Hidizs S9 Pro ($110): The S9 Pro is certainly a personal benchmark for portable sources as it provides a very well-rounded set of features and a solid sound performance in all regards. Even then, the TC44C is to be considered a peer rather than being outclassed. The S9 Pro lies slightly on the revealing and contrasted side. It has a deeper, harder-hitting and more weighted sub-bass, a clearer midrange and a more vibrant top-end with greater air and shimmer. By comparison, the TC44C is far more grounded with more warmth, body and coherence. Its midrange timbre is more natural and similar to my desktop sources that generally carry a greater sense of gusto.
It is slightly less defined but carries similar detail retrieval even if they aren’t as showcased to the listener. Vocals are larger and lusher on the TC44C, but clearer and more defined on the S9 Pro. The treble on the S9 will suit those wanting more air and clarity while the TC44C impresses with a far cleaner background and a slightly more defined lower treble that gives it a bit more focus. The S9 Pro has a larger soundstage and also better layering. The TC44C has more pop due to its dark background and its stage is slightly deeper.
Astell & Kern Dual DAC ($149): The Dual DAC uses a similar dual Cirrus DAC set up in the form of the CS43198 paired with an independent amplifier section designed by AK. The result is great if you don’t mind the higher 2-ohm output impedance. The Dual DAC provides a bassier sound. Its sub-bass is slightly thicker with a heftier slam and it carries a bit more fullness in the mid-bass too. Control is excellent that said, matching the DD on texture. The TC44C is slightly cleaner with better separation and slightly better definition albeit with less slam.
The midrange presentation is very similar on both too, being light warm, coherent and well-structured. I am hearing a hint more resolution on the TC44C with slightly clearer fine details, however, this is hard to appreciate as the Dual DAC has a slightly more articulate treble that draws more attention to the details it does resolve. Treble sounds slightly more present and immediate on the Dual DAC and more damped on the TC44C. The AK dongle has a slight detail retrieval advantage. The Dual DAC has a slightly wider stage while the TC44C has a deeper stage with slightly better layering in the midrange.
Earmen Sparrow (199 EUR): The Sparrow leans further into the contrasted, revealing signature of the S9 Pro and takes it up another notch. There’s beginning to be a consistent theme here as the Sparrow provides a noticeably more powerful sub-bass. However, its low-end sounds less controlled and concise altogether despite the greater impact and dynamics. The TC44C sounds quicker and more defined in the mid-bass and a bit more balanced. The midrange is cleaner and more revealing on the Sparrow. It has greater contrast and carries less body.
The TC44C has better coherence and linearity, its timbre is more natural and forgiving. The Sparrow has slightly better separation and layering here but no real resolving power advantage despite the clearer voicing. The same goes for the treble that benefits from more snap and shimmer on the Sparrow, being smoother and cleaner on the TC44C. I do believe the Sparrow has a bit more headroom and extension but this could also be the brighter tuning lending this impression. The Sparrow has a wider stage and matches the TC44C on depth.
Cayin RU6 ($249): The RU6 is the big daddy of natural, coherent dongle sources and a sizeable step up in price too. Its unique R-2R DAC gives it some intriguing qualities that set it aside from the majority. The RU6 immediately has the best dynamics and sub-bass heft of the roundup. It sounds considerably more powerful than the TC44C. It shares similar control and speed but has a thicker note structure with reduced separation as a result. The TC44C has some warmth, but a cleaner bass altogether with slightly better definition and mid-bass texture. The midrange is richer on the RU6 and more clearly warm in tone.
The TC44C has more prominent vocals with the RU6 being lightly laid-back. The RU6 has considerably better imaging and space than the TC44C. On the contrary, the TC44C does have a notable definition advantage, sounding more etched. Treble tuning is similar on both sources, the TC44C has a slightly more defined leading edge while the RU6 sounds a smidge more natural with greater texture and body after. Though also clean, the RU6 shimmers and decays more naturally which contributes to a more authentic instrument timbre and greater air and headroom. The RU6 sounds wider and bigger in general. Both have a similar multi-dimensional over razor-sharp accurate imaging style, the RU6 is more holographic and nuanced, exacerbated by its greater dimensions.
There’s no doubt the TC44C is a fine source. While my praise isn’t to be taken as this being a market leader, it is certainly among those leagues and serves as a more forgiving option. I am especially a fan of the reliability of its connection and its power efficiency that give it an edge over most during portable use. The lack of noise and logarithmic volume control make it suitable for a wide range of gear. The amp section does reach its limit with less efficient headphones quicker than some and the soundstage width leaves to be desired. There is also no accompanying app at present and the lanyard loop does limit compatible 3.5mm plugs. Besides this, the TC44C almost strikes me as a less compromised AK Dual DAC in terms of its removable cable and lower OI. While the Dual DAC is still a model one may consider for its more vibrant top-end, powerful amp section and wider stage, the TC44C is a more versatile option that doubles down on the coherent nature of Cirrus’ chipset. The experience at DD HiFi’s team shows in the refinement of the product and chiefly where they’ve chosen to direct their efforts when working with a limited budget. The result is well priced, well made and well outfit.
The TC44C is available from DD HiFi for $119 USD at the time of writing. I am not affiliated with DD Hifi and make no earnings from purchases through these links.
Track List –
Billie Eilish – dont smile at me
Bob Seger – Night Moves
Courtney Barnett – Rae Street
Cream – Wheels of Fire
Dire Straits – Communique
Dirty Loops – Next To You
Eagles – Hotel California
Elton John – Honky Chateau
Fleetwood Mac – Rumours
H.E.R – I Used To Know Her
Jasen – BYE
John Mayer – Continuum
Kanye West – Ye
Missy Higgins – The Sound of White
Radiohead – OK Computer
TALA – ain’t leavin` without you
The Beatles – Abbey Road
The weeknd – After Hours
Vampire Weekend – Father of the Bride