By Richard / Review, $500 - $1000, Topping, ESS, Source / April 9, 2023

Topping D90SE Review

Topping D90SE Review's image

The reviewer is giving his honest experience with the product and was not paid to write a favorable article. The gear was purchased due to interest and enjoyment in sound quality and in pursuit of gaining more technical knowledge.

Tonal Balance / Neutrality10
Price / Performance Ratio9.7
Sound Fidelity10
Build Quality9.5
Bass Extension10
Bass Balance10
Lower Midrange Balance10
Midrange Proper Balance10
Upper Midrange Balance10
Treble Balance10
Treble Extension10
Bass Control10
Tone Density9.7
Macro Dynamics9.7
Micro Dynamics10
Sound Stage Width9.8
Sound Stage Depth9.8

The Topping D90SE was a product that was recommended to me as a great DAC to look into, and so I researched and found it was a top-of-the-line (neutral) DAC. I had pursued gear more warm and detailed until now, and I thought, if I were to take the hobby a little more seriously, a neutral DAC would be just right for me.

For this review, I’ve been listening between the Schiit Modi Multibit ($269), Audio-GD’s HE-7 MK I ($3099), and Topping D90SE ($899) to gather impressions. I believe they are all great DACs that perform their function well.

While all of them do indeed have subtleties that make them similar and in some aspects, perhaps more preferable than others, I’ve discovered that in audio, the noise floor is an important concept when it comes to DACs.

Topping D90SE on wooded brown plant stand

idealitysound was supposed to be subjectively based on what I was hearing, however, when I started the website, I didn’t understand that everything counts in the chain to get that clean signal to your headphones. If it sounded good to me then I would describe what I was hearing; but with some gear, I got to compare side by side to get a better sense of the sound.

I tried a few products without any kind of detailed research into sound as a science and its effects in gear. I admit, some of the terms began to come more to life when I listened thru my gear, and musical characteristics that I’d read about became more clear to me. But how surprised I was at the sound I was getting. It can be really fun to hear something for the first time and learn the signature.

At the date of publishing, the Topping D90SE scores one of the highest in one of the metrics known as Signal to Noise and Distortion (SINAD) at a total of 123, also known as Total Harmonic Distortion Plus Noise (THD+N). The argument on Audio Science Review (shout out and thank you collectively to the HiFi community) is that the higher the score, the less linear distortion can be heard (i.e. audible sound that can be collectively heard by us that is different than what is produced by the pure audio signal), and is transparency at its fullest. 

As time goes by, I find I’m more interested in the air and the delicate, adept details within sound; neutrality and low noise floor seemed to be the best route to approach to achieve a spacious sound that could extract as much detail as possible. 

Not to my surprise, it was lovely when I first heard music with the Topping D90SE with the Feliks Audio Euforia as a preamp. It was a little too neutral coupled solely with the HD 600; but with a preamp, we’re able to further modify our chain to suit our preferences, and I used the Project Sunrise III and Feliks Audio Euforia to flavor the sound (which is a great way to experiment). With a preamp, I found that even with a neutral combination like the Topping D90SE + HD600, I was able to get a sufficient warmth that made me feel like I was listening to an amplified preamp, which, in any case, the sound is enjoyable and smoother.

With the Topping D90SE, you can get a sense of the noise floor, deep and spacious as expected of a neutral DAC. A preamp can help tighten up the sound where too airy and fill in some of the space. Ultimately, I find a preamplifier helps the energy and weight of the notes, making it more pleasant and musical, however, we lose some transparency -- which might be recovered with a headphone neutral cable.

Topping D90SE on wooded brown plant stand

With everything said about the transparency of the Topping D90SE, it’s an important part of my chain that allows me to be more flexible with the sound I’m experimenting with. Being a neutral DAC with a high SINAD score, we can feel safe the sound has the least possible signal interference to where we can enjoy an even-keel sound and EQ or modify it as preferred.

In the past, the hype about neutral DACs never appealed to me; probably because I was new to the hobby and chasing some ideal warm signature. Having nothing but interest, I went after amps like the Audio-GD NFB 15.32, which I thought was a lovely, forward-sounding, syrupy DAC/Amp. Today, I understand the appeal of having neutral gear; it’s just as good, but we hear more detail along the way without any emphasis on the frequencies.

The Topping D90SE is a great product; however, there has been some argument on the Audio Science Review forum that the Topping D30 Pro does the job fine, and that a high SINAD sometimes isn’t necessary, since human hearing is limited beyond a certain point. The Topping D90SE has been proposed as a product that keeps the source signal as low as possible, and in a sense it’s overkill. If on a budget, perhaps the Topping D30 Pro may be worth looking into, as recommended by some at Audio Science Review.

The Topping D90SE is a DAC that I enjoy listening to very much. To me, it represents a product that creates purity in signal, and so I mix it in the chain when I want the sound to be neutral with a low noise floor, which can be heard through the breadth of the notes. The Topping D90SE with its high SINAD score is a DAC that does a superior job of filtering out the noise so we can enjoy faithful music reproduction.

Topping D90SE on wooded brown plant stand

Switching between the Audio-GD’s HE-7, Schiit Modi Multibit, and Topping D90SE to review, I found that the Modi Multibit remained competitive, though the bump in clarity, detail, and spacing with the D90SE makes the difference. I do believe that someone could be satisfied with the Modi Multibit, however, the clean base of the Topping D90SE provides superior detail retrieval, making the sound more transparent, dynamic, and accurate.

The Modi Multibit is a value product that sounds great for a DAC under $500, and some have claimed that it’s the best they have heard under the $500 range. I haven’t tried many in the $500 range, but what I can say from my experience with the Modi Multibit is that it is a great product that gets you high value for a low price. Soundstage, clarity, layering, instrument placement, and a neutral musicality; it’s all there with the Modi Multibit, however, still, I believe the Topping D90SE is the superior product. 

The HE-7 is soft musically with a comprehensive sound and large soundstage, but not as defined in the note quality as the D90SE, and has more extension in the midrange. The HE-7 is a more mellow DAC that sounds big.

They are all great DACs, but I particularly enjoy and appreciate the D90SE because I feel the sound has a different effect and is more sublime when we can add components to experiment with the D90SE's base neutral signature which is airy, defined, and pure. The details are fully captured with the D90SE's ultra-low noise-floor, allowing us to experience the notes in their full down to the most minute representations.

The Topping D90SE is an excellent product that provides precision and clarity in music.  I would recommend it for anyone dipping their feet in personal audio as a first DAC due to the limitless potential that could come about from experimenting with a statement, neutral DAC.

Product link:

Cables: Worlds Best Cables (RCA Neutrik, RCA Amphenol)

Sources: Audio-GD HE-7 MK I, Schiit Modi Multibit

Amplifiers: ampsandsound Nautilus, ampsandsound Kenzie OG Rev 2


About the Author


Software Engineer by trade, always loved music, but discovered Hi-Fi in 2012. Decided that since interest in sound quality was growing, could share experience with different products.


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