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Audio Blast: Eastern Electric Minimax DAC Plus – discrete opamp rolling

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Size matters?

These are not diminutive items as far as circuit board elements are concerned. In fact, the Bursons are so tall that when placed they require the removal of the lid of the Minimax DAC Plus! They simply will not fit inside and all potential users must exercise a modicum of common sense in not trying to squish the lid down upon them! It’s not my ideal to keep an audio component open to the air, as dust intrudes over time. However, for a large leap in performance I am willing to suffer such indignities. The NewClassD Opamps from Dexa have no size restriction, and the owner may confidently replace the lid after installation.

It is much easier to swap either of these brands of discrete Opamps than IC Opamps; discrete Opamps are big enough to grasp with the fingers on the side of the circuit board and insert. However, their size makes it harder to see the pin alignment, so be sure you have them seated properly prior to gently pressing down to insert them. If necessary use a flashlight to ensure you are seeing the pins being inserted into the proper holes, and never force them into place. If you feel firm resistance stop and assess. Always grasp them from the side of their circuit board, and watch that your fingers when pressing do not physically move the parts of the Burson Opamps; you don’t want to risk an injury to it.

Even though it might seem illogical, the appearance of components inside a product may be important to the audiophile. At times the audiophile’s mind turns to mush when dazzled by glowing lights on a façade of a component. There are no lights on the Burson offerings, but they do have impressively loaded circuit board real estate. They look like they mean business! Conversely, the Dexa Opamps are minimalist with three triangulated green LEDs which glow in operation. Evidently, the LEDs are “Zener diodes for current mirrors,” (current managing diodes in a circuit) an impressive function for a green light! One of my audiophile friends considered the shape of the NewClassD dual Opamp as vaguely reminiscent of a Star Wars TIE Fighter. That is about the extent of the excitement in regards to their aesthetics. The real excitement happens when they are heard. But it doesn’t hurt the wow factor of a system when one can point out a triangle of green internal LEDs. It is vaguely reminiscent of clear Plexi cases for computers with outrageous internal lighting. When a device has screamin’ performance and cool looks it’s a notable achievement!


Shipping and cost

But first some tough news; relative to many IC Opamps these are expensive. IC Opamps can be sourced through Cimmaron Technologies as discussed in previous articles, or for independent-minded shoppers, sourced from parts suppliers on the Net for a few dollars. That invites the question: If a person can get an Opamp for a few dollars, why spend upwards of $200 for a set of fancy Opamps? The answer in a word is performance! I rolled nearly a dozen IC Opamps in literally dozens of configurations and none of them could compete with the Dexa and Burson discrete Opamps. The discrete Opmps offer yet another leap in the performance level of the DAC Plus. It does not matter which company one buys from, or whether one “mixes and matches” the pairs; you are sonically far better off going the route of the discrete Opamp.

If one looks at how small they are one is tempted to say, “What? Two hundred bucks for that?” But as with all efficacious devices I have learned to focus not on the size but the sound, and these are worth every penny. As with other adjustments to systems the better the rig the more one will derive improved performance as a result.

The particular Opamps I used with the DAC Plus were chosen based on the recommendation of Burson and Dexa; I told them to send their preferred Opamps for the EE Minimax DAC Plus, and this is what I received:

  • Burson: Single Discrete Opamps $75/matched pair plus shipping
  • Double Discrete Opamps $145/matched pair
  • NewClassD: Single Discrete Opamp $40 each plus shipping
  • Double Discrete Opamp $72.73 each plus shipping

Shipping may run as much as $25-35, and it’s worth it to get them delivered safely. The Dexa Opamps arrived in a traditional small box with foam packaging, while the Bursons came in a small metal cylinder which didn’t seem too friendly for transport. However, neither showed signs of damage, and both worked perfectly.

Mix and match

As I indicated earlier, one can mix the paired Opamps of these brands. Obviously one does not mix the Opamps individually, as they must be used in pairs. But one can swap pairs between brands in their respective positions, i.e. Burson duals in the U1/U2 positions and Dexa singles in the U6/U7 positions. Again, remember that using Burson Opamps means you must leave the lid off the unit. Only when using two pairs of Dexa’s NewClassD Opamps can you put that lid on again!

The benefit of mixing these Opamps is difficult to overestimate. I will be direct; I urge serious system building audiophiles to buy complete sets from both manufacturers! I am fully aware of the lunacy involved in spending nearly half the cost of the entire DAC on discrete Opamps, but still I recommend it. My rationale is that there are fundamental variances in the outcome relative to which sets are used in any given audio system.

Perhaps you might think I’m being milquetoast in my assessment of these devices. Caspar Milquetoast was a character in The Timid Soul, a comic strip by H.T. Webster (1885-1952). Such a person is defined by their typically timid, unassertive and easily dominated character, essentially afraid to “tell it like it is.” I don’t want to be a writer who waffles about which products are better holistically, a milquetoast reviewer. If there was a clear winner I would tactfully guide the reader toward the favored product, and it would be confirmed by my utilization of that product in my own system. In this particular instance I will be using – not just recommending, but actually using – both of these brands of discrete Opamps, not just in my reference rig but also in my office system.

In fact, I will be seeking to do the same following this review. I have the original Minimax DAC in my office rig and I plan on using another set of discrete Opamps from both companies as soon as this review is submitted for publication. When the reviewer buys, that’s a sure sign the write up is not fluff. I work hard to never write fluff, but I can’t buy everything I touch in this industry. I can easily afford, however, both the Burson and NewClassD Opamps and I’m going to use them both. In terms of the outcome to the system’s performance and the power of the “Digital Toolkit” I would be foolish not to. I will do what I am recommending because I want the same outcome for my office rig as the listening room. With both lines of Opamps I will be able to tune my office rig no matter what gear I put in that system. From this you can certainly take my recommendation that this schema regarding discrete Opamps is system-transferrable and most worthwhile to use in as many rigs as you have.

No fixed outcome? No problem!

Frustratingly, I find it difficult to predict accurately which sets, mixed or not, can be used in order to affect the sonic characteristics desired. Initially I found the Burson discrete Opamps to be less clear and more robust and weighty, while the Dexa NewClassD was cleaner but less dense sounding when using the Daedalus Ulysses speakers. However, when the Legacy Audio Whisper DSW was placed into the rig the characteristics of these two discrete Opamps fairly reversed! I have found one simply has to swap them around to find what will happen with any given set of components and speakers. In general the Bursons are more “meaty” and the NewClassD more “crystalline”, but to go any further than that in terms of describing their innate sound characteristics in comparison to each other would be tenuous.

What both of these discrete Opamp brands do exceedingly well is to improve holistically the listening experience in terms of overall cleanness, tonal richness and dynamic impact. Their benefit is such that I will not be using the Minimax DAC Plus without them in the future.

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