Trends Audio PA-10 Tube Headphone Pre-amplifier Review
Trends Audio is a relatively new company that is part of the now established Chinese high end audio market. They are also among the new breed that are trying to gain acceptance in Western markets. Many have already done so as you may have heard of Shanling, Melody, Audio Space, Antique Sound Lab, Eastern Electric, and a host of others. Chinese designers have been steadily improving the performance, reliability and the build quality of their gear. Many of the products produced in China can compete with the most exotic American and European brands in terms of sound quality.
This all spawns from a deep passion the Chinese have had for high fidelity going back decades. I saw this first hand when I visited Hong Kong and Mainland China last October and was quite surprised at how many Hifi shops were there. I was blown away by the products being displayed. The most exotic, expensive, and hard to find brands were on demonstration.
Based in Hong Kong, Trends Audio first came to my attention with their TA-10 “class T” 15 watts per channel mini amplifier. I had read several reviews that said it was quite the amp for under $300. I’m always on the look out for “mini components” that offer good sound. Right now, my go-to brand for that type of component is Pro-Ject. I own one of their Head Box headphone amplifiers after a few of the British audio magazines have took note.
The PA-10 is a very interesting little piece of gear, priced at $225. It is a tube based headphone amplifier and a preamplifier. It uses a 6DJ8/6922 series or 12AU7 tube. It has two sets of selectable inputs on the back, one for PC/iPod, and the other for CD/DAC. Trends assumes a CD player or a DAC will have higher output and an iPod or a computer will have lower output. The back panel also has one set of outputs so the unit can be used as a preamp. On the front panel, there is a volume knob and a 3.5mm headphone jack. The unit is powered by a wall wart power supply. Typical to any amplifier, Trends Audio recommends a bit of warm up time prior to any serious listening.
I actually tried the PA-10 as a preamp first, driving my Band & Olfusen Beo Lab 6000 active speakers. I use this set up in my bedroom to listen to my HDTV and the occasional DVD. There was plenty of gain to drive my B&O’s and the sound was very enjoyable. There is no remote control, but at this price, that would be inconceivable. The unit ran slightly warm, but not enough heat to concern me. All you would need is a bit of breathing room around it. The blue glow of the tube was pretty cool at night.
Next, I used the PA-10 as a headphone amplifier. I connected it to the tape out of my preamp and then plugged my trusty Grado SR-60 headphones into the front jack. The bass was nice and round. The mids were definitely tubey, in a good way. My usual headphone amp is a Pro-Ject Headbox. It is a solid state unit with a wall wart power supply as well. Over all, the Pro-Ject was definately quieter, and a bit more solid in the imaging department.
The PA-10 is offers users on a budget a fun and versatile piece of equipment. A tinkering customer can tube roll, and Trends offers a list of tubes in the manual and on their website that can be substituted. The PA-10 also is apparently available is several different versions. There is a Special Edition with upgraded parts and an iPhone edition.
In the near future, I plan on following up with a few more Trends Audio products including the TA-10 amplifier and the UD 10.1 USB DAC. There is also an external power supply that works in conjunction with these components. I’m excited about assembling a little mini system, as portability without sacrificing quality seems to be much sought after these days.
It also seems that the laptop computer or iPod are becoming the source of choice especially for those with cramped quarters. Another element is there is a new generation of music listeners that don’t want to be tied to physical media, and want the ability to take their music collections with them on the road. This line of Trends products seems tailor made for this lifestyle.
It does not surprise me that these products were developed in Hong Kong. When I was there, I noticed how small the hotel rooms and apartments were, as space on the island is at a premium. And it is not much different in mainland. In general, not too many other countries enjoy the jumbo sized living quarters that Americans have become accustomed to. I also find it very interesting that Trends is dabbling in old and new technologies. A product line that includes a Mini USB DAC and a tubed headphone amp is pretty cool. And why not? There are a few tubed DAC’s and even cd players on the market from mainstream companies. I can only guess that those designers are trying to marry the harmonic richness of tubes with digital sound.
Another element that might be driving this king of innovation is Green thinking. In general, big hifi components are not too environmentally friendly, often gobbling loads of current, even when idle. Certainly the Cass D technology used in many high end amplifiers today are an attempt to address this, as they generally run cool, and consume relatively little energy. Companies like Trends may come to the forefront, producing components with small footprints, that are efficient, and even have one foot in older, classic technologies.
Vacuum Tube: 6DJ8/6922 series or 12AU7 series (exchangeable)
Output Stage: MOSFET x 2
x3 (for Audio CD/DAC IN)
x6 (for Audio PC/iPod IN)
Input: CD/DAC IN RCA (Left/Right) x 1 [3Vpp max.]
Input: PC/iPod IN RCA (Left/Right) x 1 [0.55Vpp max.]
Output: Audio OUT RCA(Left/Right) x 1
Power Output: 3.0 Watts per channel on 33 Ohm Headphone
Headphone OUT: (3.5mm) x 1