sure how balanced is working. I think I heard for THX, they are not fully balanced in the SMSL. Feel free to correct me on this point.

I do not know which op-amps the Topping A30 Pro are using but the SMSL SH-9 uses OPA1612(x3)

Anyone have any idea which is better for the money?

Until they are released, I would also love to know which sound better.

Which has a more adequate power supply? I heard that the bass in the SMSL is somewhat lacking in the SMSL because there is not enough power or cap storage. I wonder if Topping went bigger on the power supply and reduced features and support so as to improve sound.

Are the extra functional support that the SMSL offer are better than less with a trade off of less power in the SMSL? Or is DSD 256 enough, who needs Bluetooth and MQA but having more watts more important?

Thoughts????

Thanks in advance.
Frank
While it seems you are only worried about measurements and that is fine but the final link in the chain is the headphone and you never said anything about it. The headphone makes the final circuit of a amp and you have to take them into account as well as they all react differently and they are not a perfect load as the load of what the measurements show . So the headphones will be a bit different but you are not curious about that . That just seems a bit strange to me . I could have missed it but I don’t see a headphone in your post and without a headphone not much can be heard.
 
Mar 13, 2021 at 1:22 AM Post #7 of 37

sajunky

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While it seems you are only worried about measurements and that is fine but the final link in the chain is the headphone and you never said anything about it. The headphone makes the final circuit of a amp and you have to take them into account as well as they all react differently and they are not a perfect load as the load of what the measurements show . So the headphones will be a bit different but you are not curious about that . That just seems a bit strange to me . I could have missed it but I don’t see a headphone in your post and without a headphone not much can be heard.
It is true that headphones react differently and it is a big unknown factor when trying to match modern amps that achieve perfect measurements. It is done by increasing open loop gain and even chosing nested loopback architecture like in THX789, SMSL equivalent, Topping A90/L30, and probably the same in A30 Pro.

It is known that when closing a >10^5 gain loop, static distortions (as we measure it) drop dramatically, showing to the consumers idealistic THD figure. Problem with such approach is that during fast transients some internal amplification stages can enter into saturation, this is because there is a delay before any feedback appears on the input. For a short moment a loop is not closed and a time of exiting saturation stage is even slower. In result during a short period of time output follows a pulse response, but it is a dead time for anything in background (which is music), it is not conveyed to the output at all. For the listener the amps with extreme open loop gain sound sterile clean, but missing subtle details like lower overtones, musically not involving. It matches computer generated music production like EDM though, it is why such amps are popular amoung yungsters.

The other problem with such amps is pairing with dynamic load. It is what you wrote. Mechanical resonances of the driver enter the input of the amp and is amplified. It is why a high damping factor is critical, as it lowers an energy fed back to the input.

A solution is very old and well known in the high-end sector. It does not use a multistage amplification feedback, use only a local feddback, when possible - zero feedback. Zero feedback means mechanical resonances of the driver have no chance messing up with the amplification, damping factor is still important, but only with headphones of poorly damped vibrations internally.

Should OP focus on the headphone first? I don't think so. Rather decide whether to chose one of these supermarket type of products (with a risk of blowing your headphones, as some Chineese brands like Topping do not put necessary ESD/DCout protection) or jump to a natural sound solutions which are made for audiophiles. For $315 there is this amp which I consider an incredible value using a Master technology. I can't find anything on the market matching this offer. For $880 there is some competition, this one is approaching quality of the amp in your sig. :)

Why do not recommend the best?
 
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Mar 14, 2021 at 8:45 AM Post #8 of 37

AT Khan

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It is true that headphones react differently and it is a big unknown factor when trying to match modern amps that achieve perfect measurements. It is done by increasing open loop gain and even chosing nested loopback architecture like in THX789, SMSL equivalent, Topping A90/L30, and probably the same in A30 Pro.

It is known that when closing a >10^5 gain loop, static distortions (as we measure it) drop dramatically, showing to the consumers idealistic THD figure. Problem with such approach is that during fast transients some internal amplification stages can enter into saturation, this is because there is a delay before any feedback appears on the input. For a short moment a loop is not closed and a time of exiting saturation stage is even slower. In result during a short period of time output follows a pulse response, but it is a dead time for anything in background (which is music), it is not conveyed to the output at all. For the listener the amps with extreme open loop gain sound sterile clean, but missing subtle details like lower overtones, musically not involving. It matches computer generated music production like EDM though, it is why such amps are popular amoung jungsters.

The other problem with such amps is pairing with dynamic load. It is what you wrote. Mechanical resonances of the driver enter the input of the amp and is amplified. It is why a high damping factor is critical, as it lowers an energy fed back to the input.

A solution is very old and well known in the high-end sector. It does not use a multistage amplification feedback, use only a local feddback, when possible - zero feedback. Zero feedback means mechanical resonances of the driver have no chance messing up with the amplification, damping factor is still important, but only with headphones of poorly damped vibrations internally.

Should OP focus on the headphone first? I don't think so. Rather decide whether to chose one of these supermarket type of products (with a risk of blowing your headphones, as some Chineese brands like Topping do not put necessary ESD/DCout protection) or jump to a natural sound solutions which are made for audiophiles. For $315 there is this amp which I consider an incredible value using a Master technology. I can't find anything on the market matching this offer. For $880 there is some competition, this one is approaching quality of the amp in your sig. :)

Why do not recommend the best?
Hi, I've been reading into what you said here.
I have a similar concern with choosing my next amp. I'm looking at the Topping A50s or the SMSL SH-9 or even the Topping A30Pro.

Now I'm kind of leaning against the THX chipset amps as there's this feedback of them sounding a bit sterile, anaemic and having some issues with dynamics. I have read around about your opinions recommending the audio-gd variants. But they still seem slightly out of my budget.

I already have the iFi micro iDSD. The issues really are with channel imbalance and then some noise floor/hiss on high gain. I'm looking to upgrade over that. Also, seems like balanced headphone outs and/or resistor ladder volume controls may help reduce these two behaviours.

Kind of at a crossroads now, especially with your insight on how these newer, fine measuring amps actually perform in the real-world.

Could you help me here? And why should I not go balanced - am yet to try balanced anyways. My cans are 6XX, Hifiman 400i, 4XX, Fostex, Focal etc. Prob not going for any 600 ohm cans anytime soon but maybe. But I'm surely not going to go for any TOTL Planar cans anyways anytime soon so.

Is there any apparently-balanced or even a single ended amp ($350 or below tier) that can help me put to rest my amping requirements for the next half a decade or so at least? DACs are not my priority right now, not before the amp first so.
 
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Mar 14, 2021 at 11:51 AM Post #9 of 37

silent-circuit

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There's no downside to balanced apart from the expense. More power, potentially lower noise floor, as you said.
 
Mar 14, 2021 at 11:59 AM Post #10 of 37

AT Khan

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But here's the thing/

I was thinking of the L30, but prob the A50s would just be a better option. Now if balanced output can still do the trick, though really its not really balanced so not ready for some real balanced input, but if the circuitry can still pull of stunts at the output end, that could be Option 1.

Option 2 could be the SH-9. Would it perform as well as the A50s? Is there any trouble with microdynamics that is to be expected with the THX AAA platform there?

Option 3 would be the A30pro, but is that really, truly balanced? Cuz then it might be the most future-proof. Is it worth the extra money?
 
Mar 14, 2021 at 1:54 PM Post #11 of 37

hottyson

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SMSL is SO MUCH better than Topping.
.
As far as quality goes, SMSL is just okay, but Topping is ABSOLUTE GARBAGE when it comes to quality. Topping has a very poor track record of putting out poorly designed and poorly engineered products not in a completed state or engineered wrong and often even not assembled very well. Since Topping is willing to put beta products out to consumers, we as consumers end up having to pay the price with units that die prematurely or develop problems soon after purchasing.
.
If you are choosing between these two companies products, definitely stay away from the Topping. My SMSL amp sounds great, but I know that the headphone jack that they used in the design is not the greatest. But the low price justifies the use of the cheap part used. At least I don't have to worry about SMSL having poor engineering in their designs.
.
SMSL gets my vote.
 
Mar 14, 2021 at 2:05 PM Post #12 of 37

hottyson

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Hi, I've been reading into what you said here.
I have a similar concern with choosing my next amp. I'm looking at the Topping A50s or the SMSL SH-9 or even the Topping A30Pro.

Now I'm kind of leaning against the THX chipset amps as there's this feedback of them sounding a bit sterile, anaemic and having some issues with dynamics. I have read around about your opinions recommending the audio-gd variants. But they still seem slightly out of my budget.

I already have the iFi micro iDSD. The issues really are with channel imbalance and then some noise floor/hiss on high gain. I'm looking to upgrade over that. Also, seems like balanced headphone outs and/or resistor ladder volume controls may help reduce these two behaviours.

Kind of at a crossroads now, especially with your insight on how these newer, fine measuring amps actually perform in the real-world.

Could you help me here? And why should I not go balanced - am yet to try balanced anyways. My cans are 6XX, Hifiman 400i, 4XX, Fostex, Focal etc. Prob not going for any 600 ohm cans anytime soon but maybe. But I'm surely not going to go for any TOTL Planar cans anyways anytime soon so.

Is there any apparently-balanced or even a single ended amp ($350 or below tier) that can help me put to rest my amping requirements for the next half a decade or so at least? DACs are not my priority right now, not before the amp first so.
I have told so many people not to get THX amps. However, I must clarify that they do sound very good with some headphones. Especially for the money. My SMSL SP200 sounds very good with ALL of my planars, Hifiman Sundara, Hifiman Deva, Fostex T50RP, Fostex T60RP. It does not sound very good with almost all of my dynamic headphones. It does however sound very good with my Sennheiser HD560S.
Does it outperform my $1000 plus amps. No, but it gets close enough to them with the aforementioned headphones to justify the value it gives at such a cheap price. With these headphones THX is a great amp. So, don't write off THX completely. It all boils down to if you want to save some money going THX and use it mainly for planars and a few other dynamic driver headphones.
 
Mar 14, 2021 at 2:29 PM Post #13 of 37

AT Khan

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I have told so many people not to get THX amps. However, I must clarify that they do sound very good with some headphones. Especially for the money. My SMSL SP200 sounds very good with ALL of my planars, Hifiman Sundara, Hifiman Deva, Fostex T50RP, Fostex T60RP. It does not sound very good with almost all of my dynamic headphones. It does however sound very good with my Sennheiser HD560S.
Does it outperform my $1000 plus amps. No, but it gets close enough to them with the aforementioned headphones to justify the value it gives at such a cheap price. With these headphones THX is a great amp. So, don't write off THX completely. It all boils down to if you want to save some money going THX and use it mainly for planars and a few other dynamic driver headphones.
Ok so well planars I have 400i and 4xx.
But TBH I would be looking more towards dynamic drivers in my stable. Elex, EM-U Teak, 6XX, BDynamic, Denons and then some.
Would you recommend the SH-9?
And what is this thing with built-in power supplies vs external, where some folks suggest external ps units can help you satisfy power requirements by maybe putting up a higher power PSU whereas you're stuck with built-in and performance is capped there.

THIS video is putting doubts in my mind about the SH-9:
 
Mar 14, 2021 at 4:04 PM Post #14 of 37

hottyson

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Ok so well planars I have 400i and 4xx.
But TBH I would be looking more towards dynamic drivers in my stable. Elex, EM-U Teak, 6XX, BDynamic, Denons and then some.
Would you recommend the SH-9?
And what is this thing with built-in power supplies vs external, where some folks suggest external ps units can help you satisfy power requirements by maybe putting up a higher power PSU whereas you're stuck with built-in and performance is capped there.

THIS video is putting doubts in my mind about the SH-9: I
I don't own any of those dynamic headphones except the Sennheiser 6XX. But in general, THX has NOT paired well with most dynamic drivers. So you probably should stay away from THX amps then.
.
I have not listened to the SH-9 yet so I cannot recommend for or against it yet. I don't plan on purchasing anymore THX amps due their limited successful headphone pairings. So, I likely will not ever listen to the SH-9. I am VERY happy with my THX performance with my planars, so just this one THX SP200 amp will be a keeper.
IMG_9849.jpg
 
Mar 14, 2021 at 4:18 PM Post #15 of 37

hottyson

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And what is this thing with built-in power supplies vs external, where some folks suggest external ps units can help you satisfy power requirements by maybe putting up a higher power PSU whereas you're stuck with built-in and performance is capped there.
I try not to fixate on internal vs external power supplies. Most of it is based on theory and really minute THD specs. Instead, I focus on good quality sound, build quality, reputable company. I am however starting learning to dislike wall-wart style power supplies. I will admit that it is very simple and easy to deal with an internal power supply. The normal IEC C14 to C13 power cord connectors are so much neater in my complex setups whether the power supply is internal or external.
 

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