xDuoo TA-30: lots of power and tube sweetness in a very complete all-in-one
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DeBilbao

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My favourite sound profile must contain a certain quantity of color and warmth, full-bodied, with good bass, better mids, a slightly recessed highs to avoid fatigue and a sound stage not so big as I'm more into small Jazz groups. My main rig is solid state, but I've always found tubes sound very attractive.

Last summer I shared with you my impressions about the xDuoo TA-10 and TA-20, two interesting devices with hybrid amplification, and I was eager to try the last creation of the Chinese manufacturer, now a full tube design with a 5Z3P rectifier and two 12AU7, in a configuration that includes everything you'll ever need to enjoy MUSIC (yes, in capital letters), as it includes a very powerful amplifier, a very good ESS Sabre ES9038Q2M DAC, analog and digital inputs, even a Bluetooth receiver to use your mobile or tablet as a source.

If you like the magic of tubes and headphone listening, this is a device that will make you smile even with the harder to move stuff, as its 3 watts are pure power and control.



This time the TA-30 has been provided directly by the manufacturer xDuoo, and my review will be mostly subjective, based the feelings and the music, beyond the typical specs repetition, as all the product information is available on their website , where it can be purchased for $ 710 USD. Keep in mind that although it's small, it is quite heavy and and doesn't go unnoticed by customs.



I've tested this unit with my reference headphones, which as you may know are my beloved Sennheiser HD 650, mid-range class but in my opinion with high-end sound, and I have also compared it with my usual rig: Rega EAR MKII amplifier, Rega DAC and Topping D10 as a USB to SPDIF and TosLink converter.



I'll start with my conclusions, after testing it intensely during three full weeks. The best way to test a device is in your own house, with your own music and enough time. And after this three weeks, i've found

  • That the HD 650s scale phenomenally with powerful amps, and power in this xDuoo's is huge and high quality
  • That tube sound matches perfectly with the HD650s, as the distortion, far from being a problem, is the magic of the recipe for a full-bodied sound, as I like it.
  • That the darker sound signature of the HD 650 is brightened by Sabre's DAC and at times it even looks too bright to me. I've experienced this in the past with other equipment that include Sabre DACs, like the Burson Conductor.
  • That I prefer Rega's DAC to Sabre's DAC, because Rega offers a more analogical sound, less spectacular, but I can listen to it for hours.
  • That xDuoo has done a very good job isolating the typical noises and interferences, something I have found with all the tube amplifiers I have tried so far, and this one offers a totally black background, free of noise.
  • That the XDuoo TA-30 is very convenient, as it integrates everything you may need except your source and headphones.
  • That you can use it integrated in your living room Hi-Fi setup, thanks to its line input and output
  • That the Bluetooth 5.0 input offers a very high quality, to my ears indistinguishable from the wired signal



The TA-30 comes very well protected. It's compact and will fit in any desktop, but don't forget that it weighs around 3 kg. It comes with the 3 tubes, two tube protectors that avoid to put on as I find them a bit ugly, the power cable, USB cable, a 3.5mm to quarter inch adapter and the antenna for the Bluetooth receiver. You only need a plug, connect it to your source and your favorite headphones to enjoy.



Construction quality is good, nice materials, well assembled, but with some design flaws. The black surface is a magnet for fingerprints and the volume knob is a bit dangerous because it should offer more resistance, as with the enormous power it has it is easy to take it to an area where you can damage your hearing. Be careful with that.

Besides the knowledge issue, in the front it sports a too simple 1.3" OLED panel with the typical Chinese typography, and I would've liked a little more polished design of the interface. Right to the screen it has an input selector button, another button to select between seven filters - I've found no difference between them - another button to start Bluetooth pairing with your source and one more button to choose between English and Chinese interface. It seems a bit weird for me to have one button only for this.

Pluging and unplugging the tubes is effortless, something that those who like to try different models will appreciate, and one thing I don't like about them is that they don't fit perfectly. In a german design, the tubes would sit perfectly, with the logos centered and aligned. Obviously it doesn't affect the sound, but this little details are what make make you feel that it's a premium product.



On the back you have a well built IEC socket, the power switch, and 4 digital inputs: USB supporting PCM up to 768Kbps, DXD and DSD, coaxial and optical supporting PCM up to 24/192 and DSD64, and the connection for the Bluetooth antenna used to receive the signal from your mobile, supporting all types of codecs, SBC, AAC, aptX, aptX HD, aptX LL and LDAC.

In addition to digital inputs, it has an analog RCA line input and an analog line output, so you can use it as a preamp to connect the output of your DAC to the amplifier of your living room equipment. This is very practical if you want to integrate it into your Hi-Fi setup and use it whether you want to listen to music with headphones or speakers.



Most of the music I listen to is 16-bit and 44.1Khz (regular CDs), so the first thing I've tried is the USB input with this source, and the combination with the Sennheiser HD 650 is fabulous.

My first selection is the last work of Charles Lloyd with The Marvels and the voice of Lucinda Williams. It's a very carefully recorded album by Blue Note, with multiple layers of instruments, perfectly presented with clarity, separation and harmony, in a work that fuses jazz and American folk sound.

The first track Dust is dominated by the mids, with Lucinda's voice or Bill Frisel's guitar, but the highs also have their good moments, some passages with Lloyd's saxophone more aggressive combined with drum cymbals, and though the bass is not very present, the bass drum is there, marking the tempo and creating the rhythmic base.

The second track gives the title to the album Vanished Gardens and is a composition with a lot of air, evocative, with lots of sounds coming from all directions. Surely a headphone with a wider and deeper soundstage would allow you get more joyfulness, but with the HD 650, it leaves my mouth open and invites me to close my eyes and wandering away with a complex melody and very well though composition. Lloyd's mark is there.

We follow with a ballad like Ventura, in which the chords of Frisel's guitar are the prelude to a song dominated by the voice of Lucinda Williams. Pure American sound, old and analogical. I think this album is extraordinary for trying out headphones.

Charles Lloyd & The Marvels + Lucinda Williams: Vanished Gardens (2018, Blue Note)

https://album.link/s/2q6z7yobPwN2YTkR8U4i1z



Back to a more classical Jazz, I choose the collection of recordings that Coltrane made with Prestige. 8 vinyl records, collected in 8 CDs that start with a long and wonderful Lush Life. There are all my favorite jazzmen: Kenny Burrell and his guitar, Donald Byrd and his trumpet, Paul Chambers and his double bass, the recently deceased Jimmy Cobb and his drums, Tommy Flanagan and his piano, Louis Hayes, Wilbur Harden, Freddie Hubbard, Art Taylor... the list of artists is incredible and the elegance in the execution sublime.

It's the late '50s and that's my favorite time in jazz. Music to savour, to taste, like good wine or good food, calmly and without any hurry. The recording is good, not at the level of the previous one, but very enjoyable and in which the wind instruments are leading the performance along with good rhythmic sections.

The xDuoo TA-30 plays everything with authority and control, but especially thrills me with the notes of Coltrane's saxophone.

John Coltrane: Coltrane '58 The Prestige Recordings (2018, Craft Recordings)



Music continues to take me on a journey and now I'm in Brazil with João Gilberto. This CD which includes two of his albums, Amoroso and Brasil. The first bars of Aquarela do Brasil transport me directly there and the theme asks for anything but brightness. This track is to be listened to in a soft and mellow tone, and the tubes win the game, with a very good presentation. João's voice sounds mellow and enveloping, delicious. Guitar and vocals with the company of some arrangements maybe a little overdone but if they wanted to be meant to transport you to the Guanabara Bay, you get there without a doubt.

João Gilberto: Amoroso-Brasil (1993, Warner Bros.)

https://album.link/i/404520885



But as we are testing and want to see how far the xDuoo TA-30 goes, I change the register and move on to my collection of albums from the German label ACT, which are a real wonder, very high quality recordings. One of my latest discoveries is Ahlam, from the valencian trio NES, made up of the French-Algerian Nesrine Belmokh who sings like an angel and plays the cello beautifully, Matthieu Saglio who also plays the cello and David Gadea, a valencian percussionist. I have to control the volume, because my body asks me to turn it up and up, and without reaching a quarter of the knob, I've reached the limit. What a sound, what a deep and controlled bass, what a delicious timbre on the strings, how well it resolves the vocals and how beautiful the album is... I love it.

NES: Ahlam (2018, ACT)

https://album.link/es/i/1372827858



Next step is to test the line input connected to the Rega DAC output to check the difference between the ESS Sabre ES9038Q2M DAC, and I find that the Sabre offers more detail than the Rega, although I like more the Rega because it allows me to listen to it for hours and hours without any fatigue. The ES9038Q2M is spectacular and maybe I'm getting older, but I prefer a more relaxed sound.

So I keep listening to the ACT catalogue and choose Jan Lundgren's Potsdamer Platz. I can position all the instruments on the stage clearly, there's a lot of air between them and I can feel all the layers perfectly, with a delicious, very realistic timbre, soft and warm. Lundgren's piano, Jukka Perko's saxophone, Dan Berglund's bass and Morten Lund's percussion. A quartet to let yourself go and enjoy.

Jan Lundgren: Potsdamer Platz (2018, ACT)

https://album.link/es/i/1182454482



I'm just the opposite of a basshead, but I love the bass and the deep, controlled sound of a good bass. And there are very good albums that have the bass as the main character, but not many featuring two. This duo work of the great Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen together with Sam Jones is a good example, and the xDuoo TA-30 presents the sound with authority, a good controlled and deep bass as it should be.

Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen & Sam Jones: Double Bass (1988, StpeepleChase)

https://album.link/es/i/159108275



Another of my favorite songs to test the bass and mids, is All or Nothing at All, from the album Love Scenes by Diana Krall. She is not one of my favorite artists, but I have to recognize that she has a wide repertoire of very well recorded albums that are nice to listen to. I've chosen the DVD-Audio edition at 24-bit and 96kHz, with an excellent bitrate of almost 3Mbps and it starts with a stellar bass sound.

The xDuoo TA-30 doesn't even get mushy and asks you for more and more volume with that bass and that track. And if the bass is good, the mids are excellent and Diana's voice feels intimate and very realistic, much more sweeter than she is. I will always remember a live performance at the Vitoria-Gasteiz Jazz Festival where she only had to play with her back to the audience.

https://album.link/es/i/1440788696



And to end this musical chronicle, I finish with one of those albums that you keep with love in your collection and that's so well recorded that demand a good performing gear. A Distortion of Love is an enigmatic and minimalist album, in which Patricia Barber starts off with a ghostly version of the classic Summertime, mixing her whispering voice, the piano keys and using the pedal to create a rhythm section with herself.

But it's all a mirage before she energetically enters the second cut. Subway Station is a sonic festival, with Marc Johnson's bass and Adam Nussbaum's drums as the perfect chorus. Again an exquisite presentation of musical information by the xDuoo TA-30.

https://album.link/es/i/1443183274



As a final summary, I would say that if you like the warm sound signature of a tube amp for headphone listening, the xDuoo TA-30 is a device that has everything you would need to make any headphone shine. You can use it as a preamp, as an amplifier, as a DAC, you can even send via Bluetooth what you're listening to on your mobile... a very modern and well finished piece of equipment.

The Sabre DAC is a bit cold for my liking, and I prefer the softness of my Rega DAC combined with the Rega EAR. All solid state, but producing a very analog sound that I love.

:L3000::L3000::L3000:
 
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