Review: Lotoo PAW Gold Touch- In terms of sound, I have never come across a DAP with such an uncompromising performance.....
Lotoo, a Chinese company that has now been active in the professional audio sector for over 20 years, launched an offensive in the personal audio sector some time ago – colleague Jörg Dames gave the debut Lotoo PAW 5000 excellent marks five years ago started: The mobile Digital Audio Player (DAP) should satisfy demanding audiophiles. An undertaking that has reached its peak so far with the new Lotoo PAW Gold Touch (3,350 euros).
Scope of delivery & processing
The Lotoo PAW Gold Touch is delivered in – how could it be otherwise – golden outer packaging with the Lotoo logo and a sun symbol stamped into the box. The simple black box behind it houses the DAP as the first thing visible. In smaller modular boxes underneath you will find the other enclosures: quick start guide, warranty card, USB-C cable for data transfer and charging the DAP, three tempered glass protective films to effectively protect the touchscreen from scratches and breakage, and a genuine leather case , so that the noble sandblasted housing of the DAP does not get any unsightly abrasions or dents. The latter is an accessory I really like, which you usually have to pay for with many higher-priced DAPs with a not too small surcharge.
The Lotoo PAW Gold Touch is very comfortable to hold despite the robust and simple housing, which is more reminiscent of older MP3 players with an integrated hard drive. In times of ultra-thin smartphones, the stronger design (21 millimeters high) is a real treat for the hands, especially since the case is still quite compact at 119 x 68.6 millimeters. The concentrated 311 grams of aluminum and electronics reinforce the valuable impression.
The matte black housing of the Lotoo-DAP is made of “aircraft aluminum”, but is not specified by the manufacturer. The company lettering was discreetly engraved on the top left of the front. The logo of the LTOS (Lotoo Operating System) specially developed by Lotoo is emblazoned on the back. It is operated via the IPS LC touch display (3.77 inches) – or via the physical controls on the side: The player can be switched on and off with the buttons, which are also milled from metal, and music playback can be controlled using the play/pause and forward/back buttons. be controlled by back commands. A rotary control with a click grid is used to control the volume, the level can be finely adjusted digitally in 100 steps.
Lotoo PAW Gold Touch: technology & features
On the input side, the Lotoo PAW Gold Touch offers the mandatory data and charging port for a DAP with a USB-C interface. This means that the 4500 mAh battery can be charged with 5V/2.5A or the player can be loaded with data at USB3.1 speed (up to 10 GBit/s). In addition, the Lotoo PAW Gold Touch takes on the function of a USB DAC via USB-C and can serve as an external sound card and headphone amplifier on a laptop/PC, Mac or Android/iPhone. External amplifiers or active loudspeakers can be controlled via the line output. A menu offering the different USB modes – “Charge”, “Storage”, “USB-DAC (Computer)”, “USB-DAC (Phone)” – appears automatically when connecting to the source device. SD cards with a capacity of up to 2 TB can be filled. An SD card is also required to listen to music, because the player has no internal memory. So that the memory card controller does not become a bottleneck when filling, the Lotoo-DAP has been given UHS-II compatibility. In practice, the maximum transmission speed is therefore limited by the memory card used.
On the output side, the Chinese high-end player can come up with both an unbalanced 3.5 mm jack socket and a symmetrical 4.4 mm Pentaconn connection.
A Freescale i.MX6 works inside the DAP. Lotoo owes its customers the clock speed of the processor. Together with the LTOS operating system, which was developed from scratch and in-house, navigation through the menus is pleasantly smooth anyway. The touchscreen also reacts without any noticeable delay and has a clearly legible resolution for a 3.77-inch display with 480 x 800 pixels.
The audiophile core of the PAW Lotoo Gold Touch is the high-end DAC chip AK4497Q from AKM, enabling PCM signals up to 768 kHz/32 bit and up to 512x DSD . With a signal-to-noise ratio of an incredible 127 dB or 126 dB (balanced/unbalanced) on paper, Lotoo promises completely noise-free playback. The harmonic distortion (THD+N) is given as an extremely low 0.00015% at 1 KHz.
The AKM-DAC is flanked by an ADI-BF70-DSP for the most interference-free digital signal processing possible. A special feature of the Lotoo-DAP is the AKM4137EQ upscaler – also outsourced from the DAC – called by Lotoo XRC – which is capable of cross-upscaling between PCM and DSD up to the maximum possible data rate. We will still hear how the dedicated upscaler performs in practice.
In terms of amplification, the unbalanced jack output is powered by two LME49600 and the balanced headphone output by two OPA1622. The gain can be switched between low (-5.6 dB) and high (+14.4 dB) in the software. Together with the 500 milliwatts of amplifier power per channel at 32 ohms, the Lotoo PAW Lotoo Gold Touch should not only be equipped for efficient in-ears, but also for power-hungry over-ears such as magnetostats.
On the software side, the Lotoo PAW Lotoo Gold Touch is specially designed for ease of use and clarity thanks to the in-house operating system Lotoo OS (LTOS). Here the recorded tracks can be listed by artist, album, song title or folder name. The self-compiled playlist and the general settings can also be accessed directly from the main menu. A nice convenience function that you might know from smartphones: the display can be brought out of standby by double-tapping on the touchscreen.
The album cover, lyrics and file information such as playback format, sample rate, bit depth and file size can be called up using the music navigation buttons. A graphical frequency level display can also be displayed. If you want to hear your music with an adjusted frequency response, you can do this with settings you have chosen yourself via the “EQ Settings” menu or a graphic 9-band equalizer, or you can use the ready-made presets from Lotoo. The manufacturer offers two different systems here: the parametric equalizer called PMEQ regulates the sound level via software. Alternatively, a DSP-controlled filter system called ATE (Acoustic Timbre Embellisher) is offered, which affects the sound character more than the filter options provided by the DAC chip as standard.
The Lotoo PAW Gold Touch pulls firmware updates either via the SD card (download from the Lotoo website) or as an OTA update via the WLAN connection. Unfortunately, this is currently the only function for which the WiFi can be used.
Unlike the SE200 from Astell & Kern , for example, the Lotoo PAW Gold Touch can neither install Android apps using an apk package nor stream music wirelessly from an external source. It is therefore necessary to fully trust the features of the operating system. Since music can be transferred to the player at up to 300 MB/s (maximum speed for UHS-II memory cards), filling it up shouldn’t take too much time even with larger music collections.
The lack of streaming playback and the absence of app support mean that the expectations of the high-priced DAP’s sound performance are of course even higher. So let’s go to the sound analysis!
Lotoo PAW Gold Touch: Sound Test & Comparisons
There is no better way to start an evening listening session than with a dram of whiskey on the comfortable couch and the soothing sounds of the Dag Arnesen Trio in your ears. The album Norwegian Song begins with toms struck lightly on the edge. With the Lotoo PAW Gold Touch in connection with my Audeze LCD-2 , the special sensitivity of the drummer is immediately noticeable in the first bars. Yes, the little powerhouse from China is able to drive the magnetostat without any particular effort and also offers enough level reserves for a somewhat louder pace. When the piano begins, the overtones becomealso very finely drawn. The nice thing about it: The resulting wealth of detail is strikingly self-evident to me. If you are often surprised and overwhelmed by other DACs with their ostentatious presentation of details, as I have often noticed with Saber electronics in particular, the Lotoo DAP’s AKM converter conjures up the music so effortlessly and with such ease that you forget the technical equipment effortlessly and immerse yourself deeply in the music. However, neither the slightest hi-hat attack falls under the carpet nor does the Lotoo add anything to the music.
If you compare the AK4497EQ-DAC with the AK4499 in the aforementioned Astell&Kern SE200, the similarity in the sound signatures cannot be denied. I tend to find the decay behavior of the instruments, especially the hi-hats in the treble of the Lotoo player, a little more coherent and detailed despite its slightly older DAC. The Lotoo-DAP leaves the desktop DAC benchmark DAC1 USB far behind in terms of detail resolution and in pure DAC mode can noticeably help the benchmark amplifier in terms of pulse behavior and precision. As a headphone amplifier, the benchmark retains its slightly cooler, at the same time somewhat bass-heavy sound character. Just another indication that Lotoo has solved the DAC implementation in its “Golden Boy” without sound discolouration.
If the high-frequency performance with certain headphones , such as the very brightly tuned Beyerdynamic DT880, is still too much for you, you can use another trick in addition to the numerous fine-tuning options on the software side: the dedicated AKM upscaling chip mentioned above does the work of a digital filter, especially on the high-frequency side with smooth roll-off without cutting off details. Sure, even the best upscaler can’t do magic and turn a 128 kbit/s MP3 into a high-res file. Rough and high-pitched albums lose their unpleasant sharpness due to the additional bits and thus become more suitable for the long term.
The album Norwegian Mood by Kari Bremnes , which was released more than 20 years ago, is a good way of evaluating the mid-range reproduction of the Lotoo PAW Gold Touch . The jazz singer, who acted as a brand ambassador at the high-end trade fair in Munich in 2018, has been convincing for over 30 years with her gentle and at the same time expressive voice. The Gold-Lotoo is able to perfectly stage the typical character of the Norwegian, which tends to be slightly smoky. The voice and instruments in the mid-range fit seamlessly into the entire frequency spectrum and are tonally optimally balanced. The slightly warm timbre of the Audeze LCD-2 headphones shimmers through exactly as it should.
With “Coastal Ship” he impressively proves that with the Lotoo-DAP, even with rather unspectacular headphone models, such as the HD 6xx from Massdrop x Sennheiser, emotionality is not neglected. The direct competitor A&K SE200, controlled via the AK4499-DAC, has a slight disadvantage with sibilants: In the upper treble, a slight drop in level is audible compared to the Lotoo-DAP, which makes sibilants appear a little less finely resolved. In the presence area, however, both DAPs basically play at a similarly high level. With the guitar in “Wave on Rock”, the Lotoo again creates the almost ideal balance between meticulous attention to detail in the presence area and a well-weighted, not excessive basic tone body. The slightly tinny sound behavior that the HD6xx delivers above the benchmark
Loud & quiet
It is also irrelevant which headphones are used with the Lotoo PAW Gold Touch. The high-end DAP takes both high-impedance peers such as the Beyerdynamic DT880 and highly sensitive multi-BA in-ears such as the Audiofly AF160 on a leash without any audible sound distortions or level drops. The player benefits from the fact that the gain can be adjusted in two stages and the fine volume control is retained with all headphones. Despite the loss of dynamics in the lower control range, which is typical for digital volume controllers, the Lotoo allows you to hear quite well quietly. I was particularly impressed by the player’s extremely low signal-to-noise ratio. Even with quiet passages and playing pauses in songs, no background noise can be heard – the volume level of the player is irrelevant. For such a performance, not only the DAC, but above all the amplifier chip must be very low-noise. Lotoo has done an excellent job here across all classes.
Of course, modern studio recordings have almost always been made under more or less optimal laboratory conditions. In order to be able to get a feel for the playback behavior of the Lotoo PAW Gold Touch in older live recordings, I dug up the remastered recording of the legendary Harry Belafonte concert Live at Carnegie Hall from 1959. At the latest when I hear the applause and the second long “Wake Up” in “Darlin’ Cora” I’m blown away. I had actually forgotten what an excellent job the sound engineers actually did back then. Equipped with the Lotoo PAW Gold Touch, I can finally rediscover the album.
The overwhelming thing here is above all the quite voluminous and actually realistic stage presentation. Even spatial sloths like the Sennheiser HD6xx can conjure up a believably large room with the high-end DAP. At the same time, the individual instruments always remain very precisely located in their usual places and appear anything but diffuse. The combination of Sennheiser HD800S and Lotoo PAW Gold Touch turns out to be the ideal combination, as it is able to place the visitor in a highly authentic manner in the middle row of the world-famous concert hall in New York.
Of course, the Lotoo PAW Gold Touch cannot hide the occasional clipping in the recording. From my point of view, the fact that poorly recorded music is not provided with a beauty filter only underlines the undistorted, precise reproduction of the Chinese.
Let’s go coarse…
The fact that the Lotoo PAW Gold Touch can not only skilfully stage acoustic instruments such as guitars, wind instruments or strings, but also does not make any mistakes with coarse music of the nineties, becomes clear with one of my favorite discs by the Deftones at the latest. In Around the FurThe Lotoo-DAP shows right from the start what the band and the sound engineer want: Namely uncolored, no-frills riffs and the special effect of the “quietly screaming” voice of front singer Chino Moreno, sometimes alienated as if by a megaphone, in a nutshell. The excellent fundamental tone reproduction of the Lotoo PAW Gold Touch is reminiscent of the Nuprime HPA-9 amplifier, which is significantly cheaper but performs at a very high level in all price categories. A desktop amplifier that one might actually expect to be superior to a smaller DAP. Detailed and seamlessly transitioning into the bass or midrange in terms of level, the Lotoo also offers enough power in terms of coarse dynamics to be fun even at loud levels.
Since the Lotoo DAP has a symmetrical 4.4 millimeter Pentaconn output with its own amplification, I was of course curious to see whether an improvement over the asymmetrical output was actually possible. And indeed, the change is audible. The symmetrically connected Sennheiser HD800S not only gets more power and therefore more level via the Pentaconn socket, it also appears a bit tidier over the entire frequency response. The attack of both the bass strings and the toms seems a touch jagged and therefore slightly more precise. Of course, you shouldn’t expect a completely different sound from the balanced input. If you have the opportunity, I still recommend listening to the music via the Pentaconn output for the last bit of perfection.
In general, the bass range of the Lotoo PAW Gold Touch stands out positively compared to my other comparison candidates. The Lotoo can also assert itself against the Astell & Kern SE200 with its newer AKM-DAC. Due to its more neutral character, the bass range feels a bit more dynamic and powerful. Does the SE200 bring a slightly warm, earthy sound to the ears with “Evil Dub” from the Trentemöller album The last Resort, the PAW Gold Touch as an all-rounder impromptu puts powerful yet not excessive bass kicks into the room without allowing any weaknesses or level drops in the treble dynamics. Compared to the Saber DAC of the A&K flagship, it is precisely these powerful bass kicks that make the Lotoo particularly popular with electronic music.
In “Chameleon” details are reproduced down to the lowest pitches of the electronic bass without ifs or buts. Of course, even a high-end DAP cannot perform miracles in the deepest bass and turn an Audiofly AF160 into a bass monster. A task that, according to Lotoo, should only be assigned to the appropriate headphones anyway. So it’s not surprising that my current bass reference for in-ears, the Fabs Dual Basic , in combination with the Lotoo PAW Gold Touch plays really well and puts a smile on your lips in the sub-bass range.
At least if you keep the volume control above the lowest control range. The noble Lotoo cannot avoid the disadvantages of digital volume control, such as a reduced dynamic range when the level control is set to its minimum. Since this is a matter of principle and not least because of the mentioned gain control, in practice there will not be too low a level reduction even with in-ears, I am by no means afraid to give the Lotoo PAW Gold Touch top marks for a mobile digital audio player in the bass range. Yes, even the Astell&Kern SE200, which even won a fairaudio award, is trumped by the Lotoo-DAP.
Lotoo PAW Gold Touch – Conclusion
To get to the point: In terms of sound, I have never come across a DAP with such an uncompromising performance as the PAW Gold Touch. The gold boy is my new DAP sound reference. Neutral, equally precise and musical and “all-round” to the very tips of the hair. The DAP leaves the sounding – if desired – to the headphone side alone, if you don’t play around with the parametric equalizer or the ATE filters. The bottom line is that the player is not a jack of all trades: it lacks features such as streaming or the integration of other music services or apps. In short: If you are not deterred by the limitation to the functions as a mobile player and DAC on PC/Mac/iOS/Android, you will get a solution with the Lotoo PAW Gold Touch and its uncomplicated high-end sound that also makes stationary hi-fi replace electronics. And last but not least because of its motto “less is more” makes the heart of a minimalist beat faster.
The Lotoo PAW Gold Touch is characterized by…
- a frequency range that is strikingly homogeneous over the entire spectrum.
- Detailed and surprisingly airy highs for an AKM converter, which remain clean and at a straight level up to the super high frequency range.
- an accurate mid-range reproduction that delivers an optimal performance from the fundamental to the presence range. There is neither a lack of details nor are there level irregularities.
- rock solid and well balanced bass performance. The kick bass comes with a nice punch, the low bass reaches far down.
- Good fine dynamic properties, but not outstanding in the lowest control range due to the digital volume control. But quiet listening is possible even with sensitive in-ears thanks to the inaudible background noise and the possibility of gain adjustment.
- virtually non-existent distortions even at the highest volume levels. In terms of coarse dynamics, the player does not show any weaknesses.
- a bravura performance in terms of spatiality and localization. Last but not least, concert halls are presented very credibly.
- an optimal decay behavior that neither makes the bass too spongy nor lets cymbals/hi-hats get neglected. You hear instruments the way they should sound in real life.
- the possibility of sound adjustment using sophisticated digital filters and an outstandingly working parametric 9-band equalizer.
- a cross-conversion using an upscaling chip, from PCM to DSD or DSD to PCM, as required. Of course, format-internal upscaling can also be used.
- Product: Lotoo PAW Gold Touch
- Concept: Digital Audio Player (DAP)
- Price: 3,350 euros
- Dimensions & Weight: 68mm(W) x 119mm(H) x 21mm(D); 311 grams
- Interfaces: 1 x 3.5 mm jack, 1 x 4.4 mm pentacon (sym.), 1x SD port with UHSII support (up to 2048 GB), Bluetooth v4.2 (LDAC), WLAN, USB-C v3.1 Gen 2
- Supported formats: PCM up to 768kHz/32bit (DFF / DSF / ISO / FLAC / APE／WAV / AAC / ALAC / MP3 / WMA / M4A / WavePack / OGG), Native DSD, DSD64 / DSD128 / DSD256 / DSD512
- Other: aluminum housing, hardware upscaling using AK4137EQ, 9-band equalizer, DAC function, OTA firmware updates
- Guarantee: 2 years