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Topping PA5 Review (Amplifier)

redstang

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Been reading up for endless hours about PA5 directly and related topics... with little to show for it. The considered use case for it? Well-measuring high-end speakers (Dynaudio Confidence C1, $6500 MSRP). Rated 4 ohm, with no measured dips below that. Most "conservative" audiophiles would consider it lunacy to even consider a $/€350 amp for that, just like I've gotten a lot of flak for my current amplification many, many times over the years. But given how much for more affordable high quality amplification is these days, I can't help but wonder...

My thinking is: there's more than enough wattage as I don't normally reach more than 1 Wpc peaks. Current handling seems at least reasonably good given the 72% increase in power from 8 ohm to 4 ohm (a good indicator is getting as close to 100% as possible, or so I've read). Obviously very clean measurements overall, at least for the usual ones amir does for his reviews. But can it really reasonably match up to such high-end speakers even so? With or without a subwoofer to lighten the load? Going just by measurements from what I understand I don't see why it wouldn't work for controlled, clean, neutral, detailed playback at the volumes I need. Excellent crosstalk seems to imply good stereo imaging as well, which is important to me. But these are hardly the only measurements one could make - yet even if more was available I'm certainly no electrical engineer, or particularly knowledgeable about the measurements and other super-technical considerations even from just a hobby perspective.

Subjective opinions I've found here and elsewhere are a crapshoot as usual when put together. There's such variance in opinions and so many biases in play, be it an "innate" dislike/distrust towards small devices and Class D from the "traditional/conservative" crowd, or disproportionate praise based on just the measurements without even owning it on the other end. Some users/reviewers praise it to high heavens with absolute terms, then end up saying it's nice for the price. Eh, not very helpful. Others think even cheaper products can match it, like from Aiyima and such. Some claim a lack of "power" even when not clipping - mainly referring to lower frequencies. Would not being closer to the ability to fully double the wattage at 4 vs 8 ohm really result in such, given no dips to below 4 ohm? I'm not sure what else it could be - so assuming the "lack" was real to begin with rather than the absence of some kind of coloring in the sound or something, what would even allow for comparison with other options without a live audition?

So it firstly becomes a question of whether it's a sane consideration to begin with, and then secondly how it compares to other options at various prices as well as my current Audio Analogue Puccini stereo amp ($700 MSRP), a 1997 model - whether it's a meaningful upgrade or not. While not super costly, I don't have exactly great finances these days so that I could afford "mispurchases". The core problem is not being able to audition/compare without buying. It's no wonder I jumped off the upgrade bandwagon after getting the C1s 11 years ago. Back then any upgrade path would've been even costlier than now.
I think this is one very challenging thing about this hobby. You want to make a "good purchase" - I.E. one where you spend right up to the point of where the diminishing returns become tiny in relation to your needs and budget. The problem is finding that true point for yourself isn't possible by just taking others' word for it. At the same time, unless you are very wealthy and you have an unlimited amount of time (or you review electronics for your job) it isn't realistic to purchase many different components to do comparisons. I would argue most of us don't have the energy to do it either. So you do research, read as many opinions as you can, decide which ones you trust and are meaningful to you and finally pull the trigger. Beyond that it depends a little on what sort of person you are. Some are happy with their purchase and move on with life; others are never 100% complacent and part of the fun for them is the hunt for improvement.

One thing I do like is that now there are starting to be some high quality less expensive equipment such that if you want to spend a little time and money you can move slightly away from the "I'm happy, this is good enough" end of the spectrum towards the "I'm always looking for the next upgrade" side without feeling like you are breaking the bank. It's also now probably easier than ever before to sell used stuff such that the cost of trying things can be mitigated to small losses. I have been on the "I'm happy" side for a LONG time, but now I have the time and money to where I may start doing more experimentation. This PA5 is definitely something that would be fun to try out just to see how it sounds in comparison to my more expensive and powerful Emotiva XPA-2.
 

tvih

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Lot to take in, so i'll try and be brief with my answer. First off, no need to try and equate price with performance. They rarely go hand in hand. You may first want to try your current amp with the speakers you spoke of, good chance you will be perfectly happy with what you already have.
As for never going over 1 watt as you say. I think you would be surprised, even listening at low or normal levels, it's pretty easy to exceed the 1 watt max you speak of.
Regarding the PA5, I doubt you would need to have any worries regarding power and sound quality. The only thing I would be concerned about is Quality control, warranty repair service hassles.
I even rewrote the post several times trying to make it shorter... it kept ballooning, even being over twice as long than what I posted it as since I always keep over-elucidating in trying to pre-empt questions. A futile effort, of course, and the mammoth length keeps people from reading altogether!

Anyway, I've had the current stereo amp since around 2004 and the speakers since 2011. They do work well together to my ear, and the speakers even work fine with my $600 AVR (2010 model) - in fact I've mostly used the speakers with the latter directly since I couldn't reliably tell a difference between them, and the AVR was better for ease of use even for stereo listening (the Puccini doesn't have a remote, for example). Now whether this means I'm just deaf, or that the Puccini is a poor for a stereo amp (though it was in fact generally well-liked in its day), or that the AVR is unusually good for an AVR, or any combination of those... I can't say. I enjoy the sound out of both regardless. I don't really perceive a "lack" of anything - that doesn't mean it can't be improved, but it does mean an upgrade has to "justify" itself.

But the main reason for this upgrade contemplation is that I'm planning on implementing a separate DSP stage, which (to keep it short) in my circumstances needs to be done after the AVR - meaning separate stereo amp for main channels via AVR pre-out, with the DSP in between. The Puccini is 2x40W at 8 ohm, with no official 4 ohm spec. It wouldn't likely measure superbly - it does have audible hum and some noise from speakers when turned up, for example. It also has no HT bypass, which can exacerbate any noise issues with the already long "gear chain." Though I've seen some comments that PA5's noise/distortion measurements could be somewhat marred by having to use an RCA adapter, but not certain on that? The miniDSP Flex I'm considering for the DSP job can have balanced outputs, but I don't know if that version - or any version! - will come to domestic retailers, or when. Even if it does it'll be +100€ to the base price - and could have similar problems if I wanted to plug it into a non-balanced amp at some point instead.

For the wattage: I have an UMIK-1 which is why I know what volumes I reach when listening, and can thus calculate the wattage needed. Small room (and thus short listening distance) helps with not needing much power, if not with much else.

The good thing with the PA5 compared to other "budget" options like Aiyima etc. is that Topping has a reseller in my country, which helps with warranty. I've bought my DX3 Pro+ from them previously.

I used the PA5 with (MSRP) $28,000 horns and $13,000 electrostatic speakers. At no point did the PA5 sound like the weak link. Lunacy is believing megabuck amps are superior because of pricing. I was guilty of the $$$ = better behavior in the past.
For sure - and it's a very different market from 10 or 20 years ago in terms of value for money largely thanks to these cheap, high quality Class D chips. But even so these cheaper market segments usually have to make some compromises by necessity, rather than mere greed. Thus one can't automatically buy the cheapest expecting the "best", even if the chip is the same - like Aiyima A07 at ~100€ vs PA5 at 350€... the latter measures better, but heck if I know what the audible difference might be. Thus it's still a fine mess trying to navigate all the countless offerings and figuring what's worth it or not.

I think this is one very challenging thing about this hobby. You want to make a "good purchase" - I.E. one where you spend right up to the point of where the diminishing returns become tiny in relation to your needs and budget. The problem is finding that true point for yourself isn't possible by just taking others' word for it. At the same time, unless you are very wealthy and you have an unlimited amount of time (or you review electronics for your job) it isn't realistic to purchase many different components to do comparisons. I would argue most of us don't have the energy to do it either. So you do research, read as many opinions as you can, decide which ones you trust and are meaningful to you and finally pull the trigger. Beyond that it depends a little on what sort of person you are. Some are happy with their purchase and move on with life; others are never 100% complacent and part of the fun for them is the hunt for improvement.
Indeed, as said it can be quite a deadlock. I've definitely gotten the occasional "urge" over the years, but mostly that's just an irrational gear acquisition syndrome than born from any actual need beyond "ooh, shiny" - sound-wise I'm rather on the easy-going side. And indeed this main system has basically been as is for over 10 years now. But in this case the potential upgrade does at least have an actual reason behind it as discussed above, though originally I actually looked at upgrading the AVR itself (after upgrading the TV to 4K and other goodies, which the current AVR doesn't support) and do the DSP/EQ that way. Not that it's entirely out of the question as the path to take still, mind, but it would be expensive - like 1500€ for Denon X3700H without even knowing if the Audyssey MultEQ XT 32 will actually be good enough for the job compared to manual parametric EQ. Experiences seem to vary, once again. PA5+miniDSP Flex would be around 1000€ so still not very cheap, mind.

I definitely don't have much energy either, which incidentally is what has lead to the lack of money - I'm unable to work with chronic fatigue syndrome being the primary reason. 0/5, would not recommend. In fact quite exhausted with the research as it is, and almost scrapped the entire upgrade consideration already as a result. It becomes a sort of "sunk cost" situation as it gets prolonged, too - heck, I bought my DX3 Pro+ at least as much to get myself to stop wasting time on researching DACs/headphone amps as for any actual sound quality upgrade.
 
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Keened

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But the main reason for this upgrade contemplation is that I'm planning on implementing a separate DSP stage, which (to keep it short) in my circumstances needs to be done after the AVR - meaning separate stereo amp for main channels via AVR pre-out, with the DSP in between. The Puccini is 2x40W at 8 ohm, with no official 4 ohm spec. It wouldn't likely measure superbly - it does have audible hum and some noise from speakers when turned up, for example. It also has no HT bypass, which can exacerbate any noise issues with the already long "gear chain." Though I've seen some comments that PA5's noise/distortion measurements could be somewhat marred by having to use an RCA adapter, but not certain on that? The miniDSP Flex I'm considering for the DSP job can have balanced outputs, but I don't know if that version - or any version! - will come to domestic retailers, or when. Even if it does it'll be +100€ to the base price - and could have similar problems if I wanted to plug it into a non-balanced amp at some point instead.

The balanced Flex has no issue going out to a SE amp (provided you use the correct convertor cable), but it won't be super thrilled about taking a SE in. It'll work, just worse.

So here's the thing, if you really want to use (Dirac) DSP and you need to have a multi-channel solution in the mix, I would skip buying the PA5 and Flex entirely and try to nab one of the Onkyos/Integra/Pioneer. The built in amps aren't particularly good, but they probably match or exceed what you currently have. And if you get the pre-outs versions you can just wait for the next giant slayer price/performance class-D amp (or pick up some used hypex amps).

Personally, I like my PA5 but I also haven't had the left channel issue some other people are having.
 

tvih

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The balanced Flex has no issue going out to a SE amp (provided you use the correct convertor cable), but it won't be super thrilled about taking a SE in. It'll work, just worse.
So here's the thing, if you really want to use (Dirac) DSP and you need to have a multi-channel solution in the mix, I would skip buying the PA5 and Flex entirely and try to nab one of the Onkyos/Integra/Pioneer. The built in amps aren't particularly good, but they probably match or exceed what you currently have. And if you get the pre-outs versions you can just wait for the next giant slayer price/performance class-D amp (or pick up some used hypex amps).
But I take it that the PA5 would equally suffer from the RCA input as well? The loss of maximum power (2.6V vs 2.0V) would be a non-issue, but added noise/distortion would be a concern. I can't remember which review it was, but I believe it was an amp an it had a 20 dB drop in SINAD with an adapter. If the same also happened with PA5 That'd would put it in PA3s/Aiyima A07 territory for that particular measurement, though other benefits "should" remain.

If an AVR could do the DSP well enough, it'd certainly simplify the equipment chain a lot compared to the miniDSP Flex route. However, all of the scant few Dirac AVRs I can find here (Finland) are just as expensive or more expensive than the X3700H I mentioned, though Dirac itself is supposed to be a bit better? Aside from price the problem is most of them don't even seem to have full or properly working HDMI 2.1 feature support currently, which would be an absolute must to have at those prices. Plus unless the AVR has a particularly great preamp stage, the additional amp would somewhat "suffer." Of course that's the case even now, but that's why the Flex would allow skipping that stage for stereo use. But not even all of the 1500+€ Dirac AVRs seem to have a front channel pre-outs to begin with while also having two less channels than the Denon since the it can be 11.2 with the pre-outs in use.

One thing in favor of a Dirac-based solution might be that it's available for PC and there's a free trial for the stereo version, and thus I could at least test it in some form to see how well it works. Though apparently no 2.1 in the stereo version to see how it handles a subwoofer, which quite sucks. And I don't know if the features/capabilities are the exact same for the PC software compared to a Dirac AVR. Certainly even with free solutions on PC like EqualizerAPO you can do more extensive EQ specifically than with external DSPs. And I already do that, but the obvious problem is not being able to apply it to the other audio sources.

EDIT: Although come to think of it one way to forego the external DSP and still get EQ for other sources could be to use the AVR front pre-outs to input the signal to the PC, and from there to the front channel amp. I've not really thought about this for some reason and I've never tried something like this but as far as I know it should work. But problems I expect with this without additional gear are subwoofer integration, and not having a better quality input method than the line-level input of the motherboard's integrated soundcard. Worth a test at least regardless since it could save a lot of money, or at least it could be an interim solution 'til I can actually get the new dedicated hardware DSP solution, whether the AVR or a Flex. Off to test how to best set it up!
 
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tvih

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PC EQ "loop" was a success, and thankfully even managed to do the crossover for the subwoofer as well. So this should sort out my EQ/DSP needs for now. The only problem is that the signal loops through the motherboard's integrated Realtek audio since I have no other line in connection, and output requires more than two channels due to the subwoofer as well. And of course the Realtek isn't entirely intereference-free (though I guess REW could measure the actual numbers via loopback?), so instead I might look into a multichannel USB sound card that also has a line in - though at a glance looks like ADC quality doesn't exactly tend to be their strong point. But if I get an USB one I might use it with my old laptop for dedicated DSP duty so I don't have to keep my main computer running when the TV or the consoles are the audio source. If I get a PCIe one, then I'd have to use my old desktop computer instead.

This now leaves the amp as the biggest question mark - hooray for being back on topic, I guess. If the PA5 had RCA, I'd probably just pull the trigger at this point with more expensive audio purchases no longer in immediate consideration, but the adapter situation still makes me somewhat hesitant to do so. But I guess I can get the soundcard in the meanwhile and see where the noise levels are at with the Puccini as the endpoint.
 
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nagster

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But I take it that the PA5 would equally suffer from the RCA input as well? The loss of maximum power (2.6V vs 2.0V) would be a non-issue, but added noise/distortion would be a concern. I can't remember which review it was, but I believe it was an amp an it had a 20 dB drop in SINAD with an adapter. If the same also happened with PA5 That'd would put it in PA3s/Aiyima A07 territory for that particular measurement, though other benefits "should" remain.

If an AVR could do the DSP well enough, it'd certainly simplify the equipment chain a lot compared to the miniDSP Flex route. However, all of the scant few Dirac AVRs I can find here (Finland) are just as expensive or more expensive than the X3700H I mentioned, though Dirac itself is supposed to be a bit better? Aside from price the problem is most of them don't even seem to have full or properly working HDMI 2.1 feature support currently, which would be an absolute must to have at those prices. Plus unless the AVR has a particularly great preamp stage, the additional amp would somewhat "suffer." Of course that's the case even now, but that's why the Flex would allow skipping that stage for stereo use. But not even all of the 1500+€ Dirac AVRs seem to have a front channel pre-outs to begin with while also having two less channels than the Denon since the it can be 11.2 with the pre-outs in use.

One thing in favor of a Dirac-based solution might be that it's available for PC and there's a free trial for the stereo version, and thus I could at least test it in some form to see how well it works. Though apparently no 2.1 in the stereo version to see how it handles a subwoofer, which quite sucks. And I don't know if the features/capabilities are the exact same for the PC software compared to a Dirac AVR. Certainly even with free solutions on PC like EqualizerAPO you can do more extensive EQ specifically than with external DSPs. And I already do that, but the obvious problem is not being able to apply it to the other audio sources.

EDIT: Although come to think of it one way to forego the external DSP and still get EQ for other sources could be to use the AVR front pre-outs to input the signal to the PC, and from there to the front channel amp. I've not really thought about this for some reason and I've never tried something like this but as far as I know it should work. But problems I expect with this without additional gear are subwoofer integration, and not having a better quality input method than the line-level input of the motherboard's integrated soundcard. Worth a test at least regardless since it could save a lot of money, or at least it could be an interim solution 'til I can actually get the new dedicated hardware DSP solution, whether the AVR or a Flex. Off to test how to best set it up!
THD+N increased by about 0.0001% when measured using an RCA to TS conversion adapter.
 
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What best practice to hopefully avoid any issues, leave the amp on all the time or turn on/off when being used (a bit annoying given where it's placed)?

I did look at remote power strips but I read turning on/off at the wall could be bad?
 

Vladetz

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What best practice to hopefully avoid any issues, leave the amp on all the time or turn on/off when being used (a bit annoying given where it's placed)?

I did look at remote power strips but I read turning on/off at the wall could be bad?
Turn it off by amp front switch when you will not use it about 24h or so. It is usually not recommended to disconnect power supplies from 220v
 

Vladetz

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Is it safe to connect my subwoofer (Canton power sub 8) by high level to PA5 speaker outs?
I have measured resistance between connections which can be seen on picture (all values are in Ohms). Resistance between red left and black right (and vice versa diagonally) is also about 1k Ohms
RCA sleeves are 500 ohms to any speaker level posts

Impefdance.png
 

MAB

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Damn, that sucks. I feel your pain.
I shipped mine back to Shenzhen Audio for $85 USD. It apparently got lost, either in the mail or by the fairly incompetent people at Shenzhen Audio. They ran me in circles, and have stopped replying. Gotta say, their responses were way more frustrating than their silence. Got to be the most passive aggressive customer service of all time. I hope to never see the amp again. Would love to get my money back though…
 

Vladetz

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Is it safe to connect my subwoofer (Canton power sub 8) by high level to PA5 speaker outs?
I have measured resistance between connections which can be seen on picture (all values are in Ohms). Resistance between red left and black right (and vice versa diagonally) is also about 1k Ohms
RCA sleeves are 500 ohms to any speaker level posts

View attachment 212335
Okay I'll reply myself
Connected sub by high-level and everything works good so far
By the way, pa5's binding posts accommodated rolled up together wires nicely (2,5 sq mm to speakers and 1 sq mm to sub)
IMG_20220614_220415.jpg
 
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mlee

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Hi All,
Another data point. I have 1 black and 1 silver of the PA5. Silver unit has popping/intermittent crackling on right channel. Black unit has intermittent white/wideband noise that comes and goes on right channel. Power brick has not been disconnected from AC until problems surfaced. Units have been running roughly the same amount of time, a little over a month with 10hrs+ per day that they were ON. Load was 8 ohm speaker nominal and units were always terminated with a speaker. Sometimes noise is there on turn on, sometimes noise comes after having it on for a while. Noise is there if the inputs are connected to DAC or not and always the same channels. Seems the other channel is working correctly. No hiss or crackling.
 

JohnG

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I shipped mine back to Shenzhen Audio for $85 USD. It apparently got lost, either in the mail or by the fairly incompetent people at Shenzhen Audio. They ran me in circles, and have stopped replying. Gotta say, their responses were way more frustrating than their silence. Got to be the most passive aggressive customer service of all time. I hope to never see the amp again. Would love to get my money back though…
That's ludicrous. I've had luck so far with my PA5 (delivered 2/2/2022) but I bought through Amazon (Aoshida HiFi-US) so I suspect I'd share your fate if an issue were to arise. I'll be sure to make any future Topping purchases through Apos (got my D90 and Pre90 there) for a hopefully smoother warranty experience.
 

sarumbear

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The problem with most Chinese suppliers are they are geared for volume. They are not geared to support individual customers. They really should accept that and stop selling directly to users. They are tarnishing their name for very small gain.
 

MAB

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The problem with most Chinese suppliers are they are geared for volume. They are not geared to support individual customers. They really should accept that and stop selling directly to users. They are tarnishing their name for very small gain.
Agreed. The fact that the product is breaking isn't the biggest issue here. I think it is the sales/profit model, and the inability to react to the fact that while it sucks to sell something and not make a profit on it when it breaks, it is way more impactful to the customer who bought the broken thing. So they prioritize making a few bucks per unit over the customer negative experience of a few hundred dollars. I do think the sellers are a bunch of rank amateurs, and that is ruining the brand reputation.
 

morpheusX

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I've bought a PA5 for powering a Beyma AMT (TPL-150H), which has a 102db sensitivity.
I went for the PA5 due to his high SINAD and lower gain than usual (19db vs 26db), as the goal was to minimize potential hiss from the AMT.

I bought it from audiophonics, and haven't yet used it or even opened the box.
I'm still working in the crossover for the speakers, hopefully will be able to have it ready until the end of the month.

I'm considering returning the PA5, it would be a perfect match to the AMT, but if its expected to have problems, its better to just return it.

I'm also considering getting a AUDIOPHONICS MPA-S125NC XLR, it has 25.5db gain and around 96 SINAD, but i'm wondering if i will have hiss with this one!
 

mlee

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PA5 is great for noise. My horns don't have any audible hiss at 1 foot. I'm worried it might blow them when it is not working though.........
 

mdsimon2

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I've bought a PA5 for powering a Beyma AMT (TPL-150H), which has a 102db sensitivity.
I went for the PA5 due to his high SINAD and lower gain than usual (19db vs 26db), as the goal was to minimize potential hiss from the AMT.

I bought it from audiophonics, and haven't yet used it or even opened the box.
I'm still working in the crossover for the speakers, hopefully will be able to have it ready until the end of the month.

I'm considering returning the PA5, it would be a perfect match to the AMT, but if its expected to have problems, its better to just return it.

I'm also considering getting a AUDIOPHONICS MPA-S125NC XLR, it has 25.5db gain and around 96 SINAD, but i'm wondering if i will have hiss with this one!

Do you have a reference point of a DAC / amplifier combination that did not cause hiss? If so I would calculate (or ideally measure) the noise at your speaker terminals for comparison. Obviously DAC noise is a huge variable here, if you are starting from low DAC noise you will be able to handle a higher gain amplifier. Still 102 dB is very sensitive…

Michael
 

morpheusX

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Do you have a reference point of a DAC / amplifier combination that did not cause hiss? If so I would calculate (or ideally measure) the noise at your speaker terminals for comparison. Obviously DAC noise is a huge variable here, if you are starting from low DAC noise you will be able to handle a higher gain amplifier. Still 102 dB is very sensitive…

Michael

No DAC here, just a simple AV, NAD T758 V3.
From the NAD review, it seems that the NAD SINAD is around 90db when using outboard amplification, which will be the case here.
 

mdsimon2

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No DAC here, just a simple AV, NAD T758 V3.
From the NAD review, it seems that the NAD SINAD is around 90db when using outboard amplification, which will be the case here.

Stating the obvious here but that is a rather high noise source (94 dB SNR @ 1V = 20 uV residual noise). Based on experimentation I like to keep residual noise at the speaker terminals below 200 uV with a 92 dB sensitivity tweeter, PA5 is at 180 uV and NC125MP is at 380 uV, pretty much all driven by the 6.5 dB difference in gain. YMMV, I'd definitely lean towards something lower gain.

Michael
 
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