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CD? SACD? Vinyl? Sushi? Bouillabaisse?
In my role as SACD hardware and software columnist for Downbeat magazine, I have had the good fortune to hear a couple of exceptional universal players of late. The Linn Unidisk 1.1 and the Classé Omega SACD2 both impressed me with their respective resolution, slam, soundstaging and incredible coherence. The Linn is an energetic powerhouse, its dynamics, warmth, punch and musicality top notch. The Classé, though costing $12K to the Linn's 11, couldn't match the Scot for tactile pleasure, tonality and sheer presence, but it did offer subtle improvements in soundstage width and height, with a focus on ambience retrieval. For my money, the Linn is the better of the two machines.

Where does the $7500 Mephisto IIx rank by comparison? It trumped the Classé overall, the IIx's beautiful sound and excellent soundstaging (two of its best characteristics) making everything from jazz to rock to Brazilian Bossa nova and MPB sing. The Classé sounded passive and analytical next to the Mephisto, though some would call the Mephisto laid-back itself. I hear it as a full-bodied and rich-sounding player that excels at vocals, bass drums, bass and anything with a dark or lush tonality. In its price range, it is certainly one of the best. Compared to the $11,000 Linn, the Mephisto was not as dynamic nor as resolved in the upper treble. The Linn has wicked slam and enough force to ignite a Chinese New Year parade. The Mephisto is not quite as quick off the mark. Its bass was not as tight as the Linn's but I often preferred its slightly rounder and more honeyed presentation of bass frequencies. Perhaps its plumy nature just appealed to me.

You could say that the Mephisto IIx is a CD player designed for vinyl lovers. It certainly sounds analog in that sense and never displays the kind of digital glare or "hi-fi" sound heard in even some stupid-money CD or universal players. When the Mephisto was warmed up and running, I never longed for anything else. Even with the Linn in my system only moments before, I never felt I was missing anything. On closer examination or direct A/B with the same ancillaries, the Mephisto was not the final word in treble resolution or tautly defined bass. But when simply enjoying music in the moment, the Mephisto gave me all the juice my caboose could hope for. A machine that can appease the audio junkie Gods and allow you to just relax and enjoy your CDs is a rare find.

You have no doubt read Jules Coleman's rave review of the 14K Reimyo CD player, which many agree is one of the best one-box CD players on the market. For 14k, it oughta be, right? Well, after hearing me praise the Audiomeca for the umpteenth time, Jules asked to borrow the unit. He did so and ultimately brought it to Greenwich Village's high-end emporium, In Living Stereo, where Jonathan Halpern holds court over a delicious menu that includes Shindo, DeVore and Reimyo components (Hey Jonathan, I still have your power cord - I know, I know...). After a few listening sessions, Jules urged me to drop by the store so I could compare the Mephisto IIx and Reimyo players for myself. How can you compare two machines that are $7000 apart? We're talking no-brainer, right?

My initial impressions were that while the Reimyo bested the Mephisto's treble resolution and offered tighter, more defined and extended bass (it ought to, at twice the price) as well as a more illuminated midrange, they shared similar soundstage presentations. Vocal and instrumental placement was very similar, as were soundstage dimension and imaging at least at In Living Stereo's listening room. Though the Mephisto was not as fast nor as sparkling as the Reimyo, it held its own in areas of musicality and soundstaging. And once again, when I got it back home and into my system, I wanted for nothing.

When comparing the Mephisto to my former 47Labs Shigaraki player ($3460), there was no contest. The Mephisto brought light, elucidation, liquidity, detail and slam to the music, the 47Labs sounded lightweight and one-dimensional. The 47Labs' non-oversampling DAC is its claim to fame, but in this instance, the Audiomeca made more music more convincingly and with a much greater sense of harmonic detail, ease and extension. Simply, more music filled the room, in greater capacity and with greater top-to-bottom, front-to-back dimensionality.

Music to live by
So how did it sound on a few choice CDs? Ahhh. Glad I asked. Anyone who has the legs and lungs to make it up to my 7th floor walkup knows that I am a freak for Brazilian music, mostly the classic era from the early 60s to the mid 70s, but I also enjoy the Brazilian drum & bass of Fernando Porto, DJ Marky and Patife and the effervescent trio, Bossacucanova. Bebel Gilberto? I will pass, thank you. Anyway, as well as haunting Ebay, an excellent source for Brazilian music is, a Chicago-based web retailer who hoards some of the deepest catalog of anything you can possibly hope for. I hope for Brazilian funk.

Universal Music Latino has begun an exciting Brazilian reissue series that is up to nine titles so far. Releases in the Pure Brazil campaign include Samba Social Club, The Girls from Ipanema, and Instrumental Bossa Nova [Universal Pure Brazil B0003426]. This is the Bossa of Jobim and Menescal, all swaying vibes and up-tempo good grooves from Baden Powell, Tamba Trio, Sergio Mendes, Moacir Santos and Rio 65 Trio, among others. The remastered sound is quite good and the Mephisto had me dancing like the south-of-the-border fool I really am by way of Malta.

For a compilation album of classic Brazilian sounds from the likes of Mario Castro-Neves, Wilson Simonal, Os Cobras, Bossa Tres, Golden Boys and Quarteto Em Cy, check out Gilles Peterson in Brazil [Ether ETHCD003]. Peterson is one of the most respected DJs in Europe, and this ranks as one of the best Brazilian comps of recent years. Petersen gathers hard-to-find tracks on one disc and matches them with new Brazilian sounds on a second disc. The opposing old world/new world sounds gave the Mephisto a workout, be it the flat 70s recordings of disc one or the deep techno bass bombs of disc two. Old recordings have so much more magic and mystery and the Mephisto brought beauty and smoothness to the table.

It also revealed the modern Pro Tools editing scrap and scrape of The Roots' The Tipping Point [Geffen B0002573)] A daring, political hip-hop album of wild production tricks like running drum sets through guitar amps and tweaking natural snare drums with distorted plug-ins, The Tipping Point is 21st century hip-hop with brains and booty-shaking grooves. I bet the Reimyo would have brought out the final oomph of hip-hop bass but the Mephisto presented a natural, wide and musical hip-hop adventure.

The Audiomeca Mephisto IIx hit my house and then enjoyed a long stay. It went head to head with more expensive players and never experienced a complete knockout. When compared to the 10k+ players, its more diminutive traits came to the fore but it never failed to make beautiful music when taken on its own merits. Producing a soundstage as deep and wide as it was top-to-bottom grand, the IIx created an effortlessly flowing sound that made the most of any music I put to it. Its low end was warm and a bit plumy, more of a vinyl lover's idea of bass refinement than a true digital hard nose might prefer. The IIx's glory is perhaps its midrange, a full-bodied delivery that lent CDs an extremely dimensional and multihued sound that was tonally full and accurate, while perhaps erring on the dark side of absolute neutral. Music through the IIx sounded relaxed, natural and extremely alive. If rest and relaxation is your idea of audio reality, the Audiomeca Mephisto IIx might provide the final oasis in your audiophile journey.
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