“Ha-ha-happiness – how could something so clean make such a mess?”– Frazier Chorus.
You hear that? That’s the sound of happiness at the low end. Not (necessarily) the low quality end, mind. Just the low spend end. Upstairs, they’re lugging $x000 muscle amps across empty floors and muttering intelligibly about the state of the economy. The folk on the uppermost floors aren’t happy. They feel the tremors emanating from below. There’s something going on – it sounds like laughter. What are they doing down there?
David Ho’s Trends Audio is situated on the ground floor. He e-mailed me with an invitation that was as direct as it was self-believing:
“We would like to introduce our new Trends TA-10.2 Class-T Stereo Amplifier for you.
It is the mini-size class-T stereo amplifier TA-10.2 newly launched by Trends Audio. They applied Tripath’s proprietary Digital Power Processing technology and our special circuit design and audiophile graded components. Trends TA-10.2 achieves the sound quality of very hi-end HiFi but in a very affordable price.TA-10.2 performs very like Class-A amplifiers with high fidelity and warm sound. Yet, it has the Class-D amplifier advantages, like low power consumption, low heat generation and small size. This would be another new revolution of HiFi community.”
“We would be appreciated if you have a time to review Trends TA-10.2.”
Sure – I could do with an interesting diversion. I could with a laugh; and a recalibration of my ears if you will. A reminder of why I/you/we spend big to satiate our lust for speed, musicality, accuracy or a combination of all three…and to avoid the detritus of lower-Class D boxes. Whatever makes you happy, right?
In the grand theatre of hi-fi, detractors (sat in their private boxes) are usually the first to their feet to proclaim emphatically that Class D is only good for amplification of the lower frequencies – it’s why such high-efficiency power conversion rules the sub-woofer market. Nudging 90% efficiency, Tripath (‘Class-T’) amplification is a subset of Class D and – by extension – can’t be ‘good’. They can sneer all they want but the crux of the matter is implementation. Vinnie Rossi and Seth Krinsky taught me that.
Based on the same chip as it forerunner – the Tripath TA2024 – the decimal point increment in Trends TA badging stems from minor-yet-sweeping changes throughout the innards. Rear-facing connectivity has also been rethought for fatter fingers: the left and right channel speaker binding posts are now separated by the (single-input) RCAs. A US$189 sticker price and small enclosure ensure that short signal paths still dominate – it’s more Zen than Yen.
The SE nomenclature derives from juicing the switching PSU with an additional ampere (12V 3A to the SE’s 12V 4A) and the price upwards from US$189 to the SE’s US$225. The listening observations that follow were derived from running the TA-10.2 in its SE attire. The SE pushes 2 x 15wpc into 4 Ohms or 2 x 10wpc into 8Ohms. Sounds feeble, dunnit? I thought I might be down for some derision-doling myself.
What sort of sound would you find acceptable for an amplifier that lands at your feet for ~AU$200? With the Trends TA-10.2 SE the question quickly morphs from “How bad can it be?” to “How good can it get?”.
It’s easy to poo-poo something so light, something so clearly made in the east. That retina-boiling blue LED is unmistakable. The presence of a switching-mode power supply – no surprise. The fiddly volume pot smacks of made-to-price design – again, no surprise. Waddayawant for two hundred clams, brother? The Trends should make a noise, sure, but there’s no way it’s gonna compete with the *real* hi-fi components on the bench…
…and yet it doesn’t sound bad. It’s Michael Jackson ‘Bad’ – that’s late 1980s lingo for good. How good? Read on.
Bass is punchier and better defined at the edges than with the thousand dollar Weston Acoustics integrated. The midrange is as transparent as a AU$1700 Rega Mira 3. There’s little to complain about in the top end, beyond some occasional crispness. That same crispness renders the TA-10.2 capable of some eye-bulging inner detail retrieval – it’s Blu-Ray on an LED TV compared to Earle Weston’s celluloid imagery.
Never the dry wine, an over-arching sense of sonic cleanliness pushes the Trends into sparkling mineral water territory. That carbonation is switch-mode injected sure, but its spritely bounce doesn’t compromise purity*. There’s clear delineation between voices, percussion, bass etc as well as exceptional communication of instrumental layering. The spaces in between – you know, I know, Trends know…that blackness matters.
The Weston Acoustics Troubadour’s euphony is home-baked apple pie. A down-home, honest-to-goodness spirited sound. Ditto the Heed Obelisk Si. Both of these are more involving integrateds. The Trends trades in some engagement for a whole lot of transparency, its effervescence most notable with the already-in-yr-face 47Labs Lens.
Fans of IDM will really dig the low-end theory of the T-amp/Hoyt Bedford poise– the Trends brings moisture to the slight aridity of these big, budget full-rangers. In the context of David Ho and Louis Chochos – and for such clean and taut music – a single-ended tube-r is a luxury, not a necessity. With the Usher S-520, the REDGUM Sonofa’GUM just about trumps the tiny Trends for all-round acoustic mass and overall drive. And, no, this ain’t no patriotic defence – it will take something more powerful to depose the *Chinese*-made, locally-tweaked REDGUM as emperor of the land of Usher.
10 Tripath watts per channel had no trouble dispensing the goods to any loudspeaker thrown its way. When teamed with the 88db Proac Tablette Reference 8, it was quite something – a juicing that tempers the British politeness and returns some dynamic fun. I tried to catch the Trends out by really pushing the envelope on the volume, but the sonic picture refused to crumple, fold or tear. This would be impressive at any price.
Of course, this T-amp-ed cigarette box isn’t the best amplifier you’re likely to hear on your hi-fi journey, but I am confident that it won’t be the worst either. Some nit-picking: there’s a hint of ‘plink’ to piano notes (no worse than with the Dayens Ampino) that’ll bug the bejesus out of classical listeners and vocal decay can be short lived; it might be too much of a straight shooter for lovers of a softer top-end. If that’s you, look at the Virtue ONE.2 for hints of a fuller body and fewer tannins.
Readers please note: never did the Trends sound cold (but finding the warmth promised by Ho was trickier than anticipated). One man’s audio ‘warmth’ is another man’s ‘mush’. During comparative listening sessions, the US$200 (Gain-clone) HLLY M-1 writes softer-spoken prose.
Trends channel Neil Armstrong: One giant leap for (a) man, one giant leap for mankind. The TA-10.2 is one seriously compelling achievement for the very low-end. The Trends TA-10.2 ain’t just for the study or man-cave. It’s MUCH better than the “that’ll do” back-handing earned by the LM4766 chipped HLLY M-1 integrated.
Every hifi lover should own one. It’ll help keep things real when the BIG dollars threaten to scratch that unavoidable upgrade itch. It’s a device that will cause listeners to be more demanding of their next amplifier. This is a high-end coat puller: “Mr, please Mr, why are your amplifiers so expensive?”. This T-amp is lining the performance gap with travelators whilst simultaneously carving a monetary chasm between it and multi-thousand dollar cabinet trophies.
Despite the “aww-ain’t-it-cute” sizing, there’s no show-off aesthete with the Trends TA-10.2. It demands to be hidden – simple enough. Popping the lid and moving two jumpers sees the TA-10.2 run as power amplifier. This kind of flexibility is more icing on an already sweet, sweet cake. Running an Anedio D1 DAC (US$1200) as source and (passive) pre-amp into the 10.2 power box revealed more of the Anedio’s sinuous traits and – more obviously – bare-faced detail. With this kind of WAF-friendly set-up, the cool-running Trends can be placed out of sight, allowing the more eye-catching Anedio to run its centre-stage soliloquy.
One caveat: the transient detailing of the Anedio/Trends combination tore the original UK master of The Waterboys’ A Pagan Place – and then my ears – to shreds. Forgiving it is not. (I wonder how this would sound behind a pair of Harbeths?).
Perversely, its sonic prowess demands the itty-bitty Tripath to not be hidden and for it to be journeyed around retailers when upgrade O’clock chimes. Wanna see a store owner turn ashen-faced and fumble for excuses about electrical safety? Devil’s advocates – this is YOUR amplifier. For everyone else, it’s a new line in the budget sand. It’s a territorial gain over the more self-indulging (read: $$$) incumbents.
Back on earth, the Trends mini integrated joins the dots between (say) some John Blue JB3 and a Pure i20 iPod dock (or Squeezebox). A lovely-sounding budget system for every (wo)man and/or small living quarters. It will also step up from the subs bench when the muscle amp is on the work bench. It could be a lot of things to a lot of people. It iseveryman hi-fi; my favourite kind of hi-fi.
Let us not be glib about money. In the context of other living expenses AU$200 on an integrated is still a domestic consideration. Intoxicated by their own self-belief (hype) and mark-ups (gouge), some high enders won’t agree – they have it written in stone tablets that you can’t put a price on a good sound and that $4000 is a “no brainer”. How I detest the off-hand flippancy of that phrase. Nothing is a no brainer – every piece of hi-fi gear must earn its stripes.
Newcomers to the scene should start here, spend some time with the Trends TA-10.2 and take in the view of high-end lemmings (now I’m playing devil’s advocate) spending thousands on ever-diminishing audible improvements – we’ve all been there. In re-aligning expectations of everything bigger, more expensive and – hopefully – better, this teeny-tiny integrated turns the slope of diminishing returns into a cliff jump. Bring a parachute.
A game-changing, cheap-as-chips amplifier that could make an audiophile out of every (wo)man in the street – a $200 amplifier under-promises and over-delivers with sound, flexibility and all-round enjoyment.
- Logitech Squeezebox (with Soundcheck mods)
- Audio-gd Reference 7.1
- Anedio D1 DAC
- Heed Obelisk Si
- Weston Acoustics Troubadour
- Rega Mira 3
- REDGUM Sonofa’GUM
- 47Labs Lens
- Hoyt Bedford Type I
- Usher S-520
- ProAc Tablette Reference 8
- The Waterboys – A Pagan Place (1984)
- Animal Collective – Merriweather Post Pavillion (2009)
- Aztec Camera – High Land, High Rain (1981)
- World Party – Goodbye Jumbo (1990)
- Dominik Eulberg – Diorama (2011)