My Humble review of the Benchmark DAC3 and Topping D90SE

Discussion in 'Audio Hardware' started by Tone?, Sep 17, 2021.

  1. Tone?

    Tone? Forum Resident Thread Starter

    San Francisco
    Ha I should start a channel. Nick’s Humble Audio Reviews

    I’ll try and make this as short and sweet as I can.

    First of all, one thing I’m learning, is that part and gear matching is real. So what may work on my system may not work on yours and Vice versa.

    First the easy one. The Topping D90SE.

    Didn’t like it at all.

    Yeah it has super black backgrounds, good instrument separation.

    But it’s a tad thin sounding and the timbre is blah. Don’t know how I can explain it differently. When you hear an instrument which is playing let’s say A440 it sounds more like a tone than the actual instrument. It just doesn’t bring out the instruments timbre.

    Flat as well. Half decent soundstage width. Meh.

    Boring as hell. So you can describe that as non-musical.

    (Addendum: I spent a whole 2 months with the Benchmark DAC3 to make sure I knew what I was listening to and knew how it sounded if that makes sense. Didn’t just brush over it, and that is because it grabbed my attention from the start )
    Now the Benchmark DAC3 which has the same exact chip is very different.

    I had this for a full two months because I liked it and wasn’t sure of what I didn’t like.

    Let me start with what I didn’t like.

    It’s a tad flat sounding for the soundstage.

    Good width though.

    Ok to the good parts.

    Timbre was very good. Not as good as my Marantz. Don’t know why. But it wasn’t. It’s a tad darker than the Marantz HD DAC1.

    The sound is intimate. The mids aren’t as lush as my Marantz but they are really good.

    The star of the show is the low end. Tight and really detailed. The best DAC I’ve heard as far as low end so far. It’s seriously good. Put on music with an upright bass or cello and it’s awesome.

    Why it took me so long to audition it and then send it back.

    It’s a killer DAC.

    Maybe it would be better in a bigger room than mine. That’s a consideration. Or with tubes somewhere in the mix.

    Btw. The resolution isn’t better than my Marantz HD DAC1. Maybe and just maybe on the low end frequencies.

    My reference which I love is the Marantz and it has a really lush midrange. Super textured.

    The benchmark DAC3 also had texture but wasn’t as lush as the Marantz.

    Reverb trails and ambience was excellent on the DAC3 as well. This is super important to me. They were accurate and not washed out. Sounded real.

    I would definitely consider buying the Benchmark DAC3 if my room was bigger. I don’t know. Maybe that would make the Marantz sound a tad tad washed out and the DAC3 would be better in that case.

    Hope that gives some perspective to these DACs.
    Again my humble opinion

    Last edited: Sep 17, 2021
    Thaluza, toddrhodes, Agitater and 2 others like this.
  2. fully_articulated

    fully_articulated Forum Resident

    Nice review! Interesting to see that the Marantz can keep pace with such an esteemed DAC. Sure looks prettier too.
    Tone? likes this.
  3. Tone?

    Tone? Forum Resident Thread Starter

    San Francisco
    thanks man

    to be completely honest I didn’t want it to.
    Was against it. Lol
    That is for the benchmark. The Topping was a bore. That was an easy assessment. Sorry to all who like it.

    I have no idea why it is that good.
  4. T'mershi Duween

    T'mershi Duween Forum Resident

    I think I figured out why the Topping didn’t impress you much. You were using it improperly!

    I think you’re only supposed to take measurements, not actually listen to it!
    patrickd, adamos, h46e55x and 10 others like this.
  5. missan

    missan Forum Resident

    I hate reviews.
    Tone? and NorthernAudio like this.
  6. Linger63

    Linger63 Forum Resident

    Had a Topping D90 MQA which I felt sounded similar to what you heard with the SE (even though they use different DAC chips.)

    Had a Benchmark DAC2HGC which sounded pretty good.

    Currently running a Gustard X26Pro which is really impressing me.......bags of detail with BIG soundstage and smooooth top end.

    Maybe you should check it out..........
    The One to Beat: Gustard X26 PRO DAC Review
    Tone? likes this.
  7. Gibsonian

    Gibsonian Forum Resident

    Iowa, USA
    Sound like the Marantz is the one to have!
    Tone? likes this.
  8. timind

    timind phorum rezident

    Minor correction here, the Topping dac uses the ESS9038PRO chip, while the Benchmark Dac uses the ESS9028PRO chip.

    That said, nice review. FWIW, I had the Topping D70 for a while and found it thin and uninvolving. The D70 used an AKM chip.
    Tone?, unclefred and Linger63 like this.
  9. Tone?

    Tone? Forum Resident Thread Starter

    San Francisco
    ah thanks for the correction man!

    yeah I was almost afraid to post a ‘ bad’ review for the Topping, although it’s just my opinion. Was afraid the Amirtown folks would burn me to the stake.
    toddrhodes, Doctor Fine and timind like this.
  10. Tone?

    Tone? Forum Resident Thread Starter

    San Francisco
    well it is just one persons opinion. But I like it very much thanks
  11. rodentdog

    rodentdog Forum Resident

    Time to go to the...R2R/multibit side. HA!
    Doctor Fine and Tone? like this.
  12. Boltman92124

    Boltman92124 Fish tacos.

    San Diego
    Maybe I missed it but what digital source were you driving these DAC's with? Was it all USB or were you using coax or toslink?

    Thanks for the review.
    timind and Tone? like this.
  13. Tone?

    Tone? Forum Resident Thread Starter

    San Francisco

    95% USB.
    I just got a Node so I was able to connect via COAX for the Topping as well. But it didn’t change the sound.
    The benchmark was 100% USB

    it’s just my opinion as well. Next time I’m going to change the title to ‘ opinion’ instead of review. I’m no Stereophile magazine.
  14. Boltman92124

    Boltman92124 Fish tacos.

    San Diego
    Cool. I think all three DAC's are bitstream designs. Maybe check out a multibit design down the road. Perhaps the modest Schiit Modi Multibit. It's really all about the analog section on DAC's as well. Two units with the same chipset can sound totally different. Enjoy!
    luckybaer and timind like this.
  15. BackScratcher

    BackScratcher Forum Resident

    Most DAC chipsets these days are excellent. The analog sections are where there is much greater variation in sonics from one model to another.
    luckybaer, timind and Tone? like this.
  16. Tone?

    Tone? Forum Resident Thread Starter

    San Francisco

    Yeah , I think everything matters but ultimately it comes down to implementation.
  17. Mike-48

    Mike-48 A shadow of my former self

    Portland, Oregon
    @Tone - Thanks for posting your impressions. You are not the first here to say the Topping gear, while it measures exceptionally well, is not a joy for listening. I believe that, if I'm not misinterpreting him, @Agitater said something similar. It's helpful to have impressions from you both.

    I am fascinated at how much measurements can tell us, and also how they so often fall short.
    Tone? likes this.
  18. Tone?

    Tone? Forum Resident Thread Starter

    San Francisco

    Yeah I don’t know man. I agree. Measurements are very valuable for some things and I believe them. But in the end , my ears decide for me what I am going to listen to.
    Again it’s just my opinion. Others may like Topping.

    for me it was super quick, a few min in and I didn’t like it.

    the benchmark DAC3 on the other hand had me testing it for two months because it was a killer DAC.

    I do all sorts of ‘ weird’ things when testing gear for myself.
    I’ll listen in my listening position to it.
    I’ll listen from my balcony which is adjacent to my listening room , because I think it takes a bit away from the room.
    I’ll listen in different rooms while the stereo is playing in the living room to see if it sounds like , for example , a live piano is playing in the living room.

    but I do that only when a DAC impresses me and I have to make judgement.
    The topping was clear from the start to me that I didn’t like it at all.

  19. Tone?

    Tone? Forum Resident Thread Starter

    San Francisco
    I actually think the Cirrus chip inside the Marantz is multibit.
    don’t know if it’s used the same was as other multibit DACs tho. Not knowledgeable on this.

    CS4398 | Cirrus Logic
  20. elvisizer

    elvisizer Forum Resident

    San Jose
    could also have to do with output impedance- topping doesn't match the downstream boxen as well as the others or something.

    I actually had a topping d90se for a few weeks and also sent it back- I didn't mind the sound compared to my old mytek dac (also didn't really feel like it was an improvement either), but it could NOT hold a sync on the toslink input from my LG OLED display and that was a deal breaker for me.
    Tone? likes this.
  21. Tone?

    Tone? Forum Resident Thread Starter

    San Francisco

    Interesting that it couldn’t hold a link through toslink. Didn’t try that connection.

    Where did you read about the impedance issue?

  22. elvisizer

    elvisizer Forum Resident

    San Jose
    oh not saying there's a specific issue with the topping. Just that it might not match your other equipment as well as the marantz's output impedance. Could also have nothing to do with this at all, just spitballin'
    Tone? likes this.
  23. Tone?

    Tone? Forum Resident Thread Starter

    San Francisco

    Did you read the specs for the chip in the link I provided?


    “This stage is followed by an over sampled multi-bit Delta Sigma modulator”

    Or is that something different ?
  24. Boltman92124

    Boltman92124 Fish tacos.

    San Diego
    You could be right there after checking it out. And you like it more than the bitstream units!
    Tone? likes this.
  25. Tone?

    Tone? Forum Resident Thread Starter

    San Francisco

    So what does that mean? Lol
    What’s the difference ?

Share This Page