Editor’s Note: Miniwatt is Hong Kong-based company that comes from a home stereo and speaker background, well regarded for their tube amplifiers. Recognizing the popularity of audiophiles using CAS (computer-as-source) and headphones, Miniwatt decided to foray into the realm of USB DAC/amps. The n4 is the culmination of such an endeavor, taking on a minimalist and chic exterior, while adopting well-appointed hardware.
In case you haven’t noticed yet, the DAC market has picked up speed several fold in recent times, giving us an assortment of peculiar external aluminium boxes and intensely thought-out silicon wafers — all intended to surpass the sound quality of internal PC sound cards. They’ve risen parallel to the rise in popularity of pencil-thin laptops — the so-called “ultrabooks” — not as though the typical sound cards you’re familiar with had any real chance to keep up anyway, though. Thus, if you’re after sound quality from your laptop or desktop, you need an external DAC.
The question is… which one?
If you’re hunting for a more sleek and thin-looking DAC in today’s market, you’ll notice that one’s difficult to find, as they all tend to err violently to the wayside of fashion. The only DAC products which I’ve seen until now even attempting to arrive with a certifiable fashion statement have been perhaps the ADL Cruise, the Bladelius DAC, and the iBasso D-Zero.
Have a look at the miniwatt n4…
This DAC is of the USB kind, with an internal amplifier, RCA output, coaxial digital output, and digital volume control, which directly controls the volume on your computer. I didn’t need to install any drivers, this may depend on your system, their site will provide assistance if needed. You also won’t need an external power cable as this runs off your 5V USB power. In the ASIO control panel, I notice it says there is a line-in, mic-in, and coaxial-in as well; I didn’t test them, though.
In the case of a DAC, the unbalanced RCA out (red & white) is for connecting to active speakers such as a Fostex PM0.3, a stereo receiver such as a Yamaha A-S500, or various speaker and headphone amplifiers.
The headphone out on the front of the miniwatt n4 is of very, very high volume for sensitive IEMs, and will have more than enough volume for most headphones as well. The digital volume control came in quite handy. I very much liked the synergy and aesthetic pairing of this DAC/Amp with the Ortofon e-Q7, which I’ll cover later. With my speakers, I listened to the sound for a while prior to reading any other reviews or opening it up.
In usual fashion, I’ll leave the sound for the end of the review — even though official specifications and performance measurements are available on miniwatt‘s website, let’s take a look at the internal components first.