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DDHiFi TC44C Review – Perfectly Broody

Sound –

Frequency Response –

Testing Methodology: RMAA via Startech External Sound Card

The TC44C has a linear frequency response suggesting that it represents audio with great fidelity. Due to the quality of my sound card, I am unable to reliably test other measures such as distortion and crosstalk so they will be used as a personal reference only. Qualities here can also impact the sound as I will detail via subjective listening.

Output Impedance & Hiss –

Testing Methodology: SPL volume matched comparison through an inline splitter to THX789 + SMS

To test output impedance, I employed the Campfire Audio Ara which has a low 8.5 Ohm impedance and mechanical crossover that makes it source sensitive enough to discern between 1-ohm and sub-1-ohm sources. The TC44C appears to have an output impedance around the 1-ohm mark as the sound was identical to my THX789 desktop amp which sports a 1-ohm output impedance. That said, the Ara did sound slightly fuller and smoother from the Hidizs S9 Pro which sports a sub-1-ohm output impedance. Furthermore, the noise floor was jet black with no hiss audible even when music wasn’t playing. This is an excellent result and means this source will be suitable for essentially any IEM including sensitive multi-driver models.

Subjective –

Testing Methodology: SPL volume matched comparison through an inline splitter to THX789 + SMSL SU9 to Soft Ears RS10 (flat impedance). Powered by Pixel 6 Pro with Poweramp Pro via high-resolution output.

The TC44C is an intriguing sounding source with a natural over revealing tonality and a focus on a superbly dark, clean background. This is derived from its slightly lower-contrast nature lending it strong coherence at the expense of clarity and raw separation. However, a solid technical performance means the presentation is never muddled or ill-defined and sound balance is upheld overall. Compared to many portable sources, the TC44C doesn’t emphasize the extremities and focuses on said tonality more than the highest resolving power or engagement. In this sense, it achieves a sense of timbral authenticity through its mid-bass and midrange that many dongles are lacking. It is not, however, an outlier when it comes to dynamics and top-end extension which are both more indicative of its size and price.

Bass –

Given the power output I was hoping for a more power sub-bass presentation but that isn’t the case here. The TC44C isn’t lacking power but doesn’t quite have the same depth and weight as something like the Hidizs S9 Pro. In turn, it offers a very slight plumpness in its mid-bass over thickness in the sub-bass, which serves mostly just to redeem body and note size. The tone is warm leaning but not pushed nearly to the extent of tubbiness or bloat. Lows transition evenly into the midrange which contributes to their lovely sense of naturalness and integration. Though a touch full with a slight roll-off notable, separation remains a good performer as does note definition.

This can be attributed mostly to great control through the mid-bass with a notably quick decay that aids these qualities. Attack is slightly more diffuse than the more dynamic sources in this sector but overall note definition and pace still perform at a high level due to the rapid decay and relative lack of bass emphasis. Moreover, notes are very well textured due to the combination of strong control and the less present sub-bass that gives the mid-bass more room to breathe. Though not the heaviest hitter, the TC44C doesn’t come across as over-cooked and offers good pace and definition. Paired with its rich, textured mid-bass tuning, it is remains an engaging performer.

Mids –

If you like an organic sound, you’ll love how well the bass and midrange jive together on the TC44C. To preface, this isn’t the most separated, revealing or defined source and as far as I can discern this was never the intention. This source is characterised by its enlarged vocals beautifully filled in with rich body and a light fuzz due to the uptick of bass warmth. It sounds nicely integrated with smooth transitions and an impressively complete note structure. These qualities give the source a pleasant, euphonic voicing that isn’t entirely transparent but adequately so whilst being wonderfully forgiving.

Furthermore, this isn’t to be taken as the source being poorly defined; resolving power performs at an above-average level if not being an outright standout. It isn’t an especially wide or layered source but delivers a defined and well-contrasted foreground/background. The large vocal size and rich tone give this source a great sense of gusto and coherence. Small details and textures are present if not showcased to the listener due to its laid-back top-end. I do, however, think it is rare to find such a pleasant and listenable sound from a portable source without stepping up to something like the Cayin RU6 which costs considerably more.

Highs –

I feel the top-end is tuned in good taste so as to invite but not fatigue. I note a sharp transient response that gives the source a good sense of bite and note definition. While highs don’t sit forward, this means the foreground sounds focussed and macro detail retrieval performs at a high level amongst its peers. Above, I am hearing an outstandingly dark background giving the source a clean, contrasted sound that, in some sense, draws further attention towards the foreground. This is no doubt a result of both the tuning and also the complete lack of background noise. Do note that this does give instruments a slightly more damped sound than many competitors with less shimmer and a shorter decay. This is most noticeable with cymbals and strings.

The slightly muted sound isn’t necessarily a bad thing but a matter of taste. This is so as extension remains ample and, in turn, so is background detail retrieval. While micro-details aren’t abundant, they are resolved to some degree which isn’t something I can say about all hyper-portable sources. This means the sound achieves fair complexity and layering is above average contributing towards an engaging, nuanced listening experience that doesn’t falter under scrutiny. Do consider that sparkle and energy are reduced relative to most competitors. If you prefer a very clean, non-fatiguing sound but don’t want to miss out on clarity in the lower-treble, the TC44C will be right up your alley.

Soundstage –

This is where the TC44C falters slightly as, due to its limited headroom and dark background, the sense of space and separation is reduced. Dimensions are average for a hyper-portable source, with width especially being quite intimate. However, the highlight here is depth which matches the better dongles I’ve tested. This gives the TC44C an intriguing imaging performance that manages to be quite immersive, nonetheless. In particular, the source delivers a keen sense of forward and stereo direction that gives it a multi-dimensional feel. Forward layering appears very strong, however, leading competitors do deliver more space and better lateral layering especially, that the TC44C is notably weak at. This can make the TC44C’s imaging difficult to appreciate on first listen. Separation is good enough never to stand out as an issue but cannot be considered a strong performer. This is to be expected as warmth and coherence are often paradoxical traits.

Driving Power –

On paper, the TC44C provides a very respectable output power and this is indeed realised in practice. As you’d expect from the size of the device, it was intended to drive IEMs with which it does a terrific job. I do believe that many overstate the power requirements of these efficient designs as dongles are quickly bridging the gap between them and proper full-size desktop amplifiers. Of course, you don’t get the same volume and especially insensitive IEMs such as the Astrotec Phoenix will benefit from the extra juice. However, I found the TC44C was dynamic, nicely extended and didn’t fall apart at high volumes on the vast majority of my IEM collection. This positive experience is aided by the volume control, noise and output impedance as mentioned above. The story is much the same with most portable or more efficient designs such as Grado’s SR-325x and even the RS-1x should you be so inclined.

The Grados sounded a bit tighter and carried slightly more weight from my THX789 but provided a similar tonality and even space outside of this. Efficiency has been an ongoing goal for designers of full-size, high-end headphones, and we are seeing both ever-improving sources and ever-easier to drive headphones than ever. Still, we aren’t quite there yet as stepping up to full-size headphones, the experience is more telling of the source’s size class. Dynamics are notably lower, even from the balanced connector, and overall headroom is reduced notably. You may run out of volume on full-size models and things do start sounding strained at the top-end. Contrarily, though not quite as laudable as the RU6 and S9 Pro, I did find the sound listenable and balanced otherwise, suitable in a pinch and far better than a laptop’s integrated audio output for the space-constrained.  

Next Page: Comparisons & Verdict

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