The First Impression Is The One That Remains
- Neutral, balanced, well-defined, delicate and harmonious sound
- Great sense of openness, wide and deep stage.
- Real balanced output.
- Charging circuit separated from the data input.
- Connectivity capability.
- Volume increase is smooth and allows for a good adjustment.
- The somewhat high weight, together with the glass surface, gives a feeling that it can be broken by an accidental impact.
- No protective cover.
- No volume indicator.
Link to the Store
Again, I’m going to look at a TempoTec brand product. This time it’s the Sonata iDSD Plus, a DAC/AMP with 3.5mm audio output, 2.5mm real balanced output, volume control and internal battery, 3.7V and 2000mAh. This Plus version uses two ES9018K2M chips as DACs, one for each channel. In the same way, it also uses two ES9601K chips, as an amplifier. It has several USB connections, for IOS, for PC/Android and a dedicated socket for charging. Of course, it has ASIO drivers and is compatible with Windows 7/8/10. It also has a HiBy Music HBD150A chip.
The Tempotec Sonata iDSD Plus comes in a plain black box. Its surface has a light texture. Two transparent, circle-shaped stickers seal the box as a guarantee, on its inner side. On the top side, only the letters «SONATA», inscribed in black, are shown in the middle and the product description is shown in smaller letters at the bottom. The dimensions of the box are 156x96x53mm
After lifting the lid, you can see the amplifier wrapped in a thin white bag, embedded in a thick foam mold. A cloth strip helps to unpack the device. Once the DAC/AMP is removed and under the mold, there are several accessories:
- One USB 2.0 micro type B male flat cable, to USB 2.0 micro type B male
- A short USB 2.0 micro type B male cable, to USB 2.0 type C male.
- One short USB 2.0 type A male cable, to USB 2.0 micro type B male.
- Two rubber bands.
- Four adhesive films to protect the glass surface of the DAC/AMP.
- Instruction manual.
- Two Hi-Res certification stickers.
The content is quite brief. Cables are sufficient, but not very suitable: I prefer short, twisted cables, like the one you can find in the Sonata HD Pro. Also, I miss some silicone sleeves, to protect the device.
Construction and Design
The device is shaped like a Smartphone, without a screen. It has an aluminum structure that surrounds it completely. The upper and lower sides are each glazed. These are protected with transparent plastic sheets. On the upper side are the letters of the brand, in the upper area, while in the lower area, you can read the model name, web address, description of the device and certification logos. The bottom side is completely smooth and only one blue LED can be seen, near one of the corners. This LED lights up when the device is charging. On the lower edge, there are three USB connections, one type A female, for connection to IOS and two type B female microphones, the central one is for connection to PC/Android and the side one is for charging the device. On the side edge closest to the charging port, there are two round buttons, to control the volume, inside which you can see the plus and minus symbols. On the top edge is the ON/OFF button, a power indicator LED, the 2.5mm balanced jack, in the middle and towards the other corner, the 3.5mm jack. There is nothing on the remaining side edge.
The external construction is very fine and elegant. The device is very compact and somewhat heavy. This is why it conveys a feeling of fragility, rather, a certain fear that it may break, due to careless use or unintentional falling. Hence, as I said before, I would have preferred some kind of silicone case.
Inside, the DAC section, is made up of two ESS ES9018K2M chips, one for each channel. While the amplification, is made by two ESS ES9601K chips. The implemented oscillators are military grade. It has a 3.7v and 2000mAh battery that provides 10 hours of autonomy.
It can be chosen in three colors, those colors refer to the aluminum edge.
The Sonata iDSD Plus can be connected to PC/Android via the USB micro Type B data port. The USB Type A port could also be used, in private mode, for Android devices. For PCs, it will be convenient to download the driver from the support page:
For operation with Android devices, it will be necessary to use the HibyMusic APP.
For use with Apple computers, just connect to the USB micro Type B data port.
For connection with iPhone or iPad, the USB Type A port must be used.
The device has separate data and charging ports, and can be charged while in use.
It has a classic headphone output, 3.5mm and a real balanced output, 2.5mm, which has more power than the classic output.
When turned on, the device is always at the same volume, a moderate level, but it will never damage the connected headphones.
32 Ω 1.622V 82.22mW
100 Ω 1.94V 37.64mW
240 Ω 1.99V 16.5mW
320 Ω 1.99V 12.38mW
620 Ω 2.01V 6.52mW
With these measures, it can be read that there is a power limitation at 32 Ω and that the output impedance is between 1 and 2 Ω.
The frequency response is very flat from 20 to 20kHz, dropping 1dB at the ends, i.e. below 20Hz and above 20kHz. This very slight loss is outside the audible range, so it is imperceptible as well as insignificant. As demonstrated, the Sonata iDSD Plus meets the Hi-Res specification.
The profile of the Sonata iDSD Plus is completely flat, neutral, natural, without any artifacts. It stands out for its great clarity, transparency and lack of colouring.
The neutrality is expressed from the low area, starting with very clean and clear bass, which enjoy a remarkable definition and precision. The iDSD Plus never bloats the bass, but tends to be played with delicacy, subtlety, finesse and precision. There is no emphasis on the bass, nor is there any warmth, but the sound cannot be described as cold, at all. The tendency is towards naturalness, a development of the bass without exaggeration or excess, starting from a clear respect for fidelity, without boasting, but without lying. However, the presentation is not completely sober, but there is light and a lot of transparency, which favors the low area is slightly soft, with a texture not very rough, a very realistic color and a power controlled and very measured, but without feeling lost.
It is in the mid zone where the level of transparency is accentuated and gains in prominence. This quality reveals the capacity of iDSD Plus to provide the mids with a remarkable naturalness. The amount of light is at the right point of neutrality, without turning towards either warmth or analytical coldness. In this sense, the realism of the sound does not lean towards any band either, remaining balanced, both for the instrumentation and for the voices. The mids also enjoy a good sense of openness and separation, the instruments are positioned precisely and distinctively. There is no clumping and the voices are projected differently, with a realistic timbre, full and fairly balanced, with little roughness, but with a good body and definition.
The treble is projected under the premise of control and balance, following its profile of neutrality and respect. In this way, the first trebles are reproduced in a soft and delicate way. The upper zone is full of details, due to its richness and level of definition. But what is most outstanding about the sound is its greatness and amount of air, as well as the very pleasant and well extended tonality of the treble. The Sonata iDSD Plus does not have any tendency to shrillness or excessive brightness, but neither is it susceptible to filing off the treble too much, but only represents it in a neutral and very pleasant way.
When I first tried the Sonata iDSD Plus, I was very surprised by its level of transparency, feeling of spaciousness and amount of air. The ability to widen the sound, while remaining very neutral and true to the real image of the music, was the virtue that made me stay connected to it, until the battery held out. Sometimes, you can look for warmth, other times, a more analytical sound… But, the Sonata, is able to reproduce music in a way that has neither. However, that sound is equally pleasant, open, smooth, natural and balanced, with remarkable depth and a good dose of three-dimensionality.
The first version of the Q1 is already a bit old, but it was once priced similar to the Sonata iDSD Plus. The advantages of the Q1 over the Sonata are the size and the 3.5mm input, which allows it to be used only as an amplifier. On the other hand, the Sonata is more versatile in its USB connections, offering a wider range of possibilities for use. Another difference is volume control, analog in the Q1, by means of a potentiometer; digital, by buttons, in the Sonata. Finally, the Q1 has a gain, extra-bass and charge selector. Meanwhile, the Sonata has a balanced output.
In terms of sound, the Q1 has a cruder, less refined and narrower sound than the Sonata. The profile is also neutral, but more dull, more boring. Its lower zone is not as expressive and expands to a lesser degree. However, the bass of the Sonata, has more depth, descriptive capacity and better definition. It also has a greater amount of air, there is more space inside its lower zone.
The duller nuance of the Q1 is evident in the mids, even though they are well executed, they are perceived as very dry, not very expressive and lacking in emotion. In the Sonata, its higher level of transparency gives the mid-range a special light, which brings naturalness, a sweeter and more intoxicating sound. The Q1 is not capable of providing as many nuances and micro details as the Sonata does.
In the high zone is the key, the Sonata has an advantage over Q1 in terms of definition, dynamics, realism, nuance and resolution level, all without losing the naturalness that characterizes it. The highs in Q1 are less polished and feel less fine, like sieves; its sonority is harder, even sounding with a point of artificiality. The change to the Sonata is perceived as more harmonious and delicate, with a superior fineness and a higher resolution pattern, without losing softness.
Another differential jump is perceived in the scene of both devices: The Sonata offers a more open and expansive sound than the one generated by the Q1, which is simpler, centered and rough. The greater amount of air and level of transparency, opens the sound of the iDSD, providing, in addition, a feeling of softness and harmony that lacks the Q1. Similarly, the level of separation is clearly greater in the Sonata, being its instrumental positioning more realistic, better located, more airy and better drawn.
In order to test the balanced output, I will compare the Sonata iDSD Plus with the Sabaj DA3, which is a battery-free DAC.
The sound of the Sabaj DA3 is more direct and, above all, energetic. It generates a more crisp, sharper-edged, more abrupt and harder sound. The upper zone is more pronounced, even with more emphasis. The treble is wider and more penetrating. In the Sonata, the high end has a mellower feel, which contrasts with the louder sound of the DA3. The complexity of the high notes is greater in the iDSD, producing a richer and more extensive sonority. The high notes of the DA3, on the other hand, tend to be more concentrated and do not expand as much. The midrange of the Sabaj has a slight delay, comparatively speaking. Voices are shown to be one point behind the strong upper zone. Thus, the richness of detail is masked by this fact. However, in the Sonata, the mid zone stands out in this aspect, overflowing with naturalness, light and realism, projecting both the voices and the instruments in a more complete and open, detailed and smooth way, with a greater definition and resolution capacity.
The lower zone of the DA3 has a more simplistic tendency, focused on the mid-bass, without sounding as deep and elaborate as the Sonata. In addition, it still has that sharp and direct, powerful and concise look, but without providing as much information and number of planes as the iDSD Plus does. The low end of the Sonata sounds big and wide, expanding naturally but not fading, with good resolution and a smooth, descriptive texture. The DA3, on the other hand, offers a more abrupt, rough and brief texture, its trace is not as informative and is more monotonous, with fewer layers.
The scene of the Sonata, from the depth of the lower zone, the clarity and light of the mid zone and the extension of the treble, is bigger than the one offered by the Sabaj. The sound of the DA3 is narrower, more concise and direct, more concentrated and focused, but with more energy and a more vivid feeling. The separation is good in both devices, but the more relaxed character of the iDSD, is also understood by a greater separation, which allows diluting the energy in a more pleasant, spacious and harmonious environment.
Sometimes, the more reviews I write, the more difficult it is for me to describe the sensations produced by a sound device. But in this case, from the beginning, the Tempotec Sonata iDSD Plus, caused a very pleasant feeling of neutrality, expansion and harmony, which made me think that I was in front of a DAC/AMP with which I was going to spend many hours together. And so it has been, since I received it, I have taken my time to see if that initial feeling matured or changed. And the good news has been that my opinion of him is still the same as it was on the first day.
The Sonata offers a very neutral sound, but never boring, very open and pleasant, realistic and extensive. Its balance is shown in all the bands and in all of them, there is something that allows you to enjoy the ranges in a special way: the depth and width of the low zone; the clarity and light of the mid zone; the extension, delicacy and resolution of the highs… It is something that is instinctively perceived, but it is difficult to explain, but it prevails, even when compared to the rest. Humbly, it is a sound that I like and that I search for, intuitively and to which I will return, remembering that first time.
Headphones Used During Analysis
- Takstar Pro80
- Ikko OH10
- NS Audio NS5MKII Bass
- Faaeal Hibiscus
- Moondrop Kanas Pro
- Magaosi V3
- BGVP ARTMAGIC DH3
- Tansio Mirai TSMR-2