These days we take it for granted that our smartphones have more computing power than most desktop rigs of the not-too-distant past—not to mention far more elegant graphics, user interfaces, and once-unimaginable flexibility from something slimmer than a pack of playing cards. Hell, now and again some of us even use them as telephones. But high-end audio is still largely a land of behemoth gear, and understandably so. It takes a lot of juice and air power to reproduce a full symphony orchestra, jazz ensemble, or the aural assault of, say, Neil Young and Crazy Horse.
That said, small monitor speakers have long held a place in the hearts of audiophiles, despite their limited dynamics, low- frequency range, and dollhouse-like soundstaging. And though Class D technology has allowed designers to radically shrink the size of power amps, the sound of such amplifiers is still evolving, and it’s rare to find units that compete with their conventional tube and transistor counterparts.
Now comes California-based Wyred4Sound with its nifty and quite good-sounding $1499 mINT, or Mini-Integrated Amplifier, a component so tiny (8" x 3.5" x 8") that its footprint is just a whisker smaller than that of an iPad.
(Note that Wyred4Sound is not simply based in California; its ever-expanding line of gear is designed and built at the company’s headquarters in the town of Atascadero, which heretofore was best-known for its maximum-security psychiatric hospital.)
Rated at 100Wpc and featuring a pair of analog inputs and a dedicated headphone amp, the $1499 mINT isn’t simply an integrated amp; it also sports a built-in DAC with three digital inputs: USB, TosLink, and coax. If by chance you read Steven Stone’s in-depth review of Wyred4Sound’s DAC-2 in Issue 210, you’ll recall his praise for designer EJ Sarmento’s work in the digital domain. Other mINT-y features include the option of using the Auxiliary 2 inputs in the home-theater-bypass mode (from a rear-panel switch) to loop in a multichannel processor. A preamp output can feed a powered subwoofer, while fixed outputs can drive signals to either a second system or to a recording unit. You can also insert a digital crossover while looping back into the main input.
Given its pipsqueak chassis the innards are chockfull of parts—all quite nicely laid out, by the way. The Class D amplifier section comprises a pair of third-generation ASX2 ICEpower modules wedded to Sarmento’s Class A input stage. The miniscule amplifier modules piggyback the power supply on the same circuit board, and the new power supply is said to significantly reduce the “pumping” effects that plagued many past Class D units.
Volume is controlled by a “true-resistive ladder,” which Wyred4Sound believes “results in linear control, excellent channel matching, and impressive sonic quality. Rather than passing the signal through the pot, it is only used as a position reference.”
The mINT’s built-in DAC runs on an ESS DAC chip and is similar to, if reportedly not as refined as, the chip in Wyred4Sound’s DAC-1. The same design can also be purchased as an affordable outboard unit for $399. The coaxial and TosLink inputs support 24-bit/192kHz resolution files, and the asynchronous USB interface manages 24-bit/96kHz resolution files.
The front panel is simplicity itself. Left of the centrally placed volume knob are three buttons for digital input selection, while AUX 1, AUX 2, and mute are to the right. A slightly protuberant black cowl contains a 1⁄4" headphone jack and the on/off switch.
I’m not sure if I would call the mINT “attractive,” but it certainly is distinctive looking in a Bart Simpson sort of way— sans yellow coloring, of course—meaning the cosmetics have a nice youthful look.
As noted earlier, the mINT is an impressive-sounding design, and quite musically involving, too. That’s a trait I find of more long-term value than merely impressive sonics, as my description of this model’s sound will explain.
And though it’s perfectly fine straight-from-the-box, as with all components the mINT will open up, cohere, and lose its edge with several hundred hours of playing time. (Wyred4Sound suggests 300 hours.)
The first thing that struck me while playing Jeff Buckley’s Live at Sin-é [Columbia Legacy] was the mINT’s easy, natural presentation. Though it would improve over time in all the ways stated above, the mINT immediately offered the familiar brightly chiming, yet harmonically rich presentation of Buckley’s Fender Telecaster/Twin Reverb combo, with a nice sense of sustain and “bloom” as he played with different sonic voicings and dynamic shadings. Buckley’s famous multi-octave voice, too, came through with an excellent sense of his distinctive phrasing—from a tender croon to raw passion—and sometimes goofy humor. The mINT was also good at defining the reverberant acoustic space of this recording, though imaging wasn’t as exact as it might be, and the reproduction of the venue’s air was not quite as billowy as I’ve heard.
Streaming the same tunes from my MacBook Pro to the mINT showed why Wyred 4 Sound’s DACs have gained such a solid reputation. Though there were slight differences in balance and overall presentation, the streamed files had a smoother, slightly richer quality, if not quite the immediacy heard via CD.
An original vinyl pressing of the Stones’ Exile on Main Street [RS Records] showed the mINT’s rock swagger. The music had a fine sense of pace and drive, with crunching guitars and a quick snap to drums. Of course the recording quality on this woozy if brilliant classic is variable, but vocals were again right “there,” and I found myself so pulled into the LP that I played it twice straight through before my wife said, “Basta!” But there is a threshold—albeit a pretty loud one—where the amp starts to get a touch ragged around the edges. So do pay heed to speaker sensitivity as well as your own volume needs.
With a fine classical recording such as Reference Recordings Mastercuts’ Exotic Dances From The Opera (reviewed elsewhere in this issue), specifically Strauss’ “Dance Of The Seven Veils” from Salome, the mINT displayed this recording’s overall excellence, you- are-there perspective, and remarkable clarity. Instrumental tone and texture were likewise good, but the dynamic range was not quite as wide or finely shaded as it might be.
Let me emphasize that these shortcomings are simply that when compared to what I’m used to. My job is to describe the up as well as the not-so upsides of the gear that comes my way. Ultimate power, dynamic nuance, and refinement are not to be expected from components in this range, though naturally there are degrees of variation-from-ideal. At the end of the day the mINT’s strength’s far outweigh its imperfections. And most importantly, this baby constantly drew me into the music, no matter what type.
Here is a most versatile and satisfying performer that I can see as the heart of a fine computer-driven desktop system, or, as I used it, as a small office system with both analog- and computer-derived sources. Oh, and let’s also not forget that all of this comes in a package you can practically balance in the palm of your hand.
SPECS & PRICING
Type: Compact integrated amplifier
Power output: 100Wpc
Inputs: Two line-level, three digital (TosLink, coax, USB)
Outputs: Two digital (S/PDIF, optical), processor, 5-way binding posts
Dimensions: 8" x 3.5" x 8"
Weight: 8 lbs.
WYRED 4 SOUND
4235 Traffic Way
Atascadero, California 93422
Acoustic Signature Challenger turntable, Funk FX-R Pickup Arm, and Transfiguration Phoenix moving-coil cartridge; Sutherland 20/20 and Simaudio Moon 310LP phonostages; Cary Audio Classic CD 303T SACD player; Magnepan 1.7 loudspeakers, Tara Labs Zero interconnects, Omega speaker cables, The One power cords, and BP-10 Power Screen; Finite Elemente spider equipment racks; Rega RP6 and Exact 2 moving-magnet cartridge; SimAudio 310LP/320S phonostage; Electrocompaniet PC-1 CD player and EBS 1 loudspeakers; Apple Macbook pro; AudioQuest Diamondback interconnects and Type 2 speaker cable