xDuoo TA-22 balanced hybrid tube DAC/Amp/Preamp

General Information

In brief, the TA-22 sports RCA analog and XLR analog inputs, plus DAC inputs for USB (B receptacle), coaxial, optical and major Bluetooth codecs including LDAC. The TA-22 uses these to feed its back-side preamp RCA out (controlled by volume knob), another RCA line-out (volume unaffected), and front-side headphone jacks that are standard single-ended 6.35 mm (what every receiver calls its "headphone out"), a pentaconn 4.4 mm balanced output and a 4-pin XLR balanced out.

The "hybrid" part of the TA-22 name refers to the fact that its two 12AU7 tubes are supported by "transistors for a Class A buffer," so not "OTL" as other tube amps are. The benefit of using solid state transistors coupled to the tubes ought to be driving a wider range of headphone impedances. The 22 claims up to 3 watts output via balanced outs.

Latest reviews

PDC3

Head-Fier
Xduoo TA-22 balanced hybrid tube DAC/Amp/Preamp provides desktop love
Pros: Feature set
Value
Sound quality meets or exceeds asking price
Cons: Menu takes some getting used to
Simultaneous preamp and headphone amp output won't work for every set up

TLDR;​

A quality all-in-one desktop unit that arguably delivers beyond its sub-$500 (US) asking price. Gives solid evidence of how tube listening can differ from solid state listening, without over-the-top "tubey" sound effect. Easily recommended.

Brief Overview​

The Xduoo site is worth your attention when you want all the details. In brief, the TA-22 sports RCA analog and XLR analog inputs, plus DAC inputs for USB (B receptacle), coaxial, optical and major Bluetooth codecs including LDAC. The TA-22 uses these to feed its back-side preamp RCA out (controlled by volume knob), another RCA line-out (volume unaffected), and front-side headphone jacks that are standard single-ended 6.35 mm (what every receiver calls its "headphone out"), a pentaconn 4.4 mm balanced output and a 4-pin XLR balanced out.

The "hybrid" part of the TA-22 name refers to the fact that its two 12AU7 tubes are supported by "transistors for a Class A buffer," so not "OTL" as other tube amps are. The benefit of using solid state transistors coupled to the tubes ought to be driving a wider range of headphone impedances. The 22 claims up to 3 watts output via balanced outs.

Works Well Once You Know...​

I bought my unit on the strength of Josh Valour and other reviews, where the many headphone out options won me over versus the $200+ more expensive Lyr+ by Schiit. I'm quite pleased.

The dashing red volume knob works as expected, with a gentle clicking I don't notice any imbalance at low volumes although Xduoo doesn't boast of a "relay ladder volume control" the way the (louder clicking) Lyr+ does.

Pressing the red knob leads to the menu system. There is a quirk to the menu system, which makes ergonomic sense once the unit is set to your preferences. A quick press changes inputs. In fact, it changes inputs at the very first press, before the screen even registers that you've entered input options. A LONG press leads to other menu functions. Why this way? Well, I'm guessing that once you have "Long" features like filter type and gain set to your preference, what you'd want to do fastest and simplest is change inputs.

I don't see any control for outputs. In fact, the hp out and preamp RCA out worked simultaneously, as did hp and RCA line-outs. Some of you will have setups where that's a bother. (Contrariwise, I personally look forward to a future set-up where I pull out of storage an outboard sub and run it simultaneously with my Grado RS-1 VERY OPEN headphones. THAT should prove interesting.)

I set gain to "Medium" of the three levels, which means for most of my headphones: quiet listening at a setting of 20 (of 100), casual listening at 37-40, rocking out at 60, ear-ringing at 70.

Phones I Used on TA-22, Effect Compared to Asgard 2​

Focal -Drop Elex (great)
Dan Clarke Audio -Drop Aeon Closed (slightly different, equally good)
AKG "Quincy Jones" Q701 (very good)
Shure 1540 closed (equally good)
7Hz Timeless iem (great)

I listened to the Focal Elex both single-ended and 4.4 balanced. Not a big difference, if any. That suggests to me, given that I thought both experiences great, the SE headphone out has gotten its fair share of love from the Xduoo team, not playing second fiddle to the balanced outs.

The 7Hz Timeless I normally use on walks driven by the Fiio BTR 7 using 4.4 balanced. Sounds really good then, yet sounded even better out of the TA-22. Wider soundstage, more incisive treble, equally authoritative in the bass.

TA-22 Sound Experience vs Schiit Asgard 2​

The Asgard 2 is the "pure Class A" solid state amp from the Schiit team, before the days of the continuity circuit. It runs hot - significantly hotter than the TA-22 in fact.

Being poetic, the Asgard 2 is a chef's knife serving up the meat while the TA-22 sprinkles garnish over the plate. The Asgard 2 is incisive, the bass is firm, the soundstage is tight and so instruments are not noticeably in their own individual spaces.

The TA-22 offers bass presence and a touch of reverb that seems to fill a larger acoustic space. Instruments in higher registers are more spread out, and inhabit distinct spaces within this broader soundstage. Percussives in treble regions seem to ring a touch longer, or at least more obviously.

What This Means for Matching Phones and Tracks​

The effect of the TA-22 wasn't uniform across my phones. It seemed most noticeable and most welcome on the Focal Elex and the 7Hz Timeless.

These two really delivered on orchestral tracks. Try Osmo Vansk and the Minnesota Orchestra playing Bruckner or Mahler in hi rez. Similarly, big band sounds were fun too, like Christian McBride's big band or Ron Carter's Great Big Band (all puns intended, I'm sure). The TA-22 experience is closer to listening to stereo tracks through a good surround sound home theater, while the Asgard 2 is intimate and authoritative.

BTW, the Ron Carter album is "only" CD quality on Qobuz, and I have it 96/24 on my little HiBy R3, so I used the R3 USB out to the TA-22 to test the functionality of an Android out. Not only did it work well, the audio quality seemed a bit more precise. Now, I didn't carefully level match so maybe not. But if a sub-$500 DAC/Amp can approach distinguishing CD quality from Hi Rez, that's pretty darn fine.

Now, having heard POOR surround sound, I know something about how to mess up a good thing. Too much reverb means muddy bass, smearing cymbals, and a loss of precision in instrument placement. The TA-22 avoids these errors quite nimbly, thank you. Timbre seems realistic from strings to brass to winds. Well done.

Still, there's a rock and roll experience that, to my taste, is not about soundstage. Its about power, clarity and sharply defined edge to each note. The Asgard 2 delivers better in these characteristics.

Things I Didn't Test​

Look elsewhere if you require information on a) effect of rolling tubes b) XLR input c) Sound Quality of preamp/line-out functions, SQ of coax or optical inputs. Haven't assessed those elements.

Where's This Guy Coming From?​

I've always been a skeptic of high-end audio, in part out of envy (I've never had that kind of discretionary cash) and partly because I spent the 1970s frustrated by the ills of vinyl. The hiss during a quiet piano passage, the turntable rumble you can't cast off, the fussiness of cartridge and tone arm balancing. So along comes CD and I'm in heaven. But audiophiles? Oh no, vinyl is superior claimed (some) audiophiles. Bah, humbug to high end, says I.

So I gravitated towards a Ken Rockwell, "if it measures flat coming out of an Apple device then it must be good enough for me" sort of minimalistic point-of-view. Except my audio experiences kept overturning that philosophy. The Schiit Modi/Magni beat out the Apple hp out. The Asgard 2 beat out the original Magni. Nothing subtle about it, the evidence was in both my ears.

Still, I avoided tubes. "Why pay more for more distortion?" was my feeling. Then this last Christmas I visited family who lived within a 90 minute drive of the Schittr, the retail outlet of Schiit. I thought I wanted a Jotunheim. But then I heard the Folkvangr, bristling with tubes, via an AKG K701, close cousin to my Q701. So I knew! Never had my Q701 sounded that good; nor did the K701 sound that good from the Jotunheim on hand at the Schittr. So I dropped my distaste for tubes at that moment. And I ceased to feel superior to people who wanted to drop $1k or more on audio equipment. BUT it was now too late to evaluate the Lyr+ closely. Family called.

So since then I've been contemplating the Lyr+ but a bit unhappy it would obviate my small stash of balanced cables. And while I hadn't long with the Lyr+ I knew it wasn't in Folkvangr range, so was there a point? Along comes the TA-22 and here we are. Smiling, singing, whistling, happy. (Sure, the Lyr+ might yet be better still. Don't tell me just yet, I"m enjoying the high.)

Happy listening, whatever your groove!

Attachments

  • Screenshot 2023-03-10 at 5.13.51 PM.png
    Screenshot 2023-03-10 at 5.13.51 PM.png
    512.6 KB · Views: 0
I
Ieonasj
im changed stock tubes (this is TAD 12au7w or same psvane red logos) to rft and telefunken nos. differenr sohnd step up fron stock tubes
  • Like
Reactions: Hebs
Hebs
Hebs
Leo, can you post a photo of the tubes you changed?
Hebs
Hebs
@Eseales59 , cannot tell you exactly. I have experience with de Grado, but my testing was with the Elex and HD800S. I think you might enjoy it. I don't find the TA-22 lacking at all in bite and speed with these phones!
And remember, you can always tube roll!

Comments

tinkererGCH

New Head-Fier
Hi there, I also got a xDuoo TA-22 with a scewed display done the right side. I try to open it and got all the screws out, but now sure how the red button is attached. that seems to preventing me opening the unit. Anyone has an idea, just try pulling it off or twisting it? neither seems to work. or is it screwed on like a screw?
 
Back
Top