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Srajan Ebaen
Financial Interests: click here
Source: 1TB iMac (AIFF), Weiss DAC2, Peachtree Audio iDecco, Wyred4Sound DAC2 [on review]
Preamplifier: Esoteric C-03, ModWright LS 36.5
Amplifier: FirstWatt F5 and J2, FirstWatt M2 [on review], Trafomatic Audio Kaivalya monos
Integrated amplifier: Dayens Ampino, Peachtree Audio iDecco
ASI Tango R, era design 5 SAT
Cables: ASI Liveline
Stands: 2 x ASI HeartSong 3-tier, 2 x ASI HeartSong amp stand
Powerline conditioning: 1 x Walker Audio Velocitor S, 1 x Furutech RTP6
Sundry accessories:
Furutech RD-2 CD demagnetizer; Nanotech Nespa Pro; extensive use of Acoustic System Resonators, noise filters and phase inverters, Advanced Acoustics Orbis Wall & Corner units
Room size: The sound platform is 3 x 4.5m with a 2-story slanted ceiling above; four steps below continue into an 8m long combined open kitchen, dining room and office, an area which widens to 5.2m with a 2.8m ceiling; the sound platform space is open to a 2nd story landing and, via spiral stair case, to a 3rd-floor studio; concrete floor, concrete and brick walls from a converted barn with no parallel walls nor perfect right angles; short-wall setup with speaker backs facing the 8-meter expanse and 2nd-story landing.
Review Component Retail: $750

A few years ago, MiniMax components from Alex Yeung's Eastern Electric brand were muy caliente. From half-width preamp to phono stage and integrated to big monoblocks, the firm could do no wrong. Brought to the US by retired trucker Bill O'Connell of Morningstar Audio in Illinois, they offered high value, upscale cosmetics, great parts quality and readily swappable non-exotic valve choices. Past tense? Not. But fast forward to 2010. The global economy has tanked, Krell became Chinese owned, Audio Research sold to an Italian investment conglomerate. To survive in the present climate, hifi makers must get creative. Taking the pulse on what his customers wanted in a new product, Bill solicited online forum opinion. This netted a wish list for an affordable high-performance DAC as a component category that's wildly popular for obvious reasons. What ended up with Hong Kong designer Alex Yeung were specific requests for a 32-bit Sabre 9018 chip; USB; analog-domain volume for amp-direct drive; a valve buffer; and a happy-happy sticker.
What the final MiniMax DAC delivers are 5 pulse-transformer coupled inputs (USB, Toslink, coax, BNC, XLR); RCA outputs with tube or transistor choice; a stealth-mounted Shuguang 12AU7* accessible without flipping the/your lid; 30-second delayed true tube power (no mere buffer); absolute polarity inversion; volume with an Alps 949G 50KAX2; and 32, 44.1, 48, 88.2, 96 and 192kHz sample rate support. Gone are the fancy MiniMax fascia, metalized cover paint and long control toggles we knew from the older models. Price? $750.

* E80CC, 5814A are acceptable substitutes.
To max out sonics for minimal wallet ache, cosmetics were simplified without affecting construction quality.

Alex's choice of USB transceiver is the popular but limited BB PCM2707. That means standard Redbook resolution for streaming files only, not even 24/96. Why not the Tenor chip or an OEM hiFace? "I will address the USB limitations in the next version." There are two socketed TI NE5532P and NE5534P opamps each to welcome chip rolling; 4 x 10V/3300uF, 1 x 16V/22uF and 1 x 25V/3300uF Rubycon caps; 2 x 250V/220uF and 1 x 25V/1000uf Nichicon caps; two small and two bigger self-branded caps; 27 more caps too small to readily identify by naked eye; Japanese output relays; and 4 x heat-sinked voltage regulators. As with all prior MiniMax components we reviewed, build quality is serious and rather higher than price would suggest.

Specifications include 129dB of dynamic range in the actual Sabre chip; 10/22Kohm output impedance, 2.5/3V max output voltage and 95/90dB of S/N ratio for the transistor and tube paths respectively; 12-watt power consumption; and weight of 3kg. 120, 230 or 240V power transformer secondaries are prewired internally.

For comparison, I had the $1.000 Peachtree Audio iDecco and $1.500 Wyred4Sound DAC2—both with the Sabre chip—and my customary $3.000 Weiss DAC2 in neat increments of price escalation. One would expect and hope that more money does buy higher performance. The real question was, how much would separate these machines particularly in the context of an overall system that was deliberately scaled to match the MiniMax? To get rolling, I had current-production but upscale tubes from Synergy Hifi and TJ Full Music. To appreciate Alex's ascendant to becoming the designer of a now quite comprehensive catalogue of valve kit, let's look over his shoulder during the Hifi Show 2010 in Hong Kong.