TCG Audio might sounded too new to most of us, after seeing their post in head-fi forum, I actually contacted TCG Audio for a review opportunity, thanks to Mr Wong for sending me TCG Audio Uskin (99USD) and T-Box+ (76USD)all the way from Hongkong to me.
I have long kept in touch with person from TCG Audio, it is until lately I have chance to hand on and test their unit, Uskin is the product that I am most interested in among TCG Audio products, it is a Dac/Headphone amplifier combo in a sleek, slim and simple factor.
Design, Build Quality and Ergonomic
Both of them some of the best design and finishing attention that I have even see for the item in same price range. TCG has really giving their serious attention on the finishing, you can feel how solid are them in your hand and quite tough. Designation is quite nice as well, you can see it through the opicture, Uskin is very sleek and thin in design, considered it is a DAC with built in headphone amplifier, it is really a remarkable achievement. T-Box+ is not big in size anyway, it is thicker than the Uskin but not as wide, for a portable headphone amplifier standard, the size is still quite small, considered that it has a volume knob, both of them are small and keep in mind that they have impressive battery life, 40 hours!!! for Uskin and 80 hours!!! for T-Box+. So considering the battery life which I have never see portable headphone amplifier that can stay as long as them, the size is really, really very small.
Ergonomic wise, Uskin and T-Box+ are very easy to use, if you want to use Uskin’s DAC as well, plugged in the USB cable and your headphone then you are good to go. If you just want to use the Line out (Which means connected an external headphone amplifier), just connect the 3.5mm stereo cable to the ‘Line out’). All of these are pretty straight forward and easy to use. For T-Box+ which you can only use it as a portable headphone amplifier, just plugged in line in from your source, then switch on the amp.
TCG Audio told me that Uskin can worked with Android 4.0 (And newer) as a DAC though OTG cable, I don’t owned any of the Android phone so can’t comment on this.
I have tested both of the Uskin and T-Box+ with Soundmagic HP-100, Thinksound Rain/TS-02, Shure SE425 and Klipsch X7i, RedGiant A00 and A03 plugged in through my computer through iFi Audio iUSB combine with Gemini Cable.
So are them sounded as good as their spec goes? Well, they are not a breakthrough in term of sound quality I can say, they do not sounded particularly bad, but somehow I won’t describe them as good/excellent audio quality, but audio quality that is good enough for their selling price, even without those features and battery performance.
Both of the Uskin and T-Box+ tuned to different sound signature I can say, let me elaborate and analyse them one by one.
Uskin has a somehow ardent/zealous/engaging sound that has some emphasise on the lower spectrum, thus bass has more presentation and rumbling more on the Uskin. I have compared briefly to the much higher price Audinst HUD-MX2, Uskin give me more attack, engaging and faster/zealous, while Audinst HUD-MX2 feel a bit sluggish in comparison. I can’t say Uskin is better though, it is just for the song like ‘Fire rises’ (The Dark Knight Rises OST,24bit 192khz), I prefer the way Uskin presented the song. However, quantity is there but not so with the quality, for me bass is little bloated and muddy, however decayed fast, not something that I really like though.
It is okay for something like pop and R&B, I know that youngster might like it more than I do, as I think this is the sound that TCG Audio purposely tuned to, looking at the outlook of Uskin, it is made for youngster who like bass. Mids and Treble is okay and overall sound is forward rather than being flat, warm rather than being neutral, bass enhanced rather than being balance sounding, and with some coloration. Nothing is really bad here, I personally think that sound quality is better than most of the mobile phones, for a portable device, Uskin is quite good. Why I don’t like them then? I appreciated how it sounded for its price, but it is not a breakthrough, overall sound lacks refinement, body and soundstage is a little bit narrow and lack spacious, but honestly, not a problem for crowd that will buy them.
Indeed I have played some vocal based songs, but the coloration and lacking spacious/air is not something I like. However, I need to declare one more time, at 99USD I can’t think of any portable DAC/head amp combo that can sounded better than Uskin. It is just my personal preference that turned me off.
T-Box+ definitely is a different sounding device when compared to the Uskin, while Uskin is ardent/zealous/engaging sounding, T-Box+ is airier and more backward, more or less is a device that is much neutral and balanced. The soundstage is definitely almost the size as the Uskin but present music in a spacious way, it is apparent especially if you compared with the Uskin, however the air/space is a little bit lacking as well as the bass impact. Maybe it is my IEM that has low bass impact? Not so I can say, even if I use my RedGiant A03 the impact is not impactful as well, sound signature is quite laid back overall. So how good is this thing? I like it more than the Uskin, at least it is more spacious. Sound might be too thin for some and also not as full sounding.
So how good are them? If you are more generous in your budget, then there is sure better stuffs out there. For Uskin, I cannot remembered any DAC/Amp that has more feature and better sounding than it, so I would say for 99USD Uskin is really a good buy. It is small, sleek and nice looking, also with excellent battery life and average audio performance. For 99USD, it is a hard slayer, although spending more you will surely get a better, fuller sounding device. Mostly nailed down to your sound preference though, is zealous sounding is something that you like? Ask yourself or the best give it a serious audition before you decide anything.
However, it is hard for me to really recommended it, for 76USD there are plenty of competitors, for lesser money they are JDS Labs CmoyBB, Hippo CriCri/CriCri+, if you are willing to stretch your budget, there is even the more superior JDS Labs Objective 2 and a much musical/better Shonyun Audio 306A, also some DAC/AMP such as the Xduoo TA-01 and so on, but why T-Box+? This is the question I keep asking myself. A extra bass boost feature will be more flexible in my opinion.
TCG Audio is definitely superior in feature and build quality and design, but honestly, they are still lacking some of the refinement that I am seeking for.