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Eastern Electric MiniMax DAC Junior and MiniMax DAC Supreme

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Eastern Electric MiniMax DAC Supreme – back panel

Eastern Electric MiniMax DAC Junior – back panel

With the Kingsound KS-H3 Electrostatic Headphones & M-20 Headphone Amplifier

Recently I have been zeroing in on the performance threshold of the Kingsound KS-H3 Electrostatic Headphones and M-20 Headphone Amplifier. This is a matched set to be used solely with each other, as the M-20 is an OTL tube amp designed to drive these electrostatic semi-closed ear headphones.

I have much to say in my review of this exciting combo, but for now I caution enthusiasts to go slow with claims of this or that magnetic planar headphone being the best on the market. I already tested one of these wonder-cans and found it to lag the performance of the KS-H3/M-20. I will give a hint as to my findings; it is no secret that I consider current ESL technology in speakers superior to magnetic planar technology. Would it be a surprise if the same held true with headphones? No, it would not.

For the purposes of this article, the Eastern Electric MiniMax DAC Supreme outshone its sibling, making for a stunning source for the Kingsound setup. Initially, I used all Silnote Audio cabling, but found that inserting a pair of Clarity Cable Organic interconnects and a Clarity Vortex Power Cord on the DAC Supreme brought needed weight to the performance. The Silnote and Clarity products could be kissing cousins, as they seem highly compatible when mixed, but each carries its own characteristic sound across the product line. Silnote excels at openness and upper end delineation, while Clarity carries more low-end emphasis and resolution from the midrange down. Together the two cable brands are superb!

This came into play when using the Kingsound headphone setup. The high frequency energy was too evident when playing rock such as Kenny Wayne Shepherd or older artists such as Alan Parsons Project. Other headphones that will be revealed in the Kingsound article couldn’t even match the precision of the KS-H3, so this was not a problem of resolution, but of tonality. Once the Clarity Cables were inserted, the spectrum balance desired was achieved.

I strongly recommend the combination of the EE MiniMax DAC Supreme with the Kingsound KS-H3 and M-20. You would likely have to spend an inordinate amount of time and money to attain a superior headphone experience. Frankly, even if you did blow the money and time, the odds are good that you wouldn’t best this combination’s performance.


The real excitement

As with the previous generation of Alex’s designs the real excitement is to be found in what is among the best bargains and methods of enhancing a DAC’s performance – rolling in discrete opamps! I do not spend time any longer with integrated-circuit opamps as the discrete versions have outclassed them handily. In previous articles I focused on two brands of discrete opamps, Burson and DEXA NewClassD. (MiniMax DAC, September, 2010, MiniMax DAC – Upgrading Op-Amps, January, 2011, MiniMax DAC Opamp Rolling, March, 2011, MiniMax DAC Plus – discrete opamp rolling, April, 2012) Two developments have pushed opamp rolling of the EE DACs forward. Burson has come out with the 4th Generation Supreme Sound Discrete Opamp, and a newcomer, Sparkos Labs, has produced its own discrete opamp. This means the owner of either the older or newer Eastern Electric DACs has three companies offering discrete opamps – Burson, DEXA and Sparkos Labs. I will spend a great deal of time on these alternatives in a separate Survey of Discrete Opamps for these DACs.

For now, as an abbreviated endorsement of these optional “plug and play” upgrades, know that I have secured all of them and suggest you do as well. There are a lot of gimmicks promoted in audiophilia, such as “quantum” devices. I have relegated the lot of them to my rubbish bin, as they do not much more than waste one’s resources. They most certainly do little to jack up a system’s performance, and as such they miserably fail my Law of Efficacy.

Discrete opamps are the opposite, as with these three brands between keeping matched sets and mixing sets of single and dual opamps there are 18 alternative sounds for the Eastern Electric MiniMax DAC Supreme, all of which are superior to the stock sound! Superior in what way? To one degree or another any of these upgrade opamps will yield higher resolution, better soundstaging, more tonal richness, superior macro and microdynamics, etc. In other words, any of these brands of opamps are capable of improvement holistically – regardless of the system you use or the music you play! I don’t feel the need in this article to discuss particular pieces of music, as the effect conferred by these devices occurs across the board irrespective of the genre of music and artist.

But, you cannot know the optimum set, the ultimate choice for your ears and system, unless you try them. In some instances mixing pairs (i.e. a pair of single Burson along with a pair of double DEXA, or vice versa) results in further improved performance of the DAC across the board. With so many options available at well under $1K for the lot of them it would be shortsighted to not pursue them. However, as with my previous articles, unless Morningstar Audio does the insertion of the discrete opamps, it is a do-at-your-own-risk proposition.


A potential problem with discrete opamp rolling

There is some real risk, and not just from misplacement of an opamp. In this current round of rolling there has been an additional complication, in that some of the “platforms”, or detachable bases, with the 8 pins affixed to the discrete opamps come off the pins emerging from the opamp itself, thus remaining in the DAC’s circuit board. At times such as this I am grateful I purchased a proper opamp extractor tool; it makes removing the platform/base easy.

The danger is real, however, because if you lose sight of the directionality of the opamp you might inadvertently replace the platform opposite of its correct orientation. There is a correct orientation and an incorrect orientation. Choose the wrong orientation and you could cause damage to the DAC or ruin the opamp! I had the unsettled feeling of discovering after the fact that both of the DEXA opamps had been removed, the removable bases left in the DAC, and I no longer knew the proper orientation of the platform extender. The little buggers look perfectly symmetrical, too! I went online and discovered that DEXA has put a miniscule half circle indicator on the top (look between the vertical walls of the circuit boards of the opamps to its base) to mark the Pin 1 position. I was able to orient the platform/base with the circular indentation in alignment with the circle indicator on the opamp, and all was well.

Again, I interject; this is not an activity for the impatient, or the mechanically uncertain. Be honest with yourself, and if you don’t have the will to do things slowly and carefully, then have Morningstar Audio, the distributor of Eastern Electric products in North America, insert opamps and be done with it. It’s not worth ruining a DAC for the sake of pride or impatience. Again, you do such modifications, though easy in comparison to the field of Modding, entirely AT YOUR OWN RISK!

Then came the revelation from Andrew Sparks at Sparkos Labs that the platforms were merely affixed to his products as protectors for the actual opamps’ pins, to preserve them from bending during shipment! His assumption is that the platform is removed when the opamp is inserted into the DAC. This makes perfect sense, as the top of a Sparkos Labs opamp always shows a pronounced right angle solder joint in the lower right corner, obviously indicating proper orientation. No one had ever discussed removal of the platform/extension pieces with me throughout all the months of discrete opamp rolling! This would have yielded an obvious improvement; any non-necessary link, regardless of size is a potential impediment to optimum sound. Once Andrew mentioned the platforms as merely shipping protectors, I was sold on the idea of removing them. Sure enough, when the platforms were removed the sound improved again. The difference was not nearly as large as inserting the opamps initially, but the change was efficacious and I will use them sans platforms going forward.

Ah, but wait!

Once again, however, there is a caveat! If you accidentally bend the legs of an extension platform of an opamp, it’s no big deal. But if you bend the leg of the actual opamp, you run the risk of rendering it useless, a mistake that will cost you money if you need to order a replacement. For newbies and those less adept I suggest you leave the extension platforms on, especially if you are conducting comparisons of sets. Unless you have an extremely resolving system you may not notice the difference. Once you find your ideal combination of opamps, then it’s your choice to remove the platforms.

As I said earlier, having spent considerable time with them, I recommend all three brands of discrete opamps. You will need a pair of the single discrete opamps for the Eastern Electric MiniMax DAC Junior, but will need pairs of both singles and duals for the DAC Supreme. I will indicate the model numbers of the discrete opamps in my survey.

18 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.

    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.


    • 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.

    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!
    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.

    Douglas Schroeder

  10. Charlie Mathews says:

    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


  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!

    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.

    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:


    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…

  16. Steve says:

    I know Morning star Audio approves of the Dexa’s or Sparko Labs mod, and even states they will install them for the buyer, but Bill O’Connell says “Trust me on this one guys, it is a very special DAC and Alex Yeung worked on this for almost a year getting it to sound its best. He succeeded.” It makes no sense to me, that after the designer spending almost a year getting the sound just as he wanted it to be, people would start changing parts to alter the sound. It’s like ordering a Chefs special for dinner, and then throwing all kinds of flavorings on it to make it taste better. I believe the Chef would be insulted by this. To me, this is an insult to Alex and all the time he put into the DAC, getting it to sound just as he wanted it to. Maybe I’m wrong and just don’t get it.

  17. God’s Joy to all,

    Catching up here… Yves, your question is best directed to Alex at Eastern Electric. I hoped to work with the newer generation of Opamps but have been very busy with speaker reviews. Watch for some articles about wonderful transducers soon.

    Victor, Yes, the Supreme would give you holistically superior sound. It is well worth the upgrade.

    Steve, I understand your complaint, and I get it. What you need to realize is that no one component is perfectly suitable for all combinations of gear; that is true of all audio equipment regardless of the incessant promotion of products as “the best”. Almost all components have to be tuned to a new system, which means, for instance changing cables or one other component, in order to achieve the highest performance. Even when a designer makes his best, it is not universally perfect in every system. Owners need to be instructed as to what type of system is more agreeable, a discussion which often does not take place. However, when a product is more flexible it inherently is superior in that regard.

    All designers make their best product, but very few offer flexibility to accommodate the rest of the system. With the EE you can have flexibility unavailable with most others. If Alex felt so strongly about his work that it was perfected and did not wish for anyone to have freedom to season it to taste he could have soldered in the opamps. Alex chose what some would consider a quick and dirty way to manufacture the DAC, with socketed opamps. Purists would suggest it lessens the sound quality, but I am in no position to comment as I have no unit with soldered opamps to compare. My presumption is that the benefit of alternative opamps is far more important than the socketed/soldered connection. Many components and speakers have ways to be enhanced, and no design is perfect. Some are the result of not one year, but many years, and I can still find means of improving them. Designers are well aware of that potentiality. It should be seen as a complement to Alex that his product is so adaptable that many will find it superb. If it existed in only one form, fixed, it would not be nearly as well received in such a broad variety of systems. IOW, sales will probably assuage any disappointment. 🙂

    Behind your comment I suspect there is suspicion that all the hype over opamps is overblown, that they do not confer as much difference as discussed. The change is cheap in terms of trying it. I believe you will be surprised.

    Douglas Schroeder

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