My main sources were: EarMen TR-AMP / xDuoo XD-05 BAL / iBasso DX300. Trusted sources from trusted brands that I used extensively for the past weeks. For headphones, I chose my faithful Sennheiser HD800S, and the good-but-old Audeze LCD-X
As usual, files are played from either Apple Music / Spotify or my own music library. Some tracks will be highlighted, just so you can try them home too!
I know that I say it every time, but each time I plug my headphones in a TA-XX amp, I’m completely blown away by how powerful they can get. And that’s still true for the xDuoo TA-26: out of the box, it literally ripped my ears off.
Don’t be fool by the specs, like previous xDuoo amps, the TA-26 is a real powerhouse. So much that I wouldn’t recommend it for IEMs as the slightest touch on the volume knob, could lead to very tricky situations.
Once again, when I plugged my Audeze LCD-X, with just 20%, the sound pressure is already enough to fill 90% of any user need. Above 40%, it gets CRAZY loud, so you should definitely stick to big cans like Audeze, Beyer, or Sennheiser.
If loud, the amp is also good. Dynamic range remains very good, the bass is a bit rounder and if highs are a bit recessed, it’s more about flavor than a real issue. The xDuoo TA-20 is straighter with better resolution, but the TA-26 feels a bit more natural, fuller if I had to describe it in one word. Instruments definition and resolution is superb, transients are surprisingly sharp and the more I listened, the more I could spot those small improvements.
Like every amp, it needs a DAC (or at least a source). I chose the XD05BAL, to get a matching pair, but xDuoo also has proper desktop amps, that should suit the TA-26 the right way. Paired with the DAC, voices are sharp, layering is excellent, and compared to the embedded headphone output, improvements are huge with those scary/magic uncanny moments where sounds seem to appear behind your head.
I think the Chord Mojo would do wonders here, but unfortunately, mine didn’t survive the previous lockdown and I still have to change its battery… While listening to Solee – Customer is King, my faithful HD800S continued to amaze me and confirmed my initial impressions: good layering, wide soundstage (even if narrower than the TA-30 or TA-20), and authoritative lows.
There is a slight channel imbalance at low volume (the right ears will get more volume), but once you reach 10%, the problem disappears and everything will sound even. On a positive note, the xDuoo TA-26 remains hiss-free on all my headphones, but I didn’t use my CIEM on that one, so that may not be the case if you do so. Again, I’d clearly not recommend doing so, as I think that may lead to severe hearing damages.
Overall, a very nice experience, in line with the rest of the brand.
The sound signature is mostly linear, but each frequency range got its own flaws and qualities. A quick overview.
Bass: round and clean. The TA-26 managed to reach deep notes with ease on my LCD-X and, paired with the XD-05BAL, the device is easily on par with the TA-30 in this aspect. Even though, this amp remains below the TA-30 in terms of resolution, with mellower low mids and longer decay. That said, for the price, it’s hard to be picky.
Mids: slightly forward. Very good dynamic range combined with a wide soundstage makes for an excellent voice rendering. As usual, it’s a bit grainy, and compared to my usual amp – the XD05BAL (again) high-mids are slightly forward. That said, it’s still pretty impressive and fed with a High-End DAC, I’m sure you would be able to rival a high-priced combo with ease.
Highs: slightly recessed, absolutely delightful. If high-mids were a bit too forward in my opinion, everything above 8kHz seems to be tuned down on the other hand. Some might find the TA-26 to be lacking in this regard, but this ensures a lot fewer harmonics with sensitive headphones/IEM. Overall, it’s softer than the TA-20, so better, but also narrower.
Power and drive
It comes as no surprise, the xDuoo TA-26 is pretty powerful, even if not as much as the TA-30.
At low volume, the channel imbalance is still there, but once you reach your regular listening volume, that completely disappears. Apart from that, there is not much to be said: it’s able to drive all major headphones/earphones and honestly, you’ll never need to push higher than mid-gain.
The xDuoo TA-26 is a great amp, even if not the best. It’s insanely powerful, pairs awesomely well with a DAC from the brand, and gives you that sweet touch of warmth without any real caveats.
The sound stage is narrower, but the voices are a bit more resolved, making the amp a great combo with headphones like the Sennheiser HD800S or even small IEM like the FiiO FD3. Bass especially, remains one of the best features of the amp, and paired with a good DAC – like the XD05BAL I used for this review – the performance easily exceeds the total sum of its parts.
If you want to discover the tube world, for a “relatively” low price, this is one of the best offers at the moment. And if you prefer to go balanced… check out the TA-20!