The Many Faces Of Sound
- Great All-In-One.
- Possibly one of the best value for money streamers on the market.
- Fully balanced design.
- Balanced 4.4mm line output, convertible to headphone output, even to 3.5mm output.
- Very compact design.
- Easy operation.
- Remote control via HiByLink.
- Very versatile device with a remarkable sound.
- The on-screen keyboard is not complete and makes it difficult to type, for example, passwords.
- Apps such as Tidal are limited in their options.
Link to the WEB
Tempotec, the well-known DAC/Amps brand has released its first desktop player, which includes DAC+AMP, WiFi, Bluetooth, touch screen and a mini operating system capable of hosting Apps such as Tidal or Qobuz. This All-In-One device falls into the category of Streamers. It is capable of supporting MQA x16, DSD256, PCM 32bits/768kHz, LDAC, Airplay, HIBY Link. It has audio inputs such as USB DAC, optical, coaxial, it is also compatible with USB disks or USB keys. It is a Bluetooth receiver (supports LDAC, UAT, AAC, APTX) and WiFi. In addition, it has a 3.2″ touch screen and 5 physical buttons. It has RCA and balanced 4.4mm outputs. Headphones up to 300Ω can be connected and there is a 4.4mm to 3.5mm converter for SE headphone compatibility. There is also the possibility of remote control via smartphone. Its internal circuitry is fully balanced and has an FPGA digital management circuit. All this is packed into a small body in the shape of a tilt-screen console, with dimensions of 120x105x46mm. Let’s see what this great Streamer from Tempotec can do.
- DAC: Dual SoC ESS9219
- Bluetooth LDAC, UAT, AAC, APTX. HiBy Link Controller.
- Apps: AirPlay, Tidal, Qobuz.
- Support for MQA x16, DSD256, PCM 32bits/768kHz.
- ASIO drivers.
- Audio inputs: USB DAC, USB Disk, WiFi, Bluetooth, Coaxial, Optical.
- Audio Outputs: RCA and BAL 4.4mm line output.
- Headphone outputs: BAL 4.4mm (shared with line output and 3.5mm SE via adapter).
- Output level: RCA 2VRMS, 4.4LO 4VRMS, 4.4PO 3VRMS.
- Frequency response: RCA 0-60kHz, 4.4LO 0-60kHz, 4.4PO 0-50kHz.
- SNR: RCA 126dB, 4.4LO 128dB, 4.4PO 122dB.
- THD+N: RCA 0.0003%, 4.4LO 0.0003%, 4.4PO 0.0008%.
- Crosstalk: RCA 113dB, 4.4LO 120dB, 4.4PO 120dB.
The Tempotec Serenade X comes in a medium-sized box, whose dimensions are 238x142x80mm. On the main side you can see two units on a black background. The brand logo is in the top left corner and below it you can read Serenade X in white letters. On the back side you can see all the logos of the supported features, as well as the brand’s address. Once the outer cardboard is removed, a black box opens up. Once the lid is lifted, there is a thick layer of foam and two compartments, the one on the left is covered. The one on the right contains another black cardboard box. Underneath the foam is the instruction manual, a quick guide and the Serenade X. In the other box is the power supply and the rest of the accessories. In a summary:
- The Tempotec Serenade X.
- The power supply.
- The Bluetooth antenna.
- One USB cable.
- One 4.4mm male to 3.5mm SE female adapter.
- One instruction manual.
- A quick guide.
- One USB key.
- One cleaning cloth.
The Serenade X comes wrapped in cellophane.
The accessories are sufficient and it even comes with a USB key for upgrading the device.
Construction and Design
The Serenade X, when viewed in plan, is rectangular with small chamfered corners. In side view it is trapezoidal, with the front narrower than the rear. The dimensions are 120x105x46mm, at the narrowest part.
It has a 3.2″ touch screen and except for the top face, the rest is metallic and black. In the bottom right corner of this top face, there are 5 buttons, one in the centre and four in portions of a circle. In the lower left corner is the product description, in white letters. On the front edge is a glass plate with the product name and a shape reminiscent of the Serenade X itself. The side faces are clean and smooth. On the rear face, from left to right, are the power input, shared 4.4mm balanced LO/PO output, RCA outputs, coaxial input, optical input, USB A disk connection, the Bluetooth antenna connector and the USB DAC USB TypeC input. The bottom face has 4 Allen screws, 4 cylindrical rubber feet with 4 Allen screws inside.
The design is really compact, sober, relatively ergonomic. The 3.2″ touch screen is quite responsive and has a good amount of brightness for indoor use.
The Serenade X has USB DAC, USB Disk, WiFi, Bluetooth, Coaxial, Optical audio inputs. Supports Bluetooth LDAC, UAT, AAC, APTX. Can be controlled by mobile phone via HiBy Link.
Audio outputs are RCA line output and BAL 4.4mm. Headphone output is shared with BAL 4.4mm line output and can be converted to 3.5mm SE headphone output via adapter.
Supports ASIO drivers for connection via USB DAC. No drivers required when connected to Win10.
The operability of this device is very large. It has a small operating system with 3 integrated apps: Tidal, Qobuz and AirPlay. I was able to test Tidal and to log in it shows a QR that can be scanned with the smartphone to associate the device. To search for music on Tidal you can use a keyboard with shared keys of 3 or more characters. This is not the most suitable, or quickest, so it is best to use your own playlists.
USB DAC can be selected via a button on the screen and will enable connection to any digital USB source, with Win10 for example. No drivers are required, but it is noteworthy that ASIO drivers are available. It is capable of DSD256 and PCM playback up to 32bit/768kHz. It also decodes MQA up to x16, either from the Tidal application or via USB DAC.
Used as a Bluetooth receiver, playback will be performed on the source, e.g. mobile phone. It has the great advantage of being able to connect via UAT, plus the HiBy Link connection for remote control via the HiBy app on a smartphone or any HiBy player, such as the Tempotec V6 itself. It took me a while to make the connection via HiBy Link, but once established the remote control was effective and relatively quick.
As a player for the USB Disk option, it has the HiBy Music Player App, which is not exactly the same as any other device. The icons are different, but very explicit and allow navigation by folders and tags. The lists are simple and so is the playback screen. It is a basic but intuitive system that does not require much difficulty to use. It also supports MSEB for modifying the sound.
I found no problems connecting USB hard drives or USB keys up to 256GB. The largest hard drive I tested was 500GB, with no problems navigating folders smoothly.
I have not been able to test Qobuz or AirPlay.
It also has 5 buttons, the left and right buttons are for navigation, the up and down buttons are for volume control. The middle button is for switching the screen on/off (short press). A long press is used to switch the device on/off.
It has two gain modes and when the volume is set to maximum (100 steps) the line output is activated. I would have preferred an additional line mode.
Overall, the possibilities as a player are very extensive for such a compact and competitively priced device. The system works quite well in all scenarios, but the streaming apps, such as Tidal, are not as comprehensive as on a smartphone. The on-screen keyboard limits the search and the size of the screen limits the wider use of these Apps. As a USB Disk player I have no complaints as no further controls are necessary.
Finally, I would like to comment that I have noticed minimal lag, when using it as a USB DAC connected to my PC, using Foobar2000, which is my usual scenario. When I pause or resume playback it takes a short time for the sound to fade in/out of the connected headphones.
According to the brand itself, with firmware 1.3, the RCA line output provides 2VRMS and the balanced line output, 4VRMS. With firmware 1.4, which is the firmware I have installed, these values go down. According to the manufacturer, the RCA line output provides 1.8VRMS and the balanced line output, 3.7VRMS. You can see that this is true and my measurements corroborate this. What I can’t understand is the reason for this voltage drop, could it be to maintain low distortion values? I don’t know.
On the other hand, the measured output impedance is about 2Ω.
No load BAL
Around 3.7VRMS with firmware 1.4, as claimed by the manufacturer.
15 Ω BAL
For a balanced output, it is low power. A little less than 1VRMS for 15Ω is 64mW and a current of 65mA.
33 Ω BAL
Just over 2VRMS for 33Ω. 120MW and 61mA of current. A far cry from the 285mW specified.
100 Ω BAL
With this resistor I was able to turn up the volume to maximum, but the signal is slightly saturated. The power is 130mW. Not a bad value.
The frequency response via the RCA line output is very flat, from 5Hz to 40kHz. There is no noticeable difference between channels.
As a DAC, the Tempotec Serenade X uses a Dual SoC ESS9219 from Sabre. This is a combination that has been widely used in other devices and leaves limited scope for more customised integration. This is because it is a complete System On Chip system, combining a DAC with an amplifier system, integrated into a single pickup. It is clear that proper implementation will be necessary and the use of higher quality associated components can be an improvement. I have been able to test several devices with this dual DAC SoC and, although the basis is completely similar, there are some differences in refinement.
One of the advantages of the Serenade X is its use as a pure DAC, which allows it to be used in conjunction with an amplifier that can provide an additional touch to the clean and crystalline sound of the Dual SoC ESS9219. For example, in my particular case, I have connected it, via balanced output, to the iFi Zen CAN, an amplifier that is characterised by a warm sound. The synergy between the two has a tendency to neutralise each other: the sound is neither as cold nor as warm. With the EarMen ST-Amp, the connection can also be made via a balanced 4.4mm male-male cable. The sound is more neutral, but also lusher. Although I have also tried it via RCA output, I think it is favourable to use the balanced output with an amplifier that also supports this architecture. This is the best way to maintain the highest level of sound quality that the Serenade X can provide.
Although my main use has been connected as a USB DAC with the Earmen ST-Amp, I have also tested it as a USB Disk, an option that offers a great sound, just the same. The use of Tidal has also been surprising. Everyone has their own preferences and although I also have Tidal installed on my PC, I like the use of Foobar2000 better. However, I don’t miss anything in terms of sound quality with Tidal since Serenade X. In last place I would put the use as a Bluetooth receiver. Knowing that the Bluetooth protocol is still lossy, it is difficult to find a complete ecosystem that allows for the best sound stage in this way. But it is true that protocols are improving and the LDAC and Aptx HD codecs are an example, while waiting for Aptx Lossless to reach the market more widely.
Of course, I have also tested the Serenade X as a headphone amplifier, using the balanced output, like the 3.5mm SE adapter. In this respect, the operation is the same as with the Tempotec E44, another device that can also be operated via SE with the same adapter. And this is where all the character of the Dual SoC ESS9219 comes to the fore. As with the E44, I prefer the use of the balanced output.
Connected directly to headphones, it offers remarkable quality. Admittedly, the power is not very high for low-impedance headphones, but 1VRMS is something that can drive many IEMS in this range. Fortunately, for 32Ω the power is raised, but without reaching the manufacturer’s specifications. With higher impedance headphones the Serenade X can be turned up to its maximum volume, but this is where it conflicts with the line output. According to the manufacturer, with the volume at 100 steps, the line output is activated. I would have preferred an option from the extensive options menu to disable/enable the line output. On the downside, the headphone output is on the back of the device and only has a balanced output, which can be converted to 3.5mm SE via an adapter. Actually, this is the differentiating factor because the Serenade X is more of a DAC than a DAC/Amp. Although, as it is a great All-In-One, the device is able to offer both features.
But back to the sound, its profile is neutral in character, with a hint of brightness. It offers great definition and resolution throughout the sound range. The low end feels very deep, neutral, fast, with concise, well-drawn, controlled bass and medium roughness. The result is a very clean, fast-recovery, and unrestrained bass.
The mids have a very good sense of transparency, clarity and spaciousness. In this case, I don’t find the sound to be as cold or analytical as in other implementations of this dual DAC. Thus, neutrality is more prominent in the midrange, with vocals crisp and vivid, yet natural and well constructed. Instruments come across as rich and full, with a slightly vivid timbre, but without losing the natural neutrality of the whole.
The treble is sparkling and dynamic, offering a remarkably detailed and harmonious level of information. In addition, the extension is very large, reaching 40kHz without any roll-off, something that ensures a Hi-Res sound.
The soundstage, without being spectacular, comes across as realistic and airy. There is enough space to feel an evident separation, as well as a clean, dark background. The sense of light and transparency is high and helps to generate a sufficiently large three-dimensional image, which enjoys a positioning commensurate with the level of the other technical features.
The Tempotec Serenade X is such a complete streamer, that a summary would make the conclusion too long. Frankly, Tempotec’s work on this product has been admirable. Firstly, because they have created a new device of a very high level that offers so many possibilities. Secondly, because they have equipped it with a technology that they know very well and that offers excellent performance. Thirdly, because it is extremely easy and faultless to operate. Fourth, because it is a very small device with acceptable ergonomics. Fifth, because it has all kinds of connectivity, supporting all current formats and protocols. Sixth, the price/quality ratio is outstanding. Seventh, the sound, of course.
Although its use is mainly as a DAC, Tempotec has managed to offer a headphone output that provides a remarkable sound quality.
It’s clear that this could be the beginning of a great Streamer saga for Tempotec, setting the bar high.
Headphones and Amplifiers Used During Analysis
- NiceHCK F1
- Rose QT9 MK2S
- Dunu Kima
- Dunu Falcon Pro
- KiiBOOM Allure
- TinHiFi T4 Plus
- ISN H40
- Yanyin Aladdin
- Letshuoer S12 PRO
- BQEYZ Winter
- Rose Martini
- OurArt QJ21
- iFi ZEN CAN
- EarMen ST-Amp.