Juan Carmona's riveting Sinfona Flamenca is a stunning clash of flamenco and symphonic forces, of solo guitar and Spanish singers embedded in a concert-hall milieu. It's also about artifice that was enabled by strategic microphone placement and subsequent mixing to avoid drowning out the guitar and voices. This isn't about realism on location. It's about a piece of art which explicitly relied on modern technology to achieve this final balance. Needless to say, applying higher resolution with playback hardware of Merrill's caliber has to make all the various aspects of artifice more apparent. That's just common sense.
It could lead to similar explorations like Jamshied Sharifi's evocative One album which works like a fictitious soundtrack to a David Lean widescreen spectacle in an African desert. If you don't want to hear how different layers with different reverb times were spliced together in the final mix; if you prefer to step away and sit front row balcony instead… you need different hardware
Even injecting refined but subtle upstream valve aroma won't sufficiently hit these brakes. But to my ears, our grounded-grid DHT solution was spot on. Anything less aspirated would mount cheap retreads and use lousy engine oil. What's the point? Relative then to the comprehension of minutiae based on virtual seeing, with this 114 ticket your ears gain a front-row center, conductor's podium or close-up microphone seat. This doesn't imply any foreshortened stage depth nor forward casting. It's about the powers of directness and separation which usually require close proximity to the performers. So it's extreme proximity on immediacy plus the usual distance for behind-the-speakers stage placement. This synchronicity of mutually exclusive qualities is admittedly a bit of a head turner.
As to whether Merrill's Genesis-sourced power cord is worth an extra two grand I couldn't say. It was better than the generic cord but a sub £100 Puritan Audio Labs on hand was a very close second and thus a lot more attractive. Because of the 114's speed, it's most observant about its ancillaries. Even a little course correction like a different shade of lipstick registers. That allows fine tuning to personal taste without hamstringing the circuit's greased reflexes. Speed here isn't synonymous with tonal haggardness or bleached colors if the speakers and other electronics aren't at fault. There's simply a good chance that it'll feel leaner even if it isn't really lean. Regardless, there's pronounced driver control at work. As I heard on the Living Voice which are designed for easy SET drive, some speakers now won't gush and sing as they would on a softer leash. That's something to take into account.
Elementary. Given such sterling performance, Sherlock Holmes and fellow detectives of fingerprints and body-oil discolorations will wonder. What might this amp sell for if it weren't ensconced in such luxurious metal work of such elaborate gleam? In amplifiers, enclosures, flawless finishing and big transformers eat up the lion's share of the maker's budget. This returns us to Lars Risbo's earlier Purifi quote. "If you stick to audio performance alone, we wouldn't have bothered going to class D to begin with. You don't do that for audio quality. You do that to get better efficiency, to make the amp smaller and yada. Then you get a new set of problems to fix such as what it sounds like. And then there's reliability, manufacturability and so on."
Clearly Merrill Wettasinghe didn't pursue his proprietary class D architecture to end up with anything smaller or cheaper. He did so for audio quality pure (and probably not at all) simple. Then he styled it to position commensurate on performance. By choosing switching outputs first for their sonics not efficiency, he resembles the Japanese team at S.P.E.C. On aural aesthetics meanwhile, his categorically diverges from theirs. Whilst class D S.P.E.C. amplifiers are openly voiced like classic class A valve amps without their noise, linearity and power limitations—think plusher suspension and lazier gear shifts—his Element 114 sounds like a top-shelf very wide-bandwidth DC-coupled class AB amp. There it exceeds the best of breed I've heard on clarity and speed. Venturing a guess, that's due primarily to a switching power supply which is faster than classic linear variants. In my book, all of it means that the Merrill Audio Element 114 is a super amp. It just doesn't weigh 285kg like a D'Agostino Relentless or consumes as much real estate as a hulking Soulution. Neither will it imbibe as much of your cashish. I'd simply be surprised if it didn't otherwise keep up with the heavyweights of the super amp breed.
But that will be for those to confirm who actually frolic in those platinum-plated realms. In our resident sand box, the Element 114 was the closest thing I've heard to what I would hope a Bakoon would do that could deliver 200w/8Ω, then double all the way down into 2Ω and remain stable into 1Ω. Under that brand, such a beast doesn't exist yet. At Merrill, it already does. Whilst the actual element 114 aka flerovium is synthetic and highly radioactive, Merrill's Element 114 is neither hazardous nor does it sound synthetic. But like its namesake, it's the result of plenty of laboratory work and a rarity. In short, nomen est omen.
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