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Sound Blaster X1, Topping DX3 pro+ and SMSL C200 review based upon Arya Stealth and HE1000 Stealth

AryaStealth

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Aug 20, 2023
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Here are my two cents.
Once upon a time I was using DT880 600ohm headphones with Sound Blaster X1 dongle. One day I watched a very positive review about Topping DX3 pro+, so I decided to try it thinking maybe I'm missing something with my Sound Blaster X1. After extensive testing for a few hours, it seemed that DT800 600ohm sounded a tiny bit more detailed on Topping DX3 pro+.
Unfortunately Topping DX3 pro+ headphone jack broke down after about 30 switches in-out the same day I received it.
So I searched a little bit about best for buck combo dac+amps, stumbled upon Amir's review of SMSL C200 on this forum and decided to try it.
Unfortunately the SMSL C200 unit arrived with a broken headphone jack. I don't know how it sounds, but SMSL build quality seems to me even worse than Topping's.
A few weeks ago I bought Arya Stealth and HE1000 Stealth headphones, and decided to give another chance to Topping DX3 pro+.
While I was waiting for it to arrive I kept using my Sound Blaster X1 dongle with Hifimans headphones.
Topping DX3 pro+ arrived, I was very curious, if there will be any difference in sound (supposedly due to better quality amplifier as Topping DX3 pro+ costs 4 times more than Sound Blaster X1).
So I plugged in Arya Stealth to DX3 pro+ and ... I was really amazed that Arya Stealth sounded so much worse on Topping DX3 pro+ than on Sound Blaster X1. I'm no expert, but I believe the boring and unnatural (especially vocals) would be the correct terms to describe that Topping DX3 pro+ sound comparing to Sound Blaster X1. Next I plugged in HE1000 Stealth to Topping DX3 pro+, and it is the same story. I can't recommend you enough Sound Blaster X1 for Hifiman headphones (and probably any headphones, it has enough power to drive even 600ohm headphones). For $50 it seems to me there is currently nothing better on the market that sounds that good and has so much power.
Conclusion: Arya Stealth and HE1000 Stealth sound so nice and natural on Sound Blaster X1. I'm returning Topping DX3 pro+.
Another lesson learned the hard way: a higher priced dac+amp doesn't mean better sound. Sometimes it means the opposite.

By the way Arya Stealth are amazing headphones, especially for vocals and classical music. Neutral and pleasant, and what's more really comfortable. HE1000 Stealth seem to me to be made for other genres - the vocals on HE1000 Stealth are recessed comparing to Arya Stealth and the full orchestra also sounds more natural on Arya Stealth. HE1000 Stealth also have a little bit more treble than Arya Stealth, so they may cause ear fatigue on some tracks. But the tracks with solo violin or live music where you can hear the crowd sound absolutely incredible on HE1000 (and just nice and pleasant on Arya Stealth). So my advice to people who can't decide between Arya Stealth and HE1000 Stealth - try them both before buying. You may find that Arya Stealth suits you better than more expensive and more praised HE1000 Stealth.
 

kckwong723

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Nov 16, 2023
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I am considering a headphone amp and your experience is very good reference for me. Thx.
 

SimpleAuricle

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Dec 20, 2023
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I was looking for a dongle dac/amp with physical buttons (for play/pause and volume control) to compliment my Hifiman EF400 and He1000 stealth (v4). There aren't that many! I ended up with three contenders: Shanling U3, Lotoo Paw S2, and surprisingly Sound Blaster X1. The S2 is the most expensive at 280 usd, yet uses the same DAC chip as the X1! After some reading some reviews (and this post), I decided to go with the X1.

The pros:
- uses the same chip as Lotoo PAW S2, AKM 4377 and Ti/Burr-Brown INA1620 dual audio operational amplifier
- super cheap!
- lots of power, up to 600Ω
- metal shell
- extra features (ex: Super X-Fi, Virtual 7.1/5.1, EQ mode, etc. via app)

Cons
- PCM up to 24-bit / 96kHz (compared to 32 bit/768 kHz with Shanling UA3)
- only 3.5mm single-ended output (unbalanced)

Personally, I don't think I can hear any difference beyond CD quality (16 bit 44.1kHz), or even anything over 20 kHz. This will not be my main DAC, and I also doubt I'll be able to hear the difference between balanced and unbalanced. Ultimately, I decided to go with the X1.


Here's a quick GPT4 created table (so it's not perfect) for those also facing the same choices

FeatureCreative Sound Blaster X1Shanling UA3Lotoo PAW S2
DAC ChipAKM 4377AK4493SEQAKM4377
PCM/DSD Playback Support RangePCM up to 24-bit / 96kHz, DSD not mentionedPCM up to 32 bit/768 kHz, DSD up to DSD512PCM 32/384 and DSD 128 decoding
SNR (Signal-to-Noise Ratio)Up to 115 dB119 dB (single-ended), 120 dB (balanced)High SNR ratings
Dynamic Range115 dB119 dB (single-ended), 120 dB (balanced)Not specified
Floor NoiseUp to -105dB or 0.00056%No background hissDark noise-free background
Balanced or Unbalanced Outputs3.5mm single-ended output (unbalanced)3.5mm and 4.4mm jack connectors4.4mm Balanced Output and 3.5mm Single-Ended Output
Power RatingUSB bus-powered via USB-C connection125 mW (32 Ω, single-ended), 211 mW (32 Ω, balanced)Up to 150mW at 32 OHMs over the 4.4mm Balanced Output
Line Out Functionality3.5mm headphone-out jack with line out capabilityNot specifiedYes
MaterialMetal shellAluminumNot specified
ButtonsVolume control, pause/play music, toggle Super X-Fi, multi-function button for pause/play or mic muteVolume up, play/pause, volume downPlay/Pause/Skip hardware control, volume control
EQ (Equalization)Customizable EQ presets, SBX Pro Studio and CrystalVoice technologiesNot specifiedYes, with EQ profiles
Gain ControlCapable of driving headphones with impedances up to 600ΩHardware volume controlHigh/Low gain control
Additional FeaturesSuper X-Fi Headphone Holography, Scout Mode, SmartComms Kit (VoiceDetect and NoiseClean), plug-and-play with USB-C interface, wide device compatibilityCompatible with Nintendo Switch and Steam Deck, support for extreme-hi-res formats, removable cable, Eddit Player app for setupMulti-platform compatibility, MQA 4x support, ATE/EQ presets, belt-clip
 

SimpleAuricle

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Dec 20, 2023
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Personally, I don't think I can hear any difference beyond CD quality (16 bit 44.1kHz), or even anything over 20 kHz. This will not be my main DAC, and I also doubt I'll be able to hear the difference between balanced and unbalanced. Ultimately, I decided to go with the X1.

I received my Sound Blaster X1 today and I wanted to post a quick update to those who are looking to buy a portable DAC/amp for their HE1000 Stealth. I really don't like the X1, and I don't think it's powerful enough for the HE1000 Stealth. I thought I would like it based on its specs, but I underestimated my ability to discern audible differences.

Here is my subjective opinion of the X1:

Without A/B testing, the X1 sounds adequate (unbalanced, 3.5mm). However, I compared it to a balanced 4.4mm Fiio Q3 (which has an AKM AK4462 DAC chip with 2 THX AAA-28 amps) and the Q3 was noticeably better. The bass was so weak on the X1 compared to the Q3. When there are a lot of instruments, it sounds very "crowded" on the X1, like a lot of details get mixed together. I also compared the X1 to my EF400, and the difference was too much for me to accept. I had really high hopes for the X1 and really wanted to like it, but sadly I am going to have to return it. I'm back to square one now, and I don't think the Shanling UA3 and Lotoo PAW S2 are contenders either anymore. I think I'll need to find a portable DAC/amp with a battery so it can have a more powerful output.
 
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