As I mentioned before, I tried to arrange headphones to use for this section, but unfortunately, I was not able to get those in hand in time (even after delaying this review several times), so this section is based on listening with IEMs only. If I can, I will add headphone pairings in a later update. I used a variety of IEMs and earbuds, some of which I will discuss separately in the pairings section. Here the impressions are based primarily on use with the Campfire Audio Ara, DITA Audio Dreams XLS and FiR Audio M4. I used a MacBook Pro and the Lotoo PAW6000 DAP as a transport.
The E30/L30 stack has a nice, somewhat warmer signature that leans clearly more towards the musical, although there is still plenty of texture and detail. There does seem to be something of an upper-mid lift with certain pairings (PAW6000 as transport + Dream XLS or M4), but that is when comparing directly to the PAW6000. Overall. the sound of the E30/L30 is presented in a well-proportioned stage, which I can’t compare to other desktop gear and so I hesitate to say too much about whether or not it can be considered large. I tend to think it is not especially large, but still well defined with a good sense of depth and solid imaging as a result. At this price point I think the E30/L30 stack performs admirably well. I initially feared it might be boring coming from high-end DAPs to review a value-oriented desktop stack, but it has been far from it. I greatly enjoyed playing around with this stack and that is a testament to the quality of the sound and its musicality.
Astrotec Lyra Collection
This is one pairing I really enjoyed. The E30/L30 scaled these earbuds very nicely, giving them a bigger stage and note size to feel more out of the head, where normally I feel they have an intimate presentation. I actually preferred this over the (much) more expensive DAPs I have around, as it made the earbuds feel more like headphones.
CustomArt FIBAE Black
The FIBAE Black are my favourite IEMs for pure musicality, but also gaming. When I paired the E30/L30 with my PS4 and the FIBAE Black, the result was outstanding. Perhaps not everyone will be interested in this, but it illustrates very nicely the versatility of this stack. With the E30/L30 the FIBAE Black present a very holographic stage that is incredibly immersive and just what I look for when I am gaming. Not even the (much) more expensive hybrid IEMs I have lying around were able to do this. There seems to be a wonderful synergy here.
Campfire Audio Ara
The Ara are the most sensitive IEMs I have access to and I used those to test how well the E30/L30 performed in terms of noise. By using the Lotoo PAW6000 as a transport via USB I was able to lower the volume fed into the E30/L30 enough that I could easily use the Ara on high gain. Now, this might not make sense as such, but surprisingly the Ara were dead silent to my ears. The pairing as such was very musical with a little extra warmth to make the Ara a bit more fun, although the treble could be a little brittle at times, something that is in part down to the Ara’s very revealing nature.
As this is my first review of a proper desktop DAC and amp setup, I do not have much to compare to without the gear I had planned on having alongside, but do think there are interesting options to consider. The E30/L30 is small, very versatile and might make for an interesting step up from portable USB DAC/amps. So for my comparisons I thought I would compare to more portable solutions to give an idea of differences between those and a dedicated desktop stack.
The FiiO K3 is an excellent little DAC/amp for the price, although these days it is facing stiff competition from a variety of USB dongle DAC/amps with excellent performance like the S1 in the comparison below. The E30/L30 is certainly a more expensive option, but you clearly get more performance and versatility for that.
Sound-wise the K3 has a more intimate stage that feels almost cramped when compared to the E30/L30. The E30/L30 offers a bigger stage, fuller notes, but also more air by comparison, where the K3 feels a little thin and not as well rounded. The E30/L30 gives a more natural sound, warmer with more texture to the bass, fuller mids and a more extended treble, and it all feels more mature compared the K3. A genuine feeling of having everything scaled by a significant margin. I find the E30/L30 also instantly more engaging.
The K3 is really a nice solution in a tiny form, but does not offer the versatility of the E30/L30 stack. While it does have a balanced 2.5mm headphone out, I was rather disappointed by the connection options of the K3 because although it does have coax and optical, those are out, rather than in, meaning (for instance) there is no way to connect the K3 to the PS4 to act as a DAC/amp. That is a real shame because what the K3 does have is a nice bass boost feature that would be really fun for gaming. The E30/L30 do not have bass boost or EQ functions, but there is nothing preventing you from adding it to the stack with something like the Schiit Loki. All-in-all, where the K3 has its uses, especially for portable, the Topping E30/L30 is simply a much more mature solution with all the benefits from proper desktop gear.
Lotoo PAW S1
If portability is a key issue, then the latest generation of USB DAC/amp dongles has a lot to offer. There are various brands out there and I happen to have Lotoo’s great little miniaturized version of their DAPs, the PAW S1.
The S1 is tiny, but packs a real punch in terms of sound quality and here it becomes a lot closer to the L30/E30 than the K3 was. The S1 has more of a reference tonality compared to the warmer, more musical E30/L30. With the Topping stack the bass is more heavily textured and the mids are fuller by comparison, but in the treble, I find that the Lotoo has the edge with a slightly more natural sound. The S1 has the balance you would expect from a reference tonality, but maintains a surprising level of dynamics. The E30/L30 have the musicality and again make the music sound bigger and bolder, less analytical, more all-out fun.
The versatility of the S1 is surprisingly good for something so tiny. It offers both 3.5mm single ended and 4.4mm balanced out, a wide range of EQ settings, two gain settings, a decent amount of power and a separate UAC1 mode that works where the regular PCM mode doesn’t. The UAC1 mode works for several gaming consoles and I have enjoyed using it with my PS4. The gaming experience with the E30/L30 is however superior because of how much more those scale the sound of the PS4, but also because the USB power delivery from the PS4 is absolute crap and caused all sorts of interference. Worse was that I swear I could feel current being transmitted through the metal shells of some IEMs, causing a mild sting in my ears.
The S1 and E30/L30 are two very different options that offer great value. I personally like the signature of the Lotoo more, but if portable is not an issue, much prefer the the Topping stack overall.
I often review very expensive gear that is five, ten, even nearly twenty times the price of the Topping E30/L30 pair, yet it still gives me great pleasure when I get to review something that offers such tremendous value as this pair and is such an easy recommendation. Topping did an excellent job in developing a complimentary DAC and amp pair that offers excellent performance and versatility in a small package and at a very reasonable price. This stack sounds very enjoyable, with a slightly warmer and very musical signature that makes you forget everything else and just enjoy the music. Noise level is to my ears non-existent and it will happily drive anything from very sensitive IEMs to full-size headphones. The various connections mean that the stack can be used for a wide variety of purposes, as you can pair it with your TV, game console or computer, use most DAPs as a transport and even use it as a preamp for active speakers. This is a great starting point for anyone wanting to get into desktop gear, but equally a solid choice for anyone looking for a simple, versatile stack that doesn’t take up much space on their desk.