Funny old day yesterday, writes Andrew Everard, sounding dangerously like Arkwright in Open All Hours. It started out with a demonstration of Musical Fidelity's massively powerful 550K Superchargers, which deliver something in the region of 600W each, and ended with some music played on Shanling's 'so cute it hurts' MC-30 system, pumping (if that's the appropriate word) about 1/200th as much power.
Shanling's MC-30 system: 3W per channel and 'so cute it hurts'
I'd already done some struggling to get my head around the Supercharger concept. The idea of putting another amplifier downstream of your main amp a) seems to fly in the face of all sense of audio purity and b) reminded me of the power booster amp I put in to my first car sometime back in the 1980s.
That booster plugged into the speaker line between the radiocassette – 'head unit' we said back then, with the wink of those in the know – and the front speakers.
It had a couple of bent metal brackets to bolt it up under the dash, a set of 'graphic equaliser' sliders – yes, just one set, for both channels – and a bypass/boost button so you could instantly hear what you got for your money.
And yes, it worked, cannoning out Frankie's Relax across a deserted car park back in the 80s while some mates danced in the headlights, but it wasn't what you'd call hi-fi. Just loud.
Oh and it all went wrong when a girlfriend snagged her tights on one of those brackets, and we got into "it goes or i do" territory. I think the booster was still in that old Coke bottle Cortina when it was scrapped.
Anyway, back to the plot, and I have to say my initial impressions of the MF Superchargers were favourable. Used between a little Rotel integrated and a pair of very demanding ATCs, I thought they gave a sound with totally unrestrained impact, amazing detailing and real 'hang in the air' soundstaging.
Yes, they went loud, and could clearly have gone a lot louder, but it was what they did with simple accompanied voice that grabbed me.
OK, so the angel of righteousness says 'the £3000 taq on a pair of Superchargers would buy a very conventional good power amp'; but the devil on the other shoulder says "three of those would be a riot across the front of a home cinema system - and anyway, how many good 600W monobloc amps are there under £1500?".
I'll wait with interest to see what the WHFSV test team make of the Superchargers, but I've booked a pair for some more experimentation at home.
Which is where Shanling's little MC-30 Music Centre is sitting at the moment. For £500 you get a CD player, a tuner, an amp and an iPod dock, and while the amp only delivers 3W per channel, and the 'dock' is actually a metal support bracket with a 3.5mm stereo input for your personal music player, the whole thing is just so mad you have to love it.
It's not loud, not for rockers, and not in any way conventional, but initial impressions is that this is one sweet-sounding system when used with speakers of decent sensitivity in smallish rooms.
Showed it to my colleagues on Gramophone and they were pretty amazed something so substantially built could be bought for £500. Explaining where it was made, and a look at some of the company's other products, helped them see.
Mind you, they didn't see it with tubes aglow, which is when it really looks striking. But they did play with the controls mounted atop the front legs, and commented on the miniature joystick provided for disc play/stop/skip and tuning, and that got me wondering where I'd seen such a thing before.
I remembered half way up the motorway to the office this morning - always a good place for moments of realisation. Last time I saw a joystick like that, it was on one of these...
Marantz Layla: another unusual system from the past, but this one had no fewer than four joysticks