Musical Fidelity A324 D/A processor Page 5

Take Naxos 8.554244, Telemann's Darmstadt Overtures, performed by the Cologne Chamber Orchestra conducted by Helmut Müller-Brühl. The recording is literally breathtaking—when I start any track, I can hear the musicians inhale in perfect unison. (I hear it even better with a single-ended triode amp, like my Sun Audio SV-2A3.) Compared to the Rega Jupiter used as a player, the Jupiter with the A24 gave me an even more spectacular sense of space.

Or consider Naxos 8.553330, Tchaikovsky's Piano Music, Vol.2, performed by Oxana Yablonskaya. Again, with the A324, the sense of space around the piano was spectacular. Can SACD get much better than this? (Buy this recording for Tchaikovsky's own piano arrangement of Marche Slave, Op.31.)

Harpsichord recordings are a good test. I pulled out Bach's Goldberg Variations, performed by Ton Koopman (Erato ECD 75472). If there's any smearing going on, any time delay, anything amiss with the harmonics, I hear it in the plucked strings of a harpsichord. With the Quad ESL-989 speakers, it was as if Koopman were present in the room. Pluck, pluck, pluck—every note was crisp and clear, each leading edge, each natural decay. Again, could SACD improve much on this?

Upsampling—and the kinder, gentler filtering associated with it—appears to preserve phase relationships so that spatial presentation becomes more, ah...spacious. Upsampled sound also seems more delicate, harmonically. It's not just an easing of the hardness and edginess so long associated with CD. With the A324 there was a rightness about the harmonic presentation. So natural was the sound that I stopped trying to analyze the performance of the processor and simply enjoyed the music.

"Take the processor out of the system," suggested Antony. "Then you'll hear what it does."

Easy enough. With the McIntosh C2200 preamp, I ran the A324 into one line-level input and the Rega Jupiter, as a player, into another line-level input. I could switch between the two with the McIntosh's remote. With the Jupiter, I noticed a loss of airiness. Dynamics sounded more constricted. Please note, however, that the Jupiter is a superb CD player—one of the best, by Jove. It's probably a fine transport, too. With a lesser player, the improvement offered by the A324 might have been much more dramatic.

So, once again, Antony Michaelson has promised the moon and delivered it at a down-to-earth price. The A324 would be a strong recommendation at $1995—or even $2495, half the price of the Nu-Vista 3D. At $1195, it's an astonishing bargain that belongs in Class A of "Recommended Components." I wouldn't drop money on a more costly digital processor without first hearing this one. The A324 is a great way to do digital now.

Musical Fidelity
US distributor: Kevro International
902 McKay Road
Pickering, Ontario, Canada L1W 3X8
(905) 428-2800