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Act N°1. Finding financially matched high-efficiency speakers for a $229 2.5wpc amplifier to work a large space is a pettiful challenge. The €10.000 Rethm Saadhana hits any 'matching' in financial only if we compare the below system to another €10.200 integrated/speaker combo where perhaps the speaker cost €7.000 and the amp €3.000 (or some such more conventional split of the bill). Okay, I'm stretching.

Not only was the MiniWatt quiet -- I've heard more than one elitist 45 or 2A3 amp noisier which most SET fanciers would still consider perfectly acceptable -- it drove the proverbial snot out of this rig. 10:00 on the dial was pretty much the ceiling of what goes for "loud but just right" around here. Suffice to say you could hurt yourself with the MiniWatt in this setup. Was it more than a silly stunt though? Or was it just proving a point to the kilo-watt brigade who view such concepts and those who'd even contemplate them sad and lost causes?

It sounded real good. The MiniWatt reminded me of the crystalline, fast as a whip, lit up EL84 Decware sound. After the stupendous Crayon Audio CFA-1, this was the second amp in recent memory to sport a switch-mode power supply where the audible results made a very strong sonic (and not cash-saving) argument in favor of abdicating conventional solutions. With a very low noise floor and apparently very high rise times, this recipe can net a very fast, detailed sound that's not dry, chalky or relentlessly transient occupied at all but rather, color intense. And very impressive in the bass. There was clearly more to MiniWatt than cuteness and miniaturization.

Those who've heard thin solid-core treated silver cables in minimum dielectric will have a good handle on the MiniWatt effect. It's taut, brilliant, incisive, articulate, agile and the opposite of sluggish and distanced. While speed, transparency and color interfaced exceptionally well with the Saadhana, the lit-up leanish ingredient of the density equation didn't equally. This speaker is a demanding mistress who thrives on reflexes and density. The MiniWatt supplied the first like a champion sprinter but ultimately not enough fleshiness.

A few twirls on the controls of the active woofer sections (not for amplitude but low-pass frequency) could of course already shift this balance. Considering MiniWatt's pricing, I simply didn't think that tweaking/voicing would be on the menu of most prospective punters however. I thus refrained. Having cleared the noise hurdle with room to spare (no nasty turn-on/off transients either); and recalling an established quality competitor like Decware on performance; it was time to downscale speaker expenditure. Get just a little closer to reason. Zu's €5,000 Essence shaved off 50% and deleted active bass systems to adjudge the mini amp's own bass chops.

Act N°2. The Zu's far greater in-built density and far from extreme resolution in the upper midrange coupled to real low-down grunt made for one of those dream gigs one couldn't possibly predict on paper. Though specified at 97dB (i.e. just one 1dB less than the Lowther DX55), equivalent listening levels occurred two hours later, at noon in most cases, at 1:00 for happy hour. So I still had mondo headroom.

On "Jan Garbarek the second", Andy Sheppard's outstanding Movements in Colour album [ECM 2062], MiniWatt had sufficient resolution to show how two different upsampling modes and none on the April Music Stello converter affected soundstaging in obvious ways and even shifted the degree of audible reed spittle on the sax. No upsampling sounded best.

On Jacques Loussier's must-own The 50
th Anniversary Recording [Telarc 83693], the only thing MiniMax lacked was ultimate weight on the left-handed power cords of the piano. As Mercan Dede's Nefes collaborated [Double Moon 033], bass extension itself was quite prodigious. Nothing went missing. It was a bit of amplitude crunch that began to shelf off sooner than with real muscle amps.

But hang on to your hats when Dede brings in the massive bass drums on "Huo" while you've got the volume pushed beyond normal. You wouldn't believe what this combo is capable of without caving in at the knees. As the Saadhana had already indicated, the MiniWatt circuit/tubes have that snap, crackle and pop thing of expert timing in their pocket. Everything is truly articulate, springy and firm.

By the time you get to truly emotive vocals like Falete does on the scorching Coplas Que Non Han Matao [Columbia, Sony|BMG], you grudgingly admit that despite a footprint smaller than a CD cover, the MiniWatt is a serious piece of bonsai audio, not a ridiculous toy. It tracks encoded energy. It's the earlier crystalline descriptor which cleans out the cobwebs and rushes on the musical waters a bit like a caffeine injection. That's perhaps the pentode contribution. It works like a hot knife through butter. There's clear similarities to EL84s but this MiniMax sound stream sloughs off particles and sediment even more. It's all very direct, very extended, on the beat and bereft of even the slightest comfort cushion of fattiness. The Essence contributed that cushion and presto, high compatibility.

Act N°3. To get more real not on the money but sensitivity meter, my DeVore Fidelity Nines were next. The small 12wpc NuForce Icon drives them well. The reasonable gain of the MiniMax and its feisty showing on the Essence (particularly unexpected in the bass) suggested another possible scenario. Besides uncertainty on ultimate SPL satisfaction however, I also harbored doubts whether the Nines' leaner self nature would cotton as hard to the Chinese amp.

Those doubts proved unfounded. Sitting by now around 2:30 for the usual volumes, one must factor in the vast area behind the speakers. In a standard 12' x 18' or 16' x 24' space, room gain would back off the volume a few notches to probably about 1:00. So much for actual power consumption myths. Puja prince Jai Uttal rocked out Samba style on his newest (and very different) Thunder Love and perennial fave Dulce Pontes was her usual charming self on Lagrimas. Very much unlike my running criticisms on the DeVore Nines' propensity for sounding very linear and resolved but also a bit subdued in the excitement and color ranges, this pairing was most agreeable. Unexpected but very welcome.

Though clearly lit up (roof down, major sunlight falling in), the DeVores did not lack for any color and bass had real growl. I was back in time and with the Crayon CFA-1. It had equally excellent holography, layering, superbly pitched muscular bass and color intensity. I was becoming fully convinced that here the SMPS was the secret weapon. I'd just never heard one with tubes before.