Towards the future
Pros: + The most musical sounding Topping DAC ever
+ Natural timbre and convincing tonality
+ Excellent transparency and accuracy
+ Crystal clear and dead silent
+ Open sounding and spacious
+ Powerful headphone amplifier
+ Fully balanced line output with XLR plugs
+ Bluetooth sound quality
+ All-in-one solution
+ OLED screen and remote control
+ Compact size
+ Great looks and build quality
Cons: – Headphone amplifier is not up to the DAC standards
– Headphone amplifier is not balanced
– A 4.4mm headphone output is really missing
The review sample was kindly provided free of charge by Shenzhen audio in exchange for my honest review.
I didn’t receive monetary or any other kind of compensation and I don’t use affiliate links.
The DX5 price is $449 and you can order yours from Shenzhen audio.
Topping Electronics & Technology, known as ‘TOPPING’, is based in Guangzhou, China, and was established in 2008.
They design DACs and AMPs with very competitive prices and excellent price-to-performance ratio.
They have a dedicated R&D team of skilled engineers and audiophiles.
In addition to that, they are heavily invested in the latest audio testing machinery such as the APx555 from Audio Precision.
This is not my first contact with the brand as I have previously reviewed the EX5 a friendly priced all-in-one DAC/amp with pretty good performance.
About Shenzhen audio
shenzhenaudio.com is one of the world’s leading e-commerce platforms specializing in high-quality audio products such as amplifiers, decoders, digital players, headphones, cables and accessories. shenzhenaudio.com is committed to providing the finest service possible and striving for continuous improvement and innovation.
The DX5 is an improved version of the EX5, a DAC and headphone amplifier combo benefiting from both an exceptional conception and a brand new modern design.
At its heart is a digital to analog conversion stage carried by a pair of ESS ES9068ES DACs but also a headphone amplifier section based on an NFCA circuit.
The digital to analog conversion stage is entrusted to two ESS ES9068AS DAC chips, allowing a sound reproduction of an incredible clarity and precision with a THD+N of only 0.00009%, a dynamic range of 128dB and a noise level below 2µVrms.
The unit offers a fully balanced line level output plus single ended line level and headphone outputs.
The USB input of the DX5 uses an XMOS XU216 interface.
This interface offers a wide compatibility with the vast majority of devices but also allows the support of high sampling rates, up to PCM 32bit 768kHz, native DSD512 as well as MQA decoding.
The Topping DX5 supports the decoding and rendering of MQA (Master Quality Authenticated) files.
The headphone amplifier
The NFCA headphone amplifier circuit of the DX5 is fully optimized specifically for this model, ensuring very low noise and distortion.
The core component of the headphone amplifier is the usual suspect, the legendary TPA6120A2.
It is also capable of supporting both high-sensitivity headphones and high-impedance headphones, with a power of 2x1800mW at 32Ω or 2x250mW at 300Ω.
The DX5 also offers gain control (0dB or 12dB) for even more versatility.
The headphone amplifier is single-ended and the 4-pin XLR is for convenience only to accommodate headphones with balanced cables.
Considering the size of the DX5 and the current needs of the market, a 4.4mm output should have definitely been included.
DX5 has the certification of Hi-Res Audio Wireless and LDAC.
It uses the newest Qualcomm QCC5125 chipset to support LDAC/AAC/SBC/aptX/aptX LL/aptX HD protocols.
To get even better sound quality from Bluetooth, the built-in DAC of the QCC5125 is disabled and digital conversion is done through the main DAC circuit.
Pairing is very easy to do and connection is stable with a good working distance around the house.
Sound quality is quite close to the wired connection, there is a loss in technicalities and refinement plus a touch of edginess to the sound but still very good.
As always for the best possible performance you should use a cable but if wireless is what suits you better then the sound is so good that you shouldn’t be worried.
Multiple inputs and outputs
The DX5 supports USB input that can be connected to a PC or OTG mobile phones and tablets plus coaxial and optical digital inputs.
All of them are located at the back of the unit next to the AC plug and the ON/OFF switch.
Next there are the RCA and full sized XLR line outputs.
At the left side of the front face there are the two headphone outputs (4-pin XLR and 6.35mm), at the center a small, black & white, OLED screen and at the right side the aluminium multifunction rotary knob that is used for volume adjustment and menu settings.
Of course you don’t have to use it since there is a fully functioning remote control with a couple of handy shortcut buttons.
The unit is very configurable with multiple options such as digital filter selection, gain setting, volume db step, auto standby mode and more.
The DX5 is very versatile and adaptable as it supports four different output modes (that can be configured through the menu) as you can see in the following table.
Design and build quality
The DX5 has a brand new design language with a more modern appearance than it’s predecessor and is available in full black or a silver painted body with a black front face.
The unit is considerably more sleek and beautiful with rounder edges and a shorter profile, I much prefer it to the EX5, this is surely a design advancement for Topping.
Measuring 180×148 x45mm, the DX5 is very compact so it doesn’t occupy too much space and can be fitted virtually everywhere.
The chassis is made from precisely CNC machined aluminium with excellent build quality and finish.
The DX5 is bundled with the remote control, a Bluetooth antenna, a USB cable, a mains cable and a 6.35mm to 3.5mm adapter plus a user manual.
As per usual practice I left the DX5 playing music for about 150 hours before listening tests.
It’s been a long time since I have stopped using a PC and my digital source is the Silent Angel Munich M1T steamer which I used both from the USB and the coaxial outputs.
In order to evaluate the DX5 as a standalone DAC I used the SMSL HO100 and Flux Labs FA-12 headphone amplifiers.
Everything was plugged into an iFi power station.
Various headphones were used like the Focal Clear Mg, Sennheiser HD660S and HiFiMan Arya V3 among others plus a couple of IEMs.
The latest V1.38 firmware was installed.
The review will be split into two sections, first as a standalone DAC with a fixed level output and then with the embedded headphone amplifier.
As a standalone DAC
The DX5 is maybe the best sounding Topping DAC up to date with the most engaging character among its predecessors.
Not boring, clinical or artificial, this is carefully tuned to offer an analogue-like experience with some great factor of enjoyment and emotional depth.
Absolutely linear, accurate and transparent yet very musical sounding with a great deal of natural timbre and tonal accuracy.
This is not yet another DAC made to offer the best measurements at the expense of musicality, instead this time it seems that the engineers have done their homework into making it a real music playing machine.
Technicalities are strong and up with the best of the category, the DX5 is offering high conversion fidelity, great transparency, crystalline clarity, excellent extension at both ends of the spectrum, it is detailed and resolving but without sounding analytical.
The low end is fast, tight and controlled with excellent layering, it sounds dynamic and powerful with sharp attacks and weighty texture.
Not as visceral and full sounding nor intensely impactful as some other more sophisticated DACs of the category, like the Schiit Bifrost, but still very, very good.
The mid-range is expressed with clarity, spaciousness and fine articulation.
Timbre is realistic with convincing harmonic saturation, instruments and voices sound natural with a wealth of overtones.
The palette is not the most colorful or varied but in the end the DX5 is a stellar performer.
The DX5 is not sterile, there is a touch of warmth and lushness, not very pronounced but still enough to make for an engaging and organic sound signature.
The treble is extended, sharp and resolving with excellent definition and plenty of energy, it sounds vivid and brilliant but not forward.
The DX5 is one of the least fatiguing ES9068AS implementations, highly technical yet controlled and almost smooth without sounding bright or artificial.
Digital glare is kept under control and you can’t detect that metallic harshness that is usually associated with bad implementations of this particular chip.
Sound fading over time is quite natural, leaning towards the faster side of things rather than relaxed but still very convincing.
When listening to high pitched percussion instruments or the higher piano register the sound decaying is realistic without losing weight and becoming thinner or splashy.
I have listened to a lot of solo piano music and I remained very satisfied with the overall presentation of the DX5.
The DX5 is able to present a wide open soundstage with precise imaging and plenty of air around the instruments.
There are other DACs that can sound more holographic and grand but the DX5 is by no means a slouch when it comes to depth layering and communication of the recording ambience.
The headphone amplifier
As said above the headphone amplifier is not balanced so you are effectively listening to one phase of the signal.
Power output is quite high and you are not going to encounter any problems driving most of the headphones minus some very inefficient models.
At the same time the amplifier is dead silent and excellent for use with your sensitive earphones.
The headphone amplifier is pretty good and competitive for an embedded solution but it is not up to the DAC standards and can’t really match some discreet designs like the one found in the YULONG DA-ART Aurora.
While the performance is certainly satisfying and excellent for an all-in-one solution without the hassle of an external amplifier, you can do a lot better.
The internal amplifier can’t really pass all the DAC sound quality to your headphones as it gets a little thinner and more forward with a hint of brightness.
Timbre is not that natural and convincing as with the DAC because it becomes a little artificial with a metallic texture while soundstage collapses and loses in holography and scale.
Going back and forth between the external and the embedded headphone amplifiers while listening to a well recorded symphonic work then it is not difficult to form the above expressed thoughts.
All the above might sound alarming but actually the DX5 headphone section is still very competitive for a budget friendly, all-in-one device.
But if you can afford it, then for the best possible performance, a good quality external headphone amplifier can make the difference and is highly recommended.
Compared to the EX5 ($350)
The main difference lies in the naturalness of the timbre and the more musical character of the DX5 when compared to the EX5.
It sounds more effortless and lifelike with more convincing tonality while technicalities are also improved.
Cleaner, faster, more tight and punchier bass, greater dynamics while treble is a bit more extended and resolving yet smooth and not bright.
Differences are not night and day so I wouldn’t suggest selling your EX5 to get a DX5 but if you are into buying something new then the DX5 is the obvious choice, both for the improved sound quality and the new looks.
Another difference that should be considered is the headphone amplifier power output which is lower on the EX5, 1300mW/32Ω versus the 1800mW/32Ω of the DX5.
Compared to the YULONG Aurora ($520)
The DX5 adds a high resolution wireless Bluetooth reception but the headphone amplifier is considerably less powerful than the Aurora but it is more suitable for sensitive earphones thanks to the gain setting and the low noise.
The DX5 is slightly more compact in size and while both units have the same digital inputs, the DX5 is missing a line level analogue input.
Functionality is better for the DX5 because of the handy LCD screen where all information is displayed, the configuration menu and the remote control.
Sound-wise, while the DX5 is maybe the most naturally sounding and organic Topping DAC ever designed, the Aurora has the leading edge when it comes to musicality, naturalness of timbre and harmonic saturation.
The Aurora is a touch more musical, engaging, full bodied and visceral but in exchange not as clear sounding as the DX5 which is technically a bit superior with a more controlled and firmer bass, deeper detail retrieval, more extended but not sharp highs and superior overall definition.
Soundstage imaging is sharper and more precise in the DX5 but the Aurora is of grander scale and more holographic
While differences are not that pronounced from the line outputs (both balanced and unbalanced), it cannot be said the same for the headphone amplifier.
The DX5 headphone amplifier is holding sound performance a little back when compared to the line output.
The result is that the Aurora headphone amplifier is on a higher level of sound quality and certainly more competitive than the DX5.
As a DAC the DX5 is more reference sounding, with greater transparency and technical superiority albeit not as musical as the Aurora but from the headphone output the Aurora just plays on another level.
The full Aurora review is available here.
In the end
The DX5 is a step forward for Topping both for the much improved sound quality and the brand new design.
This DAC is done absolutely right and is here to please both measurement freaks and timbre enthusiasts.
With top tier technicalities and a deeply musical character, the DX5 is the perfect all-in-one solution at a very competitive price although there is still room for improvement at the headphone amplifier section.
Copyright – Petros Laskis 2022.