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
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.
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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