It’s been a busy year, mostly consumed by family, work and the obsession as she calls it. In that order. The family part was special as much time was spent keeping an eye on the latest grandchild. She’s 16 months as I write this and has kept us on our toes.

Below is what can happen when grandparents blink.

I did manage to carve out enough time to help my buddy Pete finish the Po’ Boys speaker project we started in 2008.

In June, with the help of a dozen friends, we installed a 29-foot long sub horn with a 6’ x 9’ mouth in the loft of Pete’s listening room aka the Garden of Earthly Delights. Those two projects were for Pete though I have to own up to spending a lot of time there. When all is said and done—though we’re not calling those projects done—it’s easily the most emotionally engaging system I’ve heard in 2009. With a bit more voicing, it will be a done deal.

Das Alpenhorn under construction; just a few feet in from the mouth there is still room to stand up.
Another full report to follow.

Many pictures and a full 6moons report are coming soon.
We are now in the midst of another enterprise, which for the moment we affectionately refer to as the Po’ Jo (pronounced Ho) project. This is a single bass bin and more slender version of the Po’ Boys. We hope they will fit in my listening room.

The major elements of the rough woodworking are done but we have a lot of trim work, sanding and finish work to go. And then there's the crossover to build. A full report will follow. Eventually. I swear.

In fact, the Hornographic Pursuits series will kick off in early 2010 with a full report on the construction of the Po’ Boys. The Cosecant True-to-Life Loudspeakers shown at RMAF in 2006 inspired this project.

The big difference is that the Po’ Boys are built around the RCA MI 9584a permanent magnet midrange compression driver; not the custom compression drivers using massive field coil motor structures which Cogent produces. We are after all—as you may have figured out by now—rather po’.  

Anyway, all the preceding was not why you came to this page so without further deviation, I want let you know about my other favorite from 2009. It’s something much more modest in size than the things discussed above. It requires no special skills or tools to build or install. It is eminently affordable. And it plays music very very well, thank you. I am speaking of the $229 MiniWatt tube amplifier first reviewed in these pages by our editor himself. I got mine a week after the review went live. After 30 or so hours of break-in and 20 more listening, I mentioned in an email to Srajan that I was seriously impressed. When he asked if I’d consider doing a follow-up, I told him that I was too busy enjoying it to bother. So there.

While Srajan aptly reported the totality of the device much better than I can, I probably can’t get away with simply saying that I concur with his findings. So here’s a few words about what stands out for me about this gem.

Noise floor. What noise? This thing is seriously quiet. The only thing currently in my arsenal that has a lower noise floor is my AudioSector integrated. Since it’s a chip amp, you can hardly consider the comparison fair.

Inputs. Only one set provided. Get over it. It’s not as though there’s a lot of room for more on that 5.1" x1.4" back. Okay?

Output. 2.5 watts into 8 ohms. More than enough to power my Altecs, the Zu Druids and Pete’s RCA MI 9584a-based horn system - which is essentially a three-way setup. Yes, separate drivers for tweeter, mid and bass. It also drove my 90dB-ish Sound Dynamics RTS-3 to levels louder than I care to listen to for more than two minutes.

Frequency response. That is rated at 30 - 20kHz and I can certainly vouch for the lower figure when the unit is driving my Altec 604 MLTLs.

Sonics. Since the Mini does not romanticize the sound—and since I do like some romance in my systems—I found I could appreciate it with my Altec 604 MLTL more so than with most other speakers. It goes without saying that my Altecs have been voiced for me. Call me lucky. Call me happy. Pete calls my DIY 604s space machines that sweep you up and away with solidly soaked images, supremely smooth mids, agile and extended bass (down just 3dB at 25Hz) and a soundstage that extends into the neighbor’s back yard. It’s also one of those setups where visitors keep asking you to turn it up - until you point out that they are yelling at you. It’s as thought they don’t think a system is playing at an adequate volume until they hear distortion.

As far as other speakers tried, I need more warmth and body than the Mini delivered when mated to Pete’s horn system (which is fast, detailed and colorful but not as deeply saturated when it comes to tone or image density). Or the RTS-3 with its hard-ish highs and slightly ragged—yet damn good for its price—midrange. In the end, most readers won’t be surprised to learn that, based on my available resources, the perfect mate was the Zu Druid. The MiniWatt’s clarity lit the Druids up in just the right places, all the while tastefully synergizing with their warm-ish demeanor to produce the fleshiest presentation I had heard up to then. As a bonus, bass extension and articulation were admirable though not on par with the Altecs. That MiniWatt/Druid combo is one I could happily live with especially when you factor in the notion that the pooled price basically makes the pairing a freakin’ steal. 

The only con that comes to mind—other than the less-than-ideal level of fleshiness I happen to crave—is that the sonic fabric, at volumes higher than I care for, can get slightly frayed in the upper mids even on the most copasetic of speakers. I must add that I have this same complaint about much more expensive amps as well. At the same time, the Mini’s higher treble regions remain unfazed - which is not true of some other more expensive amps. I have a hunch that some tube rolling could address this matter but I haven’t yet sourced any certain alternatives to verify that.

If my preliminary poking around is accurate, the 6P1 output tubes can be replaced with Russian 6PIP or 6P1P-EV while the 6J1 input tubes can be swapped with EF95, 6AK5 or GE JAN 5654W. I think I have some time to search. The input tubes are said to be rated for a life expectancy of 10,000 hours.

Quick tweak. See those metal 'feet' on the bottom of the unit? They spell cold and hard to me. Want to warm/smooth things up and out a touch? Try some Herbie’s Audio Labs Tenderfeet or a DIY facsimile under the chassis.  Also, if you’re not above playing around  with power cords that cost more than the Mini—and there aren’t many that don’t—I encourage you to, uh … play around.  Both experiments paid off. For me.

Value. Mind-boggling. Perfect for a Po’ Boy.

Buy one. If you find you don’t like it, give it to a young relative as a gift to help them get started on the road to hi-fi. As an aside, I’m purchasing a second unit and fully intend to be selfish about it. Sort of. This will be for the family’s use while I keep the other for the big rig or second system depending on what speakers are at play (or in for review) in either setup. Here’s how we got there. After taking it on the tour of various systems in various settings, I had a thought and found that the MiniWatt also happens to be a great intermediary for getting my DVD audio signal off of movies and through my speakers. Just a swap of speaker cables and I am saved from firing up the pre and amps in the big rig when I all I really want that evening is to have stereo HT for those movies on our big screen where the viewers also deserve a full-fledged and uncompromised soundtrack. After all, there’s nothing like, for example, hearing the Vangelis score in all its fragile and thundering glory while watching Blade Runner. That makes things fun and easier for me. Plus when I’m not around, the Mrs. can play her CDs through the Oppo and not have to go through the dreaded startup checklist for the beast as she calls it.

I hate to close on that note because I’m sure that someone will walk away with the message that I relegated the MiniWatt to my HT system. To be clear, I did not do that. I bought a second unit to dedicate to that task. Not because it’s so good for its price but because it's so good, period. That its footprint of 5.1" x 3.93" makes it utterly expedient for that application is a serious bonus - especially in a world of expensive and amusical HT processors.

So there.