xDuoo TA-26s is the latest iteration of quite a famous TA-26 tube headphone amplifier. In this review I’ll go into what’s new about it, how it compares with other similarly priced amplifiers, and what are the best matches. So without further ado, let’s start.
Build and Features
xDuoo TA-26s is a big and chunky amplifier, made of aluminium, and weighing 3.9 kg. A big linear power supply requires a big transformer that is located in the square bulk behind tubes. Talking about the tubes, we have 6N8P in the preamplifier section and the bigger 6N5P used in the buffer section. Output power is very decent and goes up to 500 mW. One thing to notice here is that this is an OTL (Output Transformer-Less) amplifier which makes it more suitable for higher-impedance headphones. xDuoo says that everything north from 60 Ohms is supported, but my 62 Ohms AKG K702 wouldn’t cooperate. The pairing worked OK at first but after some time distortion would slowly creep into the sound. Because of this, I wouldn’t recommend pairing TA-26s with anything below 100 Ohms.
When it comes to connectivity, things are quite simple. In the back, we find one line input in the form of RCA connectors, but also one line output with variable volume control so this unit can serve as a small tube preamp. In the front, there are two headphone-outs. One of these is single-ended 6.3 mm while the other one is balanced 4.4 mm. That balanced output is the only difference from the previous version TA-26 without the “s” suffix.
xDuoo TA-26s sounds just as you would expect from a really good OTL tube amplifier, but let’s start with the basics. Tonality is really well judged, and you can’t say that sound is either warm or cold. No matter what kind of music I listened to, it sounded just right and naturally balanced. The bassline is weighty but at the same time quite nimble and clean. Some solid-state amps would sound more forceful in this region but you could notice that only in a direct comparison. Moving to the midrange and higher, TA-26s will show you why people love tube amplifiers in the first place. The sound is very smooth to the point that it has that almost liquid-like character that is simply unattainable for solid-state amps, at least anywhere close to this price. Because of this both vocals and instruments sound very natural and coherent, without any harshness or juggedness. The music simply flows. But if you think this comes from an overly sweet sound, you would be wrong. On the contrary, TA-26s sounds very open and presents very well-extended highs. Its fluidity is not faked by excessive warmth that simply covers rough edges, it’s achieved by having a very coherent sound in the time domain. Once again, that’s something that really good tube amps are known for.
The soundstaging is very decent. There is a good sense of air and empty space around the instruments, making the sound positively decluttered.
The only place that you might find TA-26s give some ground is if we talk about dynamics. Now please don’t get me wrong, this is not some weak and lifeless sounding amp, not at all. It’s just that when put directly next to some solid-state powerhouse, it can not fully match the kick and explosive dynamics that these amps can do. On the other hand, those can’t match the fluidity and coherence of this one, so it’s up to you to prioritize.
xDuoo TA-26 that came before is the exact same amplifier with the exact same sound signature. Having or not having 4.4 mm output is the only difference. I just wanted to put it out there so it’s clear.
Topping L70 comes at a similar price. It’s one of those solid-state amps that I talked about previously. This means L70 will have more kick and grunt, which will be most easily noticed in dynamic songs with a heavy bassline. On the other hand, L70 will not match the natural smoothness and time domain coherence of TA-26s even though it’s actually a quite smooth-sounding amp itself. So once again, choose according to your own priorities. Sound aside, it’s worth noting that L70 will cooperate with low-impedance headphones without any problem. I personally used 8 Ohm planars that simply wouldn’t work with TA-26s.
Topping A30 Pro is another powerful solid-state amp that can be found at a similar price. This one has a slightly warmer bassline than both TA-26s and L70 but a somewhat laid-back midrange. This might suit your headphones or your preference, but I find TA-26s to be the more neutral sounding. Also, the A30 pro does have a tendency to sound a bit dry in the midrange and upper registers. You might not notice that in isolation, but you do when you compare it directly to L70, and especially TA-26s. When it comes to dynamics, kick, and punchiness, solid-state A30 pro will win this category just as L70 did.
xDuoo TA-26s is a quality-made and truly great-sounding amplifier. Admittedly, it’s not suitable for low-impedance headphones and it wouldn’t be my first choice for electronic music. But if you’re using high-impedance headphones and enjoy the natural, smooth, and fluid sound – look no further.
|XDUOO TA-26S – CHARACTERISTICS|
Power Supply: AC100~120V/220~240V