Product: Trends Audio TA 10.1 - Class T integrated amplifier with TA2024 chip
Manufacturer: Trends Audio - Hong Kong
List price: 150$ (YMMV, depending on Country)
Reviewer: Lucio Cadeddu - TNT Italy
Reviewed: July, 2007
30 months ago TNT-Audio published a review that shook the HiFi market like never before: the T-Amp phenomenon was born! After that review many things happened: crowds of audiophiles fell in love with the small amplifier, while others called it "the greatest HiFi swindle". Even after more than two years that small amp causes opposite reactions among audiophiles. Prices have been raised and various clones have started to hit the market.
Someone has smartly tried to exploit the collective madness offering the TA2024 amp inside a luxurious cabinet for several hundreds dollar$. Even Sonic Impact - makers of the original T-Amp - tried to answer to audiophiles' queries releasing the so-called Super T-Amp, an improved version of the original one, inside a nice cabinet with good connectors.
Others have built more powerful models, using different Tripath chipsets which, unfortunately, don't possess the magic of the small TA2024. I was pretty sure that, sooner or later, a clever and down-to-Earth alternative was going to be released. In fall 2006 I've been contacted by the Hong Kong-based HiFi firm Trends Audio: they were just releasing a TA2024 integrated amplifer, with all the bells and whistles (outboard PSU, audiophile-grade components etc.) for just 99$!!! A nice aluminium case, even smaller than the original T-Amp, with good connectors, excellent components and a good outboard power supply for just 99$! That was exactly the amp I was waiting for!
Needless to say, I asked one sample for testing it on TNT-Audio against the original T-Amp and the Super T-Amp. A couple of months later, Trends Audio released a new upgraded version, labelled 10.1. Price was a bit higher. Nowadays, after many rave reviews worldwide, price has gone up till 150$ (in HK). Goods things never stay cheap :-)
Consider the original T-Amp was available for as low as 15$, now it costs nearly 50$...
For tech specs, please refer to the official TA2024 PDF datasheet on the Tripath website. The TA 10.1 delivers the same power output of a standard T-Amp, hence 6 watts on 8 Ohm and 9-10 watts on 4 Ohm. The heart of the amp is the same, so the basic tech specs can't be improved. The main differences are all around the TA 2024 chipset: the quality of the passive components is audiophile-grade (air core inductors, for example), the cabinet is solid aluminium (instead of plastic, like the T-Amp) and there's the possibility to adjust the DC bias between speaker terminals (close to ± 0mV) via trimmers (on the main board). Also, it can be used as a pure power amp, bypassing the volume pot via built-in jumpers.
A small universal (100V-240V - 3A) outboard switching power supply is also included. The amp is equipped with audiophile-quality RCA sockets and speakers binding posts. Finally, it is even smaller than the original T-Amp: (W)76mm x (H)46mm x (D)114mm[case only]/150mm [incl. sockets & knob]. Could one ask for more?
The differences between the first 10.0 and the latest 10.1 release can be detected having a close look at the inside of the two amps: bigger and better caps, higher-quality wiring.
The Trends Audio TA 10.1 can be found quite easily either directly via the manufacturer (they have a partnership with the vendor Buyoyo) or by means of worldwide retailers/distributors. For a dealer near you check the continuously expanding list of distributors. Prices may vary. It costs 150$ in Hong Kong that become 169 € in Italy, for example. Export/import duties, shipping and other fees (plus the obvious reseller add-ons) make the original price increase wildly, depending on customs laws and the Country you live in.
It can be found (new) on Ebay for 149$ from a Canadian reseller. Consider that the amp includes everything you need to make it work. You don't need to add anything, just plug in the cables and you're done. No additional external PSU's, no adapters etc. The amp is ready to rock :-)
Instead of trying to beat the competition (read: other online mags) publishing the first test of the Trends Audio little marvel I decided to wait a little bit longer to see what was going on around the World. I though it was better to let the dust settle, as they say.
I was willing to compare the new TA2024 amp against its precedessors, the original T-Amp and the Super T-Amp. And that's exactly what I did. I also compared it to other Class D amplifiers, the NuForce REF9SE and the T-HiFi Power TI S (with TA 2022).
First things first: this small amp is a marvel. Period. It certainly exploits all the virtues of the TA2024 chipset making the original T-Amp sound dull, clouded and unrefined in comparison (!!!). Yes, take all the good things the T-Amp did and multiply by a factor 10x. Then take all the shortcomings of the original T-Amp (light bass range, for example) and multiply by 0 :-)
The first thing one notices is the presence of the bass range: more powerful and way deeper. There was an error in the original T-Amp circuits (as many tweakers discovered by themselves). This made the lower bass range a bit lightweight. Trends Audio redesigned the circuits, using correct values and better components et voilą there you have a very good bass range: fast, punchy and, finally, extended till the first octave.
Comparing the original T-Amp with the Trends Audio TA 10.1 this is the first improvement one easily notices. The Super T-Amp solved that bass range extension problem too but when compared to the Trends Audio TA 10.1 even the Super T sounds a bit lighter, with less power in the bass. The difference is NOT subtle, especially when listening to low organ notes. With rock and Classical it is hard to detect the difference, though.
The Trends Audio TA 10.1 does better in other areas too: the mid range is cleaner and more precise. The performance with the piano, for example, is simply excellent, regardless of price. And audiophiles know how difficult can be reproducing an acoustic piano correctly. Here you have tonal accuracy, crisp attacks and natural decays plus a rich harmonic texture that makes you feel like listening to the real thing. The same happens with vocals, which are extremely clear and lively. Original T-Amp, Super T-Amp and T-HiFi Power TI S perform worse in these areas. To get something significantly better you need amps like the NuForce REF9 SE.
Then you have the high range: it is definitely smooth and harmonically rich. Gone are those light traces of harshness that could be heard from time to time with the original T-Amp.
The TA 10.1 can't be defined "warm" but it is definitely transparent and precise without sounding harsh. Compared with the Power TI S (equipped with a TA 2022 chipset instead) the high range seems more extended and lively while the Power TI S sounds mellow and relaxed in this area. Not a subtle difference, let me say. Preferences here are just a matter of personal taste.
Overall, the Trends Audio TA 10.1 is an accurately balanced amplfier with an excellent mid range, a realistic bass range and a precise high range. There's no trace of harshness in its sound but it performs with the precision and transparency you can find only in high-end amplifiers.
First of all, DO NOT FORGET this is a 6 watts per channel amplifier. This means that using it with mid sensitivity loudspeakers dynamic clipping can be reached quite easily. You need 92/93 dB of sensitivity to start appreciating this little marvel. Below that threshold you are forced to listen at low levels and/or inside a small room.
That said, you could be surprised to discover how much good "noise" can a 6 watts amp make :-)
Many audiophiles use just 3-4 watts of their 100+ watt amplifiers. The original T-Amp proved this assertion evidently. After my T-Amp review was published many audiophiles wrote they were going to sell their previous, more powerful amps, because they didn't feel the need for all that extra power output.
Considering the TA 10.1 offers a fuller bass range I'm pretty sure its power output would be more than adequate for many listeners. Certainly it seems to sound slightly louder than the original T-Amp (because of the more powerful bass range).
For this reason someone might think the power output is higher.... NOT SO!!!.
Attacks and decays are much more natural with the TA 10.1. The former are faster while the latter last way longer. One of the problems of the original T-Amp was its attitude to cut decays too early. The TA 10.1 is more natural and Music breaths more easily with it. This becomes particularly evident with piano Music.
Even in terms of PRaT the TA 10.1 performs quite well. Perhaps not the ultimate amp in terms of punch and sheer impact but even the hardest electronic Music can sound quite exciting and involving with it.
If macrodynamics performance is somewhat limited by its low power output, in the microdynamics department the TA 10.1 takes its revenge, sounding crisp, precise and extremely detailed.
The original T-Amp was able to create a realistic and extremely wide soundstage. Impressively realistic, considering the ridiculous price tag! The TA 10.1 does better, adding inches of depth and especially height to the virtual stage. It does better than the Super T-Amp too, creating a virtual image behind the speakers that can be compared with that of extremely expensive amplifiers. The sense of spaciousness, the space between one instrument or player and the other, the focus of every single image in the stage are simply top notch.
Just sometimes voices, especially female ones, appear to be a bit "forward" but that adds some presence effect that isn't entirely unpleasant.
Of course, when listening levels are high and you run the small amp close to the clipping area things get worse, the image becomes smaller and more confused...but the same happens with many amps.
Unlike the T-Amp, this Trends Audio TA 10.1 has to be considered an absolutely "standard" integrated amplifier. You don't need batteries or better external PSU's, no RCA adapters or fancy speakers cables terminals: just plug it to your system and play.
It gets slightly better with use (as other Tripath-based amplifiers) but it sounds good even right out of the box.
Even the TA 10.1 is extremely light, hence heavy cables can make it fall or flip upside down. Four, small drops of blue-tac will help keeping it stable on your HiFi shelf. BrightStar Isonode soft feet proved to be a good tweak.
Do not try to bridge a TA 10.1 as this amp already uses a bridged circuit. If you want to use two TA 10.1 you need biwireable speakers so you can connect one TA 10.1 per speaker or one to the bass range posts and one to the high range posts (vertical or horizontal bi-amping). This way power output and overall dynamics will increase. Don't forget you can bypass the volume pot via an internal jumper (so the TA 10.1 becomes a pure power amp by all means).
If you use more than one Music source (e.g. CD player, PC, tuner or turntable) you need an active or passive preamplifier. You might wish this to be small, inexpensive and supplied with a built-in phono stage. Do not forget to add the T-Preamp to your wish list then.
Of course you can try different external PSU's and even good (motorbike) batteries to power the TA 10.1. My feeling is that the supplied switching PSU is good enough for the purpose. And of course you can adjust the DC offset when searching for the ultimate performance (see owner's manual for details).
Overall, I don't feel this amps NEEDS tweaks. It is excellent right out of the box, it is simple to use and trouble-free. Just connect it to your system and forget it.
Manufacturing and finish. The Trends Audio TA 10.1 has a very nicely finished aluminium cabinet, good connectors and cool looks. On one of the two TA 10 I've tested the volume pot was a bit "off-axis". The unit is very small so speaker cables and signal interconnects run very close. A wider cabinet would make things easier when using thick cables.
Sound. Output power is low so correct speakers matching is of paramount importance. Because of low power output the punch and the impact of the bass range are logically constrained. The same applies to overall macro-dynamics. Depending on set-up and speakers some user might prefer a warmer tonal balance.
A small nice marvel that clearly outperforms both the original T-Amp and its bigger brother Super T-Amp. That's the Trends Audio TA 10.1. This amp proves how much quality was hidden inside the Tripath TA 2024 chipset. If you can forget the low power output limitations (6 watts on 8 Ohm, 10 watts on 4 Ohms) it is hard to find something better even at 10 times its price.
I understand this is a bold statement but, as usual, don't take my words as gospel and judge by yourself, without prejudice. With the right speakers this amplifier can be the heart of any high-end system.
Recommended? No, you simply must have one :-)
Copyright © 2007 Lucio Cadeddu - www.tnt-audio.com