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David Kan
Financial Interests: click here
Digital Source: Micromega MicroDrive/VarioDAC, Marantz SA8260
Preamp: KingRex Preamp
Power Amp/Integrated Amp:
 KingRex T20U
Speakers:  Loth-X BS-1, Klipsch Synergy F2, DIY speakers
Cables: Clearaudio Silver Line interconnect, Deltec Black Slink interconnect, OCOS speaker cables by Dynaudio, Audience Conductor 'e' speaker cables and interconnect, JohnBlue 2S speaker cables 
Power Cords: Ensemble Powerflux, Symphonic Line Reference, various generic
Power Line Conditioning: Monster Power HTS-1000 Mk II
Room Size: 11' x 18' x 7'/8' opens to 18' x 19' x 7'/8', long wall setup, carpeted concrete slab floor, suspended ceiling and all walls finished with drywall.
Review component retail: PA-10 $265 to $299, TA-10.2P $179 to $199, PW-10 $299

Six years ago Trends Audio propelled the Tripath amp movement sparked off by Sonic Impact to new heights with their TA-10. The movement spread like wildfire among budget-conscious audio buffs since. We saw various implementations from KingRex, Winsome Labs, Virtue Audio and even Red Wine Audio, there for those audioenophiles with deeper pockets. These new players carefully carved out their strongholds on the marketing/pricing matrix, utilizing different Tripath chip sets delivering juicier power, employing more refined tuning tactics and more aesthetically minded packaging. While I’m penning this, even more keep coming. For years Trends has stayed low and only mildly evolved from their TA-10 to the 10.1 and UD-10 without much new excitement. Now they take the offensive with a full line-up of preamp and headphone amp, power amp, power supply unit, bookshelf speakers and interconnects, speaker and USB cables. Trends are reversing.

The original integrated amp TA-10/TA-10.1 is now the TA-10.2 with upgraded input coupling and power filtering capacitors. The TA-10.2 SE is further enhanced with a mini Alps attenuator. Cosmetics have always been low priority for such budget gear. Although Trends claims that the new packaging is smarter with aluminum front plate contrasting the black chassis, I personally prefer the old one-piece greyish silvery look. I’d rather they improve finishing and detailing. The aluminum plate is crudely finished without polishing or varnish coat. Some of my old models have the plastic shaft of the volume knob slightly off centre and crooked. When it’s dialed, the knob sways around the axle. I didn’t complain about it when I reviewed the TA-10. For crying out loud, it was a $119 budget amp with a DIY attitude that had already largely improved on Sonic Impact’s humble plastic T-amp.

The so-called 5-way speaker binding post is another big impracticality. For so cramped a space on the tiny back panel that's fully occupied by connectors, banana plugs fit neatly but spades have no room to dig in for the left channel. Trends tried to address this now by swapping position with the RCA input sockets. Alas, the 12V DC power socket and the on/off switch still get in the way. That's because they are stuck with the same circuit board. To really resolve that for the spade connectors, they’d have to relocate the power socket and on/off switch to the middle and leave the aisle seats for the speakers. Virtue Audio’s One and Two have similar problems but that can be easily resolved by swapping and reconnecting two of their propeller posts. Smart for Kingrex and Winsome Labs Mouse to remain content with accepting bananas only.

While the original TA-10 sold for $119 back in 2007, the TA-10.1 is now $179, with $189 for the TA-10.2 and $225 for the TA-10.2 SE. That’s a 50% to 89% increase in 5 years. Considering how Hong Kong office rent increases rank in the top 10 in the world with annual increases of 10-15% considered normal, price increases are part of the survival game. To revitalize the brand Trends has launched a horizontal expansion with a power amp version dubbed TA-10.2P priced at $179 and the TA-10.2P SE priced at $199. (The difference here is in the 12V DC switching power supply - 3A versus 4A.) On the PCB of the original TA-10 are two jumpers to bypass the volume control to become a power amp. The P versions don’t give you that flexibility but compensate with the psychological boost that power amps must be sonically superior to an integrated amp. Of course you need a preamp to drive such a power amp. Here Trends proposes not just any preamp but a tube/transistor hybrid preamp. Enter the PA-10.

Housed in the same black project box with contrasting aluminum front, the compact preamp also supports headphone amplification through a small 3.5mm jack. The tube sticking out through a hole on the top is a dual-triode tube that takes care of both channels. It is responsible for voltage gain. From there regulated low voltage is fed into two output driver circuits, one per channel, comprising 2907 bipolar junction transistors and IRF610 Mosfet and MJE15030 bipolar power transistors.

There are many versions for this hybrid preamp. The PA-10 is the basic model fitted with a 6N11 (Sino 6922) for $229. Volume control is by Taiwanese mini pot. Output capacitors are light green ERO metal film type. The PA-10 SE and PA-10 GE are both priced at $265 with upgraded mini Alps pot and white metal film Evox output capacitors. The model suffix determines the tube you get: Russian 6H23n for the SE model and GE 12AU7 for the GE model. So the PA-10 can roll 6DJ8/6922 (6N11, 6H23n) and 12AU7 (5963, ECC82). For that you need to reset jumpers and recalibrate bias voltage by tweaking mini trim pots on the PCB. All models accept two sources and have a selector on the rear panel not only to switch but to match input gain (normal for CD, higher for PC/iPod). There’s one set of outputs to connect to a power amp. For bi-amp freaks like me, a pair of Y-splitters do the job as they always have for me.

Having said that, I have no clue why Trends introduced the PA-10.1D with double bi-amp outputs by sacrificing dual inputs. You save money on Y-splitters but have the inconvenience of unplugging interconnects from your CD player each time you want to swap in the iPod or computer. The PA-10.1D also comes in SE and the GE versions, both at $299. (SE and GE are not model designations per se and never appear as such on the front panels. The initials are more products codes for ordering purposes.)

These ‘upgraded’ versions no longer feature ERO or Evox output caps but larger premium Elna Silmic II electrolytic capacitors throughout for power filtering, main and headphone outputs. On the cosmetic front a thicker 4mm aluminum panel replaced the 1.5mm one stylishly fabricated with bevel trim on the edges but not corners. Nice thoughts for a tiny face plate yet unfortunately the lack of polish and varnish is a let-down. The routed-out headphone socket looks coarsely finished with remnants of router bits still visible and the tiny circular edge is sharp to the touch. As preamps draws much less current, the 24V DC wall-wart switching power supply has been derated to 0.6 amp. Trends probably is aware that so many model versions get confusing so here’s the comparison chart to help out.