Review: UltraFi miniplat2 Tweak
On occasion, audiophiles stumble across a device that makes a significant musical difference and in the end we feel utterly baffled as to why. This is the case with the miniplat2. It’s something so simple, yet even the designer, Larry Moore of UltraFi audio, is somewhat perplexed as to why it betters the music experience to the upside the way it does.
Most of us think of a computer as a machine that processes our music files, sending those 1s and 0s to our DACs. We focus on our playback software, our hardware (SSDs, RAM, DACs, cable lengths and types), and everything downstream in the system.
After those things, the computer is viewed as just that, a computer, and not much can be done except to change computers (laptop to desktop, for instance) or the OS. Some folks think that SnowLeopard and Minis sound lean and accurate, Vista and Window 7 warmer than SnowLeopard, and Linux something akin to SnowLeaopard. We’re all aware that various ways of delivery sound better than others. Some advocate USB, others firewire, others SPDIF, etc.
Generally MacMinis have achieved the nod, and the latest 2011 and 2011 unibody versions seem much better than the earlier versions.
But few think about the physical aspects of the computer as we do about component tweaks, such as cones, points, resonance pucks, etc.
Enter the miniplat2. The physical design of the 2010 and 2011 MacMini chassis makes it possible to change the computer’s footprint, how it rests on the equipment platform.
In my experience the plastic “hockey puck” stock base is unresponsive to weight, and seems to have an acceptable, but somewhat sloppy audio signature. It seems to dampen and absorb in the way the old sorbothane product used to. The miniplat2 addresses and changes all that. Not only does the computer look better, the miniplat2 affects the quality of playback in ways that are surprising and unanticipated.
Why physically changing the computer base, its footprint, should make a significant audio difference seems completely counter-intuitive and defies logic, much less credibility, but it does improve the playback on my system in significant ways.
When I heard about the miniplat2 and it arrived in the USPS, I anticipated small, incremental improvements in audio quality (if any). Part of me thought that the cool new way the computer looked on my equipment rack would be enough. What the audio changes might be and in what way or ways… I had no idea. But whatever I was thinking...that was a underestimate.
Upon installation, the change was immediate and obvious. This is what I can compare the change to: It is like making an upgrade to a significantly better USB cable between the Mini and the DAC. Like moving from Leopard to SnowLeopard. Like moving from iTunes as playback software to Fidelia or Pure Music. And all I can say is, “go figure.” But the change is undeniable. At first I really didn’t trust my perceptions.
Skeptical, I took the miniplat2 off the Mini and replaced it with its stock “hockey puck” base cover, and I was astonished at how “dead” the music went. The image seemed unstable, smeary, and mushy in contrast to what I had experienced before.
I reinstalled the miniplat2 and was astonished at the difference. Voices and instruments of all kinds, particularly those in acoustic music, horns, strings, percussive textures and patterns…especially cymbals, had clarity and firmness not heard in my computer audio system before. The audio image tightened, any smearing present with the stock base just disappeared. The background was dead quiet and the music played in front of it in a clear “window.” Not pinpoint sources of instrumentation and sound, but the relationships between instruments and voices were held in what I can only describe as an analogue-like bond.
In short, everything’s more definite. Especially percussion. Everything in the kit comes through; it’s a relaxed but very tight fit. One of the most significant things I noticed about the miniplat2 is that the treble is tightened in an extraordinarily pleasing way, particularly any tendencies toward sibilance, if any were present, are greatly reduced and the music that’s in the higher register is revealed (finally!). Recordings which are very difficult in this regard, such as those of J.J. Cale, are now even more pleasing than before.
The firming up of things doesn’t crowed or compress the necessities of space and air for psychoacoustic connectedness, the essential interconnectedness for music to take place. Things just get a lot quicker and more definite; effortlessly, the system just reveals itself as music. It’s all there: the detail, the tightness, and the music.
I recommend the miniplat2 highly. But you have to have a system and cabling that resolve and reveal. No point in it otherwise.
Incidentally, a significant amount of weight (at least 8-10 pounds…a black cloth bag of non-ferrous material seems the best) on top of the Mini seems to maximize the miniplat2. As a result, the system seems even quicker, tighter, much more musical, and more able to handle a greater variety of music challenges.
I found mine here: http://ultrafi.biz/
2010 MacMini, Oyen MiniPro 1TB HD, Tranquility SE, McIntosh C2200 preamp, McIntosh MC352 amplifier, McIntosh LS360 speakers
No computer tweak that I've tested.