It takes about half an hour for the PA-10 SE to warm up and sound its best but once it is warmed up (it gets quite hot!) it will give you the typical hybrid sound, if that even exists at all. It’s fast paced yet it has a slight tube signature but as with all the hybrids I have tried so far, the tube part can be minimized. The sound stage is very spacious, transparent and airy and you get a very clean sound. It is nicely balanced overall yet I find the PA-10 not to deliver a lot of body to the sound. I have heard amps much cheaper, even the Fiio E10 delivering way more body than this unit does (note that I’m only talking about the body and not the soundstage, refinement and resolution of the E10). Bass is well defined and reasonably detailed but it has less bottom end as I would have wanted it to have. This amp clearly focuses on the midrange and treble area where vocals and higher tones are clearly its strongest points. I’m pretty sure that there are plenty of people out there who enjoy headphones and amps with sweet mids and good treble and that are very happy with detailed but less prominent bass.
I was talking to Mike about these smaller hybrid amps often having this sound signature and one reason probably is that there definitely is a market for it. We could imagine that people who enjoy full size Audio Technica headphones to appreciate that kind of sound.
It was quite hard finding the appropriate headphone(s) for this amp as I mentioned before. The Sennheisers are an absolute no go to me, I love the Senn sound but with this amount of gain and the non focus on the body/bass it really didn’t sound how a Sennheiser is supposed to sound. The 250Ohm T70 become way too bright for my taste (even for Beyer fans I’m sure) so I ended up mostly using the PA-10 SE with my Hifiman He-500 and the LCD-2. I have to admit having only used it shortly with the HE-400. The HE-500 being famous for its great vocals and soundstage actually sounded pretty nice as this amp focuses on its strong points. As said before it could have used (a lot) more body and more impact at the bottom end but it did fairly good. I wouldn’t advise this combination to bass lovers, as bass impact is very low. The LCD-2 who has the punchier bass of the two did better in this section but compared to a lot of other amps, the PA-10 SE doesn’t come close to what both these cans are capable of. So bass heavy music was pretty much out of the question with this amp. I’ve mostly listened to music where vocals were important and classical music like Melody Gardot, Lisa Ekdahl, Vaya Con Dios, Prokofiev and Mozart but I never could shake of the feeling of needing more body and bottom end impact, which I personnaly prefer. The 4 times cheaper Bravo Audio V2 (with 12AU7 type tube) even has more bottom end and body, yet the PA-10 SE clearly is superior in soundstage, detailing, instrumental separation and everything else.
It is a good starter amp if you appreciate the above mentioned sound characteristics but for those wanting good bass and body on top of it, like myself, I suggest you look elsewhere. The 265€/$299price tag of the PA-10 SE is on the steeper side. The sub $300 part of the market is getting flooded lately with great sounding amps like the O2 and C421 or even the awesome $249 Schiit Asgard, and taking that in to account, it would be nice if the PA-10 could deliver more over the entire sound spectrum and please a larger crowd or maybe be priced a bit more towards the 200€ point. In its defense this TrendsAudio headphone amp has been on the market much longer as the before mentioned amps and has proven to be a great amp for a lot of people. Like with so many things in audio, it all comes down to personal preference and I hope this review made clear what you can expect of this hybrid.
The headphone out on the front is a 3.5 mm plug (like the O2 and others) so you will need an adapter for almost all full size headphones. I’ve had quite some trouble finding an adapter making a good contact, most (very cheap) ones just had problems (losing signal), so be prepared.
Thank you, TrendsAudio, for sending us a review sample and you can find all info about the company and their full range of products on their website and Facebook page. There is a store on their site if you’re looking to buy one but they also have many retailers all over the world.