TA-10.1 Integrated Amplifier
Class-T amplifiers are based on audio-amplification
integrated circuits (ICs) made by Tripath Technology Inc. While some of the lower-powered
and, presumably, less expensive versions of these ICs are specified for use with
flat-panel TVs and powered multimedia speakers, they first came to my attention as
implemented in Bel Cantos eVo amplifiers and some models from Audio Research
Corporation -- excellent-sounding amplifiers built to extremely high standards, with very
large power supplies and associated high-quality components, and costing thousands of
But some specialty audio manufacturers make inexpensive yet
high-quality class-T amps with these chips, and the Hong Kong-based Trends Audio is one of
them. Trends introduced their TA-10 class-T integrated amplifier last year, and have
already replaced it with the TA-10.1. The new version is said to have higher-quality power
filtering and larger input coupling capacitors. The original version retailed for a
remarkable $99 USD; the TA-10.1 costs a still very reasonable $129.95.
Class-T amplifiers operate in switch mode, meaning that
their output devices can be switched to either the on or off position. This differs from
more traditional linear amplifiers such as class-A and -A/B designs, in which the output
devices are always on, or a complementary pair of output devices is biased so that both
are never off at the same time. Because of this, class-T amplifiers are much more
efficient than class-A and -A/B designs. Class-T amplifiers are actually very similar to
class-D designs, which also operate in switch mode but generally have poor linearity.
Tripath claims that class-T amps are much more linear, like class-A and -A/B amps, due to
their proprietary Digital Power Processing (DPP).
The TA-10.1 is small and light, looking more like a
headphone amplifier than an integrated amp. Granted, its rated at a maximum power
output of only 15Wpc into 4 ohms, indicating use with only very efficient speakers; still,
I was impressed by its sturdy aluminum case and surprisingly solid gold-plated RCA
connectors and speaker binding posts. Not so surprisingly, the TA-10.1 has only one set of
inputs. Even so, its rear panel is pretty cramped -- speaker cables with large spades will
be cumbersome to use. I recommend banana plugs or bare wire. Theres also a small
toggle switch for AC power, and a socket for the feed from the TA-10.1s 12V power
supply. Around front are a volume knob and a blue power-indicator LED. There are internal
jumpers that can be configured to bypass the volume control so that TA-10.1 can be used as
a power amplifier, though I didnt use it in this configuration.
The external power supply
is similar to one youd use with a laptop computer. Because the power supply is
external and class-T operation is so efficient, the TA-10.1 is small enough -- 1.9"W
x 1.3"H x 4.5"D and weighing only 11ounces -- to literally fit in the palm of
the hand, and runs cool enough that, without the LED, youd never know it was powered
One evening, I set up the TA-10.1 in my office with an NAD
502 CD player, Athena Technologies Audition AS-B1 bookshelf speakers, generic
interconnects, and zip cord for speaker wire. Although the speakers sat off to one side of
the room, I was continually drawn into the music, and didnt get much work done that
evening. There was just something very "right" about the TA-10.1s sound.
Robbie Robertsons primarily instrumental Music for
the Native Americans [CD, Capitol 724382829522] sounded remarkably clear and
uncongested. The soundstage of "The Vanishing Breed" was wide, with a robust
sound. The pipes floated just inside the left speaker and didnt waver, while the
drums were remarkably deep and tight. I was able to easily follow the melody of the
opening piano bars on "Straighten Up and Fly Right," from Diana Kralls
first album, Stepping Out [CD, Justin Time 068944005024]. Although Kralls
piano is recorded at a fairly low level, each note was well defined, with excellent pitch.
Her voice had a solid center image and a palpable feel on "Frim Fram Sauce" and
"Body and Soul." I couldnt stop listening, and found myself pulling out
all of the CDs I had at the office to listen to my favorite tracks.
After listening to the TA-10.1 in my office system for a
few days and being suitably impressed, I brought it home and set it up with the same
Athena AS-B1 speakers, this time with the overachieving DV-970HD DVD-Audio/SACD player
from Oppo Digital. I also used some of my favorite real-world wire: Audio Magic Xstream
interconnects, Analysis Plus Clear Oval speaker cables, and Shunyata Research Venom AC
cords. Each of these cables costs almost as much as or more than the TA-10.1 itself.
What Id heard at the office was further reinforced in
my main listening room. For such a diminutive amp, the TA-10.1 had a surprisingly big,
bold sound, throwing up a huge soundstage that made me think I was listening to a much
more powerful, much more expensive amplifier. Sure, it couldnt play incredibly loud,
but at normal listening levels it was an absolute joy to listen to. Neil Youngs
latest, Live at Massey Hall [CD, Reprise 093624332725], is a bleak but beautifully
intimate recording. The 24-bit/96kHz two-channel PCM track on the Special Edition CD
sounded especially good. The gentle piano playing that accompanies Youngs hushed
singing on "Heart of Gold" flowed smoothly and naturally. At times the pitches
Young sings are almost inaudible, but the TA-10.1 conveyed all of the feeling in his
voice, which is often barely above a whisper. On "Old Man," Young sounded more
piercing but never harsh, and the powerful sound of his piano on "See the Sky About
to Rain" was handled with ease by the TA-10.1.
More heavily produced albums, such as Seals Best
1991-2004 [DVD-A, Warner Bros. 0936248776-91], sounded equally good. The bass on
"Killer" was tight and controlled. The TA-10.1 was able to eke out every last
bit of low-frequency information that the Athena speakers were capable of reproducing. If
I closed my eyes, I would have sworn I was listening to a more powerful amplifier with
larger, floorstanding speakers. On "Dont Cry," the piano, guitar, and
Seals voice were all distinct and sounded wonderfully clean and clear.
For the TA-10.1s final test, I pulled out Johnny
Cashs American IV: The Man Comes Around [CD, American 0440077083-09]. The
acoustic guitar on the title track had plenty of bite, and Cashs voice was
rightfully raspy, and placed precisely between the speakers. As "Hurt" built to
its massive climax in the final verse, the TA-10.1 was able to hold it all together with
very little distortion. Although this is an acoustic album, all of the instruments and
vocals are very closely miked. This makes it extremely difficult to play back at realistic
levels, but the TA-10.1 did an admirable job.
Images, such as Cashs voice, were extremely sharp but
sometimes slightly two-dimensional, lacking in depth. They also seemed a bit too distinct
and cutout-like, which took away from the ambience of some recordings. Aside from that,
and the fact that it could not play extremely loud, I couldnt trip up the little
TA-10.1 no matter what I played. Sure, there were a few minor quibbles, but Id
expect as much from an amplifier costing many times the price of the TA-10.1. At $129.95,
its level of performance was astounding.
The TA-10.1 matched well with a variety of speakers. The
new PSB Alpha B1s ($279/pair) sounded similar to the Athena AS-B1s ($149.95/pair,
discontinued), but were slightly laid-back. The PSBs were a little more neutral, but the
Athenas more forward sound gave music added jump. The Mirage Omni 260s ($1000/pair,
discontinued) were an intoxicating combination with the TA-10.1. The Mirages smooth,
Omnipolar sound further enhanced the TA-10.1s huge soundstage: they didnt
image as sharply as the other speakers, but the sound was more coherent overall. Vocals
werent placed as precisely between the speakers, but the TA-10.1s big, rich
sound gave instruments substantial weight. Seals Best 1991-2004 sounded even
more solid, with driving bass lines and a soundstage that extended well outside of the
My Bel Canto eVo6 multichannel power amplifier ($4900,
discontinued), also a class-T design, weighs -- and costs -- about 40 times as much as the
Trends Audio TA-10.1. I wont be replacing the eVo6 with a TA-10.1 any time soon, but
it some ways the little Trends amp reminded me of the larger, more expensive Bel Canto.
Each had a natural way of presenting music that was not overly analytical, and neither
editorialized on the sound to any great degree. When mated to a preamplifier of
commensurate quality, the eVo6 was clearly superior, but considering the difference in
price, the TA-10.1 was remarkably capable.
I had no other integrated amplifiers to compare directly to
the TA-10.1, but I did have Cambridge Audios top-of-the-line Azur 640R surround
receiver ($1399), which sounds excellent in two-channel mode. It exerted a tighter grip on
American IV: The Man Comes Around, with a better sense of the guitars body
and more twang to each strum. The piano also sounded bigger and more robust with the
Cambridge, but individual notes seemed to flow more effortlessly through the Trends. Not
only was the piano more expressive through the TA-10.1, it was easier to unravel the
interplay of Fiona Apple and Johnny Cashs voices with the organ and strings on
"Bridge Over Troubled Water." I wouldnt hesitate to use the Azur 640R in a
high-quality A/V system for both music and movies, but I kept coming back to the TA-10.1
for its natural, graceful way with stereo recordings.
I cant think of another audio component Ive had
more fun with in recent years than the Trends Audio TA-10.1. It provided me with more than
just a taste of the high end, and at a ridiculously low price. If you can live with its
single input and relatively low output of 15Wpc, youll be rewarded with a quality of
sound that isnt just good for the price, its just plain good, period.
Ill keep the TA-10.1 in my family room, where Ill use it for more than just
watching TV or background music. Now that I have this little gem of an amp, I plan to
listen to much more music away from my main system.
Price of equipment reviewed