For the purpose of this review I used my computer as the main setup, plugged in USB. 50% were FLAC files, 50% Spotify in high quality streaming.
For a 299€ amplifier, the xDuoo is quite surprising… in a good way. The soundstage is wide, layering is accurate and most of all, dynamics are on par with what you get from amp like the JDSLabs The Element. Like most hybrid amps, the tube gives warmers mids and voices but that’s not as palpable as pure Vacuum tube.
It’s a subtle sensation, like noise on a picture. Women vocals seems a bit more sweet, highs are a bit more recessed but overall it’s mostly distinctive with demanding headphones. On my Onkyo CIEM, the noise floor took over the signature. Because yes, this amp is not silent, by any means.
The xDuoo TA-10 trade silence for power, not a bad choice if you think of it as a tiny powerful headphone amplifier. The whole volume range is useable and even if there is no high/low gain switches, the volume steps are wisely chosen so you can find the right settings.
Attacks are fast but decay can lag a little behind, it’s especially sensible on heavy saturated electro tracks. Thankfully, there is a slight roll-off around 10kHz to sweeten the overall signature and avoid harsh highs. For my ears, it’s a relief as I found the 12AU7 a bit too aggressive on this frequency range on most amps I owned.
In this price range, the xDuoo TA-10 is a good alternative to classic such as The Element. The latter is still unmatched in term of background and dynamics, but in term of musicality, the TA-10 takes the lead.
Power and drive
The volume goes from 00 to 95. On the Sennheiser HD800S, I ended up around 50-60 most of the time and 40-50 with the Audeze LCD-X. Those are big, power-hungry, headphones and I never felt the need to go higher than that, proof if needed that this small amp could pack a lot of punch.
Obviously, with the Onkyo IE-C3 power was not an issue, at all. I stayed around 10-20 and going further would clearly lead me to deafness. Sadly, even without any sound playing, the residual noise was obvious and this amp should not be used with low-impedance headphones by any means.
Out of curiosity I plugged in the Meze Empyrean and this lead to good results. Sure, you don’t get the same definition/precision heard in higher-end amplifiers, yet, for a 299€ amp, there is nothing to be ashamed for.
Curiously, there is no power difference between balanced and unbalanced. Soundstage is wider and noise is a tad lower, yet I could not really recommend one or the other.
Thanks to the digital volume control, there is no imbalance even at low volumes, this is rare enough to be noticed. This is true in both single-ended and balanced outputs, so you do not have to worry.
Bass: deep and powerful.
Thanks to the powerful capacitors, the xDuoo TA-10 drove my LCD-X without any hassles. Bass was deep, impactful and fast, which is a great surprise. It goes very low and even if there is no bass-boost, this should not be an issue unless you REALLY need more bass. If you’re into planar headphones and want something to “pep up” the game, for a relatively low price, you should really check this one.
Mids: sweet sound of tubes. The hybrid signature is great.
You can definitely feel the relation to the latest xDuoo generation: a mellow, soft treble, the Velvet signature of AKM chips. Where a Sabre DAC amazes me with technicality, AKM seems to be kinder to the ear. Sure there is whole spoon of dynamics, yet it’s just enough to keep you satiated. Again, this is a good mix of tube and capacitors, spicy for everyone but without the bitter after-taste.
Highs: gently rolled off after 10kHz.
Obviously, xDuoo chose to temper the highs after 10kHz. It goes steadily from 1kHz to 10kHz, but after that the TA-10 seems to tone down, which may be a wise choice. This kind of tube isn’t known for their velvet highs, mostly for their mids and I’m pretty sure the upper side has been cut-off for a reason. Still, this is not an issue at all. Highs remains clear and accurate and they never seems out of place, maybe because of that roll-off.
The xDuoo TA-10 is a great amp, if you need power in a small form factor. Combined with hard-to-drive headphones or high-impedance cans, the amp never fails his duty and gave it all, at all times. This is not a clean amp like The Element (my reference in this price range) but it sounds much more musical, especially on planar headphones.
Build-quality is impressive from afar, astounding up close and even if there is only one digital input, its versatility is to be praised. It reminds me of the FiiO K3 in a bigger case: a polyvalent, neat, well-designed DAC/Amp. The vacuum tube comes as a bonus but make no mistake, this a big amp in a tiny dress.