This review page is supported in part by the sponsors whose ad banners are displayed below

This is the 12th in a series of reviews dedicated to the concept of 32Ohm Audio as embodied by the store of that name in downtown Portland/Oregon and described here - Ed.

Joël Chevassus
Financial Interests: click here

Source: Audio Analogue Grand Maestro CD, Luxman D-06 [on loan], Apple iMac, Trends UD-10.1 USB lite, Zhaolu D-3.5 [on loan]
Headphone outputs: RW Amp 1 [in for review]
Integrated amplifiers: Vincent SV-238, Luxman L-590 A II [on loan]
Headphones  AKG K701, AKG K240 Monitor, NuForce UF-30, Shure EC2
Loudspeakers: JLA Acoustique Perspective 2 signature + Stand 80, McIntosh LS360, Venus Acoustique Caldeira Signature [on loan]
Cables: Naturelle Audio XLR cables Live 8 and Live 4 interconnects, RW Silver series RCA interconnect cables, Lintek RCA-CS interconnects and digital cable PSV- 063 [on loan]
Review Component Retail: ca. $169 for UD-10.1 and $13 for the battery pack and charger.

Context: The Trends Audio UD-10.1 USB audio converter has been one of the few dirt-cheap choices in the field of USB audio converters and digital interfaces between our computers and digital audio equipment. It became an audiophile gateway to get into the music server game for next to nothing. More than a standard USB DAC in fact, the Trends UD-10.1 can take the USB input signal from any computer and output bit-perfect coaxial, optical or AES digital audio or send it decoded to a headphone output. That’s an affordable way to feed your existing external DAC or the open digital input of your AV receiver directly from your Mac or PC. At the dusk of 2009, it is nevertheless quite difficult to make a fair assessment of the Trends Audio device when plenty of new USB converters have entered the market at various prices. Hence a few questions now seem quite unavoidable:
  • Does the Trends continue to represent a particularly good choice to put one foot into the digital audio streaming universe for a low price?
  • Is it not more recommendable to spend a few extra dollars on a better and more recent USB DAC especially if you consider that the Trends will require an additional and maybe quite costly digital cable?
  • Last but not least, does the bigger Trends UD-10.1 still represent fair value compared to its little brother the UD-10.1 USB Lite?

I would answer first that it is always of interest to know precisely what one can have for the money. Trends Audio remains one of the leading champions of budget gear and what you obtain elsewhere for less than 200 dollars is nowadays still often next to nothing. If you consider further the variety of digital outputs offered by this particular Sino device, you can explore the maze of Chinese audio connections on the web for a long time and find it rather difficult to identify a true challenger.

Secondly, taking into account the recently large diversity of available USB audio devices, anyone should define what precisely she expects from her computer. In fact, many interesting USB devices are available whose last generation of digital-to-analog converters generally includes more than one USB input. Among the cheapest DACs I know of are the Chinese competitors Zhaolu and Audio-GD, from the US the HRT Music Streamer, from Korea the recently reviewed April Music Stello U2 96/24 USB link and certain professional products like the TC Electronics BMC-2 or Apogee Mini-DAC.

Depending on what you expect from Mac or PC, some products more than others will be able to serve your needs but few will be priced lower than the Trends. We also have to remain conscious that the recent infatuation with tiny boxes erects limitations and that most of these small boxes still suffer a dry transistor sound. If you want better quality, you should have better chances with larger conventional DACs. How much should one spend then on a reasonable PC audio interface? Trends Audio’s answer is "not too much".

Digital converters are once again fashion items in audio spheres due to their versatility which often includes preamp functionality. Advances in technology still can bring noticeable improvements in the design of new DACs. Newer products become more and more efficient and I have been very impressed by the performance offered by the Audio GD Compass or Cambridge Audio DAC Magic for the money. If a gap continues to exist, the differences between high-end priced products and pro or very affordable Chinese devices tends to drastically decrease. Thus I return to my first question: what interest today can the very affordable Trends UD-10.1 USB hold?  My assessment is necessarily linked to my personal and partial experience of a very versatile product category. I nevertheless tried to test the little Chinese box in a wide range of configurations of which I am going to report on the most interesting ones.