This is an in-depth review of the new Topping DX3 Pro+ which is an affordable desktop integrated DAC and headphone amplifier. It is priced at $199.
Disclaimer: This is a sample unit that was sent to us 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 that we have previously featured on Headfonics click here.
Note, that this article follows our latest scoring guidelines which you can read up on here.
Topping DX3 Pro+ Review
With a neutral-sounding signature, the Topping DX3 Pro+ is a good entry point for budget-conscious audiophiles who want a taste of a well-implemented ESS chip and a substantial 1.8W headphone power output.
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It only took three versions for us to finally get our hands on Topping’s entry-level DAC/Amp combo, the DX3 Pro+. And since this unassuming little box is priced very competitively for the number of features it offers, it is one of those “better late than never” kinds of moments.
The DX3 Pro model minus the ‘plus’ in its nomenclature has already been available in the market for some time maintaining its diminutive shape with a second version only adding Bluetooth 5.0 LDAC support.
The ‘plus’ gets you reworked internals including a new ESS Sabre decoder to replace the dual AKM AK4493 chip of the earlier versions while promising improved overall performance.
Not forgetting those in the hunt for simpler setups without any necessary gear matching, this is a nice update to the growing lineup of Topping that heavily leans towards desktop enthusiasts.
The DX3 Pro+ uses an ESS ES9038Q2M for the DX3 Pro+ with independent L-R channel signal for processing by the NFCA circuit of the headphone amplifier down to a single-ended 3.5mm jack that puts out a generous [email protected]Ω.
The DX3 Pro+ Bluetooth module has been updated to the QCC5125 chipset with its built-in DAC decidedly bypassed relaying the digital signal directly to the onboard ES9038Q2M to handle for better performance.
It does not support MQA playback but can accept up to 32BIT/768kHz PCM and DSD512 digital signal when connected via USB and up to 24BIT/96kHz PCM in Bluetooth mode ensuring owners that an upgrade wouldn’t be necessary for the foreseeable future.
And continuing Topping’s trend of lower THD in every update of its products, the DX3 Pro+ measured 0.00015% THD in both its DAC and Amplifier section. This is a 60% improvement for the DAC and 85% for the amp compared with the LDAC version values.
While the unpretentious blockish design of the DX3 Pro+ will not turn heads, the aluminum main housing was given a soft inward curvature on its side with a moderate outward arc by the front panel to give some dimensionality and depth.
The silver color reviewed here has a very sleek appeal with four fairly tall feet holding the unit upright giving a floating effect that further accentuates the polish of the metal.
At the front of the device is the LED display with vibrant orange lit bottom section used to show most of the information about the unit and a cool-blue lit top portion which shows the active input selected. This is an improvement over the LDAC version’s all orange display but I still would have preferred a less eye-catching color to match the clean look.
The DX3 Pro+ multipurpose volume knob has a tactile feel when accessing the menu by pressing in. It feels secured and protrudes enough for easy grip although it generates a loud metallic clink in each turn of the notch.
Overall, because of its palm-sized chassis that is deeper than it is wide, the DX3 Pro+ is very easy to tuck away. It also looks tidy with only two Hex screws neatly hidden in the rear as the only way to get access inside the unit.
Using the DX3 Pro+ as a hub for your TV, gaming, and wireless purposes will be no problem having access to a variety of digital inputs at the back. Aside from the standard USB and optical connections, there are two slots available for coaxial inputs and an antenna for Bluetooth 5.0 music streaming.
Located beside the coaxial inputs is the RCA output that can be fixed at 2Vrms when in DAC mode or serve as a Pre-amp with volume control. For headphone and IEM users, there is a single-ended 3.5mm jack at the front but no 6.3mm, in which case aftermarket adaptors may be needed.
Topping manages to squeeze the controls of the DX3 Pro+ GUI using only the volume knob. There is a small learning curve using this method but it is fairly intuitive after going through each menu at least once.
Pressing the volume turns the unit on and succeeding presses will cycle through the five input choices displaying the sample rate briefly before showing the volume. Hitting the button twice will switch the output modes between RCA, 3.5mm, or both which is important to remember since choosing the last option will send a signal on both outputs at all times.
All the other settings such as gain, brightness, DAC/Pre-amp mode, filters, etc. can only be accessed via the setup menu. Do note that the instruction on the manual on how to enter this menu is incorrect or confusing at best since how I managed to access the setup menu is to first unplug the device and then press and hold the volume knob while plugging it back in.
Thankfully, the DX3 Pro+ comes with a remote for raising and lowering the volume plus changing the settings as mentioned above. The volume changes in 1db increments from -99dB to -10dB before switching to 0.5dB per turn until it maxes out at 0dB.
Packaging & Accessories
As standard with Topping, the DX3 Pro+it comes in a white cardboard box with generous foam inserts to keep the contents secure. The unboxing is a straightforward experience with not that much to complain about.
Located on the right is the DX3 Pro+ waiting to be removed from its cover. While the power cable, USB cable, antenna, and remote are all packed neatly on the left side.
Aside from the other accessories that come as standard, the antenna that comes with the package seems to be an upgrade from the short and fixed design of the LDAC version to a longer antenna with flexibility in positioning.
While the DX3 Pro+ is an entry-level gear when compared to the likes of the D90 and A90 stack from Topping, I still had high expectations with this gear seeing the number of performance optimizations printed on paper.
Linearity and authenticity are the first things that came to mind when I first listened to using the 3.5mm jack. First impressions aside, there are a few notable characteristics worth noting.
The DX3 Pro+ bass doesn’t carry a lot of weight in sending deep notes but keeps a tight image not overly emphasized and well managed. Depending on the song, this region can get a bit unexciting although it tells how it leaves the lower region untouched if not for its slight cut-off in the sub-bass which pulls the room-filling energy of drums.
Quite a similar situation on the vocal region as it doesn’t add unneeded sweetness or flavor for a simple flat delivery. Detail retrieval is a balance of great vocal textures in throaty characters only to lose the breathiness on some parts.
Icing the cake, the treble is surprisingly resolving with authoritative snare drums that are splashy but not harsh. Cymbals have a sense of airiness only lacking a bit in scale and some micro details.
The overall balanced signature of the DX3 Pro+ allows the staging to breathe without any specific regions competing against one another with only an honest reproduction that moves far or near depending on the song. Layering could be better but the 1.8W amplifier is helping in the dynamics.
Having experienced the transparency of the A90 amplifier, I went in scrutinizing the DAC section of the DX3 Pro+ anticipating a fairly similar sound signature. I tested the unit’s DAC output by connecting the RCA to my Burson Funk amplifier which is important to note since while it is a fairly resolving gear, it has its sonic characteristics.
Listening again to the same tracks I used in the DAC/Amp section, I noticed a minor bump in bass presence adding a bit of body to the bass. Extension of the lower bass region retained more information increasing the overall experience.
There is no significant change in the midrange, keeping its flat response aside from some tweaks in female vocals that sounded a bit sweeter. This continues to the treble receiving a small dose of airiness and scale.
Topping managed to implement the QCC5125 chipset upgrade inside the DX3 Pro+. Listening back and forth between USB and Bluetooth I find it close to identical. Only a handful of times did I hear a difference in resolution and dynamics that for casual listening it is surely a pass.
The DX3 Pro+ Bluetooth connection will pair instantly to a known device and in my test stayed connected for 10 meters behind two walls. From USB to Bluetooth the volume is slightly lower by around 3dB.