- Sep 3, 2008
Before starting the review I wanted to give a shout out at Simon from SPL US distributor, Audio Plus Service. I contacted him in early August to arrange getting a review unit of SPL new amp, the Phonitor Mini. Thanks again Simon and SPL for this opportunity!
I should also note that this is not a paid review of any fashion. I personally love SPL approach to audio and amplification.
SPL, or Sound Performance Lab, is a leading manufacturer of studio gear based out of Germany. All their equipment runs on their famous 120V technology. They manufacture lots a gear ranging from equalizers to headphone amps, even software plug-ins. All of their gear is high end and is for studio use, but does not seem to exhibit the typical studio sound, that being the music is dull, lifeless, and clinical. In fact from the gear I have tried their stuff is pretty natural sounding.
The Phonitor mini is very much an industrial designed product and is rather basic in looks. The amp doesn't try to look expensive or try to stand out. It's housing is made from aluminum and is quite solid. The amp itself is very sturdy and has a bit of weight to it, most likely due to the all metal construction.
The volume knob is a tad stiff, but I suspect it might loosen up over time, but this also adds to precision of setting the volume you want. All the switches on the front are quite stiff and give a satisfying click when flipped to different settings. The headphone jack also is quite tight on 1/4" plugs, so no accidental unplugging will happen.
All of the connections in the back are very much standard on most amps. The RCA and XLR inputs can be toggled via the front input selector and offer no sort of signal bleed from one another during use. This way you could use two different sources without the worry of the signal from one input bleeding into another.
The Phonitor Mini implements a smaller and more stripped down version of the Phonitors 2 crossfeed circuit, and is equally just as impressive. You can dial in the angle of the speakers, the amount of crossfeed, and how loud the center image is. All are incredibly handy. The main focus of the crossfeed is both to correct the super stereo effect as well as eliminate ear fatigue.
On the front panel of the Mini, you'll have to toggle on the Matrix switch, this activates all the crossfeed features. Now you can tune the sound to your liking.
you can choose from low, medium, or high crossfeed. Low gives me the best results with modern recordings, but if you have material with hard stereo panning, then high is recommended. On low, only the smallest amount of audio is being mixed in to each channel from the other. On medium the stereo image compresses more and sounds more squished in. On high the stereo image compresses even further. Play with this to get a setting you want and like.
The default angle is 30 degree's, which can sound closed in or narrow depending on the amount of crossfeed you have on. I use 40 degrees as it gives a wider stereo image and is more inline with a normal stereo signal. at 22 degrees the sound is very narrow, and even more so with crossfeed set to medium. 40 degrees is probably the bets option for most people, but some material may benefit more.
Also I can not tell if the sound is supposed to sound more in front of me or not. To my ears, the angle switch control the stereo image width. I don't here an increase in depth or distance.
This is a very nice feature here. You cna toggle how much the center of the stereo image in lowered. When using crossfeed, the stereo's center image can be more pronounced, so by lowering the images volume you can actively eliminate this issue. you can choose from -.6dB or -1.2dB of attenuation. On -.6dB, I can't tell much of a difference, but on -1.2dB I can clearly tell the center image is quieter.
This also helps to widen a recordings soundstage, well not really. What I am getting at is that by decreasing the center images volume, but gain a wider soundstage. This isn't exactly true as the soundstage isn't widened, but since there is less focus on the middle on the soundstage it sounds that way.
The Phonitor Mini, like it's older Brother, is dead neutral with no hint of typical solid state sterility. It's sound has none of the common solid state type characteristics like: harshness, glare, being clinical, dry, lifeless. A well designed solid state amp is pretty smooth with none of these characteristics.
The amp has a bit of smoothness in the upper frequencies, but nothing like a tube amp of like my V200. When I mean smooth, I mean the treble is not strident nor does it have an edge to it. It does not accentuate any particular frequency at all. That being said, the treble itself is very extended with excellent air to it as well as detail. Transparency in the treble is top notch and the general feeling of the treble is it's crisp without harshness.
The midrange is largely the same. Very resolving with excellent detail and no emphasis on any given frequency. When testing this amp, I tried a wide variety of music, but mostly metal. The guitars sounds very good and I could clearly hear plucks on the strings and reverberation of acoustic guitars. This amp does a good job with presenting vocals as well. I'd wager this amp is better than my Auditor here, but the difference is pretty small.
Bass is deep and powerful, but not bloated or overblown. Don't take this as it being inflated in any form, but it present the bass in such a tight and controlled manner with excellent impact and extension. Bass heavy music that is mastered well, such as some music from HD-Tracks or Infected Mushroom, sounds very tight and has excellent impact with quick decay and detail. The bass never sounds sluggish or congested unless the material feed to the amp is already like this.
The soundstage is a big highlight of the amp. It's open, airy, and very much a more 3D experience over my V200 and ROC, but similar to my Auditor. Infact I'd say it's probably 1:1 to the Auditor here, but it's hard to tell. Imaging within the soundstage is accurate and headphones such as the HD700 and T1 will really reap the benefits of this amp.
The only thing I had noticed, but is not directly sound quality related, is that with the volume turned down all the way, there is a bit of background noise from whatever source you have selected. This gets louder when you turn crossfeed on as well. This is not the same as noise floor though. This is merely a tiny bit of audio from the input bleeding in at the lowest setting.
In short this amp is pretty much spot on with my Auditor, so if you want a more detailed description of the sound characteristics, please also check out my review of the Auditor HERE.
This amp is listed as having 1W at 600Ohms and 2W at 300Ohms, but for some reason SPL did not publish the full power specifications of this amp. This amp can also output: 3.7W at 120Ohm, 2.9W at 47Ohm, and 2.7W at 32Ohm. This thing is more powerful than my V200 amp but not by a lot. Not only that but this amp can fully swing 120V, so it's perfect for 300Ohm+ headphones.
The Mini can drive my T1 just as well as my Auditor. This amp has full contorl of the T1 drivers. The sound is coherent, linear, and present. Some amps can struggle to drive 600Ohm loads, but the T1 is very sensitive compared to most 600Ohm headphones on the market.
Next up I tried the HD700 which was a mixed bag on my Auditor. It sounded a tad fuzzy and lacked overall focus. Bass was also a bit sloppy and ill defined. I'd wager the issues stem from the Aduitors inability to output a lot of current, and the high output impedance screws up the damping factor.
The mini corrects the previous issues and the HD700 really shines. Bass has significantly tightened up and extends deeper. The aformentioned illdefined bass is not textured and snappy. The soundstage no longer sounded squished in and imaging is quite nice. Treble presentation is also improved with more extension and also is not slurred sounding anymore. The midrange previously sounded clouded and is now very articulate and transparent.
The HD600's sound very darned good on this amp. Crisp, clean, and natural. Really the HD600 sounded exceptional on the Auditor, and sounds largely the same, so my impressions from that review largely are the exact same. This is one amp you should consider if you have HD600's.
On the V200, this headphone sounded a bit too dark, warm, and a bit bloated in the bass. The Mini really rectifies this and opens up the headphones. Bass is there and is very right, treble is clean and airy, the midrange lost it's congestion from the V200. and the soundstage is a lot more open.
PHILIPS Fidelio X1 / X2
Both headphones sound so similar that I thought I'd lump them together here as they share a similar overall tone. I mainly drove these from my V200, and since both are already warm, bassy and smooth, the V200 really muddied up the sound to my ears. It drives them good, but the added bass and rolled treble on the amp did not go hand in hand with either of these headphones,
Cue the Mini and it's quite a stark difference. Gone is all the extra warmth and bass. Treble is not quite articulate and extended, at least more so on the X2. The bass on both headphones is now a lot tighter and the impact and control on the X2 is also improved.
The V200 is not a bad amp at all, but it can mate badly with some headphones. Especially if they are alreayd warm and abss heavy.
I unfortunately don't have any Planar magnetic headphones to try on this amp, but given it's power output similarities to the V200, it should drives them the same.
The Phonitor Mini is a great amp for sure and not bad at $849 USD. The amplification and power it provides are the exact same as the Phonitor 2 as all SPL did was shrink the circuit down. The crossfeed may be make or break point for people though. I personally use it all the time, but it does compress the soundstage slightly, but the sound does become more cohesive.
So as it stands, I can fully recommend the Phonitor Mini at full retail. It's ability to drive a very large range of headphones and it's active crossfeed circuitry are really what sells this amp. If you're in the market for a neutral solid state amp that has crossfeed and can drive a lot of different headphones, the Phonitor Mini is for you.