Musical Fidelity Nu-Vista 3D CD player Page 4

CDs "exciting"?
To my ears, LPs still deliver more musical satisfaction than CDs, even through the Nu-Vista 3D, and SACD still trumps CD. But I found that I could pull CDs at random from my collection (which is bigger than some might think) and derive a surprisingly high degree of listening pleasure. Much to my surprise, I found that I could actually sit down, pop in a CD, turn off the lights, and listen and "watch" the performance.

Whether it's the upsampling, the overall circuit implementation, the nuvistor output stage, or whatever, the 3D proved to be one of a handful of the most listenable and enjoyable CD players I've yet heard. The others include the Linn Sondek CD12 ($20,000), the Naim CDX11 ($11,600), and the Ayre D-1, which also plays DVD-Videos ($8000).

I haven't and won't do a comparison, but what all of these players have in common (based on very different amounts of exposure to them, some fleeting) is an overall ease and pleasing lucidity combined with fast yet etch-free transient performance. These players deliver instruments with well-developed harmonic structure and a convincingly natural rendering of instrumental and reverberant decay. The result is a focus and clarity that let me look deeply into the soundstage the way I can with good analog, free of the disorienting sensation that notes are being sucked into a suffocating blackness instead of being allowed to decay naturally.

In order to produce that level of performance, a player must also be free of glare, harshness, etch, harmonic monotony, and musical rigidity. All of these players—including, of course, the Musical Fidelity Nu-Vista 3D at $4500—are, to varying degrees, capable of this.

In my experience, the 3D narrowed the gaps between DCC, Mobile Fidelity, and Analogue Productions gold CDs and their all-analog counterparts to an almost alarming degree. Comparisons between the LP and CD editions of Joni Mitchell's Court and Spark, Nirvana's Nevermind, and Janis Ian's Breaking Silence have always had me concluding that, compared to the LPs, the CDs were good but lacked resolution of inner detail, transient speed, transparency, natural decay, and overall musical excitement. Going from the gold CD to the LP of Court and Spark, for instance, is usually like removing a sound-muffling, defocusing blanket separating me from the performance. On most players I've heard, what the CD fogs over and the LP reveals is Mitchell's location in a vocal booth, her pedal work on the piano, and the instrument's location and size. The 3D's performance on Court and Spark was impressive: I heard all of those things easily.

Light on its feet, able to negotiate musical curves nimbly without becoming brittle, mechanical, or harsh, the 3D was one of the—if not the—most involving CD players I've auditioned. Cymbals and bells had an almost intoxicating purity, free of grain and hash. Instrumental, vocal, and reverberant decays, while not in the same league as SACD, came closer than I'm used to hearing from CD. Even Classic Records' CD edition of Clap Hands, Here Comes Charlie!—which usually sounds bright, harsh, and brittle or dull, diffuse, and indistinct, depending on the player—managed a good showing; Ella Fitzgerald was uncommonly three-dimensional.

The 3D's macrodynamic expression, spatial presentation, and image focus were totally satisfying, and essentially so well-rendered as to not be "in play," though I thought the mostly neutral frequency balance was slightly spotlit in the lower treble.

The most noticeable negative was a slight touch of an oily quality, a "transparency at the expense of solidity and body," that I'd noted in the Nu-Vista preamp and, to a lesser degree, in the M3 integrated. I don't hear it at all in the Nu-Vista 300 power amp, which I've heard more of than any other Nu-Vista product. I doubt that this quality, if it's noticed at all, will create a problem for most ears. It's more than offset by a host of sonic strengths and an almost ideal overall balance.

I don't see how any music lover, on first listen, will not be taken with the graceful, delicate yet detailed, nonmechanical sound of Musical Fidelity's Nu-Vista 3D CD player. Whether it's a result of the upsampling, the nuvistor triodes, the board layout, the choke-regulated power supply, or all of the above, the 3D produced a sense of relaxation and "listenability" that was unusual in my CD listening experience.

It's not a "warm"-sounding player, and it didn't sound as good as SACD when I made direct comparisons with the Marantz SA-1 SACD player, but its outstanding overall performance put it in a class with the best one-box CD players I've heard, and for considerably less money. While I was occasionally aware of the particular sonic signature noted above, it wasn't enough to dampen my enthusiasm for the 3D, which was remarkably nonfatiguing and, more important, surprisingly involving throughout the review period.

I was certain that my next digital purchase would be an SACD player; now I'm not so sure. While SACDs sounded best, they're still in short supply, and mostly sourced from older analog recordings I already own on vinyl. I've got thousands of CDs, and they sounded considerably more involving and musically satisfying through the 3D than through the Marantz SACD player. Perhaps there are SACD players that can equal or surpass the 3D's CD performance, but I haven't heard them.

But I'm not going to be playing SACDs of older analog titles when I've got the original vinyl to listen to. I'm going to be listening to CDs of music that is not now and probably never will be reissued on vinyl. Until there's a steady flow of new SACD titles of music I really want to own, what's the point of buying an SACD player unless its CD performance is at least as good as the 3D's?

Though you might not agree with it, Musical Fidelity has made its point: While waiting for the high-resolution digital future to shake itself out, why not maximize your enjoyment of CDs now?

Musical Fidelity
Kevro International
902 McKay Rd.
Pickering, ON, Canada L1W 3X8
(905) 428-2800