Rega DAC vs. De-Tubed Minimax Plus
This was a very simple test and comparison between the EE Minimax Plus with TUBE REMOVED and my Rega DAC. Source was only a Mac Mini (loaded with memory, but NOT optimized yet). Cables are Cardas. The system is as follows: Merlin TSM-MXr on loaded 4 post Skylan stands, fed by a Manley Stingray II tube amp. Sub is the MJ acoustics 150 MK II. A V-link was used to feed HD tracks to both units.
Music: Norah Jones, Usher Demo disc, Anne Sophie Mutter-Carmen excerpts, Lyle Lovett Pontiac.
Out of the Gate
The owner of the Minimax is 100% certain that the unit should be designed without the tube. This after speaking with another owner he trusts who's already gone through several tubes and ended up in SS mode full time. The bottom line is that the Minimax sounded FANTASTIC. It was full sounding, but not overly so. Highs were super sweet, detailed, but not too bright; an ideal balance of great qualities especially apparent with female vocals. Gone now was most of the midrange "bloat" I did not care for previously. Also improved was the imaging. Previously dominated by the Rega for soundstage, the Minimax was right on it's heels now. There was also much more air and a sense of space and relative distances between instruments. In short...way cool!
The Rega DAC has been breaking in further and my friend commented right off that the less refined high frequencies noted before had now sweetened. Amazingly we found ourselves agreeing that the Rega was now a match for the Minimax in this regard. Midrange on the Rega continued to sound slightly leaner, and ultimately a bit more "real" sounding on live recordings. The Rega has a very natural flow to its sound, almost a rhythm and a sense of transparency that is every so slightly ahead of the Minimax.
But! Once again I found myself liking the Minimax better on older recordings. Listening to Elton John sing "My Father's Gun" was slightly too bright and harsh on the Rega, and smoother on the Minimax, which gave up little detail in the process. And again we agreed that listening to Eva Cassidy's live performance....or even Supertramp Live Paris recording was just a bit more "you are there" sounding with the Rega. I couldn't figure out why the Rega was less kind with older recordings as it sounded just as refined and sweet up top on good recordings. The Minimax seems to trade a bit of realism for the sanity of the all-to-common "average" recordings we own and it's going to be a very good trade to many.
Most of the time no one could tell the two DACs apart. The differences were so small that I could easily alter things by changing the powercord or ICs and change the balance. But there was no doubt that this is the best sound yet from either DAC and the Minimax running sans tube should be a wake-up call to them to choose one direction and go with it! If someone asks me which to choose, my honest answer is...."Who cares?" Pick the one that matches your decor because both are great.
Finally...my worry over DACs is over. I may be convinced to bail on upgrading my transport as well and focus fully on improving the Mac Mini. We'll see.