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Benchmark LA4 vs Topping Pre90 - Listening impression

MasterApex

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I have Benchmark LA4 and a friend brought his Topping Pre90 to experiment in one of my room setup.

We compared two use cases :
1) Direct stereo pre-amp
2) Front only pass thru from a multichannel Pre-pro

Direct Stereo compare:
  1. Oppo 105D XLR out --> LA4 ---> Mark Levinson 536 / 802D3 (Listening impression)
  2. Oppo 105D XLR out --> Pre90 ---> Mark Levinson 536 / 802D3 (Listening impression)
We played a few songs from SACD discs and DSD files from USB.
In my listening room, both sounds very clean and good. However, with specific songs (For example: Diana Krall ‘Temptation’ , The Dave Brubeck Quartet ‘Take Five’, Eric Kunzel Tchaikossky 1812 ‘Cossack Dance’) we can blindly notice the audible presentation differences.
  1. Typical Stereo phantom center Image is less focus on Pre90. With LA4, when we moved our heads 1- 2ft away from center, the center phantom image will phase clearly phase out.
  2. Use picture as analogy, Pre-90 presentation has high contrast (bass and treble sounds more distinct), LA4 presentation has more shades (instrument and voice harmonics are more detailed)
Could the lower input impedance (2k) on Pre90 , or the NFCA (Nested Feedback Composite Amplifier) vs LA4 FPGA less feedback circuit has impact to the stereo presentation we heard? Not sure.



Front only pass thru compare:
  1. Oppo 105D HDMI out --> Marantz AV7706 XLR out (Set to -20dB volume setting) --> Mark Levinson 536 ===for baseline volume level matching, 70dBA SPL at 10ft listening position.
  2. Oppo 105D XLR out --> Marantz AV7706 XLR out (Set to -20dB volume setting) --> LA4 (Find “Unity” Gain setting ) --> Mark Levinson 536
  3. Oppo 105D XLR out --> Marantz AV7706 XLR out (Set to -20dB volume setting) --> Pre90 (Find “Unity” Gain setting ) --> Mark Levinson 536
To get the same 70DBA SPL, the LA4 unity gain setting is +1dB and the Pre90 unity gain setting is +1.5dB.
 

Turcoda

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Dam, i wish i hadnt seen this. Rip my wallet. Topping had such an attractive price.
 

Turcoda

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Truuueeeee.... but the two devices do have very different implementations. I wouldnt doubt there being some minor differences at least. I guess im not sure if i have hearing thats capable of detecting those differences myself. I did like the thought of a full benchmark stack, but i cant really afford it.
 

NiagaraPete

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I would take OP opinions with gigantic grain of salt, after all none of his listening was with ears only (blind), there is no evidence of any difference between those devices and there should be none.
Frankly I think you’re being kind. In my opinion the whole process was flawed.
 

Ra1zel

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but the two devices do have very different implementations
We hear the end result, the output, not implementations.
I wouldnt doubt there being some minor differences at least.
Rationally why wouldn't you? I would first at least ask myself what could be the reason for a different sound.
I guess im not sure if i have hearing thats capable of detecting those differences myself.
Through many blind test I established my distortion hearing ability limit at 0.01% or -80dB when listening to 1kHz tone... that's apparently pretty good, but irrelevant for music, and those two preamps surpass that by 100 times, and should be 10000 times harder to hear.
 

Turcoda

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We hear the end result, the output, not implementations.

Rationally why wouldn't you? I would first at least ask myself what could be the reason for a different sound.

Through many blind test I established my distortion hearing ability limit at 0.01% or -80dB when listening to 1kHz tone... that's apparently pretty good, but irrelevant for music, and those two preamps surpass that by 100 times, and should be 10000 times harder to hear.
The two technologies were Topping's NFCA vs Benchmarks's typical THX AAA "patented feed-forward topology" stuff. I'm sure they might sound 99% similar, but maybe that 1% does not?

Oh for sure I don't expect the noise to be audible on any level for me. I expect the implementations to be coloring the sound (even if only microscopically). At first part of me suspected that the topping flavor of dacs and preamps kinda artificially sharpen the sound a little bit. I'm probably wrong so thats on me. Anyway, that's the type of coloration that I lookout for, and whether I want it in my system or not.
 

Ra1zel

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The two technologies were Topping's NFCA vs Benchmarks's typical THX AAA
Funny thing about this is that both are actually pretty much the exact same technology, both NCFA and AAA are composite feedback topology where ideally one high-speed, high-current opamp provides the power and then is corrected by another nested opamp, creating very strong loop thus achieving ultra low distortion.
 

Dougey_Jones

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Funny thing about this is that both are actually pretty much the exact same technology, both NCFA and AAA are composite feedback topology where ideally one high-speed, high-current opamp provides the power and then is corrected by another nested opamp, creating very strong loop thus achieving ultra low distortion.
I also assumed NCFA was the Shenzhen boys essentially copying THX's patented technology and implementing it without license or attribution.
 

Ucftechguru

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After long term listening, I keep the LA4 and sold the Topping Pre-90.
I listened to the Topping Pre90 versus a couple other preamps from McIntosh and Audio Research and I sold the Topping Pre90, too. I did blind tests A-Bing them directly against each other and then listened to each separately off and on for over about a two month span. I really wanted to like the Topping because of the price and it was new versus used versions of the other two. Plus, it had the smaller footprint. However, I was not impressed with it. It may have low distortion but the sound quality was better with the McIntosh and AR. They seemed to have more weight to the music, and better soundstage and dynamics.
 

Ucftechguru

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More proof (really not needed) humans hear and are delighted differently
So very true and our ears are wired so differently. I don’t like to read or watch too many reviews until I thoroughly test / demo my new buys. I read the ASR review on the Topping Pre90 and based my purchase off that sole review. Then, I demoed it for quite awhile with different amps and DACs. Besides the somewhat thin sound (comparatively) it made some random pops and stuff when changing the volume that I did not like. The McIntosh and Audio Research never did that.

I will say the Pre90 was much better than the Aiyama Preamps I listened to and was better than the BlueSound Node used as a Preamp. It did add weight, body, soundstage and overall goodness when compared to those less expensive products. The Aiyamas had more technical issues like pops and line noise than the Pre90. For the Pre90 It was minimal pops when volume knob was changed and when the unit was moved around very slightly while plugged in. Aiyamas issues were much bigger and I would not use Aiyama unless I really wanted a very cheap budget system.
 

Turcoda

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Arrrgggg I couldnt decide what to do in the end. I ended up buying the Topping A90 Discrete yesterday with the 90ext that normally comes with the Pre90. Apparently the A90 Discrete is as good as the Pre90, but has amp capability. Did i make the right call? I guess ill never know because my wallet is too thin for the hpa4 now. I'll hope for the best and see what happens...
 
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