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View Full Discussion Day 0: Initial impressions shortly after unboxing and wiring up.
First annoyance. Came with the wrong power cord. Looks to be an Aussie termination, and not a standard NEMA. Quickly replaced. Luckily I've got nearly as many power cords as I do tubes. Either way, very much so minus one star for this. I'd have been right pissed off it I didn't have a power cable of the right termination ready and waiting for the amp. They're common, but not everyone is a cable packrat or in an IT type of role.
Second annoyance. The stock tubes are fairly meh Chinese 12AU7... which I replaced before even powering up the amp. I can do very much better with American NOS and there is no point in my breaking in these tubes. They can go into the bin with all the other Chinese tubes that I'll likely never use for anything other than potentially destructive experiments and extreme worst case backups. I'd deduct a star for this, but the price bracket for this amp is about right without a set of western tubes.
Stuffed a nice matched pair of clear top RCA 12AU7A from '66 which I sourced from eBay in it. Not unobtainum, nor wildly overpriced. Speaking of better, here we are.
Once it was setup and powered on I got to listening. Volume dial is 0-99. It gets extremely loud. I found that ~60 was perfect for my Beyer's. Clicking on the volume dial selects the input, the unit defaulting to volume of 0 and input of aux1.
Speaking of annoyances, third one here. The blue LCD for volume is rather bright, going to have to slap a tinted sticker over it or something. Yest that is my middle finger over the LED display, no I'm not giving everyone the bird.
Initial impressions of the sound quality though? With upgraded tubes this amp is totally making my Beyerdynamic T1 very happy. Sounds great, looks good, and is easy to use, plus it fits in rather nicely with the rest of my amps.
The power on and off safety for cans on this amp is rather great. Lots of power on delays and relays. When you turn it on, it lets the tubes warm up before activating the display and flipping relays allowing sound to happen. Is like a 5 or so second delay. The relays instantly flip into an open state when the unit is powered off, and that is crazy important. What this means is there no pops or thumps when powering the unit on or off.
While futzing around with it and running it through its paces I've thrown Beyer T1, Focal Elex, Fostex T60RP, and Senn HD6xx at it, and it has handled all of them rather pleasantly. I was somewhat surprised by the T60RP working well with it as they are typically not too friendly with my other tube amps. Edit: oh hey, the Meze 99 Noir work freaking great on this thing. Can't hear a single bit of power hum.
More to come as I spend more time with it. At this point I'd say it was worth the money, but only time will tell for sure. All of my annoyances are trivial other than the power cord, that is a giant screw-up.
Day 1: Testing all of my cans and IEMs against the TA-20, using the 789 as a sound quality reference. DAC of choice for all of this today is the SMSL M500. I'm using two tracks for this test, Teardrop from Massive Attack and Robots Don't Cry (movement 3) from Jean-Michel Jarre. This gives me great bass and treble tests. If you're wondering about the ugly tape on the display in the upcoming pictures, I added a couple layers of kapton tape to dim the display to levels the camera wouldn't artifact on when doing macro.
Shuoer Tape: Slight background hiss when connecting to the TA-20. Not horrible or extremely annoying, but it is there. There was a noticeable yet slight roll of the bass in Teardrop as well as a being a bit more treble forward. In Robots Don't Cry the bass roll isn't as easily heard because of all the other fun stuff going on, mids and treble are pretty sweet, detailed, and in your face. These are generally my favorite IEM overall, and while not the ultimate best pairing, I totally could listen to these IEM on the TA-20 all day.
MassDrop x Pinnacle PX: Not my favorite IEM in general, but they work rather well with the TA-20. These IEM are harder to drive properly, not even close to as sensitive as most all of my others, and have zero background noise because of this. No major bass roll in Teardrop, also nothing overly special with Robots Don't Cry. Sounds about as good as you're going to get with the PX, some missing detail in the mid to upper frequencies, but this is totally normal. Not a bad pairing if you've got and like the PX.
BQEYZ Spring1: Very slight background hiss upon plugging in, almost unnoticeable. Minimal bass roll in Teardrop. Treble doesn't seem impacted in Robots Don't Cry, which is great. This is an unexpectedly good pairing. I definitely could rock this combination all day and be completely happy. Lots of thump and detail where it should be.
Kinera Idun: Noticeable background hiss. There is a touch of bass roll-off in Teardrop, but not enough to ruin the enjoyment. Treble gets a bit of a boost with this combination, noticeable in both Teardrop as well as Robots Don't Cry. Some of those high notes can get really high, but not enough to turn me off. I could likely use these all day without much complaint as long as music is going the whole time. Any silence will show off the hiss. Not bad, but not amazing.
MassDrop x NuForce EDC: Minimal background hiss. No really noticeable bass roll in Teardrop. Very pleasant mid-bass and treble in Robots Don't Cry. No real loss of audio quality. They generally aren't my favorite IEM, but this combination does work well for me. I could use this all day without rage.
Shozy Form1.1: Noticeable background hiss. Slight bass and treble roll-off in Teardrop and Robots Don't Cry. I'm not terribly fond of these IEM in general, I doubt I'd want to use this combination for terribly long. If all you have are the Form1.1, this isn't the best pairing. It works, but... yeah, I nope on em.
Shozy CP-3: Very slight background hiss. Fully detailed sounding with no noticeable bass or treble roll or enhancement in either Teardrop or Robots Don't Cry. If not for that hiss, these would be very win on the TA-20... and even with it I could totally use these all day. They're by far my favorite balanced armature only IEM, so it is awesome hear them not sucking on a tube amp.
Beyerdynamic T1 gen2: Zero background noise. I'd be surprised if it happened at 600Ω. All I gotta say is damn these sound great with the TA-20. Highly recommended combination. Lows, mids, and highs are all where they're supposed to be, and detailed as all hell. $1299 MSRP cans in action. Totally viable as an all-day setup.
MassDrop x Focal Elex: Once again, zero background noise and the lows, mids, and highs all in their proper places. This is also a highly recommended combination. Not much more to say other than once again, expensive cans in action sounding expensive and wonderful. Very much so another viable all-day setup.
MassDrop x Sennheiser HD6xx: As you likely guessed, no background noise at all. These are a staple set of cans from the MassDrop lineup, and they perform wonderfully on the TA-20. Very detailed, with absolutely nothing to dislike. Excellent combination for reasonably priced cans. Once again, this is a quite viable all-day setup.
MassDrop x Sennheiser HD58x: Continuing the lineup of cans which don't show any background noise on the TA-20. Very nice and bass forward as standard with the HD58x, mid and highs right where I expected them to be. Even cheaper than the HD6xx and nearly as good sounding. Totally could rock em all day happily.
MassDrop x Meze 99 Noir: There is a very very slight background hiss at the very edge of my hearing. These cans are fun on anything that can drive them, and the TA-20 is no exception. So much happy sub and mid bass. Treble also shines, but not in a scrape your eardrum sorta way. Teardrop really shines on these. Yes, I could use this pairing all day and every day if it came down to it. These are currently my favorite closed-back dynamic cans.
E-MU Teak: No background hiss. These are generally sibilant cans, so I have to be careful with the amp and music pairings. Neither of these tracks nor does the amp make it any worse, but the cans are a smidgen brighter than usual (probably the tubes). Bass is tight and about as punchy as you get with a Foster OEM driver. The TA-20 drives these cans excellently. Definitely all day capable, if you can stand the treble.
MassDrop x Hifiman HE-35x (S/N 00086): I hear a very light amount of background hiss, but I had to work at identifying it over the background noise in my room. These are extremely fun open-backed cans, and work well with the TA-20. Price per performance wise, these may be the best out of all my cans. Others sound better, but these are dirt cheap and easily driven to hearing-loss levels of loud warm goodness. The bass isn't as strong on them, but the overall performance of the combination is awesome. Absolutely an all day setup if you're not all about critical listening.
MassDrop x Hifiman HE-4xx (S/N 1546): I normally keep these cans as far away from Tube Amps as possible. They generally suck hard there. In this case, not so. There is no audible background noise whatsoever, all of the bass and treble are perfectly where they should be. Detailed, impactful, punchy, tight, absolutely all the things they weren't on my P20, ZDT, and LittleDot1+. Wonderful planar with a touch of tube harmonics. I did not expect this, at freaking all. Robots Don't Cry came across as a complete ear-treat, all the lovely synth playing across the field of sound totally showing off their imaging capabilities. My HE-4xx finally have a tube companion. All day capable, for sure... assuming the cans don't squeeze your gourd too hard or rest in the most uncomfortable spot on your skull.
Fostex T60RP (S/N A0594): Dead silent when no music is playing, zero background hiss. These are another set of cans that surprised me by working beautifully on the TA-20. Fast detail ear candy, with that unique sound that only wooden cups, planar magnetic, and tube pre-amping gives. If these cans didn't mechanically squeek with every bloody movement, they'd be one of my absolute favorite sets. As is, they do a stand-up job at handling the audio from the TA-20. The bass isn't as strong as it could be, but it usually never is, and what is there is a nice sub-bass rumble coupled with detailed mid-bass. A touch of EQ would make them pure EDM cans. These are totally all-day safe, assuming the chipmunk in the earcups will shut the hell up every time I move my head.
Fostex TR-70-250: As expected from these high Ω cans, no background hiss. Sadly, while these are internally wired for balanced drive and would benefit from it greatly, good luck getting a 3.5mm TRRS cable that'll work with them due to Fostex proprietary fuckery. Never been so pissed off at a headphone company for their stupid moves as I am with them for this. At least the TA-20 is able to drive them hard enough single-ended to make me go def, but not as well as it could balanced. If they could be easily custom-cabled, these would be the absolute best bang for buck when it comes to high Ω cans. They accept all the Fostex T-RP mods and sound awesome. Anyways, I digress, these do everything I expected on the TA-20. Bass and treble are in their proper spots, harmonics, and levels of detail. They might not be the best studio cans, but they're dang fun. All day safe for sure.
Fostex T50RP Mk3: These are my oldest actively used cans, typically living in my garage for use when I'm melting and making things with irons and airguns. They are also the cans that really turned me onto Planar Magnetic, and for all their flaws (and oh god they have many), I love their sound. It is the same general sound as the T60RP, just less refined. Like on the T60RP, there is zero background noise on the TA-20, and all the frequencies are exactly where they're supposed to be. Ain't balanced, would sound better balanced, but for single ended planar, they kick some ass. Easily all day capable if you don't mind replacing the ear-pads and adding a comfort strap... and assuming your TRS ingress port on them doesn't develop... static. Totally recommended.
Edit 3 months later:
Rolled the tubes over to Genalex Gold Lion 12AU7 (balanced, low-noise) and have been rather happy. Slapped some dampers on them because... I could. Another set of cans to add to the big list as well.
Dan Clark Audio Aeon Flow 2 Closed: My newest favorite closed back can. They do all that wonderful planar sound with an impressive level of isolation. No noise or frequency shifting problems. The TA-20 definitely has the grunt to make these things eardrum shatteringly loud and forceful. Wonderful combination.
After all of this, do I consider this amp worth getting? You bet I do. It is the most compatible hybrid tube amp I own, and likely will be used excessively. I ended up giving it back the star it lost for shipping the wrong cable. The amp is just too awesome to short-change the review because of that.
Buy it. NOW. :)
Would recommend to a friend.
I just bought a used unit and am hoping for great things.
Could you tell how does it compare to the Loxjie?
With the 6N3P-EV tubes I've got in my P20, I get cold and precise. Not as much tube feel as with other hybrids, but very nice at the price... assuming you have cans in the 100Ω+ range. Some 32Ω cans work fine on it, but most show a hard roll in the bass and enhanced treble. It is not really compatible most any of my IEM, both noise and frequency shift.
The TA-20 is warmer, more tube feeling. With the RCA Clear Top 12AU7A I've got in it I get a bit more treble focus, but none of the cans I own exhibit any rolling of frequencies. Most all of the IEM I tried on the TA-20 worked great, with minimal tube noise.
Basically, if you're on a budget and have something like the Sennheiser HD58x or HD6xx, the P20 is awesome. Otherwise, the TA-20 is more compatible and sounds a touch better.
Thanks for this very enjoyable write-up. I own almost all the same cans and gear as you so it's nice to see how they fare on this unit. Been mulling it over for a while since I have the ZDT and CTH and didn't know if I really "needed" another amp. You review is already opening my wallet for me 😁
I was lusting over this amp since it first released, just not at the full MSRP. I'm rather glad it turned out so good.
If you're looking for a 12AU7A tube suggestion, I've had great luck with these RCA Clear Tops I sourced on eBay. I was a touch cautious as they have sold so many listed as Platinum matches, but both pairs I bought checked out as legit on my TV-7B/U. Great sounding and not unobtanium priced.
I am very glad that you did this review to let people know how wonderful this amp is. I owned it since last November and have enjoyed so much with few pair of tubes (GE, RCA and SYLVANIA). It is hard to say which is my favorite, they all sound great. I modded my Fostex T-X0 Planar Magnetic Headphones with simple clay and cotton balls, converted it to 3.5 mm balanced and built a 4 pin XLR cable for it. With this amp, it becomes my favorite headphones to go beside He 400i and HD 650. I have ordered a BLON B20 Planar Magnetic Headphones and can not wait to pair it with the TA-20.
Yeah, this amp is totally going to cost me in the long run because it is too compatible.
I've been eyeing the Dan Clark Aeon Flow 2 closed for the past few months. Now that I've got a tube amp I can be sure will work with em... willpower is the only thing stopping me.
This hobby is getting expensive, but as long as you enjoy and can afford it. Go for it, because you only live once.
Superb review! Thanks very much for the in-depth analysis. I was on the fence but you have the same headphones I have and this review was beyond reassuring. I have some NOS 12au7 Hammonds that I can’t wait to pair with this thing.
Two months in and it gets more use than any of my other tube amps (Eddie Current ZDT Jr, Loxjie P20, CTH, and LittleDot1+).
Totally worth the $$.
I've had a go with TA-10 and using usb dac it unfortunately has a pretty loud and unpleasant pop (not the clicking relays, an actual audible pop, I've been told that all xduoo products are like this) at the start of every audio stream (using ALSA and multiple sources with varying resolution). Plugging an external DAC (D30) into the AUX - the issue is gone. Keeping TA-10 knowing I'm not even going to use its DAC is kinda pointless to me so I send it back and went straight to considering TA-20, although it's currently not easily available in Europe. Being a pure AMP, I assume there should be no similar issue with TA-20, but can you confirm that?
edit: oh yay, it's available on german amazon, only the delivery time is quite long, i'll live ;)
Correct. the TA-20 is dead silent during its startup and shutdown. They use relay based protection and there is a long delay between power on and when it'll actually pass audio. It is a bare bones balanced hybrid tube amp, but everything it has is very well designed. It is very much so worth the current asking costs here and elsewhere.
Low end DACs are prone to those pops when doing frequency and bit-depth changes. Sometimes you can get around them in software using mutes and/or delays during those changes (or starts/stops), but that is only if it is a problem with their DAC implementation and not them missing a filter cap. Is easier to just get a DAC that was designed properly.
If you're looking for a suggestion on a DAC that doesn't suck and pairs well with the TA-20, have a look at the SMSL M500.
That is great to know. As I said, the pops were audible only when DAC of TA-10 was indeed in use. Connecting Topping D30 (from my other setup) rca outs to amp aux in was fine (both via usb and toslink).
The startup and relay delays I am aware of and completely fine with - it was the crackle/pop that annoyed me but if the output of TA-20 is silent once receiving the signal (apart from the music itself ;)), as you say, then I'm good to go with it. Thank you!
ty for nice review.
I am planning on using it for a pre amp, to my emotiva xpagen3 stereo, , any comments on using it as a preamp?
Do you think this would pair well with the Topping D70?
I've never tested the RCA output, sorry.
Absolutely. Any balanced source will pair very nicely with this amp. I use mine heavily with a SMSL M500 and Behringer XR18, but I did test their sound with my Topping DX7s, TEAC UD-501, and Drop SDAC-Balanced, and was not unhappy. It also pairs fairly well with the Airist R-2R on the single-ended side.
As long as the source is high quality, expect high-quality output.
Well my CDs are being re-imported in Lossless. But I do have some other lossy music files. I currently have the D70 paired with the THX789. My headphones are just the 6XX and 58X but I will soon have the Audeze LCD-2C as well. I've never had a tube amp before so I have no idea about different tubes and swapping tubes and all that.
Luckily this beastie is an easy tube amp to deal with. Tube rolling is super simple, no settings, just make sure the tubes are tested/matched. If you have money to burn, current production Genalex Gold Lion 12au7 gold pins sound wonderful in it. The somewhat cheaper current production Tung-Sol 12au7 also sound great. NOS (new old stock) GE and RCA sound wonderful in it, but can be expensive.
I’ve had very good luck buying tubes from tubedepot.com, and I’ve heard good things about upscaleaudio.com.
Hi! thanks for the written review. I have a question. I own the T1.2nd, I am currently using it with the Sdac-B and the thx789. Could you describe the sound difference?
Um, I'd say the TA-20 is a bit warmer with the T1.2. Depending on the tubes it can also be a bit brighter, going more V or U. They are a great combination, just like it is with most every other set of cans I've run through the TA-20. The even order harmonics from the preamp give the sound a touch more life, as is common with valves. Overall I find it a less fatiguing experience (as with most tube amps), but that is purely personal preference.
The 789 is just a wire with gain. It does nothing to the audio other than make it properly louder without distortion. There is no flavor to the sound other than what the original content maker provided. I use the TA-20 (and all of my other tube amps) more than the 789, typically only using the 789 when I want a quick and accurate amp or am gaming. The time from powered off to accurate sounding with the 789 is like 2 seconds, with the TA-20 it is closer to 30-60 seconds.
If you do end up getting it, don't judge the audio quality until you've replaced the tubes with something worth while (NOS, current production Genelex Gold Lion, or current production Tung-Sol gold pin). If you stick with the stock tubes, expect ~30-50 hours burn required before they sound really worth while, but YMMV with sino tubes.
firstly, awesome review!!
i have a question.
im wondering how this amp compares with the 789 for the 6xx.
i have the 6xx with a topping d70 and thx 789 and I’m looking for a good quality tube amp for it.
1st, which amp sounds better, 789 or T-20?
2nd, I was thinking of getting the darkvoice 336se. If u happen to own it or know what it sounds like with the 6xx, which one is better between the T-20 and DV?
Thanks in advance!!
Hey, I was wondering, I see in the picture that u have the 789.
How does this compare for the 650/6xx between the 789 and TA-20?
Also, if u own the darkvoice 336se, which one is better for the 6xx, the TA-20 or the DV?
My HD650 sound wider and a bit warmer on TA-20 than the 789. The clarity is about the same, i have many headphones and the sound stage always improve on the TA-20. I do not have darkvoice, but highly recommended the TA-20. It works wonderfully with all of my headphones.
And how’s the bass performance with the TA-20 vs the 789?
And how does it work with high impedance headphones.
(i have a 600 ohm hd 540 reference 1 headphones)
thx in advance!!
HD 650 are not well known for base, just a tad improvement. With other headphones TA-20 will give you a better base than 789. I do not have any 600ohm headphones, with 2 watts of power, it may not as powerful as 789. But it will drive most of the headphones, i have Argon MK2, Vibrolabs MK2, Open Alpha Dog, many more mod T50rp series and have no problem with the TA-20.
Thanks for the help!!
Oh, one more thing.
Which tubes do you use/advise if I were to get the TA-20?
It depends on our budget. There are many expensive tubes out there, but it could be snake oil. I normally do not pay anything over $25.00 per tube. I have GE, RCA and SYLVANIA and they all sound great, just around $10 to $25.00 on Ebay.