Musical Fidelity X-DACV3 D/A processor

The X-DAC v3 replaces Musical Fidelity's Tri-Vista 21 DAC, which is no longer in production, although you might find some on dealer's shelves. The Tri-Vista 21 used two pairs of subminiature 5703 WB military tubes in the analog output stage. MF's Antony Michaelson called this Cold War tube, which is no longer made, a trivistor. The Tri-Vista 21 was last seen selling for $2395.

When the Tri-Vista 21 was introduced a little over a year ago, Antony told me it was about as good as a digital processor gets. It got a Class A recommendation from Stereophile. (There's also an A+ category, for those who don't mind paying a lot more for perhaps just a tad more performance.) If you own a Tri-Vista 21, there's no need to replace it with an X-DAC v3.

The X-DAC v3 goes for $999, and Antony suggested that it exceeds the performance of the Tri-Vista 21. I'm sure it does, in its digital specifications, and for less than half the price. But in a way, it's half the processor. The X-DAC v3 has an analog output section, of course, but it's not tubed. To tube, you need to add the X-10 v3 preamplifier.

The X-DAC v3 and the X-10 are built into a smaller chassis than the X-Ray v3 and the X-150 and X-80 integrated amplifiers. Each of these smaller components measures 7.1" wide by 3.5" high by 8.2 deep. You can spread them or stack them, as you wish. The components are nicely finished—assembled in Taiwan, by the way—but I do miss the eccentric "beer can" cylinders of MF's old X-series gear. Ah, well.

As standard, the X-DAC v3 (and the X-10) comes with a wall-wart power supply—the kind that dangles from your outlets, hogs space, and makes it hard to plug in other components. For an additional $399, you can buy the outboard X-PSU power supply and put the wall wart away. One X-PSU juices as many as four v3-series components—including the X-DAC, the X-10, and the X-Cans, but not the X-Ray, X-150, or X-80, all of which have onboard power supplies.

Listen for yourself, at your Musical Fidelity dealer, to what the X-PSU does in terms of dynamic drive, bass definition, and an overall sense of listening ease. You don't need golden ears to hear this. (Suggestion: Use the X-Cans v3 and bring your favorite headphones.)

The X-DAC v3 upsamples to 24-bit/192kHz using the aforementioned Crystal chip. The Burr-Brown DAC is updated—it's the latest DSD1792/SRC4192/3 chipset, which Antony describes as "two generations past" the chipset in the Tri-Vista 21. Digital generations do pass quickly.

Coaxial and optical (TosLink) digital inputs are provided, as is a coaxial digital loop out, which could be useful, say, for a CD-R recorder. The analog output impedance is a low 50 ohms, same as that of the X-Ray v3.

"As far as we know, [the X-DAC v3] is about the best-measuring DAC, regardless of price," Antony declared. Which is what he said about the Tri-Vista 21 last year.

Compared to the X-Ray v3 player on its own, the X-Ray/X-DAC combination offered significant improvements—so long as I used the X-PSU v3 power supply. When I added the X-DAC, I heard still greater resolution of low-level detail. (I'm not talking about volume levels now, just hard-to-hear stuff on a recording.) The music seemed to emerge from a more silent background (according to Antony's supplied signal/noise measurements, it did just that) with greater dynamic range. Bass was more extended and better defined—more powerful, if you will, and more confident.

Without the optional X-PSU, I found the combination of player and processor only slightly superior to the X-Ray v3 on its own. In other words, I question the point of buying the X-DAC without the X-PSU. They look as if they go together, and they do. You're still looking at under $1500.

But you still don't have tubes.

Musical Fidelity
US distributor: Signal Path Imports
215 Lawton Road
Charlotte, NC 28216
(704) 391-9337