La Moule Chauve: World's Best CD Player?
Jonathan Foote
15 September 2000

Several months ago I received from the French consulate, hand delivered, a prototype CD player the development of which has been funded by the Pétarade du Cheval Consortium. Why moi, you ask. Because, to quote Popeye, I yam what I yam. Obviously, this is not your garden-variety device, nor am I your quotidian reporter.

The developers are calling this most unusual player La Moule Chauve. In English, that's Bald Mussel. Don't ask. I have and no one's been willing to explain. Lots of smirks and that's about it. Besides, the name may be tentative, though in appearance and function the player does rather resemble something between a steroidal bivalve and novelty Easter egg. Why the designers should have hit upon so difficult a shape to install and operate remains one of several mysteries, all of which may or may not dissolve to irrelevance in light of one's listening impressions. We shall see, tee hee, ahem. As to appearances, I don't know the French term for keeping up with the Joneses, but I guess you all remember seeing the ads for that French horn speaker from Jaded Audio a few years back resembling an aggressive extraterrestrial with a really big mouth trying to get by as furniture. Moi-self and Edith Piaf, my faithful French finch, actually lived with a review pair in our sophisticated loft abutting everything interesting till the repo goons showed up. I found the veneer especially elegant. I wonder, what's to become of us conspicuous consumers once all the fancy-dancy tropical hardwoods have been harvested? Well, there's always le suicide (that's French for suicide, pronounced swee-SEED).

La Moule Chauve does not open at the command of a remote or a button somewhere on its orotund bod. One keeps a pot of water simmering nearby. In order to insert or remove a CD, one relocates the pot under the player, which opens much as a mussel does when exposed to hot steam. The demi-lingual manual recommends seasoning the water with herbs of Province and a few drops of extra virgin (tee hee) olive oil for improved midrange liquidity. I mentioned that the player is still under development. The steam-sensitive hinge is obviously one of the unit's innovative features. The designers need to address that squeal. It's distracting. As a yet more striking innovation, once the lid lifts after seven or eight minutes of light steaming, one remarks a turntable which takes the belt-drive concept a hop and a skip round the bend and over the top. Rather than an electric motor, the turntable operates by way of an escapement mechanism manufactured to La Moule Chauve's specs by Patek Philippe. Not the least of the player's peripheral attractions is the embossed, 18-karat gold key. (I have it from a reliable source that Breitling and Rolex failed to make the cut. How embarrassing! I'm actually blushing!) The belt itself, a quarter-inch wide and delicately braided, is made of the shorn blonde hair of young ladies of the haute-bourgeoisie and lower aristocracy who have elected to enter a particularly rigorous religious order. We need not go into the flagellation aspects, nor need we emphasize the raw material's dearth and therefore its rather remarkable ticket. A replacement belt purchases a new Bentley convertible! Just to contemplate this sort of thing gives me a woodie! (The accounting department has yet to arrive at La Moule Chauve's suggested list price. I understand that they're casting about for more zeros.)

As strange as the foregoing may seem, what follows is stranger still. La Moule Chauve's designers readily admit to analogue vinyl's superiority. Indeed, it is this concession that provides the foundation for the most radical departure from digital technology yet attempted. The thinking operates so: if the earlier format surpasses digital silver in terms of musicality, then, by analogy, the earliest attempts at commercial digital surpass the dernier cri (pronounced dern-yay CREE -- that's French for the latest thing) in digital technology. I know, I know, it sounds awfully fishy. Well, fishy-squishy, whoop-dee-doo, it's all in the listening. Hang on, we're almost there. The thinking goes on to say, hey, never mind all this nonsense about 24/96 and so on. Let's retrogress to 14-bit, which in fact is where the very first CD players dwelt, even though they all claimed 16-bit performance. Doesn't sound encouraging, does it? Hey, I said hang on. It's me, Jonathan Foote! When have I ever led you ashtray? Here's the deal: the noise, grunge and spuriae we associate with truncated word-length translate as if by magic to the crackle, hiss and pops we philovinylites associate, eyes brimming nostalgic tears, with the stereophonic vinyl platter! It's true! It works! I, Jonathan Foote, hear it! Those devilish Frenchies begin rolling off the highs at about 10 kHz, add a generous dollop of even-order distortion from mid-bass through to about two kHz, and poof! -- you're listening to black! For about an hour. Our prototype emitted a puff of unoceanic smoke and lapsed into silence. Edith Piaf and I interpret this breakdown as an earnest of ultra-high-end validity, where most everything goes up in smoke sooner than later.

La Moule Chauve's anomalies are yet to be resolved -- whether, for example, to include a read-out. The consortium's thinking lists toward not. It's enough, say they, that we provide a line-cord receptacle and a pair of inputs. Several mavericks in the design team are arguing for outputs but appear to be getting nowhere. If it's bells and whistles you're after, the team leader says, buy japonaise (pronounced jah-poh-NAYS -- it means Japanese).

Don't relax. I'll be back.