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RME ADI-2 DAC fs against the Topping D90SE

Consistent

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I had heard so much hype about the Topping D90SE I decided to buy it and compare against my RME ADI-2. Here is what I heard.

Caveats: Before I get started I wish to state I have no idea what the engineers were trying to attempt when they recorded the music I was listening to. All I can do is attempt to articulate what differences I heard between the two DAC’s and how they each exited my hearing. What I look for in a recording is my idea of a ‘true to life’ playback of I what I understand instruments and vocals should sound like in various spaces. My assessment is based around these 9 attributes:

  • Clarity/transparency of sound stage – separation of instruments and vocals and type of room I can image I am listening too (club, auditorium, outside venue, small room, large room etc). My guess as to what the engineer is attempting in the recording v what the DAC engineers and designers are doing with their chip sets and electronics.
  • Air in the clarity – muffling v top end articulation
  • Bottom end articulation
  • Mid-range articulation
  • Front to back imaging
  • Side to side imaging
  • Dynamics/attack
  • Scale – size of the performance in my room
  • Value for money
What I hear in my room (4.76m L x 3.74m W x 2.38m H) will be different to what others hear in theirs. My speakers sit about 1m from the short wall (3.74m) I sit 2.65m away from the front of the speakers and they are about 75cm from the side walls. It’s a small room! My hearing is still ok in the bottom frequencies but my top end stops at about 12k to 13k. I’m getting old!

Gear: Speakers – Revel Performa F228be, CD Transport – Cyrus XT SE + PSX-R, Amps – Pass XA25 and Bryston 4BSST 2, Cables - Mogami/Canare and my own, Interconnects – my own and Chord C-line. To give the XA25 more grunt I use the Burson Buffer Amp 160 (Class A Singled ended). I also used USB connection through my laptop using JRiver media. I don’t use pre-amps and rely on the pre-amp inside each unit.

Listening: I started my testing with the Pass XA25 then moved to the Bryston 4BSST 2 and quickly realized my testing is better off with the Pass + Burson buffer (the buffer provides more gain). The Pass is much more resolving, tonally more real and the imagery the best I have ever heard from any amp! The air and top end smoothness is something to be heard. Only drawback is it doesn’t put out enough watts to drive the Revels. They work extremely well with the horns I have built but that’s a review for another day. Don’t get me wrong, the Bryston is still a great amp and dynamics are superb with bottom end punch to leave you breathless and of course much more powerful than the Pass. But the Bryston’s top end has an edginess that doesn’t work with either of the D90SE or the ADI-2

Off the bat I can say that there is more energy and depth in bottom-end response in the D90SE than the ADI-2. The ADI-2 however had more energy and resolve in its top end. The D90SE provides an overarching sound of a smaller venue with little reverberation whereas the ADI-2 sounds more open in a more lively and larger venue. Therein lies the difference of the two units in my room!

The D90SE bass response is exciting without being bloated, it seems to garner another ½ octave. The ADI-2 is tighter and a little restrained in its lower registers. The ADI-2 shines with the air it brings to the top-end and the openness of instrumentation in staging.

The openness of the ADI-2 continues down to upper mids which brings out more detail in the human voice. The D90SE has less openness/air in its top-end but adds depth/density into the midrange over the ADI-2. Voices have less sibilance with the D90SE.

I found both to have similar side-to-side imaging but the ADI-2 had better front-to-back imaging. This I think came from the openness it brings to the party.

The ADI-2 clearly had more dynamics in its delivery. It seemed to work better and ‘louder’ with the XA25 + Burson Buffer. Not sure why? I had the D90SE on the 5v setting and I think the output of the ADI-2 reaches 3.46v at its maximum. The D90SE seemed to be ‘steady’ and the ADI-2 got more exited. Just like some people I know!

One interesting thing I noted was the D90SE seemed to present a bigger image on the staging, taller than the ADI-2. Both never seemed to faulter when driven hard but again a little more definition with the ADI-2.

When it comes to value for money (D90SE about $AUD 1300 and ADI-2 about $AUD $1700) I think both offer good value. I turned off the DSP/PEQ on the ADI-2 to compare DAC to DAC on an even playing field but this feature is remarkable and does help better integrate loudspeakers into rooms. The D90SE does allow greater connectivity for streaming and input functionality. The ADI-2 has two connections for headphones the D90SE has none. The ADI-2 is a complicated beast, it has a 69 page instruction booklet, the D90SE has a brochure and you are better off going to the web to find out how users use the device.

So what do I think? The ADI-2 still grabs me because it has the extra DSP/PEQ feature I enjoy and the air/openness and front-to-back localization of instruments/voices I crave in imaging. The D90SE is not far behind. If I could put the bass response and midrange warmth of the D90SE with the ADI-2 I don’t think there would be a DAC under $10,000 that could compete.
 

ahofer

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Isn't the whole idea of 'listening' subjective and it may help others in their decisions. Why did you bother to bother?
Not really our bag here. Generally, ASR regulars, including our host and moderators, find subjective impressions mostly useless, especially with regard to DACs, inasmuch as there aren't examples of people being able to tell their sound apart in a blind test. Amps are either transparent or intentionally distorting. So these sorts of observations say more about mindset and recordings than equipment, and are viewed as noise, as opposed to signal, about equipment quality.
 

KSTR

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Here is what I heard.
I do appreciate this kind of reports. Even though they are not considered of much value here, they still are valuable data points in their own regard.
 

polmuaddib

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I do appreciate this kind of reports. Even though they are not considered of much value here, they still are valuable data points in their own regard.
Why are they valuable? This is only one person’s impression which is the result of unknown variables of conscious subconscious factors.
If OP were to be blind tested, all of those differences would be lost. Like tears in the rain…
 

Adi777

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Eh, people, people. It is very easy. It all depends on how we are going to listen to the music, with our eyes open or closed. If with closed, then blind tests are a must and the only correct option, but if with open, then blind tests are not necessary, and we buy what sounds good and looks good. ;)
A bonus for listening with your eyes closed is the fact that audio equipment doesn't have to be pretty. ;)
 

Goodman

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Not really our bag here. Generally, ASR regulars, including our host and moderators, find subjective impressions mostly useless, especially with regard to DACs, inasmuch as there aren't examples of people being able to tell their sound apart in a blind test. Amps are either transparent or intentionally distorting. So these sorts of observations say more about mindset and recordings than equipment, and are viewed as noise, as opposed to signal, about equipment quality.
Amps are either transparent or intentionally distorting ?!!!
In other words, just buy the amp that measure best on this site and it will automaticaly match up perfectly to your speakers who also measure best on this site?
This is wonderfull news.
I am soo glad somebody finaly came up with this solution; you should contact the guys a Wilson Audio, Audio Research, JBL, Kef, PS audio, Parasound, Krell, ect.. because apparently they are completely ignorent of these findings.
 

Katji

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Caveats: Before I get started I wish to state I have no idea what the engineers were trying to attempt when they recorded the music I was listening to. All I can do is attempt to articulate what differences I heard between the two DAC’s and how they each exited my hearing. What I look for in a recording is my idea of a ‘true to life’ playback of I what I understand instruments and vocals should sound like in various spaces. My assessment is based around these 9 attributes:

  • [.....]
What I hear in my room (4.76m L x 3.74m W x 2.38m H) will be different to what others hear in theirs. My speakers sit about 1m from the short wall (3.74m) I sit 2.65m away from the front of the speakers and they are about 75cm from the side walls. It’s a small room! My hearing is still ok in the bottom frequencies but my top end stops at about 12k to 13k. I’m getting old!

The differences you heard involve perception/imagination and if you repeat the experiment several times over several days or something, and the result seems to be the same, it maybe be that is because your mind/perception was "patterned"/"programmed" iow a sort of expectation bias.
So, that, and given the factors of that room, those loudspeakers, and your physiology/neurology/whatever, it is basically an account of what you experienced - and how you articulated it.
[...]
 

holbob

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Is this the same troll who appears from time to time? Maybe the mods could check the IP. Regardless, it's a hell of along post - talk about wasting your own time.
 

Yuhasz01

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Why are they valuable? This is only one person’s impression which is the result of unknown variables of conscious subconscious factors.
If OP were to be blind tested, all of those differences would be lost. Like tears in the rain…
More to listening to music than being just a measurbator. I like reading flawed measurements as well as flawed personal experiences.
 

voodooless

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I love to see the results of the double blind controlled listening test you’ll do next week :cool: Don’t keep us in suspense…
 

ahofer

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Amps are either transparent or intentionally distorting ?!!!
In other words, just buy the amp that measure best on this site and it will automaticaly match up perfectly to your speakers who also measure best on this site?
This is wonderfull news.
I am soo glad somebody finaly came up with this solution; you should contact the guys a Wilson Audio, Audio Research, JBL, Kef, PS audio, Parasound, Krell, ect.. because apparently they are completely ignorent of these findings.
It’s the customers that are ignorant, mostly. The designers know what they are doing.

See my catalogue of blind tests in the topic here of the same name.
 
Last edited:

Overseas

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What if 1000 guys feel broadly the same differences, each of them listening alone, even without blind tests?
 

Gradius

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RME wins on value alone (we know is already that good) as it has a lot to offer:

- Constant updates;
- H.P. amp built-in;
- E.Q.;
- Ability to custom how it sounds (e.g. EQ);
- Superb user's manual, and more.
 

ahofer

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What if 1000 guys feel broadly the same differences, each of them listening alone, even without blind tests?
What does “broadly” mean? Why are they all guys? Are they all primed beforehand?

We are simply applying the same ideas that you would use to determine if a drug or medical treatment works. Substitute “strictly audible difference” for medical effectiveness. Apply the same principles here, no need for confusion of this sort.
 

Vincent Kars

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