As you'd expect, the kW 25DM transport worked beautifully, but I could only try it with the matching DAC, as explained. (Maybe I should have borrowed a set of the mono TEAC Esoteric DACs?) Whatever importance you do or do not attribute to a transport versus a DAC regarding the ultimate performance of a CD retrieval system, I doubt there's anything to criticise here. And I did get a kick out of the levelling system....
Probably more interesting is the kW 25DM DAC because it can be used with other transports, and it's something of a star in its own right, independent of the transport. Obviously, it is best exploited via the digital balanced AES/EBU left and right inputs. But even if you use it via coax or TOSlink instead of the one dedicated to the 25DM, it will accept and automatically switch between 32kHz, 44.1kHz, 48kHz, 88.2kHz and 96kHz. The DAC is dual differential (one entire dual DAC for each channel) and it upsamples to 24-bits at 192kHz.The input stage has its own separately regulated power supply for each stage.
Again with the novelty: the kW 25DM DAC has two outputs operating in parallel. One is 'super quality tube configuration' using a MuVista tube and the other is solid-state Class A. Both outputs operate at the same time allowing the user to connect both to a preamp and switch between them 'to get the optimum sound for each particular recording.' (Cary also has a CD player with this feature, but it has one output and the user switches between them on the player.) I tried both and expected vast differences. There were none.
So subtle were the audible changes that they could easily be masked by cables. You guys know I wanted the valve output stage to 'blow away' the solid-state outputs. Neither blew away the other. I must have spent three hours trying to choose between them. I gave up. So save yourself a set of cables and use either output.
MF states that the kW 25DM has an extraordinary noise ratio ('typically about -122.5dB'), that its linearity extends to better than -100dB and its distortion is typically less than 0.002%. Make of what you will of such numbers: the kW was deliciously quiet, but I can't recall the last DAC I used that was noisy. Suffice it to say that the DAC performed beautifully, as proven when fed from other transports, including the Marantz CD12.
There's an immediate silkiness to the sound of the kW 25 system, regardless of the disc - vintage material reissued and remastered, gold CDs of an audiophile bent, or fresh recordings from fastidious sources (Telarcs, Chesky, et al.) It's not the addition of texture: it's the absence of unpleasant digital irritants. Much has been made about vanishing jitter, competent power supplies, balanced operation, upsampling. I no longer care quite how such listenability was achieved, only that it was.
MF customers know that Antony is a clarinettist of note, now studying piano, and that he lives and breathes classical music. Which must explain the system's finesse and delicacy. What it doesn't account for, despite his fetish for 500W-plus amplifiers, the sheer mass and kick and force the player can convey. I know, I know: there's allegedly nothing more demanding than huge orchestras, but the last live rock gigs I attended generate more energy than anything I can imagine - not simply sheer SPLs. Whether using the kW 25 for the Persuasions' a cappella or George Thorogood describing the impurities in his skeleton, the kW swung from soft to hard, soft to loud with equal composure.
Assuming that the rest of your system is up to it, when a kick drum is hit via the kW, you feel it in the chest. The speedy plucking of Stevie Ray Vaughan stops and starts with utter precision. The overtones of acoustic guitar thrum just so. (And I hear my son practising daily for hours on end, so the reference is unimpeachable.) And voices...aah! From the blend of the Judds to the CalPop of Jackie DeShannon, Raitt at her raunchiest, Paulo Conte at his smokiest: I think I'm in love.
Given the inherent shittiness of digital, it's quite an achievement. If ever audio has its equivalent of a sow's ear/silk purse scenario, it's digital playback. And high-end CD players are the audio equivalent of the French bathing themselves in perfume rather than bathe per se. (Attention, EU Thought Police: historically-speaking, that is.) In the most basic terms, the kW combo makes sweet music, confined and defined only by the discs you play. Natural vocals, nice, open spaces, decent three-dimensionality, a proper sense of both perspective and scale: it's only when you flip over to LP that you become aware of CD's innate artifice.
Musical Fidelity feels that this is the natural successor to the kW SACD player, however retrograde it may seem to some the step back to CD. But think about Antony's remarks: SACD is a commercial failure, even if it did sound better. We have a few gazillion CDs to play. Not all of us want to use MP3 players. Take all that on board, and perhaps MF has done us a favour by rejecting SACD with such vehemence. Beyond any question, the kW 25 CD system delivers all you could want: superb sound, delightful ergonomics, and - self-deprecatingly - a couple of bizarre features with which to amuse your audiophile buddies. The kW system is so entertaining that I think I'd better start saving up for it before they sell out.
Musical Fidelity Ltd
15-17 Olympic Trading Estate Fulton Road
Middlesex HA9 0TF
Tel 020 8900 2866
Fax 020 8900 2983
Verdict: Hard to argue with Mr Michaelson: the sound is sublime. Subtle, free of nasty artefacts, solid, non-aggressive. It's so damned close to SACD that you can understand why MF was prepared to abandon the failed format for a return to CD. At the price, there's so much bang for the buck, er, pound that it's impossible to fault.
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