For the purpose of this review I used the Chord Mojo and Cayin iDAC-6 as main DAC, connected in XLR or RCA to the xDuoo TA-20. 50% were FLAC files, 50% Spotify in high quality streaming. For a more common source, I plugged a FiiO M11, which we also reviewed recently.
The headphones ? Onkyo IE-C3 (incredibly sensitive to hiss), Sennheiser HD-800S (magic headphone but a bit tough to drive) and Audeze LCD-X (my fav headphone up to this day) and the Meze Empyrean (for good measure).
Like the TA-10, the xDuoo TA-20 was a pleasant surprise out of the box.
Voices are warmer, highs feel a tad damped and dynamics are impressive at low-medium volume, not so much once you go past the 70 mark. Yet, those are are extremely loud levels of sound, but some power-hungry headphones may require you to reach those levels.
The hybrid system is still one of the best options you can get in this price range. You can enjoy a fully balanced, A-class, tube pre-amplified system, and keep your kidneys. A win for everyone.
It’s powerful enough to drive all of the headphones I own, even if there is no low/high gain switch.
Going from a single tube to a dual tube widens the sound stage, even if you stick with the asymmetrical output. Or does it ? To confirm this first impression, I connected the TA-10 line-out to the TA-20 line-in and compared the two of them through basic A/B testing.
Speed is exactly the same, with fast transients most of the time. Yet, once the message gets too complex to handle, you can feel the extension lagging, especially the bass. Polyphonic electro tracks such as The Unseen – Booka Shade overexposed those flaws, whereas calm and poised songs like Diamonds are Forever – Katie Melua make the amp feel like a thousand dollar model.
The slight roll-off heard on the TA-10 is still there, but the wider sound stage makes up for it in my opinion. And yes, the sound stage has definitely improved again. If the overall signature is still the same, you’re even more engulfed in your music. Think of it like Ambilight on a Philips TV, the led coming from behind the TV might not seem much at first, but once you get rid of them it feels like you’re missing a crucial option.
Same thing with the xDuoo TA-20, the second tube feels optional if you’re coming from the TA-10 at first. But if you get back to it, after listening to the TA-20, you’ll hear all the little bits you’ve been missing, all those micro-details you won’t find back once you’ve made the switch.
Again, musicality is prime on precision and if you like JDSLabs or Burson, this won’t be your best option. Still, it would be a shame not to add it to your amp collection, it still a very (very) good amp at a very soft price.
Power and drive
The xDuoo TA-20 is as powerful as its younger siblings : you can drive almost any modern headphone at ease. Be it the Meze Empyrean, the Sennheiser HD800S or the Audeze LCD-X, none of those headphones trouble the amp.
The small box is capable of handling those cans like a champ, even when the song requires maximum dynamic range. The trade-off is still the level of noise, don’t expect to get rid of it unless you add something like the iFi IEMatch or stick to high-impedance headphones.
Sure, I could plug my CIEM and stay around 10-20, but even at those levels, the ground noise is still obvious. So keep that in mind, in case you only own easy-to-drive headphones and earphones.
This time, the balanced output really sounds better than the single ended one… if you connect a balanced DAC at the rear of the amp. I compared the RCA and XLR inputs and heard significant differences this time, when everything was connected with balanced cables.
The difference in tonality between the TA-10 and xDuoo TA-20 is subtle, even imperceptible on entry level headphones. On higher end models, it’s a bit more significant especially once you crank up de volume.
Thanks to the digital volume control, there is no imbalance even at low volume, 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 : deeper and faster. The xDuoo TA-20 goes really low by default, it’s fast and impactful (again) but some might think there is a bit too much of it. The right amount for a Sennheiser HD800S, slightly over the top with the Audeze LCD-X. If you want to tame the amp, just lower the 100Hz and 80 Hz by -3dB on your DAC, and you should be good.
Test track : Bad Boy – Billie Eilish
Mids : sweet sound of tubes. If you like mellow mids and smooth voices, this will be it. Choose your DAC wisely, as some association may ruin the fun. AKM chips match really well, giving you the perfect balance of technicality and musicality, whereas Sabre ESS DACs will feel a bit too clinical. Again, as a pure amp, it’ll depend of your taste and total configuration.
Test track : Saint Honesty – Sara Bareilles
Highs : same roll-off, wider scene. Again, the 10kHz roll-off is part of the picture, so keep in mind your headphone might loose some of its “brilliance”. This, of course, can be fixed by adding a little EQ to your source if this is real deal-breaker for you. Personally, I’m really fond of this signature which forgives a lot of bad mixes with no real trade-off, or distortion.
Test track : Too Soon – Breakbot
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