Amazingly, it has been some four years since we last saw a new product from Myryad.
Or maybe not so amazing: one of the things we always liked about Myryad's products was the way they seemed to be a step ahead of the crowd in certain areas, most notably styling and features.
But the world soon catches up and the question then is how to recapture the lead? The answer is the Myryad Mi, or 'Music integrated'.
It's hard to quibble with the 'integrated' part of the name, as few products manage to cram quite so many options into one box. CD, FM and DAB radio, iPod connector, optional Bluetooth input and amplifier – it's a lot in something with an LP-sleeve footprint.
LP is about the only thing not catered for, in fact, but the line inputs could allow for that with an external phono stage.
One other feature the Mi doesn't have is internet connectivity. That may seem perverse to some, but what in the end does the internet offer right now to the music lover?
Downloadable music is provided for in the Mi with the iPod and Bluetooth connections – just download to computer or iPod first, which is likely to be a lot easier than loading direct to audio kit.
For the rest, there's internet radio (plentiful, but very often terrible quality) and database access. But since the Mi plays real CDs rather than 'ripped' versions you've presumably got the sleeve, complete with track listing and artwork.
Anyway, it's got excellent support for CD Text, so many modern CDs will display verbal track titles rather than just track numbers.
'Display' – ah, now we're getting warm. You see that nice-looking display on the right of the unit? It's one of the most attractive features we've seen on any audio kit in quite a while.
A full colour graphic display is a very flexible device and Myryad has made the most of it, giving not only track number or title but beautifully legible indications of what buttons do in menu mode (no obsure and fiddly icons) and a 'thermometer' indication of how far into a track one is.
Using the remote, you can scroll down a list of tracks, viewing four to one screen and buttons on the remote or front panel are acknowledged clearly and informatively.
We're slowly getting used to iPods and suchlike and whatever one thinks of their sound – of which more in a moment – their user interface is typically more informative than that of CD.
The Mi reflects that interface on said screen and as a result one ends up with something of a 'dream team' – iPod information and convenience with hi-fi sound and loudspeaker output. All right, other well-designed iPod docks exist, but few are quite so sleek in this department.
It's easy to dismiss portable music players as low-fi because they are so closely associated with data-reduced systems such as MP3. Most, however, can store uncompressed data (WAV files) which contain the same bits as a CD.
When connected digitally to a device like this, the portable device is pretty much a 'bit bucket' without a sound of its own and the explosion of storage capacity in recent years (16GB micro-SD card, for example) has made uncompressed storage perfectly feasible.
If your music is stored on some other format with analogue or digital outputs you're not missing out, for the Mi includes two each of analogue and digital inputs, the latter optical, only. There's even a recording output, plus a digital output and a couple of 3.5mm jack sockets on the front, one an extra line input, the other a headphone output.
And then whatever source you select is passed to the power amp, rated at 100 watts into 4 ohms (so think 50 watts into 8 ohms). Even before we'd read the brochure or removed the covers we'd guessed that might be some kind of switching amp in the space available, and it turns out it's a Pulse Width Modulated class D Digital amplifier, built into a particularly diminutive enclosure at the rear.
Everything is kept digital as far as the power stage, proof of which can be found in the measured figures for jitter, which is lower at the loudspeaker output than at the line output.
The FM tuner function is digital too and is handled on the same module as DAB reception. Operation is pleasant via either the remote or the touch-sensitive buttons on the front panel.
All our enthusiasm for the appearance and interface could go for nought if the sound doesn't cut it and there's no denying that standards are pretty high in this area.
The Arcam Solo Mini is probably our favourite to date, but there are plenty of other competent – and more-than-competent – one-box systems around in various shapes and forms, within sight of the Mi's price. It's a relief, therefore, to be able to say that not only is this a good unit sonically, but it's a distinctive one, too.
Let's start with CD replay, which at the very least has the virtue of being unambiguous with no scope for digital compression variables, broadcasting foibles and so on. After a cursory play with as many of the Mi's features as possible, we dug out a few old favourite silver discs and got stuck in.
It soon became apparent that we were hearing a very pleasing version of them, but there was at the same time no denying that it is still, to be pedantic, a version. Specifically, it is a little soft-grained and, well, 'cuddly'.
Playing on a regular basis with some of the finest hi-fi separates, we are accustomed to the quest for ever greater levels of detail and precision in sound reproduction, in general an admirable goal. But it's almost as if Myryad's designers have consciously taken a small step back from that and decided to go for the bigger picture, with details left rather more to the imagination. If it was a photograph, you would guess the photographer had chosen the old 'Vaseline on the lens' approach.
Is that valid? At £1,250 for a comprehensive system, we feel it is: and we're not embarrassed to admit that we greatly enjoyed it. It encourages a stress-free, low concentration listening experience which is still musically involving, a bit in the way your first transistor radio/portable cassette/budget turntable was – all of those were severely shaky in absolute sound quality terms, but they got a message across.
The Mi is nothing like shaky, it's just not as incisive as much modern hi-fi, and it does rather prove the point that insight is not everything. Oversight is good, too!
Impressive sound quality
You might be wondering what performance is like in terms of rhythm and excitement and while it's not quite up to the standard of fine separates it's actually rather good.
The soft focus doesn't extend much into the bass, so when someone whacks a drum and plucks a bass you get plenty of impact and those 50 watts are plenty enough to move air convincingly even with quite inefficient speakers. What's more, there is certainly no bright, hard edge to the treble so listening fatigue is low and that surely helps in keeping one's attention where it should be.
Given what we said above about using an iPod as a 'bit bucket', it's little surprise that performance with an iPod source, playing uncompressed material, is basically identical to CD. We felt the line input was a little loose and vague in the bass, but the digital inputs seemed much closer to CD and, as such, very listenable.
The only real let-down, to our ears, is the FM tuner section which is at best only so-so. We've yet to hear a DAB/ FM module which turns in more than basic FM performance and this one is muffled, rather inclined to graininess and distinctly coarse in the quality of its background noise. DAB performance is good, though.
We ended up with real affection and respect for the Myryad Mi. It is pleasingly different in makeup and operation from anything else we've come across and its sound also stands out.
It's probably entirely sensible that Myryad has not aimed at the highest standards of purity, because in the circumstances that would probably have failed.
Instead, a characterful but musically communicative performance nicely complements a distinctive package, making the Myryad Mi a fine choice for exactly the sort of application one would guess at – second systems, spare room, holiday home... anywhere you have a little room for indulgence!