Step Up from Your Smartphone’s Audio: Tempotec Sonata HD II
Now we are going to review this super cheap, entry-level DAC dongle made by renowned Audiophile DAC dongle manufacturer, Tempotec. I will not be too long wind in this review, and I will direct compare it to various audio sources that the average listener will experience in the price range. In the review later I will try to compare the Sonata HD II to the Redmi Note 10 Pro smartphone internal High-Res 3.5mm jack, Huawei P40 Pro with the original 3.5mm dongle, Apple iPhone 11 Pro with the Apple 3.5mm lightning cable, and finally I will compare the Sonata HD II with the Tempotec higher range E35, hopefully with this review general listener and reader will know the difference between an ‘audiophile’ dongle with the general dongle they might be using. For fun sake, I have let my wife and friend (Mi Note 10 Lite) try the dongle as compared to their regular non-audiophile source too. Their listening experience will be added to the review below.
Before we start, please allow me to share some specs first, for the money I think it is quite good at able to decode the DSD 128 (DoP), and useful at decode high resolution files up to 32 bit 384kHZ, I believe that is what 99 percent of people will ever need. It support being used in Windows (with an included adapter) and Android phones without any driver install, it is just purely plugged and play. Not sure if it can be used in MAC but not supported by IOS devices. There is no volume controller, the power output is very good, and the same as the brother, Sonata E35, should not be having a problem driving Newbie’s general IEM and headphones.
I will play various music ranging from Classical, Jazz, Top 40 Chart music, Electronic, and Pop songs from Tidal Hifi, Apple Music Premium Subscribe, and Spotify Premium, and only will select the highest playback quality, out from my Huawei P40 Pro and Redmi Note 10 Pro. iPhone 11 pro will be streaming lossless music from the Apple DAC dongle out from Apple Music. IEM being used is the HZSound HeartMirror, as I found that HeartMirror can easily reflect the audio source characteristic, this will ease my evaluation method. Besides that, the vulnerable Fengru TC200 earbud and Thinksound In20 will be used occasionally as well.
If you don’t already have sources for high-quality music files (at least 320 kbps of MP3 files), then you should subscribe to music streaming services first. IEM wise, try to get IEM/headphone suit to your taste, I will name a few super budget IEM here, such as TRN MT1, Blon BL-03, and for an earbud, you can try the Fengru TC200.
Huawei P40 Pro with the original Huawei Dongle: I have to be frank that I never really enjoy the Huawei dongle. With some low-resolution music then, one might not notice it, the dongle makes such a dirty and unrefined sound, the overall sound is simply not as clean and crisp as all the contenders here. Instrument placement is okay for a free dongle, but falls short comparing to the contenders, details level is lacking and overall, I just don’t enjoy using it. If this is your source I will say please buy a better dongle.
Apple iPhone 11 Pro with original DAC Dongle: Now, this is one of the higher quality bundled dongles that you can get in the smartphone business. That being said, it is fine (especially quite clean sounding) for a newbie and it performed greatly in the laboratory (measures extremely well), but sounded dull, boring, and hopeless dynamic level. Now, if your IEM/headphone is subpar or music files are not great, you might be okay, but once again if you keep listening to it and comparing it with more serious DACs out there, the shortcoming is apparent. The dynamic shift, nuance, and details are quite masked and dull in the Apple dongle, while generally, I believe most newbies will be okay with the uncolored sound, you will be amazed at how much details, soundstage, imaging, dynamic and body of sound you can get from a more ‘audiophile’ DACs out there, needless to say, that Apple didn’t include this dongle as free anymore, and it didn’t support the Apple Music High-Resolution files too, damn.
Redmi Note 10 Pro: Now, to my surprise, the Redmi Note 10 Pro is quite a nice sounding. Well, detailed, balanced, neutral, and clean sounding. However, there is one significant weakness though, the soundstage width and imaging are quite cramped, if you are listening to Pop, R&B and that stuff I think the Redmi Note 10 Pro is performed admirably, but if you are like me, listening to Classical music primarily then the imaging capability is super annoying. I also noticed that the music is not reaching the lowest frequency region as well, but it is not a problem, generally, the sound signature is quite clean and neutral, more dynamic, and better than the Apple (except the soundstage/imaging problem).
Tempotec Sonata HD II: Finally we are going to address the elephant in the room. The Sonata HD II is performed the best. It is a little warm but generally balanced sounding. The distance between you and the performer has been brought upfront as well (more forward sounding), transparency and details level are the best among these contenders. Sound quality is clearly a step up, of course if you are listening to Pop and Hip hop, the differences will not be as apparent as you listen to Classical music, but for the price being paid I am satisfied.
Sonata HD II is unsurprisingly the DAC that offered best audio quality. Redmi Note 10 Pro has exceed my expectation and I will be very happy with it if not the imaging issue. That being said, while Tempotec Sonata HD II is a step up from the smartphone audio, Sonata HD II is performed averagely in term of soundstage/imaging and extension of sound/microdynamic/microdetail etc, and I still much prefer the more expensive Sonata E35, in my opinion the E35 is a few league higher than the Sonata HD II, so if your budget is allowed, twist your egg and go for the E35.