Musical Fidelity CD-Pre24 CD player-preamplifier Page 2
Construction quality and appearance also match those of Musical Fidelity's finest offerings: panel-mounted jacks, copper-clad chassis, ribbed side panels for added rigidity, a heavy top plate held in place by 14 hex-head screws, and a thick, substantial faceplate finished in brushed aluminum but without the gold accents that some found excessive on earlier MF designs. The large box weighs about 30 lbs and has the physical authority usually associated with far more expensive components. A black plastic remote sporting rows of evenly spaced, identically sized buttons somewhat lowers the bar, but given the CD-Pre24's price of $3000, better the money goes toward what's in the box.
From the remote you can select CD playback, or any of the five inputs (three line-level analog plus two digital), as well as the digital and analog recording monitors. The layout is clean, with the various functions separated and well-delineated (as long as you've got a light on; the remote is not backlit). The only exceptions are the volume up and down buttons, which are too close to the bottom of the remote and thus require both hands to operate: one to hold the remote, one to push the buttons.
With its blue LEDs and gleaming, oversized volume control surrounded by an eight-bolt trim ring, the CD-Pre24's front panel resembles something from Krell for a tenth the price. In fact, the press release—obviously written by Musical Fidelity's not-shy founder, Antony Michaelson—takes direct aim at Krell with this headline: "Performance that surpasses the Krell KPS-25S, priced for ordinary mortals." The blurb goes on to suggest that "we reckoned that the CD-Pre24 would outperform the Krells in every significant technical and sonic parameter," and later cites the CD-Pre24's 0.05% distortion at -70dB compared to the Krell's 0.71%, and a signal/noise ratio claimed to be 23dB lower than the Krell's.
My review sample had a balky motorized volume control that hung up as it got closer to zero output, but I'm sure that was the luck of the reviewer's draw, given MF's usual high build quality and reliability.
Easy Setup, Easy on the Ears
I hooked up two phono sections and the cassette deck to the CD-Pre24's analog inputs (I wasn't recording in analog, so no chance of creating a feedback loop), while the coaxial digital output of a DVD player (for 24/96 DAD discs) fed one of the MF's digital inputs. The Alesis Masterlink digital recorder's input and output looped through the digital monitor facility, while the second digital out was routed to a MiniDisc recorder. Thus, at the push of a button, I could select an input, analog or digital (including the built-in CD transport), and record digitally to either or both of the recorders.
But none of this innovative functionality would be worth a whit in a high-end audio system if the MF's preamp and CD player didn't sound good. So after a few days' warmup I sat down to listen to some familiar LPs and CDs I'd recently auditioned with my reference Hovland HP-100 preamp and Nu-Vista 3D CD player.
Did the CD-Pre24 trump Krell? I haven't a clue. In 16 years as an audio critic I've never reviewed or even heard a piece of Krell gear in my system. However, compared to my references (combined cost: more than $10,000), the $3000 CD-Pre24 held its own as both preamp and CD player.
Missing in action were the Nu-Vista 3D's bloom and midband richness (I did run its analog outs into a CD-Pre24 input and compared it to the built-in transport and DAC), and the Hovland's crystalline clarity, transient articulation, and subtle scaling of microdynamics. But aside from those minor sins of omission, the CD-Pre24's performance was so accomplished during the month I had it in my system that I never felt cheated of a first-class listening experience. This is hardly surprising, given the high marks I and other Stereophile reviewers have awarded such standalone Musical Fidelity components as the Nu-Vista 3D CD player and A3CR preamp, which form the core of the CD-Pre24's circuitry.