Hornet 'M' or Mini³? - a(nother) review
Nov 8, 2007 at 2:54 PM Thread Starter Post #1 of 27


Headphoneus Supremus
Oct 23, 2006

House renovations. All main speaker and headphone rigs put safely away. Only have portable rigs available.

Saw reviews advocating the Mini³ in relation to my current portable amps, the Hornet M (well past its 400 hours burn-in now) and the Tomahawk (well past its 800 hours burn-in and regularly borrowed by fellow Australian HeadFi-ers whilst they are acquiring their own portable amp(s)).

Saw a fresh locally built (by fordgtlover) hi-performance Mini³ available. Wondered whether this less costly amp might free up dollars for me via me keeping it and selling the Hornet M (which I've long considered more than sufficient for all my non-electrostatic headphone needs, but is predominantly used portably).

Well, first I'm always concerned predominantly with SQ. Sure the Mini3 is slightly larger to carry around (and doesn't have the Hornet's switchable output level) but overall I'm carrying these things for portable high quality sound reproduction. If it means I have to adopt the Batman Utility Belt look then so be it.
(Won't jpelg be happy, if his avatar is anything to go by!).

Secondly, I've decided to use tracks from the "This is K2 HD Sound!" disc in FLAC format on my iRiver H120 via my preferred can'tsleep burned-in 8 strand 99.99% silver wire IC through either amp to my Livewires T1s. This is reflective of my preferred portable situation for best SQ so it's the right combo for my comparison (Your own comparisons may be different based on your equipment/encoding/etc). I generally run my Hornet M on low gain, which is what I did for this review.

After a while I expanded my music selection to include:
• Dave Matthews, “Oh”, Some Devil
• Feist - “One Evening”, Let It Die
• Holly Williams - “Cheap Parades”, The Ones We Never Know
• Jack Johnson - “Wasting Time”, On and On
• Keri Noble - “Bartender”, Fearless
• Livingston Taylor, “Grandma's Hands”, Good Friends
• Rebecca Pidgeon - “Spanish Harlem”, The Raven
• Sarah Blasko - “The Garden's End”, What The Sea Wants, The Sea Will Have
• Toto - “I Will Remember”, Tambu
• Toto - “Taint Your World”, Falling In Between
• Westminster Choir, “Festival Te Deum - Benjamin Britten”, O Magnum Mysterium

Well, as Asr has stated about these two amps in his three way comparison thread, Three-way Review: HeadAmp AE-2 vs RSA Hornet M vs Rockhopper Mini³:
"The Hornet M...provides a more visceral, fronted presentation"
"The Hornet M...blurred a portion of the tiny details" - I also find the bass a bit muddy - not as defined as I like.
"The Hornet also sounded the most in-your-face...with the most direct presentation" - it's certainly the narrower soundstage of the two, with a warmer, closer presentation
"The Hornet M...has a great sound indeed. It has a tonal richness, a very pleasantly warm mid-range, lots of character."
"The Hornet M...fuller, heavier, and with extra body...direct and involving...probably the most intimate performance...and really just an overall warm and affecting sound."

"Mini³..In its favor though it did exude power and strength, along with a good, strong, anchored bass component...the Mini³ exuded the most bass power and character - strong"
"The Mini³...translated just the right amount of energy. And there were a couple things it conveyed that the AE-2 didn't - like the acoustic bass on the 4th beat and a backwards positioning push on the percussion layer. Deep, throbbing bass" - I agree. It truly has the edge in seperating out and resolving detail, including subtle details, compared to the Hornet.
"The Mini³ captured the angelic purity the best among the amps - perfectly toned and textured and sweetened over" - I agree...It is soooo good with female voices: they are right 'there' - in front of you (if they're recorded well in the first place, of course
"The Mini³ also seemed to exaggerate the bass" - yes, but it is a bit dependent on the track; on how much the track is sending it in the 30-120Hz range
"The Mini³ is...still one of the best <$200 amps I've heard though, and it's an instant recommendation for anyone on a limited budget." - I'd say get one on any budget.

Unlike Asr my Mini³ is definitely not short on decay in comparison to the Hornet M. It excels in this area. Similarly mine does not make the music sound more compacted in - not a more intimate performance. For me, the Hornet M provides the more compacted/warm/inimate reproduction. And my Mini³ definitely already has sufficient attack, and treble snap, in comparison to the Hornet M.

Also, unlike Asr, in relation to amp noise I found that both amps show hiss at maximum gain, with the Mini³ easilly having the most discernable hiss with the volume pot turned up (not that I'd ever have it at this level with any IEMs like the Livewires!). At my listening levels there is no discernable hiss from either amp.

Asr also notes improved performance from the Mini³ after 120hours burn-in. I don't know what capacitors are in his Mini³ but fordgtlover indicates my Mini³ has "Panasonic FMs. My understanding of these caps is that they tend not to benefit from burn-in." (I'll obviously update this thread over time if I get similar improvements to what Asr has described).

My overall take is that the two amps are more than comparable.

My Mini³ defintely has more air around the instrument placement, with a greater sense of ambience but, occasionally, seems to place the instruments so far from one another as to distract from the performance (it seems to make 'right' in the mix far right and 'left' in the mix far left - so if you have a three piece playing then they're more spread out across the stage than they would be in a real performance). But the ambience, the detail revealed via the soundstaging, is addictive. And, yes, I do mean addictive. I'm not exactly complacent about audio but it is rare nowadays for a piece of equipment or a new recording to engage me like a teenager, with that impressed desire to the degree that I want to drop everything else and just play some more with the new toy. The Mini³ engaged me this way on its arrival - I would have stayed up listening all night if (by 2am) I hadn't needed some sleep before the next work day. (Note: normally only good recordings on a well warmed up electristatic rig will hook me to these hours - and beyond

I won't be as specific and detailed as Asr but, for me, as an example, the K2HD track "Lift Your Veil" is a tight group together on a small stage with the Hornet M. With the Mini³ they're spaced wider and playing in an auditorium with all its ambience. The performance is still quite detailed and distinctive with both amps. With the Hornet I'm in a club watching a private peformance almost, close to the musicians and instruments and appreciating all that's happening right before my eyes and ears. Loving the drums, the guitar work and the subtle and integrated bass support. With the Mini³ I'm listening to a more seperated group spread across a wider stage. The bass drum has more dynamics, the more widespread distinct instruments sound brighter, with more resonance. This makes it a bit more distinctive yet also slightly more clinical, less musically warm (but, as I commented earlier, quite engaging, addictably so).

So does that means its the end of the Hornet M for me? No. I have definitely become a fan of the sound signature of Ray's equipment, and for me the Hornet is the bext portable example of that (although now that I've shown a willingness to try a slightly larger amp body and accepted that for the SQ difference I might just try and get my hands on an SR-71 to ensure I don't want that in my portable amp arsenal as well.

In short, both the Hornet M and Mini³ are very very good amps, let alone very very good portable amps. Until now I've never been one to talk about keeping a supply of the same sort of equipment but the more I get into HeadFi, the more it seems to be happening
. For me these amps will suit different recordings in different ways (The Hornet M loves my Club/Jazz style recordings, the Mini³ my orchestral & choral stuff). And maybe, after more time with them both I may end up finding I'm listening to one more than the other. But, even in that case, I think I'll end up keeping one as a 'back up'
for the other and just onsell my current back up Xin Supermini III.

Buy either of these amps in the full confidence that you're getting some of the very best out there.

And, of course you should also read the relevant entries in these threads...
Review: Portable amp roundup! 24 portable amps reviewed and compared (Hornet M only ATM in this thread - ranked 4th) - Skylab
31 Portable Amps Review (Hornet M at equal 7th and Mini3 at equal 5th) - mrarroyo
"Mainstream" portable amp review/comparo (Hornet M only - ranked equal 3rd) - oicdn

Time for me to go buy a bigger Utility Belt
Nov 8, 2007 at 5:18 PM Post #2 of 27
nicely done, webbie64. very informative and encouraging, especially coming from one who spends much of his time with electrostats.
my research into a 'secondary' portable led me to purchase a mini^3 a couple weeks ago. i still haven't received mine, but it is reassuring to see more positive impressions of this amp.
i always tend to keep one eye firmly on the cost : performance ratio of any product, and this diy design looks like it punches well above it's weight.
hopefully, i'll be able to confirm that for myself in the near future.
Nov 8, 2007 at 7:22 PM Post #4 of 27
Good alternative review Webbie and I noticed you tested some Toto, got everything they have ever released:wink:

Once for Once and dollar for dollar the Mini^3 by all reviews I've read out here is a killer amp for the price:)
Nov 8, 2007 at 7:24 PM Post #5 of 27
"Once for Once" if you insert the U's it makes much more sense:-0 LOL
Nov 8, 2007 at 7:25 PM Post #6 of 27

Originally Posted by Podster /img/forum/go_quote.gif
Once for Once and dollar for dollar the Mini^3 by all reviews I've read out here is a killer amp for the price:)

Correction, it's a killer portable amp regardless of price.
Nov 8, 2007 at 7:58 PM Post #7 of 27
THX, I stand corrected!

Got this baby on the list to buy:wink: Wallet's in recovery:-0
Nov 8, 2007 at 8:08 PM Post #8 of 27
The Mini^3 is a beautiful sounding amp, that surpasses amps costing over twice as much. Rockhopper's version has suberb punch, detail, and clarity.

At $125 it is an steal and it should sell like hot cakes.
Nov 8, 2007 at 9:23 PM Post #9 of 27
You are my main instigator on purchasing a Mini^3 Miguel:wink: My wallet is thanking you 2:-0

I think the MiniBoxE is nice but the charge time really bothers me with that unit!
Nov 8, 2007 at 9:36 PM Post #12 of 27
NICE. Great read and great review format, different for sure, but easy to follow. I enjoyed it.

FWIW, I think the M mod on the Hornet killed it. I think the ORIGINAL Hornet is absolutely fabulous for my needs. It's more aggressive and punchier than it's M counterpart. It isn't as seperated (not necessarily soundstage size, but instrument seperation), but for what attributes I'm looking for (punchy, very foreward, and IMPACT), this amps hits the spot. The Move has SLIGHTLY, I mean VERY VERY slightly (something you wouldn't notice without A/B'ing). Not to mention, I got it for a STEAL, lol.
Nov 8, 2007 at 10:16 PM Post #14 of 27

Originally Posted by Podster /img/forum/go_quote.gif
You are my main instigator on purchasing a Mini^3 Miguel:wink: My wallet is thanking you 2:-0

I think the MiniBoxE is nice but the charge time really bothers me with that unit!

They both are fantastic amps. I tend to prefer the MiniBox-E because of its wider soundstage and ability to roll op-amps. BTW MiniBox-E has been upgraded w/ a better PSU.
(I am selling mine due to bills
but w/ the newer version I may be back

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