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January 2014
Enjoy the Music.com Review Magazine
Trends Audio BA-10 Bi-Amplification Bundle
Twice as much tiny for only $699.
Review By A. Colin Flood

 

Trends Audio BA-10 Bi-Amplification Bundle  Trends Audio makes a low-cost, palm-size, Class-T stereo chip amplifier* (see Enjoy the Music.com for article at links below Blue Note ratings). "Good things come in small packages," I said "the TA-10 easily scores four Blue Notes. No, it does not have the lush tube mid-range that sends Big Ole Horns into the outer orbit of ecstasy. But it does so many things well, for so little dough, that Trends Audio's TA-10 amplifier is an excellent value in the right situations." Two years later, I reviewed their tube and MOSFET hybrid stereo pre and headphone amplifiers, with both Russian 6H23n double-triode and Chinese 6N11 tubes. The pre-amplifier supports either 6DJ8, 6922 or 12AU7 tubes by way of easy-to-make internal jumper switches. More low-cost, small size, good value success, I proclaimed, the PA-10 "has a charming coloration that sounds like music and grabs your attention."

Their next move was only logical. Combine their tiny amplifiers for more power. The new Trends bi-amplifier system chains two of their amplifiers together with a special dual power supply and a y-shaped input cable to their tube hybrid pre-amplifier. They combine two sets of the TA-10.2P Class-T power amplifier with the PA-10.1D tube headphone/pre amplifier (with two outputs for each amplifier) by way of their QB-773 cables.

Trends offers several international variations of this kit. Be sure you order the proper combination kit for your electrical outlet connections and country line voltage. The SE version is $699 (with the Russian 6H23n tube I preferred) and GE version is $699 too, but with the typical, well-known 12AU7 tube in the pre-amplifier. Trends doesn't sum up the combined wattage output of these combined amplifiers. Instead, their bi-amplifier specifications remain the same low-power ratings as their single stereo amplifier, except times two: 15 Watts at 4 Ohms, 10 Watts at 8 Ohms but with 10% THD.

 

Powerful Enough For Big Ole Horns
Let us review quickly, if you haven't already peeked at my Reviewer's Profile. My Big Ole Horn loudspeakers, classic Klipsch corner Khorns, require only one watt to sound LOUD. Three is plenty for painful decibels!  So Trends' tiny amplifiers are certainly enough quantity of watts. Yet as you can read in my review of their amplifier, Trends amplifiers may not be enough quality watts for many tweaking audiophiles, despite their very attractive size and price. When my main system is set-up in its ideal configuration (with all these equipment swaps it rarely is), my Big Ole Horn loudspeakers are passively bi-amp'ed. Passive bi-amp'ing means there is no active unit, like the Marchand XM-44 Active Crossover,* in the audio chain. Passive bi-amplifiers use part of the loudspeaker crossover to divide the incoming signal between the loudspeaker drivers.

For example, I use my Bottlehead 2A3 Paramour* mono-boxes on the mid and upper horns, connecting directly into the crossover network. I run my 15" woofers full-range with a solid-state, stereo Pioneer M-22 amplifier, directly bypassing the dividing network. So I don't bi-amp for power. Not when delicious sounding amplifiers like Don Garber's 1.5-watt Fi with Tung Sol 46 (single-plate, but double-grid) tube has enough power for all but the loudest and most complex passages. I do bi-amp passively because even uber-efficient 15" woofers need powerful amplifier control to shape their impedance curve into the proper bass frequency response. In other words, it sounds better. Better bass fills out mid-range texture and tone. Therefore, I bi-amp for quality, not quantity of watts. I got into Big Ole Horn loudspeakers because of their incredibly realistic and therefore engaging sound. I was hoping to drive them with inexpensive front-end electronics. (Which I have. See "Stereos as Indoor Sport."*) Turns out horns are not so simple as that. Uber-efficiency means uber-sensitivity to front-end qualities, such as cleanliness, Total Harmonic Distortion and noise.

So Lilliputian chip amplifiers, like Sonic Impact's $40 Class T amplifier ("A Straight Wire With Gain"*), have no trouble driving the Big Ole Horn loudspeakers of my bargain basement system. Trends' TA-10 drove them also, not only to some quite respectable levels, but with startlingly good quality in all but the most demanding situations. Their charming amplifier is fairly transparent, exhibits midrange purity and naturalness of timbre, with treble that is neither dull, nor bright.

 

Great Divide
If you bi-amp your loudspeakers without an active electronic crossover unit, each amplifier receives a full range signal from the pre-amplifier. The sound will still clip at the same point it did before with only one amplifier hooked up to the loudspeakers. It does sound different to bi-amp, but make no mistake; you will not be getting the benefits of dividing the signal ahead of the amplifiers as an active crossover unit does. There could also be a time-delay issue with bi-amplification, but I remember something somewhere about this issue pertaining more to cone drivers than constant directivity horns. There are certain advantages to having the driver directly coupled to the amplifier: less power compression, more efficient, better damping and no back-EMF.

With bi-amplification, I can match the sonic qualities of the amplifiers to the type of loudspeaker drivers; tasty tubes on top compression drivers, solid-state control on cone woofers. Bi-amping opens up the dynamics and lowers distortion. An audible difference is evident. It works together like ham and eggs.

 

Bi-Amplification Variations
There are three ways to hook up your loudspeakers to the Trends tiny bi-amplifier system: Monoblock, Horizontal Bi-amp and Vertical Bi-amp setup. Many modern loudspeakers have split crossovers inside, with two sets of loudspeaker terminals outside. If your loudspeaker has two sets of binding posts, top and bottom, with a strapping plate bridging them together, simply remove the bridging plate and you can easily bi-wire and bi-amp your loudspeakers.

 

Monoblock bi-amplification means one mono amplifier per channel runs both the bass and the treble with a single loudspeaker cable to the bridged binding posts (and crossover) in each single loudspeaker – one amplifier per loudspeaker. This is popular because it uses short loudspeaker cables, but with long interconnects to the pre-amplifier, in order to place the amplifiers near the loudspeakers, which has its own sonic advantages.

 

Vertical bi-amplification means one stereo amplifier runs both bass and the treble, with separate cables to the unbridged binding posts – again one amplifier per loudspeaker, but the two sides of the stereo amplifier drives one loudspeaker. This is also a popular way to place the amplifiers near the loudspeakers on a short cable run.

 

Horizontal bi-amplification uses one stereo amplifiers to power the bass drivers in both loudspeakers, and another second stereo amplifier to power the treble drivers in both loudspeakers – two amplifiers per two both loudspeakers, but powering different loudspeaker drivers. This is popular because different amplifier types can be used to power different types of loudspeaker drivers. In this configuration, you can match the sensitivity of horns to the delicacy of tubes. You can match the impact of cones to the control of solid-state amplifiers.

In my configuration, for example, two tube monoblocks power the top horns, but one solid-state stereo amplifier powers the lower cones. Therefore, my ideal set-up is a combination of Monoblock and Horizontal bi-amplification. Sounds complicated in theory, but it is simple in practice. Trends has drawings on their site showing each variation. Even the drawings make it look more complicated than it is. Remember, this is passive bi-amp'ing to the existing loudspeaker cable binding posts, not active bi-amplification, with active crossover units and direct connection to the loudspeaker drivers. The purpose of all these extra amplifiers, connections and wiring is two-fold. First, it gives tweaking audiophiles something more to play with on their systems. Seemingly endless combinations and swaps are possible. Second, especially with tiny Trends amplifiers, it does improve the sound.

Slightly perhaps, but improved nonetheless. Although wattage is doubled (gasp!) with a second 10-Watt tiny chip amplifier, loudness is not. The improvement doesn't make the bi-amplifier and pre-amplifier bundle sound like a very good 30-Watt integrated amplifier, but it does make a very good 10 Watt one.

 

Other Amplifiers
Speaking of which, the Trends bi-amplifier bundle is not in the same league as Nelson Pass' 10 Watt SIT-2 amplifier.* This is a superb stereo amplifier in most Enjoy the Music.com categories, but it costs seven times more. Audio by Van Alstine has a Synergy integrated Control amplifier in the house for audition with my Big Ole Horn loudspeakers. It is a surprisingly good solid-state sound, but at 2.5 times the price. Outlaw makes a RR2150 receiver* in this price range that also sounds very good for solid-state on über-efficient horns. I have not been able to hear these amplifiers back-to-back, but my impressions so far are that this Class T amplifier combo gives all three a run for the money in sound quality. Each geometric leap in price brings only incremental improvements in sound.

The low-cost Chinese separates in the Trends bi-amplifier bundle make this an excellent starting point for a small tweaking audiophile system, because you can upgrade your way in pieces to a more powerful and superlative system. Start here, and then with Horizontal BI-amplification, add a monster solid-state amplifier like my Pioneer M-22 for thunderous bass. Next sweeten up the mids and highs with a tube amplifier like the wonderful Garber or solid ASL AQ-1003* values. Finally, if even the Russian tube version of the Trends PA pre-amplifier is not good enough for you, you can add a robust pre-amplifier like the Audio Research LS2B Mark II, the winner in last year's Preamplifier Shoot-Out!*

 

And So...
Trends Audio BA-10 Bi-Amplification BundleThe Trends combo is powerful enough to push normal 8 Ohm impedance loudspeakers in "normal home use." The BA-10 bundle comes closer to the sound I remember of the battery-powered Red Wine Clari T. Even with its tube pre-amplifier, the Trends combo still does not have the lush mid-range and imaging like the Cayin A-50T* or the Glow Audio Amp Two.* The Class T combo still lacks the attack, sweetness and emotion of the "gee, that almost sounds live!" of tube amplifiers. Tube-lovers may say the Class T sound is anti-septic, clinically excellent and statistically accurate. The Trends bundle doesn't change that.

Bundled Tonality has slightly better definition than a single TA-10 amplifier. Sub-Bass (10 Hz to 60 Hz) was certainly improved enough to make an appearance. Mid-Bass was slightly tighter. Both of these categories helped balance Midrange. Attack did not seem to benefit from the double-wattage, but Decay did. The bi-amplifiers had richer sound and decay. They had richer tonality and more body. Combined, these capabilities seem to add details to the Inner Resolution. Soundscape categories however, on Big Ole Horn loudspeakers about 20 feet apart, seem no different. These improved capabilities lift the Trends pre-amplifier and the dual amplifier combination to a very competitive level with other far-more larger and costly receivers.

In my own category, Enjoyment, the Trends' tiny bi-amplifier bundle is easily four Blue Notes for above-average. It earns five Blue Notes as being the best Value for the Money.

 

Tonality

Sub-bass (10Hz - 60Hz)

Mid-bass (80Hz - 200Hz)

Midrange (200Hz - 3,000Hz)

High Frequencies (3,000Hz On Up)

Attack

Decay

Inner Resolution

Soundscape Width Front

Soundscape Width Rear  
Soundscape Depth Behind Speakers

Soundscape Extension Into Room

Imaging

Fit And Finish

Self Noise

Value For The Money

*Links
TTrends Audio PA-10
Nearfield 7
Audiolics Anonymous Chapter 43
Outlaw Audio RR2150

 

Specifications

 

TA-10.2

TA-10.2P

T-Amp IC

Tripath TA2024

Output Power

Two channel, each with 15W @ 4 Ohm
Two channel, each with 10W @ 8 Ohm

Signal-to-Noise Ratio 

98dB

Dynamic Range

>98dB

IHF-IM Distortion

0.10% @ 1W, 4ohm

THD+Noise

0.03% @ 9W, 4 Ohm
0.1% @ 11W, 4 Ohm
0.1% @ 6W, 8 Ohm
High Power
10% @ 15W, 4 Ohm
10% @ 10W, 8 Ohm

Power Efficiency

81% @ 15W, 4 Ohm
90% @ 10W, 8 Ohm

Input

Audio IN RCA Left/Right
Power socket (5.5mm/2.1mm)

Output

Speaker OUT (Left) 1 pair (+ / -)
Speaker OUT (Right) 1 pair (+ / -)

Other Switch & Knob

Power ON/OFF switch
Power Indicator (Blue LED)

Volume knob

Yes

No

Power Supply

DC 12V ~ 13.2V(max.)

Dimensions
(DxWxH)

114mm x 76mm x 46mm [case only]
150mm [incl. sockets & knob]

Weight 1.1 lbs.

Price

$699

 

Company Information
ITOK Media Ltd
Unit E, 13/F, World Tech Centre
95 How Ming Street 
Kwun Tong, Hong Kong

E-mail: sales@itok.com
Website: www.TrendsAudio.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     
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