Musical Fidelity's Antony Michaelson is too pragmatic to worry about climb-downs. After nailing his colours to the SACD mast by producing one of the best players that format ever enjoyed, he's returned to good ol' Red Book CD. He announced this in his justification for the kW 25 two-chassis CD player:
'Why a CD player when SACD and DVD-A are available? Well, for all intents and purposes, DVD-A is dead - while SACD still has only a thousand or fifteen hundred titles, most of them re-issues of old analogue tapes. And these discs are very expensive. So, thanks a lot. However, there are over 2½ million CD titles available, in every form of music you could imagine, and all at intelligent prices.
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'For us, this means that CD is the only logical medium. In our view, there have been only a very few, cutting edge CD players that strive to wring every last drop of performance from a standard CD. That is where the kW 25 two-box CD player comes in.'
Fighting words, eh? But I know what he means. So cack-handed was the entire SACD (and, to be fair, DVD-A) project that you can understand any bitterness in Antony's missive. SACD deserved better, but far too many forces mitigated against it: the iPod, the economy, the iPod, the cruddy state of music, the iPod, industry politics and, oh, yeah, the iPod.
So Antony thought, to hell with it, let's produce a killer CD player. To achieve this, he opted for a two-chassis design, with dedicated functions that preclude total mix'n'match 'universality': the DAC will accept other transports, but the transport can only be used with the matching DAC.
Dubbed the kW 25 CD Player System, in keeping with the flagship amplification kW series, the package consists of the kW 25DM transport and kW 25DM DAC at £1999 apiece. Both units feature the now-familiar styling of the kW models, 440x138x390mm (WHD) cases with horizontal finned side panels and natural metal fascias offset by black anodised handles, all fashioned from high quality 'milspec' aluminium, with information provided by blue-lit displays. They look expensive and decidedly butch, very no-nonsense without being so minimalist as to vanish.
As expected of MF, they bristle with novelty. One of the first things you notice about the kW 25DM Transport are the four knurled discs on top, which might have suggested spacer feet. Uh-uh: they're rotatable and they provide a 'turntable-style suspension with user-adjustable ride height.' This is to address one of MF's preoccupations for CD playback: proper physical isolation from acoustic feedback.
Antony points out that, 'The best high quality analogue turntables have proper isolation systems to eliminate acoustic feedback. It has long been acknowledged that this is an extremely significant factor in a turntable's performance potential. We believe it is the same for CD players, but because it is expensive and inconvenient to do so, it is almost never done.' Or it's very expensive: the last CD player I used with adjustable suspension came from Oracle, and its price was nearly double that of the MF package.
Having produced a turntable, Musical Fidelity took its suspension principles and applied them to the kW 25DM transport. Antony states that, 'The point of the turntable style isolation is to ensure that the transport has a completely stable vibration-free platform so that it can concentrate on the job of information retrieval. The results are stupendous. The kW 25DM is immune to any acoustic feedback effects. This results in a clearer, detailed sound, and lets you hear right into the background, revealing previously completely inaudible details from familiar recordings. You have to hear it to believe it. It is an arresting experience.' Well, I'm still out of jail, but I get the drift.
A nice touch is the inclusion of a spirit level in the packaging. I deliberately set up the transport way out of whack and didn't hear any changes. I must be getting old. But it's something more to play with, and we, as audiophiles, can never get enough of that, right?
Once you stop messing around with the knobs, the rest is minimalist. To the left, a CD tray, to the right a display with the usual track, time and function data. Below them, from left to right, are small buttons for power on/off, open/close, play/pause, stop, previous and next. The unit is supplied with the MF system remote, which contains all the other functions, for programming and so on. The back sports only a pair of XLR outputs for - get this - separate left and right AES/EBU digital balanced outputs operating at 96kHz. No single TOSlink, no single coax - just the mono pair. Which means that you can only use it with the matching DAC or, if memory serves me well, the mono DACs from TEAC Esoteric.
Again, there's justification for seemingly going overboard: 'We have separated the digital signals so that the left and right channels each has an entirely separate cable to transmit the 96kHz balanced signal to the DAC. This ensures maximum possible information transfer to the DAC. All the electronics associated with the 96kHz digital balanced AES/EBU output have a sophisticated regulated power supply. They are separate, to ensure that there is no interaction with any part of the transport system.'
MF applied twin-choke regulation for transport, and separate power supplies for each transport function. 'Conceptually, CD transports have three main elements; motor, servo, and digital processing. Normally these all share power supplies and, not surprisingly, interact significantly with each other resulting in performance loss. With the kW 25DM transport there is a completely separate choke regulated power supply for the motor, another one for the servo system and separate regulation for the digital electronics.
'This deliberate over-engineering ensures that each element of the CD transport operates as it is supposed to, without any interference or interaction from other digital or power supply sources. As a result, each element of the transport is working optimally so that the absolute maximum data retrieval is possible.'Read more about the kW 25 on Page 2.