6N8P + 6N5P
xDuoo is a company that is constantly making great devices at affordable prices. Most of their stationary amplifiers use tubes, whether it’s an all-tube design or hybrid. Today we’re looking at their TA-26, which is a high-powered tube amplifier with a preamplifier.
It is widely regarded as a DarkVoice 2.0, with the better build quality and components, which make for a better sound performance. While the Darkvoice is still one of the most popular tube amps after all these years, it’s no secret that it looks a little outdated and its technical performance is rather bad.
Here comes the TA-26, which looks simply spectacular and promises to provide great sound performance at a reasonable price. While all-tube amplifiers are more of a niche nowadays because of their lack of synergy with planar-magnetic headphones, there are still a lot of people using dynamic headphones like the Sennheiser HD650, 6xx, HD800, as well as Grado and Focal stuff. The TA-26 surely looks absolutely stunning and it’s something fresh, different than all the Topping’s and SMSL devices that have been dominating the market for the past few years, so it is definitely an exciting new thing to look into.
Let’s start with the packaging. The TA-26 comes in a basic cardboard box filled with foam inserts for additional protection. It is well-packed so the amplifier will be alright on its journey. Apart from a standard, black power cable you’re not getting any accessories, just like you would have expected.
There isn’t anything more to say, just basic packaging with little to no stuff included.
Design and Build Quality
Okay, the xDuoo TA-26 looks absolutely marvelous. Ever since I saw it for the first time I wanted to put my hands on it.
After putting it out of the box you’ll notice one thing immediately – it is heavy. Even though the amplifier is not the biggest out there, it is very substantial feeling and has a heft to it. It feels very dense and well-put-together, with no rattle at all, just like you’re carrying a solid block of metal in your hands.
Now into the design. It looks very modern and elegant, with just a single color accent – the volume knob which is that metallic red color. Its dimensions are suitable for almost any desk and it’ll be a true decoration of any audio setup. I actually love the look of the thing so much, that I keep it on my desk even while it’s not plugged in, just to look at it.
The openings for the tubes are very large, and thanks to that you can easily see the guts of the amplifier when the tubes are not inserted. While I won’t be digging into that components too much, I must admit that everything looks tidy, well-made and the quality of the components is really high.
Inserting the tubes is as easy as it gets, which is a good thing if you plan to do some tube-rolling, which you definitely should do if you’ll buy that little guy.
The front panel has that red metallic volume knob which is a joy to use. It works smoothly and has some resistance to it, which makes changing the volume an enjoyable experience. It also protrudes enough to be easy to grab. Apart from the volume knob, you also have a 6.3mm jack output and a power switch, which is literally a switch. Perfect place for a power switch, after playing with my XI Audio Broadway S (which has a power switch on the back panel) for a while I really appreciate it. The only thing that I don’t like is that blue led indicating if the device is on. Way too bright, and xDuoo…you could have gone for a red one to match the volume knob, would be so much better.
On the back panel, you’ve got AUX IN and AUX OUT connectors, that’s it. AUX OUT, because the TA-26 can act as a preamplifier, which is a brilliant addition. Feel free to use it with any power amplifier for your stereo setup, it’ll add that sweetness and warmth to the sound. While a preamplifier without a remote control is not the best option out there, it’s still something.
The xDuoo TA-26 uses 6N8P tube for the pre-amp section and a 6N5P tube for buffer. They are both common tubes that have many substitutes, so you’ll be able to play with some NOS tubes without any problems. While the provided tubes are decent, I’d highly recommend going for some NOS US or Russian ones, as they’ll unleash the full potential of the amplifier.
What’s worth mentioning though, I’ve been using a Zaerix 6AS7G tube in this review, as the stock came in faulty, unfortunately. Luckily, they are very cheap and I had some laying around in my home.
Let’s get into the most important thing though, the sound quality. The xDuoo TA-26 is a tube amplifier and it clearly sounds like one. The overall signature is warm, lush, and romantic with that legendary tube harmonic distortion that is very pleasant to us humans.
The bass is saturated and physical, but not the fastest nor the hardest hitting at the same time. It follows the overall sound signature of the TA-26, which is very relaxed and romantic. It’s not a match for a good solid state amplifier, but it’s not meant to be. It is a completely different approach to the sound, something more vintage-sounding and definitely more forgiving.
The current market is really all about high-performance solid state amplifiers that measure so good that it actually started to be a battle for the best measurements instead of the best sound lately. While it definitely has its pros, mainly the fact that you’re getting the best value well…ever, it also has a huge con by making most amplifiers on the market sound almost identical.
Here comes the TA-26 which sounds different than all of them. While objectively it doesn’t perform on the same level as something like the Topping A30 Pro, which is similarly priced at $349, it has some different treats.
Having that in mind, the bass delivery from the TA-26 is quite different. It’s not as textured or accurate sounding, instead, it’s going for a more laid-back and physical type of experience. That kind of delivery is not ideal for electronic music, but when you’re listening to some acoustic recordings or anything with natural instruments, you’ll easily forget about its limitations. Bass guitars sound rich and pleasantly dirty, with great reverberation. It’s not an amplifier to pinpoint every single detail, but to enjoy the sound while listening to your favorite albums.
Tube amps are legendary for their midrange performance, and the TA-26 is no different here. It is an exceptional amplifier for vocals, making them sound very natural and captivating, while also being quite forgiving for bad masterings.
A good example is my favorite album that I found in 2021, called “Beneath The Skin” by Of Monsters And Men. This dark piece of art is focused mainly on the vocal, but unfortunately, the mastering of these leaves much to be desired. While listening to this album with the Susvara plugged into something like Topping A90 or Ferrum OOR makes me mad at the mastering engineer of this specific album, the TA-26 makes it far more enjoyable. Of course, I’m not using my Susvara with the TA-26, as it simply doesn’t drive them, not even close, but paired with the Sennheiser HD650 or our “Best Headphone 2021”, the Audeze LCD-X 2021 it does sing wonderfully.
Back to the album though. While it has some faster songs on it, my favorite is definitely the “Organs”, which is focused mainly on the female vocalist of the band, Nanna Bryndís Hilmarsdóttir. She has a wonderful voice and you can easily hear that this song is very personal to her, because she sings with such passion, that you can literally hear the pain in her voice. The xDuoo TA-26 unleashes the emotions with ease, adding that warmth and lushness to the sound that makes this kind of song shine. The TA-26 has a different approach to the midrange, just like with the bass. It does not focus on the technicalities. It’s not a microscope for the tiniest details, nor it is the most crispy or the fastest sounding. It makes the overall sound slightly gooey and soft, which is highly desirable in a tube amp.
The treble is also very reminiscent of a tube amplifier. It is soft, laid-back, and delicate, especially when compared to a modern solid state amplifier like the previously mentioned A30 Pro. It does yet again continue the overall theme of the sound – smooth and relaxed. It does wonders with female voices, making them easier to listen to for an extended amount of time, as well as making them quite mesmerizing. This part of the sound performance is probably the most extreme when comparing the TA-26 to a SS amp. Yes, it lacks sparkle, detail, and resolution when making an A/B comparison, but that’s not really surprising, as this thing measures so much worse than any Topping released in the last few years. In terms of the emotions though, it is yet again more captivating and pleasant to listen to. Because of its lack of that sparkle and absurd quantity of details you’ll find in the A30 Pro, it is yet again quite forgiving. Put on your Sennheiser HD650/HD6xx, plug them into the TA-26, and have fun, no matter what music you’re going to be listening to. This is the reason to buy this amplifier. What I also found is that the TA-26 is a brilliant amplifier to use with a turntable, as it’s slightly softening all these little cracks and noises, that would have been quite irritating with a well-measuring solid state amplifier. Trust me, I’ve done it and the TA-26 is actually standing on my analog rack right now, where it belongs.
The soundstage of the xDuoo TA-26 is pretty standard. It’s not the widest, not the deepest, and it doesn’t have the best imaging and separation in its price range. However, it feels natural and coherent enough to enjoy, giving you a good sense of space around your head.
Don’t expect anything spectacular, the TA-26 is definitely not about the best soundstage possible and it’s not the main dish here. I’m not saying it’s bad though, not at all. It is a good staging amplifier that does well with presenting you with a three-dimensional type of experience. This is actually a very good approach, as you want that sweet and soft sound to be near you, intimate and captivating.
I’ll keep this rather simple and straight to the point.
No, the TA-26 won’t drive your Susvara. It won’t unleash the full potential of your Final D8000 Pro as well. It is not supposed to though, it’s a $329 tube amplifier, it’s not made to do such things.
Pair it with the Sennheiser HD650 though, and you’re in for a treat. It does a brilliant job in making these headphones sing beautifully, and this is the sound that made the HD650 one of the best-selling hi-fi headphones in history. If you have any version of this legendary headphone, definitely get this amplifier, as you’re missing on what these babies can really do.
What really surprised me was how well does the TA-26 pair with the Audeze LCD-X 2021. It is a planar-magnetic headphone, which is not the best companion for an all-tube type of amplifier. Still, it doesn’t sound bloated, slow, and underpowered, definitely not. Actually, it sounds so good that this is THE setup when I’m listening to my turntable setup. It just sounds so romantic, rich, and quite detailed at the same time, that it makes that kind of listening very enjoyable. Not too accurate and detailed, but with lots of warmth and emotion.
As far as the source component goes, the TA-26 pairs well with many things. Just keep in mind that it definitely has its own character that will carry on with the sound no matter what. Don’t expect to plug it into a very detailed and bright-sounding DAC and get a solid state type of experience. It will soften it up and add that harmonic distortion, that’s just its trait. You’re either in for that, or this amplifier is simply not for you.
The xDuoo TA-26 is a pearl in the sea of all these well-measuring solid state amplifiers. No, it doesn’t sound as clean and detailed as most of the modern SS amplifiers, but it isn’t meant to. It is a very smooth, rich, and romantic type of experience that is either your goal or not. While it is not the best choice for the “one and only” amplifier for the beginning audiophile, it’s just a perfect buy for anybody that already has their state-of-the-art SS amplifier and feels like they need something more forgiving with its own soul. The TA-26 is a master of emotions, pair it carefully with a proper pair of headphones and you’ll be rewarded with a very captivating type of sound that’ll be hard not to love.
Gear used during this review for the sake of comparison and as an accompanying equipment:
- Headphones – Hifiman Susvara, Final D8000 Pro, Audeze LCD-X 2021, Hifiman Deva, Hifiman Ananda, Hifiman HE1000se, Meze Elite, Sennheiser HD650
- Sources– Topping D90se + A90, Ferrum OOR, EarMen Tradutto, Musician Aquarius, Musician Pegasus, JDSLabs Atom DAC+/AMP+, Cayin N3Pro, Pro-Ject Debut Carbon PRO + iFi Zen Phono, Topping A30 Pro