Sonata HD V : The perfect upgrade to Sonata HD PRO

The perfect upgrade to Sonata HD PRO
Pros: -Lush near flat versatile tonality
-Great effortless resolution
-Excellent layering and accurate imaging
-Weighty punchy dynamic
-realist dense enough timbre
-nuanced effortless texture
-good power output of SE
-MQA compatible
-jitter free stable connectivity
-great sturdy construction
-detachable cable=extra durability
-excellent sound value
Cons: -need exclusive or bit perfect mode to sound the best
-issue with UAPP (power output limitation)
-not the most sparkly or snappy sound
-attack sustain stole natural decay
-can get hot with Hiby app (doesnt get hot with my laptop)
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TONALITY: 8.2/10
TECHNICALITIES: 8.5/10
CONSTRUCTION-DESIGN: 8.5/10
SOUND VALUE: 9/10


TEMPOTEC is a very experienced and specialized portable DAC-AMP company that have more than 10 years of experience and have begin as OEM DAC-AMP circuit furnisher for other chinese audio company like Hidizs for their (now old) Sonata DAC-AMP. Then they become an independant DAC-AMP brand and gain big recognition with their (still excellent) TEMPOTEC SONATA HD PRO dongle, which I praise obsessively at the time as the very best dongle sound value available on the market. At 40$, it use a cirrus CS43131 which was quite exotic 4 years ago and deliver reference grade crisp neutral clean sound with decent amping power of 60mw (high gain unlock).
Since then, I always have big respect for this company and follow their evolution with great interest, even if my 1 year break from audio reviews make me a bit late to review their new products line up, I will try to make up time by begining by the one that impress me the most for it’s incredible sound value: the Tempotec HD V.

Ok, this is a kind of bad strategy to keep suspense high, but yes, after 1 months of intense use, I just can’t get enough about the HD V and how it’s the perfect upgrade to my beloved HD PRO. Let’s see why in this review.

CONSTRUCTION​

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Now this is already a big evolution from the HD PRO, sure their no volume control but personally if their non Play-Pause buton too, i’m not a big fan of extra volume control option, especially when it doesn’t bypass source volume. So, this time we have thick solid metal that feel ultra sturdy with solidly implemented 3.5mm jack and USB-C that doesn’t seem possible to make looser, which happen with HD PRO due to cheap metal used. It’s very small, smooth in hands. Body side are mirror metal, so a bit prompt to micro-scratch and finger prints. On top of body their the Tempotec logo which offer different light color depending of music format rate. This is an interesting new feature, which i don’t personally care about though.

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In term of boxing and accessories, nothing mind blowing here, surely to keep this super competitive price that low. Their a USB-C to micro USB cable of decent quality and micro-USB to USB-C adapter. But really do we need more? For those that need IOS cable, their a version selling at same price with it.

AMPING POWER AND QUALITY​

The HD V don’t use extra independant amplifier but those included in sabre ES9219 DAC SOC (system on chip) solution, each DAC deliver up to 2vrms of power output, making the HD V achieve as high as 145mw@32ohm load. Using dual DAC for left and right channel permit to achieve higher sound dynamic and crosstalk that will inflict on spatial openess.
With this amount of power for a single ended output, it make the HD V extremely versatile for anything under 150ohm, and the result will never be compressed in dynamic.
Simply put, the HD V can drive properly all my earphones, but will not drive properly my Hifiman Sundara even if it will be enjoyable and loud enough. You have about 4 times more power than your phone, and this in a ultra portable format. This more than enough amping power translate in effortless dynamic sound without roll off in low or high end, no current struggling distortion at high volume with low sensitivity IEM etc.
In all relativity, the amping quantity is sure there, but what about the quality? This is what blow my mind with these Dual DAC SOC…since it sound cleaner than same DAC using extra independant OPamp that tend to add warmth and THD in the chain. So, quality is sure there, it’s clean, with very black noise floor and non foggy sens of silence between sounds. Attack weight too is there, another sign of proper amping for me.

OVERALL SOUND IMPRESSIONS​

(IEM used: Final A8000, Hisenior T2U, Moondrop Kato, UM 3DT and BQEYZ Autumn)

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TONALITY is very neutral here, yet energic in dynamism and rich in texture. We can say ”bright-lush” since it’s not cold, analytical or dry in the way it present music. It’s not airy, yet sure snappy. To me, we hit the sweet spot between tonal and timbral balance and technical performance, without forgiving the mix of both result in a musical experience and not a monitoring of cerebral sound engineer. Let say smooth W shape since presence jump at you of low, mids and highs without feeling like intruder, but dancers.

TIMBRE is not similar to something like ES9038q2m, unless higly filtered-tweaked in implementation. It’s more similar to ES9281C DAC, since it seem Sabre try to add a hint of color in timbre with these new generation models that begin with ES9218. Balance between texture and density is extremely well done, wich result in gently bright naturalness without any harshness or grain. Transparency is there too but I would never call timbre thin of this DAC, in that regard HD PRO is more problematic.

SPATIALITY
I would not call this dongle king of openess and soundstage, still I would not say it sound too closed or intimate neither. We are in a buble with the HD V, perhaps as big as a car if I can find an example. You feel cozy and secure in this space and your vision is great. Wideness, Tallness, deepness all seem on par, thus the spherical bubble. As well, again this overabuse term, but it’s holographic enough, it have tactile 3D sens of instrument and sound, even if not in a hall like spacious realm. I find important sens of some depth with music, and DAC-AMP can cancel this possibility sometime, this isn’t the case with HD V and i think we most thanks the clean rendering for that. For exemple, it add some deepness to the BQEYZ Autumn that is more about (impressive) wideness and tallness, but this is more evident with a near monitor IEM like Hisenior T2U, here due to already deep soundstage the whole experience gain way more soundstage size!

TECHNICAL IMPRESSIONS

With it’s dual 32bit/384khz MQA compatible ES9219 DAC with a signal-to-noise (SNR) of 123db and THD+N of 105db, even if not class leading, the HD V is far from being bad specs wise, but how do it translate in real sound. An interesting measurement to have would have been the crosstalk, which translate in imaging capacity to some extend but it’s not available. While SNR is higher than HD III, it’s lower than HD PRO which is 128db, indeed, HD PRO is more transparent and crisp in resolution, but not as hefty in dynamic.
DYNAMIC RANGE is weighty and tight in attack, every note of instrument are well sculpted in their individual presence. Amplitude is diversify but not spiky or boosted in specific region.
RESOLUTION of HD V is excellent both in macro and micro definition, but it have slightly polished edge that can blur it’s sharpness in contour and relief, while keeping body of instrument full the presence isn’t the cleanest or more transparent. It’s far from being warm or foggy, but sound image is just a hint polished.
Attack sustain release is very fast, but have more sustain than release in the sens post impact will not have a long natural airy decay, so some percussions will cut a bit fast, this can stole some treble sparkle and brilliance too, so, this isn’t the type of dongle that add air to the top, even if far from being treble roll off it just feel softed to avoid attack spikyness.
Layering is excellent too, this help mid range articulation for exemple, piano and cello tend sometime to mix and get blurry with too warm DAC-AMP, it’s not the case here and have accuracte separation that enrich both immersivity and spatial articulation and precision.

BASS seem flat but lively and perhaps just a hint mid bass focused, without any unwanted boost that will warm the mids or overall clarity, it have good texture grip too, making electric bass line very snappy sometime. Overall, its quite flat yet not recessed, so it doesnt stole anything and tend to even improve too bassy earphones due to clean bass presentation and extra texture. It will not add nor stole rumble though.

MIDS are gently pushed in presence, it’s not dull or flat, its well define, centered and separated with good body density, natural timbre and superb resolution. Again, the layering impress here, but sens of openess and wideness in presence isn’t magnify.

TREBLE sound full, not thin, it doesn’t feel in your face or analytical yet when you dig in sound scape you can find plenty of sound info and nuance, fully restitue in image, not half done by emphasizing brilliance or snap. For some, it could lack a bit of air or analytical boost, while for other it will be perfectly balanced and natural in tonal and timbral cohesion.

TO BE NOTED: UAPP will interfer with proper amping power and this will affect both max volume loudness and dynamic weight and spatial openess. I now throw away UAPP and just use Hiby Music free app which permit proper exclusive mode that sound exact same as my laptop with Musicbee wasapi exclusive mode. As well, you need to install USB 2.0 driver for some music software, since my HD V doesnt get recognize by Fruity Loop otherwise. All drivers can be find here:
http://www.tempotec.com.cn/en/3-Support/index.htm


PAIRING​

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FINAL A8000 sound more balanced than ever with the HD V, smoother too and less spiky or prompt to sibilance. Bass is cleaner and rumble more tight. Their a trade off in air and silence feel here, making A8000 a bit less crisp and clean than with a THX amp for example. Mids sound a bit fuller and timbre too.

HISENIOR T2U is an excellent pairing since timbre can feel a bit thin0dry with some dongle like FIIO KA3 or Tempotec HD PRO, bass gain in roundness and weight. Again, tonal balance is a bit smoothed too. Sens of openess isn’t affect since this dual BA is very airy and open.

MOONDROP KATO was a very interesting pairing that tend to highlight it’s technical prowess and heal the abrasive part of it’s timbre. Level of details in layering was near overlwhelming sometime, and it even make me reconsider whole Kato perception I have. Sure, soundstage doesn’t gain extra wideness, but it gain a hint of deepness that magnify holographic spatiality in a closed way that never get muddy or messy. Very good pairing.

COMPARISONS​

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VS LG V30+ (ES9218 DAC-High gain unlock)

The V30 did proove to me that phone can be a decent DAP if using a well implemented hifi DAC chip like the ES9218P in this case, but it’s evident it’s inferior to dual ES9219 especially in crosstalk and SNR it seem, as well as power limitation.
First thing that hit is how more distant I feel from music with the V30, as well the tonality is notably brighter and less rounded, so timbre sound more artificial and distorted in texture.
Dynamic presentation lack amplitude diversity, sens of openess and attack weight being way higher with HD V. Noise floor too is notably more dirty with the V30. Bass feel weightless in impact, mids tend to lack presence extraction and treble is harsher, less snappy-sparkly.
Imaging is more open, holographic and well mixed in static positioning and moving sound layers where V30 sound overly static and like a flat wall of sound.

All in all, the sound upgrade is evident here and worthy of a 60$ investment even for a V30.

VS TEMPOTEC HD PRO (40$)
DAC=single CS43131
Power output=65mw@32ohm (bypass impedance gain adjustment)

Ok, these 2 while not polar opposite are a bit similar in the sens they are higly resolve and detailed with a rather neutral tonality. HD V biggest difference is in dynamic energy, making the instrument less lean in presence and more lively in amplitude and attack weight.
HD PRO is leaner, more delicate and transparent, colder and less hefty punchy in bass impact and rumble. This make the HD V feel a bit W shape in tonal balance so HD PRO is more neutral-dead-flat.
Strangely, spatiality seem wider perceive with HD PRO, while notably taller and hint deeper with HD V. HD PRO transparency seem higher but definition of individual instrument a bit more softed in edge and contour. As well, attack note weight of HD V is higher making piano sound better articulate and fuller rounded.
Timbre too is more dense and less organic-liquid, so more nuanced and natural in texture too. Listening to fabulous album ”Gurdjieff Chants, Hymns and Dances” from cellist Anja Lechner and pianist Vassilis Tsabropoulos is way more enjoyable and immersive and holographic with the HD V than HD PRO which lack dynamic heft and mix cello and piano in same flat loudness level, this make piano note hard to perceive individually and cello lack in lead attack and resonance blossom.

Amping power is 30mw higher with the HD V too. Construction feel more sturdy and durable since volume botton isn’t a plus with HD PRO(fragile and hard to push) and body is made of light metal with micro-usb connector than can go loose after some time.

All in all, HD V is the logical upgrade over HD PRO since both tonaly and technically it’s superior as well as in amping power output. It’s MQA compatible which isn’t the case with HD PRO too. The sound have a more lively and weighty dynamic, timbre is fuller and more natural and micro definition is better sculpted, making the HD PRO seem a bit foggy and lean. This isn’t to say HD PRO is bad, I was again very impress by it’s performance, but HD V underline how flat is it’s sound dynamism too.

XDUOO LINK2 BAL(160$) VS TEMPOTEC HD V (60$)
Both compared with SE output.

SE output of HD V=95mw@32ohm
SE of LINK 2 BAL=125mw@32ohm
(using the Final A8000 for reference IEM that can dig all details and imperfection of any audio source)

These aren’t similar at all, the XDUOO sound more open, warmish, holographic with more sub bass presence (surely due to extra power and/or independant amp not sure). This bass is a bit warmer yet cleaner-organic and less saturated thicken with texture or THD.

Don’t be fool though, HD V is no slouch and deliver higher level of details and sound info, the dynamic seem move varied in amplitude too, bass is tigher more punchy, overall resolution less analogish.

Wider spatial presentation of LINK2 make it more immersive, less intimate vision if we can say. But for rock and stuffs that need more bite, extra energy and texture of HD V is more appropriate.

Timbre wise, the LINK2 is smoother-lusher especially in mid range, vocal having a less energic yet more appealing presence.

Technically, and this will perhaps be polemical, but the HD V seem superior, with complex ****ed up track, amount of sounds layers are better separated and define, details doesnt get mix up or prompt to harmonic distortion and sub bass doesnt mix up neither, attack is sharper-snappier yet less resonant and spacious.

I’m surprise to come to this conclusion myself in fact. Will perhaps change my mind once i test balanced output of LINK2.

Anyway, here, with HD V we have another big winner in term of supreme sound value, while sound benefit is not as high with LINK2 BAL, it’s sure there for superior versatility both in musicality and power output. As well, construction fo both is very good, but LINK2 BAL have control button, another big plus, and seem even more sturdy in the sens it will not get side scratch like the HD V will surely do due to its mirror finish side.

Both are Keeper for me. But you’ll see, TEMPOTEC HD V will grow in hype and praise, perhaps as high as their best seller HD PRO in the past.

HD V LINK2 BAL
TONALITY: 8.2/10 8.8/10
TECHNICALITIES: 8.6/10 8.2/10
CONSTRUCTION-DESIGN: 8.5/10 9/10
SOUND VALUE: 9/10 8.5/10



VS AUDIRECT BEAM2


Single-ended output power: ≥ 180mW (at 16 ohms), ≥ 110mW (at 32 ohms), ≥ 6.6mW (at 600 ohms)

  • Balanced output power: ≥ 145mW (at 16 ohms), ≥ 240mW (at 32 ohms), ≥ 26.6mW (at 600 ohms)
  • Frequency response range: 20 Hz – 40 kHz (-0.04dB)
  • THD + N: 0.0003%
  • Signal to noise ratio: ≥ 118dB SNR


So, what hit me first is number of sound info I receive, which is notably higher with HD V, as well, attack timing is faster-sharper with better sustain-release.

Second thing is bass being less warm-sloppy, and dynamic having a more vivid amplitude and contrast balance.

After this, spatiality seem less wide and more compressed, yet, in busy complex music it will not go as messy as BEAM2. I would love to know Crosstalk measure of these both, but it seem unavailable. I might be wrong, but i would bet on HD V being higher, perhaps to dual DAC use because the ES9080Pro is suppose to be superior, we must note that it use dual OPamp and this is were my bet go, in term these OPamp might affect negatively crosstalk. But who know, since SNR is higher with HD V, it can be that too.

Anyway, resolution is higher and fuller with the HD V, transparency too, were BEAM2 feel a bit grainy-opaque-euphonic. Biggest issue might be extra bass warmth we get with BEAM2, which inflict on bass-mids separation, and slam is darker in definition too, making sub bass line veil the kick impact and presence.

Tonality enjoyment is always subjective, it can’t be measure as precisely as technical aspect of DAC and AMP, so, here, i do enjoy wider spatiality of BEAM2 more, but not it’s poorer resolution-definition and less precise attack. In term of price value, their not a single doubt HD V is miles ahead. If you take this with superior technicalities, it’s hard to justify BEAM2 buy.



CONCLUSION​

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I hope it’s evident I adore the TEMPOTEC HD V, and this is from somebody that have intensely high expectation for this dongle, since I still use and praise the old HD PRO. The fact Tempotec choose a different DAC company is very refreshing too, since it’s a more different flavor than upgrading to BHD or E44 which use dual CS43131 DAC instead of single one find in HD PRO.
At 60$, the HD V is extremely competitive both in performance and musicality, as well as quality built and versatility of connection. The fact you can change the cable promise longer durability too than dongle with built in cable.

If you search for a dongle with decent power output, lush yet technicaly impressive sound and MQA compatibility, the Tempotec HD V should be in your priority list. For more power and sens of openess and crispness, the E44 should be on your list too.

Highly recommended!

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PS: I wanna thanks Tempotec for the review sample which they were glad to send me when I manifest my interest about this dongle. Even if i’m a big fanboi of Tempotec, I don’t love all their dongles and i’m in no way pay or affiliated to this company. As always, i’m 100% independant in my review impression.

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