Meitner IDAT D/A processor Page 3

First, the IDAT's overall perspective was somewhere between the No.30's laid-back ease and the Gen.III's more forward and incisive character. The IDAT was more upbeat, energetic, and driving; the No.30 was more subtle, refined, and had greater treble resolution. More on this later.

There was, however, one aspect of the IDAT's presentation that grabbed me right away: an extraordinary ability to convey the music's rhythmic qualities. This characteristic was unmistakable, and clearly the best heard from any digital processor. There was a cohesion, a fundamental rightness to the music's flow, that I haven't previously heard from digital. The IDAT had a superb sense of pace and rhythm, but its qualities went far beyond the conventional meaning of pace. There was a newfound ability to hear each musician's separate rhythmic contribution, and thus the music's overall rhythmic intent. Subtle nuances in rhythm that went unnoticed on other processors came to life through the IDAT. I'm not just talking about bass slam and drive; the IDAT's presentation of rhythm extended to the entire frequency range. It was as if all the transients lined up, giving music much more life, energy, and drive. Contrapuntal music—particularly Bach's sometimes playful rhythms—had more bounce and a heightened sense of the individual parts' rhythmic contributions. The result was a much greater ability to feel the musicians' or composer's intent.

Some digital processors seem to sound good—smooth treble, good soundstaging—but when you sit in the listening chair, nothing happens. The music just doesn't come to life. The IDAT was the antithesis of this; it was impossible not to become involved and caught up in the music.

I had started to become more conscious of these qualities after reading Martin Colloms's references to pace in his equipment reports. It was his "Pace, Rhythm, & Dynamics" article in Vol.15 No.11 of Stereophile, however, that crystallized my understanding of this vital aspect of music reproduction (footnote 5).

Although the IDAT's unparalleled ability to convey music's rhythm was apparent on all types of music, it was on rock, blues, and jazz that this quality was most important. Before I analyzed what the IDAT was doing right to so involve me in the music, I found my right foot going much more enthusiastically when I had the IDAT in the system. The musicians just seemed to lock in, particularly on records with great rhythm sections. Robben Ford's Talk To Your Daughter (Warner Bros. 25647-2) was a good example. I've seen this band live many times (with Russell Ferrante on keyboards, Roscoe Beck on bass, and Vinnie Colaiuta on drums), and can attest that the IDAT comes closer than any other digital processor in conveying the energy, drive, and enthusiasm they bring to the music.

I found this true despite the Gen.III's deeper low-frequency extension and more powerful bass presentation. One factor in the IDAT's superb rhythmic abilities was its terrific sense of pitch in the lower registers. The IDAT was the antithesis of blurred, slow, or poorly defined in the bass. There was a tautness, detail, and precision in the bass that made every note distinct in both pitch and texture. Although punchy and well-extended, the IDAT's bass didn't have the Gen.III's center-of-the-earth solidity. The IDAT had more energy in the lowest two octaves compared with the No.30, but was slightly leaner in the midbass.

Dynamics were superb by any measure. The IDAT had a quickness that gave drums the ability to jump from the music. This greatly added to the IDAT's terrific sense of life and energy. Transient edges were razor-sharp and carried a solid impact. The IDAT also had the rare ability to go loud gracefully. Most digital processors tend to congeal and become screechy when the music gets very complex and loud at the same time. The IDAT maintained its superb differentiation between instruments on even the most demanding passages.

In soundstaging and ability to re-create the recorded acoustic in the listening room, the IDAT was a champ. Its soundstage was more incisive and delineated than the No.30's, though less "sculpted" than the Gen.III's. The IDAT had an excellent ability to present the music as individual instruments, not just variations in the same tapestry. Moreover, the IDAT's presentation of space and size varied greatly with the recording. There wasn't a specific spatial signature that was overlaid on all recordings: the presentation conveyed the gamut from the intimate (Red Rodney's Then and Now, Chesky JD79) to the vast (Testament, Reference Recordings RR-49CD). The Gen.III tended to present a greater sense of size, but lacked the IDAT's chameleon-like ability to shrink the presentation when the recording dictated. For comparison, the No.30 was better able to present the majestic sweep of symphonic music, and presented a more palpable impression of instruments hanging in space. In addition, the No.30 had a more distant perspective, a quality that seemed to reveal more depth and spatial cues.

Similarly, the IDAT's mids were more forward and incisive than the No.30's presentation. The No.30 was polite, refined, and had an unparalleled sense of ease; the IDAT had more bite, edge, and immediacy. I also found the IDAT leaner in the mids than the No.30, a characteristic that made the No.30 warmer and fuller through the midrange. The male voices on Testament, for example, were better fleshed out through the No.30. Further, the IDAT had a slight trace of hardness in the upper mids that was not apparent through the No.30. I preferred the IDAT's greater excitement on some music, but ultimately found the No.30's smoothness more appealing.

The IDAT's treble was midway between the Gen.III's incisive presentation and the No.30's laid-back ease. There was a nice balance between presentation of detail and smoothness from the IDAT. High frequencies were free from grain, hash, and the white-noise–like character often heard from digital. Moreover, the treble had good focus: cymbals occupied a specific point in space rather than splashing across the soundstage. Although the IDAT was smooth and natural in the treble, I found the No.30 unequaled in this regard. The No.30 had a more analog-like lack of hardness in the upper octaves. Cymbals were closer to the sound of brass being struck, and detail had a complete lack of etching through the No.30. The Levinson also had a purer, cleaner treble. On the Bach Sonata in e from the Gary Schocker, Flutist CD (Chesky CD46), the flute was smoother and more lifelike through the No.30, while the IDAT deposited a very fine layer of grain on the instrument. Listen, however, to the IDAT's superior resolution of the cello's timbre, texture, and pitch on this recording. The cello had a greater sense of body, woodiness, and realism from the IDAT. In addition, the Allegro movement of the Bach Sonata illustrated the IDAT's superior pace: the rhythmic interplay between cello and flute was more pronounced through the IDAT.

The No.30 resolved treble detail to a finer level than did the IDAT. Although the IDAT was excellent in this regard, it lacked the No.30's stunning ability to reveal the finest structures of instrumental timbre. On the CD of Three-Way Mirror (Reference RR-24CD), for example, the No.30 presented more detail in the percussion instruments, revealing a more finely woven rendering at the lowest levels of information. This is the No.30's greatest strength: the ability to present a huge amount of information to the listener without the presentation becoming etched or analytical. Although the IDAT was excellent in this regard, it tended to be more analytical yet less resolving of fine treble detail than the No.30.

Quite apart from these specific performance attributes, I must reiterate the IDAT's terrific ability to grab me, totally involve me, and make the playback system vanish. Without a doubt, the IDAT got up and cooked. The fine distinctions between processors described, though important and worthy of note, tended to be forgotten once the music started; the overall musical experience is what really counts.

The Meitner IDAT is an extraordinary digital processor, both technically and musically. In some areas—pace, rhythm, and ability to convey music's energy—it set new standards in digital playback. Moreover, the IDAT's bass presentation was unlike that heard from any other digital processor; its tautness, pitch definition, and resolution were nothing short of revelatory.

Prospective purchasers of the Meitner IDAT or the Mark Levinson No.30—the two best processors extant, in my opinion—must recognize that they differ musically and functionally. The No.30 is smoother, more refined, presents more treble detail, and has a greater sense of ease. The IDAT is more incisive and driving and better conveys the music's rhythmic energy. The IDAT is also the higher-resolving processor in the bass. On a functional level, there is no question that the No.30 reigns supreme. Its eight digital inputs, digital-record output selector, front-panel display, ramped muting when switching between inputs, ability to be controlled by the No.31 transport, and other extensive features make the No.30 the more functionally and aesthetically appealing product.

Despite the tradeoffs with the No.30, the IDAT's ability to grab the listener musically was unquestionable. To say I enjoyed my time with the IDAT is an understatement. On that basis, the IDAT has earned a Class A recommendation in Stereophile's "Recommended Components."

After Museatex had delivered the IDAT to Santa Fe, but before they read the preprint of the review, they announced an update to the IDAT that reportedly improved the sound. Moreover, the change has been incorporated in current production (the review sample was one of the first units off the line). The change is quite simple: the solder plate finish over the analog boards' circuit traces has been omitted on current production. So that the review reflects the product in the marketplace, I gave the modified IDAT a listen just as the review was going to press.

The difference was small but noticeable. The newer production had a little less grain in the treble, making its HF presentation softer and more like that of the No.30. There was also a slight increase in transparency and openness, giving the music more of a see-through quality. I also thought the newer version had slightly more HF detail, despite sounding smoother. These improvements were not large, but were musically significant. The effect was to make a great product just a little better. At the IDAT's level of performance, any improvement must be incremental.

Footnote 5: I find it fascinating that reading an explanation of something can make the ineffable suddenly concrete and tangible. I had been aware of pace and rhythm in music reproduction, but not nearly to the degree that I was after reading Martin Colloms's article and considering the subject. What had been nebulous impressions—this product is more "involving" than another—suddenly became attributable to a specific aspect of the presentation: pace and rhythm. There is a superb analysis of this joint understanding between words and things by Michael Polanyi in his book Personal Knowledge: Towards a Post-Critical Philosophy. I quoted it beginning on p.127 of Vol.15 No.1, in "The Listeners' Manifesto."
Museatex Audio Inc.
(Company no longer in existence)
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