Musical Fidelity A5 CD player - long
Musical Fidelity A5 CD Player
They say the devil is in the details. If so, the Musical Fidelity A5 is a devil of a good CD player. This review reflects my own experience and opinions regarding the Musical Fidelity A5 CD Player. I will focus on the sound and function of the A5 and leave the technical issues to those qualified to address them. My interest is in how it sounds in my system, not why it sounds that way.
I have a huge library of CD’s going way back that includes an eclectic mix of classical, jazz, rock and world music, much of which will never make it to a new high-res format. So I am looking for a CD player that will let me enjoy those while still getting the most out of the new masterfully recorded CD’s. My ideal player would provide all possible information and detail from the CD so I can use the rest of my system to craft the sound I want. I have a preference for the middle ground in the areas of overall tone, detail vs smoothness and transient attack vs roundness. I put a high priority on 3D imaging, inner detail and that sense of “air” around an instrument or voice.
My two channel system is in a home office 10 x 12 and consists of a CD player, 300B based integrated amp and Reference 3A MM DeCapo i speakers. Although I do have a REL Strata III subwoofer, I did not use if when listening for evaluation, so it does not mask bass performance. Recent CD players in my system include (in chronological order), Musical Fidelity A308, Ayre CX-7, Accuphase DP-65V, Accuphase DP-55V and most recently, Audio Resolution Opus 21.
My Musical Fidelity A5 CD player was purchased at my local MF, dealer, Upscale Audio in Upland, CA. According to their recommendations, I allowed a week of break in before doing a critical evaluation. The unit does require a break in, as it developed better imaging and detail over the break in period. I now have over two weeks of play on the machine.
My strategy for evaluation is to use about two dozen tracks on a handful of certain CD’s to look for specific characteristics. Then I will play a bunch of different CD’s for enjoyment. If I am comparing two items, I will do an A/B/A comparison.
The A5 has the typical excellent MF build quality, having a brushed aluminum face and black anodized extrusions for the sides, as well as a pair protective handles on either side of the front. The unit reads CD’s quickly and has a very solid feel to the CD drawer. Display is a blue LCD panel with white lettering that has high and low brightness settings as well as an OFF setting. The display is easy to read when viewing it head on, but gets harder to read from extreme side angles. The remote is a full function plastic affair with all the usual functions, including direct track access and drawer open/close. The drawer open/close feature is great if you put your unit on some kind of isolation devices that are a bit tippy, like Symposium Rollerblocks. The top half of the remote has the function buttons for the MF preamp and tuner.
The overall tonal quality of the A5 is neutral, not cool/lean or warm/rich. The presentation is perhaps a touch recessed. I prefer a somewhat recessed presentation over a forward one. The highs are clean, clear and airy. Bells and cymbals are crystal clear. The midrange has exceptional transparency and detail, yet is not analytical sounding. Voices have all the inner detail and fullness they should. The bass is strong, full but not too tight or tubby. The difference between a stringed bass and electric bass is obvious.
There seems to be compromises in design that trade off slam/attack/quick transients for roundness/fullness. The Ayre CX-7, for example, excels in handling quick transients, but lacks the round tones of the Accuphase players. The A5 strikes a very nice middle ground. In the area of detail vs smoothness, the A5 also strikes the middle ground with a good balance between the two. The piano is a percussion instrument and has an initial transient that is missed by overly smooth players. The A5 lets you hear the initial transient, but continues on to yield the musical nature of the note.
In the area of imaging, the A5 is truly outstanding. It seems to provide all the information and cues that are available on a CD to let you experience the image to its fullest potential. Soundstage width, depth and height are right on and not exaggerated. The 3D imaging is excellent, with that sense of air around the voice or instrument. Perhaps the best aspect is the ability to bring out the layers of sound and let them be heard distinctly. I like an old Joni Mitchell track of “Circle Game” where there are three layers of voices to the chorus to check out this capability. The A5 does the best job of any player I have heard at letting you hearing the distinctions between each voice. The overall result is an involving sound that had me playing whole tracks that I would normally only just sample a couple of sections of. I got pulled in and lost in the music.
An area that is important to me is the ability of a player to handle the array of older CD’s that did not have the best recording attributes. I have lots of old CD’s that are edgy or compressed sounding. The good news is that the recent crop of mid-priced high-end players for the most part does a good job of bringing these CD’s back to life. The A5 is no exception and somehow teases out the layers and smoothes them enough to be palatable.
I found that the A5 performance was enhanced by the use of double Symposium Rollerblocks (one block on top, one on the bottom) and a Svelte Shelf for component isolation. The bass was a bit tighter and the mids/highs a bit clearer.
COMPARISONS TO A5
All these are really good players that provide lots of the information on a CD that your system can turn into enjoyable music. They all provide that information in somewhat different ways and handle the inevitable compromises with their own approach. The result is differences in sonic characteristics that you can then match to your system/room acoustics/personal listening preferences. So not to be too redundant, I thought the A5 bested all of these in inner detail, revealing layers in the music and “air” in the highs.
Musical Fidelity A308 – Clean sounding and neutral. 3D imaging a bit flat compared to the others. Good, but not up to the others in most areas.
Ayre CX-7 – Strong attack, tight bass and solid imaging. A bit on the cool and analytical side. Highs are a little lean and “white” sounding. Tends toward a dynamic presentation, rather than a smooth and refined one.
Accuphase DP-65V – Warm, rich and inviting. Gives up some detail and attack for rich, round tones. Big, round bass. Great imaging. Seductive.
Accuphase DP-55V – Clear, slightly warm sound. Better detail than the DP-65V, but not as rich or inviting. Imaging is good, but lacks “air” and a relaxed, natural image.
Resolution Audio Opus 21 –Clean, clear and musical. More forward and slightly warmer sounding than the A5. Bass is not as strong as most, but it is beautifully integrated into the music.
The Musical Fidelity A5 CD player seems to be aimed at a neutral spot in many of the key sonic characteristics, like tone, attack, detail and smoothness. It has wonderful inner detail, great imaging and let’s you hear deep into the layers in the music. The result is a thoroughly involving musical experience. Having stated my personal preferences earlier, I prefer the A5 over the other players mentioned because it comes closest to what I am looking for. YMMV, of course, based on your personal preferences/system synergies/room acoustics.
Is the Musical Fidelity A5 CD player, “the best player ever made”, as claimed by the MF website? My answer would have to be “No”, because there is no possibility of one machine being superior in all possible systems, rooms and appealing to all possible musical tastes. To me it seems like an outstanding value when compared to players costing two times as much. It is certainly worth checking out if you put a high priority on imaging, inner detail and “air”.
TEST WITH SS AMP
I put the Musical Fidelity A5 CD player in my home theater system for a bit of fun. This system is at the other end of the audio spectrum from my home office SET system. Sony DVP NS 999 ES DVD/SACD player -> Integra DTC 9.4 pre/pro -> Cinepro 3K6 series III 6 X 400 watt amp -> VMPS RM-30M left and right speakers in a 14 x 24 x 8 room. The speakers have a ribbon tweeters, three ribbon panel mids and two carbon fiber 8” woofers. They go down to about 30Hz with a tight bass and crystal clear mids and highs. I ran the system in the Direct mode, which picks up the analog in signal, shuts down the video section and does not use the subwoofer. This was a quick afternoon test.
Needless to say, compared to the Sony player, the MF A5 was better in every respect except video. More transparent, better imaging, more detail, smoother, better bass, better transient attack and clearer highs. All the strengths I heard in my home office system were here, plus, due to the system, much more bass and stronger highs.
Using the same player and CD’s gave a great means of comparing the two systems. The SET home office system is warmer, has more precise imaging, more detail and is cleaner sounding. The HT system is more extended at the top and bottom, but its imaging is not as concise. I assume the imaging decrement is because of the room acoustics and much greater distance to listener (4’ vs 18’).
The MF A5 player clearly enhances the two channel music performance of the system. I found the sound to be involving and enjoyable. Again, I found myself playing whole tracks rather than the few short sections I use for key sonic characteristics.