Published On: January 10, 2009

Musical Fidelity 3D Compact Disc Player reviewed

Published On: January 10, 2009

Musical Fidelity 3D Compact Disc Player reviewed

The last CD player from Musical Fidelity that used nuvistors output tubes. A CD-only device, the 3D has digital outputs, but its analog outputs are where the magic is. Long of tooth? Yes, but still worthy of note as a very fine CD player.

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Cue violins, hand out the Kleenex: Musical Fidelity's Nu-Vista 3D CD Player is - unless Anthony Michaelson suddenly finds a supply of nuvistor bases - the final model in the series. Why the tears? Simple: the three Nu-Vista products preceding this - preamp, M300 power amp and M3 integrated amp - formed a hat-trick of admirable worth, a trio of utterly delicious amplification devices which charmed some of the toughest critics in the world. The only regret was that each was produced in a limited run of 500 examples because of the finite number of both nuvistor mini-valves and the more problematic bases.

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Armed with sufficient nuvistors (including sets of spares for every unit), Michaelson earmarked enough for 500 examples of a fourth unit. He had always intended to produce a source component as the final model in the series; intriguingly, he had planned on making it an SACD player. But Michaelson thinks like a consumer, and his disgust with the current SACD vs DVD-Audio format wars and the nauseating but predictable exploitation of habitual 'early adopters' drove him back to CD.

DVD-Audio was never even in the running. According to AM, 'DVD-Audio, with analogue watermarking, is a bad joke. It sounds appalling and is an insult to anybody questing after quality. On the other hand, SACD sounds good, but has almost no catalogue of discs. The few that are available are ridiculously expensive, especially infuriating as most are re-issues of old recordings. What a deal: spend a lot of money on a new SACD player and then you can pick from a catalogue of, maybe, 20 or 30 new recordings, many of dubious artistic quality.'

So Michaelson figured, why not address an existing format with a catalogue of over two million discs? Thus, he chose to produce the Nu-Vista 3D 'super-quality' CD player, stating that, 'The design aim of the Nu-Vista 3D super-quality CD player is to make ordinary CDs sound virtually as good as SACDs.' Better still, after 18 years on the market, CD has a base of users who already have sizeable libraries. Take home a 3D, and you're probably spoiled for choice as to what will be the inaugural disc.

Having first mooted SACD, Michaelson used it as the yardstick by which to measure the 3D. The designers made a comparative analysis of compact disc and SACD performance, deciding that 'the difference lies in HF performance. To a lesser extent, absolute noise ratio and dynamic range make their own fingerprint on HF and LF performance.' Moreover, they felt that any problems with SACD occur out of band, above 25 or 30kHz. 'Also SACD does not have any HF filtering, as such, and thus does not have consequential group and phase delay in the audio domain.'

With this in mind, they concentrated on HF distortion, noise and resolution, the power supply configuration, the internal lay-out. The decision was made to upsample to 24-bits at 100kHz, to take all digital error artefacts 'out of band', so that they are not a factor up to about 35kHz - just like SACD. This improved HF response, lowered distortion, increased resolution and stability and, 'as a result, made it possible to simplify and re-design the digital and analog HE filters to be far above the audio band, so that their phase shift and group delay is out of band. This, in turn, allows for a reduction of overall feedback and simpler circuitry.'

As far as the power supply was concerned, the company applied choke-regulation, as seen in other components in the MF catalogue, to the 3D, with separately regulated choke power supplies for the DAC, the display, the spindle motor, both the nuvistor HT and Nuvistor LT power supplies, and the logic and remote control. Michaelson pointed out that they were able to apply this many choke regulators, 'by investing in the tooling to be able to make PCB-mounted dual-layer chokes. Small signal electronics does not draw much current and therefore don't need huge chokes to achieve proper regulation. And we saved large amounts of internal real estate.'

Pop the lid off the 3D and you see that, real estate management aside, the 3D is jammed full of components. Two separate PCBs fill the centre and right-hand thirds of the unit, the power supply takes up the left-hand third, and a brace of toroidals sits at the back. You'd be forgiven for thinking that you were looking at a beefy integrated amplifier rather than a 'mere' CD player. MF paid close attention to the orientation of the capacitors, chokes and transformers in the power supply, stating that every detail of the layout was designed to minimise or negate any stray field from any part of the circuit. Convinced of the benefits of isolation, the company housed the transport mechanism in its own separate enclosure within the 3D's chassis to eliminate further any stray fields from the transport or its components.

For the final Nu-Vista product, Musical Fidelity is using the nuvistors in dual-differential Class-A mode, the circuit designed so as to incorporate any analogue filtering required by the digital electronics in a simple, two-pole, passive EQ network within, and damped by, the nuvistor stage. One benefit of the circuit is 'dramatic reduction' of ripple effect. As both the HT and LT power supplies have their own separate choke regulation, so, both power supplies are self-balancing and regulating to ensure that the nuvistors are always working under optimum voltage conditions.

As with the 3D's predecessors, all other active components within the nuvistor circuitry were selected for optimum bandwidth, noise, current and gain characteristics, specifically to match the behaviour of nuvistors. The output stage is a fully-complementary, a high-current, low-impedance, high-damping factor arrangement, with very low feedback and wide bandwidth. Michaelson was pleased to note that this unit should be immune to the loading of the interconnect cable and that the amplifier should not be able to create any colouration in the circuitry. And in practice it did show less susceptibility to interconnects than any CD player in my arsenal, including the Krell KPS25sc, the Marantz CD12/DA12, an aged but still elegant Vimak and the Musical Fidelity X-RAY.

Housed in the same 19x18x5 3/4in (WDH) casework as the M3 integrated, the 3D has a centrally-positioned disc tray below a comprehensive LCD display providing the usual track and time information. This section is flanked by two vertical rows of press buttons - the right-hand side contains play/pause, stop, open/close and the IR receptor, while the left-hand side provides next, previous, language and power on/off. The 'language' button intrigued me; Michaelson assured me that some CDs carry text info - at least his classical titles do. But I wouldn't know about that...

Read more about the Musical Fidelity 3D on Page 2.
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Around the back, MF has avoided fashion: no XLRs, no AT&T
optical. What you get are stout phono sockets for the L/R analogue
outputs and a choice of TOSlink optical or coaxial digital outputs.
There's also an IEC three-pin mains input. That's it - a refreshing
change from the 50 or so sockets on the back of an A/V receiver.

Primary listening involved running the 3D into its partnering
amplifier - the M3 integrated - driving Apogee Scintillas, Wharfedale
Diamond 8.1s, Spendor LS3/5As and (old) Quad ESLs. The aforementioned
Krell and Marantz CD players were used for comparison purposes, and I
rotated them with interconnects including Kimber Select, the turquoise
Discovery cable and Transparent Ultra, finally matching each player
with its most amenable wire (Krell-plus-Transparent,
Marantz-plus-Kimber and 3D-plus-Discovery by default; it sounded great
whichever cable was used).

As with Wharfedale's Diamond 8.1 and the new Quad valve electronics,
the 3D - like Anthony Michaelson - makes its presence known without
hesitation. This is no wallflower, no masochist's delight where you
have to live with it for months and feed it hundreds of discs before
you know its capabilities. I set up three players and fed each the same
disc (three copies of a cover disc from our sister mag, ), as
well as The Best of Louis Prima, Sgt Pepper by Big Daddy and the recent
Mickey Katz 'best of' on Koch - all discs of which I own two or more
copies. (I know: sad, sad, sad. I just didn't want Jimmy Hughes to feel
lonely.)

A/B/C demo-ing revealed that the 3D is forward, enough to seduce
inexperienced listeners much in the same way that an unscrupulous
salesperson might do an A/B demonstration with one component set a
couple of dB louder than the other. But careful auditioning showed that
it was more a matter of presentation than level: where the Krell
positioned the sound pretty much in line with the speakers and the
Marantz placed the sound slightly behind, the 3D emphatically
positioned the action in front of the speakers. This in-your-face
positioning - a technique much favoured by dancers of a style pre-fixed
by the word 'lap' - makes for invigorating listening, yet, curiously,
it was never fatigue-inducing.

To might great surprise, it was easier on the ears than the
initially less-aggressive Krell. Slightly recessed positioning makes
any player seem more listener-friendly. But I have no doubt that this
apparent conflict - the 'forward' 3D sounding less belligerent - was
down to another trait of the 3D, one which it shares with the Marantz:
the sound emanating from the 3D is fat, rich and warm, as if tweaked to
emulate the finest qualities of pure analogue. The Krell, conversely,
showed its strengths as far greater retrieval of fine detail, drier
bass and less 'texture' to the spaces around the performers and
instruments. So what does this tell us? At the risking of dwelling on
the obvious, you know immediately that there are tubes somewhere in the
bowels of the 3D; it's a textbook example of why valves still entice a
certain breed of listener.

In practice, then, the 3D sounds 'bigger' than numerous other
players, more robust, more visceral, like a Toulouse-Lautrec Pigalle
whore versus an anorexic super-model waif. Its soundstage is massive -
this model's nomenclature is no conceit - and therefore ideal for huge
orchestral works (and a dandy showcase for Sousa...), but still warm
and intimate enough to deal with unplugged blues à la Eric Bibb. Brass
has an undeniable sparkle and punch - the Prima CD is perfect for this
- which eludes the Marantz, strings shimmer and never sizzle, while
neither of my other fave players could compare with the vocal
reproduction of the 3D. Female singers in particular, those who sing
high like Alison Krauss or rich and fruity like Julie London, enjoyed a
sympathetic portrayal which had me reaching for the vinyl to confirm
what I'd heard.

Is the 3D perfect, then? No, not quite. I can understand how some
will prefer the almost militaristic precision of Krell, Mark Levinson
or Wadia units, the digital flag-waving, the laboratory mien, the sheer
absence of admittedly euphonic artefacts. What I can't understand is
how Musical Fidelity delivers so much magic for around one-seventh the
cost of the KPS25sc.

Now, the finger-in-the-chest-poking. The UK retail price of the 3D
is 2,960, which - for my money - makes it the best-value high-end CD
player ever. The previous Nu-Vista models are now collectors' items.
With the 3D, Musical Fidelity retailers have voted with their wallets
and ordered the entire supply, so don't hang around. I remember what
happened to those who dallied after the first Nu-Vista product
appeared: cue violins, hand out the Kleenex.

Additional Resources
• Read more source component reviews from HomeTheaterReview.com.
• Find a receiver to pair with this source.
• See more about the audiophile world at AudiophileReview.com.
• Discuss all kinds of gear at hometheaterequipment.com.

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