Musical Fidelity Nu-Vista 3D CD player Page 3
The clarity and three-dimensional spatial separation of Bill Evans' piano vamping at the beginning of "So What" were well-focused (without sounding cardboardy) and unusually three-dimensional. Usually on CD this has sounds indistinct and mushy. Significantly, the background tape hiss sounded like what it was, and appeared in a different space from the music—almost the way you hear it on LP. That was a promising sign. A CD player's rendering of tape hiss is as revealing of its overall character as is the pop of a stylus landing in a record groove of a turntable's and/or cartridge's character. If tape hiss is accentuated, the CD player will usually sound bright. If it's dull, the player will sound closed-in and muffled.
But there was also the usual CD mechanicalness (endemic to the medium, in my analog-addled opinion) and a trace of upper-midrange lift or brightness, as well as a bit of unnatural edge definition to the images—but not so much that I'd characterize it as sounding "etched."
I then switched to the SACD and the Marantz SA-1. As impressive as the CD had been through the Nu-Vista 3D, the SACD rendition was simply better overall—the musical flow was noticeably more relaxed, and the overall presentation was less bright and mechanical and more analog-like, with noticeably richer and more natural midrange bloom and image solidity, as well as superior transient detail totally devoid of unnatural etch. There was noticeably more space-defining air around Davis' horn. Also evident was the feeling of being put at ease that SACD proponents (me included) particularly appreciate. First inning: SACD 1, CD 0.
Next I played the CD edition of Kind of Blue on the Marantz SA-1. Compared to the Nu-Vista 3D's performance, the Marantz's rendering was mushier, slower, and far less detailed, involving, and exciting. The welcomed warmth of the SACD became a transient-obscuring fog masking air and spatial detail, and reducing the overall sound to the "warmth" that is an analog cliché but not at all what good analog sound is about. The Marantz's rendering wasn't bad, and I'm exaggerating a little for the sake of comparison, but at least with this CD, the 3D clobbered the far more expensive Marantz. The thrill of SACD was replaced by the noticeable damping of involvement and excitement that is typical of CD. Second inning: SACD 1, CD 1.
I repeated the SACD/CD comparison using hybrid discs, which, unlike Kind of Blue, allowed me to compare the Marantz's SACD/CD performance using the same disc, and compare the CD layer on the 3D. I used Jacintha's Here's to Ben (Groove Note GRV 1001-3), Eric Bibb's Just Like Love (Opus3 CD 21002), Musica Sacra (Opus3 CD 19516), and Harry Big Daddy Hypolite's Louisiana Country Boy (Analogue Productions AP 2016).
Again, the SACD layer of each was best, combining detail, depth, delicacy, instrumental separation, image three-dimensionality, and a relaxed, airy, nonmechanical ease that the CD layer couldn't match through either player. However, the Musical Fidelity 3D's presentation of the CD layer more closer resembled the SACD than did the Marantz's, especially in terms of transient speed, clarity, separation, and transparency. The CD layer through the Marantz always sounded somewhat cloudy and soft by comparison. For instance, the Eric Bibb disc includes a track called "My Charleston Dream," featuring acoustic guitar and sousaphone. On the SACD layer, the plucked guitar had natural bite and ring, and the sousaphone was focused in space behind Bibb, exhibiting its characteristic rhythmic, bumpy grumble with unforced clarity.
The Nu-Vista 3D's presentation preserved the essence of the SACD, but filtered through a thin, mechanical grid. The Marantz's CD presentation was noticeably softer and less involving, with muted transients and a warm, thick overlay. The softer, less focused CD-layer performance really hurt the Hypolite disc, which is an incredibly smooth and natural-sounding analog recording made at Chad Kassem's Blue Heaven Studios in Salina, Kansas. The SACD layer sounded analog; on the SACD player, the CD layer sounded muffled and indistinct by comparison. The CD layer through the 3D returned the excitement, clarity, and spatiality to the sound, though it didn't sound as convincing or as relaxing as the SACD, which generously supported the illusion of being on the other side of the microphones, in the recording space (a deconsecrated church).
If I had to choose either machine as a CD player, I'd opt for the $4500 3D over the $7500 SA-1. Musical Fidelity lost the SACD battle but won the CD war. This is not to say there aren't now or won't be SACD players that equal or outperform the 3D with CDs, only that the SA-1 didn't.
Confirming this conclusion was a comparison using an amazing new XRCD of Henry Mancini's Breakfast at Tiffany's soundtrack (originally an RCA Living Stereo LP), transferred from the original three-track tape. It not only sounded better through the Nu-Vista 3D, it emphatically demonstrated all of the Musical Fidelity's strengths. The recording is stunning—harmonically, dynamically, and spatially. The 3D delivered it with greater width, depth, space, and transparency, revealing each of the choral singers' voices with liquid ease while maintaining the coherence of the whole. A strummed rhythm guitar (Fender Telecaster?) placed inconspicuously in the background was subtly disclosed, its rhythmic and textural content clearly heard without being spotlit. Through the Marantz SA-1, the guitar was indistinct background fill. The net effect was that one player made listening to CDs exciting and inviting, one didn't.