ddHiFi is always coming up with new and innovative design ideas for its products and we see that again with the TC44C. Though simple in form, the TC44C is a handsome device sporting a sage green and gold coloured frosted metal chassis. The first 600 units also come with a free hand-stitched genuine leather case.
On the top end of the unit are the 3.5mm single-ended and 4.4mm balanced headphone sockets, just next to the handy lanyard slot. At the other end is the USB-C port for data transfer.
Hidden in the 4.4mm socket is an LED that shows the current status: blue for PCM and green indicating DSD playback. This can be handy to ensure you’re setup is working correctly, however, the light is not visible when you have something plugged into the 4.4mm socket.
Both the USB-C decoding cable (TC05) and the lightning variant (MFi06S) are the same colour as the main body. Each cable is made from high-purity silver-plated copper and Teflon with a double insulation TPU sheath for durability.
Internally, the TC44C has dual CS43131 DAC chips. This is the same solution found in the Tempotec Sonata E44, xDuoo Link2 Bal and ddHiFi’s own TC44B. In addition, the headphone socket is separated from the mainboard using lead-free soldering to maintain the integrity of the circuit board.
When it comes to output power, the TC44C produces a modest 120mW. This is a bit lower than average but is really more than enough for the majority of earphones that people use.
So, now that we’re familiar with how the ddHiFi TC44C looks and operates, let’s talk about how it sounds. I tested the device using my iPhone, laptop and PC as the sources. Some of the headphones and IEMs I used were the Beyerdynamic DT990 Pro (250Ω), the Xenns Mangird Tea2, FiR Audio 5×5 and M-Fidelity SA-50.
It should be noted at this point, that the TC44C has more than enough power to drive everything I just mentioned and with power to spare. One exception was the DT990 Pro where I was at nearly full volume on some quieter recordings. Although those 250Ω headphones sometimes reach the limits of the DACs maximum volume, the quality of the sound is never compromised.
I’m really becoming a fan of the dual CS4131 solution. It reminds me a lot of the AKM VELVET SOUND DAC chips i.e., transparent and smooth with good end to end extension. As I mentioned earlier, some of my recent favourite dongle DACs have the same dual CS4131 implementation and to my ears, they share sonic similarities.
What I hear with this unit is impressive forward depth, resolution and a balanced presentation. Like most recent DAC releases, the TC44C aims at neutrality and that’s precisely what you get.
Bass notes are full-bodied but tidy and have a good degree of extension, allowing your transducers to reach their full range in the lows. Another thing I hear is impressive layering in the bass, making it easy to distinguish between instruments, for example, a kick drum versus a bass guitar or double bass.
The mids are articulate and clear with a good sense of spacing. Instrument separation is fantastic which is blissful in combination with the DAC’s smooth musicality. So not only are you immersed in the music but your senses are caressed rather than bombarded. It might not be the ultimate in terms of precision or detail but in no way does it fall short in nimbleness.
Treble notes are easygoing but crisp – the reason I alluded to the AKM Velvet Sound DACs previously. A soft but airy treble seems to be a recurring theme with dual CS4131 DACs. The TC44C delivers a highly resolving but sensually smooth sound that doesn’t get strident or aggressive.
The soundstage extends evenly in width and depth. Imaging is handled with aplomb, giving you a clear picture of where instruments are positioned. Instrument separation is great too and made even more impressive by the TC44C’s musical and analogue nature.
Hidizs S9 Pro ($112)
The S9 Pro (review here) is longer and thinner than the TC44C though both occupy around the same mass. S9 Pro has a rather bold and bright LED on the front compared to the barely visible one on the TC44C.
Both units have a single-ended 3.5mm jack but the S9 Pro has a 2.5mm balanced output compared to a 4.4mm one on the TC44C. Another difference is that the Hidizs DAC gets noticeably warm in use while the ddHiFi unit stays cool at all times.
When it comes to output power, the Hidizs comes out well ahead, producing 200mW from its balanced output compared to 120mW from the ddHiFi.
To my ears, bass notes have more slam and the bass, in general, is more forward on the S9 Pro. Its midrange is a tad more detailed but not as musical as the TC44C which has a more organic smoothness.
Perhaps the greatest difference I hear between these devices is in the treble; the S9 Pro’s treble gets edgier and has a touch of sharpness that’s not present on the TC44C. While this gives the Hidizs a slight edge in micro-detail retrieval it also results in a more aggressive and potentially strident treble.
In a market that’s constantly bombarded with new dongle DAC releases, it’s becoming harder to stand out. What’s unique about the ddHiFi TC44C is its incorporation of both a 3.5mm SE output and a 4.4mm balanced output in such a tiny chassis.
This dongle DAC is certainly less conspicuous and easier to manage than many of its larger peers. Although its output power is rather modest, it has an very black background, making it ideal for sensitive IEMs. Add to that the silky smooth but transparent sound of its dual DAC chips and you have a fabulous music companion.