I have been seeing a lot of aggressive marketing from Trends Audio over the last year or 2 so it was only logical that we would bump into each other eventually and sure enough David Ho of Trends Audio HK kindly allowed us to take a crack at one of their new product roll outs, the upgraded PA-10 – the PA-10.1D SE which is a tiny little desktop tube amp in black and silver and sporting a couple of nifty little features, that put in the right hands, can actually turn out to be a mod and roller’s delight.
I covered some small tube constructs before in the Bravo series and whilst being very impressed by the quality to price ratio it does become apparent over a period of time that massive dollops of gain does not equate to a better listening experience. True $100 gets you a lot but if you hanker for a bit more you are eventually going to want to upgrade. Coming in at $299 I guess you can call the PA-10.1D an upgrade of sorts though once you hit $200-300 you are in some very stiff competitive amping territory for whatever your needs are. You have already by-passed the $150 Hifiman EF2A and starting to touch upon the Schiit Valhalla and the Little Dot MK3 which are already proven products in the market. The PA-10 by all accounts received some excellent feedback being described as possessing excellent clarity, punchy bass without being too forward and plenty of presence.
Opening up the PA-10.1D I was kind of surprised at how small it actually was. Yes the Bravo Ocean was smaller but the pictures of the 10.1D tricked my mind into thinking it was somewhat larger. The front sport a fairly clean design consisting of the volume pot, a 3.5mm input headphone jack stage and the Trends Audio logo. The back is where the action really is with the gain switch, some bi-amp outputs (CD/DAC) and one set of inputs (PC/ipod) and the power and ac inputs. The gain switch measures roughly in and around 3X on 250mW on low gain and maybe 5x on high gain which is a fairly steep jump and you will hear that in almost headphone configs you choose to run with though varying degrees of performance and quality.
The 10.1D actually comes in around 80% size of the FiiO E09k and pretty much the same form factor. The PA-10.1D takes two series of tubes, the 12AU7 and the 6DJ8/6922 rather than stick to one particular family of tubes. An internal jumper switch setting gives this small amp a surprisingly large amount of tube choices for the roller enthusiasts. This one came with a stock Soviet 6H23N which is known for a thicker bass response and most of the review will be based on that because sadly I am out of 12Au7’s for a while now though a few of the guys just yesterday managed to do some great mod work and without the joy of listening in person I am told it is simply a “beast”.
One thing that puzzled me was the use of a single 3.5mm jack at the front forcing me to grab my grado quarter to 3.5mm adaptor for most of my test units. I have read some that say oh well its small so 3.5mm makes sense but if that is so than how did the FiiO E9, being only marginally bigger, manage to fit a 3.5mm and a quarter input jack all in the same casing? I think a quarter would have been a wiser choice if possible.
Overall though the P-10.1D felt pretty robust and durable, tiny enough to be transportable for desktop use and flexible enough for DIY and tube rollers to get a setup that might suit their tates based on the specs and build.