It seems only fitting that my first article be about home office audio. A year or two ago, I would have spent little time discussing it, but with the work world having been turned on its ear in the last year, nearly every home now has some form of home office. One commonality shared by many of these home offices is cramped quarters with many carved out of closets, mud rooms, or other spaces that were too small to be utilized for much else and thus were available. This reality has created a new demand for products from brands like Schiit Audio, iFi, and Xduoo. The Xduoo Xa-10 fits into an interesting niche that is likely to grow significantly in the coming years.
Most of us want to listen to music without a lot of fuss and fidgeting during the workday. That used to mean load up the iPod and put it on shuffle. One significant downside to using any digital audio player is the listener is not going to hear anything new. Very few offer (although it’s starting to change) streaming capabilities.
And why would anyone want to use an expensive dedicated DAP when products like the iPhone 12 or Google Pixel 4a, Moto Z3 Play, or OnePlus 6 exist?
In recent years, streaming services have become attractive because they offer the ability to select channels that play certain genres where the listener can hear a good mix of the familiar and new material without straying too far from their usual preferences.
Another reason for the popularity is the simplicity and availability of these services. Almost all of them support Android, iOS, Mac, Windows, and many even have Chromebook apps.
For some, it may be as simple as plugging headphones directly into their phone or laptop and starting the app.
For others, there are a couple complications. First, a lot of devices today don’t have a place to plug in a headphone and second, even those that do have a headphone jack, don’t always sound very good.
I recently received a Xduoo Xa-10; a Chinese company that has been making audio products for almost a decade and is quite popular overseas.
The little box fits neatly on a desk and provides everything one needs to listen to their favorite headphones while working away at their computer.
With input options including USB, Coaxial, Optical TOSLINK, analog (RCA), and Bluetooth, the Xduoo Xa-10 can be directly attached to a laptop or desktop computer, or a phone or tablet via AAC, aptX HD, or LDAC Bluetooth protocols.
Internally, the Xa-10 uses a pair of AKM 4493 DAC chips that give the end user options of just about any file format imaginable; 32-bit/768kHz PCM, DSD512, and support for MQA.
The Xduoo Xa-10 has proven to work flawlessly with Spotify, Tidal, Qobuz, MP3s, FLAC, MQA, DSD, and every file that I have tried through it. I’m sure Spotify HiFi will work just as well.
Pairing a device is a breeze as when the unit is turned on, it takes pressing the top button 4 times to arrive at Bluetooth, and then pairing a device to start playing music. It automatically goes into pairing mode the first time used, and automatically returns to that device when started after that.
To pair a new device, simply hold down the Bluetooth button on the side and it starts the process over.
I found my iPad paired quickly and easily and my phone did as well using AAC and LDAC respectively both of which offer improvements in sound over the original Bluetooth protocol.
From there, the only thing a user really must do is adjust volume to their desired level using the large red knob on front panel. Inside that knob, the Xa-10 displays a volume setting between 1 and 100 and a lot of information; what type of file is being played, sampling rate, gain level, and the filter in use; all of which can be ignored if desired or tinkered with if a user feels so inclined.
The gain switch may come in handy as the Xa-10 has a lot of power — and I mean a lot.
It can easily push some of the world’s most demanding headphones to listening levels that induce hearing damage. Not a practice that I think anyone should try. Do you know what’s better than loud volume levels?
I borrowed that line from Ian White after reading his review of the THX Onyx Dongle DAC.
For headphones that don’t require that kind of power, clicking the menu button twice lets you change the gain using the volume knob to select low or high, then click menu again to save the setting.
Low gain is plenty for a lot of headphones and most in-ear models. For me, low gain was plenty of power with the Beyerdynamic T5p, Meze Audio 99 Classics, and Campfire Cascade over-ears, and pretty much my entire in-ear collection. High gain is best reserved for models like the Dekoni Blue, Fostex planar models, and HiFiMan HE560 and HE6.
The Xduoo Xa-10 also supports balanced headphone outputs and has both XLR and 4.4mm connectors for those with headphones that utilize them. I could write several articles on balanced vs single ended connectors (single ended is the good old fashion 6.35mm and 3.5mm connectors we have all used for years), but that is best reserved for another day.
For now, let’s just say both have advantages and disadvantages and we are not likely to settle this age-old debate in the space of this page. I tried out the balanced outputs as well as the standard and found both equally usable and equally potent so regardless of how you connect a headphone, it has enough power to make sure it sings.
Measuring the sound of a DAC/headphone amplifier is always a challenge as technically speaking they don’t produce sound. They influence how a speaker or headphone produces sound, so we are always interpreting the data through some other device. For that reason, I always use headphones I know extremely well so I can tell what contribution the new device is making.
The Xa-10 does a good job of not adding or taking away from the sound of the original recording with no major gaps or boosts and very little smoothing of rough edges. This means that poor quality recordings will continue to sound poor while better recordings are allowed to shine. Audiophiles would probably describe this as being neutral or analytical.
Low end response is fairly robust without every sounding too wooly and the top end is highly detailed.
If you’re looking for a warm sounding headphone amplifier, the Ampsandsound Kenzie fits the bill. The Xa-10 reproduces a clean sounding midrange with excellent transparency and would be a good match for warmer sounding headphones.
I’m a tube guy, files are better than streaming guy, and a “why do I need Bluetooth when wired headphones work fine” guy, so all of this is a departure from my normal, but it all works quite well.
If you are looking for a small desktop device to take your music listening to the next level while working in your home office (or your real office for that matter), the Xduoo Xa-10 makes a compelling argument for being the only device you’ll need with lots of connection options, good power, and minimal fuss.
Maybe this “New Normal” I keep hearing others refer to won’t be so bad after all.
For more information: xduoo.net/product/xa-10/
Where to buy: $479 at apos.audio