Home Amps xDuoo TA-20 Review: Part II (Sound & Comparisons)

xDuoo TA-20 Review: Part II (Sound & Comparisons)

by Stuart Charles Black
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Video Discussion

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Note: I will update this article and my balanced impressions once I get a DAC that has balanced TRS/XLR output.

One thing to remember about Tube Hybrids right off the bat is that they’re still mostly going to sound like Solid State amps.

There is a hint of warmth, but by and large, I wouldn’t start pitching tents thinking you’re going to be completely blown away or anything (no pun intended).

You won’t, and that’s just the reality of it. Anyone who tells you otherwise is LYING.

The real difference between a tube amp vs. a regular amp like the ATOM, Zen or K5 Pro comes with a lot of time spent. In other words, sit down with the tube amp for a few days, and then switch over to a solid-state or vice versa.

You can immediately hear the difference.

The Tube amp sounds like it has a warm blanket over top, but it may cause you to make a weird face when you switch from a Zen to the Tubes, sort of like this:

It’s almost trying to lull you to sleep, sort of like what happens when you watch the Television and get brainwashed by propaganda.

Then, you get used to it, and in the case of Television, lash out at anyone who has an alternative worldview from you!

I’ve talked about this concept a lot (the mind getting used to a stimulus) over the last year or so and it pretty much applies to any listening situation – headphones especially.

Speaking of headphones, I primarily used the HD600 with the TA-20 for a few reasons:

  1. Because I felt like it.
  2. It’s almost dead neutral aside from the mid-range coloration around 3kHz.
  3. I’ve owned it since 2016 so it’s easy to garner impressions and determine how Amps & DACS sound.
  4. It works well with tubes.

Select Comparisons

iFi Zen & Zen V2

iFi Zen vs. Zen V2 (Upgraded)

The difference between the Zen and TA-20, at least with the DragonFly Red DAC, is very minuscule when going back and forth in real time.

This is to be expected as the Fly is very open, airy, and spacious. Whatever warmth the TA-20 possesses is likely balanced out by the Fly. That said, I can still hear a subtle difference in warmth going from the TA-20 to the Zen.

The Zen is a tad more detailed and crisp. You can sense the TA-20’s sheen of relaxation over the sound. It’s like putting a warm blanket over top, but the blanket isn’t terribly thick or anything.

It ain’t DUMMY THICC that’s for sure. It’s very subtle.

While the HD600 may be a bit punchier through the Zen, it’s a tad less so from the TA-20. Just ever so slightly.

DF Red vs. iFi Zen (DAC) into the TA-20

Audioquest DragonFly Red

DF Red goes to the Beach.

This comparison involved switching back and forth between the DF Red as the DAC vs. the Zen as the DAC. I used this 3.5mm to RCA for the Red > TA-20 (great quality cable!), and this Monoprice RCA to RCA from Zen > TA-20.

Monoprice offers a lifetime warranty for their products and I can see why. I’ve had the cable since 2016 and it’s incredibly rugged if a bit stiff. Keep that in mind.

One of the top reviewers mentions this on amazon and I think it’s worth noting that the longer cable is definitely more ideal. I haven’t had any issues but I don’t use it every day.


What’s neat about the TA-20 is that it has 2 pairs of slots which make it possible to quickly switch back and forth between the 2. I love the fact that I can just press the button and switch which DAC is doing the conversion.

As expected, the DragonFly Red into the TA-20 is just a smidgen more open and cool sounding vs. the ever so slightly warmer Zen into the TA-20.

Keep in mind this is an incredibly subtle distinction, but still noticeable. Both combos sound fantastic.

The Zen + TA-20 is for caviar snobs drinking scotch, while the DF Red + TA-20 is for sterile, OCD peeps who like to clean their apartment way more than necessary. Sort of like Sara Goldfarb in Requiem for a Dream.

Because Speed.

You’ll notice that the former is a bit more laid-back and syrupy sounding, but it’s not over the top. I think the combo provides some nice enjoyment and warmth to the experience. You will also feel that the sound is pushed back a tad more, while the Red + TA is a little more aggressive and forward. It’s more exact. More clinical, wide, spacious, etc. Insert word salad here ___________.

S.M.S.L SH-9

S.M.S.L SH-9 Headphone Amplifier Review

More of the same applies here.

For this, I used the Zen into the S.M.S.L via RCA to RCA, and the DragonFly Red into the TA-20 with the 3.5mm to RCA mentioned above.

Pretty much the exact same sentiments above still hold true: the sound out of the TA-20 is slightly warmer, pushed back, and smoothed over sounding vs. the somewhat crisper, more sterile SH-9.


FiiO K5 Pro

The sound of the TA-20 is incredibly similar to that of the K5 Pro. Do keep in mind the K5 Pro is not entirely neutral at 1.2 Ohm Output Impedance.

In fact, in my eyes, it’s not really close to being neutral though some would argue that the difference between something with less than 0.5 or lower is not that noticeable. To me, it’s pretty noticeable.

The K5 Pro has an ever-so-subtle sheen of warmth over top but still retains most of the great qualities of a neutral DAC without sounding sterile or cold. This is one of the many reasons I love to recommend it.

It’s an extremely versatile combo Amp/DAC that sounds fantastic.

The performance of the TA-20 and K5 Pro is almost negligible in my mind.

The K5 performs just as well at a fraction of the price you’ll pay for a TA-20 plus whatever DAC you go with.

Of course, the TA-20’s value lies in its ability to run balanced as well as its dual pairs of auxiliary inputs and 1 set of outputs, so in no way am I trying to knock it. Ask yourself honestly, “Will I utilize the features of the TA-20?” If so, buy it.

I’m just saying that from a performance standpoint out of the single-ended jack, there’s nothing to get all that excited about. Sounds good, but it’s not going to perform miracles like Smokey Robinson.

Furthermore, in my eyes, there’s almost no reason to buy a tube hybrid amp as it doesn’t make much sense. If you want tubes, get tubes. Something like a Bottlehead Crack is a true tube amp. To me, hybrids are a waste of time (and money).

That’s not to say the TA-20 is bad. I really like it, but I’m speaking from experience here: I would never personally invest in it given everything I’ve heard, so I’m not going to recommend it to you.

Put another way, if the sound of the Zen is roughly similar to that of the TA-20, and you can also use the Zen balanced, then what’s the point in buying a TA-20?

There is no point. Built incredibly well, looks cool on your desk, blah blah blah.

But it’s not necessary.

Keep in mind that my experience at the time of this article spans exactly 50 Amps & DACS, so I’m not just saying this. There’s a reason behind it.

I’m not here to shill products, I’m here to give my honest opinions and make known aspects of this hobby that I don’t particularly care for.

The Amp/DAC wankfest is certainly one of those things and stands head and shoulders above the rest of the trivial crap that people shouldn’t concern themselves with (remember, this is ultimately about music and your enjoyment of it, not gear).

If you’re familiar with my YouTube channel or this blog, you’ll know I’ve talked about it for the better part of the last 2-3 years. I’m not going to get into it much more here.

Is listening to music through a TA-20 enjoyable?

Certainly, but I wouldn’t pay $400 for it + have to invest in a DAC as well.

So what do I recommend?

Final Verdict

My recommendations have shifted since this article was originally written.

The FiiO K11 is great if you don’t need balanced RCA inputs, as it’s cheaper than the K5 Pro and has a balanced headphone output + other cool stuffs.

FiiO K11 ReviewIf you need the RCA inputs, just go with the K7 since it has a balanced headphone output.

FiiO K7 ReviewIf you’re reading this like, “I thought this article was about a tube amp?”

It is.

And if you really want one of those, Bottlehead Crack. Great product, but you’ll still need a DAC! And please, I’m speaking from great experience here, don’t expect the Crack to completely change your life. It’s not going to. Now if we’re talking about the other types of Crack, yes, those will change your life; for better or worse. xD

So… you clicked on the article and found out the Crack is a DIY project and you’d rather just buy something without having to assemble it.

Well, unfortunately, that’s where I can’t help lol bye.

(I’m sorry! I’m just not a huge fan of tubes, and tube hybrids sound pretty much exactly like a solid state so yeah). Click here if you’re interested in that. If you’re still reading, I love you. 

Goodbye for now.

Well, that’s about it for today my friend! I hope you’ve enjoyed this xDuoo TA-20 Review and came away with some valuable insight.

Questions? Comments? Requests? Did I miss the mark on something? Please let me know down below or Contact me!!

If you love what I do here and want to support the blog and channel in a more personal way, check me out on Patreon and discover all the value I have to offer you.

What do you think of the TA-20? Does it seem like a sound investment? I would love to hear your thoughts. Until next time…

All the best and God bless,





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Photo Gallery

xDuoo TA-20













  • Rock solid and robust
  • Nice array of features
  • Balanced mode
  • Tube-ish sound


  • Value + Pricey. I could simply just get a Zen or a true tube amp.

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