The TempoTec Sonata iDSD is a very affordable portable Amp/DAC capable of up to DSD128, OTG, and Apple iOS connectivity. It retails for $70 and will be down to $49 during the 11.11 sale this 2019 on their Aliexpress store here.
Disclaimer: The TempoTec Sonata iDSD sent to us is a sample in exchange for our honest opinion. We thank TempoTec for this opportunity.
To learn more about TempoTec reviews on Headfonics you can click here.
This is my first venture with TEMPOTEC, I’ve no experience with their products that I am aware of in my past history. I was recently sent their Sonata iDSD, which is a $70 portable DAC and Amplifier unit.
There is certainly a ton of competition in his area, so I am curious to find out of this new player can tango with the other warriors in the Hifi Gauntlet.
Build and Package
The packaging was very basic, just a small box with a cardboard cutout insert and a small guidebook. Beyond that, a charging cable and two connection cables for iOS and android were included. The Sonata iDSD is crafted out of aluminum, but, I am a bit underwhelmed by it. I realize the unit is only $70, but the metal used feels very thin and lacking.
The overall weight of the product is on the lighter side, which does not exude a sense of solidity. In fact, quite the opposite. I feel like the internals feels almost empty and the bulk of the weight comes from its exterior edges. Moreover, there is something rattling inside when gently shaken.
The volume buttons are not what I would consider high quality. The power switch is actually very tough to toggle back and forth and requires far too much strength to operate. I am deeply saddened by the lack of a physically desirable exterior build. This is a rare case that, even with a metal chassis, the product still feels lower tier in build.
Right off the bat, the volume buttons have an almost plastic-like feel that is contrary to the rest of the unit’s build, in tactility, and the power switch is difficult to operate. It is not a good sign when both volume buttons jiggle and feel loose when just one of them is being handled. This unit isn’t even close to the DH1000 in physical build quality.
At $70, DSD playback, at least by today’s standards, is not a new feature for me and I feel like DSD128 is almost standard these days, using an ESS ES9018K2M DAC + ES9601K Headphone Amp in today’s market is years past what should be in there.
The old iBasso DX90 used the ES9018K2M and I am not fond of them in most implementations. They require EQ and DSP to sound their best and these circuits can be found in much cheaper gear at the moment.
I am not sure I am okay with a 2018-2019 product housing them at this price point. Turns out this Sonata iDSD is actually a Hidizs DH1000 in disguise, for the most part. They are almost identical, I am told.
DAC and iOS
The DAC function, via a computer connection, is just fine overall. The ES9018K2M is stone age now and over the past few reviews of products that still use it, I’ve mentioned that I am not fond of it any longer and wish it to fully retire out of our niche hobby.
It isn’t until this circuit runs through a filter that I find it acceptable, as referenced prior, the old DX50/90 from iBasso running custom firmware unlocks a hoard of potential functions with EQ. If I am not running this Sonata through something as detailed as Foobar2000, I am not really going to use it because I don’t feel the stock (EQ disabled) setup to sound of a $70 quality these days.
Functionality through Apple products is really nice though, I admit. I enjoy the iOS function output through my iPhone 6s, although, I don’t have internal storage possibility because Apple doesn’t seem to want you to use a micro SD card or any expandable memory.
I can’t complain really, my Oneplus6T is doing the same while removing the 3.5mm headphone jack. So, what am I using the Sonata and the Apple product for outside of the small internal memory possibility? Well, just streaming services.
If you aren’t using Tidal Premium, I say don’t bother. I can’t hear any difference with this setup between premium and standard music streaming services, for the most part. So, I find the iOS functionality just a bonus that isn’t at all needed.
The low end of this Sonata iDSD is severely lacking bass depth when used on a flat EQ or DSP-less setup. With all extras disabled on my source, the Sonata iDSD requires bass-heavy tracks + some solid EQ to sound bassy. Too much. I am dropping in over +5dB on Foobar2000’s realbassexciter DSP (my favorite bass anything function in any software) and it hardly makes a dent in bass depth.
What I do hear in its stead is more physical strike and more of a potential to sound overblown, which isn’t really a fault of the internal circuits, but at +5dB I would say that most DAC’s have this issue to begin with. At this price range, that is to be expected, so I am neither happy nor sad over it.
What fidelity is offered, is just fine and more than acceptable in value ratio. I am a bit let down by depth and quantity though. Again, the quality feels and sounds similar to the DH1000, which was over double the price of this Sonata iDSD at one point. I found the fidelity of the bass to be solid and lovely, but the responsiveness and depth to be lacking too much.
Undoubtedly, this Sonata iDSD is mildly centered toward vocals, at least, in general, and in my opinion. The midrange bloom is prominent and very well set up for usage with headphones like my ATH ESW11LTD, which is a headphone I regard for offering excellent and forward midrange.
As far as the substance factor goes, I would make sure to pair with something that is hefty in tonality and physicality. Otherwise, you will likely be pairing a moderately thin-sounding headphone with a DAC/AMP that is on the lower side of what I would consider tonally plentiful. By that, I mean that the Sonata feels somewhat thin overall and something I would pair with older gen Grado headphones or Sennheiser’s.
Surely, the raw quality offered is actually very nice for the price. I am more than satisfied with it, but I am worried about the lack of physicality, which becomes apparent when you try to use this product with higher-end headphones that offer high substance and density factor to their physical setup and feel.
Those headphones I know to sound moderate to very thick, sound much thinner when used with the Sonata, so just be careful with pairing and opt for something budget to lower mid-tier overall, or, headphones not known or regarded for high physicality and density.
The top end is extremely neutral feeling, I would go as far as calling it dry and natural, colorless even. Which is a good thing. I denote very little sparkle factor, so if you are into the very neutral sounding upper end and have treble happy headphones being used with this, then the Sonata might be a great option for you because I’ve felt it to underplay the top end of bright headphones to a more suitable and enjoyable level.
My Grado White ($899) model headphone is what I would consider a bit hostile up top and this Sonata iDSD really does a good job retaining solid quality, while at the same time, making very harsh tracks sound less harsh on an already somewhat harsh treble headphone.
I do not find it particularly well adaptable to EQ or DSP usage though, tossing a lot of extra up top, in an attempt to make very reserved headphones sound a bit brighter, was unsuccessful.
DH1000 vs Sonata iDSD
“But, you said they are the same, Mike!”
Not quite. The Sonata iDSD has one DAC chip and the DH1000 has two of them. This could potentially be why I am not hearing a solid relationship between them and that I feel the DH1000 to have really good quality treble vs the Sonata iDSD’s lesser and reserved appeal.
As for fidelity between them? I am not sure they are more than audibly different, it is hard to judge because one is always much brighter and abundant and the other is reserved. I can safely say that the DH1000 is the more lively feeling on a flat EQ and swapping to the same track on the Sonata iDSD with the same headphone, results in a toned-down, more humbling experience on the top end.
The overall response to EQ is relatively mild, but that isn’t a bad thing. If you are being a neutral DAC/Amp, you probably don’t care about EQ anyway. Thankfully, the top end is not painful, wince-worthy or bright even with some added boosting on the treble side.
I find the experience at the top end very enjoyable and fatigue-free. I almost wish that more portable units like this would opt for a more reserved tonality up top, as this Sonata does. Why? Well, I’d rather start reserved and add more in if I am able than to start out painfully harsh and have to dial it back.
Under no circumstances do I ever subjectively desire harshness, even if the track is harsh. That is for critical listening and reviewing, which is part of this, of course. But subjectively, when I am trying to enjoy music, I don’t listen critically and do not want harsh anything, ever.
The Sonata iDSD is actually pretty solid when it comes to coherency, which means the physical setup is not lacking in any given area. The height, width, and depth are all roughly on par and one specific area there does not exceed the values of the other two.
The depth of field is a bit lacking, but for the price am not going to complain. There are plenty of other more expensive DAC’s I have that ended up sounding the same in-depth of field factor. However, again, density and realism in tactility is the lacking feature.
For the price, it is good overall and I can’t really negatively critique it anywhere. If I had a gripe, it would be the solidity factor, which is a problem from top to bottom. I desire more heft and I know there are a lot of others who don’t care for that.
The Sennheiser HD800 doesn’t have the heft of a Planar Magnetic headphone, well, for the most part. So, that doesn’t mean the HD800 is auto-fail. It depends on the rest of the traits as a whole and in regard to imaging overall, the Sonata iDSD plays nice with DSD tracks, which is where the real magic happens anyway.
DSD + Hiby App
I would not recommend the Sonata iDSD for anything but raw DSD usage. The reason is that the Sonata iDSD using DSD playback vs non-DSD playback is like night and day. The literal fidelity offered for very high-quality tracks is excellent overall, especially when you factor in that the unit is geared for iOS users and can be used with phones.
Grab yourself a Hiby app and hope you have good internal storage or the use of a micro SD card because it is worth it to use it with DSD and this Sonata iDSD. If this were the case for you, I say grab and go, enjoy the hell out of it because there aren’t very many other portable players at this price point or any other DAC’s that support iOS in this manner.
Used as a PC DAC though, I think I would opt for something else though. Something dedicated to raw and only PC usage might be a better option. However, for portable needs, this is a steal. No doubts there.
The Sonata iDSD is a solid little DAC/Amp. It will double as both a PC and portable phone DAC output. I am not exactly happy about the lower end feeling button quality, but given the competitive price, I am not sure I can really complain much.
This Sonata iDSD is a great little DSD player overall, but I do wish it had a better response to EQ. It is neutral for the most part, except for the reserved top end which hard limits the harsh treble most of the time (which is a good thing, in my opinion) and that will sound mild to moderately hefty even with very hefty sounding headphones.
I would recommend this as a great travel companion with its solid 10-hour battery life and good output power. You won’t be driving needy Planar’s with it very well, but not many people are going to pair a Planar with this Sonata anyway. This is geared for a budget to mid-tier headphones, the most part. I do enjoy the experience overall with my older Grado 225i though, I found that rig pairing very nice.
If you are looking for a budget DSD player that can support iOS on the go, then this might be worth looking into. The Sonata iDSD and the Hidizs DH1000 are literal blood brothers. I enjoyed both.