Musical Fidelity A3 24 What R My Ears Telling Me?

I think that I have finally lost my mind from tweaking! I was very excited about this product when I bought it. I thought that it made a tremendous differnce with the players I was using (an Adcom & Pioneer). The Soundstage was enhanced, the music jumped from the speakers. This was indeed the Holy Grail of Upsampling DACS. The problem started when I bought a new player...the new Sony DVP-NS999ES. Now I can have SACD and pristine Redbook SACD like quality CD's through the MF DAC! The first problem is that when the Sony is turned on with the DAC on. a pop comes through the speakers which causes the DAC to downsample to nearly Real Audio quality! This is remidied by turning the DAC off, then on. The "downsampling" happens every so often when the draw is opend and closed. I thought it might be the interconnet, so I swapped out a Audio Quest for a Tara Lab and it continued to happen. OK, so I could probably live with this since the vendors from both retailers I bought these items from have never heard of this happening. I went to the MF website but there is no email address for support or questions. OK, I can live with this. Now here is the tricky part. I decided to play some CD's through the player bypassing the DAC and for Gods sake...they sound better without upsampling! The bass extension is better, the music has more "oomph" and clarity (how can that be??) and the sound is warmer. Can the DAC's be better in the Sony than the MF? Did I trick myself into believing that the MF worked to begin with? Have I completly tweaked myself out of my mind and ears? I have done countless A-B comparisons during the past 2-3 weeks and I must be honest, the CD's sound much better without the MF DAC. Any comments and opinions would be apprecitated.

-Joseph Benzola-
I have no personal experience with either of your units, but I for one am certainly willing to believe what you're hearing is the truth. The only fly in the ointment is that the other problems you detail would seem to make it questionable whether or not the DAC is functioning entirely properly, either by itself or in combination with the new player. However, since nowhere do you say that you think the MF, when assumed to be working correctly, sounds any different than you remember it sounding before you got the Sony, I'd say it might be time to downsize it. (You might find it interesting to click on my >Threads< below, and read the one entitled, "Upsampling put to the test: Are you ready?")
My guess is that the A3-24 is defective. Take it to the shop where you purchased it from and have them do a side by each comparison with a known good unit. If I'm not mistaken, Sam Tellig had a defective A3-24 for his first review sample - it can happen. And although the Sony ES series stuff is of very excellant quality I find it hard to believe that the DVD player should sound better than a DAC that has been raved about by more than just a few members of the audio press. Good luck.

I have 2 guesses. 1, also that the unit may be defective, which was common with the first batch of these as mentioned, but no problems on newer units, at least according to my dealer. Second guess is that the Sony makes for a poor transport. I've paired my MF A3 24 dac with a handful of transports, and, for example, it sounded plain awful with my DVD player, mundane with a Pioneer elite cd player or Jolida JD100 as tranpsorts. When attached to a Theta dedicated transport its pure magic. There is no way the Sony 999 can touch it in redbook, even in sacd with the Sony I would probably still favor the MF on redbook for a more fleshed out presentation while still having exceptional openness, clarity, smoothness, presence, detail retrieveal and extension into the heavens, this on the hundreds of cd's I own, not just the 5 SACD would ever buy with what is out there currently. It really can be that good. Again, this dac is extremely transport dependent, what may have worked with other dacs won't for sure work with this one, at least in my experience with it. If garbage goes into the dac on more trash comes out, it is highly revealing and unforgiving.
I have been thinking of purchasing the Musical Fidelity A3 24 for use with my Meridian 506.20 I guess I am better off Purchasing the SONY SACD 777ES. Can anyone tell me if the SONY plays redbook CD's as well as the Meridian - Musical Fidelity Combo.
Thanks to all for the response. This is a very difficult situation in that I really want for the MF to work, but I believe that there are some problems. According to MF, this DAC was made with the sole purpose of working with all transports of all quality levels. I don't buy the Sony is trash theory because MF uses Sony transports on their CD and the DVP 999ES is a $1500.00 unit, certainly not the top of the line for Redbook or SACD but certainly a very respectable player. I have thousands of CD's and my main purpose for buying the MF DAC was to unleash the "sonic magic" in them. I bought the MF in late September/early October of 2002 so I believe that it is one of the later units shipped. Now that I recall, I remember doing A/B comparissons with my other 2 players and I would have to say that it was 50/50 on the improvement side depending on the music. There was usually an improvement with the high end and some harmonic excitement but I'm really beginning to wonder how much of a difference it actually made. There were times when the "downsampling" took place, so I'm sure that this is not an exclusive problem to just the Sony. I'm pretty hard to fool as I have a home recording sudio and have done a number of remastering jobs. Sometimes we find ourselves convincing ourselves that things are are such and such a way when they really are not...this could be
the case here. I boght this because of the Tellig article. When I heard a demo of the unit, I really did not hear much of a differnece but I chalked that up to being in a demo situation and since I had 14 days to return the item, I decided to take the plunge. My ears are telling me that the sound of the Sony by itself (using Tara Lab interconnets, ML Aerius i with ML cables, and Classe amps) sounds superior to that of MF processed sound. On follow up articles, Tellig also admits that at times he cannot tell the difference between the processed and unprocessed sounds (In particular with the New McIntosh Multi disc player and others). My 0.2 cents..or actually $1300.00 worth!

Just because it is an expensive box that plays multiple formats doesn't in any ways mean it makes for a good transport to drive an external dac, acutally the opposite is most likely, as the vast majority of DVD players make awful transports, what comes out of their digital output can be pretty ugly. Look inside a good dedicated transport and you'll be amazed at how different it is compared to your Sony, or most every sub $3k CD player on the market for that matter. If you're happy with the sound from the Sony, by all means, use it, but I wouldn't discard the MF dac so quickly, not before mating it with a quality dedicated transport. Another problem with good equiptment is its revealing nature. If other pieces in the chain have flaws, good sounding gear can be forgiving and it can go hidden, but great sounding gear can sound like crap in the wrong system, and the fault can be wrongly placed on the newly inserted piece of gear, whereas it is simply exposing a problem or shortcoming elsewhere. Just some food for thought, I've been down a similar path recently and am sure it is a common occurance with other systems as well....

And, again, "Downsampling" should never happen with this player, unless your unit is ill and needs servicing.
This relates more to getting even better sound out of the Sony. Apparently not common knowledge, but by default, the Dynamic Range Control is set to actually give you compression-that setting should be changed to "Wide".

Also by default "CD Direct" is turned off and this should be turned on. I'm not sure whether either of these settings would have an effect on the data being sent with the Sony being used strictly as a transport, but they are supposed to make a significant difference in sound quality when it is used on its own. Might be worth a try either way.
Gosh, looking at the feature lists and differences in what one gets between these units is a appalling. MF ought to be downright ashamed for selling such an "under-equipped" player. You would think that, at just over the retail price of the Sony, MF would have at least made this a true player and added the transport, especially since it is so temperamental to transports. And it only plays audio. What part are they using that costs so much?

Under the right conditions I suspect that the MF is a good sounding player. Probably very good. But after just reading the review of the Sony in the Absolute Sound, it apparently is also.

Sorry, but my tolerance on this Monday evening is low. Been a long day.
Neal, a quick look at the 'feature list' of any mass-market product vs. a typical high end product will be just as 'appalling' - and just as beside the point. ("...Only plays audio"? This is a stereo DAC - what else is it supposed to do?) As for price, a Sony who makes millions of units will always be less for what's included; that's just our audiophile lot in life. I don't know about the sound of the MF, but I think Socrates is quite likely on to something here; not being a DVD owner myself, I had forgotten about their poor reputations as transports. I do know that a poor transport/converter combination or interface can kill the sound, and I think this is a possibility that JB might have to rule out, though it may not solve his problem in the end even if proved true. However, I am still perfectly open to the prospect of his simply finding the Sony to be the superior-sounding machine. Again, I come back to asking whether or not he recalls the DAC sounding any better or worse back when it was stomping his previous players used as transports.

(BTW, the phone # for Kevro in Canada, the US distributor for MF, is 905-428-2800, and I think I recall the relevant person as being named Brian, if I'm correct and he's still there...)
I too have the MF dac. To be honest I'm using it with a Rotel 991 as a transport and it made a big difference. You have 2 options with this dac. upsample to 96 or to 192. The other day I was listening and thought that the MF was losing it's edge. Later on a looked and apparently I was using it at 96 vs 192. One push of the button and it opened up the sound in a big way.
I'm interested in the comments on a dedicated transport. Everyone on this site says my cd set up is weak. What would going to a dedicated transport do? Which one do you recommend? Is the MF dac up to the challenge?
Based on my experiences with connecting both players (mass-market and mid-fi) and a dedicated transport (mid-level high end) to my DAC, it can make a big difference, though I can't speak for your particular player. It's just something you'll probably have to try for yourself to see what you'll get.
I have an MF A3 24 and found it made a welcome change with both players I tried it with. I'd have it checked out, if you can. If not, (since I have a science background rather than engineering background), maybe you should experiment a bit. Buy a decent known player (Rotel/Marantz/NAD) and try it with the MF. (Better yet borrow one if you can.) If the Sony still sounds better, then you can free up some cash for tweaks, software, etc. If the decent player + MF DAC sounds better you know the Sony simply is not interacting well with the DAC. You'll just end up a couple hundred bucks poorer and with a fuller equipment rack.