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Topping LA90 Review (Integrated Amplifier)

Rate this amplifier:

  • 1. Poor (headless panther)

    Votes: 27 3.8%
  • 2. Not terrible (postman panther)

    Votes: 48 6.7%
  • 3. Fine (happy panther)

    Votes: 172 24.2%
  • 4. Great (golfing panther)

    Votes: 465 65.3%

  • Total voters
    712

James Romeyn

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I personally find absolutely nothing cheesy about the PS; I wish the cable was about a foot longer.

If power in stereo is adequate, I prefer the LA90 over my Benchmark AHB2 although I had already sold the AHB2 before the LA90 arrived. Strangely and surprisingly LA90 (to me) sounds more like a good/great tube amp in the qualities that people including me usually like in the best tube amps: midrange/vocal density and spatial qualities. This is an area in which the AHB2 was exactly the opposite: maybe/maybe not more detailed but leaning lean/sterile w/lack of density and musical joy.

I'm sorry to knock the AHB2 esp. if you own one. I just want to list my experience to possibly save others from having to buy it. It took me till this year to finally hear it at home.

My current speaker load is surely more ideal than the average audiophile type for LA90: true 96 dB, 4/3-ohm nominal/minimum, benign phase angles, satellite w/natural cutoff around 65 Hz, crosses to a state-of-the-art distributed bass array. Sarde Smooth Operator playing in the sound room next door, dam LA90 is insane driving this load. My room is 3300 cubic feet. Easily reaching peaks over 90 dB @ 12 feet distance.

If your speaker sensitivity is too low in stereo, just plan on getting Topping's EXT-Pre and 2x LA90 in mono.

Amir is a hero in my book. THANK YOU, SIR!

PS: am I crazy to swap the posts for Cardas copper posts?
 
Last edited:

Xulonn

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James Romeyn

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Till I read Amir's LA90 power ratings I prior thought the absolutely lowest rated load for any bridged chip amp would be 8-ohm. Then Amir tests something like 192W @ 4-ohm bridged! Does this not mean LA90 chip amp meets a 2-ohm test in stereo mode? I would appreciate engineering comments Re. what appears to be a rare performance fete.

I have a mixed music/HT system, lacking compromise for music (video-wise, projector still an ancient 1080p and no Atmos though I don't much miss Atmos the sound is so good.) HT processor Front L/R preamp output > Pre90 > LA90 > L/R music speakers. Total light control room, front projector > retractable perforated screen.

It's interesting comparing video soundtracks, LA90 vs. AHB2 I recently sold. I prefer the former for video too. The Epix show Berlin Station plays Bowie's "I'm Afraid of Americans" during the intro. When Bowie screams (maximum compression) "I'm Afraid of Americans," prior it just sounded horrible, grating, scratchy, had to bypass this or mute it. On the LA90 it just sounds so much more tolerable; not good still because of the compression and all kinds of other distortion but I don't cringe and reach for the mute button like prior.
 

James Romeyn

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Power is the most important measurement, and this amp does not have that much power...

Why not get an NC252 based amp for the same price and get much higher power output at equally-transparent SINAD?
I cannot put my finger on it, but I would take the LA90 any day over NC400 and NC500; not sure the NC252 difference. There's just something about the NC series I dislike. IMO it's something related to transient performance. Well worth the extra money IMO to get 2x LA90 mono for 96W @ 8 ohm, 192W @ 4 ohm. If that's not enough there's other problems to fix instead of swapping amps. YMMV.

Never heard the Purifi but shall ASAP.
 

Inner Space

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... I prefer the LA90 over my Benchmark AHB2 although I had already sold the AHB2 before the LA90 arrived. Strangely and surprisingly LA90 (to me) sounds more like a good/great tube amp in the qualities that people including me usually like in the best tube amps: midrange/vocal density and spatial qualities. This is an area in which the AHB2 was exactly the opposite: maybe/maybe not more detailed but leaning lean/sterile w/lack of density and musical joy.

I'm sorry to knock the AHB2 esp. if you own one.
I own about 20, I think, and I use them to make the records and soundtracks inside which you claim to hear midrange and vocal density, spatial qualities and musical joy - but only when using something resembling a good or great tube amp, rather than the amps in the recording chain itself. How did the density and the joy get in there in the first place? It's a mystery, I guess. It's a funny old world, isn't it?

Truth is, for a few tens of watts - which is what 99% of people need 99% of the time - the LA90 and the AHB2 sound exactly identical. You're fooling yourself, churning through gear, wasting time and money.
 

Feyire

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PS: am I crazy to swap the posts for Cardas copper posts?
It depends on whether the current binding posts contain ferromagnetic material or not (hint: they almost always do).

As such, I'd suggest hovering a small neodymium magnet very close to the binding posts to see if it sticks anywhere. If you notice any attraction, however small it may be, then the amplified audio signal passing through that binding post will be subject to hysteresis distortion. In that case, it makes complete sense to replace the current binding posts with the pure copper Cardas binding posts.

Note that the same applies to the binding posts of the speakers.
 

Konstantin E

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Feyire

Hello, Friend! Can you reccomend to swap original thin white chain from XLR-base to "main motheboard" with audiophile one? :)

Picture was taken from www.audiophonics.fr
 

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restorer-john

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I own about 20, I think, and I use them to make the records and soundtracks inside which you claim to hear midrange and vocal density, spatial qualities and musical joy

You use them to make records and soundtracks. OK. Clarify. Do you just listen/monitor with the amplifiers?

How much of the actual content goes through Benchmark AHB-2s and is then recorded (either electrically or acoustically)? My guess is very little to none.
 

soundofmusic

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Amirm in his review says 'My wish is another version of this amp with built-in power supply, motorized volume control with bridge mode standard.'

Wouldn't a built-in power supply make the noise level higher? Do you get internal power supplies in monoblocks?

Is a motorized volume control something that uses a remote control? Why's it better? Would it make matching the two monoblocks' volumes easier to match? With the current LA90s the two volumes have to be matched using a voltmeter.

What is standard bridge mode?
 

SiamXIII

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Are there any quality issues with this amp as of now? Choosing between this and Sabaj A30a for Kef R3.
 

PGAMiami

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This is a review and detailed measurements of the Topping LA90 integrated amplifier. It was sent to me by the company and costs US $800.
View attachment 202305
I must say, this is one interesting industrial design. Everything oozes style despite the diminutive package. This aspect continues in the operation of the unit with the sound of the relays solidly clicking indicating something good is going to happen. :) Here is the side view:

View attachment 202306

While quite solid, you can pick it up with one hand. The small size is aided by a massive external switching power supply:
View attachment 202307

Here are its ratings:
View attachment 202309

Back to the unit, you can see three balanced inputs. Volume control can be bypassed although I did not do so for my testing. You can also operate LA90 in bridged mono mode. There is also 12 volt trigger.

There are to gain settings. One at 10 dB and another at 20 dB (nominal).

Topping LA90 Measurements
These are non-bridged mode measurements. Bridged setup follows this section. Let's start with our dashboard of 5 watts into 4 ohm in low gain mode:


View attachment 202314

I don't need to tell you that this is a stunning level of achievement. We have a power amplifier producing almost the same SINAD as a state of the art DAC! Using this number, LA90 grabs the top spot with ease with a nice gap to boot:

View attachment 202315

Here it is zoomed:
View attachment 202319
You might be thinking that it can only do so with low gain but that is not true. Even in high gain performance is spectacular:

View attachment 202317

It would still achieve top spot in our rankings and achieve full audible transparency.

Not only is distortion vanishingly low, so is noise level:
View attachment 202320

View attachment 202321

Frequency response is flat and wide as expected:
View attachment 202323

Being class AB design, it has no load dependency.

Crosstalk is incredibly good although it loses a tiny bit relative to last champ of amplifiers:

View attachment 202324

Multitone test shows the very low distortion levels:

View attachment 202325

Let's see how much power we have:
View attachment 202326

So power is modest in non-bridged mode. But note how good the high gain mode is so I would feel just fine using that for operation of the unit if you need to. Allowing distortion to rise to 1% naturally gets us more power:

View attachment 202328

Here is 8 ohm:

View attachment 202329

Oops. "High Power" should be "High Gain."

Changing frequencies shows the same excellent performance:
View attachment 202331

Despite being pushed deep into clipping, the amplifier did not complain until I got to 20 Hz where its over temperature shut it down.

Finally, you don't need any warm up:
View attachment 202332

Topping LA90 Bridged Mode Performance
A shorting wire is provided to connect the two negative speaker bindings together allowing bridged mode from the top two posts. Here is our dashboard again:

View attachment 202333

Performance is still exceptional. Here is our SNR:
View attachment 202334

Due to more power available now, we cross the amazing 140 dB SNR threshold. What this says is that even if you play at 140 dB, the noise level will be at or below threshold of hearing! Of course there is not enough power there to do that but basically you know that noise is not part of the equation with LA90 as even 5 watt measurement hits below threshold of hearing.

We want to know the power increase though so here it is (with 8 ohm which is the minimum impedance):
View attachment 202335

Now we get good bit of power at 95 watts with almost no penalty relative to non-bridged mode. Notice the massive gap as far as noise floor relative to Purifi amplifier.

Allowing for 1% distortion we get:
View attachment 202336

Here is the super wideband spectrum of the amplifier while producing 5 watts:

View attachment 202338

Edit:
Power Tests at 2 Ohm (Stereo) and 4 Ohm (Bridged)

Requests were made to test the amplifier beyond its minimum load impedance specs. Let's start with 2 ohm load while driving one channel in stereo mode. Dashboard still shows superb performance:

View attachment 202703

Let's now sweep the power:
View attachment 202704

You don't get extra power relative to 4 ohm but the amplifier was stable and did not even go into protection.

Now let's switch to Bridged mode (both amplifiers driven in differential mono) and run our power sweep again:
View attachment 202706

Now we see the amplifier "doubling down" producing nearly 200 watts into 4 ohm. Again, the amplifier was well composed and kept driving into clipping region without complaining, or shutting down.

Again, the above tests are beyond the amplifier specifications and tests I never run as such.

Conclusions
It is clear that Topping engineers are bringing their expertise in designing ultra low noise and distortion in headphone amplification to power amplifiers. As such, they have outdone every amplifier I have measured in that regard, getting ahead to capture the #1 position with a large gap to #2 choice.

The amplifier is not for everyone though. Power level is modest as compared to competitors. And you have that large external power supply. My wish is another version of this amp with built-in power supply, motorized volume control with bridge mode standard. For now, we need to celebrate one of the most important development in delivering transparent, high fidelity amplification to audiophiles in a very attractive package.

It is my absolute pleasure to recommend the Topping LA90. History is made on this day folks!

-----------
As always, questions, comments, recommendations, etc. are welcome.

Any donations are much appreciated using: https://www.audiosciencereview.com/forum/index.php?threads/how-to-support-audio-science-review.8150/
Too bad I don’t have a room where I can put one of these with a pair of Quad ESL 57s
 

SiamXIII

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Forgive me, I ask you without any controversy or mockery, it's just that I don't understand.
two amplifiers that have been measured with an absolutely flat response to the input signal, and that show no variance to the load, how do you explain that they can have such a different response in the bass that it is clearly perceived? Swollen bass presupposes an unexplained difference in equalization.
With sharp highs is it fatiguing? Plan to use it with Kef R3s.
 

Docmoggy

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I'm a bit late to this topic, but I was seriously considering buying two LA90 to replace my ABH2s in releasing equity to upgrade speakers, killing two birds with one stone so to speak(er). However, I'm not.
The LA90 metrics are outstanding and beat the ABH2s for a fraction of the cost.

However, I think the LA90 product attributes, in trying to be everything to all men, appears not to satisfy completely but offer compromises. Sadly, too many for me.

I was seriously tempted by the cost of two LA90s in mono combination with D90SE + Pre90 having a grand total less than one ABH2. On scrutiny of the LA90 in reviews etc I couldn't deal with the confusion of an integrated amp that can become a mono power amp for, predominantly, speakers rated at 8 ohms. Further, the aesthetics of two LA90s in mono appear weird because of the two large volume control dials. If anything, Topping should have provided an option to blank these off and make them appear more like true mono blocks a la ABH2s. In trying to be smart in a "do it all amp" Topping, IMO, have compromised too much. Output is significantly and severely limited as is application as capable mono blocks for the full range of passive speakers out there, many in 4 Ohm territory.

Now that they have outpaced Benchmark on SINAD metrics it surely is time they produced two independent products of high capability: an integrated amp and mono block specifically to meet the market that are cost competitive in the market is the way to go without significant impact on development now or production since an identical package can be used to house each individual architecture. It would seem to me Topping allowed enthusiasm to prioritise market potential and Amir rightly points this out. The LA90 is confused.

Wouldn't it be great to have mono blocks that not only outperform SINAD of the ABH2 for half the price but also out perform it on output wattage for any speaker impedance? Unlike Amir, I'm ok with satellite power packs. I use them all the time for my laptop and if they go pop, you can replace them cheaply, but for Topping it did beat Benchmark on size. However, to get big power output, perhaps Topping could add a dedicated DC power pack for a mono amp configuration and still bring the triad in the cost range which is less than one ABH2 and significantly less than cult brands. What an audiophile dream that is!
 

capslock

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Exactly the same noise issues with ncore dissapeared when i used an old Technics SU VX500 on my tweeters. Also felt softer drive with the speakers due to lower damping factor probably
You can always put a low value resistor in series to lower the damping factor of a low damping factor amp.
 

TheMadcap

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It depends on your listening preferences, such as SPL. Technically one LA90 in stereo mode matches these speakers.
It's a bit hard to get one of these amps, besides that, I decided to go with something beefier. I'll try to get a used roksan k3.
 

lordhumungous

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This amp from Topping is quite interesting. My issue in buying one is reliability. Has anyone had reliability issues?
 

lordhumungous

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Would they be good match with monitor audio gold 100s?
At 86 sensitivity , i would want two in mono mode . That's my take. Just one may not be ideal. I have my most powerful amp on my Kef Ls50's that I still use. And they are 86-87 sensitivity I think and they need it. The amp is 220 watts per channel.
 
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