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JCally AP10

JCally AP10

Author:Andy.EF
Review Date: 15 November 2022

 
SPECIFICATIONS

  1. DAC Chips: Dual CS43131.
  2. PCM Sampling Rate: Up to 32-Bit/384kHz.
  3. DSD Sampling Rate: Up to DSD256 Natively.
  4. Headphone Outputs: 3.5mm+4.4mm.
  5. Frequency Response Range: 20Hz-20kHz.
  6. Color Options: Black/Silver.
  7. Weight: 26.5grams approx.

Test Equipment

IEMs and Earbuds:

  1. Etymotic ER4SR (Single BA, 45 Ohm, 96db Sensitivity)
  2. Shure KSE1500 (Single Electrostatic 200V, KSA1200 Energizer)
  3. SeeAudio Bravery AE (4BA)
  4. Tanchjim ZERO (Single DD)
  5. VE Azure (Single DD, 16 Ohm, 105db Sensitivity)
  6. VE Monk GO Final

Headphones:

  1. FOSTEX T40RP MK3 (Magnetic Planar, 50 Ohm, 91db Sensitivity)
  2. VE Pro Supernova (Single DD, 32 Ohm)

Sources:

  1. Windows 10, Foobar 2000 (USB 3.0 Power)
  2. Sony Xperia 1 iV (HiBy Music, USB Exclusive Mode, Bitperfect)
  3. Xiaomi Mi 9t (HiBy Music, USB Exclusive Mode, Bitperfect)

LISTENING EQUIPMENT USED IMPARTED HUGE INFLUENCE TO SOUND IMPRESSIONS & RATING

Build, Functions, Usability

 

JCally is not a stranger when it comes to budget oriented audio gears. AP10 is among one of the newest offering from JCally (which seems to keep on coming at every 3 months interval).

Completely built of aluminum chassis, AP10 is a no nonsense unit. Rectangular and angular, it is practically similarly sized to Cayin RU6. Thankfully despite the heft of feel, the weight being sensible at 26gm.

At the heart of AP10 is a pair of Cirrus Logic CS43131, which seems has been quite a popular choice recently for many other implementation of highly portable DAC/Amp. One of the biggest appeal for CS43131, it is probably one of the few DAC options which are easy to implement with dual DAC mode - most prominently with early adopters such as iBasso DC03.

Externally, it will be difficult not to notice the huge rotary volume wheel imbedded on the top side of AP10. At first I was so excited to see this as I am a big fan of independent rotary volume wheel - something that I have grown very fond of from regularly using my all time favorite dongle of CEntrance DACport HD.

Unfortunately, as I discovered later, the volume wheel is NOT an independent unit. It merely serve as a remote adjuster which is still governed by the host. Which means, rotating the wheel will adjust the volume level on the source. The caveat of this approach, AP10 will then be at the mercy of the host limitations - for example on Android system, the volume jump from one level to another can be quite annoying and because AP10 cannot regulate that independently, the remote adjustment (at least with my usage) will only serve pedestrian novelty purpose - may as well use a dongle without volume adjustment and the results will still be the same. The volume gap issue can be addressed slightly with the usage of HiBy App USB Exclusive mode, at least the volume jump between levels will not be as big, but it is still not as refined as how it can be observed from the likes of CEntrance DACport HD, Cayin RU6, Lotoo PAW S1/S2, Shanling UA5 or L&P W2. In fact AP10 sits in the same segment with xDuoo Link2 BAL, Moondrop MoonRiver 2 etc (all of which uses host dependent volume steps).
Another way to mitigate this is to allow USB Audio Player Pro to fully take control of AP10 and then define the volume steps in over 50 steps.
Another thing which I observed, using the volume wheel can be finicky at times. Sometimes it goes backwards the opposite direction when scrolled too fast. The trick is to be gentle with the rolling of the wheel and allow the host to receive the input and then adjust accordingly - and this is the reasons why I said independent volume adjuster is so very critical. Especially if the host is already not the most responsive type, remote volume adjustment can be plain annoying.

One very positive element of the volume wheel, it also serves as Play/Pause button that will always respond even when the host is in standby mode. At least this is something that I find very useful

AP10 is a modular unit which will allow for USB C cable swaps. The package will come with braided short USB C to C, which as you would notice is not shown in my review here because I have no idea where the cable went. Luckily I already have tons of USB C cable lying around and being modular means I can easily swap them in. Problem solved.

Another prominent feature of AP10, it offers two level of gain - or should I say two level of power stages. Aptly labeled as 1.8V and 3.8V. Which means it is easy to manually select desired VRMS on tap. The switch is easy to flick and most importantly it works for both 3.5mm or 4.4mm jacks. For highly efficient and sensitive IEMs, running in 1.8V proved more than enough - especially for multi BA or hybrids. 3.8 Vrms definitely suitable to drive more demanding partners.

 

As for the rest of AP10, it has a simple recessed led light indicator which will always operate in Green color. The indicator does not change with the variance of source resolution.

Perhaps, the MOST impressive feature of AP10, it is amazingly efficient with power draw to the host. Through extensive tests, AP10 was able to run for 14-15 hours straight non-stop when connected to my Xiaomi Mi9t (4000 mAH Android Phone) - all in HiBy USB Exclusive mode driving 32 Ohm IEMs. In comparison, most dongles would score anything between 10 to 12 hours, clearly AP10 has 2 hours of gas left when all other dongles would have run out of juices (I mean they drained out the phone battery flat).

Then, AP10 admirably remains cool despite being subjected to long hours of usage. With all that dual DACs, I find this to be quite impressive. Just a very mild hint of heat (which is to be expected) when driving more demanding partners in 3.8v mode.

Sound Impressions

 
I will make this simple. JCally AP10 is an evolution of sound tuning which was first introduced with JCally JM10. Both using CS43131. So I will recap a bit on what JM10 has to offer. JM10 is a 2 Vrms unit with single CS43131. And it is already an impressive dongle with the output quality. Easily one of my favorite during that time.

Now, AP10 built on JM10 success and carries similar tuning principles - which means AP10 is assuredly very neutral and natural with dynamic range. The timbre faithfully organic and realistic. AP10 in fact has improved on several element of dynamic density due to being a dual DAC unit now and with almost double the power of the og JM10. I am not hearing any hint of frequency coloration throughout the frequency bandwidth - which is how a great DAC/Amp should be. The level of dynamic transients vibrancy being highly disciplined without any element of unnatural Pinna glare or metallic digital tint (read, so unlike some ESS Sabre implementation which are unnaturally bright and sterile). So does this mean AP10 is a "warm" sounding unit? NO, being natural and organic is all about sounding well balanced and devoid of any edgy elements. AP10 is actually as smooth as can be expected from the likes of xDuoo Link2 BAL, Moondrop Moonriver 2 and Lotoo PAW S2. The timbre hovers close to being analogue (only CEntrance DACport HD, Cayin RU6 and Ovidius B1 does this better).

For the fact that AP10 sounding as smooth as it is, yet seemingly articulate with crispness, I found myself liking it more and more - the more time I spent using it. Despite the annoying finicky volume adjuster, AP10 is a solid performer when it comes to sound quality. This budget unit does not sound like a budget unit at all.

As I already mentioned so many times previously, and will still say again and again, a DAC/Amp can only be judged with how they perform with the partners attached to them - of how good/bad they synergize with specific partners. In this case AP10 gets two thumbs up from me. AP10 sounds endearingly refined when used with my Etymotic ER4SR - the presentation of sound spectrum being rich yet neutral - it has proper depth and density. I don't feel my finicky ER4SR being lean or dry. And that alone set it right with AP10 in my book. To pass the test of ER4SR is paramount because that exceedingly neutral DF unit sets the benchmark for accuracy and transparency.
Then, partnership with TOTL stuffs, in this case AP10 subjected to driving my Shure KSE1500 Electrostatic IEM, connected to the KSA1200 energizer unit as a Lineout (with volume set to 20/32). The measure of reach, depth, resolution, technicalities and timbre will then be all revealed and AP10 does not falter to stand up tall to sate stringent demands of KSE1500. The output being rich and satisfying with great technical balance and musicality. Worthy to drive TOTL level partners, that's AP10.
Then of course, pushing it to the max. Partnering with Fostex T40RP MK3. As I wrote this particular line, I am listening now to my T40RP (on 4.4mm BAL, 3.8V mode) and I am hearing practically desktop level of output which is probably on par to most 4 Vrms DAC/Amp. The output is rich and dense, the loudness more than enough with room to spare, dynamic density and extension sounded right to my ears.

Switching to more efficient and sensitive partners, my SeeAudio Bravery AE sounded outright blissful and addictive. The synergy being fluid and harmonious. SeeAudio Bravery is the type of IEM that can be a bit sizzling with more power subjected to it. With the 1.8v mode of AP10, I get clean background with no hint of floor noises whatsoever. And then the music just simply flow naturally - does not matter what genre I threw at it. Be it Hi-Fi or Lo-Fi. Jazz or Black Metal. All sounded at home with this pairing. Organic and articulate - very well balanced.

Switching to Tanchim ZERO - my newfound favorite ultra budget single DD IEM which is surprisingly power demanding, yet beautifully tuned similar to Etymotic ER2 series. I am getting wholesome results as well. Perhaps less organic sounding, more like cleaner and flatter sort of neutral sound which I appreciate very much.

So, all in all I would say AP10 delivers. However I suspect the tuning characteristics of AP10 may also be perceived as "lacking precision" especially if the user is more accustomed to Hi-Fi sort of tuning which to my ears typically sounding quite sterile and bright - something that is typically offered by ESS Sabre based DACs or even certain aspect of CS43131 itself as can be heard from the likes of iBasso DC03/DC04 (the iBasso being dual CS43131 as well, they are markedly more euphonic and aggressive sounding with mild coloration on the lower frequencies compared to AP10).

The truth is, AP10 is technically competent. For one the staging of Soundstage being open and wide, I am sensing good expanse of space with airy feel to it. The sort of balance between crispness and smoothness - of sounding mature and coherent. AP10 will resolve admirably great even for the most demanding partners - with all of my listening equipment I am hearing great transparency which reveals Macro and Micro detals with audible nuances - perhaps not as surgically succinct like Ovidius B1, DACport HD, Questyle M15. Lotoo PAW S2 or Cayin RU6, but definitely on par to the likes of xDuoo Link2 BAL and Hidizs S9 Pro. AP10 offers very sensible moderation technical wise, it has the speed to resolve and render even the most complex of recordings without any hint of strain or congestion.

Driving Power


AP10 sure does has lots of power under the hood. With my Fostex T40RP MK3, running on 4.4 BAL 3.8V mode, on HiBy App USB Exclusive mode (bypassing Android SRC), I get full listening loudness at the mark of 17/32 of volume levels. This officially set AP10 being as equally powerful to the likes of xDuoo Link2 BAL and Moondrop MoonRiver 2.

As noted above, despite being exceedingly hard to drive to full potential, my T40RP MK3 sounded wholesome and rich. The loudness being more than ample, the depth and density of sound proper. Perhaps I would say that micro nuances are slightly subdued as when compared to the output of Ovidius B1 or DACport HD, but if I am not comparing then it totally does not bother me one bit.

FINAL WORDS


To summarize AP10, it is a very capable dongle DAC/Amp that is highly versatile and dependable. The sound tuning alone being adaptable to practically any partners being the biggest strength - of being able to synergize with almost anything. Be it hyper sensitive IEMs or doggedly stubborn partners, AP10 handles them all gracefully.

Then there's that excellent efficiency with power draw. For mobile usage AP10 is super forgiving to the host with some of the best battery drain factor I have witnessed so far. AP10 also being admirably cool and resistant to being warm despite used for long hours cannot be ignored.

JCally AP10 will appeal to those preferring their sound to be naturally organic and realistic. AP10 does not exhibit any unsavory Pinna glare or element of sibilance. It is as smooth as can be expected yet amply articulate and technically competent.

Perhaps my only woes, I wished that AP10 would have come with independent volume adjustment instead. That would have totally been a game changer had the volume adjustment offers something like 90 or at least 60 steps of gradation.
Nonetheless, AP10 is an impressive unit for the price asked. It does not offer lavish outlook or luxury feel - but for the intended purposes, AP10 is a solid performer sonic wise.

Best Pairing: Highly flexible and adaptable to most IEMs & Headphones
#donglemadness

Pros:

- Neutral and natural sound

- Smooth organic timbre

- No Pinna Glare

- Technically competent

- Highly resolving

- Great driving power and versatility

- Amazing battery drain to the host

- Stays cool even for long hours usage

- Very wallet friendly price tag

Cons:

- Non independent volume wheel, still depends on host

- The overall build may not look premium

 

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