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Headphone amp. My slight disappointment was somewhat compensated for by the headphone amp. I was playing ripped music on iTunes straight from the Audigy Platinum eX 24bit audio card with outboard control center or external drive as they call it. Usually my cheap Labtec headphones plug into the external drive for private listening. But that day I had a friend’s pair of Sennheiser HD600 on loan and tried them with the PA-10 fitted with an HP Toshiba 5963. I was working at my computer and had been listening to other music. When iTunes started playing the Decca album of Rossini Songs with Sutherland/Bonynge I suddenly heard (saw) the soprano and pianist in front of me – behind the Word document I was typing out. I was shocked!. What I usually get from headphones is a sound image in my head. This time it was outside my head a few feet in front of my face. At first I thought the JB3 speakers were still on. I instinctively removed the headphones to make sure where the sound was coming from. No, I hadn’t turned on the power amp by mistake. The sound really was just  from the headphones. I put them back on. The music was in front again.

I changed to the cheap Labtec headphones which were less transparent but still staged upfront. Was that the recording or preamp? I plugged the headphones into the Audigy drive. Now they sounded 'normal'. The image had shifted back perhaps more onto my forehead than inside my head but still. I kept trying other CD rips with the PA-10 and HD600. Menoti’s Sebastian was definitely between and around the ears. Roby Lakatos’ Live From Budapest seemed to be in the front if I played it softly under a lot of self hypnosis. But back to Sutherland/Bonynge, loud or soft, the performers were definitely in front of me. Even when I stepped back from my desk by 4 feet, I’d swear the soundstage was still behind the computer monitor. After listening to all 8 tracks, iTunes cut to the next title, Mozart Violin Concerto. The sound image immediately jumped back inside my head.

PA-10 + TA-10.2P
bi-amp. I have been bi-amping the Trends TA-10 with Micromega VarioDrive MicroDAC driving two pairs of Loth-X BS1 in D’Appolito array. The logical start was the PA-10 and TA-10.2P as bi-amp set in the same spot, swapping in the Marantz SA8260 as digital source. In my experience the benefit of bi-amping a stacked pair of bookshelf speakers is more pronounced than bi-amping a pair of biwirable floorstanders if both are 88dB or higher. In my case it’s the 94dB/8Ω Loth-X BS1 versus the 95.5dB/8 Ω Klipsch Synergy F2. The latter can be driven with ease by even a single TA-10. Adding the preamp and second power amp to it only marginally enhanced bass and definition. Yet with the bi-amped Loth-X bookshelves every sonic attribute became far more noticeable. First scale and scope matched the towers’ grandeur. Second the soundstage opened up and extended in greater three-dimensional perspective. Especially how I set up the inverted upper speakers on top of muted bookshelves reserved for watching TV in surround mode, the added space between made the overall image set back farther in depth. Third, the frequency response improved with potent bass that befitted a concert grand piano.

Of course you’ll get different results with different speakers. For instance with the other TA-10 bi-amp pumping out pop from the Mark & Daniel Maximus-Mini on my daughter’s desktop, I can hardly imagine what it’d sound like with just a single amp. A point of discussion pops up here. Which would work better to bi-amp, the TA-10 or TA-10.2P? Despite preamp used, I’d lean towards the unit with volume control aka the TA-10 for two simple reasons: A/ flexibility – the volume control can be bypassed by setting the jumpers if required; B/ flexibility - volume control in a bi-amp situation can be useful. In vertical bi-amp mode (one stereo amp driving the left channel, the other the right) you have a balance control. In horizontal bi-amp mode (one stereo amp for the tweeters, the other for the mid/woofers) you can fine-tune the high/low mix. This is particularly practical in my DIY speaker project involving a pair of full-range main speakers and much harder-to-drive subwoofers.

Dual preamp
PA-10 + TA-10.2P bi-amp. Look at this. The full-range MB Quart FKB116 20mm tweeter with 6.5” coaxial mid/woofer are rated at 88dB/4Ω. The JL Audio 10WX-4 10” subwoofers are rated at 86dB/4 Ω and easily absorb 200 watts of continuous power. In my other setup I do drive the JL with a NuForce Reference 9 SE V2. With such huge discrepancy, bi-amping the two drivers with a TA-10.2P sans volume control would require some other rebalance of power. First I set them up in horizontal biamp mode. Then I used the PA-10 (6N11 tube) for the MB Quart and the PA-10.1D (RCA 5963 tube) on the JL subwoofers. The choice of tubes was random. It’s how they’d been left when I last rolled.

This did the job amicably well. It’s not fair to compare it against the NuForce of course but the subwoofers were definitely under control. The volume controls on the two preamps were around 10 o’clock for the 6.5” drivers and 1 o’clock for the 10” subwoofers. That setting worked for most recordings from chamber to orchestral pieces. And that setup only drew power from the factory-supplied switching power supplies.

Time for the PW-10 transformer-based linear supply. This won’t support bi-amp scenarios so I used it to just feed the power-hungry subwoofers with the PA-10.1D and partnering TA-10.2P. In the real world power corrupts but never in audioland. Here it erupts. The bass from the JL 10WX-4 was more solid in a well-polished way. It was perhaps most noticeable with piano and percussion as in my favorite Bach to Jazz album by violinist Caroline Adomeit, pianist Julian Riem and percussionist Thomas Hastreiter. Now I could happily dial back the volume to around 12 o’clock. It is not my intention to promote dual preamp/power bi-amping. It was simply an interesting way to demonstrate the before/after effect of the PW-10.

Reversing the Trends.
Six years ago the Trends TA-10 was the lovable little amp that let us enjoy high fidelity music at the lowest possible price. Today their ambitious expansion might bring some added value to the premise but there are a few strategic details to be ironed out. If the original premise was small and cheap, adding preamps and power supplies results in larger footprints and a bigger bill. How justifiable is that? If the original premise was simple and hassle free use, will adjusting bias be welcome? None of the other Tripath amps I own require it. The PA-10/PA-10.1D preamp will require constant care due to the tube whose bias voltage could shift as much as +0.6V to +1V over a few months. If the ambition is to promote bi-amping, why doesn’t the PW-10 support two power amps? As I found out, it’s the TA-10.2P that would benefit the most (better control and speed). The PA-10 and UD-10 don’t matter that much due to their lower current needs. Should there be a PW-20 for dedicated bi-amp use?

The duplication of TA-10.1/TA-10.2/TA-10.2 SE integrated amp and TA-10.2P power amp to me is not so justifiable. Even in bi-amp applications, I prefer the integrated amp for its greater flexibility. Last but not least there is the question of audible tube magic. Of all the Tripath amps I currently use, the KingRex T20U (with JohnBlue modifications) gives me the closest illusion of valve bloom in terms of saturated harmonics and magical airiness with warm ambience. For this exercise I made an effort to compare the KingRex setup with the new Trends preamp and twin poweramp combo driving Loth-X BS1 and Klipsch Synergy F2. In both scenarios I arrived at the same conclusion.