As our music and our lives become more and more entrenched in the digital realm, the need for specialty products that take advantage of this fact will continue to rise. Today's digital lifestyle is one that puts as much a premium on convenience as it does on style, but does so, according to some, at the cost of substance. But what if you could have all three? What if technology made it possible for you to have a product that was not only well-suited to a digital lifestyle, but that also managed to perform at a level that was previously thought to be reserved for those who preferred fossil fuels rather than today's eco-friendly way of thinking? I believe I've stumbled upon such a product, a product that manages to be both connected and stylish, while also packing soul. What would such a thing be called? Well, if you're into specialty AV and know of a little Internet-direct company by the name of Wyred 4 Sound, than you might call it mINT, short for Mini-Integrated Amplifier.
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The mINT, like all Wyred 4 Sound products, is offered direct via the company's website and it retails for a rather reasonable $1,499. On the outside, the mINT looks every bit a Wyred 4 Sound product, what with its small footprint, silver and black color scheme and straightforward, modern design. The beautifully constructed but smallish chassis of the mINT measures roughly eight inches across by three-and-three-quarters inches high and nine inches deep (measured from the end of the binding posts to the front of the chassis). Despite being half the size of a man's shoebox, the mINT is rather stout, tipping the scales at around 10 pounds. The front panel is neatly and cleanly laid out, with buttons for input selection (USB, Coax, Toslink/Optical, Aux1 and 2) and mute. The center-mounted volume knob is not easily overlooked, though it doesn't appear nor feel garish in its implementation. In the lower left corner rests a headphone jack and off to the right is the unit's standby button. When on, the input selected as well as the standby button glow a pale blue and, when off, the standby button glows a sort of pale green.
Inside, the mINT packs two individual ICE power modules that are good for a solid 100 watts per channel into eight ohms and 170 watts per channel into four ohms. The mINT's internal DAC is powered by an ESS DAC chip, not unlike (but not the same as) what you find in Wyred 4 Sound's discrete DAC efforts. The internal DAC will support files up to 24-bit 192kHz via its coaxial and/or optical inputs, whereas the USB input is capable of supporting files up to 24-bit 96kHz. The internal headphone amp (yes, the mINT has one of those, too) utilizes its own independent power supply that is said to be an improvement in eliminating crosstalk and noise. The headphone amp itself is rated at 720 milliwatts into 32 ohms, 123 milliwatts into 300 ohms and 60 milliwatts into 600 ohms.Around back, the small mINT is awash with input options, starting with the most notable, which are its digital inputs (USB, Coax and Optical). Below the mINT's digital inputs rest a pair of analog audio inputs (Aux 1 and 2) that are flanked by two other sets of RCA style inputs, though these inputs are labeled Aux Out (preamp out) and Fixed Out. The Aux Out can be used to facilitate a subwoofer or more powerful amplifier, while the Fixed Out is there to allow for the mINT to send a signal to a recording device or secondary system or zone. The Fixed Out can also be configured, via a small button on the rear of the mINT, to operate as a Main In, which will allow those wanting to employ, say, a digital crossover to do so when using it in conjunction with the mINT's preamp or main Aux Out. While I'm normally game for features such as these, I didn't set up a system to take advantage of such functionality for this review, so we'll have to take Wyred 4 Sound at the company's word. Turning my attention back to the mINT's main Aux outputs, the Aux 2 can also be configured, via the touch of a button, for HT pass-through. A pair of five-way binding posts as well as two 12-volt triggers and a removable power cord round out the mINT's connection options.
This brings me to the mINT's remote. The mINT remote is long and slender and reminds me of the neuralizer from the sci-fi franchise Men in Black. There is a master power button, input selection (denoted by up and down arrows), volume (again, up and down) and mute - that's it. Because of how I chose to set up and review the mINT, I never had to rely on the remote, as the mINT's volume control was always within reach. Nevertheless, the remote is nothing if not functional.
I set up the mINT in my office, which allowed me to connect it to both my desktop PC and Oppo's new BDP-103 Blu-ray player, as my main equipment rack now resides in my office as well. I connected the mINT to my desktop PC via a single USB cable, which automatically set off a chain reaction of driver downloads and soundcard configurations that was the very definition of plug-n-play. I then connected the mINT to my Oppo player via an optical cable that I had lying around. In truth, there was little to no difference in sound quality (in my office setup) between the Oppo and my desktop PC. Most - okay, the majority - of this review was carried out with music being played back via the JRiver software already loaded on my PC. The speakers I chose for this review were a pair of Wharfedale Jade 1 bookshelf speakers that I still had in the house. I went with the Jades rather than my reference Tekton Design Pendragons because I wanted to make the mINT work for it a little, as the Wharfedale Jade 1s are far less efficient than my beloved Pendragons. Less efficient doesn't mean bad, as the Jade 1 is a terrific speaker in its own right, it's just that, at 98dB efficient, the Pendragons could be powered with a nine-volt battery if you were so inclined (joking). All the cabling used in my setup was of the generic or DIY variety, though I did use a pair of Sanus Steel Series speaker stands under the Jade 1s. All in all, the setup procedure was pretty straightforward and able to be carried out in less than 20 minutes.
I began my evaluation of the mINT with Tori Amos' "Intro Jam and Marys of the Sea" from the box set A Piano (Atlantic/Wea). The opening bass guitar and kick drum were shockingly effective. I say shockingly because the Jade 1s are bookshelf speakers, and yet the bass being dished out by them and the mINT was extraordinary, not to mention incredibly taut, resolved and natural in its tone.
Read more about the performance of the Wyred 4 Sound mINT on Page 2.