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Trends PA-10 Tube Headphone Amplifier review




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Trends PA-10 Tube Headphone Amplifier
  • Trends PA-10 Tube Headphone Amplifier
  • Trends PA-10 Tube Headphone Amplifier
  • Trends PA-10 Tube Headphone Amplifier
  • Trends PA-10 Tube Headphone Amplifier


Our Score:


If you're serious about headphone audio, and serious about using a PC or PMP as your source, then a separate headphone amplifier should only be second to a decent set of cans on your shopping list. It's not that you can't get a great sound direct from an MP3 player or sound card - with a decent sound card or one of the better players from Cowon, Samsung or Sony you definitely can.

It's more that, with a headphone amplifier handling the output you can expect a richer sound, a stronger presence, a clearer soundstage and enough power to drive even the most discriminating over-the-ear ‘phones. You might think your Grados sound great straight from the output of your notebook, but until you've heard them through a dedicated amp, you haven't really heard them sing.

Unfortunately, headphone amplifiers tend to be expensive and - like any slightly niche device - prohibitively so. Luckily, there are some good value propositions. A few weeks ago we looked at the iBasso D2, a cool, portable headphone amp/USB DAC which could take music to a new dimension without costing the earth.

Today we're looking at the Trends PA-10, a desktop headphone amplifier from Hong Kong which is already making waves in the PC audiophile community, and deservedly so. Final UK pricing has yet to be announced, but you can pick up a PA-10m for around $225, which works out at approximately 128 of our currently weak and wussy British pounds.

This might not sound much of a bargain, but the thing about the PA-10 is that it's a hybrid tube headphone amplifier. These normally sell for anywhere upwards of £300, so £128 is really pretty cheap.

Sean Groarke

June 8, 2009, 1:45 pm

"However, after a few hours that treble starts to round off nicely..."

Whoa, wait a moment. Are you saying that the characteristics of this device permanently alter after a few hours of use? Or are you saying that, after a bit, you get used to it?

I assume the latter, but either way it makes rather a nonsense of things, no?


June 8, 2009, 1:56 pm

any chance you could do a review of the ray samuels portable amplifiers? i know they're often very expensive (and i haven't heard them yet) but are they worth the value if they pump out a+ grade sound quality?


June 8, 2009, 2:14 pm

Would this be a reasonable amp with a separate CD player rather than MP3 or soundcard source?


June 8, 2009, 3:34 pm


I think that it takes a few hours for the new valve to warm up and burn in, after which the initially bright treble calms down a bit. It's not a particularly unusual characteristic for tube-driven gear.


June 8, 2009, 7:11 pm

Thanks for the review.

Could we get an idea of how these amps perform with IEMs? I know cans are the audiophile's choice, but as a regular of London's public transport, I spent my hard earned on a pair of SE530s. I suspect I'm not alone.

Also, that iPod line-out cable on page 2 looks fantastically expensive...


June 8, 2009, 8:22 pm

Unfortunately I'm running low on high-end IEMs here at the moment - a situation I'm hoping to rectify in the next few days so I can do justice to another product I have sitting here on the shelves. All I can say is that the tone through a pair of Denon AHC551s is very nice, but I wouldn't say it was the leap in sound that I get with the full-sized Sennheisers or BeyerDynamics. With your SE530s, however, I'd suspect you'd get a lot more mileage. It might be worth looking at the iBasso D2, however, as that's suitable for use, home and away.

I'm afraid I got the photography from the manufacturer, so all that juicy cabling isn't actually mine. I used a very basic £20 iPod Dock line-out connector for the review and that served me perfectly well.


June 8, 2009, 9:32 pm

@Stuart, thanks very much for the response. The iBasso looks ideal actually, particularly the USB DAC. I might have to give it a try.

Would that 'other product' be a Sony X Series? I do hope so ;)


June 8, 2009, 10:20 pm

I second a request for the Sony X walkman (or whatever the model name is).


June 9, 2009, 5:24 am

"Whoa, wait a moment. Are you saying that the characteristics of this device permanently alter after a few hours of use? Or are you saying that, after a bit, you get used to it?"

The first and second are probably true.

I've found the more expensive a piece of audio kit, the long the run-in time required for it to sound it's best is. My speakers, amp and CD player took about a month to hit their best. Then again, my Focals are known to have a long run-in period.

Equally as well, it takes a while for your ears to get used to the extra detail when you move up to better kit.


June 9, 2009, 2:08 pm

It's not the X-Series, but we are hoping (finally) to get an X-Series this week. Hugo and I have been lobbying hard for one for about a month now!

simon jackson

July 30, 2009, 5:49 pm

I think the “audiophile” community is slightly oversold on headphone amps; you can’t improve the quality of the signal generated by the output stage of your source, simply by adding an extra amplifier, not in any objective sense. What you’re really doing is re-EQing the sound (often something perceived to be a sound quality change – subjective sound quality if you like). And I’m afraid the scientist in me has an almost allergic reaction to bull**** audiophile terms like “presence” and “richness.” No offence – it’s a good review – but we’re perilously close to espousing the virtues of chocolately, laid-back, liquid-honey music ;)

The truth is, even big over-ear cans are comparatively easy things to drive. Portable devices might struggle to generate sufficient voltage to make high-Z cans go loud enough for you, and that would constitute good reason to get a headphone amp. Notebooks shouldn’t struggle, I wouldn’t have thought. They might have bad bass roll-off, or a crappy frequency response in some other capacity, but sticking another amp on their output isn’t going to improve that noticeably – your headphone amp can’t amplify a frequency which isn’t there. In one sense, low-Z cans represent a more difficult prospect for an amplifier, since they draw more current (present a greater load). Indeed, RMAA tests with one DAP show better freq response with higher Z cans (http://rmaa.elektrokrishna..... And then it comes down to a question of volume: if your source can drive your cans to an acceptable listening volume for you, then a headphone amp is not going to improve the objective quality of the sound you’re hearing. So a cost effective compromise is to go high-z to improve freq response, but not so high you need a headphone amp. Or, use your low-z cans with a headphone amp, just to try and flatten the f-response a bit. Who knows if that will work though. Surely it would depend on the impedance of the headphone amp, as it appears across the output of the portable?

There is one caveat I can think of however, and that’s if your portable source is producing that “acceptable” volume at a high fraction of its possible output volume. The freq response of the source may not be consistent throughout the volume range. You may get more bass roll-off because there isn’t enough charge left stored in the power-stage (capacitance) to support bass/drum hits, big dynamic swings (I believe these are referred to collectively as transients) at high volumes. Adding another amplification stage effectively splits this load. I just built a CMOY headphone amp for my brother, and you can add nice big power/input caps to support swings/bass at higher volume. Portable devices physically can’t include caps the same size. Then you can turn your portable down to a level at which it produces its optimum f-response, and crank the headphone amp, which has the electrical design to support those dynamic swings at high volume. It’s always a fairly safe assumption that something will behave closer to an “ideal” design at a lower fraction of its operating capability.

Of course, all that said, a tube amp will sound different because it’s a different technology. If you want a tube sound, a tube amp is the only way you’re going to get it out of a portable.

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