Today’s post is a review of the Topping E30 II which is a compact desktop DAC featuring a dual AKM AK4493S chipset and up to DSD512 decoding. It is priced at $149.00.
Disclaimer: This is a sample unit 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.
The original Topping E30 earned the attention of several enthusiasts out there who wish for a taste of what an external device brings to the table. Better yet, it was also conveniently offered with a partner, the L30 amplifier.
But as effective as the E30 is in its positioning, a lot has already appeared in the market since it paused production due to an AKM chip shortage. So, with the AKM factory now back at full speed Topping seemed to have other plans for its beloved entry-level DAC.
The Topping E30 II may look the same outside and yet there is a $20 increase in retail price over the original. This is because making its way to the internals is a beefed-up dual DAC upgrade and a lot of performance improvements that will hopefully put it back on the map.
Resolute to design advancement and to one-up the E30 in every possible way, Topping prepared a table on its website laying out what’s been done to its latest revision. While nothing revolutionary has been publicized, it is still worth noting that both the SNR and dynamic range are now up to 123dB.
And more than making up for its lack of other goodies like a Bluetooth antenna, the E30 II doubled up with two AKM AK4493S DAC chips which are using the VELVET SOUND tech.
The price increase most likely came from the updated DAC implementation since a pair of AKM chips are now involved so the circuit probably had to be reworked to utilize the bump in tech.
Working hand in hand is the XMOS XU208 USB receiver that fully extends the compatibility of the E30 II to 32bit/768kHz and DSD512.
It wouldn’t be noticeable externally but Topping has also touched the power supply to address some noise concerns they think the E30 had. The E30 II now uses a discrete LNDR (Low Noise Reference Driver) circuit to manage the noise floor lower than 1.5uV.
The announcement of the second iteration of the E30 may have some exciting elements internally but it is kind of a letdown that the outer expression is left as is. I thought that after their daring DX5 release, new releases of Topping will follow suit.
Without the first version, I can’t fully commit that there aren’t any other updates besides the E30 II badge on the lower left corner. Still, this leaves us with the same chassis that gives the E30 II its timeless look.
It may have the ability to act as a preamp except the front plate is kept clean and flush with only a display and touch-sensitive sensor to show. As a set-and-forget device, I like the simplicity of the E30 II allowing it to discretely hide in a corner extending its functions to the remote only when necessary.
The brightness of the screen could be changed in the menu but the default is already set just right in my opinion. Everything is laid out and easily understood making it a breeze to install in any system.
There’s no major physical difference in this latest iteration of the E30 II compact DAC from Topping when compared to the original. The upgrades are mostly internal so it isn’t surprising that the IO follows suit with what the E30 came with.
Being small doesn’t mean being limited since the E30 II houses USB, optical, and coaxial digital inputs. Sure, Topping could have upgraded to a USB-C input and added a Bluetooth streaming capability, but the list is already enough for entry-level enthusiasts.
All the signals the E30 passes through its dual internal DAC will come out of the pair of RCA sockets at the back. There is no mention that the channels are handled separately only that the output impedance is 20W and 2.1Vrms.
While using an adaptor to plug the unit into the wall is an option, those with an unutilized USB socket in their computer could just as simply connect the power cable this way. Unfortunately, the E30 II won’t power on with just the data cable so when using the USB mode, the unit will take up two USB inputs.
In a dimly lit room, I’ve often confused myself to touch the standby LED that comes on when first plugged in but the touch panel towards the rightmost area should be the one pressed. The panel though is sensitive enough that with a light tap, the E30 II functions are a breeze to go through.
A short press will switch between inputs as clearly indicated on the display. But once inside the menu options, single taps will go through the various functions, and double tap to change the setting as required.
It came from the factory set in preamplifier mode allowing the remote to change the volume between -99dB to 0dB. I later turned the E30 II to DAC mode only and the unit remembered the setting even after rebooting.
Packaging & Accessories
The E30 II arrived at the same time as its companion amplifier but don’t expect a similar presentation. Just considering the two boxes, The E30 II is updated akin to the more modern textured container of the DX5 while the L30 II retains the classic flip-to-open way.
Inside is a neat arrangement of things to unbox. But while I like how precise the cutouts and placements are, removing the contents can be a bit of a struggle.
There is no extra thin sheet of plastic covering the E30 II as it already sits tight tucked inside the foam. And with very little room to pull the unit out initially, I had to take out the accessories in the meantime.
The remote provided for the preamp controls is protected by an extra layer of plastic towards the top. There is also a small box towards the right hiding one USB data cable and one USB power cable for use with a 5V DC adaptor.
Having reviewed two ESS-based Topping DAC/Amps recently, it’s not surprising that with two of AKM’s latest chips inside, the E30 II didn’t immediately register to me as part of the pack. Take it with a grain of salt still since I haven’t heard the original E30, but for me, the variety in tonality is always a welcome one.
The E30 II is a deeper experience beginning with the peppy bass region that deserves attention. Generally outpacing the usual straitlaced energy Topping gives its devices, the E30 II seems not afraid to let you know it’s there.
Where it brings back the balance is in the upper frequencies. The E30 II behaves even further by relaxing the brighter parts of the mix to not overpower them.
A huge limitation though that is hindering the potential of the DAC chips is the average resolution. I wouldn’t blame it on Topping here since, in the end, we’re still talking about a sub $150 item.
Defying my expectation of another clinical-sounding DAC, the E30 II met me with a pleasing amount of scale and size to deeper notes.
The timbre of a kick drum may come up as dry but the sub-bass lingers a bit for an immense and soft touch. And with a strong potential to captivate, bass strings still won’t be heard with the snappiest of subtleties and the heaviness in presence pulls it away from honesty.
What’s great to hear is that even with the lack of finesse in pulling up finer details keeping the E30 II on the pricklier side, voices get to have a pleasing amount of girth in each note for a lush tonality. So, it may lack skill in complexity and breathiness, but it still lets me enjoy a melodic duet of a piano and balladeer.
On the other hand, fans of rock songs should manage their expectations since the treble region isn’t as capable of showing off. The pleasing character of instruments like horns does pass as vibrant and metallic but I sometimes detect a flattened quality that extends to electric guitars as well.
Staging & Dynamics
Placed near the top of the chain, the E30 II will not be the biggest limiting factor with regards to the staging capabilities of accompanying gears as I find it to be generous enough. On quieter images placed further away, however, there would still be a clear threshold putting pops and beats in an outlined edge.
As touched upon earlier, the bass region has a bigger size and weaker placement than the rest of the frequency response. Another thing I noticed is that the vocal region is positioned slightly closer than the rest of the instruments.
When listening to an energetic scene conversely, the E30 II tries but ultimately lessens the grandness by holding back the dynamism and losing the scale of the room. But instead of focusing here, the E30 II at least still provides enough separation in return.
Click on page 2 below for pairings and our select comparisons.