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

Topping D90SE DAC Review

Topping D90SE DAC 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 quality of sound.

Tonal Balance / Neutrality10
Price / Performance Ratio9.8
Sound Fidelity10
Build Quality10
Bass Extension9.9
Bass Balance10
Treble Balance10
Treble Extension10
Bass Control10
Tone Density10
Macro Dynamics9.9
Micro Dynamics10
Sound Stage Width9.7
Sound Stage Depth10

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

When I made this website, I planned to describe subjectively what I was hearing, however, 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. Some of the terms began to come more to life when I listened through my gear, and the musical characteristics that I’d read about became more clear to me. 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 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 went by, I developed an interest in the air and the intricacies within sound; neutrality and low noise floor seemed to be the best route to approach to achieve a transparent 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, I was able to modify my chain, and I used the Garage 1217 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 more enjoyable and smoother.

With the Topping D90SE, I got a sense of the noise floor; deep and spacious as expected of a neutral DAC. A preamp can help tighten up the sound where it might sound too tonally dense with some loss of resolution, and loosen up some of the density for space, micro, and macro detail; it helps with the energy, doesn't really take away the weight of the notes except make it more defined, making the presentation much more enjoyable to me.

Topping D90SE on wooded brown plant stand

With everything said about the transparency of the Topping D90SE, it’s become one of my go-to DACs that allows me to be more flexible with the sound I’m experimenting with. Being a neutral DAC with a high SINAD score, I can feel secure that the sound has the least possible signal interference to where I can enjoy a transparent presentation.

In the past, the idea of neutrality didn't appeal to me, I perceived it as being flat or unmusical. I was new to the hobby and looking for an ideal warm signature. Through my research, I went after DAC/Amps like the Audio-GD NFB 15.32, which I thought was a lovely, forward-sounding, syrupy DAC/Amp. Through the D90SE, I kind of understand the appeal; it’s just as good, but we hear more detail along the way without any emphasis on the frequencies. I still believe warmer signatures like the Audio-GD NFB 15.32 are truly a blast.

The Topping D90SE is a great product, but 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 product that creates purity in signal, and so I mix it in the chain when I want the sound to be transparent 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 I can enjoy a 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, micro and macro 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 softer and a bit more relaxed in the notes with a warmer sound. There is more macro-ambiance, and the notes feel like they are more spaced and all around you. It is not as intricately defined in the note detail and quality D90SE. The HE-7 has more extension in the midrange and low end, and is a more mellow DAC that sounds big, and has a creamier, little less exacting sound, and consequently it might be more musical, but it really depends on preference.  

If you're looking for a more casual DAC, the Topping D90SE might not be the one for you. I think if you can appreciate unfiltered nuance in detail and balance, a masterful presentation in neutrality, it's excellent. It's missing some macro-dynamics and a little bass impact when compared to DACs like the Yulong D18 or HE-7 which may make the latter DACs sound more musical; it's not as prominent or enveloping in regards to the atmosphere. It's not to say that the bass is not thunderous when called for, or ambiance is missing. There is a slight trade-off in the note quality, definition, stage, and bit of perceptibly clearer air in the D90SE. The Topping D90SE may sound cleaner and more intricately layered, and it excels in that category.

I enjoy and appreciate the D90SE as a DAC that gives me a faithful representation of the music -- as it is; it's uncompromising and remains, still, undoubtedly highly musical, and fun in that way. The D90SE's base signature is airy, with highly defined note quality, and pure; it's very nimble and resolving, and its ultra-low noise floor helps with this. The accuracy of the D90SE happens to have the added effect to the somewhat contained, but still vast stage as the detail and timbre of the notes etch and complement the scenery, and we experience the music without loss of detail.

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  potential that could come about from experimenting with a statement, neutral DAC. It digs deep, and is bound to be enjoyable for any enthusiast.

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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