With all those options, reviewing these machines is a little like trying to hit a moving target. But let’s keep things simple; many customers have no intention or requirement to put DVD sound or video images through their systems, so let’s consider the Erato II as a CD player only – albeit one with the not unattractive ability to extend into the realm of AV and multi-channel replay should you ever choose to walk that way. Configured with a single, stereo output card offering balanced or single-ended socketry (and basic DVD outputs) the Erato will set you back £4350. Adding an attenuated output would add a further £350. Of course, in a single source CD based system, the variable output option allows you to dispense with a conventional pre-amp although inexplicably, the Muse modules don’t offer input and switching options, which would really extend the player’s versatility and value, allowing you to employ its superior onboard digital conversion with external sources.
Externally, the MAP casework is finished in a distinctive (and extremely tough) pale grey epoxy coating. The buttons are deeply recessed and thus protected, and the whole effect, if not exactly graceful is definitely purposeful and reassuringly bombproof, further underlining the unit’s potential longevity. However, one thing I would like to see is clear labeling of the socketry on the output boards. With so many options and configurations possible I really think that this is essential and should be dealt with urgently.
But if the back panel of the Erato II can seem a little opaque, it’s sound is anything but. Indeed, the uncluttered clarity and wide bandwidth evenness that it brings to music can actually be slightly disconcerting at first, leading to lower than normal listening levels and a possible assumption that the Muse is one of those machines that puts detail and finesse ahead of music’s more physical aspects. Certainly, there’s detail and finesse a plenty, bringing space and texture to performances. But match levels carefully against a player like the superb and much more costly Audio Research CD7 and you soon discover that what (if anything) the Erato surrenders in terms of muscularity and physical presence is more than compensated for by its transparency and micro-dynamic definition, the more sculpted shape it brings to notes. It’s not so much that the CD7 has greater body or weight, just that the two players deploy it slightly differently.