A week ago I received Tube T5, a tube preamp from fairly unfamiliar brand AIYIMA. It’s a small preamp with integrated DAC, or DAC with volume control and additional analog inputs if you will. T5 offers headphone output on the front which is quite common. The thing that’s not that common is a Bluetooth connection on such an affordable product.
In the heart of its digital section, there’s a C-media HS100B audio chip. It offers very basic support of 16 bit, 44.1 kHz and 48 kHz playback, no support for hi-res formats whatsoever. Personally, I don’t take it as a big handicap as equipment at this level doesn’t benefit from it much anyway. Other than that, T5 is using Texas Instruments MC33078 operational amplifier as a headphone amp and Qualcomm CSR8635 Bluetooth chip.
BUILD AND FEATURES
The build is sturdy and the device feels positively hefty. Whole-body is made of brushed aluminum with a thick front panel. Tubes are located under the hood which gets hot during operation. Factory supplied ones are 6K4 but you can change them if you wish to do that. I stuck with the default ones during this review.
On the back, we find a USB digital input, a Bluetooth antenna, as well as two analog inputs: a pair of RCAs and 3.5 mm stereo jack.
The front panel hosts a 6.35 mm headphone out, one button and volume knob. The display is sufficiently big and bright to be readable in all conditions.
Last but not least, it comes with a nice looking and functional remote. You can operate all T5’s functions using it so the main unit doesn’t need to be in your reach.
SOUND (LINE OUT / PRE OUT)
I hooked T5 to my main system – Cyrus 8vs2 and KEF LS50s to test its line out. The sound coming from this device was fairly balanced. It doesn’t emphasize any region in particular. Bass notes are sufficiently weighty. Vocals are rendered in a present and dense fashion, just very slightly on the warm side. High frequencies are present enough, but never too bright or harsh. Overall energy and dynamics are satisfying. Soundstage width is quite decent too.
Listening to this nicely balanced presentation I never felt the need to use its tone controls. I eventually tried them just to quickly return to the so-called Hifi mode, which is flat. Simply, no tone alterations were needed in my system.
A quick comparison with DragonFly Black was interesting. T5 and Black are so close in their overall music presentation that they might be indistinguishable in a less resolute system. Overall tonality, dynamics, soundstage width and depth are neck on neck. That said, in my setup, I preferred T5 just a bit. It offered slightly more control over bass notes and slightly smoother sound overall.
SOUND (HEADPHONE OUT)
Moving to the headphone output, a similarly balanced approach continues. Tonality is great and yet again I don’t find any reason to use tone controls with any of my headphones. Power level is more than sufficient to drive my Takstar Pro 82, AKG K92 as well as triple driver IEMs Senfer DT6 or Tin Audio T2. All of those sounded very dynamic and could go quite loud. That said, some background hiss is hearable trough low impedance IEMs so this might not be the best choice for such models.
Again, a quick comparison with DragonFly Black was interesting as Black possesses a great headphone amp. I must say that even though T5 puts a fair fight, this time around Black wins. Power levels are comparable but small dongle offers crispier upper mids and highs, digging more tiny details from these regions. It also doesn’t have hissing issue with low impedance earphones.
Pairing with my Android phone went quickly and without any fuss. One odd thing to notice is that T5 was recognized as Tube 06. The connection stayed stable through the course of several songs. I was moving around my room a bit and it didn’t drop or make any popping sounds.
Audio quality I was getting using the BT connection was quite good for casual listening. Presentation is somewhat softer on the edges and not as detailed compared to USB input but that’s to be expected. Bluetooth is more about convenience anyway, and this one is quick and easy to use.
AIYIMA T5 is a quite capable and feature-rich device for the price. Very decent sound quality over line/pre-out is going in its favor. The same goes for analog inputs and Bluetooth connection wich are rarely bundled at this price point. Headphone out is of a decent quality too. You have to be careful about headphone pairing though as low impedance headphones are prone to hissing. Lastly, format support leaves something to be desired.
Competition such as Dragonfly Black can offer some advantages in terms of formats, and IEM support, but T5 offers more ways to connect, to control your volume and tone. If hi-res formats and low impedance IEMs are not something you tend to use, T5 is a very capable device for the asking price.
|AIYIMA TUBE T5 – CHARACTERISTICS|
D/A converter: C-media HS100B
AIYIMA Store: www.aiyima.com
AIYIMA T5: https://www.aliexpress.com/item/4000150250433.html