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Ranking Tubes And Tube Hybrids

by Stuart Charles Black
Published: Last Updated on
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Greetings mate and Welcome aboard!

Stuart Charles here, HomeStudioBasics.com helping YOU make sound decisions, so…

Today we’ll run down a short list of Tube headphone amplifiers from worst to best. “Worst” doesn’t necessarily mean it’s bad, only that you may consider it last.

Because tube hybrids, and even tube amps, typically don’t sound as “warm” as people think, this list will mostly focus on value vs. money spent, features, versatility, etc.

Be sure to bookmark this as I will likely be revisiting it quite often and adding more to the list.

Now without further ado, let’s get rolling!

#4

xDuoo TA-20

Price: Check Apos! | Official Review: Here!

xDuoo TA-20 Review

The xDuoo TA-20 is an example of a tube amp.

The all-black, aluminum alloy xDuoo TA-20 is about the size of a small washing machine and can be used to break out of a psychiatric ward.

Coming in at almost 4 lbs. in an elongated rectangular shape, this bad boy is DUMMY THICC.

In other words, plan on clearing out a lot of space for it or you’ll be in a world of pain like Smokey from Big Lebowski.

NO really. Is it a coincidence xDuoo’s name starts with xD?

They’ve got to be trolling us with this gargantuan Super Mutant Behemoth. It’s absolutely massive.

That said, it’s a tube hybrid, meaning it uses solid-state transistors and vacuum tubes.

It’s also just an amp, so plan on pairing a DAC with it. Any of these 70+ will do. xD

While we’re dancing around the subject, the TA-20 has 3 sets of inputs for use with said DAC:

  • 2x sets of Auxiliary
  • 1x set of Balanced XLR inputs.

It also has a set of Auxiliary outs which you can use to connect to some powered speakers.

And even though it boasts plenty of power (Rated 16-600 Ohms), there’s pretty much no reason to buy this at $400 when you also have to spend money on a DAC as well.

Why?

WHY?!!

BECAUSE I SAID SO!!

Just kidding.

It’s because The TA-20 doesn’t sound any better than a Solid State Amp like my personal favorite ATOM 2; which is only around $100.

In other words, in my personal opinion, if you want a tube amp, buy a tube amp. Don’t buy a tube hybrid, because I’m telling you right now: it’s a waste. of. money.

Trust me. I’m trying to help you. Audiophiles are NOT trying to help you. They’re trying to get you to claim you can hear the grass growing.

That is to say that they’d likely try to use a bunch of word salad to describe the “sound” difference between a solid-state and a tube hybrid, even though that’s nonsense.

If you want the no-BS right answer, a tube hybrid is ever so slightly warmer-sounding. That’s it. And it’s incredibly subtle to the point where it could simply be a placebo; in other words, my mind attempting to justify that, because it’s a tube “hybrid,” it must sound warmer.

Specifications

  • Power supply: DC12V/2A
  • Output power: 2000mW @32Ω 1kHz
  • Inputs: XLR
  • Outputs: XLR, 4.4mm balanced
  • Dynamic range: 85dBA @32Ω
  • Frequency response: 10Hz – 60,000Hz (±0.5dB)
  • Suitable headphone impedance: 16Ω – 600Ω
  • Gain: +15dB
  • S/N: 115dB
  • THD+N: ≤0.01% (@32Ω, 1kHz)
  • Size: 6.6” x 3.9” x 2.3” (17 x 10 x 6cm)
  • Weight: 1.2lbs (0.55kg)

Bravo Audio Ocean

Official Review: Here!

HiFiMAN HE4XX vs. 400i vs. 400S vs. Sundara

When I talk about the Ocean I’m not referring to the Led Zeppelin song, although I kind of am since I planned to make the reference and also made sure that I let you know I made the reference.

This weird-looking tube-hybrid amplifier may actually be worth it if you want to see for yourself what all the hubbub is about (aka that I’m right lol), without mortgaging away your dignity on street corners in the name of synergistic dynamism.

At only around A BenjamMin it’s at least worth a try, and here you’ve also got the option of rube tolling if you so desire.

The Bravo Ocean is a Tube Hybrid.

Rube Tolling, better known as Tube Rolling, involves swapping vacuum tubes in audio equipment to alter sound characteristics, with enthusiasts experimenting with different tube brands and models to achieve desired sonic qualities such as warmth or distortion.

This process requires consideration of tube specifications and compatibility with the device, often through extensive listening tests to determine the optimal combination for individual preferences.

Like the TA-20, it too is only an amp so plan on pairing it with a DAC. I used the AudioQuest DragonFly Red most of the time.

xDuoo MT-604

Price: Check Amazon! | Official Review: Here!

This thing was more hyped than Ric Flair taking every kind of upper there is, but as it turns out, the MT-604 was purely marketing and nothing more.

While it looks cool and seems fancy, it’s just another tube hybrid that sounds even more like a solid state than the TA-20.

It’s also kind of a pain in the ass to use, as you’re tasked with calibrating the right and left channels separately. Kind of cool at first, but quickly becomes a chore the more time you spend with it.

I will say this can be very helpful if you have headphones that aren’t driver-matched very well, so it can be a bit of a blessing and a curse.

That said, the volume doesn’t start to register until pushed past the second line on the volume knob which is rather annoying.

It does have a built-in mute circuit which negates any popping/clicking sounds when you turn it on. Kind of interesting. It’s also very powerful (2000mW @ 32 Ohm) and drives anything I have here, so that’s always a plus as well.

Its minimalist design comes in a hard aluminum-alloy shell with a sandblasted finish and admittedly does feel really nice to hold.

xDuoo MT-604 Review

On the front, there’s a balanced XLR headphone output, a 4.4mm balanced input, and a 4.4mm balanced output, which are nice options considering 4.4 is fairly ubiquitous nowadays and it’s easier than ever before to listen with balanced headphones.

That said, don’t buy this if you also want to listen single-ended (unbalanced) as there are no 3.5mm or 1/4″ headphone outputs.

The back panel contains your dual XLR balanced inputs, the DC 12V power jack, and the On/Off switch.

I used one with an iFi Zen and this 4.4mm to dual XLR cable.

Like the Bravo Ocean, because it’s fairly cheap, the MT-604 may be worth a shot just to see if you like this sort of thing. You can always return it if you’re anything like me and have no use for it.

That’s not to say it’s a bad product at all; I enjoyed my time with it.

I just don’t see a reason to own one when, again, I could just get an ATOM 2. There is little to no difference in sound between an MT-604, ATOM 2, FiiO K7, etc.

This guy on Amazon put it well when he said you’re not going to get that “ooey gooey fat, round tube sound.”

He’s right. The MT-604 simply sounds like a budget Solid-State.

You’re essentially paying for the opportunity to tube roll – replacing the 4 onboard 6J tubes with something else of your choosing.

And, because some people say the stock tubes are bad, it may be a fun little gadget to have at roughly $169.

But please, don’t buy this expecting it to sound like a tube amp. It doesn’t.

Specifications

  • Power supply: DC12V/2A
  • Output power: 2000mW @32Ω 1kHz
  • Inputs: XLR
  • Outputs: XLR, 4.4mm balanced
  • Dynamic range: 85dBA @32Ω
  • Frequency response: 10Hz – 60,000Hz (±0.5dB)
  • Suitable headphone impedance: 16Ω – 600Ω
  • Gain: +15dB
  • S/N: 115dB
  • THD+N: ≤0.01% (@32Ω, 1kHz)
  • Size: 6.6” x 3.9” x 2.3” (17 x 10 x 6cm)
  • Weight: 1.2lbs (0.55kg)

Speaking of actual tube amps…

#1

Bottlehead Crack

Official Review: Here!

The Best Headphone Amps & DACS

I’ve never actually owned one of these but have listened to one at a friend’s house.

While this is a DIY project, I’d absolutely consider the Crack first if you want a taste … of what tubes are all about.

That is to say that this is a true tube amp and functions like one.

Remember: This comes as a kit and you have to assemble it yourself.

From everything I’ve read + in talking to my friend, it’s rather easy and fun, but do make sure you have a Soldering Iron handy. I like this Hakko FX888D.

From Bottlehead:

This is what we call a Skill Level 1 kit, perfect for first-time builders. The circuit is so simple you can build it in an evening or two. A simple circuit also means a low parts count, which keeps the price low, too. Crack is an output transformerless amp designed specifically for running higher impedance (200 ohms or higher) headphones like the many Sennheiser, AKG and Beyer designs.<span class="su-quote-cite"><a href="https://bottlehead.com/product/crack-1-1-otl-headphone-amplifier-kit/" target="_blank">Bottlehead</a></span>

I listened to it with the 300 Ohm Sennheiser HD600/650, and it does make a great pair though I still wasn’t blown away or anything. It’s not going to change your life like the Utopia will, but it’s a neat project I suppose.

If you’re craving that warm distortion mixed with a hazy overall character and smooth profile, Crack is worth a try. Not the actual crack though. Probably should stay away from that.

Me personally? I don’t do crack, but I do prefer Solid-State amps and neutrality in general.

Your mileage may vary.

xD

If there’s a tube amp you’d like me to try, let me know in the comments!!

Well, that’s about it for today folks! I hope you’ve enjoyed this Tube/Hybrid Tube Amplifier Ranking/Discussion and came away with some valuable insight.

Which of these are you most likely to purchase? I would love to hear from you. Until next time..

Questions? Comments? Requests? Did I miss the mark on something? Let me know in the comments below or contact me!! I would love to hear from you…

Until then, all the best and God bless…

 

 

-Stu

[Xtr@Ba$eHitZ]

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