Mechanical Research Corporations NIRO 1000 Integrated Engine
Mechanical Research Corporations NIRO 1000 Integrated Engine
15 May 2002
Integrated 80 Wpc amplifier
Class A operation up to 35 watts
Nirotek America Corporation
P.O. Box 6065
Ventura, CA 93006
Truth or dare? Truth? Do you have a transparent, harmonically rich solid-state amp and pre-amp? Yes? Great. Now a dare. I dare you to go listen to the 80 Wpc Niro 1000 Integrated Engine from Mechanical Research. When you come back we can go another round and see if anything has changed.
I know things have changed for me. From the hands and mind of the legendary Niro Nakamichi comes a line of high end products several decades in the making.
That term "legendary" is loosely thrown around these days, but not so in this case. Niro Nakamichi, along with his two brothers, helped to move the high-end forward by leaps and bounds throughout the Seventies and Eighties. While Niro's brother Etsuro was the marketing genius, Niro's focus was in the mechanical engineering area, where he developed advances like the diffused resonance transport. He attained the height of his fame in the U.S. with the creation and introduction of the legendary Nakamichi Dragon tape deck, which by the way, was the very first piece of high end gear I ever lusted after. To this day, it remains a highly sought after classic. After his association with Nelson Pass and Threshold, Niro felt one possible unrecognized limitation of playback equipment was the lack of attention paid to signal degradation caused by electro-mechanical vibration. In 1998, he and his surviving brother sold the Nakamichi name and went on to form the Tokyo based Mechanical Research Corporation. This led to the development of their first audio product, the Power Engine 1000 mono-blocks at $22,000 each.
As always, mere mortals benefit from the trickle down of technology developed for sate of the art gear. Like the Power Engine 1000, the power supply transformers of the Integrated Engine are isolated from the chassis by custom damped springs, as are the low level input/output connector assembly. The heat sinks actually float free from the chassis to absorb vibration. The power supply capacitors are mounted in custom rubber cups and the circuit boards are mounted using custom rubber shock absorbers.
The styling of the Integrated Engine is rather eclectic, unlike anything I have seen before -- short of an Everglades fan boat. Distinguished by the 180-degree, vertically fanned heat sinks that occupy the top rear half of the amp, the Niro IE is totally unique and stands out in stark contrast to the typical big amp. Though I have issues with the remote, in that it is really flimsy and not as responsive as I would like, the Integrated Engine performed with out any problems.
From the start, and I mean as the very first note caressed its way through the Niro Integrated Engine, I knew this was a special piece of gear. It was sweet, full of harmonic bloom, airy and delicate, full of tonal color, and had a treble region totally devoid of electronic artifice. The Niro quickly distinguished itself from most other solid-state amp/pre amp combos I have heard. Disc after disc let it reveal its gentle touch, a glow and a flow to the music that is lost on so many other products.
The Niro gets the small things so right, with micro dynamics that allow the music to breathe gently and the subtlest of transient information that makes the music so spontaneous and alive. They are presented effortlessly. The Integrated Engine sounded more like a great tube amp than one of the solid state variety. Listening to Chris Isaac's title track from San Francisco Days [Reprise45116-20], I was left scratching my head. It sounded so right, so familiar, yet different than I have ever heard it sound before. The sound was awash in space and bloom. The steel strings of the guitars rang out with the steepest attack, yet retained a fleshed out harmonic balance all the way up through the highest treble overtones. As a matter of fact, every instrument, playing simultaneously, retained such grain free clarity and bloom that I found myself following instrumental lines that, before the Niro, had remained musically insignificant and inaccessible.
Another interesting facet of the Niro is its ability to be completely engaging at low listening levels. I typically play my system really, REALLY loud, yet the Niro was completely satisfying at any volume above a mere whisper. I was listening toGiuliannis Guitar Concerto [Philips420780-2] at 1:30 am, a very risky proposition, considering both my wife and 1-year-old were asleep near by. Though not the greatest of recordings, the fabulous performance by Pepe Romero of this absolutely joyous music more than made up for any sonic shortcomings. The string section that ushers in the first movement is resolved into more individual performers than I have heard from this recording in the past. All the while, the volume level was at a fraction of what I would normally find satisfying. This all comes down to the Niro's stellar dynamic and transient contrasts and tube-like air between and surrounding each instrument.
The down side for me was that, while the 80 watts of the Niro are put to exceptional use, the amp, in my huge room, fed a diet of head banging jams, just could not kick out the macro dynamics that I often crave. Though within its range, the bass, particularly the mid bass, was very well defined and devoid of the hazy ambiguity that plagues so many products. This allowed the Niro to move the music along with a really nice sense of drive.
While the Niro was really more about delicacy and grace than explosive dynamics, I never felt musically short changed. The dynamics found on track one on Paganini's Violin Concerto No.1 op.6 [Philips420780-2], were entirely satisfying and very realistic. The first movement is punctuated with the plaintiff wail of the violin trading blows with the orchestra's response. The interplay and tension is well served by the Niro's free flowing dynamics, allowing for great musical communication. I have heard this track a thousand times and the violin has never sounded as sweet, harmonically correct and without hint of harshness. In this regard, the Niro is awesome.
Coupled with this harmonically rich demeanor, images and soundstaging are presented with a great sense of transparency. As I mentioned before, space and bloom abounds, surrounding and separating each musical line and instrument. Referring back to the Paganini Violin Concerto, the sense of a real orchestra performing in a real space is squeezed out of this good-but-not-great recording.
Vocal images, such as those of Aaron Neville from the title track of Warm Your Heart[A&M 75021], come across with great dimension and warmth. Each inflection lends great emotional significance while the surrounding instruments, though patched together electronically, are clearly distinct yet musically and rhythmically "together."
Here's the deal. If you have a modest sized room, and plan to drive speakers of reasonable efficiency, like the Talons, the Niro Integrated Engine is a phenomenal piece of music making machinery.
The more I listen to the Niro, the more I find to admire about it. For $7500, you are getting an amp and pre amp that offers world class performance. In the high-end world, that's a great, great value.
While the integrated market is beginning to grow crowded with offerings from the likes of Jeff Rowland, Krell and Mark Levinson, I can easily recommend the Integrated Engine on its own merits. So true to the music and lacking so little in critical terms, the Niro Integrated Engine presents a rare opportunity to own the musical fruits of a true genius and legend. Such opportunities don't come around all that often.
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