Making the right compromises, the incredibly fastMSLA 3D printer will turn heads. Read our hands-on review to learn more.
Things are speeding up in the MSLA market: Just a few short months after Taiwanese manufacturer Phrozen introduced its professional high-speed machine, the Phrozen Sonic, now the all-new Sonic Mini is on the scene.
While it shares much of the looks of the Phrozen Shuffle Lite – the company’s budget MSLA offering – don’t let the similarities fool you: It’s a completely different beast. Capable of printing fast – like, really fast – as much as 5 centimeters per hour under optimal conditions, it has the potential to disrupt the bottom of the market in a big way. Why? Because it only costs ~$200.
The Phrozen Sonic Mini is Phrozen’s first truly budget 3D printer (the Shuffle Lite remains at the upper end of “budget” for our liking). Followers of our experiences with Phrozen’s previous machines might expect cut corners compounding a fussy printing experience, but after a couple of weeks of printing with the Phrozen Sonic Mini, we’re confident that Phrozen has something special on its hands.
In addition to its name, the Phrozen Sonic Mini also shares the mono-LCD display tech of its larger sibling, the Phrozen Sonic. Special for its ability to let much more light through than the LCD panels found inside competing budget resin printers, the result is a resin 3D printer that can cure a layer in less than two seconds.
Launching mid-February for the silly price of $199, it undercuts most of (if not all) its rivals whilst also offering one big advantage: printing much, much faster, which is pretty unheard of in a market brimming with printers separated by style, rather than substance and ability.
At such a slim price point, there had to be costs saved – corners cut, even? Well, glancing over the machine it becomes crystal clear where some of the savings come from, and it’s not bad news.
For starters, the frame is an easily and cheaply mass-produced injection molded shell. While missing the characteristic sturdiness of Phrozen’s past stamped-metal machines, the lightweight Sonic Mini retains some heft in its base, resisting tipping with a low center of gravity.
Elsewhere, the other big apparent cost-saving is the use of an injection-molded resin vat, instead of the typical milled metal. Stylistically, we love the vibrant, semi-transparent vat and the splash of color it brings to the printer. Replacing FEP sheets as they wear will be a familiar process – the metal tensioning plate typical of desktop resin FEP vats is still present in the Sonic Mini’s punchy vat.
What does not appear to have been compromised in the lurch to the bottom of the market, however, is the Z-axis assembly. Here the print plate armature rides up a lead screw steadied by a linear guide. It’s solid, and after a handful of prints, we’ve noticed nothing to suggest the printing action or print quality be anything less than in line with the current crop of budget desktop MSLA printers.
Keeping things humming along inside the Phrozen Sonic Mini is a ChiTu board, which means the general user experience is simple and effective. The UI is Phrozen branded, but recognizably ChiTu, meaning your hand is held by large buttons and there are no vestigial functions to distract.
Print preparation is handled using a contemporary version of ChiTuBox, which gives you all of the necessary functions to orient, support, and hollow if necessary, before outputting a .phz file that is readable by the Sonic Mini.
The LCD masking screen inside the Mini is a 1920 x 1080 panel which, while lower resolution that the 2K screens commonly found in budget MSLA printers today, still offers a respectable XY- resolution of 62 Microns.
In the flesh, this resolution drop only becomes apparent when scrutinizing prints in direct light. Combine this with supercharged layer cure times of a mere two seconds (using Phrozen’s standard resin), the result is a MSLA printer that prints at a quality close to the current crop of favored MSLA printers, for less money, and a heck of a lot faster. It’s insane.
Your one “big” compromise is in print volume, with the Sonic Mini coming short at 120 x 68 x 130 mm – 25 mm shorter in the Z-axis than the Elegoo Mars Pro and 35 mm shorter than the Creality LD002-R. A small price to pay considering the ~$200 price tag and fast printing the Sonic Mini offers.
The Sonic Mini has utterly surprised us and is the first printer from Phrozen that we’d unequivocally recommend.
If you take a look at the specs, the Sonic Mini stands out from its competition by its capability to print fast.
Like its bigger brother, the Phrozen Sonic, the Sonic Mini continues Phrozen’s exploration of mono-LCD technology – an alternative type of LCD masking screen that, while lower resolution than the 2K screens typical of budget LCD printers, allows more UV light to pass through. This lowers layer cure time and dramatically speeds the printing process up.
It is claimed that this new panel is harder wearing and longer-lasting than conventional panels, with the company claiming a lifetime of 2,000 hours. If so, that would have it lasting some four times longer than competing printers’ LCDs. We’ve yet to see the price of a replacement mono-LCD, though, so we’ll reserve judgment on whether this is as spectacular as it sounds at face value.
The Phrozen Sonic Mini features an XY resolution of 62 microns – down from the 47-microns found on the original Phrozen Shuffle. This is a modest step down in quality that is easily palatable when considered against the Sonic Mini’s ability to cure a layer in as little as two seconds. And this is the standard layer cure time for 0.05 mm layer using Phrozen’s standard resin. Going finer at 0.03 mm layers pushes the cure time below two seconds.
The Phrozen Sonic Mini runs on an off-the-shelf ChiTu board, with the firmware lightly branded in Phrozen’s image. Model preparation is handled by the easy-to-use ChiTuBox software, which recently added compatibility with a number of Phrozen’s machines, including, of course, the Sonic Mini.
Launching at $199 via Phrozen’s official online store, we’d expect additional costs such as shipping and possibly import taxes to inflate this somewhat. The price certainly correlates with Phrozen’s pitch for the Sonic Mini as the printer for newcomers. And having gone hands-on with it, they’ve hit the mark with this one.
Printing Technology: LCD-based Masked Stereolithography (MSLA)
LCD: Custom 5.5-inch 1920 x 1080 mono-LCD, 405nm ParaLED 2.0 Lite
Build Volume: 120 x 68 x 130 mm
Z-Layer Resolution: 10-micron
XY Resolution: 62-microns
UI: 2.8-inch IPS touchscreen display
Build Platform Leveling: n/a
Materials: Resins suitable for 405nm LCD-based printers
Software bundle: Phrozen OS (onboard), ChiTuBox (desktop)
File types: OBJ, STL (desktop)
Weight: 4.5 kg
Dimensions: 250 x 250 x 330 mm