V for Victory
- Reference sound, very well defined, with great resolution, analytical but mature.
- Remarkable ability to structure and draw the music with great precision.
- Good sense of separation, air, height, stage width and laterality, with a great stereo feel.
- Elegant design.
- ASIO drivers.
- Good power level.
- Very low output impedance.
- A single 3.5mm SE audio output.
- A micro USB input is still used.
- It gets a bit warm.
- The glass and metal surface is a fingerprint magnet.
Link to the Store
You could say that Tempotec is the queen of the dongle. But it is not only dedicated to creating this kind of devices. Their catalogue is full of DAC-Amps, especially small ones. Their Sonata series is the most prolific and I would like to highlight their Sonata E44 model in particular, as the paradigm of a product matured to the best that its internal components can provide. But not only this series, but also the Serenade series, as desktop DAC-Amps, and the Variations series, as DAPs, stand out. And here is Tempotec’s step forward. After occupying a relatively affordable price range, it has now moved into the upper price range, bringing two great new products in this series to the market. They are the Serenade X, a desktop DAP-DAC-AMP with Bluetooth, display and balanced output, priced at around $269. On the other side is the new DAP Variations V6, soon to be released on Kickstarter. It’s an Android 8.1-based DAP, dual DAC AK4493SE, Snapdragon 425 processor, 3.5mm SE and 4.4mm BAL outputs, among other features and virtues. As you can see, Tempotec is in a sweet moment and its new products look very good, although there are still no opinions about them, as they are so recent.
What has been on the market for some time now is the product in question. It is a new dongle, of course, from the Sonata HD series, the V version, to be more precise. Tempotec keeps stretching this series and relying on the single 3.5mm output. When will a dongle with 3.5mm SE and 4.4mm BAL output be available? It is clear that dual outputs are taking over the market and yet Tempotec persists with single outputs. In this new product, Tempotec has assembled a dual DAC ES9219 from Sabre, capable of decoding 32bit/384kHz PCM, DSD256 natively and MQA decompression. Of course, it supports ASIO drivers in exclusive mode, is Hi-Res certified and has HiBy application hardware certification. Its power reaches 145mW/16Ω and 95mW/32Ω and is compatible for Android and Windows 7, 8, 10. The IOS compatible version is a different release.
The design is a bit of a departure from the other Dongles in the series, with a silver mirrored metal rim and two black glass sides. But they still use a cable as the USB connection, with a micro connector instead of Type-C.
We’ll see what all the features and other virtues of this new product are.
- DAC/AMP: Dual ESS Sabre ES9219.
- Maximum output voltage: 2V RMS.
- SNR: -121dB.
- DNR: -120dB.
- Crosstalk: -112dB.
- Power: 145mW @ 16Ω, 95mW @ 32Ω.
- Support: MQA.
- Support: DXD.
- Support: DSD 64/128/256 (Native).
- Support: 32bit PCM/384kHz.
- Headphone output SE 3.5mm, gold-plated.
- Aluminium alloy body.
- Dimensions: 20x46x10mm.
The Tempotec Sonata HD V comes in a compact case with dimensions 127x100x34mm. Its colour is eminently black, with parts in an eye-catching light blue. On the main side you can see a real picture of the product, diagonally across. At the top left is the brand logo, at the bottom right the DSD logo. On the back side are the specifications and information about the brand and website. It should be noted that the specifications of the HD V written on the box do not match the specifications on the website. So I have reviewed the specifications on the box, complementing some others from the WEB.
Once the outer cardboard is removed, the box is completely black. After removing the lid you can see the product, as well as the rest of the cables and adapters encased in a thick black foam mould. The complete contents are as follows:
- Tempotec Sonata HD V.
- Micro USB male to USB Type-C male cable.
- USB Type-C female to USB Type-A male adapter.
- Hi-Res logo sticker.
- Envelope with two-step cleaning wipes.
- 2 transparent plastic protectors.
Simple and basic. Protectors are appreciated, although it would be nice if they came with them, as on other occasions. No carrying case.
Construction and Design
The dongle is a small tablet, measuring 20x46x10mm. The rim is metallic, in aluminium alloy, with a mirror finish, slightly curved, rounded. The glass faces are subtly recessed into the dongle. Both sides are black. On the main face, at the top are three vertical lines, next to the audio output. In the centre, the Tempotec log, below which is the LED indicating mode and status. At the bottom, the brand name, next to the micro USB connection. On the back side, the text «Sonata HD V», «HIGH QUALITY USB DAC&HPA», «DSD | MQA | DXD | ASIO» can be read horizontally. In total 3 lines. All text or marking is white. The audio output is 3.5mm with a gold rim, although the inside is black plastic.
The micro USB male to USB Type-C male cable has an approximately 65mm cable with 4 coiled brown strands.
The design is very sleek, eye-catching, attractive. Although it is a magnet for fingerprints, as they say. I find it incongruous that it uses a micro USB connector, rather than a Type-C connection.
The size is measured, and the weight too. It looks sturdy, although the metal parts could be scratched.
Inside is a Dual ESS9219 SoC (System on Chip), in which the DAC and amplification are integrated.
There are two versions: the Android model (the one I am reviewing) and the IOS model. It is compatible with Win7, 8, 10. For Windows 10 no driver is needed. For the rest of Windows it is necessary to download the driver from the WEB. At the same time it is the exclusive ASIO driver, so it is convenient to install it for Win10 as well.
Allows exclusive mode with the HiBy Music APP. It has official MQA certification. It does not support microphone.
No volume control. Decodes MQA, DXD, DSD 64/128/256 natively. Supports 32-bit PCM up to 384kHz. Supports exclusive mode for all platforms. Has ASIO drivers. Connects in exclusive HQ USB Audio mode with HiBy Music APP. It has a multi-coloured status indicator LED:
- Red: connected, but paused.
- Green: PCM.
- Blue: DSD.
- Purple: MQA.
Very simple and also common. Sometimes, in order to have a 30 step volume control, I prefer it to have no volume control and adjust to the source much more precisely.
I don’t know if it’s the summer heat, but I’ve found that it gets a bit warm, it doesn’t burn, but it does feel warm.
As usual with Tempotec, their measurements are usually accurate. The sources have a low output impedance and a linear frequency range. Virtually all of this is true of the Sonata HD V. But let’s take a closer look at all the measurements we have acquired.
Without load, the voltage measurement is above 2V RMS, with a small decrease from low to high frequencies. This is a common occurrence, maybe my little oscilloscope has this small variation. Be that as it may, the upper measurement is 2.1V, a great value.
The maximum measurement observed without distortion in the curve gives an RMS voltage of 1.28V at 1kHz. This implies a power of 110mW and a current of just over 85mA. The specifications make it clear that at 16Ω a power of 145mW is achieved, implying a voltage of 1.52V and over 95mA. As my many measurements have shown, 90mA is the magic value that is rarely exceeded. This is strongly influenced by the input voltage and many other things. So, it was clear that this value would not be very achievable in practice, maybe in the labs yes… But, be that as it may, 110mW for 15Ω is spectacular, with those 85mA of current delivery. Nothing to complain about.
I love Tempotec and surprises: 1.82V at 33Ω = 100mW and 55mA. Above specification and without a hint of visible distortion – what’s the point of cheating? It’s not among the best in terms of power, but it has a good kick.
The maximum is achieved with the top load. Tempotec gives its maximum voltage at this impedance without decay at any frequency: 2.07V at 1kH.
Frequency response is absolutely flat from 20Hz to 20kHz, with no crosstalk at different volumes. Linearity is excellent from 10Hz to 30kHz and reaches 40kHz with a very slight roll-off. Hi-Res sound without restriction.
It is worth noting that the sound of the Tempotec Sonata HD V is worthy of its Dual DAC ESS9219 and as a SoC it leaves little room for alteration. This is not a bad thing, on the contrary. The purity of the Sabre character is fully exposed, with all its virtues and also flaws, for those who don’t like analytical sound. But as I am an avowed fan and this is not the first time I have tried this SoC, I know what I am dealing with and the sound really is as I expected it to be. It’s a neutral, slightly bright profile, although it’s not as cold as before. Somehow it feels more mature, although I still think there is an analytical side to it and this is corroborated when paired with more detailed headphones. It can also accentuate the mid-highs in some of the prominent IEMS in this area, though it can also counteract the warm character of some of them. In this sense, it’s not a completely neutral source, in terms of synergy with the connected headphones, as the Sabre SoC makes its presence felt. I enjoyed it much more with neutral headphones or headphones with a darker or warmer tendency. In these cases, I found the synergy to be proactive. I found sparkle and more brightness with the Falcon Pro and its Atmospheric filter, as well as a highly recommendable pairing with Penon Audio’s warm IEMS and a bit of a missing edge with the Letshuoer S12, among other favourites in my collection. But I also felt a sharper, clearer and, why not to say so, more critical and demanding character of the IEMS of the other segment emphasised. In this respect, the analytical character, combined with not very good recordings, does not sit too well. When connected to this type of headphones, the chain must retain its quality for a more pleasant listening experience. That’s my recommendation: warm headphones will be more forgiving with more ordinary recordings. But if you want to achieve critical listening, try the more detailed IEMS with the best recordings – this is when the Sonata HD V’s great potential can be realised.
The lower range of the HD V is characterised by a high level of agility. The technical character is apparent from the bass, which is fast, just the right weight, with slight decay, great definition and dryness. There is a remarkable ability to layer complex passages and separate them without dilution, allowing it to be used with wilder electronic music when paired with competent IEMS. The HD V will be able to handle with remarkable skill, a great deal without saturating. And that is not within the reach of many sources. Others, when faced with this challenge, tend to muddy the sound, to ignore details, sacrificing the bottom end and compacting the bass. Here, the clarity and analytical capacity of the Sabre SoC shines through in the low frequency range.
Special mention should be made of the midrange, more so with the new dynamic drivers. This association is fully productive and rich. The detailed character of the HD V brings out the organic plasticity of these IEMS, maximising their resolution potential. In this way, voices acquire a superior evocative power, as well as a fleshier body, a more evident texture, thanks to the emancipation of the nuances resolved by a more suggestive analytical power. The higher level of resolution and definition serves to accompany and dress with complex elegance the instrumentation of the central range. The result is an opulent and more lush fringe, which takes an organic or analogue feel to a resolute extreme of another level.
The timbre of the centre range is offset by achieving a neutrality. The weight of the notes is just right, there is no excess in the low end, nor in the mids. This allows for a higher speed, more transparency and the possibility to reach the bottom with a dark and discernible silence at the same time.
If the coupling is with more analytical, vivid or bright headphones, the result can become more overwhelming, critical, even fatiguing, at least in my case.
The upper range is explicit and airy. It continues with a very eloquent weight and thinness, the treble is neither too fine nor too penetrating, but bright and remarkable. This is coupled with a high descriptive level, along with the speed already characteristic of the SoC. Sabre continues to mature and the treble is no longer as cold. They can become crisp, but more weighted, balanced, contributing to the liveliness and dynamism of the sound. The amount of air is also remarkable, the music sounds clean, very well sculpted, defined and full of resolution. Note construction is categorical, nothing is left to chance or imagination. HD V knows how to assemble the music, the structure is clear, perspicuous, like a good 3D shot, with concise and precise lines, well separated and discernible. In this way, the image is open, wide but concrete. The limits are known despite its size. The good positioning and accuracy in the musical development somehow traps the scene and attaches it to a real and closer environment. The good airy feel and sparkle adds a point of ethereal or vaporous level to the mix. But a certain limitation in depth generates a rather frontal, oval stage, with remarkable height and good zenithal presence, even, but without being fully immersive, although it can be surprising in this aspect. To highlight a remarkable laterality of the sound and, again, I want to emphasize the musical construction, because it is structurally precise and very well defined. And so I think this is a virtue of a good analytical sound.
Tempotec has pioneered and continues to set the benchmark for dongle devices. It has taken an ESS9219 Dual DAC SoC and dressed it up in a small and perhaps the most elegant body in the series. The good results are not long in coming, as the solution delivers sound that can be found at higher price points. Technically, the Sonata HD V is very competent, precise, highly resolving, high-definition and high-resolution. The large dynamic range is evident and the sound is very clean, clear, open and airy. At the same time, Sabre has matured its sound away from being simple, analytical and cold. In my opinion, the analytical aspect is preserved, but with a more balanced, less exalted and better implemented development.
On the other hand, the output is single 3.5mm, although with a remarkable power, a micro USB socket is still used and there is no volume control. After so many models, one misses a more ambitious solution in terms of controls (volume, gain, bass boost) and audio outputs (SE 3.5mm + BAL 4.4mm). The best thing is that Tempotec can surely do it.
Earphones and Sources Used During Analysis
- HiBy R3 Pro
- Xiaomi Redmi Note 8 Pro
- Penon Globe
- Hidizs MD4
- Rose QT9 MK2s
- TRN Kirin
- BQEYZ Topaz
- Dunu Falcon Pro
- Tin HiFi T2 Plus
- Yanyin Aladdin
- Ikko OH10
- Letshuoer S12