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Srajan Ebaen
Financial Interests: click here
Source: Raysonic Audio CD228 [on loan, Yamamoto YDA-0, AMR CD-777 [on review], April Music Stello CDA500 [on review]
Preamp/Integrated: Esoteric C-03 (transistor), ModWright DM 36.5 (valves), April Music Stello Ai500 [on review]
Amplifier: Yamamoto A-08S
Speakers: Zu Audio Essence, Ocellia Calliope1.6, Amphion Helium 510 [on review]]
Cables: Complete loom of ASI Liveline
Stands: 2 x ASI HeartSong 3-tier, 2 x ASI HeartSong amp stand
Powerline conditioning: 2 x Walker Audio Velocitor S
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: $295; $500 with original and upgraded tubes [each Synergy Hifi tube is otherwise $80)

A tale of confusion and eventual review cancellation

Granted not as badly as Lexicon—who took an Oppo and dropped it unchanged and with the original casing into a flashy outer enclosure to charge $3.000 more for its BD-30 if Audioholics is to be believed—Derek of MiniWatt had engaged in a bit of deception. Having been the first to formally review 'his' amplifier, it seemed only fitting to set the record straight. Hong Kong-based MiniWatt really only distributed and rebadged that marvelous little amp.

Dr. Ningsheng Liu of Create Audio and his new export brand Synergy Hifi now stepped in as the actual maker's global distributor. This gave him access to the original amp and its variants. "These mini amps are all designed and made by APPJ, a Chinese company in Shenzhen. The HK company you dealt with bought this amp from APPJ, renamed it and sent it to you for review. Actually the MiniWatt amp is the APPJ model PA0803A with the 6P1 tube. Later APPJ introduced a new model using the Western 6005 instead of the Chinese 6P1 power tube, then an EL84 model where a 12AX7 drives the pentode.

"This is why we have all their models. We are their global agent. MiniWatt is only the distributor of the 6P1 model. Actually, we requested the new EL84 amp since the power of the 6P1 is insufficient for many speakers. This new EL84 amp has better sound, more power and superior control. After changing to our EL84 and 12AX7, the result is amazing. More good news is the input voltage of the new EL84 amp. It is 80V to 250V. Everyone can use it now anywhere."

As my report on the Synergy Hifi 300B and 6SN7 valves details, Mr. Liu cooperates with Shuguang for the manufacture of exclusive tubes (presently 12AX/T/U7, 6SN7, 300B, 6550, 845, EL34 and EL84). He supplies them with the internal assemblies which are constructed of proprietary nano alloys and coated with a carbon-oxide compound, then sealed by Shuguang inside a 10-7 Torr vacuum.

Create Audio-branded valves from the Shuguang giant are reportedly the only ones to sport these specific nano alloy structures which are claimed to improve and stabilize the electron flow inside the quartz glass bulbs (bases on the power tubes are ceramic, the pins gold-plated). To keep the price as attractive as the MiniWatt precedent, Synergy Hifi sells the unfortunately named APPJ PA0901A for $295 globally and through its distributors. To upgrade to their own tubes adds $240 ($80/ea.). Or, a customer may acquire the amplifier with the stock and upgraded tubes in a $500 package deal. Either way, Synergy throws in one of their custom fuses so an owner can roll against the generic stock fuse.

The circuit of the amp is single-ended UL for 3.5 watts of micro-power output with an SMPS, the sand-blasted aluminum outers are available in clear or black. Compared to the MiniWatt, there's only one small signal tube and the transformers have rather grown in height. The foot print remains CD jewel case-ish, with just the volume control exceeding that allotment. In other words, tiny and cute as a baby duck.

After the amp had been dispatched, I received conflicting e-mails from Derek of MiniWatt claiming it was a prototype and they were the platform's true designers; and Synergy insisting they had the distribution rights. As things unfolded, it appeared that Dr. Ningsheng Liu only had a verbal agreement but no written contract from APPJ when he made the above statements and contacted me. "We met APPJ  last week in Shenzhen. Unfortunately what we were worried about happened. MiniWatt made them a better offer and they secured the rights to the 6P1 and EL84 amps. APPJ will manufacture the 6P1 and 6AQ5 amps for us." Spotting an overlap with the original 6P1 unit between two brands, I double-checked. "MiniWatt did sign the sole distributor agreement with APPJ on this EL84 model so they will sell the 6P1 and EL84 under the MiniWatt brand but I don't believe APPJ will make any major changes to the EL84 amp. APPJ will manufacture the 6P1 and 6AQ5/6005 amps for us.  In fact, we will share the 6P1 amp with MiniWatt as a different brand. We too are quite confused by APPJ's marketing decisions and shall focus on our hard disk player."

MiniWatt meanwhile had made a very brief and belated announcement on their main page which finally admitted to the ongoing APPJ/MiniWatt connection as partnering companies. Derek wrote that "I fully understand it's difficult for you to decide what is true as it was also completely unexpected for us but we will keep working on our products and provide the best service to our customers. We modified the circuit of the EL84 amplifier and started making an acrylic cover for what will be called the MiniWatt N3 [above]."

Caught between two parties competing for the same product and a manufacturer who played both sides against the middle, I had ultimately ended up with an abandoned review loaner. MiniWatt's forthcoming N3 is supposed to be "modified" i.e. different; and Synergy Hifi had lost the distribution rights for what I had. Under the circumstances, canceling the review was the only option...

Synergy Hifi website