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TempoTec Sonata E44 Review

TempoTec Sonata E44 Review

Author:Andy.EF

DAC Chip: Cirrus Logic CS43131 (Dual)

PCM 32bit–384khz, DSD256, SNR: -130db, Power: 4 Vrms Adaptive 175 mW 32Ω , USB Type-C Male Fixed, 4.4mm BAL (Microphone: NO), Painted Aluminum, SPC Cable & 3.5mm SE Adapter

Listening Equipment: Etymotic ER4SR, TIN HiFi P1, TForce Yuan Li, Moondrop Aria, FOSTEX T40RP MK3, VE Monk SM, VE Duke, VE Asura Black, Shure KSE1500 Source: USB 3.2 Samsung S20, USB 2.0 Sony Xperia Z5 Compact. FLAC HiBy Player & Tidal Masters

LISTENING EQUIPMENT USED IMPARTED HUGE INFLUENCE TO SOUND IMPRESSIONS & RATING

 

PROS

  • Neutral balanced timbre, rich in density and texture
  • Polished, organic and rich dynamics, great coherence
  • Crisp smooth Treble with polished decays, deep extensions
  • Naturally balanced Mids/Vocals with rich textures, realistic tonality
  • Punchy, dense Mid-Bass responses, great texture, crisp decays
  • Deep Sub-Bass presence, smooth decays
  • Realistic guitars and stringed instruments tone, polished edge
  • Great balance between technical and organic musical ability
  • Scalable soundstage depth with excellent spatial imaging
  • Reference grade Macro & Micro details retrieval, superbly transparent
  • Reference grade speed and transients, zero congestion/compressions
  • Great resistances to sibilance, forgiving to Lo-Fi recordings
  • Drives very stubborn IEMs/HPs with amazing fidelity
  • Black silent background for super sensitive IEMs
  • Exceedingly clean and rich output for AUX/Line Out purposes
  • Great resistance to heating even used for long hours
  • The most POWERFUL driving power in all the dongles tested
  • Conservative on power draw from the host
  • Synergize great with ALL type of IEMs/HPs/Earbuds
  • True discrete Balanced DAC/Amp circuitry
  • PC, Android and iOS compatible (both USB 2.0 and USB 3.0)
  • Super useful and refined volume adjustment especially under USB Exclusive mode in HiBy Player

CONS

  • Slightly less airy than Ovidius B1 and Apogee Groove
  • Questionable cable durability as the SPC seems very subtle, may not withstand rough handling

VERDICT

TempoTec Sonata E44. TempoTec is among one of the most prominent and longtime implementer of CS43131 DAC/Amps. Before E44 (BAL) and E35 (SE), TempoTec has released the very successful TempoTec HD Pro and TempoTec BHD, both runs on CS43131. When the new E44 was released, it is their third ongoing affair with the very same DAC chip, in dual DAC setup much similar to the BHD. I was very impressed with the performance of the single DAC version HD Pro (FW3), but not so much with the later model BHD – of which to my ears sounded a little darker and slower than the sparkly neutral signature of HD Pro. With E44, what I am hearing is a natural progression of that trajectory, addressing the Pro and Cons of both earlier models and thus we are presented with a superbly POWERFUL Dongle offering 4 Vrms of fidelity.

I spent a lot of time with this E44. Paired it with all of my favorite IEMs and Headphones including the most demanding ones to the most sensitive. With my FOSTEX T40RP MK3 and TIN HiFi P1 Magnetic Planars, I was very impressed with the commanding drive E44 exhibited. For the first time I am hearing fidelity level that actually edged my longtime favorite the Ovidius B1 and even Apogee Groove. What makes E44 stood out was how effortless the output and how satisfying the presentation with dynamic range extending deep and with great density and crispness. The 4.4mm BAL of E44 is the real deal, finally an implementation of balanced dual DAC that’s actually very effective. Something that the likes of iBasso DC04 and even L&P W2 fell short on achieving. The DC04 broke apart with dynamics coherence when subjected to extreme load, the W2 just plain meek sounding. However, it must be noted that the Ovidius B1 and Apogee Groove still have the upper hand by being airier, just very slightly so. Instead E44 offered crisper dynamics in exchange for airiness. Not a bad thing at all.

Most importantly, TempoTec has been successful in keeping the E44 exceedingly balanced between technical prowess and musical composition, which makes it sitting on par with Ovidius B1 and Apogee groove for the ability to present a wholesome musical indulgence yet keeping it sharp with speed/resolution/details/transparency and tonal balance. On the subject of transparency, E44 performed like a true reference Dongle. E44 does not color the output heard from the listening devices. I have tested it with Dynamic Drivers, Balanced Armatures, Magnetic Planars, Hybrids, Electrostatic and even Piezoelectric DD. All exhibited excellent synergy and retained their intended sound signature and tonality – what E44 does deliver common to all of them, exceptionally smooth neutral and crisp output that is free from peaky sibilance or Treble simmer. Be it IEMs, Earbuds, Full Sized Cans or Electrostatic IEM, E44 handled them all with great finesse and adaptability.

Soundstage and Imaging. Now this is where I am very impressed as well. This will be the first time I use the term “scalable soundstage” hahahaha. Yes I know it sounded insane but really, E44 does just that. With an already narrow sounding unit like the ER4SR, I get a sense of space but the headstage remained narrow as how it is natively with any Etymotic ER single drivers. Switching to KSE1500 and VE Monk SM, and I was greeted with an exceedingly wide staging that remained sharp with spatial holographic imaging. So, honestly it can vary from one device to another. To me this is rather hilarious but not unwelcome. What is consistent, the imaging remained sharp and clean with clearly defined placement and separation.

Another element that impressed me immensely, of how adept E44 is with driving super sensitive IEMs. In my arsenal of IEMs, I have TForce Yuan Li being the most sensitive alongside VE Duke. On Ovidius B1, I was forced to use a 47Ω impedance adapter with VE Duke otherwise the floor noise would drive me nuts, and it is even worse with Yuan Li. B1 just like Apogee Groove, they are highly optimized for stubborn stuffs. Groove, on the other hand not as glaringly noisy as B1 due to Groove’s native 20Ω output impedance. With E44, none of those issues observed. It was total blackness with no annoying floor noises, and yet keeping it regal with a whopping 4 Vrms of raw power. Simply amazing.

On the subject of Balanced DAC/Amp. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that E44 actually implemented a Common Ground (GND) on top of L- and R-, yes E44 offers 3 grounding points like a full-sized discrete DAC/Amp. While many other BAL Dongles or portable DAC/Amp offers 4.4mm input jacks, they often ignore the implementation of common GND, focusing only on L- and R- (E1DA 9038SG3). Some will offer 4.4mm jacks but they actually use just one common GND to serve the L- and R- (Audirect BEAM 2S & IBasso DC04). So what does this mean? It means that E44 truly is a discrete Balanced Dongle that actually capable of delivering beefier sonic output expected of a BAL device just like a premium DAPs or desktop DAC/Amps. E44 comes included with a special adapter that will allow the usage of 3.5mm Single Ended termination, and this is where the common GND comes into play with the L- and R- completely bypassed, at the expense of less power delivery. In SE mode with the included adapter, E44 lost approximately around 10% of driving power and loudness, which also mean the staging slightly smaller in size and less as spacious as how it was in 4.4mm BAL mode.

Volume control. By far E44 offered one of the most usable volume adjuster alongside Xnyocn Q2, L&P W2 and Lotoo PAW S1. The independent volume adjuster worked like a charm especially when paired with HiBy Player in USB Exclusive Mode, with the option to Lock All volume on the host and allowing E44 to take full control of volume adjustment. The adjustment steps are very well staged allowing for fine tuning. This is absolutely critical especially when playing in shuffle mode. With easy to reach and tactile hardware adjusters, the listening experience improved twofold. No more fumbling to adjust the volume on software level.

All things considered. TempoTec E44 being the most powerful, reference grade fidelity, exceptional synergy factor, amazing tonal balance, great compatibility, very usable features, compact solid build, excellent duality for sensitive and less sensitive pairing – I genuinely believe E44 deserve the crown of #donglemadness. A worthy 5 Stars Performer.

TempoTec Sonata E44 vs Ovidius B1:

E44 (4.4mm BAL) vs B1 (3.5mm SE):
Source: Windows 10 Native USB drivers
Format: FLAC (Windows Media Player)
EQ: Always Off

Headphone: FOSTEX T40RP MK3 (50Ω 91db)
Cable: VE Standard DIC 6n OFC (Hard to drive mode)

Alison Krauss “Goodbye is All We Have”
Alison Krauss “If I Didn’t Know Any Better”
Diana Krall “Don’t Dream It’s Over”
Diana Krall ” The Look of Love”
The Lively Ones “Surf City”
Madonna “Take a Bow”

  • E44 (Vol 14/100), B1 (Vol 22/100)
  • E44 sounds slightly wider on staging vs B1
  • E44 slightly stronger Bass density, B1 flatter response
  • E44 half step less intimate vocals vs B1
  • E44 crisper dynamic decays vs B1 smooth edged presentation
  • E44 crisper Sub-Bass responses vs B1 smooth edged approach
  • E44 has slightly less air in the notes vs B1 Electrostatic like notes

IEM: TForce Yuan Li (32Ω 105db)
Cable: VE Black Litz 4N (Super transparent and sensitive mode)

Christian Eggen “Chaconne Opus 32 (1916)”
Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds “Wonderful Life”

  • E44 (Vol 02/100), B1 (Vol 08/100)
  • E44 clean black background, B1 with audible floor noise

As can be seen here, generally E44 being the stronger one in driving power, a lot stronger than B1. E44 is also more powerful than Apogee Groove by at least 4 steps. While B1 remained the one with more air in the notes, E44 offers crisper smooth presentation in exchange. The most glaring difference between the two is how they drive the super sensitive TForce Yuan Li.

Best Pairing: Throw anything at this beast, it works.

With Shure KSE1500 serving AUX FeedWith Sony Xperia Z5 Compact & VE Duke + VE SDIC OFC CableWith TForce Yuan Li & TACables Obsidian Litz/SPC

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