I’ve been waiting for quite a long time for this product and this review. We’ve awarded EarMen with two “Best of 2020” awards last year, as their Eagle and TR-Amp were both exceptionally good devices. Hence, ever since I’ve heard of them preparing a desktop DAC I was quite intrigued, that could be something really good.
Here we are, the Tradutto is a thing now, it’s launched and I had it for a couple of weeks to play around with and to prepare this review. Ever since my rather underwhelming experience with the Topping D90se, I was looking for some great DACs around the $1000 price market. EarMen and Auris Audio have both proved themselves a lot of times in the past, so let’s see what have they come up with this time.
First things first, the unboxing experience. The Tradutto has the coolest presentation of all the DACs I’ve reviewed in a very long time. The box is quite hefty and well-put-together, and it sports a really nice-looking graphic on top.
Underneath the outer sleeve, there’s a box with the strongest magnetic flap I’ve seen…this thing holds really strong. Apart from the DAC itself, the box contains some accessories like a Bluetooth antenna, a full-metal, sweet remote control, a power supply with interchangeable types of connectors as well as a really nice quality USB cable.
The overall experience is really good, it is far superior to everything Topping and SMSL have ever done in terms of the packaging, and it shouldn’t be a surprise, as both EarMen and Auris are more of a boutique type of company.
Let’s talk about that remote control for a second. I wish more companies would include such a good quality accessory to their DACs or Amplifiers. The remote itself is tiny and made entirely of metal. It has some weight to it and it’s just a pure joy to use, providing you with some basic controls, such as power on/off, Bluetooth button, and input selector.
Design and Build
The Tradutto is a rather small DAC, especially for the features it packs. It is made entirely of a single block of aluminum, and the overall build quality is spot-on. Even though the unit is quite small, it’s quite heavy and very substantial feeling.
On the front, it has a screen that shows the most important information, such as the input being currently used and the sampling rate of a music file. While it is not something that would change your life, it is still a cool addition and a handy feature making your life just a little bit easier.
The whole unit looks modern and very sleek, though the edges are rather on a sharper side. While you won’t be cutting your hands while handling it, it is still worth mentioning.
The device stands on four rubber feet that add a little bit of height to the whole construction. It offers proper isolation from vibration coming from your desk or hi-fi rack, and I’m not gonna lie, I always liked the look of rather tall feet on my audio devices. It complements the overall industrial design of the Tradutto.
The only thing that I would have changed is the branding. It would have looked better with more subtle and minimal branding. The “Tradutto” etched on the top looks fantastic, and I don’t see the need of putting that name on the front of the DAC as well. It’s nitpicking though, as the overall presentation of the Tradutto, both in terms of the physical appearance as well as the packaging is just brilliant. Job well done.
Okay, the Earmen Tradutto is a $799 DAC, which means that whatever is under the hood is the most important, and here things are even more interesting.
Firstly, it is built around the ES9038Q2M sitting on a Gold Plated PCB to ensure a clean, low resistance contact. This chip is capable of doing 32bit/768kHz or DSD512 without breaking a sweat, which is quite important for a DAC to compete in 2021/2022.
Secondly, the Tradutto offers full MQA support for all of you using Tidal, me included. Even though there have been some controversies around MQA lately, I still think it is a nice thing to have. The latest MQA versions of Pink Floyd albums sound extraordinary on Tidal, and with the Tradutto, you’ll be able to experience them fully.
Another great thing about this DAC is its built-in Bluetooth support. It uses a Qualcomm QCC5124 chip to “meet the demand for robust, high quality, wireless Bluetooth listening experiences in small devices with low power consumption for longer audio playback”. While you probably won’t use it too much while sitting by the desk, the moment you plug the Tradutto into your stereo setup you’ll start to really appreciate it. It’s convenient to just connect to it wirelessly from time to time and quickly get going with some Tidal action.
Now, into probably the most important thing. As I said, the Earmen Tradutto is a rather small and compact full-size DAC, so it’s really nice to see that it is fully balanced, from top to bottom. It doesn’t have XLR outputs though, as they would simply be too big for the chassis, so Earmen went with 4.4mm Pentaconn output. While it is not the most convenient, as it’s not a standard for balanced connections yet, you still have the option to connect it to a balanced amplifier and take full advantage of its topology. I just got an iFi Audio 4.4mm to 2x XLR balanced cable and plugged the Tradutto right into the Ferrum OOR that sits on my desk, and the results have been astonishing.
I’d like to note one thing though. Earmen, please, if you do decide on a type of connection that is not widely used yet, include even a basic cable for us to get going. I’ve had some issues looking for a proper cable to take the full potential out of the Tradutto, so it would have been nice to find even a very basic and cheap cable in the box for a start. It might make you price the Tradutto 10-20 bucks higher, but I think it would have been more than fair.
Lastly, you have probably seen some photos of the Tradutto sitting on top of a very similar device on the internet. Well, I’ve seen it too, but failed to get any information about it using google. It looks like the Tradutto is the first device of a whole line coming up in 2022, which looks to have a dedicated amplifier as well as a streamer in it. This would have been absolutely marvelous to have a stack so compact, yet offering such high quality. Earmen, definitely go that route.
Here’s some additional information from the manufacturer, which might be useful for some of you:
We used XMOS with 16 cores (XU216), which with its excellent performance enabled us to hardware decode MQA as well as other necessary functions for listening to music.
The clock is carefully adjusted and has minimal jitter.
The digital and analog part of the circuit is also carefully separated by the power supply
We used wima capacitors to obtain the lowest THD, as well as audio electrolytes in combination with MELF low noise resistors and SoundPlus OPA1642 operational amplifiers which proved to be great for getting neutral sound.
Let’s get into the part that you’re here for, the sound quality. The easiest way to describe the Tradutto is incredibly natural, non-fatiguing, and full-bodied, with great detail reproduction and superb resolution.
As always, let’s start with the bass. It is big, bold, and rich, without any signs of being bloated or slow. It somehow reminds me of the Topping D90se, which offers a very similar approach to low frequencies. Both DACs are sounding fun, full-bodied, and just correct.
No matter which headphones I use with the Tradutto though, they still determine the type of bass that ends up going into your ears. For example, when paired with the Final D8000 Pro, the bass is tight and bouncy sounding, with rich textures and great extension. When I switch to the Hifiman Susvara, it immediately sounds more rounded and relaxed, but never slow or lacking in resolution.
That’s the level of sound we’ve got into regarding DACs in recent years. They do offer incredibly low distortion and high resolution, which give you a great impact and physicality to the sound.
It is not 2016 though, as these super-high-resolution DACs back then tended to sound a little shouty and lean. The Tradutto is everything but that, actually reminding me of a good R2R DAC in terms of its sound signature. So yeah, if you like that natural, big and physical bass that is very well-controlled at the same time, the Tradutto definitely has it all.
The midrange is even more reminiscent of a good R2R DAC. It is quite thick and romantic sounding, focusing mainly on the detail reproduction and that natural, slightly warm timbre.
The Tradutto is a master of vocals in this price range, offering sweet, hypnotizing voices that are very detailed and full of life.
Here, the differences between the Tradutto and the D90se start to show up, with the latter sounding a bit more sterile and lacking in the body in comparison. The overall amount of detail is quite similar, with a slight edge for Topping, but it’s just micro details, of which the D90se is probably the king on the current market.
So, back to the impressions. I’ve tried a bunch of different amplifiers and headphones with the Tradutto, and every single pairing gave me great midrange reproduction. When paired with the OOR and the Susvara, the sound becomes incredibly detailed and pleasant at the same time, with some fantastic vocal reproductions, definitely some of the best I’ve heard.
No matter if we’re talking about Stevie Nicks from Fleetwood Mac, RY X, or Bjørn Riis of Airbag, all of them sound sweet, welcoming, and just “you’re there” like. For me, this is the most important aspect of good sound. I can have the best resolution and detail reproduction in the market (wink wink D90se), and still have some problems with enjoying the music that I’m listening to. While the midrange doesn’t entirely do it to me with the D90SE (spoiler alert, it’s soundstage), the Tradutto still comes up as more natural and pleasant sounding of the two.
The treble is a natural continuation to the midrange when we’re talking about the Tradutto. It is yet again full-sounding, pleasant, and musical with fantastic detail reproduction and resolution. Here, the Tradutto comes as more soft and rounded sounding than the D90SE, which gives us an overall warmer and thicker sound signature of the two.
Don’t make it fool you though, as the high frequencies of the Tradutto are far from sounding dull or recessed. It is more about the amount of body and the overall timbre of the sound. The overall technical capabilities of the Tradutto are brilliant, and it is just about its slightly sweet and romantic soul that adds to it.
The cymbals sound like a big chunk of metal, which is actually good. I often feel like they should sound a bit thicker with many pieces of equipment that I’m testing, and it’s not the case with the Tradutto. It is just right.
As far as female vocal goes, they do sound sweet and seductive, but they tend to get in the front row and take you right into a very romantic and pleasant trip. They are nowhere close to being recessed or veiled, giving you a feeling that the vocalist sings right in front of you, which is something that is widely desired.
Now, into the biggest difference between the Tradutto and the D90SE – the soundstage.
See, the Topping D90SE would have been an almost perfect DAC, if it wasn’t for its staging capabilities. The 90SE doesn’t have any soundstage depth, none, null. This is very unfortunate, because I actually bought the thing around three months ago, hoping it’ll be my reference DAC for quite a long time to come.
Sadly, after testing four different units in countless (literally, there’s been dozens) different systems, both in headphones and speakers, me and my friends came up to the conclusion that it simply has a very bad soundstage, so bad that it made the D90SE sound broken.
And then there’s been the day when my Tradutto was expected to be delivered. I still remember when after unpacking it I plugged it right into my setup in place of the D90SE, played a first song that came into my mind (it was Edison’s Children – Dusk, a fantastic song both musically and in terms of testing staging capabilities of audio equipment – definitely recommended!), and…I found peace. Compared to the D90SE, Tradutto offered a soundstage depth that is so huge and vast, it almost sounded like the Topping was broken, and as I stated before, it wasn’t.
So, this rather long story has a conclusion – the soundstage of the Tradutto is just fantastic, both in terms of its size as well as the imaging. It clearly goes out of your head and gives you a great feeling of spaciousness. While it is not THE biggest nor THE most accurate staging I’ve ever seen, it’s nothing to be ashamed of, to say the least.
Here’s the paragraph to summarize all the comparisons made between these two DACs in the Sound section of this review.
The Topping D90SE offers a slightly better detail retrieval and an overall insight into the music, being a more analytical and an almost “microscope-like” type of experience. However, the Tradutto sounds fuller, more musical, more natural and its soundstage is miles ahead of the Topping, especially in its depth. While going as far as calling the D90SE “broken” wouldn’t be entirely fair, considering that it has some aspects to it that are probably the best on the market, I can’t see anybody going for it after comparing these two DACs. The Tradutto is just a more pleasant and natural experience and given its huge soundstage advantage, it comes as a superior DAC to me, without the slightest doubt.
This comparison is pretty interesting, as both DACs share many similarities in terms of their sonic performance. Both are slightly warm and lush sounding, with hard-hitting bass and great vocal reproduction. However, the Tradutto offers a better sense of realism and slightly better detail reproduction, giving a more sublime and overall more mature sound. On top of that, it’s built better, has a better unboxing experience, and a smaller footprint.
On the other hand, the SU-9 is literally half the price of the Tradutto, and it does offer a brilliant value even today in very late 2021. The choice between these two should come down entirely to your budget and whether you want something that is more boutique and interesting. Both DACs are exceptional and their tuning is somewhat similar, and the more expensive one is better…is it 2x price difference better? It’s just a matter of perspective. For me it is, but it might not be for you. I recommend trying both between making a final decision.
Here’s a comparison between our “Best DAC 2020” and “Best DAC 2021”. They are priced similarly, with Tradutto going for $799, and the NEO iDSD costing $699.
First things first, the physical aspect. The NEO iDSD still makes me smile every time I see it, because of its very interesting and futuristic design. It can also stand vertically, something that is impossible with the Tradutto.
The build quality however goes to Earmen, and by a huge margin. See, the NEO iDSD looks great, but its build quality leaves something to be desired. At the same time, the Tradutto can be easily used as a blunt weapon, it feels denser and more substantial.
As far as the sound is considered, the Tradutto sounds more refined, neutral, and natural, with a more accurate timbre. NEO iDSD on the other hand sounds more magical and “different”, having that slightly vibrating tone and ethereal soundstage to it. While it does its magic in seducing you into the music, the Tradutto is just an overall better-sounding unit, both in terms of its timbre, as well as raw technical capabilities. If you have a separate amplifier (since the Tradutto doesn’t have one built-in), then go for the Tradutto.
I’ll keep this paragraph pretty short and straightforward. The Earmen Tradutto pairs excellently with everything I plug into it, no matter the quality and sonic signature.
It works great with the Ferrum OOR, xDuoo TA-26, and our Amplifier of the year, the XI Audio Broadway S, giving a rich and natural sound for the amplifier to work with.
In terms of the headphones, there hasn’t been a single pair that I didn’t like with the Tradutto. Our choice for the best headphone of 2021, the Audeze LCD-X 2021 sounds incredible with it, even though they do share some similarities in their tuning. It sounds great with my Final D8000 Pro, Hifiman HE1000SE, or the Susvara, giving me a great musical journey every time I turn it on.
And that’s really surprising – even though it definitely has its flavor and sound signature, it still behaves like a chameleon, pairing well with everything I’ve tried. This is the reason to call this DAC marvelous.
I’m left with no choice but to reward the EarMen Tradutto with our “Best DAC 2021” award. It does it all, starting with great design, flawless build quality, superb functionality all the way to a very mature, natural, and rich sound. At $799 it is definitely not the cheapest option on the market, but for a boutique product with such craftsmanship and the sound that involving, I definitely think it is worth every penny.
Gear used during this review for the sake of comparison and as an accompanying equipment:
- Headphones – Hifiman Susvara, HE1000se, Arya SE, Audeze LCD-X 2021, Final D8000 Pro, HEDDphone
- Sources– Topping D90se + A90, Ferrum OOR, SMSL SU9+SH9, iFi iDSD NEO, Musician Aquarius, xDuoo TA-26, LittleDot MK III SE