Because most of the recordings I listen to are stored in digital formats, as files or on discs, when I connect a traditional amplifier to my system, numerous analog inputs are typically left vacant. This is becoming the case for more and more listeners. While vinyl has lately experienced a bit of a renaissance, turntable aficionados remain outnumbered by those who’ve never used one. Fortunately, to address this need, audio companies have been producing equipment that combines integrated amplifiers with digital-to-analog converters -- an appropriate solution when the onboard DAC is of good quality.
In its six years, Wyred 4 Sound, of Atascadero, California, has racked up awards and positive reviews throughout the industry, including from SoundStage!. Their product line includes DACs, music servers, preamps, power amps, integrated amps, and cables, along with upgrades, such as to the Sonos Connect. Within most of those categories are W4S products at several price points -- a remarkable array from a small company. The US-made mINT -- an abbreviation of “mini-integrated” -- lives up to its name: At a svelte 8”W x 3.5”H x 8”D and a mere 9 pounds, it’s the smallest integrated amplifier I’ve reviewed. Nonetheless, it’s full of features, packing a DAC, integration options, and a headphone amplifier, along with some impressive specifications. It costs $1499 USD.
The mINT’s attractive case is made of fairly heavy-gauge metal variously brushed gray and painted black, the front-panel controls providing additional black accents. Rather than the usual ventilation grille, Wyred 4 Sound has cut in the top panel three slots, each in the shape of a W reminiscent of their logo (there are more vents on the rear panel). My review sample measured only 20W at idle on my Kill A Watt power meter and, after hours of Mahler and Bruckner, remained cool to the touch.
The front panel has a 1/4” headphone jack, an infrared sensor, a button for each of the five sources, a motorized and smoothly turning volume knob whose entire range of operation is encompassed by a single revolution, a Mute button, and a Standby/Power button. There is no display; rather, each source button has a blue LED that illuminates to indicate when that source has been selected. You’d have to learn the configuration of the source-button locations to know which has been selected. Nonetheless, I appreciated having dedicated source buttons on the front panel, particularly as space there is at a premium. And the single-turn volume knob makes it possible to see the volume setting despite the absence of a display.
On the rear panel are two sets of binding posts, to which I connected my Wharfedale loudspeakers with speaker cables terminated in banana plugs. The posts support 4mm bananas, 6 and 8mm spades, and 10AWG bare wire. There are three digital inputs: USB, coaxial, and optical.
The mINT’s analog connections are more complex. There are four pairs of RCA jacks -- two inputs and two outputs, in the default configuration -- but two pairs are switchable. Using a pair of pushbuttons, the Aux 2 input can be toggled to Home Theater Bypass, and Fixed Out (fixed at 2V) can become Main In. Home Theater Bypass circumvents the mINT’s volume control, to let your home-theater receiver or processor manage the volume level. This is very useful when using the mINT for the front channels and your AVR for the rest. Of course, it requires that the signal come from a volume-controlled preamp output rather than a line out. Wyred 4 Sound explains that the second toggle permits the incorporation of an external, active crossover. In this case you’d take the mINT’s analog pre out (Aux Out) -- pass through the external device and return to the mINT’s Main In. In a more typical setup, Aux Out would be used with an active subwoofer, Fixed Out with an analog recording device. The binding posts and the RCA and coaxial jacks are gold-plated. For system integration, the mINT provides a standard 3.5mm input and output for a 12V DC trigger; when triggered while Home Theater Bypass is active, the mINT will switch to its Home Theater Bypass input. Power is delivered via a removable IEC cord.
Inside, the mINT has a custom USB interface chip, and an ESS Sabre 9023 chip to support 24-bit/192kHz signals via S/PDIF coaxial or optical, and 24/96 from asynchronous USB. The class-D amplifier uses two independent ICEpower modules from Bang & Olufsen to produce an impressive 100Wpc into 8 ohms and a claimed range of gain of 0-33dB. Unlike in some integrateds, the mINT’s headphone amp is not an afterthought, and includes an independent power supply to reduce low-end crosstalk and noise.
The infrared remote control is a flattened cylinder 7” long with a single column of buttons: Power, Input +/-, Volume Up/Down, and Mute. While it’s not backlit, the sizes of and indentations in the various buttons are identifiable by touch. There are no buttons for directly selecting sources -- rather, you have to run through the sources in sequence. The remote didn’t always register my button presses, and was somewhat awkward to hold; sometimes, I had to abandon it and use the front panel. I’d probably replace the remote with a universal model with better ergonomics, and transport controls for the playback device; the mINT is supported by Logitech’s Harmony products.
Using the mINT’s USB DAC with Windows requires the installation of a driver from Wyred 4 Sound’s website, though this one appeared not to be sourced from Thesycon, as so many others are. The Windows installation process was more complicated than usual, and required a reboot. Apple’s Mac OS 10.5 and higher are supported by the mINT’s built-in driver, and I found that Linux (tested with Ubuntu 12.04 LTS), too, worked with the OS-supplied driver. I was pleasantly surprised to find I could also use the mINT with Android devices (tested with Android 4.4 Kitkat). The app USB Audio Recorder Pro was able to successfully play FLAC files of resolutions up to 24/96 through the mINT; OS-level use would require a more involved -- and rooted -- process. The mINT comes with a generous five-year warranty; “We plan to keep the drivers updated as needed with the hopes that they will be good forever,” says designer E.J. Sarmento.
I did most of my music listening using the mINT’s digital inputs, playing both discs and files. With CDs, the mINT easily bested the analog output of my Music Hall cd25 CD player by taming the brightness of each album I tried. The mINT had plenty of power, producing room-filling sound at only 11 o’clock, but the range from “loud enough” to “too loud” was rather narrow. While the sound was not engaging at low volume levels, I was pleased once I turned up the juice. In Schoenberg’s Erwartung, performed by the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra conducted by Simon Rattle (CD, EMI Classics 5 55212 2), the tones were rich and lush, and the sound used the full width of the soundstage. However, orchestral passages lacked detailed separation, and instruments impinged on each other in a slightly congested fashion compared to the similarly equipped but costlier Bel Canto Design e.One C7R ($2995), which I reviewed in 2013.
The mINT was satisfyingly quick on transients, such as the pizzicato and ricochet (jeté) bowed passages of the second movement, Feurig (Fiery), of Schoenberg’s Chamber Symphony No.1, Rattle this time leading the Birmingham Contemporary Music Group. Throughout, the low bass was successfully communicated, with or without the subwoofer (connected to the pre out) active. During Erwartung, an atonal monodrama for soprano and full orchestra, the dynamic range was handled effectively --particularly in “Er ist auch nicht da” and “Das Mondlicht . . . ein, dort,” when brassy, rambunctious passages alternate with the almost whispering voice of Phyllis Bryn-Julson. In general, I found the character of the sound a bit too smooth and laid-back for my taste. This characteristic did, however, make several sub-par digital recordings more listenable.
Jazz singer Tierney Sutton’s Dancing in the Dark (SACD/CD, Telarc SACD-63592, CD layer) was delivered with strongly punching low bass and abundant reverb. Sutton’s voice was placed in front and presented delicately in “Where or When.” There was distinct separation and instrumental detail, and this was managed better with a small jazz ensemble than with a full orchestra. The reproduction was even better on foreground vocals, capturing Sutton’s tonality and the undulations of her sustained vibrato. Even with the subwoofer off, the bass was full but still controlled.
As 24/96 FLAC files, the works for solo violin on Vadim Gluzman’s Par.ti.ta (BIS/e-classical) evinced greater detail in terms of texture and tone of the individual violin strings, along with the room reverberations, than I hear from the CD. The distinctive decay of bowed acoustic strings and Gluzman’s delicate touch filled my listening room. Håkon Nilsen’s clarinet glissando was sweet and smooth in the opening of Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue (24/96 FLAC, BIS/e-classical), with pianist Freddy Kempf, and the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Andrew Litton. However, the piano was missing something -- it lacked fullness, sounding a bit cropped. Dynamics were well managed, with orchestral swells handing off to subtle piano cues in the recapitulation of the motif that closes this work. Imaging was also more distinct in the hi-rez tracks compared to CDs, and I felt no congestion. Still, I found the sound too smooth, lacking crispness and bite. Recordings at 24/192 are not supported over USB.
Noticing that the mINT’s ASIO interface requires that the user select a bit depth and sampling rate, I asked Wyred 4 Sound about it. E.J. Sarmento replied, “Yes, our USB DAC is bit-perfect and will maintain the file rate that is sent to it (assuming it is not 88.2kHz). . . . Our interface on the mINT will not support 88.2kHz files, and will need to be resampled to something of your choice. If you leave this up to the computer, it will likely be 44.1kHz.” This is unfortunate, as 88.2kHz -- twice the CD standard -- is a commonly offered rate at such places as HDtracks.
Plugging my Grado SR80 headphones into the 1/4” jack on the mINT’s front panel muted all outputs other than Fixed. The headphone amp was loud enough at 10 o’clock on the volume knob, and deafening by 12 o’clock. The dulcet voice of Alison Krauss cut through her band, Union Station, on their Lonely Runs Both Ways (CD, Rounder 11661 0525-2). The Dobro was haunting in “Gravity,” and Barry Bales’s bass had decisive kick. In the vocal duet in “Restless,” however, the male voice was a bit fuzzy; there was something in the background, but I had no trouble enjoying playing the entire album. During the pauses in the opening, a cappella track on Sara Bareilles’s Kaleidoscope Heart (CD, Epic 8697550352), I could clearly hear some noise -- the same noise I’d heard between tracks of the Krauss album. The mINT was not as dead silent as I would have liked over headphones, which somewhat truncated its dynamic range.
Unlike the Bel Canto Design e.One C7R, which digitizes the analog input, the mINT’s analog inputs are pure analog. My main use of the mINT’s analog input was in home-theater applications with Home Theater Bypass (HTB) mode active, and connected to the preamp output of an AVR I had in for review. The mINT worked well in this setup, with volume for all speakers -- the two driven by the mINT and the three powered by the AVR -- managed with the AVR’s volume control. The mINT passed along the AVR’s sonic signature without alteration; the two front speakers blended well with the rest. I tried two other analog scenarios: a turntable, and the analog output of my SACD player. Neither sounded as detailed or as involving as the mINT’s hi-rez digital renderings. For this, I fault not the mINT but my sources.
In the mINT, Wyred 4 Sound has packed into a small package surprising amounts of features and quality. From the variety of input (and output) options to the room-filling amplification, I can imagine few scenarios in which the mINT could not find a place. While better for smaller ensembles than large-scale orchestral works, the mINT can provide an enjoyable experience with either. It strikes a good balance, providing plenty of power along with the ability to communicate nuance. To those who’ve gone mostly digital, Wyred 4 Sound’s mINT offers superior value at an attractive price.
. . . Sathyan Sundaram
- Speakers -- Wharfedale: Diamond 8.2, Diamond 8 Centre, PowerCube 10 subwoofer; Infinity Primus P162; M-Audio Studiophile DX4 nearfield monitors
- Headphones -- Grado SR80, Shure e3
- Analog sources -- Goldring GR1 turntable, Rega Research RB100 tonearm, Goldring Elektra cartridge; Cambridge Audio 540P phono preamplifier; Sangean HDT-1 tuner; Onkyo TA-RW244 tape deck
- Digital sources -- Music Hall MMF cd25 CD player; Pioneer DV-563A DVD/SACD player; Sony BDP-S590 Blu-ray player; Roku XDS; Intel H61 desktop computer (2.6GHz, 8GB RAM, Crucial SSD) running Windows 8.1 Professional (64-bit) and Ubuntu 12.04 LTS (64-bit), VLC, foobar2000, and XBMC, with Realtek ALC887 DAC/optical output (WASAPI/ALSA drivers); E-MU 0404 USB DAC (WASAPI); Synology DS211j SMB/DLNA server; Google Chromecast
- Subscription services -- Google Play Music All Access; Netflix; Amazon Prime Instant Video
- A/V receiver -- Onkyo TX-SR500
- Antenna -- Fanfare FM-2G FM antenna
- Remote control -- Logitech Harmony Smart
- Power conditioner -- APC Line-R LE1200
Wyred 4 Sound mINT Integrated Amplifier-DAC
Price: $1499 USD.
Warranty: Five years for original customer, one year if transferred to another customer.
Wyred 4 Sound
4235 Traffic Way
Atascadero, CA 93422
Phone: (805) 466-9973
Fax: (805) 462-8962