Product: Trends Audio UD-10.1 Lite USB converter (with DAC and headphone amp)
Manufacturer: Trends Audio
Cost: v 62$ (YMMV) .
Reviewer: Nick Whetstone - TNT UK
Reviewed: October, 2008
I reviewed the Trends USB UD-10, USB DAC back in November 2006 (how time flies) and was very impressed with it. The USB UD-10 went on to gather similar positive reviews and has sold well since. Trends Audio have now released a new model, the UD-10.1 Lite, but rather than being an upgraded version of the UD-10.1, it is a cut-down version designed to achieve a lower selling price.
So what don't you get with the UD-10.1 Lite that is in the UD-10? And does it make a lot of difference? Well Trends Audio have been rather clever in my opinion. They have utilised the original PCB but removed the extra components that took the audio stage to such a high level. The idea is that if you are using the UD-10.1, or UD-10 for that matter, only as a USB converter, the audiophile parts are superfluous, as your DAC is producing the audio signal, not the USB converter. So gone is the second stage of voltage regulation, and one or two other components. The high precision clock is replaced by one of slightly lower accuracy. Also gone are those extra XLR and BNC sockets, and that makes it possible to use a smaller case. Hence the UD-10.1 Lite has the same footprint as the UD-10, but is 3 cm tall compared to 4.5 cm of its big brother. The other change to the case is that the sleeve is finished in a brushed look black satin aluminium that you may, or may not prefer to the silver of the UD-10.
Like the UD-10, the UD-10.1 Lite is supplied with a USB lead to connect it to a PC, and a mini-jack to RCA adaptor so that you can connect it to a hi-fi using standard interconnects. There is a 5 volt battery pack supply, available as an optional extra.
So how do the changes affect the sonic quality of the UD-10.1? Well, as a USB converter, ie used to take a USB signal from the PC and send SPDIF to a separate DAC, I don't think that I could detect any difference. So as with the UD-10, you get a remarkably good performance from this little black box. Even changing from the 5 volt supply, supplied via the USB connection (ie from the PC) to a couple of good quality 5 volt supplies made little if no difference between the UD-10 and UD-10.1. It's only when you listen through the headphone sockets of each that you can hear the clear improvement of the UD-10 over the UD-10.1 Lite as you would probably expect, and then the better power supply is a factor.
So using the UD-10.1 Lite as a USB converter through a decent DAC, you can expect exceptionally clear sound, great detail, a large sound-stage, and foot-tapping timing. The sound has more air and transparency than my SB3 played through the same system but the SB3 has a more solid bottom end. Both are very good and I was left wanting the better aspects of each. Have I ever mentioned hi-fi compromises before?
There isn't much more to say about the Trends USB UD-10.1. If you are looking for a USB converter, perhaps a cheap way to explore PC audio, the reduced price of the UD-10.1 Lite makes it even more of a tempting prospect than the UD-10. If on the other hand, you also like to listen to the audio output of your USB DAC via headphones, I would suggest that you go for the UD-10 with a decent 5 volt external PSU. Actually, I initially thought that the 5 volt supplymade no difference to using the 10 and 10.1 with an external DAC. But after further experimenting, I can detect that the power source for these devices does have an effect - with the battery pack coming out worst. I did try two different sets of batteries, but the sound seemed to have a slightly ragged edge whenever I connected up the battery pack. Ironically, the 5 volt supplied via the USB lead sounded better, but not as good as when using an external mains-based supply. Of course, if using the internal DAC with these devices, the 5 volt supply is even more critical.
I suppose that I can best compare the UD-10.1 Lite to the Styleaudio Carat-HD1V USB DAC that I reviewed in April this year. Very similar in size, and with a very similar (if not identical) performance, the Carat also has a switch to select headphone output or SPDIF, and a volume control for the headphone output. Now if you use Windows to play back your music, and you install the ASIO drivers to avoid the dreaded Windows kmixer (as you should) then you will no longer be able to control the volume via the PC, and that headphone level control would be very welcome. But if you use something like Ubuntu (a version of Linux) to play back your music, you have (in my opinion) better quality sound, you don't need the ASIO drivers, and more importantly you can still control the volume via the PC. So you wouldn't need a volume control on the USB converter. The Carat looks nicer than the plainer looking UD-10.1 Lite but the real decider comes when you compare the prices! The Carat costs approximately 240 USD (depending on where you buy it), while the UD-10.1 Lite costs 62 USD, almost a quarter of the price.
So I think Trends Audio have made the right move in bringing out the UD-10.1 Lite while still offering the more sophisticated UD-10 for those who want the extra audio output quality. The price is very competitive although the irony of the global market-place that we now live in, means that shipping costs (to some countries) will sometimes be a greater factor in choice of product than the selling price! Having said that, a quick look at the sales page of the Trends Audio web site shows a healthy list of world-wide distributors. Summing up, the UD-10.1, like its big brother, does what it says on the can and is something of a bargain! It's certainly one of the best, and most cost-effective ways to start experiencing PC audio!
For this review the Trends Audio UD-10.1 Lite was used with an old PIII PC running Ubuntu 7.04, using Banshee for the music playback (WAV and FLAC files). If you still don't know, Ubuntu and Banshee are totally free. The UD-10.1 Lite was connected to the PC by the one and a half metre USB lead supplied with it, and by a five metre SPDIF cable to a modified Scott Nixon DacKit.
© Copyright 2008 Nick Whetstone - www.tnt-audio.com