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Discs used for testing: Project by Jarre For VIP Room, Geometry of Love, Aero Prod, 60693-2; Michael Jackson, Thriller. 25th Anniversary, Epic/Sony Music Japan, EICP-963-4 CD+DVD; Suzanne Vega, Nine Object Of Desire, A&M Records, 540 583 2; Madeleine Peyroux, Bare Bones, Rounder/Universal Music Japan, UCCU-1188; Al Green, Lay it Down, EMI, 48449-2, CCD; Charlie Haden & Antonio Forcione, Heartplay, Naim, naimcd098; Antonio Forcione, Tears Of Joy, naimcd087; Charlie Haden, The Private Collection, naimcd0108, 3xCD; Five Songbirds, First Impression Music, FIM048 VD, HDCD; The Modern Jazz Quartet, Pyramid, Atlantic/Warner Music Japan, WPCR-25125; Frank Sinatra, Only The Lonely, Capitol/Mobile Fidelity, UDCD 792, gold-CD; The Beatles, 09.09.09 Sampler, EMI Records, Promo CD, 2 x CD; Carmen McRae, Carmen McRae, Bethlehem/JVC, VICJ-61458, K2HD.

Did you ever know immediately—looking at something, a film, painting, sculpture, architecture; reading something; listening to something—that you were dealing with something special? That the thing calling your attention was really good? While other people might say whatever they wish, vivisect anything they want, still this experience remains with you forever? I must say that this happens quite often. I just know that I’ve run into something special and worthwhile. Most the time I lack the tools to describe what I see or hear because I am not an art historian or musician. But I think that exposing myself to the influence of art over a prolonged period created a certain categorizing and evaluating mechanism. Its weakness is lack of legitimization via formal education and knowledge, its value the lack of burden acquired during the study of a given problem. Listening to the Japanese Musica amplifier I had exactly that same impression. Here I was fortunate to have at my disposal the tools to evaluate and describe it. Of course there are always obstacles. For example, what did not allow me to get as deep inside the sound as with the brilliant ASR Emitter II amplifier (review next month) was related to the—in absolute terms—limited resolution of this Japanese amplifier.

As it turned out, that was one of the few elements I would be able to point at in a gotcha moment. This was a very interesting experience because this small component not only had to face the not so efficient ProAc D1 speaker and the Harbeth HL Compact 7ES-3 but also absolute top performers – my Harpia Acoustics Dobermann and something special, the Hansen Audio Prince v2. Costing 120000zl/pr, the latter of course are not candidates the Musica would ever encounter in the real world. As always, I tried to use the most transparent and truthful components which would reveal everything about the test subject at hand without introducing their own shortcomings. Ultimately of course there are no products free of all weaknesses but loudspeakers like the Dobermann or Prince have less limitations than cheaper loudspeakers, period.

Back on topic, even with the most expensive loudspeakers the sound of the Japanese integrated was incredibly—really incredibly—spacious. For me this is very important because it influences how I perceive the whole musical gestalt, how deeply I get enchanted. The Musica cast a very deep and wide stage. Those are aspects we often search for but more important was the fact that all layers had a splendid gradient and that the differentiation from recording to recording was fantastic in that regard. I began the session with electronic music, Geometry of Love issued under the name Project by Jarre for VIP Room. This arrived at a full midrange and very nice bass. While this is a small amplifier with limitations from medium power, those limitations were nicely masked by saturation and that breathtaking soundstage. The voices of Suzanne Vega on Nine Objects Of Desire and Madeleine Peyroux from Bare Bones were very pleasing. Both discs are recorded very warm and organic. Although its midrange remained the most important focus, the Musica did not thicken or muddy up anything. I would even say that with the Dobermann the transmission was more even than it should have been.

To improve on that, one needed a more organic loudspeaker like the Harbeths. With them Michael Jackson’s Thriller was splendid, with strong rhythm and a slightly softened treble, which is sometimes troublesome for other amplifiers. More about that treble later, right now I want to underline the splendid coherence of the midrange, its fullness of complete harmonics. While the Musica isn’t as warm an amplifier as Tri Corp.’s TRV-88SE, its sound seems far more complex and refined. I listened long and with pleasure to discs where the vocals are most important like Peyroux and Vega but would also add the sampler with new re-mixes from the Beatles catalog (09.09.09), the Carmen McRae disc and most of all, the in terms of mastering uneven but in musical terms satisfying  Five Songbirds issued by First Impression Music.

The int1000s is an incredibly universal amplifier. Although its limitations of medium resolution and dynamics require closer attention to choosing the right speakers, the pure pleasure of listening to music with it is special. As I said, I began with pure electronica which was great but ended with mostly very well recorded acoustic jazz. I listened to most the Naim label discs I have and must confess that this was the environment in which the assets of this amplifier shone brightest. The sound was clear, quite transparent, saturated and coherent.

You have to watch speaker efficiency as with the Hansen Audio Prince, the volume slider was maxed out to achieve adequate volumes but it’s always worth the try. It really wa here, first with Miller and Stancey on the phenomenal but already old disc New Dawn, then Haden with Forcione on Heartplay, then Forcione with band on Tears Of Joy and Haden with The Private Collection. What a grand pleasure! The differences between the mastering jobs were nicely apparent - Heartplay intimate and up close, New Dawn spacious, dynamic and Tears of Joy with a slightly emphasized upper midrange. This was interesting because the resolution of the amplifier, the ability of getting deep inside the sounds was good but not really outstanding.