Trends Audio is a Hong Kong based high end audio company that is interested in making music lovers and Hi-Fi aficionados in our neck of the woods aware of their product line. They make mini size components which have been positively reviewed across the web. Some of their products feature cutting edge technologies and some even bask in retro coolness. Readers can see my review of the PA-10 tube Preamp & Headphone amplifier combo here (LINK); which I enjoyed immensely. The subject of this review is a complete Trends Audio desktop or tabletop "mini system".
This system is comprised of the PA-10, the TA-10 "Class T" integrated/power amp, the UD 10.1 USB DAC, and the PW-10 PSU power supply that supplies current to all three components, except the USB DAC when connected to a PC or laptop. The cost for the entire combination is Approximately $599, depending on currency rates. Yes, a tubed headphone pre, an integrated power amp, USB DAC, and power supply for under six hundred bucks. I was eager to take a listen, to say the least.
In my review of the PA-10, I mentioned that I had the opportunity to visit Hong Kong and mainland China last year and was surprised to find out the level of enthusiasm that exists for high end audio. I would say it even qualifies as a passion. I visited some Hi-Fi shops in Hong Kong and was shocked at the variety and sheer number of exotic components, speakers, and accessories for sale. Another thing I noted is that living quarters, and hotel rooms for that matter, are much smaller than what American and even Europeans are used to. Space, obviously, is at a premium.
Several years ago I had heard that the legendary Rogers LS3/5a BBC mini monitors had a cult following in Hong Kong and China. I realized why. Apart from being lovely sounding speakers, they were the perfect size for a smaller listening space. I owned a pair of Rogers that I traded in years ago. The buyer told me he promptly sold them on eBay to a Chinese buyer. Trends Audio is continuing the tradition in seeking to produce high quality, well engineered components that are easy to set up and require little space.
Set Up and Listening:
When I unpacked everything and inspected before installing, I was pleased with the overall build quality and attention to detail. This was not hastily created equipment. The speaker binding posts on the TA-10 were solid, as well as all the input and output jacks on all the units. The case work was wonderful too. The master power supply for all three components is built like a tank.
I have a rather large dining table, and allocated the far end is my make shift mini stereo set up area. I do the cooking in the household and always enjoy music while doing so. For me the location was a no brainer. I needed a pair of speakers as well. Out of the garage came my beloved Spendor S3/5's. They are my go-to mini monitors for evaluating small scale systems. I first hooked up the system with the TA-10 used as an integrated amplifier. It has a volume control, a pair of RCA inputs, and high quality clear plastic "euro style" speaker binding posts that accept spades or bananas. I hooked up the Spendors with some QED speaker cable, and using the supplied Y cable I hooked up my iPod Nano as a source. Holy Cow, it sounded wonderful and not just "for the money". There was real sound staging, midrange clarity and jump factor.
In the next phase, and at Trends request, I used the PA-10 as a preamp. This is easy to do. All that is required is to open up the chassis of the TA-10 and remove the jumpers to correspond to the volume control. I then connected the Nano to the PA-10, ran a one meter Transparent Music Link Interconnect to the TA-10 and off we went. Wow again! The sound took on an even more likeable character. Was it the bright blue glowing tube in the PA-10 that was adding a bit of body? I’m not sure, but I was certainly enjoying it.
Next up was the part I was anticipating the most, using my laptop as source, and plugging it into the Trends USB 10.1 DAC. It would be my first experience with USB audio, and the first time I would use a computer as direct source, as opposed to a control hub for a network driven music server. I have that kind of set up in my bedroom, with a Logitech Squeezebox as my interface, connected to a Channel Islands out board DAC. I spent a bit of time on the Internet to research whether I would need to download drivers, tackle any special changes in the audio set up of the laptop, etc. Thankfully, it was stress free, plug and play. My mini laptop runs Windows XP Home Edition and has iTunes installed. I ripped several discs in to the Apple proprietary lossless format. I then imported them into the laptop iTunes library. I plugged one end of the USB cable into the DAC, the other into laptop and hit play. Again, Wow, there was music!