mbl 1611HR D/A converter & 1621 CD transport mbl 1621 CD transport
Of all this marvelous hardware, I most enjoyed using the $14,900 mbl transport; I just couldn't keep my hands off it! Its massive black enclosure matches that of the 1611HR DAC, with its central, convex display module flanked by wonderful little gold buttons. Somehow, I wasn't bothered by the placement of the Play, Stop, and Pause buttons on the right—the display module clearly separated them from the track and search buttons. Operation, whether via the remote or the front panel, was straightforward, as were the display options.
The rear panel had one each of four digital outputs: ST glass, S/PDIF (RCA), S/PDIF (BNC), and AES/EBU (XLR). No TosLink jack is provided, as mbl feels that it would entail a serious compromise in signal quality.
On top, in place of the large gold mbl escutcheon on the 1611HR, the 1621 has a hinged, circular lid that covers the CD turntable itself. Operating the lid was strangely and deeply satisfying. First, it made no sound at all when opened, although I always expected the subtle sound one hears when breaking an air seal. This is not surprising—mbl has gone to great lengths to ensure that the CD chamber is not subjected to air currents or pressure changes, despite its isolation. Second, although the lid has considerable heft, opening or closing it was nearly effortless. This appears to be the result of mbl's efforts to ensure that the hinge is absolutely stable, and yet isolates the mass of the lid from the enclosure and the transport mechanism.
The transport mechanism itself is a modified Philips CDM-12Pro, a direct-drive device. mbl maintains that the continuously varying speed of CD playback (200–500rpm) demands direct drive; the introduction of a compliance, as in a belt drive, would compromise precise control. Moreover, a CD drive with high rotational inertia would resist variation.
A variation on the old saw: Of all the excellent CD transports out there, the mbl 1621 certainly is one of them. It performed as well as any transport I have tried, but it was hard to single out on the basis of sonic performance. When I used the 1621 with the 1511HR DAC, I heard all the wonderful characteristics of the DAC. The 1621 mated as amiably to the Burmester and Mark Levinson DACs and caused no changes in my general opinions of their performance. What was strange was that I kept on choosing the mbl 1621 when I wanted to play music rather than audition equipment. After all, I usually had three transports (mbl, Burmester, CAL) with their multiple outputs connected simultaneously to three DACs (mbl, Burmester, Levinson), each DAC connected to an easily selected input on the SF Line 3. When I wanted to audition a particular DAC, I generally used the CAL transport for fairness; when I just wanted to play a CD, I used the mbl 1621 and whatever DAC was already selected. Draw your own conclusions.—Kalman Rubinson