Product Review -
Micromega Minium System - May, 1996
By John E. Johnson, Jr.
Micromega Minium System: Modular Separates; CD Player: Frequency response 2 Hz - 20 kHz + 0 - 0.5 dB; S/N - 80 dB; Output impedance 200 Ohms; Output level 2 Vrms; Size 2 3/4"H x 17"W x 10 1/2"D; Weight 9 pounds; $675; FM Tuner: 19 Preset Station Memory; Sensitivity 45 uV (Stereo); Selectivity 60 dB; THD 0.7% (Stereo); S/N 70 dB (Stereo); Size 2 3/4"H x 17"W x 10 3/4"D; Weight 9 pounds; $495; Integrated Amplifier: Power output 40 w rms/ch into 8 Ohms; Bandwidth 20 Hz - 30 kHz; Output impedance 0.1 Ohm; THD 0.1%; Inputs (gold plated): Phono (MM), CD, Tuner, DAC, AUX1, AUX2; Tape Loop; S/N 90 dB; Size 2 3/4"H x 17"W x 11 1/2"D; Weight 14 pounds; $675; MS-1 Speakers: Bookshelf; One 1" dome tweeter; One 5" rubberized cone woofer; Bass reflex enclosure; Frequency response 55 Hz - 20 kHz + or - 2 dB; Sensitivity 87 dB/w/m; Nominal impedance 8 Ohms; Black Ash Vinyl; Size 12 1/2"H x 7 3/4"W x 9 1/4"D; Weight 13 pounds each; $495/pair; Micromega USA, Inc., 13227 16th Avenue West, Lynnwood, Washington 98037; Phone 206-745-8750; Fax 206-787-3067.
Most audiophiles are aware of the fine Micromega name in CD players, amplifiers, and tuners. The Minium products offer the Micromega quality, but in a more affordable price range. There is one Minium product in each category: CD Player, FM Tuner, Integrated Amplifier, and Speakers. Together, they form a separates package that is about the same size as the typical "Mini" system found in most electronic supermarkets. However, the price is more towards the high end range ($2,340 for all the components described above). What do you get for this price that you can't get in a mini system? Well, all you have to do is run your finger along the edge of some of the inexpensive mini systems, and rap your knuckles on the speakers to see for yourself. You may end up looking for a bandaid from the rough edges on mass market mini systems, and the resonance from their speakers tells a sad tale. You won't find any of that with the Minium. Only the highest grade parts are used throughout, including a toroidal transformer in the power supply. Also, the components are all manufactured in France, rather than being out sourced. This maintains absolute quality control.
The FM tuner and CD player chassis have indents on top so that they can be stacked together easily. The amplifier does not have these indents, as it goes on top so that heat can be dissipated properly (see photo). All three have separate power supplies and grounded AC cords. A single remote control operates them all, as well as supplying commands that are not on the front panels. Only interconnects and speaker cables are required.
The toggle power switches on the back of the units bring the components to a standby mode. When the CD button on the remote control is pressed, the CD player and amp power up together. (The same occurs when the FM button is pressed.) The volume control is digital, and power on sets the level where it was when it was last turned to standby mode. If the amp is switched off from the back, then the volume control is reset to 0 at power on. However, the mute function is always automatically activated, just to prevent anyone from being startled. Pressing the mute button turns on the music. On the remote control, the mute button and volume control buttons are at the bottom. We found this inconvenient and think they should be at the top since they would be used quite often. Also, if you turn on the CD player (which also turns on the amp), and then want to listen to FM (or vise versa), and, thus, all three units are on, you can't switch the unused component alone to standby. All three have to be switched to standby, and then the other component (FM or CD) turned on, which again turns on the amp.
The CD player has plenty of functions: next track, previous track, search, scan (first 10 seconds of each track), shuffle, repeat disc, repeat track, and programming. There is also a digital output should one wish to use an outboard DAC (pressing the mode key activates this output), and absolute phase inversion. This latter feature is something usually found on more expensive players, and it really makes a difference on some recordings. The green display shows the activation of the functions, as well as the tracks and time (total disc, remaining disc, remaining track, elapsed time of track). The display can be dimmed, and it also indicates standby mode. The digital volume control can be continuously turned and indicates volume in units from 0 - 99. We found that a setting of 10 gave a nice background level (for reading), while 50 and up started things rocking. At levels above 75, the sound began to break up, although it was not harsh, just mushy. There is a headphone jack on the back, and pressing the headphone button mutes the speakers. The volume control then operates the level of the headphones independently of speaker volume. When returning to the speaker mode, the speakers remain muted until the mute button is pressed. If the volume control is turned slowly, the level also changes slowly, but if it is spun rapidly, the level also adjusts quickly. This is a nice feature when one needs to turn it down fast rather than hitting the mute button. The tuner rotary control performs in the same way. If you turn it fast, it moves through the 88 - 108 MHz frequency range quickly, and if you turn it slow, the frequency also changes slowly. Neat. An RF indicator button will show the relative signal strength from 0 - 9 so the antenna position can be adjusted for maximum signal. For some reason, our unit displayed HF instead of RF. Memory presets are available for favorite stations. Pressing the scan button will search the airwaves. When tuning, interstation static is suppressed. Using the mono function will bring in those distant stations, but who wants to listen to mono?
The FM sound was much better than that from other mini systems, although the sensitivity was about the same (it could not pull in the weak stations any better than the less expensive unit). Obviously, though, the sound quality is the salient factor, and this is a good tuner in that regard.
The CD player operates very nicely. Be careful not to have anything dangling nearby though, because the CD drawer closes like the door on a bank vault. The sound is high quality - not better than other units in this price range that we have listened to - but about right. Clean highs, no excessive sibilance, tight bass. I don't see any reason to have the digital output, since one is paying premium here for the integration of all the components operating with one remote control. Adding a DAC would bring the price close to $3,000, and that is too heavy for a compact system such as this. The Philips CDM-12-2 CD handling mechanism and 5 bit conversion x 128 are just fine. If you want to play around with separate transports and DACs, go to a different set of products like the Micromega Drive 1 and DAC, which will cost about the same as the entire Minium system.
The phono input is probably more of interest to our European readers than here in the US where CDs predominate. However, vinyl appears to be making a comeback even in America, so those phono jacks could get used someday. It is an MM stage (moving magnet) designed for higher output phono cartridges. The sound quality made me homesick for my long lost collection of LPs that I stupidly gave away when I bought my first CD player. Of course, the newly produced LPs will be much better than the old ones. At least that's what I tell myself when I bang my head against the wall. When we used a test LP, the right channel input was coming from the left speaker and vise versa. We thought at first that we had plugged the interconnects into the wrong jacks, but no. It seems the right/left channels for the phono input were reversed internally. The CD and FM inputs were correct. So the problem was only for phono. Could be just a bug in the first production run, but it should be checked if you purchase this system, even if the simple remedy is to switch the cable plugs at the inputs. For $2,300 . . . no bugs are allowed.
The speakers use SEAS and Vifa drivers (high quality stuff). There are two 1" ports on the front baffle, and the cabinet is constructed of 3/4" MDF, rounded at the edges to reduce diffraction effects. One set of binding posts, with plastic nuts, are on the back of each speaker (the speaker posts on the amp also have plastic nuts and are plugged to meet the European electrical code). They are built very well, and appear to be nicely damped. For a system with 40 w/ch, it would have been better to design speakers with greater sensitivity than these (87 dB/w/m), but then greater sensitivity does not necessarily bring better sound quality. Besides, this is a compact system. If you want to blow the walls out, opt for amps on casters. Speaking of options, there is an AVP mode on the amp for use with a future audio/video processor (surround sound). Accidental use of this button will turn the volume to the maximum level, so it must be depressed twice to activate the function.
In summary, the Minium is a nice system, notwithstanding a few bugs that probably have already been corrected, and which do not affect the sound quality, per se. Twenty three hundred bucks is a lot. But when you take into account that you get a complete package from stem to stern, and all of it is of the best quality parts, with everything operating from one remote control, well the cost isn't so much. Frankly, I like a bigger sound, where 5" represents the mid-range driver, but if one is into compact, complete, and integrated systems, this is certainly a good one.
John E. Johnson, Jr.
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