by Kevin O'Brien on 01/23/2012
 
UPDATED 2/23/2012

I have been using the modified Eastern Electric Minimax DAC Level 1 from Wayne at Bolder Cables for about 6 months. I can say it sounds great. So I know you're wondering how does it compare to the new Minimax DAC Plus? Let's just say it's worth your time to read more if you are considering either DAC.

First of all let me describe the stock Minimax DAC which is now discontinued but can be bought on the used market for around $700. It's a great DAC especially for the money. Unfortunately, the main constraint on the earlier version is its ability to only accept up to 24/96 digital files. However, this DAC sounds great and is a killer value.

Let's take the stock DAC one step further and send it to Wayne at Bolder Cables for the Level 1 modification. I was able to get a hold of one of these upgraded units and had the pleasure of using it for several months. Wayne recommends over 500 hours of break-in which I performed before critical listening. Let me tell you that the upgrade was worth the money at the time compared to the original unmodified version. This unit just plain smoked the older DAC's such as my Musical Fidelity Tri-Vista Tube DAC. There was no comparison. I believe this is due to the ESS Sabre DAC chips used in today's higher end DAC's which the Eastern Electric and Wyred4Sound DAC's employ.

Here comes the real meat and potatoes of the article, how does the DAC Plus stack up to the modified original DAC? Let's just say I noticed better resolution and the overall sound was more realistic to me than the original modded Level 1 DAC. Everything just seemed better to me. By how much I'm not sure I can quantify but I think it's safe to say most audiophiles would be able to hear the difference.

I like the fact that Alex lost the volume control as most folks use a preamp for attenuation and do not need it anyway. Wayne obviously bypasses the volume control on the original modded DAC so why incorporate it into the new version? Well, Alex chose to get rid of it which I believe helps let even more of the music through and keep the signal path even cleaner. I ended up using the same Psvane 12AU7 that Wayne sent with his modded Minimax DAC's and it worked quite well in my system with the DAC Plus. I was wondering if I was the only one hearing these differences or was this universal throughout the audiophile world?

I did not want to compare specs of both products and waste your time with the description of various inputs as you can do that by going to the manufacturer's websites (Eastern Electric and Bolder Cables) and see for yourself. Check out these sites if you are interested in comparing features, specs, etc. between the two DAC's. It's that simple. The one thing to note right away is the newer version of the Minimax DAC is slightly larger than the original due to separate power supplies for both the digital and analog sections unlike the original with only one power supply for both.

This DAC Plus stacks up VERY well to the Level 1 modded DAC and actually can stack up to the Level II mod from Wayne as well. I spoke with Bill O'Connell of Morningstar Audio and he agrees the DAC Plus is better than his fully modified Level II Minimax DAC from Wayne. It's that good. The one thing I do love about the new DAC Plus is its ability to accept 24/192 files from its USB input unlike the previous version. This is accomplished through the M2Tech USB interface within the DAC Plus. The DAC Plus uses VERY similar drivers to the M2Tech EVO which is to be expected as the same hardware is used inside the DAC Plus as I just stated. If you can get the M2Tech EVO working on your system, you will certainly be able to get the DAC Plus up and running in no time as well. One small caveat here in regard to drivers. If you are using a Mac you must uninstall any M2Tech USB drivers on your system before you proceed with the Minimax USB drivers. This is fairly straight forward. If you are using a PC, you will have to get rid of your M2Tech USB drivers by reinstalling Windows or contacting M2Tech for a script to do the job as well. As you can imagine, it's a little harder for PC users but this only applies if you already have M2Tech drivers installed on your computer audio source. Otherwise, get rid of any USB drivers from previous DAC's and devices BEFORE you install the Minimax USB drivers.

I love the fact that the user can switch between the tube output and the solid state output with a push of the button on the front panel. The solid state output does have slightly more detail but I prefer the smoothness of the tube output and will sacrifice a little detail for better overall sound. The phase button on the front panel will interest some folks as well although I did not find myself toggling back and forth between the two after playing with it for a couple minutes.

If you're wondering how the Minimax DAC Plus holds up against other DAC's I can give you a little insight. I am familiar with the Wyred 4 Sound DAC2 which I had in my system for several months. I switched from the DAC2 to the Level 1 Modded Minimax and I noticed it sounded more realistic and a bit smoother than the DAC2. The DAC2 just seemed a little too dry and it lacked the liveliness of the Minimax Level 1 DAC. I like the Minimax DAC PLUS slightly better than the Level 1 Minimax so this should give you and idea on how all 3 DAC's stack up. The W4S DAC2 was able to accept a 24/192 digital signal via it's digital coaxial input UNLIKE both Minimax DAC's which were stuck at 24/96! Don't believe every spec sheet you come across. In this instance I assumed it worked until I gave it a try. I have to be honest, this still bothers me a little. Which means, my quest for my final DAC has not yet ended. (Just trying to help potential buyers here - I am not affiliated with ANY audio manufacturers!)

With the new features added to the already great Minimax DAC why torture yourself wondering if the few extra hundred bucks is worth it or not for the MKII version? For $1100 you cannot go wrong here and as far as I'm concerned. Don't walk but RUN to the Eastern Electric website and get yourself one of these before you lose your mind. Stop thinking about it and just do it! It's that good. The one question you may still ask yourself is, will Wayne modify the DAC Plus as well and take it to the next level?

Stay tuned for more details!

UPDATED 2/23/2012:

Apparently Bill from Morningstar Audio does not want Wayne of Bolder Cables to modify the New Minimax DAC PLUS so there will be no Level 1 Modification to the DAC PLUS or any modification from Wayne for that matter. There is however a Level 3 Modification for the Minimax MkI DAC. Check Wayne's forum outlet,  Audiocircle for more details. I'm a little disappointed to say the least...

- KOB

 Associated equipment for this review:

  • Von Schweikert VR5-HSE (Hovland Special Edition) Speakers
  • Quicksilver tubed Preamp and Monoblocks
  • IBM Laptop for source with Foobar 2K Digital Audio Player
  • Theta Digital Carmen II CD Transport
  • EE Minimax Phono Stage
  • VPI Scoutmaster Turntable with VPI Zephyr Cartridge
  • Equitech/ PS Audio Balanced Power Conditioners
  • YFS Custom Cables and Interconnects
  • YFS Custom Room Treatment
  • Herbies Audio Lab Dampening Devices and Tube Dampers
Powered by Bullraider.com