Tori's vocals had tremendous presence, too, which was conveyed with a sort of effortless quality that put little in the way of the music, i.e., my ears and her voice. Tori was placed front and center within the soundstage, which managed to be enveloping but still appropriate to my physical surroundings. Soundstage depth was a touch better than width, though overall the stage was nicely appointed, well-defined and, again, natural in its portrayal. The track's high frequencies were smooth and I'd say neutral, though they lacked a sense of sweetness that I think you just don't get with digital amplifiers. I'd make the argument that any sweetener is bad and the result of a product's intent to change or alter the sound of the music, which the mINT doesn't appear to do - at least, not in my opinion. Still, the highs had plenty of top-end air and decay, and they never became fatiguing or shrill even when pushed to their ragged edge. I kept coming back to and getting wrapped up in the mINT's effortless demeanor, whereby music just sort of happened - any and all editorializing seemed to stem from the Wharfedale speakers and not the mINT itself.
Moving on, I fired up Dido's breakout album No Angel (Arista) and the track "My Life." The opening rim shots sounded positively live, as if they were in the room with me. The rim shots' organic nature, natural timbre and dynamic snap were stunning in their portrayal. The accompanying kick drum was also impressive, possessing, again, surprising heft, but following up with natural detail and texture. For the lowest of lows, you may have to resort to using a subwoofer, though I'd urge anyone considering purchasing a mINT to listen first before assuming you're going to need more in terms of bass. In my office, which is little more than a second bedroom, the mINT via a pair of bookshelf speakers dished out palpable bass response. Dido's vocals not only sounded right, but they also felt right, as the mINT captured and translated her vocal inflections with ease. Another thing I noticed on this particular track was the mINT's vertical scale as it pertained to the soundstage, which is something I've come to appreciate more since welcoming the Pendragon loudspeaker into my home.
Let's face it, not everything we listen to is audiophile grade, especially through components designed to be connected to portable or computer-based music devices. Convinced the mINT can hang as a stodgy all-in-one audiophile solution, I decided to try something different and see how it fared with some of today's popular music. First up was the single "Cyclone" featuring T-Pain from the hip-hop artist Baby Bash (Arista). I hate to keep hitting the same point, but good Lord, the mINT's bass prowess is staggering. In truth, it was the biggest surprise I took away from my time spent with it. "Cyclone" is a dance club anthem of sorts and via the mINT I wanted to dance - that's right, I said it, it made me move. Like I said, not all music is meant to be listened to in the dark while clutching a brandy or glass of red wine - some is made to be played loud and with gusto. The mINT gets this part of the equation right. Moreover, because it doesn't appear to editorialize (or chastize) what it's asked to play back, nor is it too concerned with genre, its appeal I feel is universal, something that more two-channel products should aspire to possess. Before you go writing off "Cyclone" as just another trunk-slamming jam, you'd be surprised at how well mixed it is, possessing a real three-dimensional sound a la some of Michael Jackson's finer recordings, albeit from two speakers. These more spacious moments were rendered brilliantly via the mINT. Also, when I took things to eleven, I never got the sense the mINT was even remotely close to running out of muscle.
Since I was having fun, I opted to keep the party going and spooled up Apollo 440's hit single "Stop the Rock" off their album Getting High On Your Own Supply (Sony). The mINT proved once again that it was anything but shy on power. The soundstage was grand and encompassing. In terms of dynamics, they were breakneck quick and positively violent in some instances - again, a testament to the mINT's power and control over my speaker's drivers. With all this big in-your-face sound, you might be thinking it was a one-dimensional wall, but you'd be wrong, as the soundstage, despite the added volume and change in genre, remained very nuanced and balanced front to back and side to side. Indeed, the mINT's ability to resolve such detail in the face of utter chaos was another attribute I found most surprising during my evaluations.
Even when plugging in a pair of headphones, I found the mINT's overall sound to remain intact, as what I heard was an effortless, smooth and full-bodied portrayal of whatever music I chose to play. The backgrounds were "black," as they say, and the vocals natural - it's just that now the sound was inside my head, as opposed to shaking the rafters. A nice feature that I found when using headphones with the mINT was that, upon plugging it in, the sound being played through my speakers was immediately muted and the input deactivated.
Lastly, and this speaks volumes to the quality of the mINT's internal DAC, all of the above-mentioned sound examples and notes were taken while listening to 320kbps MP3 files. I did compare each of them to their CD counterparts via my Oppo player and found the sound quality to be comparable enough to justify my various audiophile no-no's.
There isn't much not to like about the mINT, especially when viewing it through the lens of being a desktop or minimalist solution. That said, there was a particular instance where I did manage to get the mINT to enter into what I believe to be a protection mode, whereby all the lights on the front panel lit up and the volume knob zeroed itself out. Try though I did to select a different input, or even turn the volume knob, nothing seemed to work. Unplugging the mINT from the wall was the only way to terminate whatever process I had inadvertently caused and return the mINT to its normal self. As near as I can tell, what set the mINT off was a buildup of static electricity, for upon touching it, I was given a sizeable shock, while the mINT itself then lit up like a Christmas tree. Unplugging and then re-plugging in the mINT fixed the issue and, for weeks thereafter, I never had any further issue as a result of that strange and rare occurrence.
Outside of that, I really didn't find a whole lot of fault with the mINT. I suppose if you have power-hungry loudspeakers, a bit more power would be necessary. To deal with this, the mINT has preamp outs. During my three-week evaluation, I never was left wanting more in the power department and I can't imagine many would, given how relatively efficient modern loudspeakers are.
I would've liked to have some form of wireless connectivity, too, though the mINT's USB input does go a long way in curbing this need, for you could argue that a laptop or connected device can stream wireless music or Internet radio if need be. Also, I didn't care for the tactile feel of the volume knob, as I found it to be a bit vague, but man, am I nit-picking at this point.
Competition and Comparisons
Integrated amplifiers are nothing new but, like DACs, they are experiencing a bit of resurgence as of late. Maybe it's their all-in-one status and/or the fact that they're often cheaper than their separate counterparts that have people paying closer attention to integrated amplifiers these days; needless to say, there is no shortage of options. The easiest and most direct comparison you can make to the mINT is Bel Canto's C7R, which offers much of the same functionality as the mINT, though it does so at a higher cost, retailing for $2.995. Visually, I prefer the look of the Bel Canto over the mINT, but in terms of performance, I find the C7R's price tag hard to justify, especially when you consider it offers less power (60 watts into eight ohms, 120 watts into four ohms) and a lesser DAC. On the flip side, the C7R does have a built-in phono stage, which may or may not appeal to some, though I'll argue you can add an outboard phono stage to the mINT for less than the difference between it and the C7R.
Other integrated amplifiers in and around the mINT's price range, not necessarily offering up the same connectivity but comparable in sound quality, are Napa Acoustic's MT-34 tubed integrated amp, Marantz's PM8004 and NAD's C 390DD Direct Digital Powered DAC/Amplifier. For more on these integrated amplifiers and more, please visit Home Theater Review's Stereo Amplifier page.
Just as when I finished my evaluation of Wyred 4 Sound's DAC-2, I came away from my time spent with the mINT in disbelief over how much performance, connectivity and outright fun Wyred 4 Sound managed to pack into such a small and affordable package. While $1,499 may not be uber-affordable to some, the mINT definitely deserves to be considered, for buying a separate DAC, preamp and amplifier that work as well together as they do in the mINT would definitely cost a lot more. But after living with the mINT for several weeks, I'd say that budding audiophiles or music enthusiasts might not need more if they were shopping for a system or component that encompassed all their digital needs yet was easy to live with day-to-day. If what I just described appeals to you, than you should definitely check out the mINT, for it is, in my opinion, that good. Even if you have a big, tricked-out system already but are looking to spice up, say, an office or a den, the mINT is worth a look. I love this little thing. If it had some form of wireless connectivity, like Bluetooth, it might be perfect. Needless to say, these are just my opinions, but you owe it to yourself to check out the mINT if you're in the market.
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