Moving on to some rather more relaxed material, the immaculate production on Eric Bibb’s Spirit & The Blues provided clear evidence of the sometimes surprising dynamic range of acoustic instruments and the human voice. Some of Eric’s guitar picking on ‘I Want Jesus To Walk With Me’ was almost explosive in its intensity, while the warmth of his impassioned baritone filled the room. The wonderfully laid-back ensemble piece ‘Braggin’’ displayed excellent stage width, wellfocused images and finely graduated depth, with Bjorn Gideonsson’s drums clearly set some distance behind the lead vocal. That said, while there was a huge amount of ambient detail, the acoustic remained constrained by the limits of my listening room, rather than expanding to properly represent a palpably larger recorded space. So, whilst the Mezzo 140s are certainly Premier League spatial performers, they’re not in there fighting for the championship. Of course, not much material stands such microscopic spatial scrutiny. Truly explicit components can make some recordings feel a little anti-climactic. The Mezzo 140s present a near perfect compromise, with the ability to reward audiophile production levels whilst never needing them to give of their best.
Removing one unit and reconfiguring the other into stereo mode, I repeated the listening programme with interesting results. Make no mistake, the single Mezzo 140 still drove the Prodigy successfully, but it was a little like a power boat cruising on a glass-smooth lake - there was a sense of serene control, but also of untapped potential. Return to bridged mono, and it was a little like the power boat’s transition to planing – potential instantly converted to a step-change in performance, hybrid speaker technology switched from a slightly fragile marriage to a truly glorious synergy. It was not so much a surprise that two amps worked better than one with the Prodigy, rather that there was an unavoidable sense that, when bridged, the dual 140 became more than the sum of their stereo parts.
As a complete contrast, I played the Chords to a pair of Focal Micro Utopia Bes, a benign load that I normally drive with 40 single-ended Watts.
First up was Nickel Creek’s eponymous first album, which tests a system’s ability to track a musical signal. Listening to ‘Ode To A Butterfly’, the incredible speed of Chris Thile’s Mandolin playing was vividly demonstrated. A genuinely musically agile component will uncover myriad micro-rhythms of a speed and complexity which almost defy belief. Not only did the Mezzo 140 succeed admirably, it also uncovered a whole new level to the man’s genius – the amplifier’s insight into the finest nuances of musical energy revealed that the subtlest changes in the power of individual notes were not unavoidable side-effects of the light-speed tempo. Rather, they were a conscious part of his technique, which remained utterly consistent during each repeat of a given refrain. The slightly gentler appeal of ‘Out Of The Woods’ proved that, while the Chord displayed excellent tonal neutrality, it was far from dry or astringent, with Sara Watkin’s violin displaying sublime richness of tone.
Unsurprisingly, toggling between stereo and mono configuration provided less of a quantum leap in performance via the Micro Utopia. There was certainly a worthwhile improvement in spatial definition, with a slightly larger soundstage, more vivid images and more closely defined width and depth. There was also a very definite increase in overall authority, the reach of the speakers seeming to grow a little, in line with the extra drive at their disposal.
The Mezzo 140 successfully extends the Aspire range’s horizons. Whether you are starting from scratch or have already bought into the series, this new amplifier opens up the possibility of both current hungry speakers and large rooms, while maintaining the components’ stylish but physically unobtrusive presence. The bridging option is the icing on the cake, with even benign loads benefiting from the increase in drive. In terms of character, the Mezzo 140 provides an impressive blend of resolution, dynamics and neutrality. While the unit itself appears to have no inbuilt warmth, if there is any richness to either a recording or the partnering source, the 140 will faithfully reproduce it. Combinied with the subtlest subordination of spatial performance in favour of dynamic expression, this transparency makes the Chord a hugely satisfying listen over a wide range of musical styles and production values.
However, the 140’s exhilarating way with drive and energy is always presented as just one of a finely balanced set of musical virtues. In this respect, this amplifier is a genuinely gifted all-rounder.