CD Player 4 stars
Amplifier 5 stars
Budget-priced hi-fi components that might even have the audio cognoscenti drooling
When you’re lucky enough to review expensive pieces of hi-fi gear that don’t actually cost you anything, it’s all too easy to get comfortable with the idea of megabuck integrated amplifiers or CD players with price tags that are the same as those on a new car. The rarefied place that is planet audiophile is a lovely one to visit but most folks just can’t get a visa to live there. The real world is filled with mortgages, kids, car payments, orthodontists and significant others, which goes some way to explaining why so few people buy expensive audio gear. It’s a good thing then there are budget components available such as our review units from UK based company Myryad.
Promising good sound quality for not too much loot, hi-fi components at this price point have a hard time being taken seriously by ardent audiophiles, but they’re perfect for someone looking for an affordable music system that sounds far better than a chain store mini-system or an iPod speaker system.
Features and Construction
Myryad’s Z series components are best described as traditional with a minimalist style. Their casings are narrow gauge folded steel with a thicker metal faceplate, which is the way this type of unit has been put together for ages. Having said that, the Z142 and the Z114 are slim and rather attractive devices – at 6.9 and 5.3Kg respectively, they’re definitely not built like battleships but are well put together and nicely finished.
Z142 Integrated Amplifier
Controls on the amp are limited to a standby button, an almost flush mounted volume knob, a tape monitor button and an input selector button; there’s also a front mounted 3.5mm headphone jack. The rear panel has the usual selection of analogue RCA inputs and a tape loop, along with a MM phono input (which alternates with an extra RCA input marked AUX – the operational input of the pair is selected by a rear mounted push button). A single set of sturdy metal speaker binding posts is provided.
Internally, the Z142 has a substantial toroidal transformer supplying seven separately regulated power supplies. A single heatsink runs front to back, with top mounted vents. Power output is rated at 50 Watts into 8 Ohms.
Z114 CD Player
Built in the same chassis as the amplifier, the Z114 CD player is a 24/192Khz upsampling unit that uses a Cirrus Logic DAC with dual differential outputs. Like the amp, it has seven independently regulated power supplies.
It has the usual controls round front, with a blue display giving track and timing information. The display’s numerals are small, which makes it hard to read from a distance but this is a common failing among CD players. Outputs are limited to two analogue RCA jacks and an RCA coaxial digital output. There is no facility for other components to address the internal DAC.
The Z114 reads discs as quickly as any player I’ve ever used, which is nice but the disc drawer makes a bit of a grinding noise when it slides back and forth – no biggie but it is a little off-putting.
The same remote control is supplied with both units – a big plastic number, which is used by a bunch of UK companies (Naim and Cambridge Audio, for example). Its 40+ buttons make it obvious that it’s a full system remote, so it will drive any of Myryad’s Z series products. Both components have RCA connections on the rear for Myryad’s MyLink remote system, which allows commands from the remote to be passed between multiple Z series units. This gives access to functionality such as start on open, start on play or intelligent input selection, which is quite flash at the price.
The two Myryad components were set up with Theophany M5 Series 2 speakers and hooked up with Monster copper speaker cables and a pair of Audioquest copper interconnects. The speakers are way in excess of what would normally be paired with components at this price point, but they do highlight any upstream weaknesses with ease, which makes them a good reviewer’s tool.
The Myryad components are very well suited to each other and proved to be a good match with the Theophany speakers. At the reasonable asking price, the resulting sound quality was outstanding, with impressive transparency on offer. The sound leaned ever so slightly to the warm side, without being euphonic and coloured. This is no bad thing and should bode well if these electronics are matched to budget bright-sounding speakers (of course I’d always say that the speakers are where you should be spending most of your money, but that’s another story altogether). The easy to drive floorstanders needed very little of the amplifier’s 50 watt output to go loud, but it should be able to drive most speakers to good levels as long as the component matching is reasonably well considered.
Listening to the Myryad combination was a lot of fun – the percussion on ‘Sahara Rain’ off Antonio Forcione’s Tears of Joy CD shot from the speakers with good speed and the guitar notes literally vibrated in the room on a nicely defined sound stage. Resolution was an obvious strength from this combination and listening to the sparse tracks on Nils Lofgren’s Acoustic Live turned out to be an engrossing pleasure that called for a few track repeats. The same applied to music from The Police, Bob Dylan and Kings of Leon.
The sound wasn’t a closed in lo-fi experience at all; rather it was airy and well balanced, with a great deal of the scale and impact necessary to make music live and breathe at a level beyond the basics. You won’t mistake this amp/source combo for a high end setup but at the price, I’d say that any buyers would feel that they were getting a good dose of audiophile grade magic without getting into trouble with the boss or the bank.
As good as the CD player is, the amplifier is the better performer of the two. Moving from the Z114 CD player to my Marantz SA8260 SACD player revealed that there was more detail to be had, along with more pronounced dynamics, not to mention greater involvement and more refinement. This is to be expected given how good the Marantz is, but I didn’t expect to be so taken with the amp’s capabilities. With a $349 1m QED Signature Audio interconnect between source and amp, I had to do a bit of a double take because the sophistication, openness and accuracy of the music coming from the speakers was a notch above what I thought was possible from a $1300 integrated amplifier. The strong bass timed well and the overall sound was mostly free of edginess or transistor glare. ‘Landmark’, the eighth track from Forcione’s Tears of Joy was an actual joy (although it provoked no tears), with great drive and bags of detail in the guitars and percussion. My Best Of The Police double CD also sounded very fine with this setup, with the amp allowing the music to come through in an appealing, foot tappingly good rhythm – the drum work in particular sounded sharp and precise.
For the dollars, the amplifier also does a great job with vinyl. An entry level Grado Prestige Black was mounted on my Well Tempered Simplex turntable feeding the Z142’s MM phono stage via Monster interconnect cables. Playing my treasured German pressing of Steely Dan’s Gaucho, I was more than a little impressed by the way the Myryad amp went about its business. The sound quality here was noticeably warmer and smoother than what I’d heard from CD thanks mostly to the Grado cartridge, but things never degenerated into cloying sweetness. The musicality of this combination is definitely something you could just relax to without getting hung up on hi-fi related comparisons. The drums on ‘Hey Nineteen’ had a good deal of weight to them, the dynamics were just right and the vocals were silky and utterly inoffensive. Again, for a $1300 amplifier, consider me entirely satisfied, especially considering that the cartridge retails for just over a hundred bucks.
Negatives? Not many, if any. Once the price is taken into account, it would be a little obnoxious to find serious fault with what’s on offer here. Physically, sonically and operationally, this gear delivers the goods. The only fly in the ointment is that these are pretty conventional hi-fi components – the CD player plays CDs, the amp amplifies analogue signals.
So what’s wrong with that? Well, look at something like Audiolab’s acclaimed 8200CD CD player. At $1699, it’s $400 more expensive than Myryad’s Z114 CD player but it offers a very high spec 32-bit DAC with user adjustable filters, balanced outputs along with USB and digital inputs to deal with computers and other digital sources. The extra performance and versatility is hard to argue with, and given that digital is where it’s at these days, I’d probably try to find the $400 if I had any inclination toward computer audio.
So the CD player is a good product, but it faces a stern test from state of the art digital aware products, albeit at more money. However, the amp is terrific and stands on its own feet very well. You don’t really expect a built-in DAC in an integrated amp at this price, so forget that. The Z142’s sonic strengths are absolutely unmistakable, which makes it a very recommendable product and it can easily be matched with high quality sources and speakers. In fact, it stayed in my system longer than it had reason to because I was enjoying it that much. Enough said. ASHLEY KRAMER