Sound Impressions

It pains me to say it, but my $1200 Oppo HA-1 really laid a beat down on this SPL Mini.  With regard to clarity, this Mini is just not up to par with an amp that generally costs $850 that also doesn’t offer a DAC as well, let alone $1200 with my HA-1.  At $850 and for a 100% raw amplifier, I expect more out of it.  When I use the HA-1 to bridge my Phonitor Mini to a headphone like the MrSpeakers Ether, I am met with a downgrade in quality across the board vs just using the HA-1 by itself.  Here are some specs:

  • 2x 1 W (+30 dBu) at 1 kHz and 600 Ω connected impedance
  • 2x 2 W (+30 dBu) at 1 kHz and 300 Ω connected impedance
  • Maximum Output Power: 2x 2 W(1kHz/300 Ohm), 2x 1 W (1kHz/600 Ohm)

Clarity and solidity provided by higher output amps aside, clarity should not be affected by the lack of wattage output with the Ether: Proven by the usage of sets like the K812 from AKG, Beyerdynamic T1 and even my brand new Noble K10 customs that still sound shoulder shrug worthy when paired with the Phonitor Mini.  Sadly, the amp just isn’t banging out some serious or respectful clarity at this price point either and feels lacking in substance and authority.  This amp doesn’t have the juice to justify usage with most Planar headphones that I have available at the moment.

I really wanted the Mini here to offer something nice or perhaps some useful incentive to purchase…but there objectively isn’t one I could spot.  With regard to literal clarity, it is inferior to a host of around $800-$1000 amps out there.  Hell, the ess9018 DAC inside my portable Calyx M ($999) sounds noticeably more clean and clear with every headphone I tested with during the review process.  Honestly, I wasn’t able to find a $800-900 amplifier that sounded inferior to the Phonitor Mini and I’ve never heard one in the price tier that sounds quite like this, so please forgive me for the lack of a comparison in this price tier…there just aren’t any $800-900ish headphone amps that I’ve come across that sound grainy and harsh like this Phonitor Mini does.  I think this amplifier cost near double of what it should and is on the level of the Schiit Lyr at $450.

Staging and Dynamics

For reference, I always use my HA-1 from Oppo.  I know it isn’t the best DAC/Amp in the tier, but it is the most useful and jam packed with features that make life so very easy for a reviewer.  It is also a great flat line, benchmarking tool to compare other products against.   When I compared it with the Phonitor Mini by connecting the two together, you can hear an audible downgrade in clarity and dynamics (yes, dynamics are downgraded despite the host of Crossfeed and Angle toggles used on the Phonitor Mini).  I am truly shocked by this, I didn’t expect the 9018 DAC in the HA-1 on a neutral EQ via Foobar to house superior depth of field (again, to a noticeable degree) over the Phonitor Mini.  Where the Oppo is smooth and deeper feeling in staging, the Phonitor has some haze over the entire spectrum, top to bottom and feels more flat, lacking dynamics and with less stereo separation of instruments.  The Mini is also much more impactful with slam, wince worthy at times.  This is not a relaxing amplifier, quite the opposite and it feels raw and abrasive at times.  There is no doubt the HA-1 is superior in staging qualities in every way, as well as being the more slick and smooth of the two.

bass mids treble

Bass, Mids and Treble

With Crossfeed active, Bass quality drops.  This occurs even with Foobar’s digital Crossfeed circuits, so it is no surprise that it happens through the Phonitor by itself as well.  Since there are no bass booster toggles on the amplifier, the use of the Crossfeed and Angle switches really degrade quantity too much for my ears on a neutral EQ.  I’ve messed with the circuits and tried every combination I could in attempt to salvage bass quantity, but to no avail.  This is a linear sounding amp to begin with without any toggles active that alter sound, so of course it loses oomph on the low end with some of them active.  You’ll need to run EQ via your source to counter it; it’s the only way to win.  Vinyl users may be S.O.L. here, but those with CD players with some bass dials or those using a portable source with a UI based EQ or those outing via the PC will be fine with regard to quantity levels.  I find the amp more than satisfactory in terms of responsiveness to EQ via the source: you can jack up the EQ on the low end a fair amount without losing much quality.

There is most certainly a linear feeling midrange that mirrors the placement of the treble…IE…everything starts off sounding relatively flat and physically neutral.  Bass, mids and treble do not exceed each other in quantity.  Naturally and without any toggles active, this Phonitor Mini sounds pretty good with vocal placement.  They seem to carry a good sense of weight and solidity, they certainly do not sound thin at all.  If you are into vocals, don’t touch any of the physical switches and consider using an EQ of some type to raise the midrange levels just a bit to form a nice bloom effect.  My largest gripe about this amp, despite my thoughts thus far, is certainly the problematic upper midrange and treble in general.

Sadly, this amplifier sounds unnatural up top and female vocals really suffer because of it.  There is a very strange and sudden nasal tendency that occurs sometimes and depending on the track: this quality alone makes me not want to use the amplifier.  I can actually ignore all of the other distressing qualities this amp has on a subjective level; I even made due for a few weeks while my HA-1 was out being loaned to a friend for a short time and just before this Phonitor arrived.  During that dark time, I had to pass the time with my Calyx sourcing the Phonitor via RCA to single ended interconnects…sufficed to say that I didn’t enjoy my time with this rig, but I got by. As mentioned before, I consider this amp a $500 or so level clarity experience, so it’s not terrible, but it is overpriced at $850.  It really feels very odd when the Crossfeed and Angle toggles are used together, in turn dropping the center image too much, but also encountering a problematic treble at the same time.  Due to that, everything feels lopsided and leaning towards to the top end at all times.

Final Thoughts

Man…what happened here?  SPL dished out an $850 amplifier with the bare essentials for input and output needs, but also implemented Crossfeed and Angled switches that attempt to do the same thing digital processes inside music software already do on a grand scale.  The Phonitor Mini doesn’t do nearly as well of a job with these functions as Foobar2000, so truthfully you’ll be downgrading yourself if you normally use a nice USB DAC for your digital collection of music.  I think those who can catch this amp on sale or maybe purchased used, but who also are vinyl enthusiasts or own a CD player that doesn’t have an onboard EQ system will enjoy this amp despite my gripes.  At that price point, it offers poor price to performance.  However, if you can snag one used I say absolutely go for it if you don’t listen primarily through your PC.



final thoughts

SPL swung and missed on this one, sacrificing useful features like proper input and output options for obscure and shiny Crossfeed/Speaker Angle switches.  I can’t go as far as saying it is a gimmick, but it sure doesn’t sound any different, if any different at all when I messed around with certain switch combinations to my ears.  I really want SPL to revise this amp as soon as possible, we don’t care about how small it is and I think we all would rather have a nice amplifier that offers a lot and sounds good without quality loss mentioned inside the darn manual.  Crossfeed is great guys, I never use Foobar2000 without its Crossfeed active, but these hard toggles for Crossfeed on the Phonitor Mini just don’t do the good name of Crossfeed justice.  As it states in the manual for the amp, these features will naturally degrade the center image and to counter that, another switch was needed.  How about just a very dynamic sounding amplifier to start off with that has just a bit of midrange bloom to start off (like the HA-1, Lyr a host of other amplifiers and DACs out there) instead of starting off totally linear feeling on a neutral EQ, but losing that center image even further upon enabling Crossfeed and some of the Angle toggles…at least this way that center image and vocal experience can be preserved when you activate the Crossfeed circuits.

Price: $849



Links: http://spl.info/de/produkte/kopfhoererverstaerker/phonitor-mini/in-kuerze.html

Technical Specifications

Features:

  • Phonitor matrix
  • Optimally suited for all dynamic headphones from 10 Ohm
  • Mount-stand compatible with VESA adapter
  • Maximum Output Power: 2x 2 W(1kHz/300 Ohm), 2x 1 W (1kHz/600 Ohm)
  • Frequency response: 10Hz bis 300kHz (-3dB)
  • THD+N: 0.00052 %,
  • Dynamic range: 133.62dB

Specifications:

Inputs

  • XLR connectors, electronically balanced
  • Impedance:    bal. ca. 20 kΩ,  unbal. ca. 10 kΩ
  • Input Level: +32,5 dBu
  • RCA connectors, unbalanced
  • Impedance: ca. 10 kΩ
  • Input Level: +20 dBu

Considering that the RCA input is raised from -10dBV to +4dBu (approx. 12.7dB), the input level is comparable to that of the XLR inputs: +20dB + 12.7dB = 32.7dB

Headphone Output

  • 6,3-mm TRS connector
  • Pin wiring: Tip = Left, Ring = Right, Sleeve = GND
  • Impedance: 0,18 Ω
  • Attenuation Factor: 180 @ 40Ohm
  • Frequency Range: ‹10 Hz bis ›300 kHz ( -3 dB)
  • CMR: -106 dBu (at 1 kHz, 0dBu input level and unity gain)
  • Crosstalk at 1 kHz: -88 dB
  • THD&N: 0,00052  % (at 24dBu input level and unity gain, 1kHz, 100 kOhm load)
  • Noise: Unweighted -100 dB; A-weighted – 103 dB, CCIR -94 dB
  • Dynamic Range: 133,62 dB

Max. Output Power:

  • 2x 1 W (+30 dBu) at 1 kHz and 600 Ω connected impedance
  • 2x 2 W (+30 dBu) at 1 kHz and 300 Ω connected impedance

Power Supply

  • Voltages: 230 V AC, 50 Hz / 115 V AC, 60 Hz
  • Power Consumption: max. 15 W
  • Fuses: 100-120 V AC: T 1 A /220-240 V AC: T 500 mA

Measurement & Weight

  • Height x Width x Depth: 99mm x 277mm x 305mm (1.72″ x 5.76″ x 10.12″)
  • Weight: 2,03 kg (4.48 lbs)

0 dBu = 0.775 V. Specifications subject to change without notice.

 

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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 ?

    Reply
    • 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.

      Reply
      • 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: https://headfonics.com/2015/04/the-classic-the-professional-and-the-one-s-by-focal/2/

        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.

    Reply
    • 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.

      Reply
  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.

    Reply
    • 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.

      Reply
  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?

    Reply
  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…

    Reply
    • 24bit

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

      Reply
      • 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

    Reply

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