The Xduoo TA-10 is an all-in-one mid-fi level desktop hybrid DAC and Tube headphone amplifier plus pre-amplifier. It is priced approximately at $290.
Disclaimer: The Xduoo TA-10 was sent to me in exchange for my honest opinion. I want to thank Xduoo for giving us the opportunity to review these headphones.
To read more about Xduoo products we have reviewed on Headfonics click here.
I’ve come to find that Xduoo churns out some excellent budget to midtier grade products almost on a quarterly basis. Seems 2019 was no different, shelling out a slew of new products that were well regarded in our audio community.
Their most recent arrival to my doorstep was the TA-10, a small tube amplifier that MSRP’s for roughly $290. Let’s see how the newbie on the block fairs against the seasoned veteran competition of late 2019.
The TA-10 is small, but heavy and dense feeling. The exterior chassis is made of tough and thick aluminum, offering fantastic build quality from top to bottom. Every knob and switch feels very good. This is exactly what I want to see in build quality offered for this price range.
Most of the midtier amplifiers and USB DAC’s tend to offer a very solid build, so I am glad to see that Xduoo is following suit. For somewhat of the same price, you could pick up a Schiit Asgard amp, which offers a solid metal exterior as well. Most in this tier do, but how many of them are tube-based and also offer a balanced XLR? Not many.
Yep, this one offers a balanced 4pin XLR, as well as a ¼ output headphone cable option. It feels great to finally see a good midtier amp offer a balanced option, no muss, no fuss, nothing fancy, all without obliterating your wallet for that matter.
On the subject of the inputs and outputs, each feels very strong and has no sway when jiggled. The power switch is hefty as well, which is something I really like.
I don’t know why, but I am a sucker for heavy clinking switches and volume knobs. I loved the Hifiman amplifiers that had a huge clinky feel each time you dialed up the volume, but in this case, the Xduoo went the very slick route. It feels buttery smooth to me, which is just fine in my book as well.
The rear side of the unit showcases the standard power output, as well as RCA in and out.
12AU7’s are one of the most common tube options for family types in the amplifier world. I recall years ago that the very cheap Aune tube amps used the same family, which I also recall buying spare tubes at the absurdly low price of maybe $10 a pop.
The 12AU7’s can scale up well if you are willing to pay, but I do not think they are well suited in this specific amplifier, due to the DAC selection inside. So if you want to roll tubes, I wouldn’t be going beyond $30 or so USD for a replacement tube. Grab something that might alter the sound and tonality, but not so much regarded for a sound quality hike above the lower end models.
You can achieve a warm sound if you hunt for the right tube. Otherwise, just stick with the one you have here, it is just fine as-is for fidelity needs at this price point. Tube rolling is highly stressful, make sure you have a fantastic return policy and buy tested tubes from a reputable reseller. True, this model is a hybrid amp and DAC, these are weird amps, let’s be honest. I don’t really understand their appeal, I’d rather go all-in either way.
As most of you are aware of who read my reviews, I really dislike the AK4490 in most cases. It is rare to find an implementation that I like. This DAC is so old at this point and was severely outclassed over the last few years. I don’t like to see it anymore and I realize my view on this has changed.
The times flow and the market alters quickly as new standards are set. I don’t like to see this specific DAC or the older 9018K2M series. In 2019 and into 2020? I am not sure I am on board with this and my suspicious nature was confirmed when I listened to the amplifier and DAC here. It isn’t poor in fidelity, but I feel the tonality to be not so well implemented. Again, speaks nothing for fidelity, which is very good, but I’ll detail that in a moment.
The DAC offers up to 32bit, DSD256 files, which again, is getting absurd now. And that is a good thing for future-proofing. I don’t even own more than 2 DSD256 albums so I don’t really care it goes this high, but I am glad it’s there now and these days it feels nice to see it offered. As I said in my last review, I recall the days when DSD64 was amazing!
For being so small, this little amp packs a serious kick at 2000mW or 2Watts. You can drive Planar’s very well with amp, no doubt. It covers your bases pretty much no matter what you are using.
Those pesky 600Ω models out there run perfectly off this TA-10, which is something I honestly didn’t expect out the box and before I looked at the specs. I try not to look at the specs before I review things unless I have to. I like to be surprised and I try to factor that into my experience.
In this case, the HD800 runs fantastic off of this amp and so does the Audeze MX4, one extremely hard to run, the other, very efficient. If you want a good shifting middle-tier amp that can do most things very nicely in terms of power while staying quiet too, this is a great pick in my book. Most efficient headphones don’t need anywhere near this level of power and 2Watts is more than enough for most Planar Magnetic driver types.
As mentioned, I am not fond of this DAC used in most cases. Sadly, I really dislike, subjectively, the tone of this amplifier with the stock tube. It doesn’t mesh and feels all over the place in dynamic flare and tonality.
The low end is a stark contrast from the treble and lower midrange, feeling denser below than it does up top by a significant margin. Tonality is a hard shell to crack sometimes and I think this is due to the Hybrid design. Perhaps, if it were not a Hybrid design, it might have worked out a bit better for tonality needs across the board.
Out of the box, this amp sounds sterile up top, but overly dense on the low end and sometimes that can be a great thing if you have the headphones suited for it. If not, then you might pick up on an odd sensation of very firm bass, but loose treble.
And I stress, this is not a statement about quality or clarity. This is a statement about tonality and physical tactility. Example? No matter what rig you listen to a Sennheiser HD800 on, it won’t ever sound as thick or meaty as an Audeze. It just won’t. So too, some amps will never sound as thin or thick as some other amp out there that you can cite. In this case, the top end lacks the same dense flare of the low end and it gets distracting. No level of EQ or DSP can fix it.
The entire low end of this TA-10 is firm, dense and plentiful. The stock tube is not known for excellent low-end depth, but this amp has it anyway, which is a testament to internal circuitry pairing. It isn’t always about just the tube, or just the DAC by itself, especially not in a hybrid design.
If you enjoy meaty bass, this is a great option and I would recommend you kick the stock tube out and hunt for a very warm replacement. You won’t regret it. Fun and musical headphones really sing with this model, bassy headphones and high levels of warmth are accentuated by the natural low-end experience the TA-10 offers.
As for raw fidelity, the experience is again, stellar for the price. Reminds me a lot of the Schiit Asgard, sorry to bring that up twice so far, but it’s true in my opinion. I see and hear nothing negative on the subject of the low end. It lacks a heavy physical strike and looms somewhere on the softer end for me. Meaning, wince factor and dynamic kick is low to moderate, very enjoyable and suited for musicality and not critical listening.
The midrange of this TA-10 is extremely forward and well set up for headphones from Audio Technica, or the older Audeze LCD series which had a focus on midrange fidelity.
The experience overall is highly engaging in a physical sense, due to the upfront and personal sound that all vocal experience tend to offer in my testing. I have a set of Grado GW100s, which fantastic for midrange, as well as a set of ATH ESW11LTD’s, which are one of the best midrange portable headphones money can buy and both sing with this TA-10.
Again, I wish I had the time to hunt for and purchase a really nice and warm tube for this TA-10 but wasn’t able to get anything worth mention that would make the experience better in any way for me as a musicality buff.
Those interested in critical listening need to find a very reference sounding tube replacement because the top end of this amp has some issues with falling in line with the rest of the experience as a whole.
Disregard fidelity for a moment and focus on tonality and physicality with me. The low end is plentiful firm and soft on impact. The midrange is very engaging and forward. So naturally, the treble experience should also be somewhat engaging and sparkled. Sadly, it isn’t.
It is highly reserved and very soft. It gets lost in the mix and sounds dimmed compared to the very nice low end and midrange. This amp has an odd tonality up top. I don’t consider it anywhere near reference, but I know this specific tube to always sound more clinical than warm, so I am logically going to conclude that the primary sound of this product isn’t really dependent as much on the tube choice as I would hope.
This is why I recommended either very warm or very clinical. Otherwise, you probably won’t hear much of a difference from what the stock tube offers.
In the way of raw fidelity, I position it as shoulder shrug worthy at best. I’ve heard much better, but I’ve also heard severely worse in the past at this same price point. So for what is there in quality allotted, I rank it just fine.
If you aren’t a treble head, don’t worry. You can pump up the treble a little and achieve more without any pain or wince. Thankfully, the physical strike factor is moderate to very low, depending on the track and headphone combo used.
This TA-10’s biggest weakness, at least in my opinion, is the lackluster sound staging potential offered. Side by side with the Asgard and even my Monolith Portable DAC I just recently reviewed, the TA-10 sounds much smaller in every aspect. I don’t like the idea of a portable pocket-friendly DAC from Monoprice sounding much more spacious and open than a nearly $300 desktop amplifier.
The depth of field is the best factor, to my ear at least. I recently received a set of Blon over-ear open backs, which offer excellent positioning and depth factor. These headphones only somewhat pair with this headphone, but I felt my ESW11LTS’s to pair better for some reason. Perhaps, due to both rig matching with the forward midrange each offers that is very engaging.
That forwardness helps with the depth of field factor when you hear instruments around it, it doesn’t feel like it is flat, which is how most relaxed headphones like the HD600 ended up pairing with the TA-10. Width and height are the issues, they are lacking heavily and under-perform for the price.
As mentioned, swapping right out of it and into the Monolith Portable amp for the same price, it’s quite noticeably inferior to the Monolith in every regard. But, we are talking a titan of imaging and sometimes you need to realize that a just good sounding something will always sound inferior to a great something.
There is nothing wrong with the TA-10, I just wanted it to have a more open sound. What is there, is just fine for the price in terms of market value overall. But, if you search for amps that are specialized for imaging and specifically designed as such, then, of course, most other amps and DAC’s won’t be able to achieve the same level offered.
This is a strange amplifier, for $290 and also a hybrid? I am not sure what to make of it. It doesn’t fit in anywhere. It just lingers in the middle as a good at everything amplifier, but also one that is neither suited for warmth or clinical accuracy needs.
Tube rolling doesn’t change too much unless you go extremely warm or extremely neutral. And that is hard to find cheap for the 12AU7 series family tubes that are acceptable for this socket.
True, the build is great, the raw quality is good for the price. I would rate this a very nice amplifier overall without any serious issues outside of the treble being perhaps a little too relaxed. Imagine is the weak point, but it’s still roughly average when taking into account all amp types and not just desktop amps.
This is a great stepping stone product, as all Xduoo products are. They are what I would recommend to someone who has some experience with audio and wants a low end of the middle tier product that can do almost anything you ask of it.
It will power Planar’s very nicely, you can tube roll if you take the time to spear the right tube for your needs and you can pop in a balanced cabled headphone and enjoy some seriously dense and firm bass. If you own the classic LCD-2 Fazor, you might really love this amplifier. For those types of listeners, sure, I would recommend this one to you.
This is a strange amplifier, for $290 and also a hybrid? I am not sure what to make of it. It doesn't fit in anywhere. It just lingers in the middle as a good at everything amplifier, but also one that is neither suited for warmth or clinical accuracy needs.