Uber Muzik Tiny Tube DAC

tiny_tube_03

Okay, it’s the 1st of April, but this is not April fools. Louis from The Audio Hub sent me a unit of the Uber Muzik Tiny Tube DAC, another new alternative to the $200 USB DAC/Amp offerings. What separates the Tiny Tube DAC from the rest of the market offerings is the use of vacuum tube on the DAC output stage, so far the first one I’ve seen on this price bracket. Within the first 30 minutes of spending some time with the Tiny Tube DAC, I know that this DAC is going to be a strong contender on the $200 DAC/Amp market.

The D/A chip used in the Tiny Tube is a relatively unknown UAC3553B 24/48 USB Audio DAC chip from the Zurich based semiconductor manufacturer Micronas. Analog data signal from the Micronas UAC3553B is then passed on to the 12AT7 twin triode tube, which is then passed on to the popular TPA6120 amplifier chip and out to the headphone sockets. All parts talk aside, the thing that matters the most is that the Tiny Tube DAC is great sounding, very competitive for $200, easy to use, and comes with plenty of power for headphones. I’ve tested the Tiny Tube with all the big headphones including the Sennheiser HD650 and HD800, while my friend Bram has tested his Beyer DT880/600 and Hifiman HE5-LE with no issues. The 12AT7 tube can be tube rolled, but I haven’t had the chance to try other tubes on the Tiny Tube.

Gloss finishing in a nice little box. Drives two headphones simultaneously.

 

The usual interfaces including USB digital in, analog in and outs, and a power supply input.


SOUND IMPRESSIONS, COMPARISONS
For comparison purposes, the two products that come to mind are the ever popular Audinst HUD-MX1 and the Yulong U100 (aka “The New Recommendation”). Both the Audinst and the Yulong are pure solid state gears. And just like the debate with single and multi driver speakers, I think tube gears and solid states resolve around primarily the same points. Generally solid states have an edge in presenting a more complete frequency balance from the low bass to the high trebles. On the other hand, tubes mostly focus on the middle part of the frequency and delivering the kind of midrange quality most solid states can only dream of. Some people swear that midrange is the most important part of the music, and while that’s true for some genres, modern music and especially electronic ones put big emphasis in bass perhaps more than the midrange.

Although the Tiny Tube is not a pure tube box (due to the presence of the TPA6120 on the headphone amp), the placement of the 12AT7 tubes on the DAC output section gives it a clear, smooth, and sweet midrange. Again, the Yulong and the Audinst are very good with midrange — but in this case, the tube is simply better. The mids are very clear, grain free, natural, smooth, and you can insert other positive adjectives in that sentence — but what really matters is that the mids on the Tiny Tube leaves an stronger impression on my brain than the Yulong and the Audinst does. It’s also refreshing to hear that the Tiny Tube doesn’t over-mellow and over-thicken the midrange which some tube gears sometimes do, muddying the midrange clarity for the so-called “tubey” sound. Midrange is slightly forward to give a good vocal presence, and midrange clarity is really good — best one of the trio actually. If you are into midrange, then you can skip the rest of article and order the Tiny Tube with confidence.

It’s probably no secret that tubes tend to excel in midrange. But another thing that I don’t hear so often is how tubes also excel in soundstage and imaging. From the low end Starving Student Millet Hybrid Amplifier (SSMH) to the high end Manley 300B, it seems very easy for tube gears to achieve a natural open soundstage with awesome depth in them. Last year I’ve had the chance to compare a Tubelover PCM1794 DAC side by side to several other sources, and my impression was that it has a natural soundstage that differentiates it from the other DACs with solid state output stage. Likewise, the Tiny Tube carries on the same natural soundstage. The width is actually not that big, but the depth factor is very good, while imaging, instrument placement, and ambiance are all very good. The Tiny Tube definitely has one of the best soundstage performance among the $200 DAC/Amp boxes, including the Yulong U100 and the Audinst HUD-MX1. The soundstage presentation is a bit laid back like the Audinst, and though both the Yulong and the Audinst are also strong performers in soundstage, I give an extra point to the Tiny Tube as it is noticeably cleaner in terms of grain, and the background is also blacker.

Micronas UAC3553B 24/48 USB Audio DAC.

 

When Bram received the Tiny Tube, one of his comments was that he wasn’t getting as much low bass and treble extension, though midrange quality was very good. Although the use of the TPA6120 chip in the headphone amp section helps to add a solid midbass punch, ultimately I do feel the Tiny Tube to lack the low bass to make electronic music work. In this case, the Yulong U100 absolutely rocks as it delivers a tight and punchy low bass and with excellent PRaT factor — the best among the trio. The Audinst, though significantly warmer, darker, and possessing more bass body than the other two, was actually weaker in the punch. Top end extension wise, I don’t think the Tiny Tube has any issues there, at least not when viewed relative to the other $200 price bracket products.

The tonal balance is actually very good, and I never feel a certain frequency range to be flawed — until there is a strong demand for bass from the music. The decision to go with a tube output stage probably has taken into consideration that the Tiny Tube is not going to have a strong low bass, as it is the reality with most tube gears (a lot of the high end tube amps do have low bass issues). But the Tiny Tube really have made up for that loss by giving you a very strong midrange and soundstage, and I really wouldn’t complain about the low bass too much. Ultimately gear choices are dictated by the choice of music, and as long as your music doesn’t play a lot of low bass, then you’ll be very happy with the musicality of the Tiny Tube.

The Yulong U100 has the fastest pace in the group, but the Tiny Tube falls into a good second place, slightly ahead than the Audinst. This is quite surprising, considering a lot of tube gears tend to struggle with pace (well, the entry level ones do). I think the TPA6120 chip deserves a lot of the credit here, but what’s important is that the Tiny Tube is not the slow mellow kind of tube gear. The ambiance is slightly laid back, but prominent vocals and instruments in the recording are placed relatively forward to maintain the intimacy. The pace is good for the majority of Rock music, and the majority of music is not going to run into pace problems when played from the Tiny Tube.

PSVane stock 12AT7 tube onboard. Great natural soundstage, black background, smooth and clear mids.

 

IEM USE
The relatively high gain level of the Tiny Tube makes it not so ideal for IEMs. In fact, with all three DAC/Amp boxes compared here, I’m only turning the knob to roughly 8 O’clock position and that would’ve given me a nice moderate level volume — just high enough to clear the volume imbalance region of the potentiometers. Frankly, unless you prefer to be a digital purist, what I do is I lower the volume on Itunes and that way I get far better control with high sensitivity IEMs. On minimum volume level, the Tiny Tube has a little bit of noise level, but once I get some music playing the noise disappears and the sound is totally clean.

CONCLUSION
The bottom line is that I’m very happy to see a tube-infused DAC/Amp box with such a great musicality and sound quality at this price bracket. It still won’t replace the Yulong U100 for my number one recommendation, as there are some things that solid states do better. But I also won’t rank the Tiny Tube below the U100, as ultimately the two gears represents the best of $200 Dac/Amp boxes, each with their own strengths. Audinst owners, you guys be best start saving up for an upgrade (LOL). But for the midrange lover, the answer is so clear I don’t think you need to be waiting for other reviews to make your decision. Tube Rules!



Gears used for review:
Source: MacPro, Itunes
DAC/Amp: Uber Muzik Tiny Tube, Audinst HUD-MX1, Yulong U100
Headphones: Sennheiser HD650, Orthodynamic HD202, Orthodynamic HD494, Jays q-Jays

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  • Earfonia

    Cool! We have about the same impression for the Tiny Tube DAC :) It is a great and musical DAC+Amp combo! Vocal lover really should consider it.
    Mike, try the amp section with other better DAC, I found that the amp section is actually very good, especially when you use a better DAC to drive it :)

    • Anonymous

      Interesting suggestion on the amp.. i will try it tomorrow.

  • http://twitter.com/audiohub Audiohub Singapore

    Thank you for all your hardwork and review.
    I am working on a USB cable (Epic USB) for this DAC to maximize the potential – Stock usb is great but it hides the real picture – It will increase the spectrum greatly.

    http://a5.sphotos.ak.fbcdn.net/hphotos-ak-ash4/188437_191146287587587_145228285512721_412091_5664304_n.jpg

    Lets pit this against the Yulong U100 one more time with the upgraded USB to see it can beat it as I’m a sore loser haha.

    Thanks again!

    • Anonymous

      Hi Louis I just read your comments and you mentioned about the tiny tube being the loser. i dont think it lost, but if you really get that impresson then perhaps I will need to reclarify that in the conclusion.

      I think the Tiny Tube and thr Yulong stands at the same level, just different sonics. The Audinst on the other hand is slightly inferior to the two.

      • http://twitter.com/audiohub Audiohub Singapore

        It’s a joke mike, I’m singaporean remember?
        I’m kiasu (afraid to lose) so die die also want to win.. being chinese don’t help as i’m very competitive.

        • Anonymous

          That’s Cool man. I didn’t want people to get the wrong impression that
          the Tiny Tube “lost” to the U100 because in my eyes they are two of the
          same level.

  • http://twitter.com/streetphotos Alan Kong

    A 12AU7 tube might fit into this amp as well, this will lower a gain a bit and maybe make it usable with IEM’s

    • Anonymous

      Thanks for the input, Alan.

  • Anonymous

    Audinst owner here. Thanks for the great review Mike! One question, how would you compare the dac section only among these three $200 boxes? I’m thinking about eventually getting a small-ish dedicated amp and only using my audinst as a dac. Is there still a reason to upgrade to any of the other two in this case?

    Ps the dedicated amp upgrade I’m thinking about is probably going to be along the lines of the m-stage and the likes, if there is anything else like it available out here.

    • Anonymous

      Unless you’re trying to drive very tough orthodynamic headphones, I’d
      suggest upgrading the Audinst to a Yulong or the Tiny Tube. I think that
      will make more sense. A small dedicated amp is not going to add that
      much value in the sound, especially if you are using the average dynamic
      headphone. I think headphone amps have grown to be more powerful in
      general, and the built in amp in the Yulong especially is very good
      already.

      If you want to get a separate amp, then it’ll be best to budget for the
      $500 bracket and up, then you can notice the improvements for sure. I’m
      not saying that the sub $500 are bad amps, but I think the differences
      won’t be that big, and probably be irrelevant in a day to day basis.

      Now, if you do happen to have a hard to drive orthodynamic, then yes you
      really need something more powerful like the M-Stage.

      I will do a DAC section comparison and get back to you later. Cheers.

      • Anonymous

        i’ve got a pair of plain ol’ HD650s so nothing like the ortho cans. thanks for the advice! much appreciated!

        • Anonymous

          I think you would be fine direct from these units. I also use the HD650 for the tests.

    • Anonymous

      Okay, brief DAC section comparison, I’m using Ibasso’s PB-2 amplifier out to the HD650.

      All three DACs are mostly quite similar in terms of soundstage performance, detail level. The U100 has an edge in detail level and the clarity of the soundstage. The Audinst were darkest, the Tiny Tube in the middle, and the U100 was the least dark.

      There are some differences in how the DACs present vocal. Audinst was the most relaxed. Tiny Tube slightly more forward, the Yulong most forward.

      The soundstage presentation were slightly different from each DACs, but I think they’re all good performers here — and probably no point in going over the differences in the soundstage presentations.

      I think in all practicalities, I’d rank the Audinst and Tiny Tube DAC mostly in the same resolving level, with the U100 a little better. In day to day use I probably won’t be bothered by the differences, but more into how the entire package actually sounds (DAC + Amp).

    • David

      kongw, if you really think to use Audinst for DAC only with external bigger amp, that means you will use it more as desktop system. How do power it so far? Using inline USB power?

      IME, Audinst imrove a lot with a good external power supply. In my case I did use 12.6Volt/7Ah SLA battery. With this setup, I dare to say that the Audinst delivered more than 80% of Audinst+M-Stage quality.

      At the other day though, I parted with Audinst and handed over to my friend that need DAC+amp because he doesn’t have one. The other reason is Audinst + 2Kg SLA battery is no longer portable (the way I originally intend to use Audinst). Plus, as DAC, I still prefer my TDA1545 NOS DAC to Audinst DAC.

      My friend swap Audinst opamp with few others and he said it improve a lot, plus he can tune the voice as he like.

      • Anonymous

        I am still curious to hear that Audinst with the SLA battery.

  • http://www.facebook.com/negakinu Erik Wijnands

    Another contender in the $200 DAC game? Oh my. It seems like most of the current DACs can’t do much wrong. Still, I like the tube-goodness. Does it glow? Oh wait it’s a closed case. Too bad! :p Nice review, I’m putting this one on the wishlist. Thanks!

    I do think the photos aren’t as slick as usual though. Normally they’re perfectely lighted and stylish but in my opinion these seem too overexposed. Did someone else take them?

    • Zace

      Yes it glows. There’s actually a transparent strip of material (acrylic?) on top that lets you see the components inside. There are also grills along the two sides of the unit, so you can see the glow as well.

    • Anonymous

      Hey Erik,
      The tube probably glows dimly, but inside the case are some blue LEDs
      and so that’s the light you’ll see mostly. Here is a better image:
      http://img.photobucket.com/albums/v294/bpribadi/DAC%20and%20Headphone%20Amp/P1080418w.jpg

      The photos aren’t that good eh? Awww I think it was just a bad day with
      the camera. Thanks for being honest and keeping me in check though.

  • Jumann231

    Hi, mike,

    How would you compare the dac sections of the tiny tube to the hrt ms II?

    • Anonymous

      I will try to compare the DAC sections only and post an update.

    • http://twitter.com/audiohub Audiohub Singapore

      The Dac section is not the strong suit as it is an old technology, but it does it’s job to produce overall clarity to the sound.

      The apprehension of using “latest and greatest” technology is that some of the DACs are very sterile sounding and sometimes jacking up the cost to compromise the engineering budget and will noticeable cause an imbalance in the overall package.

      This was created with musicality in mind and is inline with the brand – Uber muzik or superior music.

      It is for music lovers who are also audiophiles not equipment geeks, however there is quality parts being used but the priority is how to bring the music out better for maximum enjoyment.

      As an enthusiast and music lover, sometimes I am disenchanted with the fact that an equipment can have impressive specs but lack “soul” in the music -musicality yet the price doesn’t justify the quality of the sound for the music.

      • Jumann231

        I understand. In that perspective, it would be more interesting to see which one fairs better. One is DAC and amp combo costing 200 dollars, and the other, a DAC only, a technically more advanced albeit simpler item. I mean of course, what I asked mike was if he could compare the sound quality between the two, not which of the amp was using the “latest and greatest” technology.

        Also, have you listened to the HRT MSII? If not, I think you’re making awfully baseless assumptions; that HRT’s goal is just to use superior technology to attract buyers, and generalize that their DACs are “very sterile sounding,” and “lack ‘soul’ in the music,” or say that their products’ “price doesn’t justify the quality of the sound for music.”

        • http://twitter.com/audiohub Audiohub Singapore

          I was speaking in general in reference to my philosophy and perspective.

          You misread me and jump the gun on this, chill mate.
          I’ve already admit that HRT will probably be a better DAC.

          • Jumann231

            I see, I must’ve mistook your warning on the problem in solely focusing on the technical aspect of a DAC as something derogatory. My fault. It’s just that I was looking forward to how the two superb dacs mike reviewed would compare, and your comment seemed to discredit the sound quality of HRT products in general. My fault.

            • Anonymous

              Late to the discussion. I think people have different approaches to
              designing a hi-fi gear, and I really wouldn’t nit-pick the so-called
              “deficiencies” in specifications as long as the sound is good.

        • Anonymous

          Jumann,
          I’ve reviewed the HRT MS2 here:
          http://www.headfonia.com/the-hrt-music-streamer-ii-asynchronous-2496-for-149-95/

          I no longer have it so I can’t make A-B comparisons with the Tiny Tube,
          but I believe the DAC section is superior in soundstage imaging and
          micro details. The sound signature is actually warm and analog, nothing
          sterile. It is still my recommended DAC-only box for the $100 price
          bracket.

          The Tiny Tube may not be as resolving, but the tube smoothness and clean
          sound is a different type of sound. The application of the tubes really
          injects a musical character into the sound, and it’s quite sweet on its
          own.

          Which one would i go for? Hard to say. I’d rather have both.

  • Elgonzalovs

    just waiting for the Tiny Tube Amp Portable ….

  • http://twitter.com/deckhanddavy Deckhand Davy

    Thanks for the review, Mike! Always enjoy your forward and honest approach to headphones equipment.

    Have you had a chance to listen to this in a desktop speaker environment? I’m interested in a warmer dac ;)

  • cky8

    Can you tell me which of the three DAC/Amp combo would best fit the Grandioso?

    • Anonymous

      Don’t have the Grandioso here at the moment, but Bram reported weird
      midrange colorations when pairing the Tiny Tube with the Grandioso.

      I’d probably recommend the warmer and darker sounding Audinst for the
      Grandioso. One of the thing that I thought it needs are a warmer
      source/amp combo, and the Audinst is all that.

      • cky8

        Thanks for that!

        Initially I had my eyes on the Yulong U100 according to your quite positive review. How would the Grandioso compare to the Yulong U100 and against Audinst?

        • Anonymous

          The Yulong is superior technically, but sound signature wise, I think
          the Audinst would be a better match for the W1000X. I don’t have the
          headphone right here, so take my comment with a grain of salt.

          • cky8

            Thanks once again for being so helpful. That’s hard to find.

            Given the ammount of DAC, Amp and headphones you’ve gone through so far I’m sure your recommendations have a valid point. Now it seems like a though decision to make wheras the Yulong is superior but still the lesser Audinst would be a better match sound signature wise.

            I can only tell I’m very pleased with the current sound signature of the Grandioso. So I’m only looking for a DAC/Amp to complement or improve it. Dark is something I definitely not want.

            I don’t know if it’s too much asked or within reach. But is it possible for you to somehow to get a Grandioso in your hands anytime soon and then give a definitive answer between the Yulong and Audinst?

            Again much appreciated!

            • Anonymous

              I understand your concerns, but even if I do get the Grandioso, I still
              can’t make a precise recommendation that will satisfy you a 100%, as
              people’s ears are used to different levels of treble, and likewise the
              recordings that you listen to probably differ from mine.

              I will still stand by the Audinst recommendation though. I think it will
              do good to the Grandioso. Tonal balance is more important in most cases,
              than a tiny bit of improvements in resolutions. And the Audinst is not
              going to turn your Grandioso to a Sennheiser kind of dark, so don’t worry.

              • cky8

                Thanks! The Audinst is on my list but if I happen to have some financial luck I’ll just go for the Anedio D1 DAC.

                • Anonymous

                  Watch out with the credit card bills then. :)

  • eddy

    If I’m getting the new more easily driven HE-500, do you think this AMP will be able to deliver enough juice?

    • Anonymous

      Hifiman HE-5 you mean?

      I only have the HE-6 at the moment, and the Tiny Tube can’t deliver
      enough current for that heavyweight (I don’t expect it to). Surprisingly
      Bram who owns a HE-5 LE reported success when using it with the Tiny
      Tube. Here is the picture he took:
      http://img.photobucket.com/albums/v294/bpribadi/DAC%20and%20Headphone%20Amp/P1080418w.jpg

      • eddy

        No I actually mean HE-500, which is the new name for HE-6p which is the new upcoming more efficient version of HE6. Hopefully it’s introduced in a few weeks. I would guess Tiny Tube would be able to drive it fairly well. It seems promising and it would be great if you could do a review of it, ask Fang for a loaner :) At headfi someone said this about HE-500: “The sound is pretty close to HE-6. You can tell that HE-6 is better ONLY IF you have a good amp. I feel without proper amping the HE-500 will actually sound better. At least to my ears the sound came out of HE-500 seems to be fuller and richer. The super efficient driver is definately the key here. it will be on sale in couple weeks”

        beautiful image you linked!

        • Anonymous

          Hi Eddy,
          Gosh I’ve been out of touch with the latest Hifiman stuff.

          The gain on the Tiny tube is rather limited, so I wouldn’t guarantee if
          you can get good loudness levels with the HE500. But as Bram tested, it
          drives the HE-5LE just fine, so perhaps you can make that as a
          comparison point.

  • kimikuma

    hey, is it 200 SGD or USD?
    someone mentioned it’s in Singapore Dollar…..

    • http://twitter.com/audiohub Audiohub Singapore

      The unit is priced in USD in this review, SRP is $249 SGD

  • http://profiles.google.com/yoav.tzfati yoav tzfati

    Thanks for the great review!
    I have two questions:
    theoretically, could tube rolling make the bass more extended? or is it because of another component?
    also, how do you think the Matrix cube compares to these?

    • Anonymous

      Theoretically, yes you can roll the tubes to get lower bass. But in most
      of the tube rigs I listen to, at least the entry level ones, low bass is
      always a problem. One of the amps that can deliver good low bass from
      tube is the Woo Audio 6.

      • http://profiles.google.com/yoav.tzfati yoav tzfati

        Thanks!
        also, how would the cube compare to these?

  • Cochran_sg

    I’m thinking to get this or the Audinst or the styleaudio ruby 2…..
    I like to confirm. this tiny tube can do usb at 24/192? 24/96? or if i read fr the review it can only do 24/48?

    I will be connecting to a Aktimate Mini speaker. Which earphone amp is not really that impt to me. but good to have.

    • Anonymous

      Cochran,
      The Tiny Tube can only do 24/48.

      • Cochran_sg

        will there be any diff in 24/48 and 24/192?

        • Anonymous

          There will be. Check the Musiland 02 article for a rough reference.

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  • http://twitter.com/_zutroy daniel

    thanks,  great review!

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  • Wäzi

    Where can you potentially buy this? Just saw the review and it sounds very interesting =)

  • madriz

    Audiohub recently released TinyTube V2 and Big Tube amp. Hopefully you guys at headfonia will make an update or a review of the big tube.

    • Anonymous

      Yes he posted some pictures a while ago, haven’t talked about doing a review though.

  • LexTixer

     I just got my hands on Uber muzik tiny tube DAC version 2, it has the dynamic sound stage. Rich round mid frequency, at the same time the high and low is smooth and nicely projected,
    It has a very good noise and power filter. This are the things i have try and experiences:- I have try with Enacom AC cord (RF filter) and it seems have no effect, at first i was freak out that my enacom went out of order. But after sending back to the shop for inspection, the enacom is healty. The enacom dealer was preety curious and ask what dac/amp i use, and i show him and pass him my tiny tube version 2 for him to try and he went WOW.

    I got my tiny tube version 2 at this site.http://forum.lowyat.net/index.php?showtopic=2089945

    • Anonymous

      Thanks, George for the impressions.

      So it seems they have upped the game with the version 2.

  • LexTixer

    Is very promissing on the V2.Specs:
    Head Amp: Texas Instrument TPA6120 chipUSB Receive: Tenor TE7022L
    DAC Chip: Cirrus Logic CS4398Tube: Shugang Psvane Series 12AT7-T

    I belive it is better then Yulong U100 and Audinst MX1

    • Anonymous

      Yes, looking forward to hearing the version 2.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=747846340 Wen Hong

    awesome

  • GenericMav

    hi mike, how do you think TTD would pair with Audio Technica headphones, especially AD series? 

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      I think should be a good pairing, even better with the W series. :)

      • GenericMav

        i’m still far from those woodie =P

        anyhow, i’ll be arranging meet-up with audiohub to test this unit, and perhaps with some other tubes instead of stock one. anyway, have you test the TTDv2? 

        • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

          Hi Mav,
          No, I haven’t tested the v2.

          • GenericMav

            hi Mike, i just tested the TTD unit with Audiohub. from what i can say, yes its excel in mid range, vocal improve with stock tube. i’d say its a good pairing with audio technica headphone, and i’m using my AD700 for the test. and also i tested it with another tubes, Valve Electronic and a 40 years old Brimar tube, and i do take a lot of liking with Brimar, cant wait to grab this unit and test it with woodie headphone  :]

            • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

              Nice, glad you like the TTD.

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  • Venci

    Would you recommend this amp/dac with HD 598 ? I am not much into bass and love female vocals. My main concern is not to get overly mellow.

    • http://www.headfonia.com/ Headfonia_L.

      This is old man. No idea, sorry

      • Venci

        yeah i know. Ok never mind i was going to buy them anyway :D