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Product Review - Myryad MP100 Preamplifier and MA240 Power Amplifier - November, 2000

Paul Knutson

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Myryad MP100 Solid State Preamplifier

Inputs: Tape 1, Tape 2, CD, Video, Tuner, Aux (convertible to Phono with optional module); XLR and RCA Inputs

MFR:  20 Hz - 20 kHz ± 0.2 dB

Maximum Output:  20 Volts

THD:  0.0001%, 1 kHz, 1 Volt

Size: 3 3/4" H x 17 1/4" W x 12" D

Weight: 14 Pounds

MSRP: $1,095 USA

Myryad MA240 Solid State Power Amplifier

Output: 120 Watts RMS per Channel into 8 Ohms; 400 Watts RMS Mono Bridged into 8 Ohms

MFR:  20 Hz - 20 kHz ± 0.2 dB

THD: 0.05%

S/N R: 100 dB

Size: 5 1/3" H x17 1/3" W x 14 1/2" D

Weight: 33 Pounds

MSRP: $1,699 USA

 
Myryad UK;  http://www.myryad.co.uk/home.html ; USA Distributor: Artech Electronics Ltd., P.O. Box 455, Williston, Vermont 05495; Phone 514-631-6448; Fax 514-631-1212; E-Mail info@artech-electronics.com;Web http://www.artech-electronics.com

Introduction

Like other famous pairings – Romeo and Juliet, bacon and eggs, sand and the sea – the Myryad MP100 preamp and MA240 power amp are simply meant to go together.  Visually, sonically, and functionally this pairing makes a great couple.

Call me crazy, but I’m guessing that Myryad planned it that way. 

I’m not implying that you must use the MP100 and MA240 in tandem.  My impression that they should be used together, however, was reinforced after hearing them separately, then together again on many occasions over a long period of time.  No aspect of their performance individually was wrong, but they just worked so right together.  I’ll elaborate on that point more later, but I do want to mention now the aspect of the Myryad’s performance that makes them stand out from the crowd – dynamic range.

During the many months that I auditioned the Myryad pair, I purposely spent more time than usual listening to live music of all types – acoustic and amplified, vocal and instrumental, hard rock and gentle jazz, etc.  I wanted to re-define what it is about live music that captures the soul, and whether those attributes can or cannot be reproduced in a home system.

The ability of live music to “hit you” dynamically is something that has always been elusive in home audio systems, my current reference system included, no matter how great or expensive the system may be.  The facts that I live in an apartment and that my tastes don’t run toward bombastic music notwithstanding, I still yearn for that dynamic “pop” that only live music delivers.  When listening, especially to music that gets my blood pumping, I covet a more realistic dynamic performance from my reference system.  Most of the time, it simply can’t deliver the goods.  That’s where the Myryad story picks up.

Time and time again, my listening notes reflect amazement that the Myryad gear stretched the dynamic envelope in a fashion that my current gear can’t.  Individually, matched with other brands of equipment, the MP100 and MA240 have an admirable sense of dynamic contrast, no doubt a function of their superior power supply design, which I will touch on later.  Collectively, however, the MP100 and MA240 can rock your world.  Think of it this way: if each individual piece is 20% more dynamic than what I normally listen to, they sound about 50% more dynamic when used together as a pair.  The numbers don’t add up, I know, but I’m not trying to be scientific about it.  What I’m trying to do is convey how I heard the Myryad gear as a pair drive my speakers from soft to loud in a manner that’s simply more convincing than other preamp/amp combos with which I’ve spent lots of time.

Descriptions

The MP100 and MA240 are part of Myryad’s M-Series, a complete lineup that sits at the top of the Myryad product range.  Even though they represent the pinnacle of Myryad design work, the entire lineup is relatively affordable.  The M-Series components are designed to work together, literally, with a connection system called "My-Link" that allows all components to be controlled by the remote, even units that aren’t in your listening room.  That’s cool.  In addition to two-channel audio products, the M-Series also includes components suitable for home theater applications.

Myryad is a British company whose products are now imported to the U.S. by the good folks at Artech Electronics.  Among the principals of Myryad are Chris and David Evans, both formerly of Arcam and NAD, as well as Chris Short, of Mordaunt-Short speaker fame as well as a stint at Tannoy.  You’ll find no rookies here, folks.  Saying that Myryad has a competent leadership team is like saying that Shaquille O’Neal is adequately tall to play basketball – each a gross understatement.

Our review samples MP100 ($1,095) and MA240 ($1,699) can best be described as conservatively beautiful, like your favorite schoolteacher or the nurse you just had to visit when you scraped your knee in years long since past.  Best of all, the Myryad gear looks great, but doesn’t come off as if it’s trying to.  The front panels are unadorned and feature a smashing, brushed “gun metal” finish, which is ever-so-slightly darker than the generic “audio gear silver” that you are all familiar with.  There is a subtle sheen to the finish – not shiny, but offering a bit smoother finish than competitive gear. 

The only aspect of the pair’s visual design that could stir up controversy is the motorized volume control of the MP100.  It is roughly conical in shape (the top of the short cone faces outward), with a shiny black finish and an illuminated LED that indicates the volume adjustment position.  It doesn’t have a good tactile feel for adjusting the volume by hand, but I used the remote control 99% of the time anyway.  Speaking of the remote control, it is excellent – a logical, functional design that any consumer audio company would do well to emulate.  This added to the nice ergonomic feel of the MP100, apart from the aforementioned volume control.

All connectors, including speaker binding posts on the amp, are of adequate quality and have decent spacing.  Signal connectors are both single ended (RCA) and balanced.  Each piece features an IEC receptacle for a detachable power cord, which I consider mandatory.  On the topic of power cords, I rarely used the stock power cords, and instead, experimented with the Harmonic Technology Pro-AC11 and the TG Audio Lab’s HSRi, trading off each between the MA240 and MP100.

Another wonderful feature is the standby function which keeps the units technically “on” with a trickle current when not in listening use, then when you are ready to listen, you switch into operate mode by pushing the button on the front panel.  There is a slight pause, followed by the sound of an internal solenoid engaging.  I experienced no electrical transient “pops” during my time with the Myryad gear, and there was the additional benefit of the components being always primed and ready for serious listening.  Like all solid state gear in my experience, the Myryad equipment sounded much better when left on all the time.

Contrary to other equipment that I’ve reviewed recently, the Myryad pairing seemed to break in quickly.  The review samples we received were new, but within approximately 50 hours of running normal music through them, the sound came together well.  I really didn’t hear any additional sonic improvement from that point forward.  Just because break in time was short, however, don’t assume that it wasn’t important.  The Myryad MP100 and MA240 scared the heck out of me right out of the box with a dry, flat, and utterly lifeless sound.  This lasted about 8-10 hours.  Things got better very quickly, but boy was I ever worried upon first listen.  I wonder how much excellent gear is returned or perhaps even sold by the consumer before it’s had the opportunity to break in properly?  Scary thought.

The preamp feels well built, weighing in at a modest 14 lbs., most of which is attributable to the power supply section.  During the review period, I did experiment with some small bags of lead shot for mass loading on the top of the MP100 and noticed some improvement in bass response (not a scientific observation, though).  Peering inside, I found that the construction of the MP100 is tidy and uses good quality parts.  The MP100 features six inputs, which were more than I needed, but should suit audiophiles with more flexible systems perfectly.  One of the inputs can be configured with an optional phono stage, which was not part of our review sample.  Compared to a couple of home-brew tube preamps I have, the MP100 was much quieter in operation, even when adjusted to full volume output (i.e., no music, just listening to background noise).  In fact, the MP100 was just as quiet as my Monolithic Sound PA-1 passive/active linestage, and one of my favorite attributes of that unit is that it makes no sound of its own.

Another feature of the MP100, and one of its most endearing to me personally, is that when you plug in a pair of headphones, the circuit automatically sets up as a marvelous headphone amp.  Let’s just say that my new Sennheiser HD-495 ‘phones were very happy.  That’s an example of Myryad going out of their way to do something special with the MP100.  Why more full-function preamps don’t have the capability to handle headphones, I have no idea.  Bravo Myryad!

The MP100 operates full Class A and utilizes Myryad’s own DC5 technology for the input stage. DC5  stands for Double Complementary Cross-Coupled Cascoded Current-mode Feedback.  Whoa boy, try saying that five times quickly. The essence is that, in the initial input stage, Myryad has chosen to deploy two linked transistors (double complementary) in their own custom configuration which is similar to a single transistor setup, but reportedly better.  The goals are low noise, high input impedance (making it easy for your DAC or other front-end gear to drive the preamp), low-distortion, and high speed.  Two additional cascode transistors allow the input transistors to operate at a low voltage, which is helpful in limiting noise and enabling stable operation.

As to the MP240, the circuit design and implementation are simply very good.  Internally, the MA240 is dominated by Myryad’s no-holds-barred power supply, featuring a large toroidal power transformer and a bank of filter capacitors.  Power supply design is crucial in any high-performance audio component, especially one that aspires to be dynamic.  My listening tests confirmed what my eyes told me – Myryad has hit the mark with the implementation of the MA240’s power supply.  As with the MP100, the internal layout and craftsmanship of the MA240 are ample evidence of the care that goes into building these amps.

Listening Impressions – first the MA240, then the MP100

As I’ve written about in other reviews, my reference amplifiers use vacuum tubes.  Further, most of my amps are low-powered, single-ended, triode output designs ranging from about 3.5 wpc to 13 wpc.  My electric shaver has more power than that. Low powered triodes are an acquired taste.  With appropriate speakers, however, I am regularly treated to full-range reproduction and musical beauty that is absolutely magical. 

So, being a patron of the low-powered, tube audio arts, what can I possibly be doing reviewing Myryad’s solid state MA240, a 120 wpc powerhouse?  Trust me, I approach every equipment review with an open mind and try to avoid preconceived notions about stereotypical solid state sound, whatever that may be.  The Myryad MA240 lived up to its end of the bargain by being neutral and natural . . . and oh, the dynamics!

During this review, I paired the MA240 alternately with my Silverline SR-15 monitor speakers (which are excellent speakers, but soon to be replaced by the even-better SR-16, aka “Sweet Sixteen”) and the Energy Audissey A3+2 floor standers.  Each speaker has an efficiency of approximately 88 dB, which is about average, but my listening room is small, and the impedance of each speaker is right around 7 ohms, which is amp-friendly even for single-ended tube designs.  I mated the MA240 to Myryad’s own MP100 preamp, of course, and also paired it with the Monolithic Sound PA-1 passive/active preamp, and the Electronic Tonalities Foreplay tube preamp that I built a couple years ago.  Because of a reasonable input sensitivity of 1.1 V for the full 120 watt output, the MA240 was driven easily by each of the preamps that I brought to the dance.

I expected the MA240 to be subjectively and objectively more powerful than my reference amps, but I wasn’t quite prepared for the degree of difference.  The laws of physics dictate that my 3.5 wpc Wright 2A3 mono’s will run out of steam on certain musical passages at certain volume levels.  That’s just what happens when you drive 88 dB efficient speakers with a low-powered amp.  Not so with the MA240, which during my listening tests never ran out of steam.  There was an effortlessness to the dynamic swings that caught me by surprise, in a good way.  The dynamic impact was closer to what I experienced while listening to live music.  No, my system doesn’t sound “live”, but hearing the swings from soft to loud, especially with orchestral music, helped get me closer at times.

The MA240 exhibited a smoothness and openness in the top end that I associate only with very good equipment, regardless of whether its output is tube or solid state.  The upper frequencies were not harsh or brittle.  “Touch of Trash” from Patricia Barber’s Modern Cool album (Premonition 741) showed that the MA240 could bring the cymbal crashes and percussive strikes to life, but they never got on my nerves or became splashy.  The highest-highs, which may be sounds such as a gentle brush stroke on a smaller cymbal, or a tap on a triangle, were not quite as extended or present as I prefer, but there isn’t much musical action in that range on the majority of commercial recordings.  These upper-register sounds also had somewhat less natural reverberant decay than I hear through my triode tube amps.

As I listened through the MA240, I was struck how music seemed to move along with urgency, presented with a buoyant, vivid feel to it.  This is a quick amplifier.  Certainly, the excellent power supply comes into play here.  The amp does a great job letting go of one note and moving on to the next.  Listening to Dean Peer’s Ucross album (Restless 9101), which is a torture test for bass definition, I noticed that the low register was well-defined, even in the lowest of low regions.  I detected some slight blurring of the pitches from note to note when listening at meager volume settings.  As the volume was increased, things improved.   This was perhaps an issue of the speaker/amplifer interface not being ideal at very low volumes.

If my aural memory serves me correctly, the Myryad MA240 is sonically similar to the Manley Labs Stingray integrated amp that I reviewed in the fall of 1999.  Each of these amps exhibits realistic clarity through the midrange and the ability to lay out a soundstage that’s on par with any amp I’ve had in my system.  

Tonally, the MA240’s balance is more light than dark.  It’s airy and well lit from about 3 kHz on up.  The MA240 displays no harshness or forwardness in the upper mids through the treble, but that portion of the sonic spectrum is what I noticed first in many listening sessions.  It also happens to be where the human ear is very sensitive.  In this respect, I slightly prefer the tonal balance of my Wright WPA 3.5 amps, for example, which are wonderfully even from top to bottom.  Other amps also have a better sense of perceived depth and organic wholeness to vocalists and solo instruments, whereas the MA240 gives the impression of a flatter front-to-back sonic plane.  Minor quibbles, for sure, but worth mentioning, and of course, these are the opinions of a tubeophile.

In listening to the MP100, I said it earlier, and I’ll repeat it now, it proved a perfect match to the MA240.  I found its tonal balance to be quite even, but if I had to place it on the spectrum it would be more dark than light, matching wonderfully with the MA240 in that regard. 

Please don’t misinterpret my description of the MP100 and assume that it’s colored, because it really isn’t.  Tonally, the MP100 is robust and lively in the best sense of the term, with good extension at the extremes, but during listening tests, my ear was directed toward the lower-mids and mid-bass as the areas that impressed the most, rather than the upper-mids and treble. 

Remember, I’m comparing the MP100 mostly to the Monolithic Sound PA-1, which is a passive preamp design.  The PA-1, and virtually any passive preamp, will do less to alter a signal than most active designs.  Once your ear is accustomed to the lack of a sonic signature from a passive preamp, it becomes much easier to hear any character imposed by an active preamp.  The trick is to find components that work well together, and that’s why I constantly refer back to the admirable teamwork of the MA240 and MP100.

Just as I found in listening to the MA240, the MP100 was startlingly dynamic in every setup.  Here, you can chalk up another victory to Myryad’s power supply design acumen. 

There was just a hint of texture and graininess in the upper registers of the MP100, but nothing that was offensive to my ears.  If anything, it simply detracted slightly from the realism factor.  It had no effect whatsoever on the ability of the MP100 to play notes and beats.  In other words, it was still very fun to listen to.

Finishing Up

I am seriously impressed with the Myryad MA240 power amp.  I consider it an upper-tier performer in the world of realistically priced solid state power amps.  At $1,699, Myryad is offering an amp that will indeed be all things to some people.  In my opinion, it sounds, looks, and functions equal to and in some cases beyond its price.  Even the most critical listener would find a lot to enjoy with this amp.  Now that my appetite for solid-state performance has been whetted, especially in the realm of dynamics, I’ll make it a goal to seek out and report on similarly priced designs in the future.

Moving to the MP100, and as a quick aside before I wrap up this review, I’d like to point out that some reviewers are on record stating that absolutely top-flight preamp performance is attainable at approximately the $6,000-7,000 price point and above.  Ouch!  Others have set the benchmark nearer to $3,000, which is easier to swallow but regrettably still well beyond the means of many audiophiles.  My take is that yes, $3K probably gets you to sonic glory, but I’m guessing that many of our readers aren’t about to invest that amount in a preamp.

For those of you who are intrigued by the $1K price point (include me in that group), I offer that there are two great options you must consider: 1) consider a passive preamp, or 2) take the time to audition many preamps in the $1K range.  The goal is to find one whose positives and negatives (a reality at $1K) are balanced with the rest of your system.  Eventually, you are bound to find the right one.  For the effort, you will be rewarded with sonic bliss and a lot more money left in your pocket for trivialities like mortgage payments.

The reality of bringing a new high-performance audio component to market dictates that some compromises are necessary at the $1K retail price point.  Unless a company plans to sell a million pieces of a given component, which allows for a smaller per unit margin, there is only so much you can put into a $1K active preamp.  Ideally, the compromises chosen by the designer are in areas other than those that directly impact sonics, assuming your top priority is obtaining the best possible sound as opposed to looks or features. 

That said, the level of performance available at the $1K price point is really quite amazing when it comes down to it.   Preamps like the Myryad MP100 have a satisfying level of functionality, convenience, and good looks.  Best of all, however, is its solid all-around sonic performance.  If you are shopping at the $1K price point or higher, this is a super option.  The MP100 literally requires you to hear it in your own system to determine whether it is, indeed, the match you desire. 

Oh, and if you happen to be a proud owner of the MA240, rest assured it will be.

 

- Paul Knutson -


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