The Mission System The System
Having completed the individual auditioning, I put together the components as a system. The speakers remained in the same position in the room, but were now connected to the amplifier via 12 feet or so of Mission speaker cable. This is a conventional figure-eight, multistrand design (651 strands!), insulated with PVC. The copper is annealed, and it is recommended that the cable be used with the "M" of the printed Mission logo nearest the amplifier connection and the "n" nearest the loudspeakers for best results. Initially I used the 780s in single-wired mode with one Cyrus Two; I then used two Cyrus Twos wired for dual-mono operationa simple dealer modification is necessaryso that the speakers could be used in biamped mode, Mission recommending that the two channels of one amplifier then be used to drive each Argonaut. (The alternative approach, with one stereo amplifier driving the tweeters and one the woofers, is only suggested in Mission's manual if the user wants to use two different amplifiers; this is regarded as less good, however.)
Both CD player and amplifiers sat on Mission Isoplats to isolate them from structural vibration. The Isoplat consists of a well-finished MDF board, exactly twice the width of a Cyrus amplifier and the same size as the CD player, resting on four Sorbothane feet, and can be recommended for use in rooms where vibration problems exist. The sound of many components, not just tube preamplifiers, will clean up if so isolated, in my experience.
With a single Mission Cyrus Two replacing the Audio Research/Krell combination, though the sound was less delicate overall, with a less even midrange tonality, the 780's HF was considerably tamed. Low frequencies were less extended and the upper bass fattened a little, but though the detail apparent was quite a bit less clearly presented, the combination was undoubtedly musical. To me, this indicates that the 780 has been voiced with the specific sonic signature of the Cyrus Two in mind. The amplifier's HF softness will compensate for the speaker's rather aggressive treble balance, while the forwardness of the Cyrus's upper midrange will not be exaggerated by the 780. The fattening of the upper bass will also add a warmth that many people will appreciate.
One small irritation was an apparent mismatch between the 780s' sensitivity and that of the Cyrus Two. The amplifier was running out of steam at about two-thirds of the volume control's swing, meaning that for low-level listening, the control pot was being used in an area where its interchannel tracking was less good.
Stereo staging was not as wide with one Cyrus Two as with the Krell; accordingly, I hooked up the second Cyrus Two as described above, the system, at least as far as CD replay was concerned, now being identical to what I had heard in Toronto.
Well. This is one potent music system. Ultimately, I still found the 780's treble to be a little too brash, a little too unsubtle. Though detailed, it was unkind to classical music on CD that had been recorded with an upfront balance, and to LP reproduction too much of the time. But if you want bass performance and dynamics, this biamped Mission system is hard to beat without spending big bucks. With the exception of Dan D'Agostino's Krell-powered big Apogees, I have never heard such an accurate reproduction of the raw energy of rock music. Bass guitar reproduction had the bloated yet fast quality that it has in real life; drum sound just slammed out the speakers. The "Leaving Me Now" track on Level 42's World Machine album, for example, starts with an isolated snare rimshot; even though I knew it was coming, I still fell backward out of my chair every time, so quickly did the sound go up and down. And Joe Walsh's live "Rocky Mountain Way," recently released on a 70-minute "twofer" CD by MCA, just devastated me.
That clean, controlled bass, while not reaching down quite as far as with the biwired Krell, enabled such outrageous bass recordings as the "Red and Blue" mix of Yes's "Owner of a Lonely Heart" to come over with tremendous weight, yet still be adequately resolved in the presence of confusing signals in the same frequency region. Here, bass guitar is doubled by a male hum for most of the track, competing with a bass drum wound up almost to breaking point. Just when you think that your ears can't take any more, outraged by the tonal excesses of producer Trevor Horn's balancing act, the bass line is doubled an octave lower by a 16-foot bass line which I have always assumed to be a synthesizer. On this Mission system, I could almost swear that it was, in fact, an octave-divided human voice.
Live rock recording followed live rock recording. Springsteen followed Joe Walsh. Cream followed Springsteen, followed by the recently disinterred live Jimi Hendrix album and The Grateful Dead. Beer followed beer. We switched to Scotch. This is one hell of a party system; Mission should supply air guitars as optional accessories.
Then I broke it.
The culprit track? Prince's "Purple Rain," of course! Live drums, heavy bass and guitar power chords, all reproduced with their full weight by the Missions. I had been playing at peak levels approaching 110dB, meaning that the Cyrus Twos were running well into clip. (With a biamped system, this is less of an ear-bender than would otherwise be the case: the bass amp may be banging against the rails but the added harmonics will be thrown away by the crossover's low-pass filter; the tweeter amplifier will be unlikely to be clipped at the same level, so the high frequencies will remain clean.) The plastic cases were almost too hot to touch, let alone the heatsinks. The rail fuses blew, too late to save the output stages.
No blame can be attached to the equipment; only to the user. Now I know why Mission produces the add-on PSX power supply.
Returning to the Krell/Celestion set-up proved interesting. Though the treble was significantly more delicate and the soundstaging superb, the sound was, well, effete. Upper-bass edges were as clean as with the Missions, but the sense of power being kept in check was missing. The dynamic aspect, so essential to live music and preserved so well by the 780s, was, for want of a better word, miniaturized. What the 780s do well, the '600s do less well; and vice versa.
I would like both.