Tube Amp TA-1 portable headphone amp review

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Tube Amp TA-1 portable amp packaging

Manufacturer: Tube Amp
Model: TA-1
Price: $270 (only available in China,Japan,Singapore and Malaysia; coming to newegg.com in the future)

Tube Amp is a Chinese company that is well known in China for their portable tube amp options, but not all that well known elsewhere.  Their portable amps are all on the larger size of the spectrum for portable amps, but still portable.  The TA-1 is a solid state amp with discrete circuitry instead of the typical op amp configuration of so many portable amps.

Volume control: Analog
Power connector: Proprietary
Battery life: 10 hours
On/Off: Switch
Indicator Light: Blue LED above the on/off switch; the light is bright, but not overly so
Works with 4 pin headphone plugs: Yes
Specifications (from the manufacturer’s website):
– Input sensitivity:220mv
– Rated power output:2×450mw
– Frequency response:20Hz~80KHz(-1dB)
– Total Harmonic Distortion:≤0.001%(1KHz V:2.5V)
– Signal to noise ratio:≥106dB(short-circuit input)
– Drive impedance : 16Ω~300Ω
– The continuous working time:≥10 hours
– Dimension: (W×D×H):110mm×70mm×25mm
– Net weight: 255g

SOUND CHARACTERISTICS
Sound signature: The Tube Amp TA-1 was designed to sound like a tube amp even though uses discrete circuitry, and it has a warm, smooth, and powerful sound that is enjoyable.  Size of the sound stage is good and competitive with amps in the price and higher, but isn’t quite as large as the top performers.  Imaging is very good and if the resolution was higher, it would be able to compete with amps like the Lear FSM-02 V2 and Portaphile 627.  But, it doesn’t have quite the resolution but is a great compromise given the price.

Sound quality: The TA-1 performed quite well across a wide range of custom in-ear monitors and IEMs, showing strong against most similarly priced amps and giving the best, more expensive amps I have heard a challenge. There were a few pairings where the TA-1 beat the Portaphile 627 and Lear FSM-02 V2. Overall, the TA-1 competes in most categories but the size of the presentation does limit it somewhat against top amp competition. Compared with similarly priced amps such as the Leckerton UHA-6S MKII and Headstage Arrow, the TA-1 outperforms the amps with spaciousness, power, and resolution combined with a musicality the others can’t quite touch.  Overall, the TA-1 has the power to drive headphones well, close to the driving level of the Lear FSM-02 V2, and better than most other amps within the price range.  The gain is on the higher side, which can lead to some hiss and channel imbalance with higher sensitivity IEMs/CIEMs.

Channel Imbalance: There is a slight channel imbalance at low volumes not uncommon for amps with analog volume controls. 7/10
Hiss: Slight with high-sensitivity IEMs 7/10
Interference: None
Noise when turned on/off: No turn on noise; slow fade when power is turned off

Scores:

Quantity Warmth Note Sustainment Smoothness Soundstage
Deep Bass Bass Mid-Bass Midrange Upper Mids Treble Width Depth Imaging
6 6 6 5 5 5 6 5 7 8 8 8

 

Quality Transparency Dynamics Resolution/ Detail Clarity Soundstage Score Total – Quality Hiss Imbalance Size/ Portability Quality, High sensitivity IEMs
Bass Mids Treble
10 10 9 9 10 9.5 9.5 8.5 9.2 7.0 8.0 3.5 6.9

 

SUMMARY
With a tube sound from a solid state design, the Tube Amp TA-1 performs above its price point, especially when paired with higher-end headphones, earphones, and custom in-ear monitors. The downside is the size and gain, as the higher gain doesn’t work for very sensitive IEMs/CIEMs and the amp doesn’t quite fit in a pocket. Also, the 12V wall charger requires carrying around an extra wall adapter for any extended trip. Depending on your portable needs, the TA-1 can make a significant improvement to the sound of your portable player with sound quality that is rare at the price point.

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About Author

Having a life-long love of high-quality audio and gadgets, average_joe got back in touch with his audiophile side after a hiatus caused by life. His focus became headphones and related gear as the size and price fit his life better than home audio. He believes the entire audio chain is important, and likes to continue to think past the headphone and on into the head, as he believes understanding the details of how we hear will lead to a better audio experience.

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