MSG revisited

As I wrote February 2024, MSG is one of the most misunderstood kitchen flavourings. It was invented in 1907 by Japanese chemist Kikunae Ikeda who boiled down cubits of kombu seaweed to extract glutamate as a savoury flavour enhancer for dashi-type broth. He coined the term umami as the 5th flavour after sweet, salty, sour and bitter. MSG's downfall began with a 1968 article in a US medical journal entitled "Chinese Restaurant Syndrome" which chronicled eater complaints of numbness of the neck, general weakness and palpitation. The paper suspected as the culprit MSG plus cooked wine and high sodium amounts. MSG alas took the biggest hit in rep dissolution and the rest is history. What the vast majority of eaters and cooks still don't appreciate is that MSG derives from plants and is made by fermentation just like beer, soy sauce or yoghurt. Rather than Ikeda's kombu, today's MSG often uses other sugar-containing plants like corn or sugarcane to extract the amino acid glutamate which our bodies produce as a neuro transmitter. Glutamate occurs in carrots and onions, both base ingredients of broth. Even tomatoes and cheese contain it Seeing that our bodies produce it too, it should be the very rare individual who suffers an actual MSG allergy. Crystallized MSG contains salt so moderation as with sodium or tamari remains advisable.

Hifi mythology has demonized its own MSG called SMPS for switch-mode power supply. To this day many audiophiles think it unhealthy even dangerous to good sound. But there's a huge gap between noisy wall warts and performance-critical versions we find in electronics by Aavik, Alberto Guerra Designs, Chord, Crayon, Hifi Rose, LinnenberG, Manley Labs, Nagra and many more. Linn's €75'000 flagship Klimax 800 Solo mono amps highlighted in my first MSG feature are capable of a staggering 1'200 watts into 2Ω of class AB transistor power run off very specialized 2kW switching power. Today's update to this sea change in perception and successful adaption is Vinnie Rossi's 2nd-gen Brama lineup. Across all three models of 300B preamp, integrated with 300B linestage and lateral Mosfet monos it replaced the original massive linear power supplies with custom switch-mode variants housed in fully sealed sub chambers milled out from solid inside the main chassis. "Each component features several updates and refinements over the previous generation including a chassis machined from a solid block of aircraft-grade 6063 aluminum for low resonance, maximum heat dissipation, enhanced shielding from EMI and a seamless aesthetic appeal. There are new switch-mode power supplies for lower noise, improved transient response, higher output power, significant EMI filtering and active power factor correction. The integrated and linestage now include a matched pair of WE 300B. The class AB Mosfet power stages now have more output power yet a lower number of output devices. Power and signal paths were further optimized, too." [Like Linn's, these $60K/pr monos output 1'200 watts into 2Ω with the new power supplies.]

The implication is obvious. Taking the Brama range from linear to switching power was a wholesale improvement in performance. So we must ask again whether it's not high time for a serious rethink of the original knee-jerk reaction that only linear power supplies are legitimate 'audiophile-approved' solutions. Evidence that properly engineered SMPS have very real performance advantages beyond higher efficiency, lower weight and size continues to mount. Think lower noise, faster recovery, higher current, better sound. Only those with their heads stuck in the sand continue to insist otherwise whilst propagating fake news. In fact, it's emphatically no longer just class D to exploit custom SMPS; and not even all class D does. The new AGD GaNFet Solo goes linear power. Meanwhile the top Aavik amps are class A + SMPS. So are the LinnenberG Georg Friedrich Händel monos. Chord, Halcro, Nagra, Linn and Vinnie Rossie marry class AB + SMPS. Manley and Vinnie Rossi add tubes into the mix. Really, public perception requires a rather comprehensive reboot on the matter.