Mimetism CD 20.1 CD Player Reviewed

Mimetism CD 20.1 CD Player Reviewed

Your chances of finding one of these listed on Audiogon or in Craig's List are about the same as the odds of your car window getting broken by the impact of hitting a passenger pigeon. But don't worry; unless you live in France, this French CD player is probably pretty low on your radar

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Aaah, with this name, Mimetism could only be from the land of Marcel Marceau! 'Mimétisme' (with an 'e' and an accent) is a uniquely French word that describes something in-between chameleon-like behaviour and pure imitation. Of course, in the case of the Mimetism 20.1 CD player, this refers to replicating the signal off the disc. The change in spelling? A mere frisson of Gallic condescension: they thought English speakers would have trouble with pronunciation if the spelling were kept pure. Fortunately, that's the only part of the design that reeks of the haughtiness of la Belle France.

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As for me, I have no problem with the company because the French half is balanced by the Swiss component, thus tempering my detestation of the world's most perfidious nation. Which is a good thing, or I'd be missing out on what is actually a mighty fine disc spinner. It even looks sensational, like a Copland that's been forced through a goose's gullet to create audio fois gras: minimalist yet comprehensively equipped, with only two rotary controls, a display and a tray occupying the front panel.

Naturally, there's a comprehensive remote control (and a positively luxurious optional control that also works the matching integrated amp) for all minor functions, but the designers have managed to squeeze in all of the basic on/off and transport functions into the two rotaries by using them in push mode as well as for short arcs in the left-and-right planes. You can even set the display's illumination intensity from the right-hand knob.

Around the back, it's equally barren, yet complete: single-ended and XLR balanced outputs, coaxial singled-ended and XLR balanced digital outputs and an RS232 socket for linking it to the matching integrated amp or custom installations. This no-nonsense layout reaffirms a first impression: there's something immediately reassuring about the 20.1, not least its mass and girth: 430x118x450mm (WHD) and 18kg. To say nothing of its heritage...

Mimetism was founded by William Andrea and Yvan Coderev in 2004, and the two have track records that will push all the right buttons with savvy and sophisticated audiophiles. Andrea - what a C.V.! He spent his 'atypical career' working with a number of companies in both audio and broadcasting, beginning building active speakers for SupraVox, for use by the French television organisation ORTF. Andrea also designed and assembled the Nuance and Plenitude amps and preamps for FAMCO (French American Company), and the P-UN preamp and the P.P-UN pre-preamp for Yves Cochet. Then he joined Phlox Electronique, where he participated in the development of certain YBA products. During a brief hiatus, he learned all about digital signal processing, by designing weather stations for Pulsonic. He then joined Vecteur and where he designed the CLUB 12, then the i 6.2, P6, A6 and the L 4.2 CD player, still regarded as reference components in Chiracland.

Yvan Coderev lives in Lausanne, Switzerland, where he owns L'Audiophile SA, a high-end retailers in a decidedly high-end area. His long standing passion for sound and design led him to build his own specific supports and furniture for audio gear, distributed in France under the Vecteur brand name, which is how he met William Andrea, whom he the introduced to the digital processing experts from Anagram Technologies. Mimetism is the collaboration (a very French pursuit) between the two, marrying French savoir faire and Swiss quality. The Mimetism components are hand-made by ASM (Audio System Manufacturing) in Brittany.

Remove the lid, and what you see is a text-book example of clean layout and faultless construction, with immaculate motherboards and top-grade components. In creating what he feels is the definitive way to deal with Red Book CD, Andrea offers no suggestion of any SACD wannabe-ness here: Mimetism is resolutely two-channel. Using a high-grade ATAPI disc transport, the digital signal exits via a Crystal CS8416, to the Texas instruments SRC4190 asynchronous sample rate converter, a circuit that allows you to upsample from 44.1kHz to 192kHz 'without any concern for jitter.' The signals then feed the Wolson Delta-Sigma WM8740 DA converter, which Mimetism believes is the only converter with 6-bit resolution, while the general market suffers 5-bit.

Mimetism feels that the advantage of this type of converter is the significant reduction in high frequency noise in the analogue output of the D/A. Another advantage of equal importance is that 'power conversion is extremely well done,' resulting in an 'easing effect' on the analogue output stages. The output stages deliver a cross-differential balanced signal and an unbalanced signal, and you will find immediately that the former is preferable to the latter; you can A/B this easily as the output levels are the same at 2V - no 6dB difference to throw you. The output circuits employ low-noise FETs, and the balanced output operates with the help of in-house designed transformers. The balanced S-PDIF output is 'perfectly isolated from the digital power supply,' and the circuit ensures that non-inverting absolute phase is maintained in the digital domain without adding noise.

For its power supply, the 20.1 uses a low-induction toroidal transformer rated at a healthy 100VA. It feeds six separate, regulated power supplies to the individual analogue and digital stages, and the unit boasts its own mains filtering network. There's also an internal strap that can be removed to separate the earthing circuit in case of ground loops in specific instances.

For the physical concerns, Mimetism has used Neutrik connectors for the XLRs, and RCA connectors made by ASM for the single-ended connections. The latter are gold-plated and isolated with Teflon inserts. The chassis itself consists of a 10mm thick brushed aluminium faceplate, a treated steel case of 10mm and 15mm sections and a brushed and anodised aluminium top plate that's damped against unwanted resonances. The massive, 60mm knobs are made from solid aluminium and feature switching made in-house. Other damping and isolation techniques include the fixing of the transport to the chassis with a damped U-frame using different densities of rubber, and aluminium feet with damping inserts.

Read more about the CD 20.1 on Page 2.

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It took, oh, all of two seconds - via the McIntosh C2200 in
single-ended and balanced modes - to realise that this baby sounds best
using the balanced outputs. You know the drill: silent backgrounds,
lower noise, greater speed, more impact. As there's no level change,
with 2V output from both, the comparisons are simple to do. I also used
the Mimetism strictly single-ended, into the PrimaLuna Prologue Two,
but my main concerns were how it worked in a high-end system.

It's nice to find a single-word description of a product, in the
manner of film producers pitching movie ideas with 'high concept'
short-hand, like 'Jaws meets The Sound of Music'. And no matter how
much I try to escape it, the Mimetism merits the term 'suave' in all of
its many forms, from charming to seductive to smooth. There's something
so embarrassingly sophisticated about the presentation that you almost
start believing that the French are as cool as they'd like to think
they are.

It starts with vocals, and I don't mean the late, lamented Singing
Nun. There's an eerie, airy legitimacy to vocals that's bereft of
artifice, a sound so utterly charismatic that you're sucked into
listening even to bizarre music not of your own tastes, like the
aforementioned sister. A major part of it is the palpable
three-dimensionality, exploited best by recordings from companies such
as Chesky or Telarc, who have a grip on the concept. This particular
quality endows the singer with a sense of mass and space, right down to
authentic image height, and it's uncanny. Better still, Mimetism
preserves this in choruses and groups, blessing the Persuasions with
stage-filling presence, while the Anita Kerr Singers have never filled
my room so convincingly.

Add to this a seamlessness that somehow avoids robbing the forms of
individuality, and you have from the outset a player that immediately
belies the cardboard cut-out effect symptomatic of digital vs analogue.
Far be it for me to tell you that you ought to A/B this with the
equivalent LP, especially if you've abandoned vinyl, but if you do, you
find a narrowing of the gap in that key area. In no way will the layout
of the performers, the shape of the stage or the atmosphere betray the
digital origins of the music. Throw on something intimate, recorded in
a club, and you will feel transported.

But the Mimetism has other strengths besides recreating spaces and
allowing voices to flow sans artifice. The player is fast, so hot with
transients that you detect a hint of schizophrenia if you equate
suavity with being laid-back. This player most certainly is not
sluggish, louche nor casual, yet neither is it deliberate. While it's
fast enough to convey ultra-crisp transients - the new Rory Gallagher
'best of' provided plenty of incisive guitarwork - it does not achieve
this at the expense of its come-hither sound. Intriguingly, its
importer commented on its abilities to retrieve detail as a primary
virtue. For me, this is not a quality on a par with, say, tonal
authenticity, because occasionally, it can mean fatiguing,
hyper-clinical sound bereft of warmth. No way does the Mimetism give up
on the details; conversely, neither does it lose its sense of
perspective.

OK, OK, so we have a machine that seduces on the right side of
speed-dating, while at the same time avoiding lethargy. But that's not
enough. Where the real magic enters is in its cohesiveness. If one of
the secrets of reproducing music with realism is to re-assemble the
digits so as never to divulge the slice-and-dice nature of the format,
the 20.1 has its processing well under control. I chose the silkiest
recordings I could muster - vintage Dino or Frank on Capitol, some
Ella, a slew of soundtracks - and the Mimetism filled the room with
glorious, glowing sound.

Think classic valves, but without any smearing around the edges.
Think electrostatics, but with mass and bass. Real, bass, solid bass,
sphincter-clenching, foot-to-the-sternum bass. Think Ortofon SPU in a
modern arm via a modern phono stage. I don't know how the hell they did
it, but the snail-munchers have come up with a CD player that ranks
alongside the best. And they're not even that sensitive to cables. Just
balanced vs single-ended.

There's something else you should know about the Mimetism: it's been
hand-picked as the digital source for a package that represents a
departure from conventional methods of system building. Absolute Sounds
has created a new division called the Studio, which will offer only one
system. While each element can be purchased separately, the brands they
represent will only provide a single product. So far, the company has
chosen the speaker, CD player and power amp, and the rest of the
suppliers' ranges are not part of the deal, e.g. Absolute Sounds has
made no effort to offer the Mimetism integrated amp. That's not to say
that the Mimetism amp isn't worthy, only that it's not part of the
Studio concept.

They chose the Mimetism 20.1 for three reasons. The first is that it
sounds simply fantastic, especially with the other Studio components
(to be announced...). Secondly, the 20.1 embodies all of the Studio
values: high perceived value, exclusivity, elegance, and the sense of
'boutique' presentation. Thirdly, the Mimetism sells for 3995,
elevated enough to be considered truly selective and 'of the high-end',
without being so absurdly expensive as to alienate sane individuals of
means.

My advice? You must consider this product whether you're buying into
the Studio concept, or merely 'system' with a small 's' - it's that
good.

Absolute Sounds 020 8971 3909

100wd précis:
Gorgeous styling, faultless ergonomics, superb construction, a
defensible price and - above all - thoroughbred performance - mark
Mimetism's UK debut as not just welcomed but noteworthy. Absolute
Sounds is, after decades of cultivating primarily the extreme high-end,
addressing the real world, positioning the Studio system in-between
conventional mid-fi and utter esoterica. By removing any margin for
error in the complete 'Studio' system, Absolute Sounds has made a
decisive move toward restoring audio's credibility amongst
non-hobbyists. With the 20.1, the concept is off to a perfect start,
for this is an exceptional player regardless of context.

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.

Alternatives:
Marantz SACD SA-11S1: Only 2000 and it plays SACDs, too! A sonic and visual knock-out
Musical Fidelity kW25: Two chassis, valve or solid-state output, a gift at 3996 the pair
Oracle CD1500 CD player: If it were any prettier, it would be illegal; within reach at 4649

Review System :
Quad CDP99/II, Musical Fidelity X-RAY v3 and Marantz CD-12/DA12 CD players
McIntosh C2200 pre-amp
McIntosh MC2102 power amp
Rogers LS3/5a speakers and Wilson WATT Puppy System 7 speakers
Transparent Ultra balanced and single-ended cable
Transparent Reference speaker cables

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