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Review and Measurements of xDuoo TA-10 Tube DAC & HP Amp

amirm

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#1
This is a review and detailed measurements of the xDuoo TA-10 DAC and Tube headphone amplifier plus pre-amplifier. It was kindly sent to me by the online store, Xtenik Audio. The TA-10 costs US $290.

I must confess, my impression of xDuoo is one of ultimate budget products, with looks and performance to go with that. So I was hesitant to accept this review when Steven from Xtenik Audio reached out to me. I warned him that I would write the review as I see it, bad or good. To my pleasant surprise, he was perfectly OK with that. So here we go.

Everything I thought about xDuoo as a brand went out the window when I pulled the unit out of the box and noticed its attractive and high build quality:

xDuoo TA-10 DAC and Headphone Amplifier Audio Review.jpg

The rotary control feels nice and very responsive. The gold accent on the 1/4 inch headphone jack adds some interest to the black face. The XLR output is for convenient, not for "balanced" output as testing will show later. There is a balanced version of this unit with two tubes to provide differential output.

The paint feels slippery in a nice way.

There is quite a bit of heft to the unit, again giving a feel of quality.

The back panel shows a wealth of functionality not obvious at first:
xDuoo TA-10 DAC and Headphone Amplifier Back Panel Audio Review.jpg

In addition to the standard USB input, there are two analog inputs. This is music to my ear as I have an analog source (Reel to Reel) and I am so annoyed to have use a pre-amp because the DAC doesn't have such an input. If you have a turntable, you can integrate it easily just as well. Or a portable music player.

The volume control is implemented using a TI chip so it is able to control the output of the pre-amp in addition to the DAC. You will get perfect channel balance in this regard but likely at the expense of some noise than if it was implemented in the DAC (and hence not working with analog input).

There is S/PDIF output allowing the TA-10 to act as a USB to S/PDIF bridge as well.

Yeh, there is that tube. Does it destroy the performance of the nice looking unit like this? Let's find out.

DAC Audio Measurements
Given the line outs, I started my testing just measuring the DAC portion independent of the headphone amplifier:

xDuoo TA-10 DAC and Headphone Amplifier Audio Measurements.png


Wow, what do we have here? Surely this can't be going through the tube with its excellent THD+N and hence SINAD (signal over noise and distortion). The TA-10 easily lands in the second tier of all DACs tested, credit going to the good implementation of AKM AK4490 DAC chip:
Best Audio DACs Reviewed 2019.png


Output level is a bit low though at 1.7 volts. Which they had juiced this up a bit more to meet our nominal requirement of 2 volts.

Orderly measurements follow in other tests such as frequency response:

xDuoo TA-10 DAC and Headphone Amplifier Frequency Response Audio Measurements.png


And jitter:
xDuoo TA-10 DAC and Headphone Amplifier jitter Audio Measurements.png


Surely they screwed up linearity:

xDuoo TA-10 DAC and Headphone Amplifier Linearity Audio Measurements.png


Nope. That too is excellent.

How about intermodulation distortion versus level?
xDuoo TA-10 DAC and Headphone Amplifier IMD Audio Measurements.png


Performance parallels the excellent Topping DX3 Pro but with some penalty in noise department (and a bit on distortion). As I predicted, the TI volume control is adding its own (small) layer of distortion and noise. But hey, this is still very nice performance as most DACs struggle to match or beat the DX3 Pro.

So clearly the tube is out of the loop on DAC output. Let's all cheer at once! :)

Headphone Audio Measurements
Let's start with measuring power versus distortion and noise using 300 ohm load:
xDuoo TA-10 Tube Headphone Amplifier and DAC Power into 300 Ohm Audio Measurements.png


Ouch! The tube does a number here creating the typical rise of distortion at less than 1 milliwatts of output. That is heavily offset though by tons of output power, producing nearly 1/3 of watt.

Going down to 50 ohm and measuring both connectors we see identical performance there:

xDuoo TA-10 Tube Headphone Amplifier and DAC Power into 50 balanced Ohm Audio Measurements.png


Most if not all the tube headphone amps I have measured fall apart with low impedance loads. They have high voltage output so do well with high impedance loads. But have little current and hence do poorly when the load impedance goes down. Not the case with TA-10. It motors on producing whopping 1.5 watts of power here!

Stepping down even more current hungry load of 33 ohm we get:
xDuoo TA-10 Tube Headphone Amplifier and DAC Power into 33 Ohm Audio Measurements.png


Now we are peaking over 2 watts of power! Nice. But yes, distortion is through the roof compared to solid state designs.

Frequency response remains ruler flat:
xDuoo TA-10 Tube Headphone Amplifier and DAC Frequency Response Audio Measurements.png


Channel imbalance is non-existent due to use of digitally controlled analog IC volume control as mentioned in the review:

Best Headphone Amplifier Channel Balance  Measurements.png


While you can get this type of performance in DACs with volume control, you have very few options to do the same for analog inputs that TA-10 has.

Output impedance is decent:
Best Headphone Amplifier Output Impedance Measurements.png


Note: original review had this measurement incorrectly as 47 ohm.

Headphone Listening Tests
I happen to have my son over again with his undisturbed high frequency response that I lost years back. We matched levels with a Topping DX3 Pro as best as we could using ear (electronic matching is not very effective due to high output impedance of TA-10). Using HD-650 headphones, my son could not tell the difference. I thought I heard some subtle changes but really, nothing that I can swear to be able to tell consistently. And certainly not if I listened to TA-10 by itself.

Just listening with the HD-650, the TA-10 had thundering amount of power, detail and fidelity, belying its poor measured performance. Power erases many sins here.

Switching to Hifiman HE-400i allowed me to hear some subtle differences. What there is though, is hard to describe as it was highly content dependent. I thought sometimes I heard slightly brighter but more detailed sound out of DX3 Pro as compared to TA-10. But really, the difference if there, is small. My son could not hear any difference.

We then tried the AKG N700 in passive mode. It too sounded too close to tell the two units apart.

Note that highly precise volume matching was needed to arrive at these outcomes. Just half or full dB of level differential titled the balance easily in favor of one or the other.

As with all of my previous testing, there is no tube magic here, no widening of sound stage, "warm glow" or other nonsense. What you hear is what is in your music if you test in controlled manner.

Conclusions
They say don't judge a book by its cover and I sure was guilty of that going into this review. The xDuoo TA-10 is competently designed and engineered both from mechanical and electronics point of view. The DAC implementation is quite excellent and feature set unique and highly desirable.

The tube section does add copious amount of distortion. Alas, listening tests showed them to be highly masked by the content. What is not masked is very high power output stage enabling the TA-10 to drive headphones to distortions of their own, well before its own sets in. You get full flexibility to use wide range of headphones and still get to ear bleeding levels. Sure, there will be some change its frequency response. Hopefully that will tilt in favor of your preference, not the other way around.

If you ever get tired of the tube headphone out, you can use its line out to drive different amps due to its excellent DAC implementation.

If you are itching to have a tube headphone amplifier with least amount of compromises elsewhere, I am happy to recommend the xDuoo TA-10. Someone really knew what they were doing when designing this unit. Lesson to other companies that use the excuse of a tube and destroy the performance of the product in every other way.

------------
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jsrtheta

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#2
Thanks for the review.

In future, could you include the tube type when reviewing pieces that use tubes? It might be interesting to see if any particular tube types prove better than others. This item uses the 12AU7, for example. Other 12A-types (e.g., 12AX7, 12AT7, etc.) might affect performance, and it would be helpful to learn if one type outperforms another in similar applications.

Thanks again.
 

tmtomh

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#3
Great review of what turns out to be a fascinating piece of kit - thanks Amir!

I'm not a tube person myself, but this looks like a terrific option and the combo of analog preamp functionality along with a tube headphone output but solid-state line-level output is really interesting. While I'm sure the tube stage contributes to the price, $290 is still quite economical, arguably a steal, for a solidly performing DAC with analogue preamp functionality.
 

Michael Kelly

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#4
Can you do a 1khz plot for the headphone out as you did with dac out? I’d love to see how it correlates to your listening tests.

Thanks!
 

Tks

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#5
It really does look handsome to boot. Nice touches such as the bevel work on the housing and whatnot, along with the front face being very contemporary looking and not something conjured in someone's basement over a weekend.

I wonder what sort of other hidden gems like this unit are out there. A balanced tube DAC/AMP like this for $290 is pretty cool to see.

Great review Amir.
 
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#6
I’d like to see the Dashboard view out of the headphone amp section.

For a long time I’ve stopped calling harmonic distortion by that name often it doesn’t give it gross amounts of audible “distortion”

When we talk about optical distortion it’s very obvious.
Auditory non-linear distortion is more like “flavour”, “character” or “colour” and audio engineers have a good handle on it. But its subtle or hardly audible, not “distorted”

If it had obscene amounts of high order non linear distortion then that’s different, but I bet a lollipop it’s dominated by 2nd and 3rd order...

On another point... this is also why aiming for a SINAD of 120dB is really just academic...
 
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#7
At that distortion level its really hard to believe that u dont hear any difference.
If this is ok, than all tested dac or amp is excellent.
That tube section sinad is abot 30-40 db? How the hell someone listen to high dynamic range music with that? With higher volume pot the distortion alone making noise without any musi.. if the data are correct.
 

amirm

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#9
Can you do a 1khz plot for the headphone out as you did with dac out? I’d love to see how it correlates to your listening tests.

Thanks!
It is not pretty:

Best Headphone Amplifier 1 kHz FFT  Measurements.png


This is loaded down with 50 ohm though.
 

amirm

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#10
At that distortion level its really hard to believe that u dont hear any difference.
If this is ok, than all tested dac or amp is excellent.
These are not exhaustive tests. Other content may be more revealing. Indeed on many tube headphone amps, I do hear distortions.
 

invaderzim

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#13
My first reaction when I saw the title was 'Oh, no. Not another tube amp to see how badly it does." It is nice to see one doing decently well.

How is it that they are able to do to a better tube implementation than high dollar brands? We are looking at the start of the golden age of Chinese audio where performance outdoes products that cost 10 times more.
 

Tks

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#14
My first reaction when I saw the title was 'Oh, no. Not another tube amp to see how badly it does." It is nice to see one doing decently well.

How is it that they are able to do to a better tube implementation than high dollar brands? We are looking at the start of the golden age of Chinese audio where performance outdoes products that cost 10 times more.
Seems they've decoupled the "tube" topology from being "linked" with the DAC portion. Using a 4490 from AKM gives them a good baseline to work with. The tube section seems pretty bad as tubes go somewhat, but I think for audiophile tube enthusiasts, the worse our measurements for anything relating to tubes - the more praise they give tubes. Someone needs to start making tube products that distort above 0db, maybe then they can hit their target market perfectly and all the tube enthusiasts hail it as the "good distortion in unbelievable amounts"!
 

nightfishing

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#15
I have no pressing need for this in any way, but have an itch to buy one ;)

Nice looking product with some real usable versatility. And obviously some smart folks on the the design and implementation end.


Maybe I should dust off my old Denon semiautomatic and set up a vinyl>headphone listening station...
 

Dro

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#18
That noise floor is impressive for a tube amp, but it's surprising you can barely hear a difference against DX3 with that amount of distortion.
Good headphones have distortion products between -40 and -60 dB, depending on SPL and frequency. DAC and amp distortion are mostly academic for headphone use.
 
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#19
Good headphones have distortion products between -40 and -60 dB, depending on SPL and frequency. DAC and amp distortion are mostly academic for headphone use.
I dont think so, because pure signal + added headphone distortion not really equal to distorted signal+headphone distortion. Distortions under hearing level can become audible distortions if one distortion amplify other distortions.
 
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