Reviewer: Srajan Ebaen
Source: Cairn Fog v.2.0 w. 24/192 upsampler card; Jolida JD100 with Underwood HiFi Level-1 mod
Preamp/Integrated: Antique Soundlab MG-Head OTL32 [on review]
Earspeakers: Sennheiser HD-650s with Stefan AudioArt & Moon Audio cabling [on review]; AKG K-1000s with Stefan AudioArt cable
Head size: Bigger than really necessary but then the ears are well-shaped, small and clean
Review Components Retail: Eastern Electric MiniMax CDP $1,350; audio-technica ATH-W1000 $459 Japan-direct through AudioCubes.Com

Today's review is about your SOB.
Significant Other, Bedside. It's also about that other SOB - the Sonic Orgy Buffet. And about SOBs in general - Sons of Bastards. Lemme 'xplain:
  • "You SOB. Why the bloody hell am I married to you in the first place if you never come out of that stupid room of yours?"
  • "But sugar pea, hon, that's exactly what I got this bedside table system for. While you're watching your favorite soap opera, I'm cuddling up right next to you here, listening to some real opera you wouldn't care for anyway (don't mention men in tights or she might)."

Granted, I'm making bad fun. For all I know, your girlfriend or wife could be wearing the headphones in your household. Or you could be a woman reader who thinks such comments are sexist to the core. While it's all in perfectly harmless jest, make no mistake - the system I'm proposing today is dead-serious in both performance and convenience. In the privacy of your own scull and without anyone being the wiser for it, you get to listen to 'sonic Porn' of the filthiest sort (Rap or Tibetan chanting or whatever else you usually blacklist). You get to listen at levels much higher than you'd ever get away with in the manse (though you really shouldn't if long-term hearing health was yours to keep). You get to return for seconds and thirds without anyone noticing your piggish manners or excessive appetites. You get to do all this gorging and self-gratifying supine under your own baby-down comforter wrapped in Turkish linens, with a classy CD player and luxo headphones -- no interconnects needed -- right beside you on the bedside table. And you'll have performance so stellar and satisfying, you might just stay in bed and not return to that stupid room of yours for days on end. How good would that be for your marriage?

Now gimme $500 in professional marriage consulting fees and don't ever come back. You're cured. Ya hear? (Of course not. I recommended sealed cans. How could you - hear me?)

Let's start at the source, not of the all-too-common audiophile dilemma but its solution, today's digital/analog headphone source/amplifier, the Eastern Electric MiniMax. As you might know, fancy after-market modification houses like ModWright and Exemplar charge big bucks to add sophisticated valve output stages to top-line Sony and Denon universal machines. Ah Tjoeb adds the same to entry-level Marantz CD players. BAT includes one in their famous VKD5. Don't assume it's a cheap fad just because many Asian players do it as well (think Cayin, Jolida, Shanling and Xindak).

Cheap fad? Rose-tinted glasses? Not by definition. Low-level tubes in digital circuits can add image density, dimensionality, dynamics, scale and harmonic richness. Implemented less strenuously, they can also become thick, slightly indistinct, with a higher noisefloor and reduced resolution. But if long-term listening comfort and musical conviction were your poison, valves can be quite the antidote to that dreaded digititis. There's nothing as aggravating as thin, flat, two-dimensional digital when transducers are essentially hardwired to your brain, clamped to your skull an inch removed from your eardrums. No, what you want then is non-fatiguing, lush long-term comfort; rich and velvety luxury plus resolution.

Enter the $1,350 MiniMax with its Burr-Brown 1732 chip and twin 6922/6DJ8-driven 2-volt output stage coupled to the headphone socket via a dedicated solid-state circuit. This stock player is thus pre-modded and includes HDCD decoding and a full-function all-metal remote that rather tempestuously queries why certain purveyors of $6,000 gold-encrusted machines outfit theirs with generic plastic jobbies. With a 12.5"-squared footprint and 3.75" height including four custom footers, 3/4-sized MiniMax borrows its gently curved, subtly textured silver fascia from its previously reviewed/awarded preamp sibling. Said fascia also shows up on the matching 6MB8-driven 8wpc amplifier and will soon finds its place on the forthcoming all-tube phono stage. This last addition will complete Alex Yeung's four-square MiniMax lineup though other Eastern Electric components will be coming down the pike in the future.

The classy high-gloss anthracite chassis whose thicker-than-usual gauge even without sound-coating is deader than most is familiar to us as well from the earlier MiniMax preamplifier review. The star-cluster array of the CDP's main access commands (drawer, play/pause, stop, back, next) occupies the right-most front-panel quadrant next to the central green-on-black display with three-stage dimming but no black-out. The left-most quadrant holds the headphone socket, its continuously adjustable volume control, the power button with blue status LED, a small green HDCD indicator and the IR receiver. Unlike many headphone attenuators whose wipers barely seem to contact their pads, the MiniMax control turns against significant resistance to suggest a high-quality pot. The full-function control includes all possible amenities including auto-insertion of track spacers; repeat A/B; repeat track/all; track time elapsed, remaining and CD remaining; random play; fast scan; recall and mute. The display uses a small 4 x 3 grid for all tracks, with the presently playing number blinking, then being deleted when the next track commences.

My only criticism arose when I used MiniMax as master to record from. Releasing cued-up tracks from 'pause' to 'play' invariably inserted a minor 'click'. And that burned to CD/R to be quite audible in front of every track thus recorded. Very faintly, this click is even audible in regular playback mode when you access tracks directly or via 'back' or 'next' rather than playing a disc beginning to end. It's as though the laser locked onto a selected track like a needle making physical contact with a vinyl groove. To be sure, this is so subdued in playback mode as to elude your notice unless you had been previously alerted and pricked up your ears - but on home-recorded digital media, it's quite noticeable. Other than that, MiniMax's functional operations were glitch-free and worked like greased lightning once the brief valve turn-on delay demutes the outputs.

Needless to say, most folks will use MiniMax in a speaker-based system - and that's exactly how I'll review it next. For today though, we'll concentrate solely on its surprising headpone drive in which function (and when mated to appropriate cans) it throws a free tube amplifier into the bargain. Incidentally, engaging the headphone socket bypasses the ubiquitous mute circuit for the main outputs and thus avoids an extraneous circuit junction. Installed in a dual-purpose system, users will simply mute or power down their preamp or integrated instead to cut the CDP's ongoing live signal to the loudspeakers.