Topping D10 Balanced is an ES9038Q2M implemented entry-level DAC capable of decoding up to 32BIT/386kHz and DSD256. It is priced at $139.
Disclaimer: The Topping Topping D10 Balanced sent to us is a sample in exchange for our honest opinion. We thank the team at Shenzhen Audio and Topping for giving us this opportunity.
To read more about Topping products we have reviewed on Headfonics click here.
Note, this 2-page review follows our new scoring guidelines for 2021 which you can read up on here.
Topping D10 Balanced
While the Topping D10 Balanced looks much like an entry-level DAC, it’s a clear step up from most entry-level offerings. The D10 Balanced offers a safer tonal balance that ensures most tracks won’t become sibilant even with more energetic downstream equipment.
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Topping has always been in the business of creating feature-packed DACs, and Amps without exorbitant sticker prices. In a way, they have created a market niche with products like the D30 Pro, D90, and L30 which have all come through our office for a thorough review.
Most of Topping’s products are unique because they offer something that hasn’t previously been available at that price point.
While balanced DACs have previously been reserved for more premium products, Topping has been bringing balanced DACs to lower and lower price points, and this time, they have brought it down to below the $150 mark with the D10 Balanced DAC.
For its USB input controller, the D10 Balanced uses the widely popular XMOS XU208 USB controller chip. Downstream to the XU208, the D10 Balanced is equipped with an ES9028 Q2M DAC chip, which is part of Sabre’s top-of-the-line ES9038 series of DAC chips. This combination allows the D10 Balanced to decode both PCM 32bit/768kHz and DSD256.
The XMOS XU208 also makes the D10 Balanced compatible with devices with Windows 10 or above, MAC, and Linux devices. Aside from running the standard driver, the D10 Balanced also runs a Thesycon driver that enables ASIO, (audio stream input/output), for better source fidelity.
On top of having powerful decoding capabilities, the D10 Balanced is also designed to have diminishingly low THD numbers at just 0.00012%. It’s quite impressive to see that the D10 Balanced has all these capabilities while just being powered off of just a USB input.
With the D10 Balanced, Topping took the chassis of their popular D10 and D10s DACs and made adjustments to accommodate a pair of balanced outputs at the rear of the device. Similar to the D10’s previous incarnations, D10 Balanced also comes in 2 colors, either black or silver.
Right in the middle of the cassis is a large display that shows the sample rate of what is currently being played by the DAC. There are no other controls in the front of the device, as the D10 Balanced is a straight-up DAC. At the rear, the inputs and outputs available to the D10 Balanced are nicely laid out.
Overall, the chassis of the D10 Balanced is a standard aluminum chassis with nice rubber feet. This ensures that the D10 Balanced will not slide around despite the smaller stature of the device with the heavier balanced cables that will be attached to the rear of the device.
The input options that are available on the D10 Balanced can be considered limited, only having a standard USB B port that serves as both the power input and the data input to the device.
While there are no other input options, the D10 Balanced surprisingly has 2 digital outputs, which means that the D10 Balanced can be used as a USB to a coaxial or optical converter.
Aside from the digital outputs, the D10 Balanced is of course equipped with a pair of balanced outputs, but there is no option for a single-ended output for the D10 Balanced. Also, Topping explicitly warns against converting the balanced outputs on the D10 Balanced to single-ended, so the D10 Balanced is strictly a balanced device.
With the limited available space on the D10 Balanced’s smaller chassis, Topping was forced to use a pair of ¼” TRS outputs which isn’t the most widely adopted balanced connection particularly in the headphone space.
Packaging & Accessories
The D10 Balanced packaging is unassuming and typical of what Topping sends over with most of their smaller DACs, like the D10s. The inside of the box is also lined with foam inserts that ensure that the DAC and the accessories are kept safe during storage and transport.
Of course, the box contains what you would expect, like the DAC itself, a USB cable, and the manuals. The most striking inclusion is a pair of ¼” to 3-pin XLR balanced connectors.
I believe that the inclusion of this connector makes up for the use of a less common balanced connector due to the space constraints of the D10 Balanced.
The overall tonal balance on the D10 Balanced generally stays on the safer side, since it has a generally neutral tonality with a hint of bass warmth. This ensures that it would stay away from inducing any sibilance into any source chain that it’s connected to.
Although the D10 Balanced isn’t the last word in speed and dynamics, it still has an enjoyable overall presentation. This translates to the D10 Balanced having a smoother overall treble range in addition to the hint of bass warmth.
Like most DAC’s the D10 Balanced strives to remain generally neutral, and to some extent, it does so accurately. The most striking quality when I hear it though is that there is a bump in the bass that gives it that hint of excitement and energy. However, the more emphasized bass also gives it more bloom while presenting textures and nuances in the bass region.
When it comes to the control over the bass response, the D10 Balanced isn’t the last word in control, but still maintains enough control over it to keep it from bleeding into the other frequencies.
Reproduction of percussion instruments like drums has a lot of weight behind them while seemingly lingering too much in terms of attack and decay.
Although the midrange is not particularly emphasized, the midrange textures are very well executed. This allows the vocal nuances of singers to come through clearly, so things like the opening of the lips, or the raspy quality of some vocals are presented well.
Similarly, the nuances of midrange instruments are clear, presenting how the wood in these instruments resonates.
While the midrange is generally textured, the vocal range isn’t embellished with a richer harmonic balance. This detracts from the euphony in the midrange but ensures overall clarity. The natural timbre of midrange instruments and vocals are maintained, so brighter instruments remain bright, while instruments that are already warmer remain warm.
Part of the reason why the timbre in the midrange is properly maintained is because of the balance between the midrange and the treble. So treble instruments aren’t emphasized compared to the other frequencies, but they aren’t subdued either.
When it comes to the bite in each treble note though, the D10 Balanced stays on the safer side. This means that while cymbal hits can sound splashy, the crystalline qualities and the edginess in each hit aren’t as prominent. Although this may detract from the energy levels that the D10 Balanced produces, it also means that the D10 Balanced won’t become fatiguing too quickly
Staging & Dynamics
Creating an expansive soundstage isn’t the D10 Balanced’s strong suit. However, depending on the source material, the D10 Balanced can create a measure of depth within the soundstage. Layering within the soundstage is not particularly delineated though, so expect some of the layers to overlap with each other with certain tracks.
In contrast, the directionality within the soundstage is very accurate, allowing images to be properly formed where they should be. Even the center image that is created with the D10 Balanced is accurately placed within the soundstage.
However, when it comes to the space that the images occupy, the images don’t seem to occupy a finite amount of space resulting in some of them smearing together at times. With larger orchestral recordings or rock anthems, the background isn’t too separated from the main vocals due to the smearing effect.
When it comes to the presentation of softer and gentler passages, the D10 Balanced generally manages the louder passages superbly. This allows large crescendos to come through with much gusto and energy. However, when it comes to dainty piano tracks, the keystrokes sound much heavier than they ought to be.
In Topping’s marketing material, the D10 Balanced is typically shown together with their A30 Pro headphone amplifier, so I figured that it would make a good starting point.
Listening to this pair with my HD600, this pairing gave a bit more vocal euphony, while accentuating the sub-bass roll off the HD600 with some of that sub-bass warmth. This pairing also masked some of the perceived lack of speed in the D10 Balanced’s attack and decay while giving bass notes a sense of scale and breadth.
The next pairing was the SMSL SH-8s, which I tried with the Sivga Phoenix. This pairing gave the Phoenix more warmth while having a more expansive soundstage courtesy of the Phoenix’ more airy presentation.
However, the overall speed and tonal balance of the SH-8s together with the Phoenix brought gave this source chain an overall bright harmonic tilt and a colder presentation.
The most price-appropriate pairing that I found though came with the xDuoo MT-604, which is a balanced-only amplifier. In a way, the 2 products have a lot of similarities because they are both designed as pure balanced devices at affordable prices.
Adding in some of that “tube magic” into the source chain complements the D10 Balanced, as the MT-604 projects a more expansive soundstage while having a more immediate sense of attack and decay.
However, the more striking pairing is with the Poseidon, as the added air from the Poseidon opens up the soundstage, while the bass warmth from the D10 Balanced creates a tasteful synergy with both the MT-604 and the Poseidon.