Topping PA5 - I bought one for a laugh

HiFiRuss71

Distinguished Member
I'm not laughing now.

I currently run a system of old world tech (turntable and valve monoblocks) blended with a pre/pro/streamer that delivers the best room EQ available for mere mortal money - Dirac Live 3.0. I can forgive a system a few things, but an uneven frequency response is not one of those things.

On a side note, the NAD C658 that is the modern component in question, got slagged by the website that gave the Topping PA5 such a glowing recommendation. This is not lost on me. I may yet spring for MiniDSP SHD and separate Bluesound Node, but the point of trying the PA5 was, in no small part to see if it's performance was backed up by the purely objective measurements and if it was, then capital would be released for other changes

I might have imbibed purified grape juice, but I pressed 'buy' on Dec 24th on Shenzhen Audio's shop on AliExpress. £267 delivered. I may yet get clouted for import duty and VAT bringing it back to the more widely touted £348 or so. We shall see, but I had budgeted for that worse case, so no loss.

On the 29th, I'm looking at it. I know that globally it's not Xmas everywhere, but that is quick.

It's tiny. I mean, you expect it to be, but I'm reading a paperback that weighs more and you kinda want it to be bigger than its own PSU! It does feel solid and well finished. The gain control is smooth, the speaker binding posts a really tight, snug fit for my home-brew 4mm connectors. There is only balanced connection (no single ended RCA phono) and due to the space limitations, these are balanced 1/4" (6.25mm) TRS plugs AKA jack-plugs - Something you may not have unless you messed around in the early days of subwoofer EQ and Behringer Feedback Destroyers. I did and I'm a cable whore who holds on to a pair of anything not duplicated, just in case...

Three photos and ten minutes later, we're all plugged in and running. At this point I still shaking my head that this 2/3kg paperback sized box could replace the 56kg of valve monoblocks either side of it.

The first thing I notice is nothing. It is on, but pressing an ear to mid horns reveals absolute silence. I turn the preamp gain up to 'stupid' and still silence. I flick the two position source selector on the PA5 to input 2 and still, inky black silence. Even the mighty ATi Amp 3007 from my reviewing days did not manage that and at 96dB/W sensitivity, my speakers are a magnifying glass for hiss and noise of any sort.

In part this is a slight trick of the PA5's 19dB gain (with the gain control set to max, or effectively pass-through) as most power amps will offer 23-29dB of gain, so you will find your preamp gain set higher for a given SPL level. Indeed, the pre gain being higher means it's internal baseline noise is lower, so this is a non issue unless you have something else in the system with a weird gain structure

Enough! To listening..

Literally nothing to tell. It sounds entirely transparent and thus, boring if you want character. My valve amps are not very valvey by the standards of the breed, but switching the Klipsch Fortes between full range and bass managed always made for a softer bottom end.

With the PA5 in control, it was only specific music with sub 30Hz content that let you immediately know the subs weren't in. The PA5 grip like the proverbial vice.

The Forte's mid driver covers the mother load from 560Hz to near 5kHz so they don't suffer fools when it comes to vocals, but this is clean. Really clean. Possibly not as colourful as the valves, but certainly not less accurate. You don't run valves because they're better, but because they're more fun. You decide

The top end is crisp and clean, vocal sibilance only present when it's in the recording. Cymbals seem slightly more polished and bright. Again, the valves are more forgiving of crap recordings, which doesn't make it right, but it does mean your music collection doesn't hinge around audiophool recordings.

And here's the rub, I could, with a slight adjustment to the Dirac target response dial in that extra 1/2dB droop 9-14kHz to get that lack of offensiveness back.As it stands and after 5 days of listening, I'm struggling with finding a reason to power my pair of secondary room heaters back up.

I appreciate that for some stuck with 6" woofers and mid 80s something dB/W sensitivity and no subwoofers, that sub 100W of power may leave them a tad short on dynamic peaks. In my camp I still have about 60W left that would literally deafen me. Thinking about it, all but the largest AVRs fail to produce more than 85W all channels driven at worse distortion figures into 4 Ohms, so the PA5 is no toy and cleaner t'boot.

Having had back breaking valve and transistor amps in my life in the past, some at 10x the price, the PA5 has been a genuine revelation. This is real hi-fi and whilst you can laugh at the size and price, it is no joke.

Russ
 

Attachments

  • PXL_20211229_103657962.jpg
    PXL_20211229_103657962.jpg
    195.9 KB · Views: 559
  • PXL_20211229_120607368.jpg
    PXL_20211229_120607368.jpg
    264.2 KB · Views: 552
  • PXL_20211229_120547843.jpg
    PXL_20211229_120547843.jpg
    208.5 KB · Views: 574
Last edited:

Helix Hifi

Well-known Member
Is it digital amplifier? No speaker hiss?

Edit, after googling. I see it’s Class D. 124db SNR! Never heard about such high numbers. Probably why it’s so quite.

So expect, but I’ve read amplifiers with higher SNR are supposed to be better.

You sure must hear hidden details hidden in the mix with such low noice floor.

Can you use it as pre amplifier?
 
Last edited:

MaryWhitehouse

Well-known Member
Not good when they do this is it ;) An excellent find but you’ll be drummed out of the Valve Appreciation Society! If you really like it in a month I’d consider buying a spare as these things tend to disappear as quickly as they appear.
 

HiFiRuss71

Distinguished Member
Is it digital amplifier? No speaker hiss?

Edit, after googling. I see it’s Class D. 124db SNR! Never heard about such high numbers. Probably why it’s so quite.

So expect, but I’ve read amplifiers with higher SNR are supposed to be better.

You sure must hear hidden details hidden in the mix with such low noice floor.

Can you use it as pre amplifier?
There are no pre-outs (no room!) but does have two inputs, which I suppose means it is an integrated amp.

Russ
 

HiFiRuss71

Distinguished Member
Not good when they do this is it ;) An excellent find but you’ll be drummed out of the Valve Appreciation Society! If you really like it in a month I’d consider buying a spare as these things tend to disappear as quickly as they appear.
Good point and I was thinking of a second one to (pointlessly) bi-amp the main speakers.

Russ
 

MaryWhitehouse

Well-known Member

FootHealer

Active Member
Hi,

Thanks for the review. I believe that I also read the same review you mentioned, and was considering buying one of these out of curiosity, and potentially to use as a small system with a pair of standmounts in a workpace...so your input is very helpful.

I wonder how it sounds on less efficient speakers, and without DSP?
 

HiFiRuss71

Distinguished Member
Hi,

Thanks for the review. I believe that I also read the same review you mentioned, and was considering buying one of these out of curiosity, and potentially to use as a small system with a pair of standmounts in a workpace...so your input is very helpful.

I wonder how it sounds on less efficient speakers, and without DSP?
I guess it would have less SPL potential inline with the speaker sensitivity and sound signature would be entirely dominated by the speakers.

Take the DSP out and the room and speakers will dominate. Even with my thermionic harmonic generators (valve amps) in use, the speakers and room are by far the dominant contributors to the sound.

There's a fella in a thread on here bemoaning a minimum requirement of 200W to drive a pair of LS50s which is nonsense.

It caused me to calculate that the LS50s are a realistic 84dB/W speaker. At 3-4m and assuming the PA5 is 2x85W @ 4 Ohms (it's more depending on the distortion limits allowed) that's enough to hit 98dB(SPL) peaks at the main listening position with the KEFs.

Given that the only time a speaker isn't distorting is when it's not playing and the louder it plays, the worse the distortion; I wouldn't want to be in the room when the KEFs were doing that.

In other words unless you're dropping the PA5 on to a pair of Apogee Scintillas (extreme case maybe!) then the PA5 will go plenty loud.
 

HiFiRuss71

Distinguished Member
How does the PA5 sound with well recorded solo piano music compared to your valve amp?
No solo piano, so Oscar Peterson Trio via Tidal and vinyl will have to suffice!

In a word, it doesn't sound and the valve amps do in a way that isn't correct, but is nice to listen to. The bass from both sources is much tighter and more textured through the Topping. The leading edge of notes feels like they have greater attack with the Topping but my Klipsch Fortes are no slouch here on the end of any amp.

What is notable with everybody out and everything else in the house off, is how far down you can hear the decay of a note on the PA5, my hearing's noise floor being the limit. Even the turntable sounds darker down there.

Acoustic space and the position of instruments in it (however artificially engineered) seems cavernous and more precise. The valves closer and slightly softer.

The Topping is simply more correct which some may find dull/clinical. I wouldn't argue with any view taken in that regard.

Russ
 

Khazul

Well-known Member
The Topping is simply more correct which some may find dull/clinical. I wouldn't argue with any view taken in that regard.

Well if you have a good DSP in the chain for room correction, then concepts such as 'clinical' etc become pretty much irrelevant if your correction DSP allows you to choose a target curve/tilt towards whatever level of natural/warm tilt you desire and your DSP, DAC and amp all combine to flawlessly reproduce that to whatever speaker you use.

My only reservation about this amp for my use would be it output power. Fine for direct use, but if combined with Room DSP needing to perform an asymmetric correction for an asymmetric room (where one side may need some significant cut while the other may even need bass boost), then I would be a lot more comfortable with 100W or even 120W into 8R instead. But for its size, and having seen the ASR review, it does seem an excellent companion for their DACs and would make make for part of a good Roon endpoint system for a smaller room where you never feel the need to crank it now and then.
 
Last edited:

HiFiRuss71

Distinguished Member
Whilst I wouldn't disagree regarding tilting the target response to achieve a preferred frequency balance/warmth/detail, there's a bit more to the character of an amp especially where valves are concerned.

The low damping factor and (relatively) high levels of even order harmonic distortion are not things you can EQ out and yet in the case of the latter, can be pleasing to the ear. Indeed, slightly fruitier, looser bass may sound nice with smaller speakers but it's not my bag, hence bass management, EQ, etc.

Russ
 

Helix Hifi

Well-known Member
Can you please explain why there is no speaker hiss. Is it because the SNR is measured so high?

Most amplifiers have SNR at 105db. I could be wrong. I know SNR is important. Then you can hear small nuances in the mix better.

Side note, always read class d amplifiers are very silent. Because of their design.

Glad you are enjoying the sound.
 

Khazul

Well-known Member
Whilst I wouldn't disagree regarding tilting the target response to achieve a preferred frequency balance/warmth/detail, there's a bit more to the character of an amp especially where valves are concerned.

Well, depending on the DSP system you are using, I guess there is always the option of capturing the IR of the valve amp in question and processing that to use convolution in the DSP to see what happens ;)

For many years I used two versions of a an Mk2T Vitalizer (a popular tube based enhancer for use in music production made by SPL in Germany). One of them is the real analog original in my rack, the other is a DSP recreation as a plugin in my DAW. The only difference I could ever tell between them was the better SNR in the DSP version.

Maybe it isnt such a stretch to imagine one day being able to select you preferred value amp character on a digital hifi amp.
 

Khazul

Well-known Member
Can you please explain why there is no speaker hiss. Is it because the SNR is measured so high?

To state the obvious, hiss is when the gain and SPL output level is high enough that noise floor becomes audible.

If your gain is such that you can create a peak of 100dB SPL through your speakers and yet your noise floor is below -100dB, it will be inaudible.

As this amp is utterly incapable of persuading a typical speaker to achieve 120+dB, then with a noise floor below -120dB (or whatever it is), there will be no hiss from the amp. Source noise is another matter entirely, but a good modern DAC should also have a low enough noise floor such that this amp will be unlikely to amplify it enough to make any noise audible.
 

Helix Hifi

Well-known Member
I need to check out the Topping DAC. The noise floor is very low on all of their models.

But is it audible for the human ear. Apparently Supra power cords claims the noice is much lower, hence you hear more details.

I need to buy one:D
 

HawaiianFeeling

Novice Member
@HiFiRuss71 Thank you SOOOOO much for posting this thread. I just created an account here to join your thread. I'm in the market for a small desktop power amp for my bookshelf small/medium sized living room setup. When The review for this popped up on ASR it had my interest. It sounded like the perfect device even if it isn't quite as good as the reviews suggest. I've been scouring the internet for subjective listening test by people that really know high quality hifi. I really value ASR's objective tests, but I find his forum a bit of a cult made up of people without very much experience in anything subjective. There are amps they didn't like that I love like various Cavalli headphone amps or some of ifi's products I find very good.

Anyway, my point is I was looking for the opinion of someone like you Russ. Thank you. What I was especially pleased to see is you use Dirac live and that's exactly what I plan to run in a 2.2 system based on a miniDSP flex prepro/dac/preamp. It being balanced with TRS the topping PA5 looked like the perfect fit. it will have more than enough headroom for my space.

I was curious your thoughts as someone who has built a system using the PA5 and Dirac live. Are you using it in a AV system with dirac bass management or just a regular dirac live setup?
 

HawaiianFeeling

Novice Member
I need to check out the Topping DAC. The noise floor is very low on all of their models.
ASR's review of the topping E50 are very favorable. Topping E50 Review (Balanced DAC) with a SINAD of 121 db. I think it's one of the best objective balanced DACs you can get for the money. If you're the kind of person who likes Burr Brown DACs the Ifi ZEN DAC is really good for a small desktop system. I think it needs a special cable to connect to the Topping's TRS plugs. The topping E50 PA5 stack just looks so nice.
1641420507979.png
 

gava

Well-known Member
I wish Topping would make an internet streamer, then the mini-hifi stack would be complete. At the moment it very much relies on being plugged into a PC. Even a good DLNA implementation would be good enough.
 

Khazul

Well-known Member
^ Chances are it would have a case that is the same as something else :)

There is a another chinese company that apparently make very respectable DACs (Gustard) who have a DAC less streamer with Roon support. Hard to get over here though, though I guess we had better get used to that along with huge price hikes and what you can still get.
 

gava

Well-known Member
^ Chances are it would have a case that is the same as something else :)

There is a another chinese company that apparently make very respectable DACs (Gustard) who have a DAC less streamer with Roon support. Hard to get over here though, though I guess we had better get used to that along with huge price hikes and what you can still get.

I'm not a Roon fan. [Deleted 15 lines of hate]

What kind of streamer would be best? Something that supported everything would be nice I guess.

The feature set in the iFi Zen Stream or Node 2i sans DAC is a pretty good start. Minimum requirements though:
  • Matching form factors for their stacks
  • Sensible pricing - around the £250 mark for an S50- once you go up to around £500 there are quite a few products available.
  • Ethernet & Wifi
  • DLNA support
  • Bluetooth ?? [probably, though perhaps that really belongs in the DAC or amp]
  • Spotify Connect
  • One of the internet radio services - TuneIn, etc. As long as you can get access to BBC and country/regional radio services for where you are.
  • USB port for attached Music Library storage supporting all main formats.

Even Roon and BluOS and DTS PlayFi and etc. and Tidal Connect support would be good if they could put them in - perhaps with a license upgrade model so that people who didn't want them didn't have to pay license fees if there were any.
 
Last edited:

juglandblues

Active Member
Have you thought about a raspberry pi running volumio or moode. I use volumio and have mine connected to a topping dac by usb and then into my amplifier. Sounds amazing for little money.

Volumio does Spotify, tidal, internet radio, Bluetooth. It can get files from a Nas or even just a connected hardrive.
 

gava

Well-known Member
Yes I have one. I just think Topping should make a streamer. :)

Maybe they can just sell a box that we can put the Pi inside. :)
 
Last edited:

Khazul

Well-known Member
I think it needs a special cable to connect to the Topping's TRS plugs.

I think they are just normal balanced TRS cables - nothing special about them at all. The vast majority of balanced connections I still have here are TRS.
 

HawaiianFeeling

Novice Member
I think they are just normal balanced TRS cables - nothing special about them at all. The vast majority of balanced connections I still have here are TRS.
Topping to topping it’s two TRS cables. Ifi uses a single five pin 4.4 connection. You need a cable from that to dual TRS. The topping e50 is a better fit for a tidy stack but the ifi has a pleasing sound to many.
 

The latest video from AVForums

Maverick UK Premiere IMAX Review + Top Gun, Tom Cruise, Tony Scott and 4K + Movie/TV News
Subscribe to our YouTube channel

Latest News

dCS announces Bartók 2.0 firmware upgrade
  • By Ian Collen
  • Published
Audiovector unveils QR 7 loudspeaker
  • By Ian Collen
  • Published
What's new on UK streaming services for June 2022
  • By Andy Bassett
  • Published
LG UltraGear Gaming Monitors get VESA certification
  • By Ian Collen
  • Published
Sony confirms UK pricing for A90K and A75K Bravia XR 4K OLED TVs
  • By Ian Collen
  • Published

Full fat HDMI teeshirts

Support AVForums with Patreon

Top Bottom