This is a review of the TempoTec Sonata E35 which is a dual DAC dongle capable of up to DSD256 and 80mW of output power. It is priced at $69.90.
Disclaimer: This was sent to us as a sample for our honest opinion. Headfonics is an independent website with no affiliate links or services. We thank Linsoul and TempoTec for this opportunity.
To learn more about TempoTec products that have been previously featured on Headfonics you can click here.
Note that this article follows our latest scoring guidelines which you can read up on here.
TempoTec is a company that was established by audiophiles from different countries including China, Taiwan, Korea, and Germany. Since their inception, they have released products under 3 different lines which are the Fantasia, Serenade, and the Sonata line.
A few TempoTec products have since come through our office, including the TempoTec Serenade iDSD, and the TempoTec Sonata iDSD. However, with more users going with even more portable setups, TempoTec has come up with a flexible dongle solution in the form of the Sonata E35.
Internally, the Sonata E35 has a pair of CS43131 chipsets, which is a DAC solution that is widely used with some DAPs such as the Hiby R3 Pro and even some desktop DACs such as the Topping D30 Pro.
Downstream from the DAC circuity, the Sonata E35 has an amplifier that’s capable of up to 80mW into a 32Ω load through its 3.5mm single-ended output.
Working in conjunction, the amp and the DAC circuit are measured to have a THD+N of113dB and capable of decoding PCM streams up to 32BIT/384kHz and DSD256. However, the Sonata E35 doesn’t have any MQA capability for those who might be looking for that.
Looking at the Sonata E35, it’s a compact dongle DAC with cables sticking out of it on both ends. On one end, there is a USB-C connection and a 3.5mm TRS output on the other end, all using 4-core single crystal copper wires. The wires attached to the Sonata E35 are soft but a bit clunky when attached compared to other dongles.
The body of the DAC itself is made of plastic which is inlaid with high gloss reflective plastic. On top of the dongle, there is a volume rocker that’s rarely found on products like these. What’s glaringly missing though is any LED on the dongle, so there is no power or sample rate indicator which would have been helpful.
Being a simple dongle DAC, the Sonata E35 only has one input option, which is a USB C type input. Despite a singular port, the E35 is compatible with a wide variety of devices including PCs, Macs, Android devices, and even TempoTec V1 HiFi players.
As for the output, the E35 only has a 3.5mm TRS single-ended output, which can be used for either headphones or IEMs or into an amplifier using an RCA converter. My suggestion is primarily for IEM use given its output rating.
Since there are no buttons aside from the volume rockers, there is no way to switch off the E35 short of physically unplugging it.
TempoTec decided to add a pair of volume buttons that allow the user to change the output volume on the E35 which is independent of the phone’s volume control. So simply leaving your device on full volume will allow you to take advantage of the full volume range that the volume rockers can provide.
Packaging & Accessories
For branding purposes, the Sonata E35 comes in a box with an outer sleeve that shows a picture of the dongle, Sonata branding, and of course information about the E35.
After removing the outer sleeve, there is a magnetic flip-top box that’s rigid enough to ensure that the contents would remain intact through transport and storage.
Inside the box, there are foam inserts that will keep the E35 from moving around inside the box. Aside from the dongle the package also contains a USB-C to USB-A adaptor and screen protectors that will keep the shiny part of your E35 scratch-free through everyday use.
Most DAC/Amps in the market today tend to aim for a strictly neutral presentation, with perfect accuracy being paramount.
However, this doesn’t always lead to the most engaging presentation, and that’s where the experience of the team at TempoTec comes in, as they tuned the E35 to be more engaging and full while maintaining a degree of accuracy.
With a mild v-shaped tonal balance, the E35 makes for a more energetic listening experience. This allows the bass to have a bold and filled-in presentation while maintaining enough control to not bleed into the midrange. I would have wanted to hear a bit more bass decay though since drum hits sound a bit too short to be natural.
Having a v-shaped tonal balance of course means that the midrange may be a bit recessed compared to the rest of the frequency spectrum. This means that it may be overshadowed by the bass response at times. Fortunately, the vocal presentation remains textured and nuanced while the E35 injects a splash of euphony to add some character to it.
With midrange instruments, the E35 presents them with much realism and clarity. This allows guitars to sound very singular and crisp, allowing each string to resonate well while having a sweeter timbral presentation. Pianos, on the other hand, tend to sound a bit thinner, making each keystroke sound crystalline while lacking a bit of body.
To give the presentation more energy, there is a slight lift in the treble which gives each note a sense of edginess and sparkle. However, I would have wanted to hear a bit more splash with sustain. Wind instruments have a striking sense of attack which gives each note a sense of immediacy, however, the lack of airiness leads to a lack of realism.
Staging & Dynamics
Despite a lack of airiness, the E35 maintains a wider soundstage presentation allowing instruments to hang around the outer edges of the stage when needed. However, the lack of airiness ends up making it more difficult to delineate the images within the soundstage as they tend to blur together at times.
Fortunately, the images within the soundstage are layered to some extent, but I would have wanted more distinction between the nearer and further elements within the soundstage. When it comes to the size of the images, the images tend to be larger and more physical because of the more planted fundamental.
Having a rated power output of 80mW into 32Ω isn’t anything to write home about, so I wasn’t really expecting much from the E35. Plugging in relatively easy-to-drive IEMs, I was expecting to need to almost max out the volume, but I only needed to reach 60% for my normal listening levels on the BGVP DM8, and 50% on the Mangird MT4.
Moving over to the higher impedance Sennheiser HD600, I needed to reach 95% to reach my normal listening levels but the presentation was not optimal given this is a high impedance headphone it needs a lot more voltage.
With the Sendy Apollo, the E35 ended up playing really loud at 90% of the volume. So I would say that the E35 can be used with even some moderately difficult-to-drive headphones at a pinch.
Having a more colored tonal presentation leads to the E35 veering towards certain IEMs more than others. With the BGVP DM8, the E35 sounded euphonic and sweet but ended up a bit too sweet for my tastes, making most cymbal hits lack edginess and bite. The soundstage presentation isn’t particularly wide with this pairing as well.
Swapping in the Mangird MT4 allows the E35’s character to shine through a bit more, as there is a sense of euphony and injected liquidity to contrast the drier presentation. Also, the wider soundstage presentation allows this paring to complement each other more competently.
With full-sized headphones, I tried to run the HD600, which is a bit of a stretch for the E35, as this pairing ended up giving the E35 a bit of a hard time. Although the bass didn’t end up being rolled off too much, the pairing ended up making the soundstage more compressed than I expected it to be.
On the flip side, the Sendy Apollo took advantage of the more energetic presentation of the E35, making for an engaging overall tonal balance. Also, the timbral presentation on the Apollo ended up being more accurate, while having a bit of airiness to expand the soundstage presentation on the E35.
Internally, the TC35 has an ESS ES9281AC USB codec chip, which allows it to decode MQA on top of 32BIT/768kHz PCM and DSD512. However, having an integrated headphone circuit would limit the TC35 to just 62mW into 32Ω while having a measured THD+N of 0.00004%.
Physically, the TC35 can come in 3 forms, Tetris, Mountain, and Eye, with the Tetris form being sent to us. This form has a removable USB cable, then either a USB-C or a lighting cable can be bought together with it. This makes the TC35 a more versatile proposal, as it doesn’t lock the user down to USB-C particularly when the Tetris form factor is chosen.
Despite having a removable cable, the TC35 has smaller physical dimensions since it only has a cable on the USB connection side, while the 3.5mm jack is flush inside the body of the DAC. This makes the TC35 a bit neater comparatively.
On the body of the TC35, there is a solitary LED light that serves as the sample rate indicator. However, the TC35 doesn’t have any volume control buttons to allow the user to change the internal volume of the DAC.
Having a slight difference in rated power output numbers typically requires me to increase the volume by 1 notch to volume match.
While the TC35 doesn’t lean too heavily towards being mid-centric, it’s comparatively more mid-centric. This allows the vocals to have an even more textured and warmer character while maintaining euphony and airiness in the midrange presentation.
The bass is equally textured and detailed, but also more relaxed on the TC35 partly due to the more sluggish sense of decay with each bass note. While both DACs have a similar level of treble sparkle and edginess, I would have wanted to hear a bit more treble body, which would have given cymbals and wind instruments a more accurate timbral presentation.
Despite the thinner treble presentation, there is an uptick in the TC35’s upper treble, giving it a more pronounced sense of airiness and space. This allows the TC35 to have a more spaced-out imaging presentation, however, the placement of the images within the soundstage is similarly accurate on both dongles.
Hilidac Audirect Beam 3 Pro
While the Audirect Beam 3 Pro also uses the ESS 9381AC USB codec chip, it also houses a pair of opamps to power the headphone amplifier circuit. This allows the Beam 3 Pro to have a higher rated output of up to 150mW into 32Ω.
With the relatively high rated output, the Beam 3 Pro also has 3 gain stages to make volume control more manageable. It also allows the Beam 3 Pro to push a bit more current at lower gain settings.
Adding more components typically adds a bit more noise into the system, but the Beam 3 Pro managed to keep noise at a very low 0.0003% THD+N. This puts it on the same level as most dongles that boast of dead silent operation.
Comparing the dongles the Beam 3 Pro is a more compact device, particularly because it doesn’t have any wires hanging out of either end. However, the Beam 3 Pro feels more substantial and denser. Also, the Beam 3 Pro has a removable USB cable, so it can just as easily be replaced with a lightning cable, making it more versatile.
While the Beam 3 Pro doesn’t have volume controls, it has a button that can change the gain setting on the DAC/Amp. Then there are indicator lights on the front fascia that indicate the gain setting and the sampling rate of the file it’s currently decoding.
Having a bit more power to play with, the Beam 3 Pro needed to be set at a lower volume level to achieve the same listening levels. This means that the Beam 3 Pro may play better with harder-to-drive headphones comparatively, and this shows most prominently with the Sennheiser HD600, where the Beam 3 Pro gave the HD600 a bit more space.
The tonal balance on the two dongles is similar, with both having a mild v-shaped tilt. Bass on both DAC/Amps is similar in terms of quantity and control, however, the Beam 3 Pro ends up lacking that last bit of detail retrieval and texture. The treble on the Beam 3 Pro, on the other hand, tends to be thinner and a bit more subdued.
The midrange timbre on the Beam 3 Pro is a touch warmer with a more planted fundamental. This gives the vocalists a bit more grunt and power while having a similar level of texture and nuance.
However, the Beam 3 Pro tends to be even less airy, making the images within the soundstage even less delineated despite having similarly accurate placement.
With the plasticky build, lighter frame, and the cables protruding out of both ends of the DAC, I find the TempoTect Sonata E35 to have a less than stellar build quality. Not to mention having protruding wires makes operation a bit clunky. However, I wouldn’t fault the company for this, as some savings had to come from somewhere to achieve its $70 price point.
Once the dongle is plugged in though, it became apparent to me that most of the budget has been spent on the internals of the device.
With a more energetic presentation and the clarity to match, I can hear how the E35 can easily have synergy with a wide variety of IEMs, and even some moderately sensitive headphones, particularly ones that already have a wide soundstage, to begin with.
Tempotec Sonata E35 Specifications
- DAC: DUAL CS43131
- SNR: 128dB
- THD+N: 113dB
- OUTPUT LEVEL: 2VRMS
- OUTPUT POWER: 80 mW/32ohm
- Frequency: 0-40KHZ /+- 0.5dB
- Crosstalk: -95dB
- SUPPORT: PCM 32Bit/384kHz DSD256(NATIVE) DSD128(DOP)
- SUPPORT: HW VOLUME CONTROL
- SUPPORT: PC MAC and Andoid
- SUPPORT: W7 W8 W10 &ASIO DRIVER