Muse Model One Hundred power amplifier Page 2

If there's one word that sums up both the external and internal construction of the Muse 100, it's "clean." The internal parts, what few there are, include high-quality metal-film resistors and film capacitors. Interestingly, the film caps bear the "SCS-Muse" name, and appear identical to the excellent Rel Caps. The brushed aluminum front panel, with its eight shiny hexbolts, exudes a feeling of understated solidity. I have only two complaints, one practical and one personal. On the practical side, Muse should have provided the 100 with binding posts that could be tightened with a nut-driver; the round, ridged posts on the 100 are difficult to really tighten down by hand, and will most certainly be disfigured if a wrench is taken to them. On the personal side, the red lighted on-off switch on the front panel was too bright and distracting for my tastes; I stuck a piece of black electrician's tape over it, and decided not to invite Mr. Blackwell over to hear the new Iggy Pop.

I hooked up the Muse right after finishing up with the VTL Tiny Triodes, and suddenly there was bass! And this was good. Now I could haul out all the dynamic music that had given the smaller VTLs so much trouble and roll up the rug! And this was even better.

The Muse 100 immediately made a good impression, with an effortless sense of dynamics that would delight in any circumstance; coming as it did directly after the 25W VTLs, listening to music with the Muse was like finally filing off too-tight handcuffs (footnote 3). Coupled with the Spica TC50s, the 100 sounded fast, accurate, and highly musical.

Just to make sure I wasn't overly enthusiastic over the Muse's bass after listening to the smaller VTLs, I compared it with the Adcom GFA-555 II. While this amp is mostly pleasant but not exactly stirring to my ears, its bass is awesome. Listening to both amps, I felt the new Adcom to have the slightest of edges in the bass. While the Muse sounded extended and tight, the 555 II was so tight it was almost anal-retentive! The overdamped bass of the Spica Angelus was perfect for this comparison; while the Adcom locked the woofers in a full-nelson, the Muse's presentation tended to be slightly warmer, and actually more realistic overall. The tympani rolls on the first movement of Hanson's Symphony 1 in e on the fine-sounding Mercury Living Presence CD (Mercury 432 008-2) came across as weighty and taut on the Muse, while the cellos were reproduced with appropriately satisfying "growl."

On recordings with strong electric bass, the 100 fared exceptionally well: Flea Balzary's thumb-slapped intro to "Behind The Sun" (Red Hot Chili Peppers, The Uplift Mofo Party Plan, EMI/Manhattan CDP 7 48036 2) pulsing deep and true, with excellent pitch definition as he slides down the neck toward the tonic E. In addition, the finger-squeaks and fret rattles are reproduced as part of the bassline, not disassociated spuriae. As I mentioned before, the Adcom had marginally tighter bass, but it was only in the bass that the Adcom was a real challenger; the twice-as-expensive Muse 100 bettered it in every other area of music reproduction.

While the 100 didn't quite have the vivid sense of "there" of the VTL Tiny Triodes, it came much closer to them than the other amps reviewed. The music, while not quite in my lap as with the Triodes, was slightly forward and alive; definitely akin to the better tube amplifiers I've heard. The Muse acquitted itself brilliantly with recordings that depend on low-frequency weight and definition to recreate the original acoustic. On the Cowboy Junkies' Trinity Session, the first track begins with nothing save for the ambient noise of the church: there's some massive low-frequency noise accompanied by some random tapping in the distance, and the 100 decoded this information in a 3-D manner that made it very easy to hear the rear wall of the church. The Muse's excellent soundstaging capabilities were also demonstrated on this recording, as well as on the Chesky Test CD; the ever-funky Bob Enders could clearly be heard both behind and beyond the speaker positions. And during the guitar solo on the Trinity Session's "Blue Moon Revisited (Song For Elvis)," the reverb of the softly amplified guitar can be clearly heard bouncing off the rear and side walls of the church, creating a huge sense of depth well behind the plane of the speakers. This sense of depth is accompanied by what I feel is the Muse's strongest suit: its incredible detail.

Now, I have to admit to rereading RH's review of the Muse 150s after my listening sessions but before hunkering down to write this review; I didn't want to cover the same technical ground, and I definitely didn't want to sound like I was merely repeating his sentiments on the sonic characteristics. But reading his review in Vol.13 No.1, I saw that he'd heard from the 150 monoblocks exactly what I was hearing from the 100: an extraordinary sense of detail, but thankfully devoid of the hardness and sterility that usually go hand in hand with this trait. In fact, the high end is quite open and smooth, again more like a good tube amp than solid-state.

Listening to music on the 100, I was hearing things buried in mixes that I'd never been aware of before. On the Vaughan Brothers' Family Style (footnote 4) (Epic CD ZK-46225), the aptly-named "Hillbillies From Outer Space" features Jimmie Vaughan playing a too-cool Bob-Wills-meets-Jimmy-Smith riff on a lap-steel played through a Leslie rotating-speaker cabinet, over a loping groove both Spade Cooley and Booker T. and the MGs would've been proud of. Since purchasing this killer disc, I must have listened to it hundreds of times; It's that good. But until I played it with the Muse 100, I never, ever heard the "Whew, ha!" at 1:44 into the song! At first I thought, as is usually the case, it was my next-door neighbor finally getting a question on "Jeopardy" with his doors and windows open. Playing the track again confirmed that the shout was indeed buried way down in the mix, but easily heard with the Muse. Also, I went next door and saw that he was instead watching "Hollywood Squares," and was thus thoroughly stumped into silence.

This sense of detail was extraordinary. The easy clarity of the Muse consistently revealed nuances and tidbits heretofore hidden. Another CD that's seen it's share of time in my player and then some is the Neville Brothers' Yellow Moon (A&M CD 5240), by far my favorite of their post-Meters output. On the beginning of Sam Cooke's "A Change Is Gonna Come," Aaron Neville can be heard counting off the song, "One, two, three..." all by himself. Listening with the Muse revealed what sounds like a very faint electric fan in the studio, probably there to cool off the not-insubstantial singer from the not-insubstantial Louisiana humidity. Again, the Muse was able to reveal detail that had been obscured by the other amps, and this exciting aspect of the 100's performance was noticeable even during casual listening, inviting the listener to focus in on the music and get "lost in the fractals."

Tonally, I have no complaints with the Muse; it bonded synergistically with the Angeluses, offering a detailed and neutral sound that changed character completely with each new recording. All too often, a component's signature can be gleaned, after a few hours' listening, from the "samey" sound heard when many different recordings are played. The Muse is one of those rare products that's difficult to fault; the excellent performance across the board makes it very easy to forget about it and concentrate on the music; a higher compliment I can't pay.

Up till now, I haven't heard a solid-state amp I could live with for under $3000; I definitely prefer tube amplifiers for their more natural presentation and lack of hardness in the midrange and high end. I've heard solid-state amps with fantastic bass but ragged highs, sweet highs but depressed midrange, tubey midrange but flabby bass, etc., and it seemed like you couldn't have it all for under three grand or so. The Muse Model One Hundred is an amp that I could not only live with, but do so very happily. I'm extraordinarily picky when it comes to amps, especially solid-state, but the Muse never failed to enthrall and involve me in the music without a hint of strain or coloration. Perhaps in the company of superamps like the Krells, Levinsons, and Thresholds, the Muse 100 might sound more limited; I can't say. But I can say that in its heavily populated price range, the Muse is the most impressive I've heard by a wide margin. Highly recommended.

Footnote 3: Not that I'd know what this feels like, of course.

Footnote 4: If you have even a passing interest in rhythm & blues guitar, Texas music, and/or both ex–Fabulous Thunderbird leader Jimmie Vaughan and his younger brother the late Stevie Ray Vaughan, I can't recommend any recent recording more highly. Ignore the hokey spoken asides on "Brothers" and the too-bright mix; both Vaughanses' playing on this album is state-of-the-art Texas blues, and shames their last few albums with, respectively, the Thunderbirds and Double Trouble.

Muse Electronics
P.O. Box 2198
Garden Grove, CA 92642
(714) 554-8200