Topping A90 - The Unseasoned Amplifier!?
How much seasoning do you want in your curry; none, mild, medium, hot or torture? None please, I like my curry bland.
Amplifiers come in all sorts of tunings; you can get flat, neutral, bass boosted, mid forward, treble boosted, everything boosted or a mixture. Doing research on amplifier sound signatures can be tedious and frustrating but with time and patience you can find an amplifier that will fit your need and/or desire. Are you seeking an amplifier with a flat sound signature? Maybe the Topping A90 is what you are seeking.
Apos Audio provided the Topping A90 for review and only asked for an honest review. I wasn't influenced, directed to say something positive or paid for this review. All thoughts and opinions are my own. Do keep in mind that I have an affiliate link with Apos:
Specs: Please check out the purchase link for in-depth details that are better presented then I can do.
The Topping A90 is a normal looking headphone amplifier. There aren't any flashy colors, LED/LCD screens or big knobs to draw your attention to. The A90 is a basic looking amplifier, which is kind of a letdown for the price. But it does offer all you need for a solid experience. On the front you have switches for the power, headphone and preamp output, a 3 way gain, XLR balanced, 4.4mm balanced and a single-ended 6.35mm headphone output. The volume knob is appropriately sized, location mark and rotates smoothly. There is a small light on the left side that turns green for headphones and amber for the preamp. On the backside there are RCA and XLR inputs and RCA and XLR outputs, power plug input and a main power switch. Overall I find the build and design to be basic and boring but the usability factor is good as everything is efficiently placed and spaced. All the switches are well placed and have nice clicks when pushed.
I paired the Topping A90 with several DAC; the Mytek Liberty, Matrix Mini-i Pro 3 and the Schiit Audio BiFrost 2. I found that the Topping A90 had no issues powering any of my headphones and IEM, it isn't picky in what was plugged into the outputs. I used the Rosson RAD-0, Meze Empyrean, MrSpeakers Ether C, Hifiman Ananda, Hifiman Sundara, Sennheiser HD-660s, BeyerDynamic DT880 600ohm, Sennheiser HD-600, Sennheiser HD-580, AKG K275, Empire Ears ESR, Meze Rai Penta, Drop Plus Universal, Tin Hifi T2, Etymotic ER2SE, Moondrop Blessing 2, Aiderlot M5, Fiio FD5, and many, many more IEM and headphones. There was not a single headphone or IEM that I have in house that the A90 didn't power adequately.
Flat: Having a subjectively uniform frequency response, free from humps and dips.
Deficient in or lacking in soundstage depth, resulting in the impression that all reproduced sound sources are the same distance from the listener.
Neutral: Free from coloration.
Realism: A subjective assessment of the degree to which the sound from an audio system approaches that of live music. This has meaning only when the recording purports to reproduce an acoustical event taking place in a real acoustical space.
The Topping A90 amplifier has a flat sound signature, meaning it lacks depth and layering. I give Topping credit for producing an amplifier that isn't sterile or colored. Objectively the A90 is a quality amplifier if you do not want any sort of alteration to the sound.
Putting on my subjective pants, the Topping A90 is boring, bland, unnatural and unrealistic.
Any good chef knows that in order to bring out the natural flavors of the ingredients, you need to add a smidge of salt. The Topping A90 lacks salt and has no savor. There is no realism or naturalism with the A90.
The A90 is a quality, accurate sound but it is lifeless and stiff.
I define neutral as free of coloration that isn't natural and realistic; neutral is not free of coloration completely like the A90 presents. In the real world we don't hear things flat with our ears, we hear a naturally colored sound; to say it another way, we hear a seasoned sound.
One gripe that stood out with every DAC pairing was the compressed soundstage. The A90 is a flat wall of sound and everything on the stage is spread evenly across it. There is very limited depth and the layering is lackluster almost non-existent. What is presented is adequate but the stage size can sound small and cramped. Imaging struggles as sounds just appear at the sides and drop off abruptly, instead of fading in and out appropriately. The staging and imaging capabilities of the A90 are okay but are nothing special for the price tag.
The Topping A90 is a flat sounding amplifier but it isn't a neutral, natural or realistic sounding amplifier.
The Topping A90 did reflect subtle changes in the different DAC used but it never was engaging or inviting to the listener.
Burson Audio Fun:
The Burson Audio Fun is single ended only so the comparison is in regards to the Topping A90 single ended output. Both the Fun and A90 are excellent in detail retrieval and resolution and the differences are miniscule. The Burson Audio Fun is a neutral, analytical sounding amplifier that brings in the natural and realistic essence that is missing on the Topping A90. The Fun has more accurate soundstage width, depth and layering along with imaging that portrays entry and exit accurately.
HeadAmp GS-X Mini:
There is a large price difference between these two amplifiers. Also, the HeadAmp GS-X Mini is aesthetically more pleasing as well as being about twice the size of the A90.
The Topping A90 has a slight power advantage over the GS-X Mini. Both have balanced pre-amp functionality. Sound wise the A90 is a snore fest in comparison to the GS-X Mini. The GS-X Mini reigns supreme when it comes a neutral, natural, realistic sound signature. The A90 lacks the natural and real aura that the GS-X Mini possesses. The staging width, depth and layering, imaging, detail retrieval and resolution of the GS-X Mini put the Topping A90 to shame.
Objectively speaking, the Topping A90 is a quality amplifier option that has a flat sound signature and will not add any sort of enhancements to the experience. Subjectively speaking, the Topping A90 is not an accurate, natural or realistic sounding amplifier.
The Topping A90 has an audio presentation that is bland and would benefit from the seasoning touch of an audio chef to bring out the natural and real tones of the music.
As much as I want to say the Topping A90 is a bad amplifier, I can't. The Topping A90 is a technically capable amplifier but it just lacks the listening experience for me that other amplifiers offer.
If you are searching for a flat sounding amplifier then the Topping A90 should be one you consider. If you are searching for a neutral, natural sounding amplifier then the Topping A90 isn't what you should be considering.
Please enjoy the music and remember honesty is the best policy!
YouTube reviews: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCgMj7xJ1SDxGqqxZ5l3g_jg
Twitter: https://twitter.com/TalkDbs @TalkDbs
The Honest Audiophile research and review process: https://youtu.be/UkSnoZZNyYc
Audio Terms and Definitions: https://www.stereophile.com/reference/50/index.html
Rosson Audio Design RAD-0: http://www.rossonaudiodesign.com/
Meze Empyrean: https://mezeaudio.com/products/meze-empyrean
Hifiman Ananda: https://hifiman.com/products/detail/290
Sennheiser HD660s: https://en-us.sennheiser.com/hd-660-s
MrSpeakers Ether C (non flow version) https://danclarkaudio.com/
Meze Rai Penta: https://mezeaudio.com/collections/all/products/rai-penta
Meze Rai Solo: https://mezeaudio.com/products/rai-solo
Empire Ears ESR: https://empireears.com/products/esr-b-stock
Moondrop SSR: https://www.moondroplab.com/ssr
Monoprice Monolith THX AAA 788: https://www.monoprice.com/product?p_id=24459
Mytek Liberty: https://mytekdigital.com/hifi/products/liberty-dac/
HeadAmp GSX-Mini: https://www.headamp.com/products/gs-x-mini
Soekris DAC1421: https://soekris.modhouseaudio.com/soekris-audiophile-line/dac-1421
Tor Audio Roger: https://toraudio.com/main.html#
Massdrop THX AAA 789:
Grace Design SDAC-B: https://drop.com/buy/drop-grace-design-standard-dac-balanced?utm_source=linkshare&referer=FTSS2S
Geshelli Labs Enog 2 Pro: https://geshelli.com/shop/ols/products/enog2-pro-dac-metal-case
Geshelli Labs J2: https://geshelli.com/jnog
Geshelli Labs Erish: https://geshelli.com/shop/ols/products/erish-balanced
https://tidal.com/browse/playlist/5bbf80ce-33f3-4222-a1fc-6539a95415d6 (in order of playlist)
Tingvall Trio “Beat” - piano tonality
Sinne Eeg “We’ve Just Begun” - multiple layer soundstage
Molly Johnson “What a Little Moonlight Can Do” - female vocal tone
Leslie Odom Jr. “Under Pressure” - male vocal tone
Eric Clapton “Change the World” - soundstage, layering and placement
Yo Yo Ma “Ecstasy of Gold” - acoustic instrument timbre
Adam Baldych “Spem in Alium” - acoustic instrument timbre
Pain of Salvation “Stress” - percussion balance
Michael Buble “When I Fall in Love” - orchestral dynamics
Patricia Barber “Code Cool” - sibilance check
Christian Scott “New New Orleans” - shouty upper mids
Tool “Chocolate Chip Trip” - imaging
Hans Zimmer “Why So Serious” - sub bass extension
Marcus Miller “No Limit” - bass control
Dave Holland Quartet “Conference Of The Birds”- bass check
Ilhan Eshkeri “47 Ronin”- orchestra and bass dynamics
Hans Zimmer: “2049” - sub bass extension
Cher: “Believe” - sibilance
Stanley Clarke - “Passenger 57 main title” - percussion, bass, separation and placement
Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra - “The Pine of the Appian Way” - soundstage, imaging and separation
Houston Person - “You are my Sunshine” - tone and timbre
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