Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Review: xDuoo TA-02, yet another great budget Tube amp

Gear Used:
iFi Audio iDAC > xDuoo TA-02 (mullard tubes) > German Maestro GMP 400 (amongst others)

This review is based on the amp with 2 Mullard 5654 tubes, as one of the stock Chinese tubes failed after only a few minutes use. This does alter the sound, and I will say for the better as the stock tubes sounded thin and lacked body in the lows.


Specs:
  • Working voltage: DC12V
  • Output Power: 780mW (32 Ω load)
  • Frequency response: 10Hz ~ 100KHz (± 0.5dB)
  • Gain: +15 dB
  • Distortion: 0.1% (1KHz)
  • SNR: 110dB
  • Adapter Headphone Impedance: 16 Ω ~ 600 Ω
  • Dimension: 151 * 84 * 70mm (plus tube height)
  • Weight: 260g
  • Price: $117

Packaging, Build Quality and Accessories:
Packaging is very neat, a white box with foam inside, the amp is tightly held in place and the tubes have little cut outs to sit in too, you have to install the tubes yourself before use. The power supply is also neatly held in place, and an instruction manual is the first thing you see when you open the box.

Build quality on the whole is good, the finishing on the body is perfect, it feels sturdy, the tubes have protectors (took them off as it's easier to swap tubes) the volume pot moves smoothly and the RCA inputs also feel strong. The 6.3mm headphone output is gold plated and the jack clicks in tightly, the on/off switch is a nice metal switch and there are 4 rubber feet attached to the bottom of the amp.

Accessories are not any really, only the power supply. Nothing else. But as it's a desktop amp there is no real need for any other accessories, maybe a 6.3mm - 3.5mm adapter but most people have one already.


Sound:
The TA-02 has quite high gain, and is not variable, it is also a hybrid tube design with a tube input stage and op-amp output stage.  
This tube amp has speed and clarity yet has the lushness and smoothness of the Mullard tubes, it has quite high gain and is more suited to more difficult to drive headphones like the GMP 400 and others. Vocals really come forward and capture your attention, the lows are very smooth and highs are never harsh or bright. Soundstage wise it depends on the tubes, but these Mullards have a very holographic and 3D soundstage with great accuracy.

 Details are not thrown in your face and the sound is very articulate. This amp is very well suited for power hungry headphones that need the sharper edges rounded off, the GMP 400 is a great headphone but can sound a little harsh and lean if not driven properly, and the added tube warmth is very welcome. This amp does not take away the detail that is present, it just makes them not as in your face, smoother overall.

There is a little bit of audible hiss, but is only present on very quiet/silent passages in music and I do not find it detracts from my overall listening enjoyment.


This is not the most versatile amp around, nor is it wire with gain, but what it adds to certain headphones is great, it only has RCA in puts and no outputs to use it as a pre amp, it is just a headphone amp and at that it is great. Pair it with some already warm headphones and you may be mistaken for calling this amp muddy, but pair it with some neutral/brighter headphones (Grado's, Beyers, German Maestro's)  and you get great results. This amp's gain is too high to be used with sensitive IEM's.

I highly recommend tube rolling if you decide to purchase this amp, for around $20-30 you can get a nice pair of Mullards which are a big improvement on the stock tubes.

I would recommend this as a nice looking, powerful yet small desktop tube amp, it does what it says just fine. In terms of how it compares to the competition I only have the Bravo Audio Ocean which is priced nearly the same (xDuoo $117 - Bravo $129.99) the Ocean has more inputs and outputs, and also sounds slightly smoother and quieter (less hiss) overall but the differences are not huge and considering that an upgrade to the stock tube is highly recommended the xDuoo is a great deal for a small tube amp, a great starting point if you don't know if you'll like tubes, and a nice alternative to the all too often mentioned Little Dot amps.


Tracks Used:
Skrillex – First Of The Year (Equinox) (320kbps MP3)
Paramore – Franklin (FLAC)
Diana Krall – The Girl In The Other Room (FLAC)
Deolinda – Passou Por Mim E Sorriu (live) (ALAC)
Suicide Silence – Unanswered (FLAC)
Massive Attack – Angel (ALAC)
Eat Static – Dzhopa Dream (ALAC)
The XX – Crystalised (FLAC)
Funeral For A Friend – Bend Your Arms To Look Like Wings (ALAC)
Mumford & Sons – Little Lion Man (FLAC)
The Scene Aesthetic – Humans (259kbps MP3)
A Hero A Fake – Swallowed By The Sea (254kbps MP3)
Johnny Craig – Children Of Divorce (161kbps MP3)
Black Uhuru – Utterance (ALAC)
We Are The In Crowd – Never Be What You Want (226kbps MP3)
Silverstein – Discovering The Waterfront (320kbps MP3)
Concept Of Thought – Our Thought (FLAC)
Nirvana – Something In The Way (Unplugged) (ALAC)