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Benchmark LA4 vs Topping Pre90 - Listening impression

DSJR

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'Revealing' in my experience usually means an upper mid-lower top response lift (combined with some band limiting), or higher odd order distortion there. In speakers it's usually an outright response anomaly, often deliberately engineered in! The rest is often eye-fi placebo (I'm not being rude, honestly chaps).

Dac's are a commodity and these days, I'd politely suggest that the better ones should be chosen on facilities, availability and after-care should something go wrong. I'd take Benchmark and RME as an absolute given myself for top of the tree performance, and be very careful about long term service when looking at less expensive products (I for one can't afford to chuck stuff out and nearly wept when I had to take our good working CRT tellies to the recycling centre locally when none of the charity shops wanted them - yes, I'm a sentimental idiot who likes his years' worth out of stuff like this)
 

Kal Rubinson

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I agree with this about 99%. Sometimes if you get a really revealing piece of high end gear, it may make your system sound too sharp/harsh for your tastes
So, instead of buying "a really revealing piece of high end gear," it might be more effective and satisfying to replace the resident "bottleneck" component.
 

delta76

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If you want gear that doesn’t color the sound at all, take a close look at the high scoring ASR gear. I’m no engineer but I like to test gear in my listening room. When I did that with the Topping Pre90 versus the McIntosh and Audio Research, the Mc and AR sounded much better. The Topping sounded thin. Maybe that’s because it wasn’t adding anything to the music. I gave it a long listen over 2-3 months and every time the other two won out. The Topping Pre90 did sound good, though. I’d use it if the other two didn’t sound better. If you want new equipment, it’s hard to beat at its price point. I would look into the Schiitt Freya as another alternative around the same price as the Pre90.
Isn’t that the job for an equalizer. If the music was recorded flat, it should sound flat through the preamp, no?
 

Gorgonzola

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If you want gear that doesn’t color the sound at all, take a close look at the high scoring ASR gear. I’m no engineer but I like to test gear in my listening room. When I did that with the Topping Pre90 versus the McIntosh and Audio Research, the Mc and AR sounded much better. The Topping sounded thin. Maybe that’s because it wasn’t adding anything to the music. I gave it a long listen over 2-3 months and every time the other two won out. The Topping Pre90 did sound good, though. I’d use it if the other two didn’t sound better. If you want new equipment, it’s hard to beat at its price point. I would look into the Schiitt Freya as another alternative around the same price as the Pre90.
I would venture to say the underlying reason you like the Mac and ARC better than the Topping Pre90 is that either of the former add a bit of 2nd and/or 3rd order distortion to the sound.

Don't feel bad ;) for preferring that slight added distortion: many people do. Typically the sound is a bit warmer and fuller which can be pleasant.

By the way, it would be interesting if you could tell us the McIntosh and Audio Research models you were comparing. In particular, Mac makes both tube and solid state models which are likely to sound a bit different.

For a time I had the Schiit Freya +, (tube). Tube mode had the warmer, fuller sound but lost a bit of detail and dynamics vs. Passive mode; personally I preferred the latter but various reviewers have not.
 

BDWoody

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. I’m no engineer but I like to test gear in my listening room.

Nothing wrong with that, but if you aren't using controls, you aren't getting results that are as meaningful as you may want when you get to this level of accuracy/fidelity/competence.

 
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I bought a Topping Pre90 and I'm sending it back today. I didn't like it at all. That says something about a component which I was certain wouldn't color the sound at all. Maybe my SMSL SU-9n doesn't play with low input impedances but it sure sounds a lot better plugged directly into the power amp (with Roon DSP volume) than with the Pre90. I'm VERY confused by that....
 

Sokel

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If you want gear that doesn’t color the sound at all, take a close look at the high scoring ASR gear.
Doesn't color under what conditions?
In case of amps high score is not enough,one must take his power needs,controls,connections,etc into account.
 

Turcoda

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I bought a Topping Pre90 and I'm sending it back today. I didn't like it at all. That says something about a component which I was certain wouldn't color the sound at all. Maybe my SMSL SU-9n doesn't play with low input impedances but it sure sounds a lot better plugged directly into the power amp (with Roon DSP volume) than with the Pre90. I'm VERY confused by that....

Im happy with my discrete pre90, but i never took the time to AB it. Can i ask what it is that is colored by it? I'm liking that this will serve me as a headphone amp in the future rather than just a preamp.
 
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Im happy with my discrete pre90, but i never took the time to AB it. Can i ask what it is that is colored by it? I'm liking that this will serve me as a headphone amp in the future rather than just a preamp.
Bass seems rolled off, overall dynamics lower than without the Pre90. It sounds small, flat and boxed in with the Pre90 in between. It must be the low input impedance, right? I'm also getting -3dB at the output compared to the DAC output...

Mind you I don't have a double blind setup and all findings are purely anecdotal and probably biased.
 

maudio

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Bass seems rolled off, overall dynamics lower than without the Pre90. It sounds small, flat and boxed in with the Pre90 in between. It must be the low input impedance, right? I'm also getting -3dB at the output compared to the DAC output...

Mind you I don't have a double blind setup and all findings are purely anecdotal and probably biased.
Thats xactly what others reported, who also had impedance mismatch. Less dynamics, less bass..it's the price you pay!
 

Turcoda

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Bass seems rolled off, overall dynamics lower than without the Pre90. It sounds small, flat and boxed in with the Pre90 in between. It must be the low input impedance, right? I'm also getting -3dB at the output compared to the DAC output...

Mind you I don't have a double blind setup and all findings are purely anecdotal and probably biased.
I didn't know about the impedance mismatch thing. I used to think the coloration of the topping stuff was that it would be overly analytical and less dynamic. I dunno if my impedance is matched at all. I would definitely suggest going through the lengths of blind testing. Im going to attempt removing it from my chain today and seeing if i notice a difference. I suspect I won't. Even if it's slightly worse, Im happy i saved money over the HPA4. Im just not sure it was worth buying it over the Freya S yet. I have both here, but I think I'll just sell one before ABing properly. My time is worth more to me these days. A proper test is too difficult for me to run.
 

pvehling

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PRE90 Input Impedance:
Balanced - ~2k ohms
Unbalanced Single Ended - ~10k ohms

Putting this here for reference. These were the numbers reported by the designer of the unit at Topping and are the same for A90/A90D.
 

linger63

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PRE90 Input Impedance:
Balanced - ~2k ohms
Unbalanced Single Ended - ~10k ohms

Putting this here for reference. These were the numbers reported by the designer of the unit at Topping and are the same for A90/A90D.

For anyone interested.
I am using a Gustard X26Pro DAC with an XLR output impedance of 100 ohms connected to my Topping Pre90.
This gives me an impedance ratio of 20:1
I am very happy with the result.
I believe you need to have at least a 10:1 ratio.
 

Carl1000

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Same result here with a new Pre90, sound with it in the chain is thiner, it DOES change the sound, no doubt. Tested with tube amp, class D and Class A also. Listening with reference speakers and cabling. Looking for another reasonable cost good solid state preamp. It's being returned to shop.
 

misterdog

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Mine changed the 'sound' of my system - it made it more transparent. :)

SMSL M400 > Pre 90 > Benchmark AHB2 > fully tricked out Quad 989 ESL's in bespoke steel frames.
 
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