SPL’s products have always been exclusive to me, I never knew anyone who owned a Phonitor…but I sure as hell wanted one despite that. It came to a bit of a shock to me that the company fashioned a mini version of their full size Phonitor; something that shares the same traits as its big brother seems very tantalizing to me. A smaller chassis, minus all the perks of the larger unit, as well as a cheaper price? That sounds darn tasty if you ask me, sign me up! But, can SPL stand toe to toe with some other sub $1000 or so tier amplifiers out yonder?
The Phonitor Mini
The SPL Phonitor Mini sells for around $849.99, no USB DAC included. At a hefty 4.5lbs and around 10 inches x 6 inches x 2 inches, the amp feels rock solid with its aluminum body. This design kind of reminds me of the old Matrix Mini of years past, a simpler time…a better time. SPL’s Mini came with no interconnects, just as most amplifiers and USB DAC’s tend to these days. I can’t stress how much that upsets me, these higher end products need to start including everything you need, this is 2015 and not the dark ages. Koss included everything you need for your listening needs with their $999 ESP 950 Electrostatic headphones, cables included. So, I must start holding everyone to a higher standard and demanding companies include everything we need to start up and enjoy the music as soon as we open the package.
Ins and Outs
This amp only outputs 1/4, single-ended, there are no balanced output options available. At this price point, I simply don’t understand why anyone would think this is going to fly in the current market. It has basic left and right XLR (electronically balanced) and RCA inputs, which is a really odd choice. Do you really need both if the amp doesn’t offer a balanced output? Gosh, I’d rather just have either or and swap the front space for a single 4 pin balanced XLR output instead. I realize I may be asking too much here, but it really annoys me to not end to be forced into single ended. It seems really needless and super bulky and cumbersome to opt for dual giant XLR left and right cables (instead of nice RCA cables) and then be stuck with ¼ output. Maybe I am in the minority here, but having XLRs right next to RCA’s on a single ended only output amplifier is a bit strange to me.
The front panel of the device offers up some unique Crossfeed and angled speaker effects to the audio experience, via some physical toggle switches: Input Selection (RCA or XLR), Matrix, Mode, Crossfeed, Angle and Center. Implementation of physical toggles for this seems like a grand idea, at least until you realize that freeware programs for the PC like Foobar2000 offer all of these types of toggles as well. There really is no upside to using hard toggles on an amp if you are sourcing the Phonitor Mini with a USB DAC, so I’ll never recommend this amp to anyone who doesn’t use a PC/Mac to house their music collection and library. It seems obvious that this amp was designed for people with vintage setups, maybe those with CD players, Vinyl or tape decks of some type as their source. If that is the case, then this Mini is a good buy if you find a used one. If not, it really is the most obsolete amplifier I’ve yet come across for anyone interested in digital music output via computers.
Good lord, there is a huge space on the right side (left to anyone looking at it head on) of the front plate for a nice 4 pin balanced XLR, or even a balanced RSA. Something! The SPL logo isn’t even centered in that area, it hovers in the top right, then there is a logo of a headphone and under that is a ¼ output. This is just wasted space! Can’t we get a Mini 2.0 revision with some extra outputs there instead?
Matrix is a method of trying to recreate a speaker-like working environment.
Mode allows you to Mute the amplifier, as well as select Stereo or Mono output.
Crossfeed is a method of allowing some stereo bleed into the opposite side of the setup: some audio is pipped from stereo right in a recording, into the left driver and vice versa. This effect allows for a wider, more complete center image experience and can make the stereo image feel better formed. SPL designed three presets of the quality of this audio channel bleed into the amplifier: Low, Medium and High. As a fan boy of Crossfeed in general, I must say that even the highest output is weak to my ears and something I am not accustomed to as a Foobar2000 user. Normally, I listen with a much higher level of Crossfeed when I am not reviewing things and for pure musical enjoyment on a personal level. That free computer software for music allows me to toggle significantly less or more Crossfeed as I please and normally I run with the Meier Preset for the Foobar2000 Crossfeed DSP. Here on the Phonitor Mini, the highest gain just can’t compete with the digital versions of these functions inside Foobar2000.
Angle attempts to recreate angled speakers are various angles at 30, 22 and 40 degrees. Using these can make or break the center image of your audio listening experience, making it sound naturally wider or more intimate and closed in. Combined with Crossfeed, I can hardly hear any differences between any of these three settings.
Center is a function that tries to preserve the center of the stereo image, as it naturally degrades with usage of the Crossfeed and Angle toggles. Using this feature will allow you to boost the centralized area of the sonic void by -0.6dB or -1.2dB.
Page 2: Sound Impressions