Preliminary discussion: This review is related to the previous articles I have written regarding the Eastern Electric Minimax DAC series. I encourage those who wish to gather background information regarding the new DACs reviewed here to consult those articles. I also have spent considerable time opamp rolling these devices, and have written articles on rolling both IC and discrete opamps in the DAC Plus version. I hereby extend that discussion, and a separate survey of currently available opamps for these units will be produced eventually.
Alex Yeung of Eastern Electric has come up with another round of winning MiniMax DACs, this time naming them MiniMax Solid State DAC Junior and MiniMax Tube DAC Supreme. The Junior and Supreme are both DSD capable, but whereas the previous introductory version was tubed, the Junior is solid state and accepts only one input, USB. The Supreme is full featured, switchable between solid-state and tube output stages, having multiple inputs including USB, S/PDIF, Toslink, AES/EBU, and BNC. The USB input decodes PCM files up to 384kHz, as well as DSD64 and DSD128. The other inputs decode PCM up to 192kHz.
The primary features of the Supreme are:
Tube (uses one 12AU7) and Solid State switchable outputs
Parallel channel ESS9018 DAC chips
Dual power transformers
Digital display for Frequency and file type
Both the Eastern Electric MiniMax Junior and the Supreme retain the basic black box appearance of the former versions, with silver buttons, and on the Supreme a solitary silver dial for selection of the input. A lovely amber pixelated digital readout displays pertinent source and file information. I very much like the color as it is a refreshing change from the overuse of red and blue LEDs in the industry. Overall the appearance is not exciting, but also not garish. It will not call attention to the fact that it is working such great magic among the other components, and due to its more diminutive size should carry high WAF (Wife Acceptance Factor).
On to the important stuff
I used these two DACs predominantly in my personal system consisting of Mac Mini playing PCM files, a Clarity Cable Organic USB cable, Silnote Audio Poseidon interconnects leading to the TEO Audio Liquid Pre, Clarity Cable Organic ICs, the Wells Audio Innamorata amplifier, Silnote Anniversary Speaker Cables, and finally either the Kingsound King III ESL, Vapor Audio Nimbus White, or the Legacy Audio Whisper DSW Clarity Edition.
Both of these units are a step up from the last generation. If a potential buyer would ask whether the Eastern Electric MiniMax Supreme or Junior was worth seeking out in terms of sound quality, the answer is yes. There was an easily heard upgrade in refinement, detail retrieval, smoothing of edges so as to reduce digital etched effect, and enhanced 3-D soundstaging, to name a few of the immediately heard characteristics of the new breed of EE DACs.
I found the Junior to be as simple as sliced bread, and as sonically “wholesome” to hear. How simple it is to hook up the USB connection, select the proper driver for audio output, which was installed automatically by the DAC on my 2012 Mac Mini, and play music! Similarly, the Supreme was set up in a jiffy; neither one posed issues in compatibility or setup. Initially, the Mac Mini did not recognize the upsampling capability of the Junior, and set playback to 16bit/44.1kHz. Once I rolled DEXA NewClassD discrete opamps (Singles, which are oriented in opposite directions on the circuit board!) into the unit the Mac Mini switched to 24/192 – but that was the limit in output from the Mac Mini.
I thought I might see an automatic adjustment from the Mac Mini by putting the DEXA opamps into the Supreme unit (requiring both singles and duals), but I had to manually set the clock frequency in the Mac Mini by going to the Utilities folder, selecting Audio MIDI Setup, then choosing the proper format. Now the 32bit/384kHz option output of the Mac Mini appeared! I had been told the Mac Mini is inconsistent in sensing the proper format, as attested to by this experience, so it is best to check it manually by entering the Mac’s Utilities folder and selecting Audio MIDI Setup, where the settings can be changed. Why the Junior prompted the Mac Mini to reset to 192kHz playback while the Supreme did not, I haven’t an answer. Nevertheless, once the Mac was adjusted in this respect it never needed recalibration.
Also, not much needs be said of the difference between 24/192 operation and 32/384, as the latter was holistically smoother, more refined, and listenable both at higher listening level and for extended sessions. I left that setting on the Supreme for the duration of the review.
Compared to the MDHT Paradisio
An audiophile friend loaned me his MHDT Paradisio DAC, a NOS or Non-Oversampling DAC. Much noise has been made by some in the industry about how upsampling kills the nuances of digital playback. Supposedly 16bit/44.1kHz is all one needs to have premium sound. I am not convinced of this given the performance of the Paradisio. The predominant descriptor I would apply to this DAC would be dark, as in extremely warm and making details convoluted. It carries tube sound, but so heavily that the treble seems all but nudged aside by an emphasis on the mid-bass on down the spectrum. It seemed to overly smooth the music to the point that it would put me to sleep from disinterest.
Personal preferences can vary widely in this hobby, so allow me to use an illustration to help the reader determine which direction in DACs they should go. The Eastern Electric DACs carry a more illuminated character, similar to an India Pale Ale, where one can see though it and it doesn’t taste thick. The Paradisio is along the lines of a Porter, so heavy and thick that one cannot see though it, and has a darker character. This is quite lovely for making one relaxed, but it also can be quite uninvolving for someone who wishes to get “into” the nooks and crannies of the recording.
For those who wish to know my angle on system building and what my ear enjoys, I did not care much for the syrupy character of the MHDT. Bob tells me the MHDT Havana is quite a bit more refined, and I will withhold judgment on that unit I hear it. If the Havana could add significantly more upper end presence and resolution, then it might be a winner. However, I suspect that the syrupy nature of the MHDT sound may keep them off my list of components to pursue. Obviously, if you adore the MHDT sound, then the MiniMax is not going to be to your liking.
- (Page 1 of 3)
- Next page →