At a "Meet the Designers" panel discussion at the 1992 Los Angeles Stereophile High-End Hi-Fi Show, I asked a group of successful digital designers (footnote 1) each to state how much of a digital front end's sound quality they believed was due to the transport, digital processor, and interface between the two. There was virtual unanimity: Nearly everyone agreed that a digital processor accounts for about 50% of a digital source's sound quality, the transport 30%, and interface 20%.
High-end audio companies take different approaches to staying successful. One way to maintain a market position is to continue improving fundamental designs, offering a little higher sonic performance with each model. The latest products from a company employing this approach will look and operate very much like their first products.
For many audiophiles, choosing a power amplifier is a vexing problem. Just how much must one spend to get true high-end sound and a solid build quality? How much power is really needed? And what amplifiers are suitable for driving low-impedance loudspeakers?
There are as many ways of designing a digital-to-analog converter as there are engineers. One approach is to select parts from manufacturers' data books and build the product according to the "application notes" provided by the parts manufacturers. This is the electronic equivalent of a paint-by-numbers kit.
A more creative engineer may add a few tricks of his own to the standard brew. Bigger and better regulated power supplies, careful circuit-board layout, tweaky passive components, and attention to detail will likely make this designer's product sound better than the same basic building blocks implemented without this care. Indeed, the vast range of sonic flavors from digital processors containing very nearly the same parts attests to the designer's influence over a digital processor's sound.
Cyrus is the name given to the higher-priced line of loudspeakers made by England's Mission Electronics. The entire Mission loudspeaker line includes six products under the Mission label and three under Cyrus. Mission also manufactures a wide range of electronics and CD players. The company has a long history of audio innovations, both in loudspeaker and electronic design. Among Mission's claimed "firsts" are the first polypropylene-cone drive-unit used in a product (1978), first widespread use of MDF loudspeaker enclosures (1981), and first CD player from a specialist manufacturer. Interestingly, Mission also makes IBM-compatible personal computers.
The $900/pair Cyrus 782 is a two-way design employing dual 7" (175mm) polypropylene-cone woofers and a single ¾" (19mm) fabric-dome tweeter. The drivers are arranged in a D'Appolito configuration to simulate point-source radiation characteristics. Both woofer and tweeter were designed from scratch by Mission. The polypropylene woofer cones include a "mineral loading" that reportedly increases cone rigidity, thus decreasing cone breakup. Additional woofer design features include a shaped pole piece to increase linearity during high cone excursions, rigid steel chassis to reduce driver resonances, and a tight tolerance between the voice-coil and magnet to increase sensitivity.
The name Muse Electronics is probably unfamiliar to most audiophiles, requiring some background on the company. Muse is the hi-fi offshoot of a company called Sound Code Systems, a manufacturer of professional sound-reinforcement speaker cabinets and power amplifiers. Founded in 1980, SCS enjoyed some success with its line of MOSFET professional power amplifiers. In 1988, SCS's Michael Goddard and Kevin Halverson, both audiophiles and tube aficionados, redesigned their amplifier for the high-end hi-fi market.
The results are the Model One Hundred (a 100Wpc stereo power amplifier) and the Model One Hundred Fifty ($1900/pair), the 125W monoblock reviewed here. According to Michael Goddard, the primary design goal was to achieve a tube sound with the reliability and ruggedness of transistors. MartinLogan CLS speakers were used extensively during the design/listen/design cycle. As a result of their listening auditions and redesign, many of the changes have now been incorporated into their professional products.
I should begin this review by confessing that I've never been a fan of subwoofers. Most subwoofer systems I've heard have been plagued by a familiar litany of sonic horrors: poor integration between subwoofer and main speakers, boom, bloat, tubbiness, slowness, excessive LF output, and an overall presentation that constantly reminds the listener he is hearing a big cone moving. To me, subwoofers often sound detached from the music, providing an accompanying thump that bears little relationship to the sound from the main speakers. Rather than revealing the music's harmonic underpinnings, subwoofers often obscure them in a thick morass of featureless boom. In addition, adding a subwoofer often destroys the qualities of the main speakers that made you buy them in the first placejust to name a few of my observations (footnote 1).
The rapidly evolving world of the late 20th century is the source of much stress. Changes in the status quo, whether wrought by social, political, or technological forces, are often accompanied by anxiety brought on by the struggle to assimilate new patterns of thought. New ideas necessitate abandoning or modifying one's old ideas, thus creating conflict (footnote 1). However, these periods of rapid change can also be exciting, allowing one to chart a course of discovery and growth.