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All in all, the inside of the ASR Mini-Basis Exclusive is a poster child for neat arrangement, flexibility, convenience and customer adaptability. One can easily appreciate that this phonostage was designed with the demanding audiophile in mind. The still reasonable price of the Mini-Basis is only cemented in the fact that one has to access the inside of the enclosure to change settings instead of getting outside controls. Otherwise ASR has certainly not crippled their entry-level phono preamplifier, quite a refreshing attitude in this hobby. Another proof of this generosity, if needed, is that the Mini-Basis Exclusive arrives with all the cleaning materials needed to keep the fingerprint-prone acrylic enclosure spotless. Ditto a hex key to open the top cover, an all too often forgotten detail for pieces meant to be opened.
The back panel provides one set of RCA inputs and one set of RCA outputs (which can both be optionally upgraded to WBT connectors) as well as a ground post and power IEC but no switch as the unit is meant to stay on at all times. For people using two tone arms or more than one table, the Mini-Basis will be limiting but typically tables with two arms and multiple cartridges are found in systems equipped with far more expensive electronics. Based on its price and target audience, I don’t believe this to be a major issue for most potential Mini-Basis customers yet it is something to keep in mind as it is the only phono preamp in this review series of reviews thus limited on inputs.

Break-in is a sober reality with the ASR Mini-Basis Exclusive. Don’t expect to hear it at its best much before 50 to 60 hours of playing time. The fact that the unit remains powered up might work in its favor in that regard but nothing beats running a signal through the unit to get it to relax and open up. Initially the ASR Mini-Basis Exclusive will sound a little harsh and uptight but as time goes by, those solid-state stigmas will fade and reveal a very musical piece of equipment.

Two of the ASR’s strongest attributes are without question its silence of operation and dynamics micro and macro. As indicated in the introduction, I suspect the oversized power supply to be in good part responsible for this, exceeding significantly the performance of the tubed Sound Quest SQ-PH1t in both aspects (even when the latter is upgraded with Mullard tubes) and actually coming close to the Audia Flight Phono. Of the phono stages currently in house, only the Esoteric E03 exceeds the dynamic prowess of the ASR by a significant margin but at the expense of a very high sensitivity to RFI and transformer hum, resulting in potential noise problems that I’ll detail more in the upcoming E03 review.

Staging was quite commendable, not as wide or deep as the units twice as expensive but never creating frustration. Large orchestras sounded large and occupied the full space between the speakers but rarely beyond. Instruments were easily localized where they should be but they had a slight tendency to overlap, more so than with the E03 or Flight Phono. Visually the ASR Mini-Basis offers a holistic presentation that’s not as delineated as the Esoteric but more precise than the SoundQuest’s though not as wide and deep as with the tube unit.

One of the oft cited limitations of the original Mini-Basis (blue board) was its behavior at the extremes of the musical range - a little too fat and lacking control in the bass plus a matching lack of air and extension on top. Whether due to the new gold-impregnated circuit traces or the upgraded IC of the Exclusive version, I heard no such things. Bass may not have been as deep as the very best units under review but it was close and never seemed to lack control or detail. Similarly treble extension, although not quite a match for the very best, was more than satisfactory and never felt asphyxiated or constrained. Again, the ASR sat squarely in the middle between the SQ-PH1t (which was more shelved down at both extremities) and the E03 and Flight Phono which offer state-of-the-art performance the ASR could not quite match. But considering the price difference, the ASR proved quite commendable.