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Review: TempoTec Sonata E44 – Portable Power Prowess

The TempoTec Sonata E44. (From: https://www.tempotec.net)
The TempoTec Sonata E44. (From: https://www.tempotec.net)

Sleek design, flexible usage, and excellent performance.

First, a sincere thank you to Linsoul for allowing Headphonesty to review the TempoTec Sonata E44. As is my standard, I did not read any reviews of the Sonata E44 before my evaluation.

The Sonata E44 is one of several options in TempoTec’s Sonata line of headphone DAC/amplifiers. The E44 is a more powerful version of the Sonata E35 (3.5mm TRS output), aptly named as it features a 4.4mm TRRS balanced output jack, providing extra power to the headphones/earphones.

The TempoTec Sonata E44. (From: https://www.tempotec.net)
Bottom Line

Packing so much clean power into something so small is quite amazing. The performance from the E44 is clearly far greater than what most phones and computers can offer. The simplicity of the E44 combined with its performance prowess make this DAC/amp dongle an easy recommendation for a highly portable solution.

What We Like
  • Excellent build quality
  • Extensive format capabilities
  • Tiny and attractive form factor
  • Ultra-low ‘almost black’ noise floor at any volume
  • No onboard battery (low power consumption from the source device)
  • Transparent power sufficient to properly drive most consumer and relatively efficient headphones and IEMs
  • Excellent value for performance
What We Don't Like
  • No additional controls other than volume
  • Lack of any additional software/app support to customize sound or performance
  • No lightning cable adapter for Apple/iOs users
  • Fingerprints galore
  • The USB-C metal sleeve needs to be better secured

If you made it this far, you likely know what this thing is. If not, let me explain… a DAC/amp dongle is a device that generates more clean power and sound than you might get from your phone or computer directly.

Do you need one? Maybe, or maybe not, as the answer depends on multiple factors. Follow along and your answer will become much clearer!

The embossing on the outer box sleeve is a nice touch.
The embossing on the outer box sleeve is a nice touch.

First Impressions

The E44 is a classy looking small device with excellent wires and fittings. Every part and piece feels premium. There are no loose parts inside or out and it appears to be well engineered and built.

Company Overview

Operating from Dongguan City in Guangdong Province, China, TempoTec Corp. was established more than 20 years ago by a multinational team of audiophiles and experts from China, Taiwan, Korea, and Germany.

“Our Mission: Technology and humanity, is the soul and goal of TempoTec.” – TempoTec

Technical Specifications

  • Form: Dongle/portable headphone DAC/amplifier
  • DAC Chipset: Dual CS43131 from Cirrus Logic
  • Connections:
    • 4.4mm TRRS balanced output / USB Type-C To 4.4mm balanced cable connected with 8-core, single crystal copper silver-plated OCC (Ohno Continuous Cast) wires
  • Performance: 4.4mm balanced output
  • Sampling Rate
  • O/S Compatibility: PC, MAC, and Android (supports OTG function), most devices with USB Type-C ports; compatible with Windows 7, 8, 10, and USB ASIO driver; plug and play
  • On-device controls: hardware volume control (rocker switch) with 32 steps of volume scale
  • Size: 185mm total length x 21mm x 7mm (7.28 x 0.83 x 0.28 inches)
  • Weight: 27.2 grams (.96 ounces)

Packaging

Packaging is a clean and simple affair. An outer white thick paper wrapper surrounds a small, sturdy, black box with a magnetic closing flap. Open the box and you will find the E44 held safely in place in a hard foam block, cut to secure the parts exactly to form. Under the foam block are some additional accessories.

In the box

  • TempoTec Sonata E44
  • 1 female USB-C to male USB-A adapter
  • 4.4mm male balanced to 3.5mm female cable adapter
  • Two thin-film screen-type protectors for the E44 body
  • Two wipes (1 dry, 1 wet)
  • Small High-Res sticker

The E44 does not come with a USB-C to Lightning cable adapter for Apple/iOs devices.

The included 4.4mm balanced to 3.5mm single-ended adapter is unusual. Many amplifiers with balanced outputs do not function properly if this sort of adapter is used (balanced to SE). Please use with care and ensure your device can use such an adapter if trying it with anything other than the E44.
The E44 is safely sheltered in layers of protection. In the rare case that you're not using this or the accessories, they will fit back exactly in their resting position.
The E44 is safely sheltered in layers of protection. In the rare case that you’re not using this or the accessories, they will fit back exactly in their resting position.

Cable

The E44 has two attached flexible cables, the 4.4mm TRS output and the USB-C plug. The E44 uses 8-core, single crystal copper silver-plated OCC wires, an upgrade over the E35’s 4-core 6N single crystal copper wires. According to TempoTec, these are used to improve the transferring accuracy of the digital signal.

The E44 can use either the 4.4mm plug or the 3.5mm plug with the provided adapter. (Source: https://www.tempotec.net)
The E44 can use either the 4.4mm plug or the 3.5mm plug with the provided adapter. (Source: https://www.tempotec.net)

The cables are braided, soft, flexible, and attractive. They look almost exactly like a thinner version of the deluxe Litz monocrystalline silver-plated copper cable supplied with the FiiO FD5.

The E44 uses 8-core, single crystal copper silver-plated OCC wires. (Source: https://www.tempotec.net)
The E44 uses 8-core, single crystal copper silver-plated OCC wires. (Source: https://www.tempotec.net)

Design

The E44 is a small, simple, and attractive thin wafer design. The high-quality black metal case is attractive, with a low-profile rocker button on one side and a label on the rear. The silver cables are a striking contrast to the black body, and the black metal headphone jack is substantial. Given how sturdy every part of the E44 feels, it is still quite lightweight.

The E44’s single long rocker button has an excellent positive-click feel and controls a 32-step volume scale. The volume down button is just above the TempoTec logo and the volume up button is at the other end of the button.

The front and rear view of the E44's main body. (From: https://www.tempotec.net)
The front and rear view of the E44’s main body. (From: https://www.tempotec.net)

The materials on the faceplate lend themselves to heavy fingerprinting and smudging – in case this is of any concern to you. They wipe off easily with any dry cloth, and can be lessened by installing the included thin film protectors.

The USB Type-C connector secures very well – maybe too much so. There is a plastic cable sleeve to secure it all, covered by a black metal sleeve. After my first attempt to remove the E44 from my computer, it pinched the sleeve hard to pull the cable out – safely and properly.

As the black sleeve pulled away and the plug did not come out, my heart skipped a beat. The good news is that the piece is decorative more than functional, and I subsequently super-glued it back on properly.

I discovered after I wrote this article that my colleague Niyi had the identical issue with the jack sleeve while testing the TempoTec E35.
The metal sleeve came off easily, though it thankfully is more cosmetic than critical. This does seem to compromise the E44's performance or durability.
The metal sleeve came off easily, though it thankfully is more cosmetic than critical. This does seem to compromise the E44’s performance or durability.

Internals

The E44 houses and employs dual CS43131 Cirrus Logic DAC chips.

Sonata E44 Performance and Sound

Regarding performance, I have three main priorities with DAC/amps:

  1. Clean power
  2. Low noise
  3. Low distortion

Power

The E44 produces a healthy amount of power for a dongle DAC/amp: 175 mW @ 32 ohm at 4.0 Vrms. With high sensitivity and extremely low crosstalk and distortion, this is a high performance unit for something so small and portable.

The E44 and FiiO FD5 are a cable-matched pair.
The E44 and FiiO FD5 are a cable-matched pair.

I tested the E44 with multiple sources and approximately a dozen headphones and IEMs. To name a representative few with highly variable impedance and sensitivity, these included:

Headphone/IEMSensitivity (dB)Impedance (ohms)
V-Moda Crossfade M-100 10732
Drop + HIFIMAN HE4XX Planar Magnetic Over-ear Open-back Headphones9335
Sennheiser HD58X Open Back Professional Jubilee Headphones104150
Beyerdynamic DT 990 Pro 250 Ohm Over-Ear Studio Headphones96250
FiiO FD5 IEMs10932
Shuoer EJ07M IEMs10719

There is only a small amount of heat generated by the E44, and never any noticeable noise, even with sensitive IEMs (in-ear monitors). For almost all IEMs, the power is exponentially more than they will require (or your ears can safely hear). For most headphones, the E44 produces adequate power to drive them well.

The E44 did a fine job powering the Beyerdynamic DT990 Pro headphones (250 ohms).
The E44 did a fine job powering the Beyerdynamic DT990 Pro headphones (250 ohms).

So can the E44 drive full-size headphones with high impedance? I tested the Beyerdynamic 250 ohm DT990 to confirm that the answer is yes.

Let’s use an example of what the result is using the E44 to drive 300ohm headphones. If you are using the 4.4mm balanced output, the maximum power for your headphones will be 53.3mW (output voltage = 4Vrms, power = 4×4/300=0.0533W).

If you’d like to evaluate how this Sonata E44 will do powering your headphones, please see Headphonesty’s super nifty Headphone Power Calculator!

Noise

A critical test for me given my priorities above is to check for unwanted noise. I plug in the headphones/IEMs and turn the volume up on the original source to maximum (with no signal playing), followed by increasing the volume on the amplifier to maximum, and I listen for hiss or noise.

On many DAC/amps, there is increasing noise in the form of hiss as the volume increases, though often not obvious when there is sound transmitting from the source.

The result every time with any headphones or IEMs: to my ears, ZERO audible noise from the E44. Dark as a sealed lightless chamber.

The stellar Shuoer EJ07M coupled to the E44 with the fantastic Tripowin Zonie 4.4mm cable.
The stellar Shuoer EJ07M coupled to the E44 with the fantastic Tripowin Jelly 4.4mm cable.

Sound

Regarding the overall sound, the E44 is relatively transparent to my ears. What’s most important to discuss is how it differs from a source, particularly a phone or computer with a standard 3.5mm headphone jack. A few notable differences are significant.

First: no audible hiss, noise, or distortion. Second, and most obviously, is the large power difference.

I tested using the stellar Shouer EJ07M with its high-quality stock cable. With the lovely 32AWG 16 Core 21-wire Tripowin Jelly cable, complete with 4.4mm plug (which I highly recommend), the increased power results in far more volume potential, and a very slight difference in my perceived “fullness” of the sound. The same applies with the FiiO FD5.

Depending on the source and destination, is a discernible improvement of clarity in the midrange. When A/B testing between my computer’s onboard 3.5mm jack to the 4.4mm jack on the E44, it sounds as if all the clouds that hang over the midrange disappear.

Where to Buy

It's likely that most people looking at this will have no idea what it is and what it's for!
It’s likely that most people looking at this will have no idea what it is and what it’s for!

Conclusion

Let’s revisit the original question: do you need a portable DAC/amp dongle?

If you have a headphone DAC/amp or a dedicated DAP (digital audio player), you may need the E44 if your current devices are not equally ultra-portable or sufficiently powered.

If you have a higher end computer with advanced audio capabilities, the E44 may not necessarily be an upgrade, unless you are set on using the E44’s 4.4mm balanced connection. If your system has a dedicated sound card, or an external USB DAC/amp, such as the excellent Creative SoundBlaster X4, there is no need for the E44.

However, If you have an average laptop or computer with no advanced audio components, the E44 will be an inexpensive and significant upgrade.

This may likely be the only portable DAC/amp you will ever need.

Packing so much clean power into something so small is quite amazing. The performance from the E44 is clearly far greater than what most phones and computers can offer. If your sounds matter to you, you will enjoy great returns on your investment.

The simplicity of the E44 combined with its performance prowess make this DAC/amp dongle an easy recommendation for a highly portable solution. The Sonata E44 will continue to be an on-the-go travel partner for me and my music!

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