Sunday, October 17, 2010

Review : Topping TP20 Mark 2 - Audiophile Amplifier for Rs. 4000 / 80 USD

The Topping TP 20 Mark 2 - Front View


The headline sounds about as ambitious and unrealistic as some of the spam that you receive that promises to 'enhance your manhood' in '6 weeks flat.'  Audiophile amplification is meant to cost at the very least tens of thousands of rupees at the 'budget end'.  When a budget minded audiophile sets out to put together a stereo setup he will be led by the 'experts' to look at either a Marantz PM5003,  a Cambridge Audio 350A, an NAD C316BEE, or a Denon PMA510-AE, in the amplifier department.  All these are beautifully built units with in-built linear power supplies, multiple inputs, a remote control, and they all cost in the region of Rs. 15,000 to Rs. 20,000.   
They are all good performers in their own right, providing good sonic value along the traditional parameters.  You would be forgiven if you believed that this is as cheap, and as good as stereo amplification gets.   


This is where the Tripath chip comes in.  Tripath was a company started by inventor-entrepreneur Adya Tripathi in the USA, that manufactured these revolutionary digital amplification chips that provided very high levels of efficiency and performance at a very low cost.  These chips found their way into many consumer electronics products by the big-box brands, but more importantly found a passionate fan following amongst the audiophile community.  Tripath, unfortunately, went out of business, with a large inventory of the chips still lying with them.


This large inventory was snapped up by various people including several Chinese companies, for peanuts.  


Enter Topping.  These guys evidently picked up a whole bunch of tripath chips including the celebrated TA2020 chip, that has found its way into the Topping TP20 amplifier.   The TP20 is available for order on ebay, for roughly 80 USD including a 12v, 5A power supply and shipping to your doorstep anywhere in the world.    


Packaging and Appearance


The amp comes by air mail from Hong Kong, well packed in a cardboard box with foam lining.  The amp itself is very well constructed. It's shockingly tiny. About 5 inches deep, 3 inches wide and an inch and half tall on its four rubber feet. The unit features a well built metal case, machined aluminium faceplate, good looking volume pot and power switch, and gold plated RCAs and binding posts. The binding posts are clear plasic on the outside and are not the easiest things to turn because they're smoooth, a slightly textured and less pretty binding post would have been nicer, but hey, it's a 4000 buck amp,you should be happy they're not spring clips. The binding posts accept banana plugs and bare wire.  

The power supply is a fairly robust looking switching supply rated at 12v, 5A. I held it up to my ear and didn't hear any noise, which was encouraging.

Pairing

Some size perspective
The Topping TP20 produces a rated 13W maximum per channel into 8 ohms. But since that is with a 10% THD figure, we'll take the 7W per channel figure which is the maximum power into 8 ohms with a THD of 0.01% as the more relevant figure.  It also uses a not very beefy outboard switching PSU.  
What this means is that some care needs to be exercised in pairing these with speakers.  You cannot put something with an 82 dB sensitivity and and a 4 ohm impedance load in front of this amp.  That would be stupidity.  Make sure that the speakers are rated at least at 86 dB sensitivity (the more the better), and a relatively steady impedance load of at least 6 ohms.  Speakers that have worked well with this amp include the Usher S520, the Odyssey Epiphony and the Cambridge Audio S30.  

Sound

I won't beat around the bush here.  This is a dazzling amplifier.  Full disclosure here, that I own this baby, but prior to this I was using an NAD C320BEE (the equivalent of which now costs in the region of Rs. 28,000) and I sold off the NAD after hearing this.  Paired with the Odyssey Epiphony (86 dB, 8 ohms) and a fully modded CD63SE, it paints a revealing and involving sonic potrtait. Superb detail, excellent soundstaging and imaging. Excellent transients, nice airy extended highs, tight, tuneful bass, and some seriously liquid midrange.  

The test tracks I used for this review are:

Steely Dan - Aja, Deacon Blues
Dire Straits - Heavy Fuel, Fade to Black
Usher Demo CD - Track 9 (the chinese drums), Track 10 (vocal and cello)
Bach's Brandenburg Concertos - Berlin Philharmonic conducted by Herbert von Karajan (Deutsche Gramophon) 

The Topping is a light and nimble performer.  The dry, detailed Steely Dan sound is reproduced with unnerring accuracy.  The snare hits are crisp and full bodied.  You can hear the beater strike the skins on the kick drum, rather than hearing a glorified thud.  The guitars and vocals are life-like and engaging.  Each instrument in the mix is distinct and well defined, and stereo image and soundstage are convincingly lifelike.   The transient response is rapid and the leading edges of the notes pop with realism.  Do remember here that this is out-and-out a solid-state amp, and while the mid-range is beautiful and detailed there is none of the enhanced 'body' and 'warmth' of a tube amplifier.  So if that is what you seek, you must look elsewhere.  

Note the gold plated RCA's and the smooth binding posts
Testing the amplifier with demanding percussion reveals that this little creature can really dig deep to put out some convincing low-frequencies, while retaining the detail and musicality of the bass notes.  This is something that several more expensive amplifiers try to do and fail.  What is also impressive is the sheer body and depth of the cello notes on the Usher demo CD.  This amplifier is not just for rock and roll, it works beautifully for jazz and small-ensemble classical  music as well.   To do justice to a philharmonic orchestra of course you need equipment costing at least 10 times the cost of this unit, but even so, the Topping manages to create a musical and involving presentation of the Brandenburg Concertos, without of course being able to do full justice to the sheer scale and dynamic swings of the music.  But hey, remember, how much this amplifier costs!

Pros and Cons

Pros

- Detailed, airy, dynamic sound
- Superb imaging and soundstaging
- Ridiculous price-to-performance ratio

Cons

- Needs sensitive speakers
- No remote
- Only one input

Conclusion

What can you say about an amplifier that costs Rs. 4000 and can do so many things so well? Paired with the right speakers they handily outperform the budget integrateds mentioned earlier, as well amplifiers costing more.  In fact, I can state with some confidence that you'd be hard pressed to find an amplifier that costs less than Rs. 30,000 that can compete sonically with the Topping TP20 provided you exercise some care in choosing the speakers.  Just for a lark I've tested it with speakers costing over Rs. 2 lakhs (the Usher  Mini Dancer) and it's staggering how impressive the performance of this amplifier is.  The detail, imaging and soundstaging are all in place, it's in the low frequency tightness and grip that it loses out.  

Bottomline, if you can live with only one input and no remote control, and you are looking to spend less than Rs. 30,000 on a stereo amplifier, you owe it to yourself to at least consider the Topping TP20 seriously.     


22 comments:

  1. Ooooh!

    Okay, that's all I had to say. :)

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  2. your review is like a wine review, steely dan is dry, notes pop, snare hits are full bodied :)

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  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  4. Very nice!Interesting even for someone like me who has NO CLUE about audio equipment,etc. Ahem...the emphasis on affordability is much appreciated! Everyone deserves to enjoy good music ;-) Keep it coming I say!

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  5. Will a mordauntshort 902i work well with it?Have you tried the combo?Anyway greatpost.

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  6. @snake anthony - thanks :)

    @mem - true true

    @meghna - yes, communists included

    @Anonymous - I don't have personal experience with the Topping and the MS 902i, but my guess is that it should be a good match, because of the 89db sensitivity and the fact that it is known to be a fairly easy to drive speaker. My only concern is that the impedance is rated at 4-8 Ohms, and this may mean that you won't get the last word in bass tightness and grip. But this is similarly a concern with the CA S30 (from the same group), and while the lack of grip is a concern, compared to speakers like the Usher S520 with a constant 6+ Ohms load, it'll still work a treat.

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  7. Great post Smith ! LOve the simplicity of it !Keep posting.

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  8. I knew there was a catch - speakers for 2 lakh!

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  9. I enjoyed the ERC-1 review. One interesting spec point to note is the output voltage on this CDP is rated at 7V Peak compared to the CD-63se (or most CDPs) of 2V Peak. In all likelihood, you are comparing this CDP to another one at very different volumes, some amount of evening out can be done by adjusting the volume control of the Topping, but this does not give you much of a controlled environment to work with. Some basic characteristics remain irrespective of volume but a number of others are very subjective depending on SPL :-)

    cheers
    Sridhar

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  10. hey Sridhar,

    Thanks for that. I am moving your comment and my reply to the ERC-1 post. Yes, I did realise that there is definitely a difference in SPL. So I did some rough compensation by turning up the volume on the TP20, the differences less pronounced for sure, but I thought the ERC-1 still had the overall edge.

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  11. c2ykeng (Malaysia)April 16, 2011 at 7:57 AM

    Got myself the same Topping unit and paired up my MB Quart 20LC old speakers lying around which I intended to trade in early last August. Conclusion? Hook it up and tune to http://www.sky.fm/ for 24 hrs of smooth jazz was a much better "trade" than letting the speakers go. Thank you Topping!!!

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  12. Don't know what to say, But from your description, this is from salvaged parts of some earlier ERA, Secondly, yu need to plugin an external PS, Third it has just one input, Then you need to look for some speakers to get some decent sound, Well the whole thing looks like a RAT-TRAP to me from the picture, Confused really, More like " well you get what you pay for sort of thing, Why not simply buy a used amp and a pair of decent speakers, They will cost lesser, In any case you say these are from some inventory sold for peanuts.

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  13. The amp chips were bought for peanuts as the American company went out, not the amp itself the Topping construction is actually very high it even uses alps volume pots which are top flight and used in many pro boards as well.

    For the cost and overall excellent build quality its a good deal, its compact and great for replacing the computer speakers with built in amps that sound like crap these days just pair it with a good sensitive bookshelf speaker.

    Open one up and then look at a Dayton night and day build quality.

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  14. can somebody please let me know how will it perform with Wharfedale diamond 10.1 / CA S30/KEF C1 bookshelf speakers as i was planning to buy a Amp to supplement any of these speaker which i will be buying soon.
    If it can produce the same sound quality as that of an Amp costing somewhere less than 20K Rs,then i would be really thankful...too much budget constraint..please help guys

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  15. Thanks for your great review, which has been very useful. I happen to have a pair of S30's and I recently ordered the Topping TP20 MkII. I don't have the uDac but I am currently using the system with a Xitel Hifi-Link. The combination is wonderful for most music but I would like to add the following observations:

    - The Xitel Hifi-link is limited in bit rate and bandwidth, so I am looking to upgrade to a better DAC in the future. I am thinking about a WM3740 or WM3741 based DAC and would welcome any comments from users that have used this combination. I would like to achieve the best price/quality ratio. Spending money is easy but spending it wisely is much more difficult!
    - even with the Xitel, I am impressed with the sound quality of the Topping and S30 combination. However, I find the bass imprecise, woolly and boomy. I have tried the Topping with my high-end integrated system, using only the streamer and DAC, feeding into some high-end speakers who's characteristics I know well. The woolly and boomy bass persists and is specifically obvious in jazz music with a good bass section. For certain classical music the impact is perceivably less.
    - I am wondering whether upgrading to a good PSU would make a difference in the bass. I am thinking about following the Lampizator's prescription for a PSU (http://www.lampizator.eu/AMPLIFIERS/CHINA/Miniamplifier.html) but as this PSU would be twice the price of the TP20, I am hesitating, so any shared experience in this area would be highly appreciated.

    The Topping TP20 is a good basis for a superb low-cost but very good system. I am now researching the best mods and/or add-ons to complement the TP20 at its own level of accomplishment or beyond

    Any suggestions or shared experiences would be highly appreciated.

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  16. Hey Smith, I have a pair of Cambridge S30s and your blogpost has convinced me to go for the Topping. How do I go about buying a Topping TP20? Is does not seem to retail in India. Where did you get yours from?

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    Replies
    1. You can find it on eBay

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  17. I recently got this DAC:

    http://stoneracoustics.blogspot.com

    and am pairing it with the TP20 Mk2 and the Cambridge Audio S30's. Absolutely great sound!

    I have not tried the uDac but this combination is extremely convincing and would make for an even cheaper Ultra Budget System.

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  18. Any one yet paired the TP20 Mark II with a Yamaha NSF 140?? the speakers nominal input is 40W and impedence is 6ohms. Need your review of advice from experience id paired with NSF140 or similar floorstanders. NSF140 has 1X6"speaker and 1X1"tweeter.

    Thanx in advance.

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  19. TP20 Mark II with Audio Engine 5 is amazing.

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  20. I do, you can get a really good glimpse on why high end audio is in the state that it is in today - a state of high inventory and declining sales.amplifikatör

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  21. They are all good performers in their own right, providing good sonic value along the traditional parameters. You would be forgiven if you believed that this is as cheap, and as good as stereo amplification gets. hi-fi

    ReplyDelete