Topping DM7 8-channel D/A processor Page 2

The purity delivered by—or via—the DM7 recurred again and again, and often it was a surprise. The album An Unexpected Mozart (Harmonia Mundi HMM90239697, auditioned from a 24/96 download) is aptly named not only because of its surprising instrumentation (including, in addition to voice, mandolin, harpsichord, and organ, also glass harmonica and musical clock). And not—or not only—because in addition to pieces by Mozart, this album named for Mozart includes contributions from Haydn and C.P.E. Bach. Nor is it just because it is performed, under the direction of Louis-Noel Bestion de Camboulas, by soloists and the Ensemble Les Surprises. Nope. What was, and remains, least expected is the freshness and charm of all the selections—I especially love the colors and depth of the organs—and the startling immediacy of Marie Perbost's soprano, which pops up seemingly at random.


On first hearing with the DM7, I was almost certain my streamer had swerved and served up something from a different album when, after a half-dozen instrumental tracks, Ms. Perbost simply appeared in my room just left of center. Even without her appearances, this would be an addictive, delightful album; add her contributions, and it's the kind of thrill that does not get old.

I also tried the DM7 with older favorites, and it didn't disappoint. It fully revealed the spacious, warm acoustic and the fully present trio on The Elder (Polarity, Hoff Ensemble, rip from 2L 2L-145-SACD). Particularly notable here, and also on Justice, is the delineation and weight of the bass and drums. Willie Nelson's Night and Day, which is recorded with the band fully surrounding the listener, shows that the DM7 can create a convincing immersive experience. I hear instruments, discretely and realistically rendered, all around me, including in the wide spaces between the front and rear speakers in my 5.3 system.


I came back to René Jacobs's rethinking of Der Freischütz (Harmonia Mundi HMM90270001, 2 CDs), which so impressed me when I reviewed the KEF Blade Metas. Heard now with the resident Revels and the Topping DM7 (in place of the exaSound s88), it was no less impressive. The clear and varied voices are well-defined within a soundstage that's wide and deep, and the effects are convincing. In the Wolf's Glen scene, the space and chorus expand in size, including height, and the orchestra is convincingly spooky and dramatic. From just two channels, the DM7 conveys the full sense of the theatrical events with a perfect integration of pit and stage.

The playoff
By now you may be wondering: With all my criticisms and caveats, did the Topping DM7 meet my expectations? It did, and it does. But how does it fare in comparison with my other multi-channel DACs, the Okto dac8 PRO and the exaSound s88? All three utilize the same DAC chip, the ES9038PRO. Comparisons were relatively easy to set up, thanks to JRiver and the Coleman 7.1 switch. First, I found an effective level setting for the s88 and, with a mono pink noise source, measured the AC voltage at the output terminals of the left power amp. Then I switched, in turn, to the Okto and the Topping DACs, matching the Okto's levels with their front-panel controls. Finally, I linked all three into a single JRiver zone and kept my hands off the controls except the Coleman's input selector switch, which allowed me to randomly switch among the three DACs. As I noted earlier, all three DACs were set to the same PCM/DSD filters.

There really was not much to choose among the three DACs; none stuck out. The Topping DM7 was clean, tight in the bass, and quite transparent. The Okto dac8 PRO seemed to have a bit more bass weight and extension, not noticeable on most recordings but apparent on those with lots of bass. Otherwise, the Okto was as clean and transparent as the DM7.

I could say the same about the exaSound s88—a bit more bass weight and extension than the Topping, comparable clarity/transparency as the other DACs—but it added to the mix a more subtle treble presentation. In this nonblind comparison, distinctions were small; I doubt they're significant in listening for pleasure. In view of how close the DM7 sounds next to its direct competitors, features and price should enter into any buying decision. The Topping is strictly a DAC (with a volume control), albeit a very good one, which accepts PCM or DSD input by USB only and provides up to eight channels of balanced analog output via TRS phone jacks. The front-panel volume control is barely useful, but the RC control is okay. It lacks a headphone output. It costs $599.99.


The Okto dac8 does all of the above but has XLR in place of TRS outputs, and it adds a good front panel volume (and menu) control, more comprehensive and easier menu options including channel routing, a headphone jack, an AES3 digital output (footnote 3), and four AES3 inputs. Its current price is €1289, equivalent to $1250.65 right now.

The exaSound s88/II Streaming DAC offers many more features, including XLS and RCA outputs, multiple inputs, LAN operation, Web functions, local storage—even Roon hosting—but it's far more expensive at $7599. A better comparison with the Topping and Okto DACs would be its stablemate, the e68 DAC. Stereophile hasn't tested the e68, but it offers the same basic DAC functions and the same specifications as the s88/II; its performance is probably very similar. It has eight RCA (unbalanced) analog outputs, and S/PDIF coax and TosLink inputs in addition to USB, a headphone jack, and the option for adding an external 12V power supply. In distinction to both the Topping and Okto DACs, the exaSound DAC supports PCM rates up to 384kHz and DSD rates up to DSD256 (eight channels) and DSD512 (stereo). The Topping and Okto DACs support PCM up to 192kHz and DSD up to DSD128. The e68 is priced at $3999. Of the three brands, exaSound is the only one with factory service/support based in North America.

If a high-resolution, eight-channel DAC with its balanced outputs had appeared at a penny under $600 two decades ago, when the SACD/DVD-A multichannel wars began, it could have had a major impact on audio history. Back then, there were no multichannel DACs. Of course, it would have needed an HDMI input instead of USB, but that's a technicality.

Even today, the Topping DM7 is more than just a pleasant surprise. Those of us seeking multichannel DACs now have several options, but the DM7 is set apart from the others by its price—half the price of its nearest competitor—with little sacrifice in specifications and performance. The Topping DM7 will appeal to audiophiles and music lovers tempted by multichannel who do not want to go the Home Theater/AVR route. It offers the hard-to-beat combination of simple operation, low cost, and excellent sound. If that combination of virtues meets your needs, go for it

Footnote 3: I've read reports that this output is dysfunctional on some versions of the firmware, but it is not clear which ones and, at the moment, there are no firmware updates.
Guangzhou TOPPING Electronics & Technology Co., LTD
Authorized US retailer: Apos Inc.
1400 Coleman Ave., #E23
Santa Clara, CA 95050
(510) 858-6585

JRT's picture

You mentioned, "Since my server is PC-based, I needed to download and install Topping's ASIO driver for the DM7..."

Do you know if this works well using MS WASAPI in exclusive mode? Some software that I am very much interested in utilizing does not work with ASIO drivers, but rather works either with WASAPI in exclusive mode, or with WDM drivers, and I prefer to avoid using the WDM drivers.

Kal Rubinson's picture

I have not tried WASAPI, only the recommended ASIO drivers.

georgehifi's picture

It would be really nice to see the star of the Topping range, the dedicated $899usd 2ch dac "Topping D90SE" (Balanced DAC) reviewed and measured here. As this would be a real eye opener for many.

Cheers George

Cooking Man's picture

I bought a D90SE DAC earlier this year on the back of the reputation it was gaining as a giant slayer and hopefully to advance the sound quality of streaming as compared to the internal DAC in my venerable Luxman D-05u Cd/SACD/DAC player. I used it for a couple of months but concluded I preferred the more organic and fleshed out sound of the Luxman and so sold it. The differences were subtle but increasingly clear to me as I spent more time listening. The Topping just left me rather cold. Everything was in the right place but just in a rather mechanistic manner. Not my cup of tea. Of course YMMV. After all,contempt prior to investigation is a bar to all progress.

Glotz's picture

LOVE that statement. Thank you.

georgehifi's picture

"I preferred the more organic and fleshed out sound of the Luxman.
Everything was in the right place, the but just in a rather mechanistic manner."

Not surprising, the Lux uses a nice PCM1795 d/a converter while not true R2R (the best) it's a lot closer to the R2R sound, than the ESS Deta Sigma D/A converter that's in the Topping.

But the price difference seven times!!!
$600-usd for the Topping D90se vs $4300-usd for the Lux

Cheers George

Cooking Man's picture

Yes I agree George the pricing is vastly different (though a bit less so here in the UK where the Topping is £900 new) but the Luxman throws in a superb CD/SACD player (the primary reason I bought it). If you subscribe to the ASR philosophy that measurements are sacred,the be all and end all then ,sure, buy a D90 SE and live happily ever after in the knowledge you have bought the best measuring DAC ever and therefore the best DAC ever period. However I try to choose equipment, by listening to music and asking myself “how does this music through this system make me feel?”. I really wanted to like the D90 SE (I plunked down the cash for it) and run streaming through a dedicated DAC,network switch blah blah but it just didn’t engage and move me the way music from the Luxman does. As ever YMMV.

ARX's picture

Your experience is similar to mine.
After listening (and owning) several ESS based DACs - including some Toppings, I've decided to ignore them all together.

All of them caused listening fatigue after a while.

Measurement disciples often argue there shouldn't be audible differences between 'transparent' DACs, while Audio Precision is considered a GOD-like discriminator.

That stupidity is often amusing.

PeterPani's picture

Because, still very important is the possibility to convert AC-3 stream or DTS coming out of TV-sets or in my case the Apple TV-device via cinch socket for surround-sound movies or for PCM-music from my Apple music abo. Both don't work via USB.
The ddts-100 cost me $120 15 years ago. And there is still no replacement that does so many things in one box.