I played Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith (DVD, 20th Century Fox) and found the Mini MC5 did a very good job with clarity and detail. When watching the scene where Obi-Wan and Anakin fly their spaceships through enemy forces to rescue the Chancellor, I was able to give the amplifier a good workout. All channels were active and there were plenty of effects and explosions throughout the scene. The Mini MC5 was able to replicate each sonic cue with a good amount of detail, spatial rendition and texture. The Mini MC5 produced fast leading edges and good, tight bass control kept the scene from becoming a jumbled mess as can happen with lesser amplifiers. The amplifier also performed as to be expected with more dialog intensive scenes in which dialog was consistent when panned across channels.
The movie Inception (Blu-ray, Warner Home Video) features an excellent DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack scored by Hans Zimmer. The dream sequences featured fast-paced, enveloping soundstages with deep powerful bass. The Mini MC again did a great job producing a convincing and enveloping soundfield. The subterranean bass was deep and powerful. I have heard this disc sound somewhat aggressive in the past but never got that sense with the Mini MC5. In comparison with the Halcro and Marantz multi-channel amplifiers, I found the top end of the Mini MC to be slightly rolled off.
I watched another movie with a lossless soundtrack, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (Blu-ray, Warner Home Video). Those of you familiar with the series know that the movies are packed with challenging dialog scenes with many characters speaking or some speaking in whispers juxtaposed with loud and fast-paced fight and chase scenes. One such scene in this film involves a dragon chasing Harry Potter making good use of all channels including the LFE channel. The Mini MC5 acquitted itself well with scenes from both extremes but especially so with the louder and busier scenes. The scenes containing lots of low level sonic cues such as whispers, rustles, etc. seemed to be missing some of the smallest details when compared to the Halcro amplifier. Overall this is a small quibble as it is highly unlikely one would ever notice the absence of this last bit of detail without an AB comparison. In all fairness to the Mini MC5, I must note that the five channel version of the Halcro costs three times as much as the Mini MC5.
Moving away from movies but staying with multi-channel audio I listened to two DVD-Audio discs. I first listened to Toy Matinee's self titled album (DVD-Audio, DTS). This is normally one of my favorite discs but it sounded a bit flat, almost as though the depth of the soundstage was reduced and I was moved farther back from it. The vocals and guitar were very clear and detailed but there seemed to be an ever so slight dip in the upper midrange energy and a bit less body than with the Halcro or Marantz amplifiers.
The Crystal Method's Legion of Boom (DVD-Audio, DTS) is a bass heavy electronic album that the Mini MC5 just nailed. The album is full of fast, hard hitting notes and gut wrenching bass. The Mini MC 5 kept great control of the speakers with lightning fast attacks and no overhang.
I then moved the amplifier back to my stereo system for music listening. I was a bit wary because there seemed to be a trade-off of midrange body and fullness to get the amplifier's speed and detail, but a few moments of listening allayed those concerns. Music lovers would do well to pair this amplifier with a good, tubed preamplifier. I still found the top end to be slightly rolled off but any thinness in the midrange disappeared.
I began my two channel listening with Louis Armstrong's Louis Under the Stars (CD, Classic Records/Verve). The track "Body & Soul" starts off with a great sounding trumpet. The trumpet was rendered as a three dimensional image a couple feet behind the front plane of the speakers and was solidly placed. The instruments were slightly rolled off on the top end but were otherwise tonally accurate. The amplifier was very smooth and completely grain free. The new ICEpower modules are much improved over the older modules that were utilized in older ICEpower based amplifiers. The harshness and grit is gone, the speed remains and the bass control is improved.
I listened to two SACDs - Sugar Hill's The Music of Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn (Chesky, SACD) and Carl Orff's Carmina Burana (Telarc, SACD). The Sugar Hill quartet does a great job arranging music, which isn't normally performed as a quartet. The tracks "In My Solitude" and "In a Sentimental Mood" were my favorites. The whole album sounds very natural and unforced but these two moved me the most. Javon Jackson's saxophone's reedy, bluesy style was rich, full of texture and was nearly holographic.
The chorus on "Fortuna Imperatix Mundi" on the Carmina Burana disc is always a good test of detail. The Mini MC resolved a great deal of detail and had an extremely black background. I could not "see" as far into the recording as I could with the McIntosh MC-501's that normally power my stereo system. There was a great amount of detail but the smallest and softest details that I heard through my reference amplifier were now missing. Throughout my listening session I repeatedly noted how quiet the amplifier was. The terms "blacker," "inky" and "silent" came to mind; there was absolutely no noise coming from the speakers during silent passages. In other words, the 'silent passages' were truly silent which is not always the case. The amplifier itself was also silent; there was no humming or bussing coming from the chassis. I would gladly take the omission of the smallest details in trade for the absence of unwanted noise and deep, black backgrounds.
I also listened to some high resolution audio through PS Audio's PerfectWave DAC. The Mini MC5 easily resolved the increased detail available from high resolution copies. I played Britten's Orchestra (HRx - Reference recordings), which is a 176.4 kHz/24 bit exact copy of the master recording. The drumbeats in the beginning of "Sinfonia da requiem" were strong and detailed. As the track built to a climax, the Mini MC easily kept up with the increased detail and dynamics. It was only at the volumes well beyond comfortable did the amplifier run out of steam. Thankfully, if you really need more power, Wyred 4 Sound has a line of multi-channel amplifiers that is twice as powerful, though I think there will be very few systems that will need more power than the Mini MC can provide.
Lastly, I did some listening with the PS Audio PerfectWave DAC and McIntosh Laboratories MCD-500 driving the amplifier directly through their variable volume outputs. I tried this configuration both with my MartinLogan Summits and Dynaudio Contour 1.4s. I found the Dynaudio speakers also to be a good match for this amplifier. While I still preferred the sound with the preamplifier in the chain, the system maintained a good sense of rhythm and pace which I often find to have lacking when I use this type of configuration. It appears that Wyred 4 Sound's modifications of the input stage make a significant difference in this type of setup.
Competition and Comparison
Bang & Olufsen's ICEpower modules are being used by a variety of manufacturers such as Rotel, Bel Canto, PS Audio and Jeff Rowland Design Group. I have not had an opportunity to listen to these other ICEpower based amplifiers. I think it is safe to say that they will not all sound the same. Each manufacturer will implement the modules differently, some will simply place them in a chassis and add the necessary connections and others like Wyred 4 Sound make substantive modifications to the modules affecting their sound.
For more on the above-mentioned digital amplifiers as well as traditional multi-channel amplifiers please check out Home Theater Review's Multi-channel Amplifier page.
The Wyred 4 Sound Mini MC impressed me as its sound quality was vastly improved over the last ICEpower amplifier I listened to. The Mini MC was grain free, detailed, fast and had a strong grip on bass notes. But no audio component is perfect. Throughout my listening sessions I found the treble to be slightly rolled off. This is preferable to a bright, aggressive high end as listening sessions can be extended without strain but the amount of air or spaciousness is slightly reduced. The soundstage had good width; depth was decent but the amplifier uniformly placed the listener towards the middle of the audience rather than the front few rows which can affect the impression of depth.
The descriptor that stuck me the most was that the amplifier came across as being on the cool side of neutral when it was in my solid state, multi-channel system. Some may describe this quality as analytical or dry. This is great for movies as it provided excellent dialog intelligibility but I prefer more midrange body for music. Thankfully, the addition of a tube preamplifier provided the right balance for me.
Lastly, from an ergonomic standpoint I would like to see the control for the light's brightness to be placed somewhere accessible. One may not know exactly how bright they will want the light until they have lived with it for a while and having to remove the unit from the shelf or rack to make the adjustment may be difficult in some installations.
Wyred 4 Sound's Mini MC5 is a steal. At just under $2,000 one would be hard pressed to find another five channel amplifier with such speed, clarity and deep black backgrounds. The Mini MC performed extremely well with movies, its speed and control allowed the details in the frenetic paced action scenes to remain distinct and the dialog to be clear and intelligible. Despite the lower power rating of the Mini MC series, its 221-Watts should be enough for most systems. The three channel option (or five channel version in a 7.1 system) in combination with Wyred 4 Sound's more powerful mono amplifiers on the main channels would be easy to arrange in the event more power is necessary.
The overall sonic character of the Mini MC5 was that of slightly cool and analytical. As described above, I find this to be a plus for movies but it when it comes to music this will be a matter of preference for you to decide. If you are a fan of the Nuforce and Halcro amplifiers you will likely enjoy the Wyred 4 Sound amplifiers. I found myself often comparing the Mini MC 5 to these much more expensive amplifiers. The Wyred 4 Sound Mini MC does not equal the finesse of these several-times-as-expensive amplifiers but it comes much closer than the price differences suggest. The relatively small size of the sonic differences, coupled with large degree of sonic similarities makes it easy for me to recommend these amplifiers. You would have to spend several times as much in order to improve upon their speed, detail and silent backgrounds.