Today we take a look at the $199 USD Khadas Tone2 Pro DAC & AMP.
Disclaimer: HifiGo sent us the Khadas Tone2 Pro for this review, free of charge. I only covered the customs fees & taxes. All thoughts and experiences with the product are naturally my own. You can find more about it HERE.
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Shenzhen Wesion Technology Co., Ltd is the company that owns the brand “Khadas”. Khadas was founded on 5 November 2014. The brand name “Khadas” was first registered on 29 August 2016. Khadas focuses on developing, manufacturing, and marketing Amlogic and Rockchip single-board computers (SBCs) for the open-source community and streaming media player industry. Lately, they’ve also added audio products like the Tone2 Pro Hi-Fi DAC & AMP and Khadas patented balanced RCA connectors to their line-up.
Khadas company caught my attention with their first Tone1 product. After experiencing that it is a DAC that can do a lot for little money, my curiosity about the company has increased considerably. After some time, the Tone2 DAC came out and I was surprised. I was expecting a bare-bone PCB like the original Tone Board. However, what I saw was a finished product. It had a beautiful enclosure, 4.4mm balanced and 3.5mm unbalanced headphone outs, RCAs, and all! Now, I have it here and today we’re going to be finding all about its performance.
Khadas’ Tone1 aka the ”Tone Board” features ESS’s premium tier ES9038Q2M DAC. It also features XMOS XU208 USB-Controller. It has RCA outs and a SPDIF out. It is a barebone DAC with no screen and no controls. However, Khadas offers Raspberry boards but this device does not need a host to work, think of it as a regular DAC, just without a shroud or enclosure. It was released in the last months of 2018 and at the time, its measurements and user feedback were quite impressive and I bought it immediately to pair it with the JDS Labs Atom amp. The Khadas Tone Board had an MSRP of $99 USD at the time. Anyway, the Tone Board and the JDS’ Atom amplifier made a nice couple together. The Tone Board had a balanced signature and it offered plenty of details. It was spacious and airy from top to bottom. It had an impressive price-to-performance ratio and it managed to get into my budget gems list.
Khadas Tone2 Pro
The Khadas Tone2 Pro is a complete product compared to the Tone1. Khadas improved their design based on the user feedback and that’s something I appreciate deeply as a tech enthusiast. The Tone2 is built upon the experience Khadas gained from the Tone1 and they managed to create something better, much more practical, and eye-pleasing at the same time. Khadas uses the same DAC chip, ES9038Q2M in the Tone2. They upgraded the USB-Controller from XMOS XU208 to XU216 and it offers full hardware-based MQA decoding compared to the previous-gen. It also features Intel’s Altera CPLD and Accusilicon’s Crystal Oscillators for jitter filtering & pre-shaping. They also integrated Ultralow Noise LDOs to further filter noise and improve signal stability. For the amplification stage, Khadas went with the 4 pieces of Texas Instruments’ renowned OPA1612.
As you can see here, Khadas updated their circuitry and seems to have created a much better design compared to the Tone1. For the outputs, the Tone2 has 4.4mm balanced and 3.5mm unbalanced headphone out as well as two balanced RCAs (I’ll talk about it soon) and a coaxial out. As for the inputs, the Tone2 has two USB-C ports. Optional, but f you want, you can attach a 5V USB-C linear power supply to the second USB-C port, labeled ”I2S”. The Tone2 Pro will prioritize power from LPS over USB automatically. However, Khadas claims that it does not impact sound quality directly. The Tone2 also features a knob that can be used to control the volume. Now that we wrapped the changes between the Tone1 and the Tone2, let’s get to the details.
Packaging & Accessories
The Tone2 Pro comes inside a small, square, and white cardboard box. The specifications and highlights of the product are listed all around the box. The serial and measurement info can be found on the sides as well as MQA and DSD logos. A detailed breakdown of the plugs and the device layout can be found on the rear side of the packaging. As for the accessories, you get the essential USB-C to USB-C cable, a quickstart manual, and a warranty card. That’s it. I would want to see an extra USB-A to USB-C cable here, that would have been sweet for the users who still use the classic USB interface instead of the new standard. Additionally, the material quality of the cable is good and it feels durable.
Design & Build Quality
First of all, the Tone2 Pro is only slightly larger than a credit card. It is a very compact and small device. It utilizes a two-piece construction. The top cover is made of aluminum and it also acts as a heatsink, cooling the innards of the Tone2 Pro. The rest of the device is ABS plastic in black. The anti-slide grip feet under the device works seamlessly and look very cool. The device has a metal volume knob which also acts as a navigation tool on top with black and gold accents. It looks very nice however, does not feel very precise, physically. It has some kind of relay mechanism and I don’t like the feel of it. It feels like there is something inside preventing it to turn smoothly. We’ll talk more about it in the next chapter where we discuss the controls of the device. There is also a half-circle LED next to the volume knob.
Khadas offers the Tone2 Pro in 3 different colors. Black, red and blue. All of them share gold accents and I think they all look great. I really like the angular and sharp design of the Tone2 Pro. I think it was worth the wait after the Tone1. The metallic finish looks great under the light. Apart from aesthetics, the RCAs, HP outs, and USB-C sockets feel durable, solid, and sturdy. On another note, the device weighs only 100 grams so it is very light as well as small. Overall, I think the Tone2 Pro is excellent, both build quality-wise and aesthetically. I didn’t see any milling defects or assembly issues at all.
As I mentioned earlier, the Tone2 Pro can be controlled via the volume knob on top of the device. The user manual states that you should push it to the side but that is not right, you have to push/tilt it towards yourself to activate the button. If you push it two times consecutively, you’ll reach the menu in which you can change the gain, the filter type, the input, and the mode. This push button can also be used to control the playback. You can play and pause tracks, skip to the previous or next song, etc. So to recap, the push button and the volume wheel acts as a navigator and the LED is the guide. You’ll have to check the manual for the color codes and adjust accordingly. I must say though, it is quite hard to navigate and control the device this way. I didn’t like it, at all.
The review continues on Page Two, after the click HERE or by using the jump below.
Page 2: Balanced RCA, Power, Sound, Low, Mid, High, Technical Performance, Comparisons, Last Words, Specifications