(Last Updated On: August 11, 2020)

The TOPPING D10s features a low price, outstanding performance measurements, and a unique – but somewhat limited – feature set.

As the old adage goes, it never rains but it pours. Just last week I reviewed a very promising new budget Digital to Analog Converter (DAC) on the market, the Soncoz LA-QXD1. This unit sports the ESS ES9038Q2M DAC chip, a few digital inputs, and both single-ended and balanced outputs. It works and sounds great, but I do lament the lack of indicators or display.

Hot on the heels of the Soncoz, TOPPING released the D10s DAC and it arrived at my door this week. The D10s is an updated version of their extremely popular D10 budget DAC, now based on the same ES9038Q2M DAC chip as found in the Soncoz (as well as the Khadas Tone Board, TOPPING D50s, and Audioquest Dragonfly Cobalt to name a few). However, the D10s’ feature set and price point are pretty distinctive.

At half the price of the LA-QXD1, the D10s offers a very different set of options and functions from the ES9038Q2M alternatives listed above. The iconic large amber LED display and aluminum enclosure of the D10 has returned, with one digital USB input, single-ended RCA analog outputs, as well as the ability to function as a digital bridge with S/PDIF optical and coaxial digital outputs.

Header Image. The TOPPING D10s DAC.

Topping D10s

"Want high performance and all the features? It’s going to cost you. On the other hand, if you want great performance and a low cost, you are going to have to compromise on features. That’s the TOPPING D10s in a nutshell."

Pros:

  • »A real challenger for the bang-for-the-buck DAC throne.
  • »Ability to function as a digital bridge.
  • »Well implemented large display.
  • »Auto power on and off from a single USB connection.
  • »Excellent performance measurements.
  • »Audibly transparent.

Cons:

  • »Limited inputs and outputs.
  • »The aluminum enclosure is a basic style with screw-on ends.
  • »The sparse feature set may not meet everyone’s needs.
The basic back panel of the TOPPING D10s.
The basic back panel of the TOPPING D10s.

In my Introduction to DACs articles, I theorized that with the excellent performance of modern DACs, consumers will likely base buying decisions on measurements, file compatibility, and the features that a specific DAC offers.

The TOPPING D10s offers a unique set of features at an extremely attractive price.

Until recently, the Khadas Tone Board was probably the primary contender for best budget bang-for-the-buck DAC performance king. However, with the D10s at the same $100 price point, sharing the same chipset, and boasting such features as an aluminum case and LED display, it’s very hard to make that recommendation any more.

TOPPING has made a name for itself by offering well-built and attractively priced products with outstanding performance measurements. This is actually the first TOPPING device to cross my desk, and let’s see if it lives up to the hype and positive word of mouth set by its precursors. Was there really a need to upgrade the mighty (popular) D10? Should we really have an interest in such entry-level products?

Let’s do this thing!

TOPPING D10s exterior views. (From hifigo.com)
TOPPING D10s exterior views. (From hifigo.com)

TOPPING Company Overview

TOPPING Electronics & Technology co., LTD is an electronics manufacturer, founded in 2008 and located in Guangzhou, China. They are focused on producing desktop and portable audio products including DACs, headphone amplifiers, and power amplifiers.

TOPPING has distinguished itself by manufacturing high-performance, but budget-oriented products such as the D10s, although they have expanded the product line to include more higher-end devices. According to Hailin Huang from TOPPING, “…we make affordable devices for our users since our establishment, so we have experience in this area.”

From the beginning, TOPPING has focused on research and development. According to TOPPING, they “invested a large amount of money in purchasing professional audio instruments to ensure performance. In 2016 and 2019, we purchased professional audio testers APx555 and APx555B from Audio Precision, which are the top audio testers in the industry nowadays, for R&D and mass production testing.”

Their development process moves from the measurement to the listening phase repeatedly until they are happy with a device’s performance. “Each product will enter the hearing adjustment stage after achieving excellent parameters and performance during the R&D process, then we will again check whether the parameters are still excellent after getting the satisfactory sound, which process is repeatedly refined.”

This investment and testing seem to have paid off, as TOPPING (err…) tops the list of many reviews and recommendations. By their own assessment “TOPPING is the top.”

The front panel of the TOPPING D10s right out of the box. Note the protective screen film is still in place.
The front panel of the TOPPING D10s right out of the box. Note the protective screen film is still in place.

TOPPING D10s Technical Specifications

  • DAC Chip: ES9038Q2M DAC
  • USB Interface: XMOS XU208
  • Power Supply: none (uses USB connection for Power Supply)
  • Input: USB
  • Digital Output: Coaxial and Optical S/PDIF
  • Analog Output: RCA
  • Dimensions: 10.3 cm x 14.6 cm x 3.7 cm
  • Weight: 323 g
  • Colors: Silver or Black
  • USB Input: 44.1 kHz – 384 kHz / 16Bit – 32Bit, DSD64-DSD256 (Native), DSD128 (DOP)
  • Optical/Coaxial Output: 44.1 kHz – 192 kHz / 16Bit – 24Bit, DSD64 (DOP)

Decoding Specifications (Line Out / USB In @ 96 kHz)

  • THD + N @1 kHz A-wt: <0.0002%
  • SNR @1 kHz A-wt: 120 dB
  • Dynamic Range @1 kHz A-wt: 120 dB
  • Frequency Response: 20 Hz – 20 kHz (±0.1 dB), 20 Hz – 40 kHz (±0.4 dB)
  • Output Level: 2Vrms @ 0 dBFS
  • Noise @ A-wt: <2.5uVrms
  • Channel Crosstalk @1 kHz: -135 dB
  • Channel Balance: <0.02dB
  • Output Impedance: 20 ohms
The supported audio formats and sampling rates for the TOPPING D10s.
The supported audio formats and sampling rates for the TOPPING D10s.

Specification Comparison between TOPPING D10s and D10

 D10sD10
DACES9038Q2MES9018K2M
THD+N @ 1kHz A-wt<0.0002%<0.0008%
SNR @ 1kHz A-wt120 dB115 dB
Noise @ A-wt<2.5 uVrms<4 uVrms
Channel Crosstalk @ 1kHz-135 dB-115 dB
Channel Balance<0.02 dB<0.1 dB
Output Impedance20 Ohms100 Ohms

TOPPING D10s Packaging

TOPPING doesn’t seem to be wasting any money on frivolous packaging. What arrives is entirely serviceable and that’s about it. An unsealed, plain white cardboard box with the TOPPING logo (fittingly) on top and few other adornments.

The plain white box for the TOPPING D10s.
The plain white box for the TOPPING D10s.

Open it up and you’ll find the D10s nestled in foam, and rather sloppily wrapped (perhaps this is just my test model) in a logoed plastic bag. The included accessories are a USB cable and a couple of paper inserts.

This is what the inside of my box looked like upon opening.
This is what the inside of my box looked like upon opening.

In the Box

  • D10s
  • USB 2.0 A-B cable (122 cm)
  • User Manual
  • Warranty Card
The TOPPING D10s, USB cable, and manual.
The TOPPING D10s, USB cable, and manual.

TOPPING D10s Design

The aluminum enclosure is a typical sleeve design with front and rear panels attached via 4 screws in the corners. It’s certainly not as nice looking as the single piece of sculpted aluminum that the Soncoz LA-QXD1 resides in, but at half the price, it can be forgiven. Reasonably heavy and solidly constructed, it is entirely functional and weighty enough to not move around with cables connected.

The distinctive, large amber LED display is either what will sell you on the D10s’ looks or make you avoid it. It dominates the front panel and there’s no switches, buttons, or anything else up front other than a few logos.

The D10s uses the same display and enclosure as its predecessor, the D10.

The display doesn’t look as slick as a multi-color OLED display, but it is supremely functional. It’s large enough to be read across the room. The amber color is easy on the eyes (thankfully no piercing blue LEDs are to be found anywhere) and it brightens and dims automatically with use.

Power

The D10s is powered by the USB connection to the computer and does not require a separate power source. The display shows “ – – – ” when no digital signal is detected, and automatically powers down to a single dot after a few minutes of inactivity.

When the TOPPING D10s doesn't receive a signal, the display switches to
When the TOPPING D10s doesn’t receive a signal, the display switches to ” – – – “.

USB Interface

The USB interface is class 2 compliant, meaning that it will work plug-and-play on modern operating systems. For higher bit rate compatibility with Windows, TOPPING recommends installing the Thesycon drivers installation package or using the Audirvana music player on Mac.

Digital Bridge Mode

Adding the D10s to my desktop stack solved my main complaint with the Soncoz LA-QXD1 DAC. Namely the lack of display.

The S/PDIF optical and coaxial digital connections on the back of the D10s do not function as inputs (as they would on many other DACs). Rather they are solely digital outputs, taking the signal from the USB input and passing it along to another DAC for analog conversion. No need to connect the analog RCA outputs to anything, just connect one of the digital outputs.

The important bit is that the D10s’ display functions while used in this digital bridge mode.
The TOPPING D10s in my desktop headphone stack. Functioning in digital bridge mode, connected via the (just visible) red coaxial cable to the Soncoz LA-QXD1 beside it.
The TOPPING D10s in my desktop headphone stack. Functioning in digital bridge mode, connected via the (just visible) red coaxial cable to the Soncoz LA-QXD1 beside it.

The Soncoz LA-QXD1 works fantastically, but I miss a display or status LEDs. In my specific situation, putting the D10s between the computer and the Soncoz DAC just makes sense:

Computer → USB Cable → D10s DAC → Coaxial Digital Cable → Soncoz DAC → Analog RCA Cables → Amplifier

Now the handy D10s display tells me exactly what signal the Soncoz DAC is receiving. Too cool!

The maximum sampling rate for the TOPPING D10s via coaxial is 192 kHz and for optical is 92 kHz. Far below the 32-bit/768 kHz maximum of the Soncoz LA-QXD1 via USB. For playback of those higher-quality files, the D10s will need to be bypassed and the USB input on the Soncoz DAC must be utilized.

An additional benefit of using the D10s as a digital bridge and connecting it to an additional DAC via the optical cable is to nullify any ground loop noise issues. The optical connection will not transmit any such noise to the DAC and the amplifier it is connected to.

TOPPING D10s Internals

I’ve said it before, “…all DACs are not created equal, even those that share the very same D/A converter chip. The chip is not the only thing that matters in audio reproduction quality. The choice and implementation of all the internal components play a role in how the device works and sounds.”

Under the hood of the TOPPING D10s. Note the socketed op-amp chip.
Under the hood of the TOPPING D10s. Note the socketed op-amp chip.

The ESS ES9038Q2M reference DAC chip is designed to be a high-performance, 32-bit, stereo audio D/A converter intended for audiophile-grade portable applications (such as mobile phones, digital music players, etc.).

Initial implementations are also known to have the infamous ESS IMD Hump.

From my Soncoz LA-QXD1 review:

“The ESS hump is typically defined as a significant increase in Total Harmonic Distortion (THD) in Intermodulation Distortion (IMD) measurements. Without getting too bogged down in the technical minutia, graphs of properly working chips should show a straight diagonal line (or in other words: linear) performance measurement. The ESS chips tend to have a large bulge (or ‘hump’) in the line.
The IMD graph for the TOPPING D10s. (From audiosciencereview.com)
The IMD graph for the TOPPING D10s. (From audiosciencereview.com)

The good news is that the IMD measurements of the D10s do not appear to have this hump.

Comparison Chart of DACs based on the ES9038Q2M Chip

 PricePCMDSDMQA
Khadas Tone Board$10032-bit / 768 kHz256No
TOPPING D10s$10032-bit / 384 kHz256No
Soncoz LA-QXD1$20032-bit / 768 kHz512No
Topping D50s$25032-bit / 768 kHz512No
Audioquest Dragonfly Cobalt$30024-bit / 96kHz96Yes

While all the above DACs have a ES9038Q2M DAC chip at their heart, you can see that they are implemented and priced quite differently. Again, it’s the file format compatibility and specific features (enclosure, display, Bluetooth, portability, etc.) that come into play when selecting the right DAC for you.

Op-Amp Rolling

The D10s utilizes a socketed op-amp chip, which facilitates replacing chips if desired. From the testing done on the original D10 DAC by the Audio Science Review Forums, it is very doubtful if any benefit will be seen by this process.

“…the differences are tiny. Assuming you want to go by that difference anyway, the best performance was achieved using the op-amp shipped with the unit… With respect to TOPPING D10 DAC at least, rolling opamps is of no value at all. Fortunately nothing bad happens but nothing good either. I suggest leaving it alone as is.” – Audio Science Review
The socketed op-amp chip (on the right) on the TOPPING D10s board.
The socketed op-amp chip (on the right) on the TOPPING D10s board.

If that didn’t dissuade you, HIFIGO cautions “be careful, though, as swapping op-amps is definitely not a risk-free procedure, it can instantly destroy your DAC. On top of that, TOPPING doesn’t officially endorse swapping op-amps to users.”

So, needless to say, op-amp roll at your own risk! I didn’t attempt it for the purposes of this review.

Filters

The TOPPING D10s has no user-selectable filters. The single filter appears to be a fast roll-off filter similar to the default Soncoz Apodizing (APOD) filter. According to Audio Science Review, at least this filter “is the “correct” one, which we sadly don’t see often…”.

Graph of the single filter setting in the TOPPING D10s. (From audiosciencereview.com)
Graph of the single filter setting in the TOPPING D10s. (From audiosciencereview.com)

TOPPING D10s Sound Quality, Measurements and Performance

Well implemented DACs are increasingly difficult to distinguish by ear alone. Especially those that are based on the same DAC chip. Yes, the additional circuitry built into the DAC can impact the sound quality, but we are discussing very subtle differences in most cases.

That’s why the extremely comprehensive DAC measurement database compiled by the Audio Science Review Forums has become so popular with enthusiasts. What I find interesting is how well new budget models are performing when compared to much more expensive older models.

The top-tier of measured DACs is usually determined by ASR’s ever-expanding Signal-to-Noise and Distortion ratio (SINAD) graph. The coveted left-most blue portion of the graph used to be the home of only the pricey audio elite. Now budget models such as the D10s are solidly edging out the old.

The top tier of SINAD DAC measurements. TOPPING D10s in yellow. (From audiosciencereview.com)
The top tier of SINAD DAC measurements. TOPPING D10s in yellow. (From audiosciencereview.com)

Audio Science Review sums up their findings of the D10s as:

“Nice! SINAD which is the sum of distortion and noise has risen by 6 dB, placing the D10s at the dinner table with bigger boys… Distortion is incredibly low at -120 dB which is well below threshold of hearing… Signal to noise ration is likewise very good… Intermodulation+noise shows excellent response at the limit… distortion is always less than the noise floor… Jitter is… more than fine… Linearity is perfect.

My favorite little DAC has grown up in performance… Measured performance is stellar for the category…”

Ok, so it measures just below the Soncoz LA-QXD1 and just above the Khadas Tone Board, but how does it SOUND? Is it better? Worse?

I don’t think measurement differences between DACs that are close together at the top end of the SINAD graph are audible to my ears. Seriously. We’re splitting hairs here. A bit like arguing 32-bit is significantly better sounding than 24-bit. Enroll me in a blind listening test? I’d fail.

Now I don’t have an extremely high-end DAC on hand to do head-to-head tests. Yes, I think the Chord Mojo does sound different than other DACs I own, but those results are definitely the sum of the unique implementation and components in that little box. I don’t however use it as the DAC in my non-portable desktop headphone setup.

While I’m more subjective about my reviews and feelings about how headphones and IEMs sound, I find myself much less so with digital decoding devices such as DACs. I agree it’s all about the music, but I believe a great DAC should strive to be invisible. And this is likely reflected quite well in the performance measurements.

I can hear how my amps and headphones work together to produce their own particular unique flavor of sound. This DAC does what it should. Namely, it decodes and seamlessly passes along neutral, uncolored, and unaltered audio to the things that make (and change) the sound.

The D10s sounds transparent in my chain. I’m absolutely used to the Khadas Tone Board’s sound, and much more recently the Soncoz, and I could detect no significant differences with the TOPPING D10s in their place. Subjective subtleties such as richness, tonality, micro-dynamics, soundstage, etc. are so fine between these three DACs as to be indistinguishable to my ears.

TOPPING D10s Conclusion

Thank you to HIFIGO for sending along the TOPPING D10s to Headphonesty for review. You can purchase it directly from them here for $99 USD.

A budget product is always a compromise. You can’t have it all. Price, performance, or features. Pick 2 of the 3.

Want high performance and all the features? It’s going to cost you. On the other hand, if you want great performance and a low cost, you are going to have to compromise on features.

That’s the TOPPING D10s in a nutshell. Budget price with excellent measured performance, but a limited (and somewhat unique) set of features. How much you want or need those features is going to determine if this is the right DAC for you.

I must say, I’ll always prefer a lower price and higher performance combination to the other options.

Hate the large amber LED display, or want something with more upscale aesthetics? Then you may want to look elsewhere. Do you need balanced audio outputs or a variety of digital inputs? Easy choice, buy the Soncoz LA-QXD1. Need Bluetooth? How about the TOPPING D50s?

However, if you simply need a great working DAC, with a USB input and single RCA analog output, and almost no other bells or whistles (other than a display), it’s hard not to excitedly recommend the D10s.

$100 these days buys you top(ping) tier performance. Amazing!

Heck, if you are like me, the ability to use the D10s as a digital bridge and display for a downstream DAC makes it worth the price of admission.

More money buys you more features. It buys a better-looking enclosure. It may even buy you (arguably) better performance. But I’m not sure you can currently buy better value than what is offered by the TOPPING D10s DAC.