If you haven't come across Audiomeca's Pierre Lurné before, I'll just mention that he is a bona fide legendary figure in the European pro audio community. He's a classically trained physicist specializing in rational mechanics who has pursued his love of audio with unusual rigor and persistence for several decades. His theory of the perfect tonearm (L'Audiophile, 1978) remains what is probably one of the most authoritative exposes on the subject, having led to several extremely desirable turntables and tonarms (the Romance and Romeo combination is still available today). In the mid-80s, Lurné turned his attention to the digital domain. After ten years of further study, he collaborated with René Boonen -- designer of the Philips CDM4 and CDM9 transports -- for serious research into the mechanics and vibrational impact inherent in transports. This led to the Audiomeca Model 1, a justly renowned transport used in his own top-line Mephisto II and licensed to a few select manufacturers building state-of-the-art players themselves. Lurné and Boonen are two of the most knowledgeable and innovative transport designers around, with the Audiomeca the only player designed from the ground up to exploit its full potential as intended.

For those with a better understanding of the scientific arcana as they pertain to D-to-A conversion, here are some key features of the Mephisto II: The digital processor is 24-bit/192 kHz with 20- to 32-bit resolution, no phase-lock-loop beyond the input chip and completely independent in- and output clocks. The upgradeable DAC architecture was developed by Swiss engineering firm Anagram Technologies, undisputed world leaders in the field, who claim the digital 32-bit floating point DSP processing techniques involved result in virtually zero jitter.

More readily quantifiable performance attributes are a S/N ratio of >107 dB, dynamic range of a mindboggling 140dB, and inter-channel separation of 125db. Connectivity includes standard gold-plated RCA and XLR analgue output connectors with Teflon insulation, two coaxial (1 standard, one direct) and one XLR digital output.

The unit measures 430mm x 365 x 160 and weighs 12 kilos. The elegant stainless steel power supply sports a single power toggle and a red light. Inside are separate modules for digital, analogue and input sections. While the choice of the computer cable umbilical is deliberate, it does limit experimentation with cables. I hope to look into further alternatives.

Functionality is not Mark Levinson comprehensive. Features on the cheap plastic remote control (they're still working to a budget at £4500?) include just the usual suspects. Initialization is quite slow and a tad noisy until completed, seemingly in line with most top loaders I've come across. Track skip too does clock seconds for the lens to lock on. Programming allows storing of up to 20 selections. There's no random select, period. Repeat's for the whole CD but not individual tracks. The blue display won't dim, and though some people might find it small, it's easily legible at 10 feet and avoids the garish distractions of larger ones.

The display command tracks through elapsed time and track numbers as well as scrolls through time remaining. The remote works very well off-axis to ease direct line-of-sight requirements, The front panel is sparse and simple. Four Perspex buttons control previous and next tracks, stop and play/pause. Leaving the lid open let's you observe how brutally warped most CDs are. It's amazing that the lens can follow the the plot line at all, given how the bits are held in grooves a daunting 1/50th the size of a human hair.

At those tolerances, quantum mechanics become a real issue. These warps are known to affect jitter. One wonders whether transport designers have sufficiently explored the effects of various clamps. As with many top loaders, Audiomeca provides a 600gm magnetic puck which is placed over the disc. Because the Mephisto read even older, scratched and recordable discs without compunction, I can't report on the efficacy of the tracking dial - I never once needed to engage it.

Setup is pretty straight-forward but more long-winded than normal. I explored both balanced and unbalanced connections and didn't hear much difference. It is very important to isolate the plinth, though. I used RCD cones to good effect, but the sound is affected to such a pronounced extent by the feet you choose that experimentation is mandatory. The subchassis needs to be floated by loosening the large top-mounted brass set screws. The integral spirit level assist in precise leveling.

Value for money? One look at the engineering identifies SOTA contenders for transport and DAC sections respectively. Now add the separate power supply and complex suspended Perspex chassis. This material's sonic benefits are increasingly recognized, but working metacrylate is 10 times as expensive as metal - not that the power supply's stainless steel is chicken feed either. With amplifiers and players, fancy uptown casings are often the biggest ticket item of the parts cost equation. When compared to its plain-Jane metal-boxed competition, the Mephisto II does begin to look quite the bargain (can't believe I just said that!)

Before moving on, I would send you back to my review of the interesting little Audio Magic Mini Stealth power purifier. Prior to using it, Faust's performance in the harmonic area was slightly poorer than some of its main competitors. Adding the Mini Stealth restored air and bloom to the proceedings, leading me to think that the player is particularly sensitive to clean power. In any case, given that the Mini Stealth is now part of my standard setup, what follows is based on using them in tandem.

On with the music. Last night I played Trashmonk's Mona Lisa Overdrive. Trashmonk is what the hugely talented Nick Laird Clewes of the now-defunct Dream Academy hides behind. Nick's larger-than-life and my friend. The album represents the fruit of five years of layering track upon track, sample over sample, with Nick on most real instruments. A couple of tracks like "Sapphire" and "Inner Brownstone Symphony" are essentially voice/guitar duets. For most systems, the voice is the problem. Nick's almost whispering at times, with plenty of breathiness even as he vocalizes more strongly. Most system's fail at retrieving the inflections of the voice to miss a lot of what he's trying to communicate.

He wrote "Inner Brownstone Symphony" while camping at a friend's New York house. The tune begins with a recorded train. Then voice and guitar emanate from the moving train with a haunting melody whose lyrics go:

" I'm watching all the leaves turn brown with nobody else around,
they're just words that tumble down falling back onto the ground...

A sad familiar melody started to unlock the key
and made its way down to me in a brownstone symphony..