TEMPOTEC SONATA IDSD PLUS Review: Extreme clarity at extremely low price
TEMPOTEC SONATA IDSD PLUS REVIEW
THE PLUS: Extremely resolved and clean sound, Black noise floor, both balanced-unbalanced output, DSD&PCM up to 32bit/192khz, Great construction, Generous accessories, Excellent price value
THE SO-SO: Slight emphasis on treble that affects tonal balance, Dead serious sound, Average battery life, Quite heavy
TEMPOTEC work in collaboration with multiple companies, creating sound card and DAC boards and so on. The most notable collaboration is with well known HIDIZS company, with who they create everything but casing design for products like HIDIZS DH1000 DAC-AMP and whole portable DAC-AMP SONATA series.
In Chi-Fi world, OEM resellers can suddenly become an official company due to mass-producing coming out from their manufacture. TEMPOTEC is one of those mysterious company, but a more serious one that looks like to have more ambition to create unique product too as it happens with the creation of their own DAP call TEMPOTEC V1A. Still, it’s hard to know all the details behind this collaboration story, and the fact they launch an excellent new budget DAC-AMP that is both sell as Tempotec Sonata HD PRO and HIDIZS A8 prove this close collaboration still goes on.
I will not demystify the Tempotec-Hidizs case today but instead, continue to review SONATA line up with the flagship model. After one month of use, I decide to rush myself and publish this review because tomorrow this excellent DAC-AMP will be on sale for only 100$.
This is a ridiculously low price, not only because it’s very same high-end DAC-AMP than the HIDIZS DH1000 that sell for 300$, but because even by today standard, this is an excellent DAC-AMP that deliver sharp reference sound with it’s Dual ES9016 DACs, it’s quite powerful for its size and have both single-ended and balanced output.
Let’s see in this review what’s the pros and the cons of this bargain-priced DAC-AMP.
You can buy the IDSD PLUS directly from Tempotec HERE.
(ps: I will try getting a non-stop 100$ deal for our readers and facebook NBBA members, so write them: NBBA discount.)
Supports PCM decoding: 32Bit、192KHz
Support DSD decoding: DSD 64、128
THD+N: 117 dB
Stereo resolution: 120 dB
Signal-to-Noise ratio: -122 dB
Frequency response: OHz-50KHz
Output: Single-ended 3.5mm stereo & balanced 2.5mm
Balanced Output Power: 150 mW/32 Ohms
Unbalanced Output Power: 120 mW/32 Ohms
System support: Android, IOS, Windows, macOS
ASIO driver: Windows 7 / 8 / 10
Exclusive APP: HibyMusic app
Play time: 10 hrs (approx.)
We have a nice black box, we open it and see the nice DAC-AMP, and pull it off and see a very generous amount of accessories that include 3 types of USB Cable of decent quality, 2 rubber band for hooking the IDSD PLUS, 4 protective films, 2 HI-RES sticker to make your hotshot, and the instruction manual. I really appreciate that Tempotec thinks about all accessories, especially small micro-USB to USB-C which isn’t always included with DAC-AMP. As always, Tempotec impress with their high price-value generosity!
The main audio hardware that makes the IDSD PLUS stands apart is its use of two ES9018K2M DAC as well as two ES9601k amps chip. As well it uses a Quad crystal oscillator to have ultra-low phase noise that deliver stable clean transmission with a high signal-to-noise ratio of 122db and low harmonic distortion. Dual DAC and amps implementation can deliver outstanding results in terms of clarity, low noise floor and dynamic range decoding. (pic above from Russian audiophile forum mysku of the inside of IDSD PLUS)
In term of quality of construction, it’s just an incredible step up over Sonata IDSD and really feel like a flagship portable DAC-AMP. It’s thick, sturdy, fancy and heavy. The beautiful 2.5 glass cover finish is glossy and slippy too (which can be a little annoying). Whole-body is a mix of high-quality stainless steel and aluminium and tempered glass. The 3.5mm output is made of metal and looks premium, 2.5mm is well installed too, buttons are perfectly responsive with a good click. Unfortunately, their no dedicated Line out or coaxial-digital out. The IDSD PLUS does not look like a 100$ product at all, more like a premium portable DAC-AMP in 200-300$ price range.
At 12cm of length and 7cm of largeness, the PLUS is big and heavy, and little thicker than a phone. It’s sure more portable than Xduoo XD-05, but still not the most in term of careless portability. I think it,s great to pair it with ultra-portable DAP like the Tempotec V1A, Shanling M0 or FIIO M5 than for transport with a phone, which is still very possible nonetheless.
CONTROL is as simple as it gets, you connect it and you adjust the volume as you want. It does bypass the volume of laptops or phones. For the volume control, they’re a lot of steps (about 50) and it’s very precise, which is both a plus and cons, because you will need to press the button multiple time but you will get perfect volume adjustment too. To note that it memorize the volume, so if you use a more sensitive IEM be sure to lower the volume before playing music so you don’t get surprised by ultra-loud music.
CONNECTIVITY work with anything I plug it too, without the need of downloading any software. As well, it do not use the battery life of your phone.
It is stated to have 10H of battery life, but for me, it’s more around 7H. This is perhaps because I listen at high volume and use mostly Balanced output. Charging time was quite fast using a fast charger, less than 2H I would say.
Crisp, razor-sharp clarity with slightly bright tonality and extremely transparent layering with dead serious neutrality is how I would call the overall sound of the IDSD PLUS. Slightly cold in its musicality, most of its energy seems to come from the highly defined treble. Sound is so clean and transparent that timbre could feel lacking in the body for some, but this extra meat in sound would steal delicate nuances too.
SOUNDSTAGE seems to always gain in deepness with whatever IEM I use with the PLUS, but this tends to give a more hall like listen too, by extracting every instrument individually the IMAGING have that strange feeling that silence does exist into music, an HD like silence free of unwanted resonance or distortion. This is the cold part of the PLUS, it extracts everything without effort, and the dynamic range isn’t as lively in bass and mids than it is in the treble. To take full advantage of supreme clarity of the IDSD PLUS, I urge you to play high res music of at least 96khz/24bit.
BASS tends to be tamed a little in impact, but the articulation is fast and precise and texture is nicely nuanced without grain. The extension is natural and transparent with no roll-off. I would say bass cannot be flatter than this because even at high volume it does not add or underline the bass authority of IEM I use.
MIDS is the colder part, it’s extremely clear, accurate, detailed and transparent, but do not have the fullest timbre neither the most natural tonality. Again, HD kinda clear, slightly liquid, surgically extracted from bass and treble.
TREBLE is the only part that I feel a little boost, especially in upper highs pass 10khz, above this already wide frequencies band, the micro details are sharper, with extra visibility in imaging and slightly metallic brilliance. The Xduoo X20 uses the same single DAC and I consider it to sound similar with a slight hint of coldness and highs level of clarity, but the PLUS pushes this clarity to the next level, with even more micro-details and highs brilliance.
In fewer words, the Tempotec IDSD PLUS is not a weighty, warm or analogish sound DAC-AMP, it’s a seriously neutral one with extra sharp clarity and studio-like precise digital rendering.
With the DUNU DK2001
The warm, lush and bassy DUNU gain in maturity with the PLUS and its bass is tamed, which makes overall sound cleaner and slightly thinner. IMAGING is improved and treble is more sparkly. VOCAL is a little more intimate, but instruments like violin gain in attack edge. The overall result is very appreciable, as well as surprising about how this earphones change in flavor.
With the FINAL AUDIO A8000
The A8000 is already quite bright and sharp, but the PLUS tends to show how supremely clear it can sound too, this makes the soundstage very deep, near tunnel-like. Bass became even faster but less punchy and bodied. MIDS are a little too bright now, lacking in naturalness and body. TREBLE is a little more forwards now, overly sharp. This pairing isn’t the best.
With MOONDROP STARFIELD
Very good pairing, the smooth slightly warm Starfield gain in dynamic energy, it’s bass is still very controlled and about the same impact. Mids became clearer in separation, and gain extra transparency. Real change is in the treble region, were it gain some brilliance in upper highs wich adds a well deserve hint of sharpness to a very relaxed sound.
VS TEMPOTEC SONATA IDSD (55$)
The little IDSD brother sells at half the price, has one ES9018 DAC instead of 2 and lower power output of 75mW @ 32ohm against 120mW @ 32ohm (or 150mW for balanced output) of the PLUS. Apart from this, specs are rather similar apart from the strange fact IDSD has 2 single-ended output while the PLUS has balanced and unbalanced output. Battery life looks better with IDSD even if both are stated to offer 10H, I don’t feel the PLUS do this which would be logical because it has 2 DAC that need more power consumption. Construction is way better with the PLUS, the IDSD having a rather cheap metal body and shaking buttons and plastic switch. Both have about the same size, but the PLUS is near 2 times heavier.
Now as seen, the amping output is 2 times more powerful with the PLUS, so, for driving low sensitivity or high impedance IEM or Headphones, this is the choice to make. In terms of sound, the difference is minimal, but at a higher volume, the IDSD will tend to sound less clean in background. BASS is slightly looser, overall tonality warmer and less sharp in resolution. Dynamic range is vividly presented with the PLUS, without the grain of IDSD, which isn’t as accurate in IMAGING. The soundstage is strangely wider with the IDSD, but in a tapestry of sound kinda way. The whole presentation is more neutral and analytical with the PLUS, mids and treble have more information going on, should it be in texture or details, as well, layering is more transparent even if timbre is richer. I feel TREBLE is slightly emphasized for extra crispness and air in the sound while the IDSD is more mid-bass-lower mids boosted.
All in all, the IDSD PLUS is more reference sounding, very neutral, colder than the little IDSD brother which still offers extremely good sound value for its little price and longer battery life.
VS FIIO BTR5 (120$)
Now, even if 4 times smaller the BTR5 is able to produce higher balanced amping power with an incredible 220mW @ 32ohm against the 150mW of the PLUS and this permit to have a higher volume with less distortion too. For single-ended, it’s very similar with 100mW against 120mW for the PLUS. This makes the BTR5 clearly superior for portable need because it can be used as both USB and Bluetooth DAC-AMP too, as well, you can control not just volume but tracks and play-pause too.
In term of sound, we have the best of both world with the BTR5, because while its highly accurate, it’s slightly less flat in dynamic than the PLUS, which offer a higher level of musicality without loosing high macro resolution and definition. BASS is slightly fuller in body and rounder in impact than dryer PLUS. MIDS too are more bodied but with excellent nuance in timbre, making the sound more 3D in relief. Highs are more natural with the BTR5, less crisp and brilliant than colder sounding PLUS. With the BTR5 we have extra weight and thickness within it’s more energic dynamic, while it’s sharper, slightly clearer and treble pushed with the PLUS.
All in all, the BTR5 is a better all-arounder both in sound rendering, amping power, and connectivity.
VS EARSTUDIO HUD100 (150$)
In terms of size, the HUD100 is at least 5 times smaller and weighs nothing, it makes it more portable than the PLUS. What is surprising, it’s here size doesn’t matter for amping power output and believe it or not but the HUD100 is way more powerful when we compare both unbalanced outputs, and nearly have the same power than the balanced output of the PLUS, which is about 140mW vs 150mW. Now, the fact that it isn’t battery-powered makes the HUD100 less likely to shut on you in the middle of a song, but it drowns the battery of your phone even if at a rather slow speed.
For sound, this is where the sword hit, the HUD100 isn’t as clear and well articulate in rendering. The level of clarity really is higher with the PLUS as well as the blackest noise floor, which suggests HUD100 has higher harmonic distortion as well as a lower signal-to-noise ratio. BASS is a little looser with the HUD100, making you impression its more bassy while it’s, in fact, flatter and less punchy than the PLUS. MIDS has less texture and details and isn’t as good in instrument separation. Again whole sound feels warmer and less vivid and energic. TREBLE struggles to shine as much as the super-crisp PLUS, and micro-details are hidden under less transparent layers of sound.
All in all, the high-end Dual sabre DAC do extract more dynamic, details and nuance in music than the more laid back HUD100.
In the sub-100$ price range, even by today’s standard, you will be hard-pressed to find a better deal for a high fidelity DAC-AMP like the Tempotec IDSD PLUS. The fact it has both single-ended and balanced as well as extremely resolving dual sabre DAC make this product unique in it’s price range.
Sure, I would have loved a proper Line out and perhaps longer battery life, but this is just pure caprice at this price. The construction is premium, the sound sharp and clear as a reference DAC should be and the accessories generous.
If you search for an extremely detailed mature sound that will benefit as much warm IEM than neutral and transparent one, the IDSD is the cheapest choice for the serious audiophiles that wanna hear their music as clean and neutral as possible.