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Tri Audio TK2 : Does it make you hum?

INTRO:

It’s not new for IEM makers to venture into sources. Mostly it’s the other way around in our community. Fiio and Shanling started with DAPs but now they have a well developed IEM range. Tri audio here has done a similar thing but they went from being an IEM brand to maker of an USB DAC/Amp. TK2 is a transport and doesn’t use the battery of the phone, which is a relief for most of us. Made in collaboration with KAEI, this USB device is a single minded audio source. There are a few basic connectivity options missing from this device. Nevertheless we will look into them in the conclusion and connectivity segments.

TK2 is powered by ESS 9038 Q2M DAC chip which pours into the OPA2132+ and TPA6120A2 amps. What’s interesting here is the presence of both 4.4mm and 2.5mm balanced out and 3.5mm single ended output. Tri has rated the TK2 with an output power of 1250mw but I think that is without any resistance which means there is more to the story (will discuss that in the pairing and drive ability section). This USB audio device comes in two colors, Black Matte and Silver Chrome and is nicely priced at $270 and varies with a margin of $20 at different sellers.

Get one from here:

ACCESSORIES and UNBOXING:

TK2 ships with some useful accessories. The first thing that greets us is the device itself, all the accessories are placed under it inside a paper box. There is a cleaning cloth to keep the glass top clean, one can find two USB cables in the box, one is a type C to C cable to be used with mobile devices and other is a type-A to C cable to be used with PC or charging. One nice thing here is a type C to lightning adapter but I am not sure if an apple device will recognize it without a camera adapter. I tried it with Ipad Air 2020 and it worked perfectly with the type C cable. There are a couple of rubber bands to strap LK2 with portable source but I don’t think there is much use of it now. There is a film applied on the glass front which can get scratched easily.

I definitely would have liked a carry pouch for this, Tri, do this please.

BUILD QUALITY and ERGONOMICS:

Tri TK2 has an handy dimension of 13cm (5inch)/ 6.8cm (2.7 inch)/ 2,4cm (0.95 inch) and weights at 280g. Build quality of this device is super good. The glass front gives it a classy look. It feel really sturdy and strong but isn’t as convincing at the more expensive Micro Signature or the similarly priced Earmen TR-Amp. Tri says this device has an aviation grade aluminum alloy CNC body, I am not exactly convinced though. It is heavy, but the density isn’t exactly like a block of aluminum and the sound from the body doesn’t sound like a thick aluminum body. I have the black one and the matte finishing on it looks really nice and is not a fingerprint magnet like the chrome one. The potentiometer and connectors have golden accent to them, giving the DAC/Amp a distinctive look.

Tri has provided the TK2 with some indicator LEDs. There are 5 of these on the front to indicate the quality of the file being played and a single LED to indicate the power situation. The charging indicator is placed aside the charging port. There are two USB ports on this device, one for data and the other for charging. Sadly TK2 doesn’t support PD charging but can do reasonably fast charging with QC 3.0 . There is only one switch on this device, it’s a PO/LO switch placed in between the USB ports.

All in all this is a very solidly built device, just don’t drop it, or get a pouch for it.

SPEC TALK:-

Tri TK2 definitely looks good and houses some quality stuff inside too. It has two ESS 9038Q2M paired with dual OPA2132 and TPA6120A2 amps. The best things about the TK2 are the 3 headphone jacks. It has 3.5mm, 2.5mm and 4.4mm sockets with a power output of 1250mw. I definitely can say it’s powerful but it doesn’t sound as loud as 1250mw, I am not sure what’s happening here but it definitely can drive 150 and 120ohm headphones like HD6 mix and AKG K612 pro without any problem. Tri does claim that TK2 can drive HPs with up to 600ohm but I don’t have anything with this much of resistance to test it with. In any case, Tri should have provided us with a gain switch.

TK2 has a 5000mah battery, but guess what, the ESS9038Q2M can chug this without much problem and we are left with a battery life of around 9-10hrs. This is decent but we have seen devices doing 15hrs plus with more efficient chips like 9219 and 9218.

TK2 is compatible with nearly device capable of USB audio output. PCs have plug and play too but Win 7 needs drivers.

OPERATIONS AND I/O OPTIONS:-

Tri TK2 is a simpler device. It has USB in, and headphone outs. This is where the TK2 is lacking. I do understand that USB in is plenty good but some of us might have appreciated a line-in or RCA option too to pair it with old gen sources.

SOUND QUALITY:-

The ESS9038Q2M chip inside the TK2 is the entry level variant of the flagship chip we see with desktop DACs. This chip can decode up to 32-Bit 384kHz PCM and native DSD256 with ease. TK2 is a very capable DAC/Amp. Equipped with ESS9038Q2M, TK2 delivers one of the most cohesive sound around the $300 price range. It has a musical inclination which favors the lower end while the highs are a bit less aggressive. If you like to grove with your music, you like to get involved in the track, TK2 can give you that. It has an involving feeling which is seriously rare.

BASS:

It does favor the lower with a bit of fuller notes but doesn’t entertain any bloating and muddiness unless the IEM has the bassy feel. Excellent sub-bass extension coupled with nice body and details delivers a satisfying lower end. TK2 adds a bit more body and volume to the IEM. Sub-bass extension is very good while the mid bass is slightly more emphasized providing a meatier and full bodied feel. Decay speed is slightly slower than the TR-amp and Shanling UA5, giving the notes more weight and punch. Upper bass is well defined with nice details. Pairing it with a balanced IEM delivers a more desirable sound output adding a bit more musicality while retaining the native detailed sound of the IEM. The plus points are its texture and details. It delivers superbly defined lower end notes with excellent texture.

MIDS:

Tk2 has a clean and transparent mid range. It does not have the harsh, humid type clarity but the calm and cool type of visibility. Tk2 has very good details without obsessing over them. It has good amount of juiciness and musicality. It doesn’t have excess bite or attack to exhibit extra definition of clarity, what it has is the composure with nice details and transparency without getting hot. The delivery is effortless and the imaging is clean. The clarity and transparency along with natural decay speed leaves a very likable taste. Notes have a bit more fuller body and the finishing region is without any peakiness or sharpness. It perfectly balances the foreground and background transparency. If your headphone is decent you will not miss a single detail. Paring the TK2 with anything and it will play nice.

Vocals have very good clarity and definition with pleasing texture. It brings out the natural nuance and melodic gestures effortlessly. Let it be male or female vocals both have accurate depth and finish. Male vocals have extra bit of throatiness and female vocals have good sharpness. The upper mid range has excellent balance when it comes to energy. The transparency and clarity are very good. Notes do not have unnecessary sharpness with a satisfying finishing. TK2 balances things nicely. With the TK2 it is not easy to come across any sibilance unless the headgear has it in abundance.

HIGHS:

TK2 isn’t tuned for higher accuracy and precision and treble region is the prime example of this. It has very good details and clarity with a more musically inclined output.

If you enjoy calmer and tamed highs and do not enjoy attacking notes with a sharper finishing, Tri TK2 is the one for you. TK2 doesn’t try to deliver higher energy or taller treble notes, it puts the notes gently. This doesn’t mean TK2 lacks with resolution or definition, it just doesn’t have the extra bit of energy at the finishing region. If you enjoy the extra bit or resolution and transparency, TK2 might disappoint you. In any case it doesn’t lack with extension but yes, the energy and definition of notes starts to dip as we go higher into the spectrum. Lower treble instruments have good energy to them, mid treble notes are very good too, but the upper treble notes lack the airy feeling. Layering and separation are good but isn’t the best throughout, Instruments have fairly accurate placement but still have a bit of veil to them. TK2 in other words is a Paw S1 with more power and bigger stage.

STAGE AND IMAGING:

The stage feels very natural with expansion where the instruments have good amount of space and air between them. There is no hollowness or unnecessary space in the stage. The distribution of space is admirably even, no part of the spectrum takes unreasonable space letting the whole spectrum have their own freedom of expression and expansion. It has excellent X-axis width and very good height. Z-axis depth is above average too.

Imaging is above average, it’s not the sharpest or cleanest but doesn’t feel veiled and mushy like Hip DAC. Layering and separation is very good but the treble region is not very airy.

PAIRING:

TK2 is one of those rare devices which pairs well with anything and everything unless the headphone is hyper demanding like Fostex T50rp. This headphone needs serious amount of power, it can handle 3w of power and the TK2 wasn’t the ideal source for it.

So the point is, unless the headphone demands super high amount of power, TK2 will pair well with it. I have used Fidelio L2, Fiio FH9, UM Mext and 64audio Duo and none of them sounded odd or out of character. Yes, the lack of upper treble energy and the lack of air reflects on the IEMs and headphones too but it doesn’t affect the IEM or HP substantially.

COMPARISONS:

VS Earmen TR-Amp:

VS Shanling UA5:

CONCLUSION:

Let me start with this, TK2 is an emotional sounding DAC/amp, it feels more engaging than analyzing. So does it make you hum? Yes!! if you want a musically tuned source which has better details and separation than Hip DAC you were reading the right article. Tri TK2 comes with a fun oriented musical output in its mind and it nails it. It doesn’t try to deliver pseudo details with higher treble energy or a bit of peaky feeling. It delivers fairly accurate and enjoyable notes without getting badly veiled or trying to be on the face.

If you were looking for super high details and exceptional precision and accuracy, Tri TK2 might leave you asking for more. For everything else, it’s very good. I would have liked a bit more connectivity options but that’s okay..

I hope Tri will make a TK3 with more connectivity options and maybe with Bluetooth too.. Fingers crossed!!

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ABOUT AUTHOR

Suman Sourav Meher

Suman Sourav Meher

My humble audiophile journey started in 2010, when I was in college, where I fell in love with the elements, nuances, and variations of this mesmerizing world. The ability of tiny earphones to recreate amazing sounds made my bad days tolerable and good days better! Now I am a full-time audiophile with a preference for musical tracks, especially vocals and engaging ones. I must admit I am addicted, but not to drugs or alcohol, but to earphones. Come join me as I share my experiences, bad or good, and let’s have some fun!

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