Sound Analysis and Pair up.
Regardless of how impressive the DAP may look and operate, at the end of the day people will be buying it for its sound performance because you don’t need $3k paper weight with a golden wheel. When I received LPGT loaner, in the back of my mind I was thinking – new DAC with the same opamp chipset on SE output and a different opamp chipset on BAL. Thus, I was curious about what sound changes should I expect since Lotoo moved from TI PCM1762 to AKM AK4497EQ DAC.
Please, keep in mind, these are my initial sound impressions which I’m going to update when I’ll receive longer-term review sample and spend more time with it. Also, I will add a separate section with different pair-up examples.
I think many LPG fans will be pleasantly surprised since the changes in sound are not that drastic. LPGT has a more neutral sound signature with a very accurate reference tonality. The sound performance still stands out with a great transparency and layering, something LPG is well known for, except LPG has more sub-bass rumble while LPGT is more balanced and more neutral in that respect.
When it comes to soundstage expansion, I find it to be naturally wide. But I wouldn’t exactly call it holographic, especially when compared to some other DAPs (covered in Comparison section of the review). Instead, LPGT soundstage has more focus with a slightly confined width and more out of your head depth. Surprisingly, when you switch to “Headphone” PMEQ preset, the sound becomes more 3D holographic, which makes me kind of doubt if PMEQ is only about “EQ” without any other DSP effects. But with all EFX off, the sound has above average width, identical to LPG.
Up-sampling is another secret weapon of LPGT which I kept permanently on during my testing. Without it, sound performance is close to LPG, but once you enable it – the dynamics of the sound expands with a noticeable improvement, including better layering and separation of sounds as I hear it while testing with different hi-res IEMs. The change is not night’n’day, but it’s noticeable enough to appreciate the fine-tuning.
Another noticeable difference in performance between LPG and LPG is a pitch-black background with zero hissing even in high gain, balanced, and with volume down to zero (my extreme test condition) using sensitive IEMs like Andromeda and Solaris. That was very impressive and a bit rare for a high-power DAP.
As I mentioned already, both 3.5mm Single Ended and 4.4mm Balanced headphone outputs have an identical power out where the volume level was the same when switching between the ports with the same pair of IEMs. Also, between SE and BAL, the tonality and the sound sig are nearly identical, with the only difference of BAL having a little wider soundstage expansion. While I usually find balanced output background to be blacker, here it was on par with single ended output.
In this review section, sound comparison was done using LPGT 4.4mm headphone balanced output, with all the effects off, and up-sampling turned on while using 64 Audio U18t with EA Leo II balanced terminated cable and Pentaconn 4.4mm adaptor. In every comparison I made sure to match the sound level between DAPs. Also, I only going to cover a sound difference as I hear it. Obviously, every flagship has their own set of features and functionality differences.
LPGT vs LPG – I find soundstage width to be very close, just with Touch being a “touch” wider. Also, very similar sound signature and tonality, where the only difference I hear is a little more sub-bass in LPG. In terms of sound performance, I hear LPGT having a little better layering and improved dynamics when up-sampling is on. Also, LPGT has blacker background which makes the sound tighter due to a faster transient response of notes on/off transition. LPGT has no hissing with sensitive IEMs, while LPG does.
LPGT vs Sony WM1Z (4.4mm BAL) – I find their soundstage expansion to be similar. WM1Z has a warmer tonality with a bass that has a little more impact, while in comparison Touch is more neutral and more transparent (less colored). Both have a dynamic layered sound, but I hear just a little bit more air between the layers in Touch due to its more neutral signature. To my ears, WM1Z has a more analog warmer tonality, while LPGT has a more precise reference sound.
LPGT vs A&K SP1000 SS (2.5mm BAL) – I hear SPK to have a more holographic soundstage with a wider sound, while the depth is the same; in contrast – LPGT staging width is more focused. In terms of tonality, SPK with the latest fw has more bass impact and smoother treble response at the top in comparison to a more transparent (less colored) and more neutral sound signature of Touch. I also find Touch to have a blacker background.
LPGT vs Cayin N8 (Solid State 4.4mm BAL) – I find N8 to have a more holographic soundstage with a wider sound, while Touch has a more focused staging. In terms of the tonality, N8 sounds a little bit warmer and smoother and has a little more low-end impact (especially in mid-bass) while they have a similar sub-bass rumble. In comparison, Touch has a more transparent balanced sound with a reference tonality, and a blacker background with an improved layering when up-sampling is enabled.
LPGT vs iBasso DX200Ti (4.4mm BAL w/amp8) – I find DX soundstage to be a little wider, while both have the same soundstage depth. DX sound has more bass impact and a touch more treble sparkle, while Touch has a more neutral transparent signature. Both have a sound with great dynamics and a decent layering and separation. Also, both have a black background, but Touch noise floor is probably lower since I hear zero-hissing performance with sensitive iems in comparison to DX.
It’s hard to ignore LPG when testing LPGT. After spending a few weeks with LPGT loaner, I found the sound sig to be similar to LPG. Except, you no longer hear LPG’s sub-bass boost, and instead, LPGT is more neutral and more reference. In terms of sound performance, LPGT up-sampling improves the layering and sound dynamics. The other noticeable change is a dead quiet black background even with sensitive IEMs. But overall, I think Lotoo decided to stick to the same sound sig formula even though LPG uses TI PCM1762 while LPGT uses AKM AK4497EQ DACs. Coincidentally, LPGT 3.5mm output uses the same LME49600 opamps as LPG, and even its 4.4mm output with OA1622 opamps was tuned to sound nearly the same as 3.5mm output.
So why would you consider Lotoo’s latest flagship DAP or would want to upgrade from LPG? Because of all the new features where Touch adds USB DAC, Bluetooth with a duplex LDAC to turn this DAP into a wireless BT DAC (streaming from your phone), USB-C charging (no longer need proprietary charger), touch screen with a very responsive interface and a fast OS bootup (2-3 sec), updated Parametric EQ II, included EFX presets which you can apply in USB DAC and Bluetooth modes, and even WiFi for OTA firmware updates. You also get on-the-fly up-sampling and support of DSD512. And not to forget Line Out from both 3.5mm and balanced 4.4mm outputs if you want to drive external fully balanced amplifier.
Bottom line, based on my first impressions there are a lot of similarities in sound between LPG and LPGT, but I think it was done intentionally because Lotoo was never planning to introduce a significant update to its sound signature. LPG was released 4 years ago, and even the last year (2017) refresh was mostly cosmetic with a few internal optimizations. In my opinion, the idea behind LPGT was to enhance LPG with missing features, to bring it up to current flagship standards. LPGT is like LPG on steroids, or you can call it an Extreme Makeover of LPG!