- Excellent sound, with a lot of clarity, separation, cleanness, openness and three-dimensionality. Technically it is also outstanding.
- Compact and complete design.
- Quality of construction, cable and connectors.
- Very good price/performance ratio.
- It is compatible with SE 3.5mm headphones, thanks to an adapter that comes as default.
- Volume steps too wide.
- No case like the BHD model.
- Does not work well with the USB ports of my PC.
Link to the Store
The balanced pair from Tempotec’s new Sonata E series could not be missing. And following the trend, the output is 4.4mm, much more robust than the smaller 2.5mm. This is the first highlight of Tempotec’s new model, which is called, of course, the Sonata E44. Aesthetically, it is the same as the E35, only the connector size is different. Internally, it is also the same, because it uses the same Dual DAC CS43131. But its balanced circuitry improves the SNR, THD+N, output level and crosstalk specifications. But what about the sound? These and other issues will be addressed in the following review.
- DAC: DUAL CS43131
- SNR: 130dB
- THD+N: 115dB
- Output level: 4VRMS
- Output power: 175 mW/32ohm
- Frequency: 0-40KHZ /+-0.5dB
- Crosstalk: -127dB
- Support: 32Bit PCM/384kHz DSD256 (native) DSD128(DOP)
- Support: HW volume control
- Support: PC MAC and Android
- W7, W8, W10 and ASIO driver support
The external presentation of the E44 is the same as that of the E35. The only difference is a couple of stickers on the back of the box, just to indicate which model it is. The box is white. Its dimensions are 127x100x35mm. On the main side you can see a drawing of the edges of the E44. On the back side there is only the brand, the model, the website, the e-mail address, several QR and an EAN13. But after removing the outer cardboard, the complete black box can be seen again. It opens up like a box and inside you can see the E44, the USB Type-C to USB classic adapter, a 4.4mm balanced male to 3.5mm SE female adapter and some Hi-Res logos stickered inside a thick foam moulding. Underneath, there’s little else. The complete contents are:
- Tempotec Sonata E44.
- USB Type-C female to USB male adapter.
- Adapter 4.4mm balanced male to 3.5mm SE female.
- Gold Hi-Res AUDIO logo sticker.
- 1 back cover.
- 1 front side protector.
- 1 wet wipe.
- 1 dry wipe.
The device already comes with protective plastics, but a replacement is appreciated. The two-stage cleaning kit (wet wipe and dry wipe) is also appreciated. However, a carrying case, like the Sonata BHD, is missing. As for the E35, the contents are almost the same, except for the BAL to SE adapter cable.
Construction and Design
The new E44 has the same external construction as the E35, except that it uses a different cable. In general, it is not a simple tablet and the connectors are not integrated into it either. Instead, an 8-strand silver-plated monocrystalline copper cable runs from each end, which is attached to the USB Type-C connector on one side and the 4.4mm BAL connector on the other. Each connector is gold-plated. The USB male connector sleeve is the same colour as the body and is oval in shape. The headphone output connector sleeve starts out as a cylinder that turns into a rather bulky hexagon. It also has the same colour as the body. On this occasion it is only available in black. The dimensions of each component are:
- Global 200mm.
- USB connector 22.5mm.
- 4.4mm BAL connector 31mm.
- Centre pickup 54mm.
- USB cable 48mm.
- Headphone output cable 49mm.
The sum total of the parts is greater than the overall size, because the connections are located in an innermost groove of the housing.
Each connection point of the cable to the central pickup or any connector is protected by a translucent white plastic sleeve.
The central module is constructed of an aluminium housing, on the faces of which a black, glazed surface is mounted. The edges of the housing are not sharp-edged, but bevelled, even at the corners. On the rear side are the model name, the words «HIGH QUALITY USB DAC&HPA» and the logos of the regulations it complies with. On the top side, the glazed part has a longitudinal groove, where the volume control is located. This is a single button, which operates in rocker mode. At the bottom of this face, you can read «Tempotec». The weight is very light and is worth about 15 grams.
The design is the same as its sibling E35 and I note the reversal of the trend towards fixed cable connectors, the rocker button used for volume control, the thick, hexagonal design of the headphone output connector sleeve. This time, however, there is no choice of colour, only black.
Finally, the fact that the connectors are wired together can in principle ensure better connection quality, as the fixed cables are of apparently good quality and the soldering should be up to standard. This design loses the smaller size of the initial idea, but offers more flexibility and avoids losing accessories. I guess everyone will have their own thoughts on whether this design is an advantage or a disadvantage.
The Sonata E44 has a USB Type-C connection, which limits it to Android, PC and DAPS compatible systems. Connected to a Windows PC it is Plug&Play, being compatible with version 10 without the need for additional drivers. For previous versions such as 8 or 7, it will be necessary to use the ASIO driver. However, the use of this driver is also recommended for Windows 10.
When connected to an Android device, it is advisable to activate the «OTG» and «USB debugging mode» options.
Finally, compatible DAPS, such as the Tempotec V1/V1-A itself and others like the HiBy R3 Pro, will recognise it without any problems and can be used without restrictions.
The E44 has 32 volume steps. As usual with powerful systems, the volume steps are usually relatively large. Using a PC, a DAP or even a smartphone, the volume can be additionally controlled by the source device itself. This is one way to improve its accuracy. However, I think it would be better to have a larger number of volume steps available.
On the other hand, the operation is not very mysterious, apart from the fact that it seems to remember the volume position.
As an accessory, the E44 comes with a 4.4mm balanced male to 3.5mm SE female adapter cable. With it the device is compatible with IEMS SE 3.5mm. But it seems that the sound quality is not as good as when used balanced, without this accessory cable. I think it is very useful for many occasions to keep this compatibility, something that adds a more complete value to this device.
The measurements were made at maximum volume, at which the waveforms were free of visible distortion. FLAC files of 96000 Hz, 24 Bits, with pure frequencies of gain 1, generated with Audacity software, have been used.
It appears that the power measurements are lower than specified. The current delivery ceiling is 60mA. It seems that the device has been designed to be able to connect to headphones with medium/high impedances, although the output impedance is very very low and the signal is not altered.
The measured no-load voltage exceeds 4V RMS, providing a clean, clipping-free signal.
The signal offered is not so clean and seems to have some noise. This is something that has surprised me and I have used different USB sockets, even voltage filters, without any visible improvement in the signal. Another surprising thing is that the balanced output does not offer 1V at 15Ω, staying at 0.9V. This means a current of almost 60mA and a power of 53mW.
With this load, the noise seen previously is less and the signal is cleaner. The voltage achieved has increased quite a lot, reaching 1.85V. The measured current is 56mA and the power is 100mW, far from the specified 175mW.
The signal is getting cleaner and the voltage continues to rise, as expected. But for 100Ω it still doesn’t reach 4V RMS and stays at 3.3V. This means a current of 33 mA and a power of 110mW.
With this load connected, the promised 4V RMS is almost reached, the current is almost 20mA and the power is 76mW.
From the measurements, the frequency response appears very flat for all loads tested.
If the E35 gave the impression of a wall of sound, with a powerful and seamless low end, the E44 doesn’t lose that character, it even adds more refinement. But above all, it adds more clarity, a sense of openness and three-dimensionality. It is these characteristics that stand out most in the sound of this new E44. It seems that, at last, we are faced with the benefits of a purer balanced sound, in which its more technical virtues are already coming to the fore. In this way, the E44 adds a more analytical appearance to its neutral and natural profile, although it loses that certain analogue feel in favour of a more ethereal and expansive look. To all this must also be added a greater amount of light and separation, as well as a point of excitation in the upper zone. All this gives it that more analytical, airy and detached profile. The background is still very dark, even darker if possible, making clear that greater capacity for dynamics, separation and space between notes. The level of detail and micromatices is pushed to the limit, extracting great results from the connected headphones. In this way, it is difficult to think that you can get more out of a device in this price range. Firstly, because this good feeling is apparent at first glance, as soon as decent headphones are plugged in. Secondly, because the difference is palpable. My ears even notice it at the first touch, which amplifies the sense of surprise after testing this product.
Turning to a more concrete description of the sound, focusing on each band, the low end contains power and expansiveness. There is a good degree of forcefulness and depth. But, above all, the technical properties of the range stand out: definition, control, containment, dryness in the stroke and a quick fade. All of this is aided by a great sense of space that facilitates the creation of planes, provides an excellent sense of depth and expands the bass range.
The central range is presented with utmost clarity, present and exposed. There is no symptom of dullness, cloudiness or distancing. All the elements are there when they appear, there is no need to look for them or be attentive to them, they just bloom with naturalness, strength and splendour. In this way listening becomes easier and more pleasurable, just enjoy and relax. By this I mean that the sound of the mids is clean and detailed, with a natural, subtly bright timbre, providing a transparent, deep, detached and airy sonority. Everything sounds correct and spacious, from acoustic compositions, with vocals and few instruments, to much more saturated and complex recordings. All the details will be there, as well as all the micro-matices, as if they could be played.
The treble, despite the E44’s subtly analytical profile, does not sound overexposed. In this respect, it is true that their timbre is bright, with very good definition, sparkle and slightly crisp, without losing naturalness, but just enough to provide that quick flash and sparkle, which disappears with immediacy and without a trace. The sensation of air is evident in all ranges and that is something that enhances the separation and decongestion of the sound. All this, together with the great dynamics of the sound, enhances the scene, recreating it in a vaporous and ethereal, but well-defined way, without smoothness but without harshness, with that analytical capacity that remains intact. The soundstage has many components, a good surrounding image, with plenty of depth and remarkable height, thanks to the air and the vapour. The ethereal feel is easy to recognise, but without the scene getting out of one’s head, keeping the details in check, in place, to be perceived and enjoyed.
That said, the sound is hard to beat and little can be asked of it for a lover of analytical sound, apart from nothing sounding harsh or unreal. And this Sonata E44 has none of that, but rather a naturalness with great definition and resolving power.
Hidizs S9 Pro (for balanced output)
The first thing to note is that the Hidizs S9 Pro is more powerful, delivering 90mA versus 60mA and this is also noticeable with high impedance headphones. Form and construction aside, I’ll move on to sound considerations, based on the balanced output of both devices. The first difference is the greater clarity and sense of openness offered by the E44. A flatter and less vivid sound, somewhat darker in some segments, is observed in the S9 Pro, where the treble is slightly sharper and more unpleasant. The brighter sound of the E44 does not imply that it is harsher, on the contrary, the greater dynamics, separation and even, why not say it, fidelity in the high notes, make it more enjoyable, especially at medium/high volumes. The result is a bigger and more volatile soundstage in the E44, where details don’t escape. With the S9 Pro I get the feeling that something is missing, as if something good is left inside. With the E44 this is not the case, because its timbre is richer and more pleasant, also more coherent, in the upper mids and first treble, this difference is clearly perceptible.
In the bass range, the S9 Pro seems to offer more punch and energy, especially in the sub-bass. The punch feels more powerful and immediate, with a quicker decay and a slightly more noticeable texture. On the E44 it is subtly smoother, slightly more rounded. Although I must confess that these differences are very small, as a bass-lover I would lean towards the S9 Pro.
For the mid-range, however, I prefer the E44 for its closer, more obvious, wider and more separated sound. The S9 Pro draws vocals a bit more muffled, less dynamic and with less detail. In complex musical passages, with many instruments, the better separation and definition of the E44 offers better fidelity and technical ability in reproduction, offering less congestion and getting out of this kind of more complicated situations.
In the treble, despite the slightly brighter feel of the E44, it also shows more control and the flare disappears sooner. This denotes more control, and the lesser afterglow gives it a less fatiguing and shrill sound. Not that the S9 Pro is like that, shrill, but its brightness is a bit sharper, as if individually, the first treble rises with more emphasis and its notes are more energetic.
Finally and back to the beginning, the scene is more spacious, airy and three-dimensional in the E44. Image recreation and positioning is also more accurate, thanks to the depth and greater sense of separation. Improved accuracy and high definition contribute to a better result in this area on the E44.
I could say that the Tempotec Sonata E44 has the excellent balanced sound I was looking for in this price range and end the conclusion here. There are always some buts, though: a lower power output than specified and a not-so-clean relationship with my PC’s USBs. This makes it not a completely perfect device. But its sound is really great, I haven’t tried such a good balanced output in the 100€ range. And that’s it, isn’t that enough?
Earphones and Sources Used During Analysis
- Xiaomi Redmi Note 8 Pro
- Tempotec Variations V1-A
- Rose QT9 MK2
- Smabat M0
- Smabat M2s Pro
- Ikko OH1s
- Ikko OH10
- NF Audio NM2+
- Kbear Robin
- NiceHCK Lofty
- NS Audio NS5 MKII Extra Bass