Reviewer: Srajan Ebaen
Financial interests: click here
Sources: 27" iMac with 5K Retina display, 4GHz quad-core engine with 4.4GHz turbo boost, 3TB Fusion Drive, 16GB SDRAM, OSX Yosemite, PureMusic 3.01, Tidal & Qobuz lossless streaming, COS Engineering D1, AURALiC Vega, Aqua Hifi La Scala MkII, Fore Audio DAISy 1, Vinnie Rossi LIO DAC, Apple iPod Classic 160GB (AIFF), Astell& Kern AK100 modified by Red Wine Audio, Cambridge Audio iD100, Pro-Ject Dock Box S Digital, Pure i20, Questyle QP1R, Aqua Hifi Formula [on review]
Preamplifier: Nagra Jazz, Esoteric C-03, Vinnie Rossi LIO, COS Engineering D1
Power & integrated amplifiers: Pass Labs XA30.8; FirstWatt SIT1, F5, F6, F7; Crayon Audio CFA-1.2; Goldmund Job 225; Aura Note Premier; Wyred4Sound mINT; AURALiC Merak [on loan]
Loudspeakers: Albedo Audio Aptica; EnigmAcoustics Mythology 1; Sounddeco Sigma 2; soundkaos Wave 40; Boenicke Audio W5se; Zu Audio Druid V & Submission; German Physiks HRS-120; Eversound Essence; Mark & Daniel Maximus Monitor MkII [on review]
Headphones: Forza-rewired Sennheiser HD800, MrSpeakers Alpha Prime, Audeze LCD-2/LCD-XC; stock-cabled HifiMan HE-1000 and Final Sonorous III & VI; ALO-rewired Beyerdynamic T1/T5p; stock-cabled Meze 99 Classic
Headphone amps: Bakoon AMP-12R, Vinnie Rossi LIO DHT, Eversound Essence, 2 x Questyle CMA800R
Cables: Complete loom of Zu Event; KingRex uArt, Zu and LightHarmonic LightSpeed double-header USB cables; Tombo Trøn S/PDIF; van den Hul AES/EBU; AudioQuest Diamond glass-fibre Toslink; Arkana Research XLR/RCA and speaker cables [on loan]; Sablon Audio Petit Corona power cords [on loan], Black Cat Cable Lupo
Power delivery: Vibex Granada/Alhambra on all components, 5m cords to amp/s + sub
Equipment rack: Artesania Audio Exoteryc double-wide 3-tier with optional glass shelves, Exoteryc Krion and glass amp stands [on loan]
Sundry accessories: Acoustic System resonators
Room: Rectangular 5.5 x 15m open floor plan with two-storey gabled ceiling, wood-sleeved steel trusses and stone-over-concrete flooring
Review component retail in Europe: €450

Minapolis. As it does so often, it all began with an email. "My name is Juan Luis Fernandez Manosalbas. I'm a musician with a stoner group and several musical projects; an audiophile; a fine arts teacher in high school; and an inventor. I spent the past two years on researching a new tweak to improve both analogue and digital sources. And finally I did it. Here it is: Mina. I have my first prototype and assure you it's the best passive tweak I've ever heard. You just put it on the DAC or turntable plinth near the cartridge and listen. The improvement is outstanding. I love your magazine and it would be great if you could test it. I know that you have an excellent ear and I know that you would appreciate it. If you agree, I can send it very soon."

Knowing of my excellent ear and dead certain appreciation, Juan Luis was clearly one of the most knowledgeable of fellows I didn't know. Feeling rather less sure about these and most other things indeed, I needed a lot more belly rubbing. "Well, Mina is a passive tweak. It is my first creation. I heard a lot of devices from Acoustic Revive and Stein Music but nothing was good enough. I'm a singer and musician and sense the 'live music factor' in any system at first sight, budget no matter. If it's there, I get it. And with the Mina tweak, it's possible. Everything is real. The sustain of instruments is longer, the soundstage more focused than ever. To get the very best sound, you put another Mina on the central circuit breaker box of your house. With two Minas, it's impossible to go back to listening without them. One costs €450. It's a good and affordable way to improve any system. It works with materials which have a vibration very close to ideal music reproduction. If you decide to make an evaluation, I'll explain it all in more details." Those details turned out brief and vague. "Mina uses a material mix to achieve the main frequency of human hearing during a live performance (1'800Hz). At the same time, it has a powerful control over the electrical harmony. It avoids undesirable external electromagnetic waves. The electricity simply gets the right flow and the source works as it should."

And there you thought that the last of magick had been burnt in Salem's witch trials. Not. All manner of hifi tweaks live outside hard text-book science. This doesn't mean they oppose science. It just means that their inventors may not fully understand the full science behind their devices; just have a rudimentary anecdotal grasp that "doing this, that happens" to cook up a reasonable-sounding rationale afterwards. Now asking for hard explanations may net fuzzy logic. If you make that a barrier of entry, a good portion of tweaks would simply never cross your threshold. And that could include surprise discoveries.

So a pragmatist removes said barrier. Here reviewers have it easy. After all, a solid return privilege is part of our common MO. Without it, short-term loans would turn into ransomware. For us, if tweaks don't work as promised, no harm done. We say so and ship them back like everything else. If they do work, rational or irrational explanations are window dressing. They don't impugn the fact that we suddenly enjoy our hifi more and find the sound improved. Explanations hard or soft make no difference. But they often very much do before people decide whether to give something a try or not. Here one might suggest that Juan Luis still work on things like the electricity getting the right flow or sources working as they should.

Given that, I thought better than to ask more. I'd been on this particular ground before with Stein Music, Verictum or Spatium Audio. Such passive devices often work as EMI/RF traps and claim "improved electron flow". Depending on size and weight, they might double as mass dampers. But in no conceivable instance will they be primary like active signal-path circuits. That doesn't invalidate them. It just assigns them proper status at the bottom of the totem pole. They're for low-order concerns which live far behind second-order worries over power delivery, resonance control and room acoustics. And those second-order concerns seriously trail the first-order stuff of front-to-back componentry and cables. Without that stuff, there wouldn't be any sound. It doesn't take a wise man to say, first things first, second things second and so forth. What number thereafter you assign to such tweaks is your own business entirely.

As hardcore audiophiles know, these later chapters of spit-polishing one's rig to a buff sheen are quite often about single-digit percentages. Tiny forward gains are greeted by enthusiastic fanfare. Behind the scenes, they routinely come at disproportionate cost. But like at the Olympics, winning can be a matter of milliseconds and centimetres. Coming out ahead is what matters, not by how much. Could Juan's Mina justify its expense? Such evaluations are as far from hard science as these tweaks can be. But like them, one can arrive at a working result and hypothesis to go with it. If so, the rest is simply about whether one wants that effect (flavour, colourization, action); and whether, relative to what one already has invested in hifi, the price sounds right.