Pros: Magnificent sound, tube rolling, superb build quality, versatility, value
Cons: Unit gets hot, Aune customer service, some QC issues with later models (see below)
This thread will contain a full review of the Aune T1 Tube DAC/Amp. I'm gonna try to be as objective as i can and make things simple (without sounding boring). First off, I'd like to start by saying that this will be my 1500th post ! So I am now a Supremus. Before i start, let me give you a little background information about me, the music genres i listen to, and what i look for in terms of sound.
I am 17 years olds and have been in the audio game for nearly 2 years now. Over time i have acquired different sets of headphones ranging from the JVC HA-S500 to my beloved Beyerdynamic DT880. When listening to music, my main priorities are clarity, transparency, and soundstage as i also use my cans for gaming. I also have some bass-heavy headphones to fulfill my bass needs occasionally.
Genres I listen to:
Chillout, Game OST's (classical?), reggae, Hip-Hop/Rap, Orchestral Rock, Ambient, Nu Jazz., Arabic Adaneyat, drum and Bass, neurofunk, Vocal trance, techno, hardstyle, electronic rock, alternative rock.
Setup: Win8 PC > FLAC/320kbs Files > Aune T1 with Amperex 7308 tube
The T1's build quality is absolutely superb. The construction is fully made of metal, and the volume knob feels very smooth. The whole unit feels very well put together. The on/off switch and the line/usb switch also feel excellent in the hand. The unit has some weight to it which makes it reassuring. I could sit around all day just switching this thing back and fourth because of how good the switch feels. However, the acrylic tube cage that protects the tube is very fragile and breaks quickly. Thankfully though, Aune provide 2 pairs of those just in case one breaks (I broke mine). But apart from that, everything about the T1's build is terrific.
The T1 is a tube DAC, not a tube amp. Let me explain, in order to use the tube of the T1, you will have to use the DAC, which can be used when the T1 is connected via USB. The built-in amp in the T1 is a solid state amp (which is surprisingly powerful). I hope that made sense. The T1 can be used as a DAC only and with a separate amp or with speakers through the RCA Outs, and can also be used as an amp with a separate DAC (Schiit Modi for example), using the RCA in at the back of the unit. (See pictures above). If you want to use both the DAC and amp, you can connect the T1 to a USB device and plug in your headphones through the line out. There is no optical input unfortunately.
T1's built in solid state amp is quite strong and has PLENTY of power to drive all my cans including my 250ohm Beyers even on the 0 gain setting. In fact, i have never saw myself needing more power even on the lowest gain setting. Partly that is due to the fact that i listen to music on very low volumes, but mostly thats because the T1's amp is powerful IMO. In terms of sound, i found the T1's amp alone to sound very neutral. Some people on the appreciation thread have found it to be a bit bright, but that is not the case with me. I found this amp to work particularly well with high-impedance headphones.
The T1 has a very wide range of tubes that will work with it. As a result you end up with the freedom of choosing your own sound signature. The stock tube given with the T1 is an Electro Harmonix 6992, which is decent (I'll talk more about it in the sound section). However, almost everyone who owns the T1 orders some tubes along with it. The tube i chose is considered an all-time's favorite for the T1: Amperex 7308. Although its expensive, imo its worth every penny.
This section will be divided into two sections, stock amp and with my upgraded tube.
Stock 6922EH tube:
When i first received my T1 and plugged in my headphones, i noticed a nice improvement over my old DAC (Hifimediy Sabre) and i liked its sound with most of my cans. The overall sound signature can be described as thick, meaty, and detailed. The bass extended down to the lowest octawaves, though it did get loose sometimes. Bass impact was quite strong (albeit less than my Sabre). The texture of the bass was also good. Moving over to the midrange i have found the tube to be slightly forward in the lower mids, which brought male vocals up a bit. However, vocals were dry and lacked texture. There was this certain "rawness" in the vocals, which i didn't particularly like. They did have a nice "thickness" that i liked though, this was especially noticed with my Beyerdynamic DT880. The vocals were kind of leaning toward the dark side, meaning that they sounded more bass-tilted.Moving over to the upper treble, there is some recession here which continues all the way up to 10k, then there is a spike. The detail was what really impressed me here. And because the soundstage was big, details popped up from everywhere. The soundstage's wide and spacious. Imaging was mediocre IMO as it was even worse than my old Sabre DAC. Overall this tube was decent but didn't do anything that widened my eyes or made me jump out of my chair and dance. Hoewever, all of that changed when i plugged in a new tube. Below are some impressions of the stock tube with my main cans:
Everybody know that Beyers love tubes, and with the T1, my DT880's synergized better than anything i've used them with previously. This tube brought some of the impact and weight the Beyers were missing. Vocals are more upfront, soundstage a bit wider, and highs slightly smoother. And the best part is, you're never missing out on the detail!
Sony MDR MA900
To be completely honest, i didn't like this tube with the MA900's. The already forward mids of the 900's coupled with the T1's boosted lower mids made it sound grainy and dark. Vocals were nice, but they weren't smooth. Instruments, although clear, didn't sound very realistic. I kept feeling that there was something like a barrier between me and the music, something thats stopping the music from sounding even better. I guess this is what people mean when they say "veiled". the highs were also masked and lacked some air.
Now this is what i call a proper paring. The stock tube's added bass with an already bass-heavy can made some very enjoyable times. The forwardness in the lower mids of the tube were actually something i enjoyed with the Q40's. This setup screams FUN! I even switch to this tube from my 7308 (which is a lot better) when using the Q40's because its extremely enjoyable and fun sounding.
7308 Amperex tube:
My face when i heard this tube for the first time:
It costs $65, but honestly, this tube is PERFECT. Everything the stock tubes did well, this tube does lot better. And everything the stock tube didn't do well in, this one still does it a lot better. Where do i start? Transparency? Check. Clarity? Double check. Soundstage, realism, and timbre? Check, check, and check. This tube has it all. It really took the T1 on a whole new level for me. The overall sound of this tube is VERY warm, which is why it pairs perfectly with the DT880's. Bass quantity is a bit lower than the stock tube, but the quality of bass really makes a big jump. Extensions is also superb. The mids are the best part of this tube. They're effortless, absolutely astonishing. Silky smooth and even more present than the stock tube, but in a good way. Detailing in the mids is easily picked up as the soundstage is huge. Moving over to the highs, and they're also excellent. Very smooth and not fatiguing in any way. And the soundstage, oh the soundstage. So wide and spacious, almost unreal. Imaging is also equally impressive. I don't think this tube does any wrong.
The Beyers and the 7308 pair so well together its unbelievable. It feels like this tube was made specifically for the DT880's. Everything i said about them with the stock tubes, but now even better. Vocals, instruments are cleared and have a lot more air. The added warmth makes this an absolute pleasure to listen to. Detail is even better than before.
Sony MDR MA900
OK. Now we're talking. First thing that jumps out here is the gigantic soundstage. The harshness of the vocals and the veil that was noticeable on the old tube is now gone. Everything basically sounds nicer. Listening to some Oud songs and the sound has left me speechless. This setup is liquid smooth. A very nice pairing for sure.
The sound here is now clearer, and just like with my other cans, vocals are more upfront and timbre has improved. But that doesn't necessarily translate to more fun. See with a bass-heavy headphone like the Q40's, what i need is bass. A lot of it. the old stock tube had plenty of it. This though, has slightly less. And because the soundstage is wider, i sense that the Q40's are trying too hard to become an open headphone. I liked the stock tube better for this headphone, but that in no way means that is better than the 7308 tube.
I didn't include this IEM on the stock tube impressions because i dont use it a lot with the T1. Hoever after getting this new tube i have found myself using these IEM's more and more. Paired with the 7308 tube, this makes for an excellent rap/Hip-Hop music. Its got plenty of midbass, and thanks to the 7308's forward mids it makes for a great rap/Hip-Hop experience.
Review on different tubes (updated 6/9/2015)
1. Electro-Harmonix 6922 (the stock tube): (Around $20)
Not a lot of wrong this tube does to be honest. I find it to be a great stock tube and i think Aune made the right choice in picking this as the stock tube. From my findings, this tube slightly V-shaped. Bass extension is very deep, however the bass is loose. This is particularly noticed when you compare it to better tubes. There is also a nice amount of midbass punch. Mids, well, they're interesting. I have found vocals to have a "raw" feeling to them. They just don't sound that smooth or refined. They're slightly behind the bass and treble, but not by much (tiny amount). The highs are slightly etched (especially the very upper regions), i would say that the treble is decent but can somewhat sound splashy and uncontrolled at times. Soundstage is wide, imaging is mediocre.
Overall a good tube, but nothing really stands out or makes you dance.
2. USSR 6N23P NOS, late 60's or early 70's production. *NOT the Voshkod version* ($8)
Very dull and lifeless tube. Bass is soft and lacks extension. Highs are rolled off. The mids, though, are somewhat decent. Female vocals sound nice on this tube. This is also partly due to the fact that it has a small soundstage. This makes for a very intimate sound experience. Detail, clarity, transparency of this tube are weak in my opinion. Overall: Cheap. Decent mids. Everything else is bad. Avoid this tube.
3. Amperex 7308 NOS: ($50-90), I got it for $65.
What can i say that hasn't already been said. This is the benchmark tube in my collection, and its also my favorite. There is honestly not a thing this does wrong. I've had it for a year now and i thought that as time goes on im going to notice something that sucks about it, but in all honesty there isn't. Detail, clarity, transparency? Top-notch. The clarity is especially amazing here. Bass goes low. Really low. And it stays tight. Its not the bassiest tube out there but it does pack some nice punch. Mids are astonishing. Ultra-smooth. Hold on, let me say that again. Smooth. Extremely clear with a very slight hint of warmth that makes them that much more musical. Treble is also clean and clear. Nothing rolled off here. Soundstage is also the widest out of my tubes, and imaging is great. I have been listening to Hans Zimmer's "Rush" movie official soundtrack on this tube, coupled with my MA900's which already have a wide soundstage, the experience was sublime.
Overall: Neutral tube with a slight hint of warmth, and superb sonic abilities. Expensive, but worth it in my opinion. Recommended!
4. Amperex 6DJ8 (Or is it?) Small Halo Getter NOS, made in Holland. ($20)
I thought i stumbled upon a gem when i saw a 6DJ8 Amperex for $20, but then i realized this might actually be fake. Firstly, the writing on it actually says "Electron United" in yellow. After reading more and more about tubes, i learned that genuine Amperex tubes have gold pins, a circle in the middle of the pins, and 4 lines that start on the top of the tube. This particular tube does not have the circle, and it doesn't have gold pins. Most of you guys here are more knowledgeable at identifying tubes, so please tell me what exactly this tube is.
Anyway, onto the sound: This thing is MUSICAL. Very, very warm tube. The bass is softer than what i would prefer and the subbass is not as present, but nevertheless it has good quality bass. Mids are very musical and warm. Guitars and stringed instruments sound wonderful on this tube. The mids are also very slightly forward, but they're extremely smooth and never sound "raw" like in the stock tube for example. Treble takes a step back here. This definitely has the most subdued highs of all my tubes. But i like that actually. The soundstage here is almost as wide as the 7308, but not quite. Imaging is only decent. Technical abilities such as clarity, detail and transparency are good, but they're not as good as the 7308 for example. Still close to be honest. Again, this is an extremely musical tube. You plug it in and you simply won't care if its not technically superior to your other tubes. This is the kind of tube that you would not mind listening to for the entire day. Its impossible to hate this tube.
Overall: Warm and musical. Well worth the price i payed for. Recommended!
5. Siemens ECC88 NOS ($23) (thanks @mikoss for recommending this tube!)
I was looking for a tube that does electronic music well and ended up getting this. So, is it any good? Yes. Absolutely. First thing i want to mention is the level of detail this thing has. I was shocked. This thing costs as much as makes no difference half the price of my Amperex 7308 and has the same amount of detail. And the 7308 is already hyper-detailed to my ears. Both those tubes are the most detailed in my collection. This tube is fun! The bass extension is deep and subbass has got a lot of presence. Bass quality is very good, bass stays tight and controlled. Maybe there's a tiny, and i mean tiny bit of looseness but that may be my imagination. This tube had the impact i was searching for in the bass. The mids are withdrawn and sound a bit thin compared to say the 6dj8 Amperex. However, they are clear and detailed. The highs have slightly more presence than neutral, but the treble is not that fatiguing. Unlike the stock tube, the treble here (although etched) is clean and not splashy. Soundstage is only decent, however the imaging is extremely good. This tube has the best imaging in my collection. Definitely a keeper.
Overall: Very fun tube. Boosted bass and highs, excels with electronic. Recommended!
6. GE Smokie 6DJ8 NOS ($18)
First of all, can i say this tube looks like nobody's business when plugged in to the T1. It honestly looks menacing and badass. I've never enjoyed looking at a tube this much before.
In terms of sound, this is definitely one of the budget kings. Has a very enjoyable and fun sound. This thing has strong midbass. Probably the most powerful midbass of all my tubes. Subbass extension is also good. Mids are not forward nor recessed (or at least to my ears) they are right where they should be. The mids are meaty and thicker in comparison to they Siemens. Actually the sound as a whole feels more meaty and authoritative. The highs are also very nice. They are slightly laid back (very slightly) which makes them work for brighter headphones. This tube has great clarity and transparency for its price.
Overall: A budget king. Bassy without making the rest of the frequency suffer. Recommended!
Many users have modded their units with new capacitors, which they say improve the amp section of the T1. If you go to the T1's appreciation thread you will notice many different mods and experiments you could try. A mod i have done is the color LED mod which makes the tube glow in a particular color. You won't see this in the photos i have taken because the mod was not done at the time of taking the photos.
The Bad Stuff
Of course, you can't have it all. So here's some things i dislike about the T1. Firstly, the unit gets physically hot, and this seems to be a problem with a lot of T1 users. However, this should not be a a major drawback. Another issue is the T1's quality control issues, especially with their later batches. Luckily i bought my T1 a year ago and its bulletproof. But There have been many, and i mean many, issues with people on the T1's thread lately. And then there's the biggest problem of them all:
Bad customer service (My story with Aune)
About a year ago when i first got my T1, i had a problem with the transformer (power brick). As soon as i plugged it in, it blew up and made a bad smell. From then on i couldn't use my T1 for a month. During this month i kept emailing Aune for them to send me a replacement transformer. They never replied. I emailed them about 5 to 6 times, but i never got any message back. I even made another email because i thought that my messages weren't being sent. Until one day, i had it. Its been nearly 6 weeks and the T1's is just sitting there collecting dust, no use for it whatsoever. I emailed them, but this time i was really angry about it. I told them that i would never recommend an Aune product to anyone ever. And that they have been a big disappointment. 3 hours later, i got a reply. But even then, they said that i would have to pay $10 for the transformer, and that they cant give it to me for free. I purchased two for ($20).
Magnificent sound, tube rolling, superb build quality, versatility, value, and a powerful amp.
Unit gets hot, Aune customer service, some QC issues with later batches.
All in all, i highly recommend this tube and i can tolerate Aune's customer service for the marvelous sound this unit produces.
PS: I am open to criticism, if you have tips for future reviews please write them down below.