Published On: January 11, 2009

Meracus Imago CD Transport Reviewed

Published On: January 11, 2009

Meracus Imago CD Transport Reviewed

The German-made Imago CD transport is massive in size and performance. With its carefully tuned internal suspension, machined synthetic material sub-chassis, the Imago was created to be an all out assault on the problems of spinning a CD perfectly. You will love or hate its unique looks.

Meracus_Imago_CD_Transport.gif

No, I don't know what 'Meracus' means, and I stopped playing around with anagrams after I reached 'ear scum'. How about 'US Cream'? No way: Meracus is so decidedly, unabashedly a German company that it couldn't possibly apply. Oh, is it German! If you've ever studied a hi-fi magazine from the Fatherland or visited the Frankfurt or Berlin shows, you'll know what I mean: staggering build quality, weird shapes, bold colours, lots of glass, wholly unique operational procedures. And the Meracus Imago is almost deliberately 'un-exportable', because the customer has to be on some Teutonic wave-length to get to grips with it.

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Study the photos. You've never seen another CD transport like it, right? Now check out this edited portion of the instructions, just part of the initial assembly once the transport screws have been removed and its component parts are spread out in front of you like some Kid's Toy From Hell:

'Next, using the three screws provided, fit the brass ring to the underside of the glass top. DO NOT OVERTIGHTEN THE THREE SCREWS. The cut-out in the ring should be at the back of the glass top; that is, the furthest away from the MERACUS writing. Fit the assembled glass top to the main unit using the four screws and spacers provided; the spacers go between the unit and the glass. Finally fit the glass ring CD aperture cover into the barrel provided.'

And that's just for the CD aperture lid; you can see that owning an Imago will be an adventure. It's certainly unlike any CD spinner I can recall. It uses the same case as the larger Meracus components, what they label a trapezium but what I'd call a box with sloped sides. The chassis is made from varnished 12mm thick MDF, mounted to a 2mm thick steel sheet, and it's available in myriad colours if you're prepared to pay extra to banish the basic black; the review sample was a gorgeous blue designed to soften the hearts of Bugatti fanciers. The finish is superb, the paintwork so smooth and glossy that you could mistake it for an automotive body part. Porsche, of course.

And it's huge. You'll need a lot of de-e-ep shelf space to house this sucker, possessing as it does a serious 420x405mm (WxD) footprint. The sloping sides reduce the top surface to 295x405mm (WxD); this area is covered with the 4mm thick sheet of bronze-coloured glass, which 'floats' above the chassis courtesy of a spacer in each corner. Amusingly, the odd-ball glass lid in the middle actually saves space compared to a rear-hinged lid; the Imago is 100mm tall, but you only need 20mm clearance for the lid itself. What you do have to allow on top of that, though, is enough space for your hand, clutching a disc, to enter the area above the opening.

How the aperture cover works is reason enough to buy an Imago, especially if you're the type who covets things like cameras with clear bodies so you can see the works, or wristwatches with skeleton backs. That large round disc is fitted to a barrel at the back of the opening for access to the CD transport itself. Press 'open' and the glass disc lifts up and swings out of the way, with the smoothness of a Japanese autofocus camera lens. It took a long while before I grew tired of watching the Imago open and close; then again, I was in a pretty stupid, easily-amused mood the day the Meracus arrived. Eventually, the novelty will wear off and it will be reduced to a party trick for amusing any of your friends that possess audiophile/gimmick tendencies. And let's face it: all this hydraulic hoo-hah really isn't necessary, when you consider that the world's most costly transports feature slide-back doors...usually manual. But it a lot of fun. Not, I hasten to add, something expected of German goods.

Meracus also had fun with the controls. The front panel contains only the on/off switch, the large machined-brass rotary control to the left of the comprehensive display. The basic controls themselves are ranged along the front edge of the glass top plate, 'non-switches' which operate in contact-less fashion via 'light barrier' methods. Touch the glass lid in the appropriate place and the CD aperture cover lifts and lowers, or play commences or stops; green or red LEDs shine through the lid to tell you what's been activated, too. Every other operation is accessed via a remote control which also performs all of the functions for other Meracus components.

Read more about the Imago on Page 2.
Meracus_Imago_CD_Transport.gif

But it's not just novel ergonomics which motivate the Meracus
designers. The secret weapon is a floppy internal suspension designed
to isolate the transport from external interference, vibration,
resonance, . The mechanism itself is the well-respected
Philips CDM 9, mounted with its servo board to the 1.3kg sub-chassis.
Within the main chassis itself is a screened and cased toroidal
transformer with three separate secondary coils for feeding the
relevant stages.

Imago's sub-chassis is machined from a synthetic material with high
damping characteristics, which is further damped by mats glued to its
underside. It is then decoupled by eight rubber 'absorbers', and
attached to the main cabinet through a lever mechanism. Since the Imago
is a top-loader without an integral clamp in the lid, a stabiliser disc
is supplied which locks the CD to the hub. This clamp covers the CD
entirely, avoiding the current fashion for 'spoked' clamps.

Arriving as standard with TOSlink digital and 75 ohm BNC-socketed
coaxial outputs, the Imago can be fitted with ST optical an option.
Also fitted is a 'CD function link' output, for clock synchronisation
when using the company's matching Flagrare converter, which I didn't
have access to at the time. Instead, I used the Marantz DA-12, which
was designed to work with a top-end Philips-based transport, the Theta
Pro Gen V, and a herd of cheap Audio Alchemy DACs, which seem to be
breeding and multiplying behind my hi-fi rack.

Imago confirmed every pro-digital bore's worst fears: separate, highly tweaked transports
sound different. I compared the Imago (always using identical leads and
comparing like-with-like as regards optical or coaxial transmission)
with the Theta Data III, the Marantz CD-12 and the Marantz CD-63SE,
even though the latter is not in the same price category. Which reminds
me: this Deutsche disc spinner will set you back 3995, hence the
lofty, costly competition.

It soon emerged that the Imago liked the Ishiwata-hot-rodded DA-12
better than any of the other DACs in my arsenal, so I stuck with it
throughout the 'serious' listening sessions, with the other transports
wired in for A/B comparisons. Ain't it marvellous what a little
isolation can do? It was mere coincidence that
was on the tube while I was in the midst of writing this review, but I
was struck by the notion that - in Swift's day - isolation (albeit in
the form of solitary confinement) was believed to purge Bedlam's
crazies of their insanity. Certainly a purge was going on within the
Meracus, perhaps flushing out nasties from a digital source. And no
pro-analogue fetishist will argue with an analogy, however pompous and
ludicrously literary, that likens digital audio to a form of insanity...

Anyway, the Imago somehow endowed CD playback with blacker, more
velvety silences, a cleaner landscape against which to position the
musical events. However pretentious and bull-shitty that may sound, I
can't think of any other way to describe the presentation the Meracus
produces, almost making the CD-12 transport sound 'romantic' in
comparison. And because the Meracus gives the musical event such a
quiet background against which to occur, there are myriad benefits.

Link them in whatever way you prefer, or discard them as wholly
accidental/co-incidental, but the impression of a quieter background
improved three areas in particular. The first was a greater sense of
dynamic contrasts - and not necessarily the actual speed at which
dynamic events take place. Rather, it was the relationship between the
softest and loudest sounds, the apparently lower noise floor making it
that much easier to discern the softer sounds during raucous or complex
passages.

Allied to this was the second benefit, a sense of greater clarity or
transparency. Maybe I'm being simplistic, but the ease with which the
softer sounds and the finer details could be detected suggested a
cleaner window into the soundstage. Amusingly, the effect wasn't overly
hygienic or clinical, two accusations often levelled at Teutonic
transistorware. Instead, it was simply a case of more information
breaking free of the system. Which leads to the third apparent bonus.

At no time did the Imago demonstrate any displays of digital 'edge',
however crisp the transients or vivid and energetic the highs. Partly,
I'm sure, this is down to the simply sensational DA-12, which has its
own method of reassembling the parts into an analogue whole. But, and
I'm staggered to see myself writing it, the Meracus Imago makes music
which is positively . Again, this is not a trait I associate with hardware from Germany.

Selecting a repertoire to test these findings involved use of Willy
DeVille's hyper-dynamic 'Assassin of Love', with more sonic contrasts
than any single track deserves, Lou Rawls' 'At Last', which offers a
duet of utterly opposing vocal textures, the pseudo Anita Kerr Singers
on Big Daddy's 'With A Little Help From My Friends' to test the
smoothness and Keb' Mo's 'Am I Wrong' because it's so vicious. Oh, and
the Chordettes' 'Sandman' just because it gives me a chuckle.

Imago passed my listening tests with flying colours. Because it
contains such a comprehensive suspension system, the Meracus is easy to
site (bar the size considerations, that is): you don't have to spend a
fortune on bomb-proof platforms, and experimenting with trick feet
yielded no audible gains. It's fussy enough about converters to demand
an audition with precisely the DAC that the potential owner will be
using. The ergonomics? You'll get used to its operational quirks in two
minutes flat. The only reservation I have is about the looks. We're
talking real love/hate here, because components this
individualistic-styled usually preclude happy visual marriages with
other products. In which case some would be better off considering the
Imago in its stand-alone CD player form; at least then one needn't
worry about it looking stupid on top of any other less pyramidal device.

Now, where were we?: 'rum case', 'car muse', 'race sum', 'rue scam'...

Additional Resources
• Read more source component reviews from HomeTheaterReview.com.
• Find a receiver to pair with this source.
• See more about the audiophile world at AudiophileReview.com.
• Discuss all kinds of gear at hometheaterequipment.com.

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