Recent industry features on charisma riffed about the normal audiophile sojourns into exploded resolution which often means that the emotional musicality of less ambitious earlier systems is sacrificed. The more a playback system becomes capable of resolving individual leaves and veins, the greater the chance that the listener will lose sight of the overall forest. This doesn't have to be so but 10+ years in audio have taught me that it tends to become the case 90% of the time regardless. I'm so excited about the MiniMax/W1000 pairing because, by a stroke of dumb luck and unexpected synergistic lock, it gives me a near ideal combination of high resolving power and long-term musical satisfaction. It's that very thing that seems to elude audiophiles so often when we have decided to chase 'hearing more and more' as our ultimate goal; hearing more detail but doing so by listening less holistically.

Part of this balancing act between ultimate resolution and ongoing emotional persuasiveness is to sacrifice the last iota of magnifying power the moment it begins to intrude into the musical enjoyment. With that said, how much resolution does the tubed MiniMax driving the audio-technicas leave on the table? Very little when compared to running the AKG K-1000s off the Unison Research Unico from the analog outputs of this CD player. The Ks have more air. You hear this like steam coming off a sauna aficionado who steps into frosty outdoors. The Ws have more body and weight, better bass and a more developed midrange. The Ks have superior soundstaging and micro resolution. Which is more honest? Honest to what - the signal or listener fatigue? This is a trick question, of course. The word 'warmth' to many audiophiles invariably suggests sugarcoating as though only steeliness was truthful. Too much warmth does indeed become a wet blanket to suffocate dynamic expressiveness and fine ambient details. But too much incisiveness likewise does damage as it emphasizes leading edges but then shortchanges the subsequent bloom and extended decays.

The warmth of today's overachieving duo is exceptionally well-balanced - just enough to allow you to relax into the music but not enough to suppress transient snap or cover up subtle reflections in the recording venue. There's vocal magic in spades but bass definition and rhythmic propulsion don't take a backseat. I could go on waxing poetic but the most important point really is to stress how difficult achieving such a balance is in the 'real' audiophile life with its higher count of hardware interactions and the additional complexities of loudspeakers which become a closed-loop phenomenon with your room. Today's system consists of merely two components and no cabling. It's about as simple as it gets - and that likely explains why it's this good. Complexity tends to corrupt rather than liberate.

An unexpected showcase for this very phenomenon was running the W1000s with the Antique SoundLab 4 x 6BQ5 powered 5AR4-rectified headphone amplifier. By adding $600 worth of amplification stages plus a good interconnect, I didn't net any advantages. Granted, I didn't really take any major backwards step either which speaks very highly of the MGHead OTL 32 indeed. But it goes to show that spending more money doesn't always gain you advances. This particular exercise could well have turned out differently on the Sennheiser HD-650s whose 300-ohm impedance might be better served by a dedicated amp - but that's a story for another day. What you should take home today is that audio-technica deliberately designed the W1000s to work well off a standard headphone jack; and that the jack on the MiniMax CD player clearly isn't just any hole in the faceplate but one powered by a low-noise tube-driven signal and controlled by a high-quality pot.

Many AudioAsylum inmates continue to lobby for complete system reviews from the major audio publications precisely because arriving at a fully simpatico mix of individually accoladed components is a mean and mostly elusive trick. Naturally, practical constraints invariably make reviewing complete systems -- unless they were from the same manufacturer -- well nigh impossible. I wish I could flash major credentials of endless research and protracted experiments that arrived at the MiniMax/W1000 'system' but I can't. I merely ordered these headphones 'sight unseen' through on-line e-tailer AudioCubes who specializes in direct-imports of Japanese goods. This US-based outfit delivered my cans in due time and to my door just as promised. And while AudioCubes' second site now brokers electronics brands with existing formal distributors in the US, thus selling grey-market products with wrong voltage ratings and no domestic service facilities, their first site focuses on audiophile accessories like headphones which not only don't suffer voltage issues but also don't conflict with existing distribution exclusives.

Without any wisdom or art on my part safe for wanting something different in statement-level dynamic headphones for a change, I arrived at one of those rare combinations which usually require costly trial'n'error. Call it good luck - we all deserve it occasionally. Today's writeup was motivated purely by a desire to share my good fortunes with you. $1,800 for this miniature system is no chicken feed, agreed. But once you compare its performance to a fully-dialed loudspeaker system of $50,000 as I'm listening to in my room, you'll have to agree that it becomes darn hard to justify such expense, complexity and the mistakes involved until one finally arrives at a winning marriage of components and ancillary tweaks to get everything to gel just so when you can get all of that (minus the soundstaging) for so much less and not be limited to what you play when and how loudly.

Writes Wes Phillips' in his April 2004 review of the HD-650 "... By default, I've become 'the headphone guy' in high-end audio. I don't quite understand why other audiophiles don't fess up that they listen to 'phones too. Maybe it's a macho thing, like the Butt Blaster at the gym -- you never actually see guys using it, but you do see them furtively exiting the room it resides in..." Indeed, headphone listening seems to be an under-appreciated side road on the main audiophile highway. Like Wes, I don't understand why serious audiophiles don't take it more serious. There's no way to get W1000 performance from a $460/pr of loudspeakers; or MiniMax magic from a $1,350 combo of CDP and integrated amp to drive those $460 loudspeakers with. Period. End of story. Actually, it's extremely unlikely that a $10,000 loudspeaker system with the necessary preceding hardware will be as high-resolution, linear and musically compelling as today's $1,800 mini rig. That's really the end of the story and why it won't come as a surprise that today's system garners an award. And remember - the MiniMax will serve double-duty to front a regular speaker system as well, something I'll report on shortly.
MiniMax website
W1000 Japan website
AudioCubes website
After our own Paul Candy read this review, he sent me the following e-mail: "The clicking sound you notice
every time you push play or skip is a mechanical muting circuit. All CD players have one to eliminate digital noise that could occur at the beginning of a disc or individual tracks. Most players use a transistorized circuit which remains in the signal path even when playing. Some more expensive players use a mechanical relay to remove this muting circuit from the signal path altogether while in playback mode - hence the clicking. It's the relay 'removing' the circuit. I currently have a player for review that does the same thing so I did some research to learn about it." Good work, Paul!