90 responses Add your response
Thanks a lot for taking the time to report the comparison. I have had the minimax plus for two weeks and it is the most chameleon-like component I have ever heard. I think it truly makes a powerful presentation of each and every disc, giving you much of the engineers intention. However, like you said it has a sweetness to it that is not syrupy but adds some enjoyable mystery to the music. . .hard to describe hear fellas.
The result, there is an enjoyment to 95 percent of my cd's that wasn't there before, plain and simple. I am listening closer and having more fun, even with a lot of music that was grating and unpleasant before (the achilles of digital). Is it like a turntable. . .not sure, I have an AR "The Turntable" but am no pro in this area. A lot of my music is not available on vinyl, and what is available, am I really gonna buy it all over again, most of the time no. Although Stereomojo sounded almost over the top with their asessment of the original I do agree that there is an almost ethereal, cloudlike way that this dac presents music that is wonderfully compelling. Enjoying the unit, thanks again Rob.
I really liked the Minimax Plus. I do wish EE would abandon the tube or dedicate themselves to it 100%, instead of making it a switch.
Most people don't get the chance to audition DACs in their own homes back-to-back. This has been very interesting to me as MOST of the time we could not tell them apart. The differences I outlined were so subtle that we really strained to hear them. The differences were only noticeable when comparing a DAC heard minutes before. I seriously doubt anyone would be able to easily quantify the differences.
And so, after hearing these units back to back in my system and a friends, here is how I rate them:
#1 - Rega DAC
Best overall performance from good bass to a highly accurate sounding midrange and HF. The best DAC for creating the sense of "live" from live recordings & best soundstage. But NOT all that forgiving on recordings that are poor. Choose this DAC for live jazz and more modern classical recordings. This is also the champ for non-studio vocals. This thing sounds like a TT at times!
#2 - EE Minimax Plus
Really a tie with the Rega. The sweetest sounding of the group, perhaps not the most accurate, but undeniably engaging to listen to. More forgiving of poor recordings. We did not like the tube. Choose this DAC for older recordings, from classical to rough-around-the-edges Jazz. If you love violin recordings, the Minimax is a stunner.
#3 - Centrance DacMini
Kind of a giant killer at the price. This unit has midrange depth and detail that is better than the EE or Rega, but it falls short on bass by sounding soft. The high end is detailed, but we note a bit of grain. Form-factor with Mac Mini is a homerun. You can buy this DAC and probably be happy for a long time.
#4 - W4S DAC II
Most expensive and best reviewed and yet we liked it least. Sounded too bright at times, and had a narrow soundstage compared to the others. This is the DAC that fails to sound like analogue and yet it's still very good, especially when it comes to detail. Detail freaks will like this DAC.
isn't the comparison between the rega and minimax , in essence, the old argument of tubes vs solid state. after all, the rega is a solid state product and the minimax has a tube.
i would think that the advantage of a tube is the variability that ensues when tubes are changed.
there is an unmistakable difference between a solid state and tube component.
I just had an opportunity to hear the Minimax Dac Plus on a very good system and I wanted to concur with Rob's opinion that the solid-state output stage was clearly superior to the tube stage. This was not splitting hairs - it was noticeable within a couple of seconds of listening. The ss had more timbral variety, more focus and better bass than the tube output. Note that the tube output was unmodded with original tube. I also wish EE would just concentrate on what they do best.
Very informative review. Thanks.
The Mimimax Plus is a SS component with a tube that can be employed. As with the original Minimax we found the SS mode superior, though by the slimmest of margins. Swapping the tubes could change that, but the main point is that there was nothing "tube-like" about the Mimimax Plus. It sounded like a very good DAC in either mode. As my friend found out, the Rega's filter choices allow for plenty of subtle changes. The Rega's midrange sounded more like what we'd expect from a tube and the Mimimax Plus had more sweetness in the extended frequencies with the tube switched out. The Centrance midrange was more tube-like than either of them, transparent, lush and layered.
If there is one thing I would change in the Mimimax it would be the removal of the tube. Focus fully on a single design choice and I believe the Minimax could be better than the Rega. As it stands I find them about the same overall. If someone told me they had wild differences I'd call the guys in the white suits! And I think a lot of people would be surprised how wonderful the DacMagic sounds against these units, with strengths of its own.
In the end I don't buy a component so that I can alter it. If I choose it, it's because it sounded "right" from the start and had synergy with my system. Most people buy a DAC without hearing it in their own system against other units. It's hard to pull off. My friend owns several DACs and Rich at Signature Sound loaned me a Rega DAC for a week so I could carefully compare. My word is far from final. Synergy with your system could mean (and probably would) different impressions.
Once again I'd like to point out that these units sounded MOSTLY the same. Differences were very subtle and you really have to stop listening to the music to keep track of it all. I would worry more about choosing any other component before being concerned with DAC choice. As I'm slowly learning that a Mac Mini with any of these DACs sounds superior to expensive CD players....it's a long road ahead!
My deepest gratitude to "some folks" as I went down this evening as per your comment, Rob, and removed the tube in the Minimax DAC Plus. Those people are absolutely correct; the resultant improvement is stunning. I rolled one tube, the Siemens Silver Plate and it had nowhere near as powerful a result as removal of the entire tube.
My assessment is the effect of this tweak is to make the DAC Plus perform on a power basis similar to the adjustment I did to the original but did not speak of publicly - after commenting ad nauseum about Opamp rolling the unit in the end removal of one set of Opamps was how I ran it. I took out the SS Opamp set, rendering SS output lame, but this shunted all the power supply to the tube output with far better results.
Now, recognizing that the removal of the tube of the Minimax DAC Plus is effectively accomplishing the same thing, only without the marginal hassle of Opamp removal, my guess is the power supplies are operating in tandem to elevate the performance of the SS output. If that is not the explanation I really want to know why there is a radical improvement in sound quality across the board.
This is THE most unorthodox and unexpected, as well as effective, tweak I can recall doing. It's free, easy, and VERY powerful in effect. In a word it's the perfect tweak!
So, THANK YOU to the bright one(s) who thought of it. I'm just ticked off I didn't think of it so I could write a special article about it! :)
I do not wish to be hyperbolic in my description of what this tube removal tweak does (BTW, THIS MAY VOID THE WARRANTY; I KNOW THAT BILL O'CONNELL AT MORNINGSTAR AUDIO, THE DISTRIBUTOR IN N. AMERICA IS CONCERNED THAT PEOPLE TAKE RESPONSIBIITY FOR THEIR OWN ACTIONS/TWEAKS! Morningstar is NOT responsible if YOU screw up your DAC. I'm not responsible either, because this is "do at your own risk" tweak!) but in a few words it mulitplies the characteristics I speak about in my review of this unit at Dagogo.com.
I am not one given to mamby-pamby tweaks. I find most of them not efficatious. However, this one IS VERY efficacious! What is most striking is the tremendously smooth, silky and voluptuously full character of the music. One gets a huge dose of appreciation of two things:
1. The phenomenal potential of 32 bit processing
2. How much "digititis" still exists even in good DACs
Gentlemen and Ladies, once again the ceiling has been shattered in terms of performance. I admonish audiophiles to never set limits on how much improvement can be obtained (and thus listening pleasure and involvement in and appreciation of the music) in an audio system.
My rig is well past the place where I initially thought it could go. I have blown past performance levels many times over. This is some thick icing on the cake.
Now, a reviewer's critical comment about this particular tweak: I can see many audiophiles reacting negatively to it due to feeling that it's "information overload." Some listeners seem to actually prefer less detail/definition as long as tonality is correct. When I first switched over to the "tubeless" DAC Plus I was struck by the immense amount of intensity in the upper-mid/treble region. I went through a lot of my quick test pieces and found that on the whole the change is far more beneficial than detrimental. The classic parameters of excellent sound are here in dump-truck-fulls (as opposed to merely bucketfulls).
One thing which struck me is the effect on the 3-D placement of performers. In SO many rigs the center image is really tough to have on an even plane with the L/R. The phantom image is tremendously difficult to get to be similar intensity, thus making the soundstage seem consistently deep across from L-C-R. This tweak nails it! It's simply gorgeous in terms of spatial relations in the soundstage.
And treble - wow, how delicate. Really, we're nearly talking a paradigm shift in experience with such a revelatory clarity happening across the board with the tubeless unit. Mind you, I've only used the DAC Plus this evening with one set of amps and transport etc. But I have no problem urging owners try (do this at your OWN RISK!) remove the tube and run SS output. Perhaps you will adore it, perhaps you will hate it, but either way if you can't hear the difference then go get some fun looking vintage gear because you've got major hearing problems!
This commentary was about using the DAC Plus with Redbook and dig coax to the DAC. I haven't used USB with it yet as I'm looking at new options for server/streaming music.
Rob, if ou think the SS output of the DAC Plus is good, just wait until you hear it without the tube. Where did you see discussion taking place about tube removal?
Try this link at Audiocircle (If the link is allowed)
That's one of several I remembered reading, with at least a couple of people pulling the tube entirely and running in SS. Does this void the warranty? Does the removal of the tube tax the design in some way?
In any case it seems there are plenty of people enjoying the SS mode of this unit and many are messing with the tubes. Let me know if you get to hear the Rega DAC as I'd be interested in your opinion.
I would suggest that owners of the Plus NOT REMOVE the tube unless they know without any ambiguity what effect it could have on the unit, check with Bill at Morningstar first! The tube is part of the circuit, removing it may have unwanted consequences if not in the short term IMHO, maybe not but why do this "tweek" without knowing for sure?
I should add that if a person is modding the Minimax DAC or DAC Plus then all bets are off in regards to pulling the tube. I'm working with a stock unit and will be speaking about that, as I did with Opamp rolling. At this point I do not plan on Opamp rolling the DAC Plus, especially since I have stumbled upon this easy, yet just as efficacious, tweak.
It should be noted that at Bill's request I did not discuss Opamp rolling, etc. in the DAC Plus review. However, he had no problem with my exploring such things on my own. I said I might discuss them but not in an official capacity for Dagogo. So, people can take this discussion as post-review tweakery.
After running through a lot of test material I'm not inclined so far to put the tube back in. Over time we'll see how it goes with several other system configurations but so far the results are extremely encouraging.
I have an email into Alex regarding this so I hope to hear back from him in 24 hours.
With that being said, I tried running my DAC PLUS with no tube in it.
Oh My God!
Who would have thought that this little removal of the tube would do so much for the sound quality that I am now hearing. A revelation for sure and that is an under-statement.
I will let Alex Yeung decide though if this is a good long term usage so give me a day or so to find out.
I'll get back with you soon.
BTW, whoever stumbled upon this tweak, Thank You, I hope it can be used this way with no ill effects into the future.
Let me find out for sure though from the designer.
Turn the DAC on, switch it to SS output. Now turn the DAC off. Then do the tube removal.You will have to remove the tube shield first.
All you need to do is remove the tube shield. To do this just push the tube shield in gently as it is spring loaded and turn about 1/4 inch counter-clockwise and the tube shield will release.
I normally don't recommend wiggling the tube but the tube socket has a death grip on the tube pins so if you wiggle the tube gently while pulling the tube straight out the tube will come out. It is very hard to get the tube out but be patient and it will come, by wiggling and pulling at the same time.
Your mileage may very on the sonic benefit. You have to decide for yourself.Everybody system is different Chayro, what you like in your presentation of what you think a music system should sound like may differ from mine. I have big horns with big warm tube mono-blocks, you might have SS, to each their own. If it is one thing I have learned in the last 10 years is that no two systems are alike and neither are their owners.
It is just a tweak or suggestion to try. Will I be selling all my Mullard,Hivac, WE tubes, I don't think so.LOL
May Love Always Abide,
Well said, Bill. I'm not a fan of tube DACs but plenty of people seem to love them. Mt friend is not happy that the Minimax Plus works best sans tube, but my answer to that is SO WHAT? It's still a great DAC and he could also try some tube rolling. I think that some people's systems "prefer" a solid state DAC or CD player. In my case my Manley/Merlin gear appears to be such a system.
PS: I'll take all of the credit for this tweak! I did read about it elsewhere, but if it goes viral, please send my tweak-of-the-month check to me! ;-)
I agree with you 100% Bill. I have often (in vain) tried to make the point that many audiophiles make purchase decisions based on an unsupported presumption that a given design will yield a given sound. How many posts have you seen starting with - "Looking for a tube dac" or "looking for a unipivot tonearm", assuming these render a certain sonic benefit? My comment about the tube was meant to be taken as a confirmation of the fact that a component should be chosen for its sound, build quality and reputation for good support, rather than by some isolated technical parameter that may or may not make a difference. IMO, that's why so many people here seem constantly dissatisfied with their systems. Anyway, here's to better sound.
Chayro, sometimes the most counter-intuitive things can be beneficial. I wouldn't advocate that approach for most things in life, but in building audio systems within reason it can work.
I went over to a friend's home last night; he also has the original Minimax DAC. We tried the removal of the tube but it did not pass my Law of Efficacy. We did not hear the hug jump in sound quality which I expected. We did notice a distinct difference in gain, there being much lower gain with the tube removed. However, we felt there was an incremental improvement with the tube out and the Phase inverted on the unit. In his system this did improve things marginally.
I wonder about the impact of my original unit having upgraded Opamps and how that might effect the tube removal tweak. His unit has the LME49710/LME49720 sets which did not improve the DAC as much as the later sets I rolled in and mention in my Audio Blast: Eastern Electric Minimax DAC Tube Rolling article.
I had an email asking which Opamps I ended up removing when I used the original model with Tube output only. The removed Opamps WERE those at the U6/U7 positions. I say "were" since I put them back into their positions in order to do the tube removal tweak. So, now I am running all the Opamps in their normal positions, but with no tube in the unit.
It never ends... :)
Why do some people assume a tube DAC should be superior merely due to it`s (tube) presence? So many variables to consider, I have a tube linestage and SET amplifier(and love them). My Yamamoto DAC is SS and is fantastic. Yamamoto also offers a tube version to match different systems and preferences. One is`nt inately better than the other.
I don't know many people who assume a tube DAC is best. In fact most shy away from them in my experience. I do think think there's a bit of expected "mojo" from tubes, but I think it's usually to be found with amps and pre-amps. I find my Manley amp magical and along with my Merlin speakers those tubes do amazing things. But when I've tried source components with tubes I've been generally underwhelmed. The Minimax Plus (and the original version) only reinforce the case for me. But the Minimax has a victory by including the ability to run with some seriously good SS DACs, all the while using it's glowing tube circuit to excite the tube-fans, even if they may quietly pull the tube and store it away safely until they trade up to the next great DAC.
i have never heard a solid state digital product sound better, to my ears, than a digital product, provided the appropriate tube is selected.
so, i would say, i would be surprised that the minimax, which i own, would sound better in the solid state mode, than in the tube mode, with my favorite 12au7 nos tube.
it's a matter of preference, of course.
if the minimax sounded better what is the purpose of having a tube circuit ?
besides the obvious answer of "it's a matter of taste", from a manufacturing perspective, removing the tube circuit, could cut cost and reduce the selling price.
the designer would have to decide the pros and cons of each approach.
i just find it interesting that some prefer the original minimax dac without the tube.
MrTennis, this is not a small group of people reporting this in their systems. Even before he got the Minimax Plus we had both read numerous forum comments from folks who felt it was a better SS DAC than with the tube.
Why have it? You like it with the tube, so you get to choose! This weekend the Rega will go head-to-head with the Minimax Plus with tube removed, but in my system. I have a feeling it will be a tough shoot-out. The cool thing is that all of these DACS sound amazing with a MacMini. My friend is certain that his Mac-Mini/Dac combo is besting his ARC CD7 player (I have yet to hear them compared). In fact my Mac-Mini/Rega DAC combo is easily better than the Audio Aero Prima tube player I had tried, as well as the Jolida 100 which was well modded. It's a new world of audio out there.
Rob, I like you find that tubes seem ideally suited for amplifying signals more so than used as source devices(speaking in general terms of course). I`ve heard some of the ultra SS amps such as Solution,Vitus,MBL,Krell etc. The really well implemented tube amps just sound a bit more 'real' to me.I know it`s simply sujective.
Do keep us posted on the outcome.
The ARC CD7 is running on tubes as well. A friend has it in his system as it replaces the Esoteric SA10 he had previously. So your friend finds the Mac Mini/EE Minimax DAC to be sonically superior than the ARC CD7. Interesting.
The Rega DAC/EE Minimax certainly has the ability to hold its own against costlier CD players. I wonder how these DACs will compare against the better DACs, particularly the dCS Debussy.
One thing is for certain. I've certainly come to doubt the idea that you can walk into a shop and seriously compare these DACs. Even with two hours of careful listening in a system we know well, the differences between the Rega and Minimax were very small. If someone snuck into my listening room and swapped them I doubt I'd notice during listening! The owner of the Minimax preferred the Rega because it did one thing slightly better and he was USED to the sweet highs. I preferred the Minimax because it did one thing slightly better and I am USED to the deep soundstaging. But it was almost splitting hairs. I'd be a liar to call either DAC "better" than the other.
On the other hand....the DAC/Mac upgrade is substantial over the CD players I've been hearing. I'm surprised there's so much skepticism about it. After all we're looking at separates vs all-in-one systems. The CDP is a motor driven transport in the same box with a DAC. Now with my new Mac Mini I have a separate CD reader/ripper, DAC and a computer tweaked for audio. It's more "high-end" by any measure!
I think some audiophiles question a computer based system because they see it as lower cost, but that's hardly the case. With the Mini, DAC, Software, memory, cables and cords you are almost certainly going to hit the 2-3K range with ease and that's with a midrange DAC like the Minimax or Rega.
Quick question Rob, how extended a period were the comparisons made with all these DACs including the Centrance, W4S, Rega and Minimax, was it an afternoon for instance or did you compare over days or weeks? Just curious. While I would tend to agree with you that when performing short duration comparisons, a few hours for instance differences may seem minute but through extended listening, characteristics emerge that are consistent and are more readily identified in a given system, just my experience.
are you not willing to concede that with a particular tube, the minimiax original will be preferred with the tube fs without the tube ?
that is the ss mode cannot sound like the classic tube sound, while a particular vintage tube may come close to the classic tube sound ?
i doubt the ss version will sound euphonic in any way--at least consistent with my experience with solid state players and dac/transport combinations.
The W4S DAC 2 and Centrance were in my system for about 3-4 hours. How much time was spent with each I couldn't say. The original Minimax was played for about a solid hour against the Rega, also in my system.
The Rega was transplanted to my friend's system for a mid day comparison with the Minimax plus, but probably not more than 2 hours total. I have been enjoying the Rega DAC for a couple of weeks as it is now my "pick" of the group so far.
I'm certain ALL of these DACs have quite a bit more performance to explore. We were cognoscente of this and always remained aware that we were really comparing initial impressions. Perhaps the W4S would come in first if we lived with it for a while. He's been enjoying the Centrance and Minimax Plus and I've been loving the Rega DAC.
When I say that ALL of these DACs delivered great performance, it's the one statement that I make without reservations of any kind. You get a lot of performance and flexibility from all of them. I'm new to computer audio and all of my doubts have been quickly erased and I have yet to even get into seriously dialing it all in. Folks looking to spend 4-5K on a CD player should hear what a Mac/DAC combo can do when done well. I'm still shocked!
I've heard a lot of tube gear recently. I'm on board with the "tube sound" fully (that's why I own a tube amp and will never go back to SS power), but I don't buy or hear it's advantages in a DAC, quite the opposite. I have heard two other tube DACs which cost quite a bit more than the group being discussed.
I believe there is a expectation for tubes to do certain things for the sound that they just don't do in certain components. There was just nothing better about the tube mode of the Minimax Plus. When the owner tries other tubes I'll report back.
Rob, I also agree with you concerning tube gear in source components as opposed to amplifying components. I currently have on hand 2 tube DACs and have and heard countless tube gear and have owned exclusively tube systems over the past 20 years, amps and pre-amps. While all tube amplifiers and pre-amps all seem to have characteristics that identify them as tube based there is quite a variation among them with regard to presentation be it SET, PP or OTL. The source components I have heard, 4 to be exact do not necessarily let you know that you are hearing a tube circuit, the Minimax Plus being the best example of the four. Having said that the sound can be "tuned" by changing out tubes.
Mr. Tennis when you refer to "classic tube sound" I can't help but think of the Conrad Johnson gear from the 80's, particularly the PV5 and PV7 pre-amps both of which I owned along with the Premier 3 which was a bit less so. A dark, rich burnished midrange with loose bass and rolled off highs. It never seemed an accident that the light carmel color of their products was a reflection of the sound of their gear, never offensive, always musical and more in line with much of the vintage gear of the 60's, I still have a pair of McIntosh 60's and although heavily modified, still have that characteristic vintage tube midrange bloom. Most tube gear I have heard over the past 10-15 years are more transparent top to bottom and less "vintage" sounding in that regard.
tubegrover, you make an excellenet point about modern tube gear.
but hypothetically, if you could create the sound of the 60's, as you yhave apltly described, using certain tubes placed in a tube dac, would you concede that no solid state dac could sound that way ?
it is my objection to solid state digital products that i have heard have an unmistakable character that is easy to observe.
i would therefore say, that it is possible to discern the difference between a solid state digital product and one which uses tubes, especially if there are tubes in the gain stage of the dac section.
I do agree that the tube DACs sound different, but I do not find them Euphonic in any manner consistant with what I expect from tubes. Mainly what I hear from them is a midrange that is LESS transparent and thicker to the point that it is distracting. In fact there is nothing tube-like in their sound that I find pleasing as I do with my Manley tube amp or my previous Rogue gear.
The Minimax Plus is a excellent DAC that allows one to hear this 1st hand. The fact that the original Minimax exhibited some of the same weaknesses with my system as the Plus version in the owner's system points to something I attribute to the tube stage. In SS mode these DACs are sweet, detailed and balanced right out of the gate. This evening the owner of the Plus called me to say that the DAC is so good in SS mode he really has no desire to take it further, except to see if he can topple my Rega!
The question is simple: Have you done any experimentation with the Minimax Plus in SS and tube mode or done any tube rolling? What did you hear? In the end there's just one person to please and that's you! What I hear or think should be of passing interest at best. If you like the DAC with the tube "on" then you're good-to-go. With so many variables it's unlikely to get a consensus and even if everyone agrees, that should not effect your own conclusions should they be different.
My Rega continues to burn in and it's now sounding better than ever. I've never heard such analogue sound from digital sources before. And I can't believe the low costs of these DACs. It's a great time for this hobby I think.
Others may not share the same thought since everyone not only has different sets of ears but hears differently as well. Robbob and Charles1dad have made good points.
The question is simple: Have you done any experimentation with the Minimax Plus in SS and tube mode or done any tube rolling? What did you hear? In the end there's just one person to please and that's you! 12-07-11: RobbobRegarding your question to Mrtennis, he owns the original Minimax DAC not the Minimax DAC Plus.
MrTennis....great that you are enjoying your system and I have no doubt that it's excellent sounding. I think most of the systems owned by members here vary from very good to outstanding. But we all have different goals with our systems. Some seek that live sound, others want HF resolution even if it makes for a bright system and others prefer a rolled off experience which they find less fatiguing. It's why there are so many variations of DACs, Speakers, power cables...and mustard!
I like my mustard transparent, details and just a bit spicy!
i have not yet removed the tube.
however, my penchant for a classic tube sound leads me to believe that no solid state component can recreate a classic tube sound.
the modern tube sound is different, much less colored and i would admit that it would be possible that i could appreciate a solid state design that does not exhibit any peaks in the treble, forwardness in the midrange, has sufficient depth and is characterized by a relative accurate sense of timbre. i could live with the afforementioned presentation.
the next time i listen to the minimax dac whose signal comes from a ps audio perfect wave transport, via coax, i will report my results. i am open minded and am willing to admit if i like the sound as well as what i hear.
it costs me nothing to check it out.
Mrtennis....agreed it will cost you nothing.
The issue I and my friends have is that the tube DAC's having nothing "tube-like" in their character that we can hear. All of that tube sound comes from the amps and pre amps. Try pulling the tube (later on when you're done with the new tube) and spend some time listening. The Minimax gains too much sans tube to be ignored.
Still, even with the tube engaged, the Minimax still sounds pretty much like the other SS DACs we listened to. The tonal character is the same. The differences are of the "hard" variety....high frequencies, soundstage and midrange transparency. When I say "hard differences" I mean they are not really up for debate as anyone could hear them.
My old Thorens turntables never had tubes and the Rega/Mac combo sounds a lot like 'em!