I reviewed and loved the U.K. sourced Tisbury Audio Mini Passive “preamp”, and actually regretted sending it back to Wes Young at Tisbury Audio. As the name indicates, the Mini Passive was compact, beautifully finished, and handmade at Young’s London workshop where it sold for 129 British Pounds (roughly a hair under $200 US).
Young contacted me and to let me know he had upgraded the Mini Passive with quite a few new features, and asked if I would be interested in a follow up review. I replied in the affirmative and a week later the unit arrived via Her Majesty’s Royal Mail.
The Mini Passive II is housed in a similar attractive wood and aluminum enclosure, but now includes laser engraving and is a bit longer to accommodate a wider range of cables. The unit has the same solid volume and source selector knobs. Don’t let the affordable price fool you; there is nothing cheap about the way the Mini Passive II looks or feels.
While a few things have remained -- including the SMD stepped attenuator, which is known for precision and correct channel balance -- there are a number of changes behind the pretty face. Three inputs, and two configurable outputs. The first output is the primary, and second output can be used as an additional variable output or as fixed, to bypass the volume control, for recording or similar function. The second output can be muted as well, which is how I configured it. The attenuation can also now be adjusted between 0, -10 dB, 0r -20 dB, depending on your system gain. All adjustments are done via easily accessible switches on the bottom of the unit.
Set Up & Listening
I used the Tisbury Mini Passive II in one of my new listening rooms. Since the first Mini Passive was here, I moved into a new house with two new listening spaces. Partnering gear was the CLONES Audio 25p power amp, the SOtM sMS-100 ethernet server, the iFI Micro iDSD DAC with the iFI iUSB 3.0, and Harbeth Compact 7ES-3 speakers. Cables were DH Labs, Transparent, and Stager -- none longer than 1 Meter.
While it has been a while since I had the first Mini Passive in my system, and that was a different room, I felt the Mini Passive II was an improvement over what was already great performance. Theoretically, a passive controller should pass the music to the power amplifier without imparting any obvious sonic imprint. In practice, passive units with cheap parts and not designed with careful attention to detail can rob the sound of life. So designing a passive preamp is not as simple as it seems.
My ears told me the Mini Passive II just let the music flow without restricting any part of the audio band or dynamics and, in the context of my system, was essentially not there sonically. There was more than enough gain, and I never even came close to maxing out the volume knob. This is why I have, over the past few years ,questioned the need for active preamps in all digital systems, where 2V output is more than enough to drive just about any power amp.