TempoTec Sonata E44

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 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.

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.

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ ($89.00)

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

Back to #donglemadness

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

84 Comments

  1. Excellent review with detailed analysis ❤️
    I mostly care for soundstage , imaging, instrument seperation in dongles…
    I use Final E3000 & Campfire honeydew as my daily driver..
    Among Avani, sonata hd pro & cx pro.. which one would you suggest me for best synergies with my iems ??

    Like

    1. Thanks. I have no experience with Campfire or Final so it is hard for me to suggest. But with the three you mentioned, Avani the safest bet. Highly flexible. On top of that with just $5 you literally got nothing to lose, even your IEM tips will cost more

      Like

  2. Bought it on release, and i felt that it is like dc04 with much better transients(sonata BHD alike transients) and volume control.
    Was waiting that review for a long time, was anxious about comparing e44 to w2 and its grade, but damn, 5 stars. I am settled for a time then heh.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. PS: USB-C connectors are great on latest dongles. Had problems and disconnects with dongles like meizu\ibasso\apple\ztella, NEVER had disconnects problems with CX\avani\e44.

      Like

      1. Not side by side, but it was easy for me to discern that E44 does almost everything better especially with better note weight and timbre density of which W2 was not as rich sounding compared to the rest of the 5 Star performers. W2 despite being rated highly on paper does not perform with enough power especially when the load goes higher. Keep it with an already technically adept and highly efficient IEMs then W2 will sing, but then so does the likes of TempoTec Sonata HD Pro and ASUS ROG Clavis

        Like

      2. If you discard the other parameters except SQ, then B1 comes out on top in your ranking, I understand correctly?
        And if you also evaluate usability and power output, the E44 comes out on top?

        Like

      3. Yes, B1 without any of the cons would edge back up due to that Electrostatic airy character that I love. Also at the most extreme level of nitpicking, B1 stil hold the crown for extended micro details

        Liked by 1 person

      4. So it is better to buy B1 and E44 for comparison rather than B1 and S9 Pro?

        i.e. the B1 pulls ahead in SQ over the others, but the SQ E44 is identical to the S9 Pro, but better due to the higher power, right?

        i’m thinking of cancelling my order for the S9 Pro in favor of the E44, what do you think? will i lose the opportunity to hear probably the most satisfying signature sound for me?

        Like

      5. You are right. B1 and E44 would be my choice too. And in all fairness not saying that S9 Pro is a slacker. Before the arrival of E44 into #donglemadness, S9 Pro easily hold that crown for overall completeness. E44 changed that, with sheer power especially, and that super useful volume adjusters

        Like

  3. I’m enjoying your review. I understand that E44 has 3.5 to 4.4 converting terminals. But normally, when converting from unbalanced to balanced, doesn’t the DAC/AMP breakdown? How can you use it without breaking down?

    Like

    1. Thanks. As noted in my review, it is safe to do so without damaging the DAC/Amp because E44 has three ground points of which the included adapter will route SE ground to the common GND and eliminate the risk of short circuiting the Balanced L- and R-

      Like

  4. Been following this for a while Andy, thanks for all you do.

    I had my eye on the S9 Pro, but I think this one is better. Would you agree? Should I get the E44 instead?

    Thanks

    Like

    1. Thanks. All things considered, yes I personally see E44 has slight edge over S9 Pro. But it must be reminded that all 5 Star performers are really quite close to each other in terms of SQ. The Pro and Cons separating them mostly. Assuredly any of the 5 Star performers delivers above expected values

      Like

      1. I have already placed an order for the S9 Pro and B1. should I order a cheek and E44 for a full comparison with my iPhone? does it have a similar SQ but more usable?

        I already know that the B1 is not suitable for the iphone yet. but it is the comparison in sound quality and power output for the Tin P1/P2 that interrogates me.

        SQ I prefer detailed, but smooth, without pronounced harshness. and also, I pay special attention to deep bass and airiness of the sound.

        Like

      2. By your preference and driving power needs, E44 suits better vs S9 Pro. That 4 Vrms of power from E44 is no joke and made my P1 sings. S9 Pro is powerful too, it’s just that E44 does it slightly better with richer density. You must remember both are still neutral sounding but S9 Pro would sound slightly flatter in contrast. What is common between B1, E44 and Groove that made them stood higher than the rest, the richness in dynamic range and timbre weight. At least that’s what my ears telling me with my favorite gears

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Hi Andy.EF.

    Thank you very much for your great review. Congratulations!
    I’m glad to hear that our appreciations coincide to a large extent. Even you also think the E44 is among the best. For now, the best.
    Best regards.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Surely not as much as I do. Hahahaha.
        On another note, my measurements of the E44 and the S9 Pro tell me that the Hidizs is more powerful, especially at low impedance. It’s a strange thing because Tempotec doesn’t usually give wrong specifications, this time, the E44 is underpowered at 32 Ohms. However, your assessment in this regard proves otherwise. Do you find it as powerful as the S9 Pro? I’ve always wondered if it would be my unit….

        Like

      2. No doubt on real usage test E44 blew everything else on power delivery. My FOSTEX T40RP MK3 at 91db is a monster that has already broken the likes of iBasso DC04 and DF Cobalt. E44 is way more powerful than any of the 5 Star dongles including S9 Pro. And that’s why I specifically don’t do measurements because real usage tests normally will say otherwise. If you have a stubborn Magnetic Planar like TIN HiFi P1 you will understand my point of view

        Like

      3. I have the Tin HiFi P2 and I know it is very hard to move. I remember in my review of it, using an amplifier and the most powerful devices I’ve ever had to review it. But I haven’t really tried it with dongles, I didn’t want to burn any of them.
        It is also true that measurements with pure resistors are not really equivalent with real headphones, because we are talking about impedances (a resistance that varies with frequency). It’s not the first time I’ve had conversations like this, assuming, in the end, that the results are not completely extrapolable.
        I was just curious about your actual experience.
        Thanks for the comment.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Hi Andy,
    Aside from power on E44, is there similarity between this and Jcally JM10. I know, same chip does not say the whole story.. But I wonder..

    Like

    1. JM10 is closely similar to E44. Polished, smooth and crisp neutral sounding dongle. E44 however benefitting from extra power does exhibit more commanding dynamics texture which places it into 5 Stars segment

      Like

    1. I would not say big. S9 Pro being an ESS has that native tall but narrower staging compared to others. E44 in contrast is horizontally better spaced. But again both being 5 Star dongles, only nitpicking will make these differences really audible.

      Like

  7. Hi andy I am looking to buy a dongle dac or a portable dac for my laptop currently I am looking at a&k pee51, hidizs s9 pro, Questyle M12 and e1da powerdac v2.1.

    Currently I am leaning towards e1da powerdac v2.1 due to its pEQ and power output.

    I am looking for smooth vocals and treble without any harshness can you please suggest me something.

    Like

    1. All of the 5 Star dongles listed are neutral in sound signature as they should be like that, transparent and neutral. Among the names you mentioned, I would personally use Ovidius B1 and Apogee Groove for airy smoothness (for as long you don’t use stupid sensitive IEMs). But if you have super sensitive IEMs then TempoTec Sonata E44. These three I mentioned are just better than the rest

      Like

      1. You tryed the e1da powerdac v2.1 right. I saw that it was in your fail list was it due to sound quality or faulty unit?
        if you had a chance to listen to it can please describe its sound signature.

        Like

      2. I had a quick 2 minutes listen to it before it went to self destruct mode. PowerDAC is very clean sounding unit similar to Topping DAC approach…..a bit sterile if you ask me

        Like

  8. Andy i saw your review of the 7hz timeless powered by e44 and it was a great review for a great iem . So i bought them this iem based on ur review and the bggar review and now im searching for the best dongle dac that can give me the most out of this iem . And i didn’t eq before but i want to eq this iem . What is the best dongle dac that u suggest for this

    Like

    1. Thanks. Why on earth would you want to EQ an IEM which is already great sounding? I never use EQ and I would avoid doing that. But that’s just me. Honestly for normal use my 7Hz Timeless pairs greatly with VE Odyssey HD, very compact pairing delivering very satisfying SQ. For the best SQ, then I use E44/Ovidius B1, Apogee Groove would be awesome too if you don’t mind the gigantic size

      Like

  9. Wow. I received the E44 today. It is an amazing dongle! I think E44 is much better than Hidizs S9 Pro. Thank you for reviewing and informing a new dongle, Andy!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Is there a difference in sound between TempoTec Sonata E35 and the E44 or just power output? I’m asking because I don’t see the E35 in your rating. Tnx in advance

    Like

    1. I don’t have E35 so I can’t say much about that version. But the main difference E35 being half as powerful as E44 despite having same dual DAC internals. E35 at 2 Vrms and E44 at 4 Vrms. If you read my review, running E44 with 3,5mm common ground seems to reduce the output by 10%. And with less driving juice behind it, the more demanding IEMs/Earbuds/Headphones will likely not as optimal as it would on higher mW power at the same loudness

      Like

      1. Ya man, E35 is everywhere in Shopee/Lazada, but not for E44. Totally weird.
        Hifigo is on pre-order basis, only will ship out in October…
        I guess I will just have to wait then.

        Like

      1. I have no idea. As you can see my ratings. I have E44 on top of the ladder and I also have another TempoTec having 2 Stars rating. The MHD despite looking similar to E44 could be entirely different especially considering it uses ESS Sabre instead of Cirrus Logic like E44

        Like

  11. Hi,Andy
    I’m curious about the cable quality of this E44 dongle, because I saw in another audio group someone has Ibasso DC02, which after longtime use the cable has like greenish color on it (oxide)
    Do you think it’s possible for this E44 cable to end up with the same oxidation?

    Like

    1. Honestly I have no idea how this would pan over time. It also depends on the humidity level of the place you live. So it can be anything. So far for my own E44, I don’t see any signs of oxidation

      Like

  12. Hi Andy, great write-ups! I’m almost convinced in purchasing the Sonata E44 to try out with Sennheiser HD 660s. Was wondering have you heard or tried Kuang Pai Plus2+ (狂派plus2+) before? The Kuang Pai Plus2+ has very impressive specs: Dual ESS9038Q2M, 5.6Vrms max output, SE 150mW @ 32Ω & BAL 300mW @ 32Ω.

    I understand specs are not everything, it’s all about implementation of the circuitry and the outcome of sound to listeners. I think Sonata E44’s output and driving capability is able to produce satisfactory outcome on HD660s, but Kuang Pai Plus2+ seems to be able to drive a few notches higher. Just curious to know what’s your view and opinion on it.

    Like

    1. No I haven’t tried Kuang Pai so can’t comment on how it stake against E44. Among all of the top 3, E44 has the strongest output which as I have shown in my reviews, E44 actually stronger than Apogee Groove and Ovidius B1. Even with Ovidius B1 which is dubbed a nuclear reactor, driving stubborn stuffs are done with ease, Groove does it a bit better and E44 being No.1

      Like

  13. Hello, thanks a lot for your review….I have purchased the cx pro based on your review and it certainly does not disappoint. It is a significant upgrade over my smartphone’s audio. I cannot thank you enough for all these resources that you provide in your website. I really appreciate it.

    I would like to upgrade to the e44, hoping that it will improve on SOUNDSTAGE and single ended performance….I will be using it mainly single ended with the yincrow x6 for a while.
    Please let me know if it will a be a noticeable upgrade over the cx pro if only singled output is used through the the adapter provided.

    Like

    1. Thanks. Don’t buy E44 if you don’t plan to use the 4.4mm BAL. That’s where the real deal is. Using 3.5mm SE adapter on E44 will only give you 80-90% of what E44 capable of. If soundstage is what you looking for then get THX Onyx, the ultimate dongle for wide and spacious soundstage. Or Apogee Groove, CENtrance DACport HD or ASUS ROG Clavis. The other dongles will only offer marginal soundstage variance that you may or may not notice

      Like

      1. Thanks for mentioning these dongles…I would love to get the thx onyx, though I cant right now due to budget constraints.
        And also the models you mentioned are not availbe in my country.
        Loto, tempotec, hidizs, E1DA, JCALLY JM10, Audirect…these are the available choices that I have.
        Anyway thanks for letting me know the best in soundstage.

        The first I noticed when i switched from my smartphone to cx pro was soundstage and no more shouty vocals. That is the reason that I got excited about soundstage.

        But single ended is only considered, what do you recommend as an upgrade if soundstage is not of concern. I will be okay with cx pro level soundstage. Please do consider the choices that I mentioned.

        Like

      2. Then it will be hard to beat the CX-Pro on soundstage. But you can try Abigail and see if your headphone can pick up any further improvements

        Like

      3. OK then…I will try and get the Dacport HD.
        Also if that is not possible then I would like to get the Shanling UA2 based on your review, it has good bass and is warm. I feel x6 is a little bass shy and little bright. Will the UA2 correct it.
        Thanks a lot for your help.

        Like

      4. E44 has the best bass responses actually. And yes UA2 as well. The others are a bit flatter. DACport HD is only available directly via CEntrance US and you must consider the complications around shipping it to your country. Took almost three months for my unit to arrive to Malaysia

        Like

      5. Yes…those complications are the reason I am holding back from ordering the Dacport. The custom clearance is pretty complicated in my country already. So I don’t want to take the risk. So no Dacport. I think I have to compromise on the soundstage part. I don’t have a choice.

        The cx pro I believe is not that good in bass response.Since you mentioned e44 for good bass aswell, both ua2 and e44 are my considerations. Both of them are available locally.

        For single ended use only…what do you recommend?
        I will be using the balanced out in the future though.
        Thank you.

        Like

      6. Then there’s E35 in SE mode purely. Get that instead. It has same internals as E44 except that the grounding is different because it is pure SE (no dual mono R- and L- grounds), While I haven’t tested E35 personally, I think the sound signature should be similar to E44

        Like

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