Khadas Tone Board is a small and unassuming board, but it is actually a fully functional DAC. Why no case you ask? Because it’s primarily aimed at developers but there’s nothing stopping you from trying it out too. True, it doesn’t have a case but you can hook it to your PC or a phone and it will work right out of the box.
This board is produced by a company named Khadas and its name is simply Tone Board. The whole board is made around very nice Sabre DAC chip ES9038Q2M and it retails for just $99 or 89€.
Now let’s talk about connectivity first. We have line-out through a pair of RCA connectors, as well as two digital inputs: coaxial and USB. A USB input is also doubling as a power source. You don’t have any means of switching inputs so it works this way – USB is a priority input and if any audio signal is detected there the DAC will prioritize it over Coaxial. Coaxial input will turn only if it receives an audio signal while USB input is not. For example, if you’re using USB just to power it. If Tone Board is connected to a PC via USB but you want to use Coaxial input, you don’t need to disconnect it physically, just pause your music and all other sounds on that PC and you’re immediately free to use Coaxial input.
I connected KTB (Khadas Tone Board) through USB and Windows 10 recognized it right away, no drivers needed. However, generic Windows driver is USB Audio 1.0 class and that means it is limited to 24bit/96kHz. If you want to fully utilize all the formats KTB supports, just head to the manufacturer’s website and fetch the driver. After that, your KTB will be happy playing PCM up to 32bit/384kHz as well as any DSD up to DSD256.
Now that we got technicalities out of the way, let’s talk sound. Khadas Tone Board sounds very well balanced without any harshness you may get with some Sabre powered products. Let’s start with the bass. It’s very deep but fast and well-controlled. Bass notes sound deep and rumbling and are seamlessly melting into the mid-bass region which again rich and full. The story continues with mid-tones which sound full and rich with details creating present and weighty vocals. Going to the higher tones, they’re full of details but not overly bright or sharp in any way.
Because of everything mentioned above, listening to any instrument or vocals through KTB gives a full-bodied experience. It will not convey the airy feel of the recording as well as some other DACs but you wouldn’t notice that without a direct comparison with a more open and airy DAC like Schiit Modi 3. Some may even prefer this full and fluid presentation over the airiness and digging every last piece of information from the recording. Now add to that great dynamics, very decent sound-stage, and great instrument separation, and I think it’s safe to say that we have a full package here.
As I mentioned above, Khadas Tone Board is not as open and airy as Schiit Modi 3 or Loxjie D10 for example. It makes up for it with its full, big, and lush sound. It’s up to you to prioritize. iFi Zen Dac is a bit more expensive but it’s worth considering. Sonically it sits somewhere in the middle, it can offer both weighty bass notes and vocals, as well as an airy and open soundstage.
Khadas Tone Board is more than a decent sounding device. When I first got it almost a year before this written review I was captivated by its sound quality and I made a raving video review. A year later it might not be the absolutely best sounding DAC in the price range, but it is darn close. Depending on the availability and pricing of competing models in your country, KTB is still an option well worth considering.