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Eastern Electric MiniMax DAC Junior and MiniMax DAC Supreme

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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.

Eastern Electric MiniMax DAC Supreme

Eastern Electric MiniMax DAC Junior

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.

16 Responses to Eastern Electric MiniMax DAC Junior and MiniMax DAC Supreme


  1. Jeremy Tan says:

    Hi Doug.

    I’ve been reading your adventures in discrete op amp rolling with the EE Minimax Dacs with great interest.

    Please just share with me. I have an older EE Minimax Dac Plus. Before I try the new EE Minimax DAC Supreme, I’d like to try and do some discrete opamp rolling with my present DAC. Please recommend exactly which discrete opamps I should buy from Burson, Dexa and Sparkos Lab & which combination of these yielded the OPTIMUM results for you?

    I enjoy a wide variety of music. Though the possibility of trying out 18 different combinations sounds great but I know I won’t have the time :-) Would simply appreciate your sharing. Thank you so much!

  2. Rich Oriti says:

    Morning Doug,

    Hope all is going well for you. This missive comes from a longtime reader and fan of your columns.

    I wrote you some three (3) years ago about op amp rolling in the original Minimax DAC and you kindly responded to my inquiry. Been rocking the dual OPA2604 and single AD727 ever since and boy are they sweet in this rig. Just for fun also acquired dual/single LME 439990(?) op amps which I swap in on occasion for beta testing.

    May I ask your opinion on acquiring the DEXA 79504 duals at this time. Like you, I prefer listening to my MiniMax with tube engaged. I am intrigued about running SS without the tube to see what everyone is talking about.

    Any advise or direction on install of the DEXA dual in the U1/U2 socket would be greatly appreciated. Thank you for any attention you can afford me.

    Regards, Rich Oriti

  3. Jeremy,
    God’s Joy to you,

    Sorry, my friend, I can’t do as you wish! I tried to make it clear in the article that the optimum combo of opamps is a function of the particular components, cables and speakers in one’s system. As such, the optimum set of opamps will be different for you than for me. Please take my recommendation at face value, and secure all the brands of opamps. You will find, I believe, my assessment to be true, that you can have many different flavors of sound according to your whim. If you get tired of a particular “flavor”, simply roll in other ones! And, if you ever change gear, you return to experimentation and find a new combination, either of an entire set or of mixed pairs, and you will again reach a new wonderful experience much to your satisfaction.

    Regarding not having the time, once you have done it a couple times it takes only a couple minutes to carefully replace the opamps, and you should be able to hear/assess the sound instantly and more generally in an evening. So, it does not take a great amount of time to work through the opamps. Once I have a handle on the sound and what I am trying to accomplish in the desired result, I can roll in four sets in an evening and make my determination of which I prefer. This certainly is not a terrific amount of time, so perhaps this puts some perspective on how easy and effective rolling the opamps can be. i.e. Completely ignore “break in” and long periods of assessment; your ear will tell you fairly quickly which combo is your favorite! You may end up with two or three appealing options, and you can switch them occasionally. It’s really not all that time consuming, as you can leave the component in place and the lid loose/off the unit when rolling the opamps. The fairly limited amount of time spent will reward hugely, as the final combination of discrete opamps you choose will be immensely appealing to you long term! So, I encourage you to push a bit and do the ultimate upgrade, if at all possible. While my enthusiasm may sound a bit like an advertisement, it comes from authentic pleasure at the efficacy of the method of rolling in various discrete opamps.

    Now, if you do not wish to buy them all, frankly, buy any of them, because no one can tell you how it will precisely sound, nor whether you will like it more than you would the other brands. But, I am quite sure it will be superior to the stock sound, no matter which brand you pursue.

    Blessings,
    Douglas Schroeder

  4. Michal says:

    ReClock+Kmplayer sounds better than HQPlayer on windows…

  5. Robert Fontanetta says:

    Hi Doug,

    A very enjoyable review. I agree that the EE DACs are both excellent and a great value. I currently own a DAC Plus and previously owned a MiniMax DAC. I will now consider the DAC Supreme for a future upgrade.

    There are two things I would like to mention that produced much better sound for me in both the EE DACs I’ve owned. One is the removal of the voltage selector block, running just the US voltage directly. This resulted in an immediately audible reduction of grain. I’m surprised Alex Cheung has not just done separate production runs for the different voltage types as it can’t cost anymore (same labor, less parts).

    The second thing is something of a modification and that is changing the two coupling caps (same values). This resulted in a large improvement in both DACs, specifically in refinement (particularly in the treble) and tonal accuracy. I’m currently using VH Audio OIMP caps.

    Regards,
    Rob

    • User24 says:

      The oimp capacitors are larger, and interferes with the opamp airspace used for the solid state output. It is less of an issue with the stock opamps. But with anything discrete, the only aftermarket discrete opamp that can be used is the Sparkos. DEXA is impossible. And even then, there is a mm or so of clearance between the capacitor leads to the Sparkos opamp on one side, and the capacitor leads to the tube socket solder points on the other side.

      As the exterior of the oimp is conductive, the leads need to be bent creatively, and the result is not pretty. But it works. The sound is unlike the stock unit at all. I’m at hour 50 so far, and will wait until 200 to decide. The sound of the stock Multicaps is lean, with high detail extraction and textures. The oimp is cloudy sounding so far.

  6. Michal,
    God’s Peace to you,

    From my cursory exploration it seems that neither ReClock or Employer has a Mac version, and as this article was emphasizing HQPlayer with Mac, while your information may be accurate, it has little relevance to this article. That is especially so, since I pointed out that my humble stock Mac Mini equalled a $3K twin tower PC source; it would take quite a leap for ReClock or Kmplayer to merit spending $3K versus $600 for my Mac Mini.

    Blessings,
    Douglas Schroeder

  7. Robert,
    God’s Joy to you,

    Thanks for the confirmation of my efforts regarding the EE DACs as great values and terrific components!

    I have no doubt that your additional mods suggested result in significant improvements. I have to remain sidelined recommending such things, as I am compelled as a reviewer to work with a unit as close to stock as possible. Rolling opamps takes the unit away from factory condition, but only half a step; the mod is reversible. One moves more permanently away with the removal of parts or replacement of parts, and I would not be representing the sound of a universally attainable unit if I were to do so. However, I sure would like to try!

    I think the proposal to Alex at EE is excellent in regards to preparing discrete units for the voltage appropriate to the region. This may cost a bit extra, but I believe it would be quite well received.

    Thanks for the insightful comments!
    Blessings,
    Douglas Schroeder

  8. Dave says:

    As a newbie to this DAC , I read that you started rolling the op amps and I’m confused on your observations on the unit right off the shelf. Can I get your observations on how the Supreme sounds right off the shelf without rolling these op amps. Thanks enjoyed your article.

  9. Greetings,
    God’s Peace to you,

    Usually I do spend considerable time discussing the stock unit’s sound. To get a general description of the sound of the EE DACs and background for this DAC’s sound I encourage you to read my previous article on the Minimax DAC Plus. The DAC Supreme is cut from the same cloth in terms of sound, but with upgraded definition, dynamics and sound staging.

    The EE DACs tend to sound warm and not brittle, especially with the tube use. It would err on the side of less analytical rather than overly analytical. You can find more detail retrieval, but the EE would be a good choice especially if you feel there is a lot of brightness in your system. If you must have a syrupy, overly ripe sound, then perhaps it is not for you, as it leans to ward lighter and what I would consider neutral rather than bright.

    In this case, with the availability of the discrete opamps, it would be a mistake to buy the unit and not enhance it with at least one brand of opamps. I believe you can have the Sparko’s Labs discrete opamps installed by Morningstar Audio if you do not wish to yourself.

    I strongly suggest you take my advice in regards to securing the sets of discrete opamps, and forget the stock sound, as it is not worth comparing to the enhanced unit. To buy it and not juice the performance with the opamps would be to fundamentally miss out on what it is capable of doing. If you got all the sets of opamps you would have your own “digital audio store” to select your best sound. There is no comparison between the value unlocked in the system I suggested for the DAC and the stock sound.

    Blessings,
    Douglas Schroeder

  10. Charlie Mathews says:

    Doug,
    I am so struck by your kindness and respect with your reponses to the crowd? It’s so cool to see that quality of humility in a reviewer or (lets say just a human being today) that I want to thank you for all the information you have shared with all of us these last thee years.
    Best wishes

    Charlie

  11. Jung Chung says:

    Hi Doug,
    I’ve enjoyed reading your reviews for many years…Thank you!
    Your reviews have been very helpful especially for me because I have a few similar equipments that you’ve used in the past such as pathos, mine is mk II in stereo, legacy focus se, and so on.
    I’m now very much interested in trying out EE supreme with HQ.
    For today, however, I need your advice in comparing Ayon cd-5s vs. PS direct stream dac with its own PWT memory player. It’s for my brother-in-law who can’t and doesn’t want to keep changing gears. He neither rips nor streams. And he doesn’t use a computer with stereo system either. For the past 20 years he has been using Pass oleph 0 driving ML monolith, with ML pre and cdp. He recently decided to change his gears and purchased Pass xa60.8 and Sonus Elipsa se and debating between Ayon and PS, as I mentioned above, driving Pass directly with no pre. He will hook up his tuner though.
    I know you have reviewed Ayon 5s and PS perfectwave dac in the past and liked the both. I’m not sure if you have a chance to listen to PS DSD dac though.
    He is 60 years old and just a music lover. This system will be his system for the next 20 years. Your help will be greatly, greatly and greatly appreciated!

    Thank you very much…..Jung
    Ps. Btw for myself I will keep reading your reviews and whenever you come across with interesting equipments that tickle my itches, I will try them out. I’m only 49 and upgrading. Thanks again and keep up with your great work!

  12. Charlie,
    God’s Joy to you,

    Thank you for the cordial and encouraging words! Good friendships developed online and in person keep me motivated beyond love of the gear. Your comments have been like a sweet wine, which I will sip and enjoy!

    Blessings,
    Douglas Schroeder

  13. Jung,
    The Joy of God to you,

    Thank you for the lovely complements; I’m glad you are finding enjoyment in the gear I recommend.

    I was able to have a shorter one week demo of the Perfect Wave system (the older transport and DAC), but decided not to review it. I cannot judge the newer DSD capable unit as I have not heard it in my room. One significant advantage of the Ayon CD-5 is the variable gain, which makes it flexible for a variety of speakers.

    As to your brother’s selection of the player, he may wish to consider keeping his current player to be used as a transport if it has digital outputs, and connect a new DAC. This would not prohibit seeking an Ayon or PS product, as they both have DACs. Now that I am solidly into multiple DSD playback I recommend that you seek a very robust level of file playback, i.e. at least double DSD. The sound quality is far beyond typical 24/384 or even 32/384 playback.

    Try to convince your brother to go to file playback; it is inherently superior, and once the ripping is done, the convenience is so worth it! I don’t believe I will ever return to use of CD, and I was a hard-core Redbook fan even two years ago!

    Another option is a DAC like the Exogal Comet, which I recently heard in my room and will be reviewing. It made a good first impression; you would want the optional power supply definitely to obtain the best result.

    Blessings,
    Douglas Schroeder

  14. Yves says:

    Hi Doug,

    Do you know by any chance if the Dexa “Special Edition” discrete opamps are also compatible with the DAC Supreme? The NewClassD website states that they draw more current than the regular editions, so that’s why I would love to know.

    Thank you!

  15. Víctor says:

    Hi.

    I have an Eastern Junior with sparkos ss3601 opamps.

    I only use USB connection from my pc (HQPlayer 3.8.2), with IFI Iusb power and Gemini cable, so my question is, would I have better sound with a Supreme instead of Junior in my system???

    The Junior is connected to Onkyo A9000R integrated and a pair of Monitor Audio GX300…

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