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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.