Value For Money
Our Score

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.

the phonitor1

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?


The Toggles

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

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15 Responses

  1. Mar Lowe

    Thanks for the review, the guy from sweetwater told me about phonitor, but I didn’t get it , I just got the HD 800s and I was looking for an amp the can drive good the 800s, if I need it , I noticed there are a little bright , I have Apollo interphase . What amp you recommend for production/mix purpose , I look at the woo audio wa8 and the schiit Jotunhein ?

    • 24bit

      The Woo Audio WA8 is just a bit warm on the low end, it may not be the proper amp for your needs. I’ve not heard the new Schiit amp, likely won’t for a while. The rig recommendation depends on what type of mixer you are. Are you mixing to clean out the noise, potential pops and blips in a track? Meaning, are you trying to achieve a final mix that is accurate to the actual instruments used in the live recording? If so, you need to go full on neutral and detailed and you really don’t have to go wild with expensive neutral amps. An Objective O2, something very well measured and very neutral is all you need. You don’t need a super expensive amplifier for this.

      If you are producing EDM, RnB or bass specific tracks like Dubstep or Chillstep types of genres, then I suggest you avoid everything I just said above and get an entirely different rig. If you are mixing to hear the actual level of bass as per a digital synth or similar electronic device to make the music, then odds are good you’ll be recording in levels of bass the HD800 may not be able to portray properly. The Hd800 doesn’t reach deep or broad, it’s quite pure as I am sure you already know. I suggest you try to diagnose what type of listeners you are going to be mixing for. Are they audiophiles or tone purists, or the general consumer who just want to rock out? If it is the latter, then I suggest a nicer, warmer rig and something that will be more accurately to how a typical android or apple device will oust that final mix. You’d want to tailor your final mix to the majority in that regard, so I’d suggest something more like the iFi iCan, or something that is more middle of the road. As Droid dacs and Apple products in general are neither neutral nor overly colored. If you want to go a bit beyond, I’d go Burson all the way with an older HA160, or the newer Conductor series. Something musical, but not overly colored or significantly boosted would be the way to go.

      I can help more specifically when I hear back from you on what type of mixing you are active in.

      • Mar Lowe

        wow!! thanks for the reply , i have a 2.1 set of Yamaha HS 50 with my Mbox pro, sennhaiser HD 280 and a medium treated room and most of my mixes i felt i been missing something that is not to a standard record, feel a little lifeless ,so i decide to go better gear and different set and learn more in the process to get as close to a decent mix ,i made it portable because i travel often now and the new place i live i don’t have much space for a studio desk or treated room , my new rig is :
        apollo twin (travel,Record)
        apollo mk16
        dangerous 2 bus plus
        dangerous source
        Focal spirit pro ( recent purchased )
        HS 50 Yamaha
        i produce and mix a R&B/POP song for a client with my yamaha and still was not happy with the result of the mix, ether my client but i made a story to mix it again , then i completely mix it again on the Focals spirit pro , and i got surprise with the result, am picky with my own mix and if is not to a level i don’t feel i been accomplish progress, i know am not in the level of Andrew Scheps, Fab Dupont or Pensados and more mix masters but i try to get as close i can get and continue learning ,
        people say “oh you don’t need this or that , but tools make the jobs done along with know how to use it or ” you need monitors to mix a project and have some headphone just for record and pin point some clips on the track” ,
        but i have to say the Focal pro step on top of my yamaha in clarity and balance ,way better mix,my client was happy with the final mix and want to continue more projects , thats one of the reason i decide to get the HD 800S to go along with My Focals pro , and i just use the yamaha for listen how they sound in the room or produce at low level .
        i produce and mix R&B,Pop,Reguetton ,SALSA ,Merengue ,hip hop so i need a set that is not going to fool me when i have a problem , if i have to spend in a good quality gear that will last me for a long time i go with it to get better result you know , thats my story .

        i saw the QES Labs HPBA-2 and they say is perfect amp for the HD 800s
        What you think ?

      • 24bit

        Based on that, the client liked the mix on neutral gear. I reviewed the Focals a while back:

        The Pro is the more neutral of the lot. Do a test if you can with the HD800 and the Focal, this is veryyyy important as a mixer and especially so if you have what call “ants in the pants” clients. I used to deal with similar a while back when I was doing that. When you get some free time, generate some bass digitally and make sure to use the Focal first as your benchmark. Swap to the HD800 and see if the physical presence and the quantity matches up between the sets. They won’t, the HD800 will portray less almost always, but this is irrelevant right now, only the client is important and what he likes. When you mix with the Focal, you’ll be on very slight boost and almost no boost at all with the HD800. If the client liked the result through the Focal, he wants a small boost on the low end, something pure, but also more present than a “neutral or linear” bass quantity.

        Does that sound correct based on that clients thoughts? This wasn’t a tone thing for him right? It was a physical quantity, or detail loss/retrieval issue? Lol, I’m sorry for asking so many questions but since you are a pro mixer, these are beyond vital questions for me to ask before continuing. As I am sure you know, pissing off the client is the worst thing you can do, so you need to accurately gauge what type of listener that guy is who wants the product that you are making.

        With finicky clients like that, it is wise to have multiple headphones so you can show him this track will not always sound the same on every piece of gear. If he likes it on the focal, he might LOVE it on an Audeze. Or, if he liked it on the HD800, he might HATE it on the focal. Ect ect.

        Sadly, with actual pro mixers like you who encounter unhappy clients who want a specific thing, they need to be veryyyyy politely shown that you can digitally create that product 100% to the customer needs and it will still sound different through every headphone. Every amp and every source, combined with different headphones will yield different results, so what he thinks wasn’t a good mix originally might have been a life altering mix to someone using an Audeze+Burson Conductor+ what/ever USB DAC. But, that same track will sound garbage to someone using a Focal Pro+ your pick of whatever amp and source.

        Sadly, you might have to educate the client (in the nicest way imaginable, haha) and let him know that audio is preference based and what he thinks sounds good might sound horrid to someone else) Unfortunately, clients don’t actually care, they want it their way so it would be very recommended to try to figure out what type of person they are. If they are nice and understanding and willing to listen to you, try to show them different headphone and speaker rigs and how the same file sounds different on them. If he is a stubborn person, you might be stuck with listening to them and making that track 100% to only their liking.

        If that latter personality type is the case, it is actually much easier to product. If he liked the mix through the Focal, he likes a very gentle bass boost, crisp treble with some bite to it and good stage presence. He wants linear sound, but with some bite to it on physical dynamic slam.

  2. Martin

    The front-to-depth ratio is brilliant, and even the clarity is very good even with Senn 650. This amp is better suited for producers than hifi-ears. Nothing sticks out or jumps our to you in this amp. It’s 100% NEUTRAL.

    • 24bit

      I disagree about the depth of field, side by side with the Lyr and Mjolnir proved the Schiit amps (which are not at all regarded as good sound stage products) were both superior in height, width and depth compared to the Mini. But, that is just my two cents. I do agree its a very flat and neutral amp though. If producers wanted to overpay, this would be a good choice. I’d rather not overpay and get better performance in various other cheaper and more powerful amps. Crossfeed circuits are almost completely useless to a sound engineer or producer, so this amp is near useless for them as well.

  3. Martin

    I disagree with this review. This amp sounds 100% linear and true. I’ve tested it with Beyer 770, Senn 650, 600 and others too. If the source is all right and the song has good production this is one of the best amps I’ve heard. Due to its linear reproduction this amp will make a lot of music sound very bad cause production wise todays music has flaws.

    • 24bit

      How can you possibly know the amp sounds linear with a DT770, a bass monster with elevated bass, the HD650, which is hyper thick sounding and also raised on the bass? You can pick up linear sound proper on the HD600, but not the others. Even on a flat EQ that Beyer and HD650 still sound boosted and exaggerated. The amp makes everything sound bad by comparison to other products of similar prices that are well regarded. It does not sound BAD overall, just very under performing for the price. It still sounds like a lower end schiit amp in clarity, so it gets good midrange clarity and dynamics, but this amp is severely outclassed by the likes of many other amps in the $500-1000 Tier. The Mjolnir crushes this amp unmerciful in clarity and dynamics, its more powerful, balanced and cheaper.

  4. Ben HaZmanim

    I always wonder, what do people who buy this do when , naturally the NEXT “best” amp comes along, in a day, week or month, year or years? As it surely will. My question : do people sell them somewhere in order to buy a new one? Seems an $1000 amp would go used at $600 or am I totally lost?

  5. Kristian Lindecrantz

    Great review! Love when its not all positive, when justified oc. On a personal note you just saved me 850$ as i was seriously eyeballing this one. Im puting my money towards the Cavalli Liquid Carbon instead…

    • 24bit

      Thanks! I recently got to hear the CLC and I am astounded by what it has to offer.

      • Kristian Lindecrantz

        Wow sounds promising! Doesnt make the wait any easier though

  6. Little Chicky Hippi

    A very informative, reliable and honest review. Keep up the good work Piskor, I love seeing your reviews :D


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