disclaimer: DDHifi has been around for some time now as an accessory manufacturer and has recently released several new product lines. I use their cases for several of my portable units as they are generally a step above the quality of most and was recently asked if I was interested in reviewing their micro DAC and balanced to single ended adapter. I agreed to both as the premise of a the adapter is quite useful and the micro dac represents a hot segment in the market at present. I have no financial interest in DD Hifi nor have I been compensated beyond the item itself for this review. If you have an interest in DDHifi, they can be reached at their Facebook Page or website for more information or to purchase.
Unboxing / Packaging:
The little micro-dac comes in a wooden box as did the 2.5 – 3.5 adapter. To prevent the dongle from flopping around, the box is lined with tan paper Easter grass style packing material. The cases come with a cardboard band around them with model information, but do not come boxed as it seems kind of redundant to do so. Not much to say here as the three items came packed individually so no accessories to discuss.
The Outer housing on the TC35 is 316 stainless steel with a brass nose containing the 3.5mm TRS female port at one end and a USB type-C protruding from the other. DD’s documentation suggests it couldn’t be made any smaller and when placing a 3.5mm male jack on the side of it, you realize they were not kidding. The body is nearly exactly the length of the 3.5mm jack with the protrusion for the USB adapter being the only portion longer than that. There is a step for the USB adapter which while it makes it very slightly longer is needed to clear the cases so often found on today’s devices. Overall size is 2.5 x 1 x 1 cm. The 2.5 female to 3.5 male adapter is of similarly robust design with a metal frame and clear resin housing for the 2.5 jack. I wouldn’t worry too much about the adapter suffering a few bumps and bruises as it is extremely solid. DD Hifi’s cases are also a step above the average in both design and construction and for those who travel with DAPs, they are a very useful addition to your kit. Mine usually houses a DAP, two pairs of in-ears and adapters. Alternatively it also fits a combo of the Shanling m1 or Hidizs AP80, the TR-amp and necessary cabling, and a set of iems. With the adjustable dividers, nothing shifts in transit and no scratches as a result.
The tiny dac packs a dual sided pcb with the ALC5686 chip on one side and most of the support circuitry on the opposite. The ALC5686 is not a very common chip to read about in these small DACs which have typically been dominated by Cirrus Logic and ESS with their system on a chip models that integrate dac, amp, and control circuitry on a single die. The 5686 is similar in that regard but is produced by Realtek that has been making PC sound chips for budget systems for many years now. The chip sports good numbers with support for up to 32/384kHz PCM although it does not support native DSD or MQA. Output power is somewhat limited at 30mW@32Ω so the TC35 is best paired with high sensitivity in-ears. A couple of nice design features to the TC35 are that it can detect when a headphone is plugged in, and not force the system to attempt to use the dac when no headphone is available and secondly that it can autodetect and utilize microphones and remotes and pass that information on into android (CTIA) to allow use of built in controls on your earphones. (This is not the case for the lightning version as apple controls are different).
Within the limits of its output power, the tiny DAC does a good job of presenting a fairly detailed clean signature with no major bumps or troughs. When overmatched (and 150Ω cans will over-match it) the first thing you notice is the bass is too lite. It simply cannot deliver enough power to sustain big hits on harder to drive models so is best reserved for use with high sensitvity/ low impedance models. I found it worked very well with the Empire Ears Bravado so did most of my listening with it. The little dac is interesting in that it doesn’t fit into the typical AKM vs ESS debate and is a bit less clinical than the ESS and slightly less smoothed over than the AKM can be. Realtek has taken a beating in the audiophile world as being low-end inadequate gear, but in this instance, I think undeservedly so. The tiny TC35 sounds as good as most of the other dongles in my collection and is certainly handier than most.
So how does the TC35 stack up vs those other dongles.
Well in size, nothing comes close. The TC35 is smaller than the box on the Xduoo and Cozoy models even if you cut the cables off both ends. Same goes for the Ikko Zerda. Honestly, it will be nearly impossible for anyone to come out with a more compact model.
Sound Quality, it is on par with the Xduoo and Cozoy and only a very small step back from the Zerda which uses the Cirrus Logic desktop chip.
Power wise, all three of the other dongles draw more current and will drag a phone battery down more quickly than the TC35. The trade off of course is some of those others will also drive higher impedance / lower sensitivity over-ears which makes the TC35 struggle.
Thoughts / Conclusion:
Some of you will remember me arguing for a dedicated DAP in my head-fi and facebook posts, and I still very much feel that is the best setup for those who listen all day and need a phone to conduct business with. Having said that, the little TC35 has found a home in my daily carry pack because there are also times when it becomes necessary to playback a voicemail, watch a video someone sent etc on your phone and you wish not to share it with those surrounding you. The Fact that the TC35 handles microphone pass through also means it can be used to allow the user to make handsfree calls again without everyone in the vicinity listening in. For those reasons alone, its worth the asking price even if you don’t intend to use your phone as your primary music player. For those looking for a dac to pair with today’s usb-c devices and willing to live within its power limitations, the TC35 does excellent work, is rock solid, and is priced at the budget end of the scale. All features that make it well worth considering. If you do purchase one, consider picking up a case or adapter while you are at it. They too are well made, and combining shipping will save you a few bucks too.