THE PLUS: Neutral transparent sound, Smooth nuanced timbre, Natural tonality, Delicate treble, Clarity&low THD, Power output for its size, No battery&Low consumption, Price value
THE SO-SO: Volume control step….dunno.
Though quite unknown and mysterious for most people, TEMPOTEC isn’t newcomer into the audio industry and has more than 20 years of experience working in PC Audio technology. Having made their hands-on digital audio decoding hardware, they begin into HiFi audio as an audio designer and engineer for Hidizs creating Sonata DAC-AMP Serie which includes the well-received DH100 model which is now sold by Tempotec under the name ‘’Serenade IDSD Plus’’.
It became more evident that Tempotec wants to trace their own road when they launch their own ultra-portable DAP call V1A. I review very positively this little do-it-all DAP last year and still think it’s one of the most fully packed 100$ DAP we can find nowadays.
Now, it looks like Tempotec still wants to push the boundaries of high fidelity sound at a very affordable price by launching a new ultra-portable DAC-AMP call Sonata HD PRO. At less than 50$, these little things offer the must promising specs in terms of output power, DAC chip and signal-to-noise ratio. In fact, it looks too beautiful to be true, but I can spoil you already by saying it-is-truly-marvelous.
Let’s see in this review if the HD PRO can be considered as nothing less than the best value ultra-portable DAC-AMP in the sub-100$ market.
You can buy this product directly from the official Tempotec store HERE.
Not a lot to write here, we only know the DAC part which is the Cirrus CS43131. It’s very possible that it uses no independent amping as this DAC have integrated amp that can push 30mW per channel at 32ohm. As well, it has an impressive 2V of power output. Dynamic range is really impressive at 121db SNR and total harmonic distortion is kept extremely low at 115db. As well, it can play a sample rate up to 32bi/384khz.
We are granted by a small metal box with all accessories that are vital for hooking this tiny DAC-Amp. For this price, it’s impressive to have nice braided cables like this which include one micro USB to USB-C, one micro USB to lightning and even a USB-C to 2.0 USB converter for laptop use. I review pricier DAC-AMP lately that do not include any cable apart from a long one for charging purpose more than portable purpose.
Not a lot to talk about this low profile DAC-AMP, it has a very minimalist design all made of metal. It’s a black parallelepiped with a + and – buttons for volume control and that’s it. The headphone jack is okay, nothing impressive as it’s the only plastic part with buttons. About buttons, they are not the most responsive ones due to thin space of pressing action but it does have the click noise and feel and work properly (I try to be snobbish here). I feel this thing is sturdy and can be dropped on the floor without worrying it will break easily.
This device is plug and play marvel and work flawlessly without any disconnecting or clicking issue. Whatever I hook it to my laptop or any of my phones (LG G6, Samsung A50) it is recognized automatically and don’t need drivers or anything.
You need to connect something to headphone output so the HD PRO get activated and recognize. As well, it memorizes the volume of last usage, so I suggest you to always lower volume before first listen. Talking about volume, it can be controlled with your phone too. Strangely, it bypass my laptop volume but not my phones.
The HD PRO is neither the must or the less powerful ultra portable DAC-AMP out there, but it has a solid 2volt of power output. To take full advantage of this power, you will need to connect a 3.5mm male to female cable, this way, it will bypass the gain adaptation. For example, when I do this I was able to drive at full potential my Final Audio E5000, but if I connect it directly, the dynamic will not be enough. This DAC-AMP is supposed to be able to deliver more than 64mW at 32ohm even if stated lower (60mW), I read it can go up to 110mW too, so this is unclear exact max power output it can deliver, one thing sure it’s among the highest one in its price range. On Audioscience, they stated it was able to drive properly the Hifiman HE400i, wich is incredible if true. Anyway, I confirm it can drive any IEM even low sensitivity hard to drive, it’s more powerful than any dongle as well as Audirect BEAM. Even at high volume their no distortion and sound stay clean. As well, no hiss problem with sensitive IEM as it have low impedance output, wich permit me to drive my capricious Audiosense T800 without any issue.
Specs comparisons with SONATA HD (28$)
|SONATA HD PRO
|NATIVE & DOP
|NATIVE & DOP
The HD PRO has a very smooth yet engaging sound, perfectly neutral with high transparency and a wide manner of projecting music. Dynamic range is fully covered without any particular boost with the exception of perhaps just a little extra upper treble the permit to offer delicate high with a light touch of brilliance. No bass roll-off neither bass bump, no extra texture neither lacking any, it’s soft, natural slightly organic sound with excellent layering capability. As measure by Audioscience, the HD PRO (wich is find at twice the price under the name Hidizs S8) have extremly good SINAD (distortion+noise relative to our signal) of 114 dB, high Dynamic range and super low jitter, all this promising highly clean sound. Everything with the HD PRO sound effortless and cohesive, perhaps this will be boring for some, but for me it’s how I consider as ”reference sounding” a DAC-AMP as it never torture or disguise your music and it keep a completely black background so you can enjoy music with calm clarity.
In 5 words: Smooth, transparent, delicate, refined and accurate.
TIMBRE is soft, nuanced and natural. Free of grain or artificiality, with high level of transparency.
TONALITY is a hint warm and liquid, cohesive and perfectly balanced.
SOUNDSTAGE do gain in wideness and deepness as if the HD PRO inject air in the sound and improve panoramic rendering.
IMAGING too is improved over more congested decoding of a lot of other DAC i try, it’s really how layers of sound flow naturally and never overshadow each other.
BASS extends fully and is flat. It’s not boosted in punch or rumble but has a flexible articulation. Separation is clear, and when sub-bass occur, it is highly transparent and smooth.
MIDS are wide and airy, they sound very open and natural. Vocal tends to sound more transparent and polished than with other DAC-AMP, so again, slightly liquid in timbre but never dull or lacking in detail.
TREBLE is delicate, balanced, with a touch of beautiful brilliance to it. It never sounds too forwards and will tend to make bright iem less aggressive.
PAIRING with smooth earphones like the Moondrop STARFIELD will expend the soundstage wide and dept but do not thicken timbre or give more authority to bass, so perhaps the result is a little too laid back, but for me, I tend to really enjoy it, especially if I use full amping potential which will give a more dynamic punch. The Final Audio E5000 became more liquid sounding and transparent, gaining in delicate details and vocal clarity, making this a good pairing. The Audiosense T800 is a marvelous paring and sound more balanced and airy, soundstage and imaging gaining in articulation and bass being less boomy and more controlled. Another great pairing is with DITA FEALTY wich can sound too bright with some DAP or DAC-AMP and ironically sound its best with a 40$ DAC-AMP, delivering same level of details with a smoother, more natural and balanced sound. Simply put, the HD PRO will pair better with bright or bassy iem that need to gain in balance and smoothness, as it soft definition edge and add transparency without taming attack, this tend to give a more musical and inoffensive sound as well as improving layering and tonal balance.
VS AUDIRECT BEAM (100$)
Sound difference is quite intense between those two, especially in tonal balance and attack, but in SOUNDSTAGE too which is notably wider and more spacious with the HD PRRO, making the BEAM sound overly congested and intimate in comparisons. BASS extends until 20hz with HD PRO while it feels it cut before that with the BEAM wich have a more aggressive boost in mid-bass, making it energic but not naturally extended. The whole sound is smoother and more relaxed with HD PRO, yet it’s more balanced and transparent too while we have some kind of W shape vivid treatment with the BEAM. MIDS is more present and vocal have wider rendering, while with the BEAM vocal feel compressed in the middle of bright bass and treble. TREBLE is delicate with smooth decay for the HD PRO while the BEAM has sharp vivid highs that feel overly forward. In terms of output impedance, the BEAM is rather high at 10ohm while the HD PRO is supposed to be lower than 1ohm, what I can confirm is that the BEAM unbalance the sound of very sensitive Audiosense T800 while the HD PRO is perfectly stable and flat. Harmonic distortion is lower to with HD PRO, making background free of any grain, unlike the BEAM.
All in all, the Tempotec Sonata HD PRO has a more neutral, transparent, natural sound with greater sense of wide presence, as well it is more powerful in amping, have a cleaner background and lower impedance than the pricier Audirect BEAM.
VS XDUOO XQ-25 (50$):
This time it’s a Bluetooth DAC-AMP with the same ES9118P DAC chip than Audirect BEAM. For this comparison, I use the XQ-25 as a USB-DAC. This time SOUNDSTAGE is similar, but again slightly wider and better layered with the HD PRO. The XQ-25 is more grainy in texture timbre and lacks the beautiful transparency of HD PRO, making it more prompt to distortion or congestion with busy tracks at high volume. With only 32ohm of output power, again, the BASS sound dryer and lack the sub-bass extension of HD PRO. The whole sound of XQ25 feels more energic, punchy and snappy than more relaxed and neutral HD PRO, for some warm iem, the result will be more lively with XQ25, while too aggressive with bright iem, this makes the PRO more versatile and predictable. MIDS has more emphasis with the HD PRO and airy transparency to it, with the XQ25 it feels shadowed by mid-bass and whole treble, vocal is more enjoyable and natural with the HD PRO. TREBLE is notably crisper and faster in attack with the XQ-25, but less balanced and overly brilliant sometimes. Tonal balance is more refined and mature with the HD PRO, timbre is fuller even if smoother and bass and mids have better extension and presence.
All in all, XQ-25 isn’t bad for its price and I still suggest it for people wanting ultra-affordable Bluetooth DAC-amp that deliver energic slightly analytical sound and plan to use it with easy to drive IEM. Still, HD PRO have a better tonal balance and more versatile musicality that while not being the most energic is fullfill with nuance that gently enrich an highly refined musicality.
VS IKKO ZERDA ITM03 (100$)
Using a higher-end cirrus CS43198 DAC, the ZERDA sound quite different than HD PRO. SOUNDSTAGE is not as wide and airy, but IMAGING is more edgy and sharp. The overall sound is less flat with ZERDA, which has thicker bass and less transparent sound. Timbre is more textured with Zerda but less natural too. MIDS are slightly more recessed due to bass boost so it does not sound as open as HD PRO. Treble is more forwards and dig more details with Zerda, but as well it feels less balanced and peaky. It looks like output impedance is higher too because sensitive IEM doesn’t do well with the Zerda as it will make distort my Audiosense T800 while the HD PRO doesn’t.
All in all, Zerda is overpriced compared to more refined HD PRO performance.
Being able to have this type of well-articulated, tonally flat and lively sound at such a low price wasn’t imaginable some years ago. The Tempotec Sonata HD PRO really push the bar higher in term of portable DAC-AMP value and is without a doubt the best one you can get at this budget-friendly price.
Free of any distortion, black in the background, relatively high power output, low in impedance and high in signal-to-noise ratio, the HD PRO surpass by far my expectation and is a supreme NO BS recommendation from me.