Topping L30

There have been some problems reported with the L30 and it seems to be susceptible to static electricity and at least a handful of failures have destroyed headphones as a result.  Topping has released a statement that they have improved the protection circuitry and any L30 with a serial starting with 2012 has the changes.  Those with earlier models are invited to speak to their reseller for a replacement with the upgraded model.   The complete text of Topping’s response is attached below (click to expand).

Disclaimer:  Not too long ago, I reviewed the Topping E30 DAC, their new budget dac offering and more recently the introduced its partner the L30.  Hifigo offered me an L30 to try out and I accepted quickly.  Topping has been making some great stuff lately and the recent E30 and D90 reviews I had done left me thinking the L30 should be no exception.   I have no affiliation with Topping or Hifigo, nor have I received any compensation beyond the unit itself for this review.   If you have an interest in topping, check out their website or to purchase your own L30, check out Hifigo.

 

Unboxing:

The L30 comes in a small lift-top box with the topping name on top and the model name on the side along with Topping’s address.  If you weren’t already familiar with what you were getting, the box would do little to encourage a purchase and is very obviously more about transport than marketing the product.  Inside the box a small closed cell foam surround protects the unit and keeps it separate from the power supply and 3.5 to 6.3 adapter.   The kit does not include any RCA cables so you’ll need at least one pair to complete the hookup process and I’ll advise that you use lightweight cables as the unit is small and light and will slide around if something particularly heavy is attached.    I had criticized the USB to barrel connector power cable of the E30 but no such criticism is needed here.   I’ll cover more details as we go, but suffice it to say, if anything, this time the power supply is overbuilt at nearly the same size as the unit.

 

Build:

The L30 shares the casing with the E30 DAC and is designed to create a small desktop stack.  The shell is brushed aluminum anodized in your choice of black or silver. I ended up with a silver E30 and a black L30 so have seen both options and to my eye the brushed silver looks slightly better as the black is a matte finish and looks a touch more industrial.    The Face of the L30 has two three-position switches on the left, then the 6.3mm headphone jack, followed by the volume knob on the far right.   The Volume knob is not a power switch as the left most switch handles those duties.   Also, the volume knob has good weight and feel and makes fine control easy.   In this regard I like the L30 better than the recent SMSL products I have tried and the Monoprice THX.    One gripe, there is no LED or indicator that power is on on the front face so you just have to know that if the left switch is in the middle or upper position the unit is on, if it is in the lower position the unit is off.     The Rear face has two sets of RCAs, the left pair is input, while the right is for the pre-amp output.   The only other connection on the rear plate is the 15V DC female jack for power connection.   The bottom of the case does have feet installed to keep it from scratching other surfaces and help prevent it sliding around.  The unit is extremely lightweight so is best placed in an area where it isnt subject to bumps and bangs as it will move easily.

 

Internals:

Not too long ago, Topping introduced a new flagship Amplifier the A90 and a lot of what started there has found its way down the budget ladder and into the L30.    The L30 uses a voltage-current hybrid feedback architecture that started out in the A90 as well as their nested Feedback model.  Capacitors are all Nichicon made and you can tell from the photos it is well heat-sinked where it needs to be.   Another thing worth noting is that there are no socketed op-amps or removable parts internally so those interested in op-amp rolling will want to look elsewhere.    The stats on the L30 had to be calculated by amplifying the noise created by the amp by a factor of 100 so it was detectable on the APX555b and then dividing the output by 100 to come up with the final number.  While the validity of this methodology is somewhat debatable, what isn’t is any amp that is so low noise that it cannot be measured by standard equipment has to be thought of as pretty amazing.  When it costs $139, even more so.   THD is roughly 0.00007% while still being able to push 3.5 Watts into a 16Ω load.

 

Any amplifier is only as good as the power it is fed and this is one place the attention to detail that Topping is putting into its products is very evident.    The power supply is a wall-wart but not the typical switched model that we see almost everywhere today.   This supply is heavier than the unit itself and is a full-blown transformer we’d expect to find in a more expensive model.   I spend a lot of time commenting on how budget products can be improved  by improving the power they are provided.  In this case, the supply that comes with the L30 is as good as I have seen in an external power supply provided with any product below $500 and certainly is not the limiting factor for the L30.

Functionality:

The L30 is both a headphone amplifier and a pre-amp depending on how it is set.    The face has two 3-position switches that control modes.  The left most switch if off in the lowest position, headphone amplifier in the middle position, and pre-amp in the upper position.   The other switch is for gain and offers -9.9dB for use with sensitive IEMs, 0dB for use with high impedance in ears or fairly high sensitivity cans, and finally the top position is +9.5dB for those hard to drive cans that need a bit of extra push.     I was able to use my Magaosi K5 on low gain with no hiss, and my He6 on high gain with some headroom (admittedly not a ton, but some).    This is about as versatile as one could hope for in any amp let alone a budget one.     Output impedance for headphone mode is listed at <0.1Ω.

In pre-amp mode, I paired the L30 with a couple different sets of powered monitors, first the Kanto YU4.   The YU4 are a mid-priced set of near fields with excellent mids and top end, but limited bass depth.   The L30 did a nice job of providing a unified volume control for the YU4 and worked well when paired to the E30 as a compact office desk system.    The second set of powered monitors was the Elac Navis (borrowed).   These are much larger and more powerful floor standing speakers with 300W worth of amplification per speaker.  When the E30/L30 were paired with these, there was no lack of bass and the sound was well defined and clean.  In a blind test, I think I’d have trouble telling the difference in my Bel Canto and the E30/L30 pairing.    It should be noted that output impedance is 20Ω when using the RCAs for the pre-out.

 

Sound:

About the best thing one can say about an amplifier is that it contributes nothing to the sound and the L30 comes very close to that.    There is no range that is pushed to the front, nor are there any gaps or recesses where anything has been de-emphasized.   I was glad to see Topping eschew the Bass Boost circuits and gimmicks and focus on the fundamentals of building a good amplifier.   What you do get is a very clean, colorless sound with no hiss or hum with my most sensitive in ears (when on low gain) and an amp that can power my most power hungry cans when on high gain without breaking up or introducing notable distortion to do so.     I’ve heard some comments regarding the L30s ability to handle fast passages and have to say I found no such problems with the L30 and wonder if maybe those impressions were more due to either the dac feeding it or the headphone it was feeding as I tried to make it mis-step and could not using several different sources and headphones.   Overall what I got was clean, well detailed and textured sound with nothing that shouldn’t be there.

 

Comparisons:

Some time back, the L30 would have stood alone at the price point and it still fits nicely in the lowest realistic tier for performance headphone amps, but with the JDS Atom, Schiit Heresy, and Monoprice Liquid Spark it’s hardly alone.   A quick compare of these three gives you the lay of the land.

JDS Atom

  • Size and shape are similar although the Atom is slightly shorter and wider and only available in black.
  • About 1/3 the power of the L30 with a maximum output of 1 watt into a 32Ω load and only 2 gain levels  1x and 4.5x.  (Gain is hard to compare due to dB on one and x on the other.  To my ear the high gain on the Atom is split the difference between the mid and high on the L30 so probably roughly 6 dB).
  • the Atom does offer both 3.5mm and RCA inputs.

The atom is arguably better for iems as it offers finer control due to its lower output power.  On the flip side, the Atom runs out of juice for big planars and low sensitivity dynamics much sooner than the L30 and does not offer near as much headroom for the more power hungry cans.

Schiit Heresy

  • The Heresy is even smaller than the Atom or L30 but only by roughly an inch in depth as it is rectangular vs the square of the other two.   The Heresy is only available in Red/Black an aesthetic that is a bit polarizing.
  • The heresy offer 2.4 Watts of output power with 2 gain setting.   One one hand, the Heresy is as capable as the L30 for driving big cans,  On the other, The L30’s lowest gain setting makes at a better option for sensitive IEMS.
  • Switches on the Heresy on the reverse of the unit making it slightly less convenient than the L30.

The Heresy is roughly equal to the L30 when powering large headphones and is capable of putting up equally impressive statistics, but lacks the flexibility to handle sensitive iems that the L30 offers.  As a side note, I prefer the volume adjustment on the L30 as well as the heresy lacks a little weight and makes it harder to have fine control.

Liquid Spark

  • The Spark is most similar to the Heresy in shape but is a bit more stylized with sloped edges rather than simply being a box like the other three.   Color is a gunmetal grey only.
  • Output on the Spark is closer to the Atom than to the other two as it pushes just over 1 Watt into a 50Ω load with two gain options.
  • Switches for gain and power are on the front face along with the headphone jack.

The Spark is slightly more potent than the Atom, but nowhere near the L30 or Heresy at the top end so again will run out of headroom much sooner on heavy cans.    Here again the sparks volume control knob lacks a bit of heft and makes fine adjustment a bit more difficult.

Thoughts/Conclusions:

The Topping L30 enters the budget amplifier field at a time when the consumer has more options than ever before and better measuring products than ever before.  All four of the amplifiers I mentioned in my comparisons post impressive measurements, will power damn near anything at least reasonably well, and cost less than $150 shipping and taxes included.   You could do a lot worse than any of the four.   That having been said, none of the other three can match the versatility offered by the L30 as it was dead silent with sensitive IEMs like the Atom, was able to drive the He6 like the Heresy, and covered all the territory in between equally well.     For the time being, the Topping L30 has grabbed the top spot in the budget amplifier field and may well hold onto it for awhile as it is hard to imagine anyone coming out with something much more versatile or much less expensive without having to cut corners that hurt the product.     The L30 is an amazing product by itself and when paired with the E30 DAC is a monster combo in a mini-stack package.

I am happy to report that after a few reported issues, Topping has addressed the issue and updated the unit.   Those with earlier versions can exchange them for the updated version via their reseller and units with serial numbers beginning with 2012 have the fix incorporated.   I can once again wholeheartedly recommend the L30 as one of the best bang for the buck amps available.   

 

  • 6/10
    Packaging - 6/10
  • 6/10
    Accessories - 6/10
  • 7.5/10
    Build Quality - 7.5/10
  • 8/10
    Sound Quality - 8/10
  • 8/10
    Output Power - 8/10
7.1/10

Summary

Pros: very versatile, great power, extremely clean, small footprint

Cons: may have issue with static electricity which destroys headphones and amp.