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Trends Audio PA10.1D SE preamp

11.03.2013..
..

A metallic compact case with just a couple of functions: acting as a mono-input preamplifier and as a headphone amplifier. Unusual and particular, the Trends has a tube that stands out partially from the mini-chassis and, once operational, turns into a deep blue colour.

The company is rather well known and appreciated among the Italian enthusiasts. Trends Audio, Chinese from Hong Kong, has become famous on the international market thanks to one of the most successful implementations among the Class-D amplifiers with Tripath 202 chip: the famous Trends TA 10.1. I own two exemplars that have always given and continue to give satisfying performances. In the last years, the company has increased its production with new machines: DAC, power amplifiers, preamplifiers, bookshelf loudspeakers, often receiving good reviews too.

 

The Trends PA 10.1D SE has the same look of the classic line, with just a hole on the lid to host the tube that, once positioned, stands out for a couple of centimeters. The aluminum faceplate is 4 mm thick: a more important feature with respect to the past. Recapitulating: small dimensions and look in line with all the other products included the two blackish semi-cases.

The controls are meager: in the front panel only the volume knob and the 3,5 mm tube headphone output, in the back the ON/OFF tumbler switch and the CD/iPod selector for the RCA input, together with two RCA analog outputs for bi-wiring. Hence, a minimal connectivity but with the possibility of bi-wiring: a feature not so common in this range of price.

The tube lighting works also as on/off light with an impressive psychedelic blue LED on the lid hole. The 24 V power supply, with very low ripple and a built-in socket, has a ferrite captive cable close to the connector. The PA 10.1 SE is the model with more components of the Trends PA series of preamplifiers, since it uses ELNA Silmic II capacitors.

 

Everything seems very simple, but the device provides several functions to delight the most demanding audiophiles. In fact, it is possible to set the bias of the tube and change it easily. You can choose between the 6DJ8/6922 and the 12AU7 series simply operating on the internal jumpers. The suggested bias regulation is 16,5 V for both stereo channels. On the device I have received for the test, I have personally noticed a difference of a couple of volts between the two channels. So I suggest checking with care, using a tester and following the instruction on the brochure, in order to get the best functioning conditions. By the way, these operations are quite simple if you have a minimum knowledge of how to use tester, tweezers and screwdrivers. Tread carefully when the device is on, since it heats a lot. Wait at least five minutes after having turned it off.

 

And now the listening test. I want to say right away that the small Trends PA 10.1D SE has impressed me. Despite its dimensions, the connectivity and its commercial range, the sound is everything but minimalist. The great balance between tonal ranges and great spatiality can satisfy and excite all the audiophiles, provided that they can change the tube. The rise time is very good and capable of making appreciate the articulation of the quickest notes also in the most complex orchestral pieces, like ad example in Karajan's Lirica that is rich in details and particulars. Good is also the dynamics in all the ranges. In sum, I have not been able to find any weakness. On the contrary, the overall performance is remarkable and unexpected indeed considering the price of the object. Object, whose stronger limit is a poor flexibility, although there is the possibility of a good adaptation also to streaming music players and the possibility of driving two power amplifiers. I have tested it matched with a 30 W Gainclone with a LM1875 chip in my home system and matched with the solid state Nadir Mk101i power amp and its 100 W per channel in my garage system, where it amazingly drives my Maggie MMG loudspeakers. With both of them, the Trends PA 10.1 has behaved greatly, at ease, and I have not missed too much the reference devices I normally use. I must say that after about twenty hours of use with the Russian 6H23n, I have inserted an Electro Harmonix AU7.

In this configuration, I have evaluated positively the change of the tube, since I have found it excellent and however superior than the former, although good. The Trends has gained definition and velocity, even though keeping a good dose of its "tube" features with very pleasant voices and mid-range. I remember here the Pink Floyd's vintage voices in the LP Meddle, much more intelligible and, unfortunately, also lest mysterious than forty years ago when, for the first time, I listened to them with satisfied astonishment in front of the several inventions and sound news of that age. I want to let you note that the position of low level of the input selector must not be confused with a phono stage, anyway necessary to listen to a turntable, as it is set for the outputs of the portable digital players and therefore without RIAA equalization.

 

Remarkable is the listening through headphones. The dedicated output is driven by the tube with a spatiality and a verve that are great. It is also possible to use file players. I have connected my small Sansa Clip+, through the Trends to reach my usual Sennheiser HD600 headphone and the NuForce HP800, about which there will be soon a review on ReMusic. The listening experience has been very pleasant.

The voice of Joanna Wang, a young but very mature singer from Taiwan, was very appealing, warm, rich, captivating. Here I have also employed the Musiland 01 USD and the Super Pro, besides the Eee PC netbook.

 

In conclusion, a very pleasant experience with the Trends PA 10.1 SE. A preamplifier suggested if you need more than an input, maybe connected with a computer, also and better if through a DACUSB. Even better if through a USB/SPDIF interface. There are a lot of small power amps to match with, starting from the Trends ones, but also the several implementations of the Tripath chips, the Gainclone, the Ice Power, etc. In addition, more blazoned power amps are suitable. Be careful in using the right connection of the power supply plug and cables of good level.

The headphone output is not a secondary optional, but a feature to be used and valorized. Finally, a note about the quality/price ratio: it is not at the very high level of the old cousin TA 10.1, being the Italian list price not particularly competitive. Furthermore, just the fact of the limited connectivity and the absence of a remote control keep me away from giving it a ReMusic Spark in the Dark.

 

 

Selection of listened music:

Pink Floyd: Meddle, EMI/Harvest LP

Michel Petrucciani, Jim Hall, Wayne Shorter: The Power of Three, Blue Note CD

Herbert Von Karajan dirige “Lirica”, Repubblica/L'Espresso 2CD

Joanna Wang: Joanna & Wang, Ruo Lin, MP3

 

Official technical specifications

Vacuum Tubes: 6DJ8/6922 series or 12AU7 series (exchangeable)

SE Edition: Russian 6H23n

Output Stage: mosfet x 2

Amplification Gain: x3 (for Audio CD/DAC IN), x6 (for Audio PC/iPod IN)

Signal-to-Noise Ratio (SNR): 92dB

Dynamic Range: 92dB

THD+Noise: 0.05% at 10Kohm, 0.15% at 33ohm

Input: Single (switchable), Audio CD/DAC IN RCA (Left/Right) x 1 [3Vpp max.]

Or Audio PC/iPod IN RCA (Left/Right) x 1 [0.55Vpp max.], Power Socket(5.5mm/2.1mm) x 1

Output: Audio OUT RCA (Left/Right) x 2, Headphone OUT (3.5mm) x 1

Other Switch & Knob: Audio IN selection switch x 1Power ON/OFF switch x 1, Power Indicator (Blue LED under Tube Socket) x1, Volume Knob x 1

Power Supply: DC 24V-26.5V (max.)

Front Panel: 4mm

System Package: BA-10 Bi-amp

Dimensions: 76x46x114mm (WxHxD)

Weight: 400gr

Official Italian dealer: to Audio Azimuth website

Official current price in Italy: 345,00 EUR

Associated equipment: to Fabio "Puzzled" Barbato's system

 
by Fabio Barbato
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