The PA-10 is slightly less at home with the harder edges of electronic music, but Natasha Khan’s vocals and piano in Bat for Lashes’ Moon for Moon sounded incredible. There’s also enough detail, definition and control for classical, as spins through Vaughan Williams’ The Lark Ascending and Arvo Part’s Summa for Strings confirmed. Most of all, though, the PA-10 is a rock monster. Deep, from Brendan O’Brian’s revitalising new mix of Pearl Jam’s Ten sounds huge and ferocious, with its huge Wah-Wah heavy riffs, rolling fills and bellowed vocals. The bass line in Smashing Pumpkin’s Ava Adore just sounds epic.
I couldn’t resist A/B comparisons with the iBasso D2, even if the two products address slightly different needs. Feeding FLAC files from PC using a Soundblaster X-Fi PCI card for the PA-10 and the USB DAC on the iBasso, it’s clear that the PA-10 wins out on tone and sheer, raunchy power, but the iBasso offers a tighter bass, a cleaner mid-range and a more balanced sound overall.
Listening to Talk Talk’s Eden and The Kings of Leon’s Notion, both amps excel, but the iBasso reveals that bit more detail. If I had to choose one over the other, I really don’t know which way I’d go. The D2 is the more versatile product, even if it is more expensive. All the same, it’s hard to resist the PA-10’s old-school charms.
If all you want is a desktop headphone amp, however, then the price/performance ratio on the PA-10 is hard to beat. You really need an iPod with a line-out dock or a PC with a decent internal or external sound card to get the best out of it, not to mention a decent set of headphones, but if those things are in place you’ll get an awful lot of enjoyment out. It’s not perfect, and there are signs of the budget showing through, but it’s a deeply lovable bit of bargain-chasing audiophile kit.
Under £150 for a tube-based headphone amp is peanuts, but the Trends PA-10 is no monkey. If you want a good desktop headphone amp it’s something of a steal.
Score in detail
Sound Quality 9