The Tempotec Sonata E44 is a dongle DAC with dual Cirrus Logic CS43131 DAC chips and a balanced 4.4mm headphone jack. It’s essentially a balanced and improved version of the Tempotec Sonata E35. The Sonata E44 retails at $89.
Tempotec is a Chinese electronics manufacturer that specializes in digital audio products. Their mission statement is to “Simplify the functionality and operation but remain the flexibility and sound quality.”
Disclaimer: This sample was provided by Tempotec for the purpose of an honest review. All observations and opinions here are my own based on my experience with the product.
I want nothing better, more flexible or more complete than the sonata form, which contains everything necessary for my structural purposes.
The Sonata E44 comes in an unassuming box with a white cardboard sleeve that has a line illustration of the device on the front. Opening the box, we find the contents of the package securely seated in a foam insert. The contents include:
Tempotec Sonata E44
USB Type-C female to USB male adapter
4.4mm balanced to 3.5mm SE adapter
Protective front cover
Protective rear cover
Hi-Res Audio sticker
Wet and dry cleaning wipes
The Sonata E44 at a glance looks similar to most dongle DACs i.e. it has a small black rectangular chassis. It has faceted edges so it doesn’t feel as rigid in the hand as some alternative dongles. Unlike a lot of other dongles, the E44 doesn’t have any LED indicator so you’ll have to rely on your ears to determine if it works or not.
Instead of having detachable cables at either end (like the Hidizs S9 Pro), the E44 has fixed cables: a USB Type-C on one end and the 4.4mm headphone jack on the other. The latter makes sense as the chassis itself is not large enough to accommodate a 4.4mm jack. The cables are of the silver-plated single crystal copper variety and look to be of audiophile quality.
On the front of the device is a volume rocker – something I’m always happy to see on a dongle DAC. It has a satisfying and audible tactile click. What I like about it is that it works independently from the source volume, similar to what we saw on the Hiby FC3.
Internally, the Sonata E44 sports the same dual CS43131 DAC chips as the E35 but this time with a fully balanced circuit. It supports up to 32Bit PCM / 384kHz DSD256 (native) DSD128 (DOP) and has output power of 175mW/32ohm. That’s slightly lower than the Hidizs S9 Pro but still impressive for a dongle and sufficient to drive most IEMs and efficient headphones.
Overall, the build quality of the unit feels good, including the fixed cables that have good strain relief on all connections.
There has been a lot of excitement over Tempotec’s Sonata products so I was curious to hear one for myself. After spending many hours with the Sonata E44, I can see, or rather hear, why there are so many fans of these dongle DACs.
One of the most noticeable characteristics of the Sonata E44 is its bass extension. It seems to dig a little deeper than similarly priced dongles. Or it could just be a perceived value related to the general sound signature of the E44 so I’ll start there first.
The E44 has a dynamic presentation and to my ears a subtle lift in the upper mids and treble. It comes across as being airy and spacious with good detail retrieval and resolution, even more so when using the 4.4mm balanced output as opposed to the 3.5mm adapter.
Bass is neutral but complete, giving a full-bodied and powerful sound to IEMs and headphones. It’s a bass that maintains definition and clarity but with a powerful feeling. As a result, the mids are unsullied by the lows, giving them a more open and spacious feel.
Listening to Airbag’s “Disconnected“, the vocals are front and centre while the electric guitars and upper midrange are brought forward. The bass is upfront and hits with authority. Treble notes are subtly accentuated too, perfect for darker headphones or IEMs.
The Sonata E44’s treble is crisp and precise with a fast decay. Hi-hats and cymbal sheens sound natural as they fade into blackness. The E44 has good detail retrieval too, thanks to its treble extension and tidy overall presentation.
Hifiman Sundara: The Sundara is a balanced, slightly warm headphone with a good bass response and excellent resolution. Paired with the E44, the bass goes deep but has that exceptional planar driver control. The lower mids are a little pushed back while the upper midrange and treble get a very subtle lift. Fast transients and the neutral midrange make this pairing sound clean and resolving.
The Sonata E44 can easily drive these headphones with power to spare. There’s no way to measure what level I’m at due to the DACs discreet volume controls but my guess is I’m listening around 50% (10-12 clicks from minimum with 32 total volume steps).
Moondrop KATO: KATO is a balanced IEM with a clean, airy sound. Paired with the E44, vocals are articulate with excellent clarity and have good density. Some sounds such as electric guitars and piano notes are emphasized slightly, producing a touch of added brightness. Bass notes have good texture and layering combined with a fast decay. The soundstage is well organized and there’s nothing but black space between instruments.
The Tempotec Sonata E44 is another great entry into the sub $100 dongle market. It carries all the hallmarks of a quality product i.e. a solid build, good quality cables and firm, tactile button presses. When it comes to sound, this dongle plays among the best in its price range with a crisp, spacious sound. If you’ve been looking for a dongle DAC with a 4.4mm jack, look no further: the Sonata E44 has got you covered.