Myryad MDP 500 preamplifier-processor Page 3
With good stereo sources, center fill was usually better with the MDP in plain stereo than in any of the music modes that actually produce sound in the center channel! Pro Logic, on the other hand, worked as it should. With appropriate sourcesmostly movies, but also some of Delos's classical CDsthe MDP created a rich, expansive soundfield, at the unsurprising price of some blurring of detail. The tradeoff, almost always a good one, is easily reversibleyou can decide in the heat of the mood and moment.
Because I am now treading dangerously close to the murky waters of home theater, I must add that the MDP's video processing, at least for composite signals, was entirely transparent. The instructions for the Technics DVD-A10, for example, strongly advise connecting it directly to the main monitor, thus bypassing any video processors or switchers. That was inconvenient with five video sources, and unnecessarythe MDP's display of menus and setups (and of real video sources!) was as crisp as any I have seen.
The Main Course
Using the multichannel Philips SACD1000 SACD player and the Technics DVD-A10 DVD-Audio player, the Myryad MDP 500 served as the controller for discrete 4-, 5-, and 6-channel music. But there's some bad news. First, lacking multichannel digital output, both players demand that you use their analog outputs for multichannel discs. Second, neither player has any useful bass management through those analog outputs, demanding that you have wide-range (Large) speakers in all channels. Third, because you have to use the Myryad's "7.1-channel" analog input, the MDP 500's bass management is ineffective. Fortunately, my test system has full-range speakers in all channels (except the subwoofer, of course).
Oh boy! This was what I'd been waiting for ever since I glimpsed multichannel nirvana through the big Meridian system. For one thing, the constraining acoustics of my semi-cubical listening room faded away to near inconsequencethe ambience imposed by the multiple signal sources just overpowered the room's signature sound. For another, there was the "buzz" of feeling present at a musical event rather than being outside it, looking in. As I've found for some time, the majority of multichannel recordings are unnaturally and unaesthetically mixed, but many of the new DVD-Audio and SACD multichannel discs have been balanced and mastered with taste and reason.
Perhaps the greatest test for a multichannel recording is a solo instrument in a large room. Joan Rowland's lovely DVD-A of Debussy's Preludes (Surrounded By SBE 1002-9) at first presented the impression of a large, resonant instrument (a Hamburg Steinway) with superb clarity and detail. When I forced myself to listen to the sound and not the music, I began to hear the reverberation and decay of a space much larger than my listening room. Soon, the transport was completeI was no longer at home but in a small hall, engrossed in the music, sitting 2025' from the piano but still in the front half of the hall. Was it more satisfying than two-channel stereo? Definitely. Is it necessary? Not yetbut I suspect that very soon we'll be expecting this sort of ambient re-creation as a matter of course.
Having damned most of the demo discs that come with the new multichannel players for their egregious effects, their irrelevant music, or both, I found the SACD demo of a live concert by the Budapest Festival Orchestra under Ivan Fischer (supplied with the Philips player) a delight from beginning to nearly the end. Beginning with Dvorák and continuing through Bartók's Romanian Folk Dances, then works by Kodály and Liszt, Sarasate's Zigeunerweisen, Ravel's Bolero (didn't care for this one), and ending with some Johann Strauss polkas, this disc offers ample evidence of how a good multichannel recording can envelop a listener in the event. Was it the natural ambience of the hall, the feeling of sharing the experience with others in the audience, or the thrill of hearing a more believable re-creation of a musical event than I thought could happen in my own listening room? Who cares? A little wine and cheese was all that was needed to sweep me into this Pops concert.
It wasn't all roses. I compared the demo SACD's Bartók selection with the same performers' two-channel recording (Philips 454 430-2) and found things to like in each. Granted, these are different performances done under vastly different conditions, even though the same personnel performed in the same hall. I found the CD flatter in perspective but more finely detailed, and much more suitable for careful, serious listening and contemplation. The multichannel SACD was livelier, with richer, more natural bass, and the sort of perspective I'd enjoy at a real concert. Indeed, I felt a part of the performance throughout. The critical issue, for me, was that I could not separate myself from the SACD version of the event, and that made it simultaneously seductive and relentless, imposing a degree of involvement that was at times uncomfortable.
On the other hand, such an experience of being transported to another place is exactly what is required with still larger pieces of music. I auditioned a multichannel DVD-A of Mahler's Symphony 2 (Teldec 4509-94545-9), conducted by one of my least favorite conductors, Zubin Mehta. Although the performance was somewhat better than my admittedly low expectations, the sonic presentation was just what the music demanded, and made this merely competent performance well worth my time. I've heard the "Resurrection" many timesin concert, at home, and on demo systems capable of awesome dynamicsbut my unassuming multichannel system scaled up the music to life-size proportions in a way that the biggest two-channel systems never have. (Okaytwo-channel systems once or twice rivaled multichannel, but that was in ballroom-sized spaces where the local acoustics made a major contribution.)
Even more amazing was the exquisite detail, apparent primarily in the softer portions. It revealed so much of Mahler's brilliant orchestration and subtle voicing that the experience was more like that at a live performance and less like a recording. The Myryad's contribution to all of this? Nothing other than precise volume control. As far as I could tell, the "7.1" throughput was completely transparent.
As you can glean from all I've said, I found little to criticize about the Myryad MDP 500's performance. It's a bang-up multichannel preamp-processor with all the digital and analog inputs and modes needed for almost any audio and/or video source out there. (Dolby-EX and DTS-ES capabilities are in the works; switching for component/progressive-scan video requires other hardware.) The MDP 500 performed all these tasks with grace and style, and the audio and video produced were first-rate. In addition, purists can use the bypass capability of the "7.1-channel" input/output, which is the equal of the highest-quality analog components.
If you've never set up a multichannel system, you might find your first experience a little daunting. But the Myryad MDP 500 should more than satisfy; if your experience is anything like mine, it will gratify.