Musical Fidelity Tri-Vista SACD player Page 3

Warming Up to the Tri-Vista
It took a while for my Tri-Vista to break in, and I didn't really appreciate what it could do until it had. It's best to just leave it on and not worry about wearing out the tubes. They're rated for a lifetime's use anyway.

After I'd listened to the Tri-Vista for a while, the dCS trio I reviewed last month—the Verdi SACD transport, Purcell D/D converter, and Elgar Plus DSD D/A converter—finally arrived. It made more sense to review that first and then let you know how the Tri-Vista, of which you could buy five for the price of the dCS rig, held up. Put yourself in my listening chair and imagine having both of these systems available at the same time. Nothing against the Tri-Vista, but which would you be listening to?

One of the great things about vinyl is that even an inexpensive setup can do what the format does better than CD. The is true with SACD. Even inexpensive SACD players have that airy, easy, analog-like sound that CDs rarely manage, if ever. On CD, Beck's Sea Change (0694 93537 2) sounded like a superb OceanWay Studios recording pressed under glass. The SACD removed the glass, enriched the harmonics of the entire production, and revealed previously buried layers of delicate information. Images that had been hardened and flattened inflated to their proper dimensions and exhibited lifelike richness instead of sounding etched and angular. Nigel Godrich's electronic effects went from being lost within the musical elements to separating out in three-dimensional space—similar to what you hear when upgrading cartridges. And the improvement in dynamics went beyond what I had any reason to suspect. Perhaps the standard CD had been dynamically compressed to make it sound louder over the radio, while the SACD, aimed at the audiophile market, was left to reveal its full dynamic expression.

The differences between the CD and SACD were apparent on both the $34,000 dCS stack (despite the DSD upsampling that combo applies to CD data) and on the $6500 Tri-Vista. Both delivered that brand of open, airy sound. Was the Tri-Vista as good as the dCS? No. Would you expect it to be? The differences were mostly of scale, sculpting, and transient focus. The dCS stack—which gave easily the best digital playback I've ever heard from either format—produced an enormous SACD sonic picture—the kind you regularly get from LPs, which detractors claim is caused by "L-R out-of-phase information caused by the inherent limitations of the format." There were big, specific, sharply drawn (but not "etched"), and impressively layered 3D images and an effortless solidity. Transients would "pop" with startling clarity, then decay naturally. Musical events erupted with startling certainty, then decayed in a way reminiscent of the $29,000 Boulder 2008 phono section.

Switching to the Tri-Vista, I would have described the same picture—had I not already heard the dCS trio! The Tri-Vista's airy, rich-sounding sonic picture was very similar overall, though the scale of the stage size dropped down a few notches in width, height, and, especially, depth. Image specificity also decreased somewhat, as did solidity and the purity and crystalline clarity of transients. The Tri-Vista produced a somewhat richer overall picture. Alison Krauss's heartbreaking take on Todd Rundgren's "It Wouldn't Have Made Any Difference," from the superb SACD of Forget About it (Rounder SACD 11661-0465-6), clearly pointed out the sonic differences between the dCS and Tri-Vista. Jim Keltner's soft rim shot "popped" with slightly greater clarity and focus via the dCS, and was suspended farther back in space compared to the Tri-Vista, as was the slightly more organized image of Krauss's voice. The Tri-Vista's focus was slightly diminished by comparison.

When the dCS stack was shipped off to John Atkinson to be measured and I was left with the Tri-Vista, I can't say I felt a major sense of loss—at least when playing SACDs. That's how accomplished the slightly softer, warmer, and definitely lusher Tri-Vista was as an SACD player. It was comparable (though not identical, as best I can remember) to the far more expensive Accuphase DP-85. And remember, the Tri-Vista costs less than a fifth the dCS combo's price.

The best SACD playback I've heard has a magical "cotton-candy" kind of delicacy and effervescence that is far more reminiscent of live music than any CD playback in my experience. A few days before writing this review, I heard the New York Philharmonic at Avery Fisher Hall. Even when the orchestra was playing Tchaikovsky's Symphony 3 at full tilt, there was that same velvety, non-syrupy smoothness I hear from great vinyl and from SACD.

The Tri-Vista had that, along with the satisfying balance of well-damped, finely textured bass, solid imaging, and cleanly resolved "fast" transients you hear live. And despite the tactile richness, the Tri-Vista still delivered the rhythmic goods you hear live as well. I don't know why some audiophiles argue that you don't hear image specificity live. I closed my eyes and knew precisely where the trumpet player was sitting, but then, I was dead center around 25 rows back from the stage. When it comes to SACD playback, I'd say "mission accomplished" for Musical Fidelity's first SACD player.

Musical Fidelity
US distributor: Kevro International
902 McKay Road, Suite 4
Pickering, Ontario L1W 3X8, Canada
(905) 428-2800