Review: Musical Design CD-2 CD Player

Category: Digital

Musical Design is a part of Musical Concepts founded by John Hillig. This is one of those high end cottage manufacturers that always deliver the promise of high end without the lofty price often attached to this hobby/business. In my opinion Musical Design is a concept that good design, costs no more than pedestrian design. It comes down to the engineering and parts used in construction, that sets Musical Design components in a class of their own. The build quality,sonics and long term reliability of Musical Design is not often found in this industry and at a price within reach of most audiophiles.The end result is components that defy the trend of components that sell for as much as a car, but at the same can compete quite nicely with the most estoeric brands in the market place. Thats value par excellence.

So few of Musical Design products show up for resale, that to find one is a rare treat indeed. Audiophiles that own Musical Design gear just don't give them up, and to me that alone speaks volumes about the sonic integrity of Musical Design, as well as the build quality.

Since the dawn of the digital medium I have owned more redbook CD players than I can remember. In fact when I bought my first CD Player there were only 25 CD titles listed in the Schwanns Catalog. These early players were not in my opinion audiophile components and it wasn't until about 1988, that the sonics of CD Players began to improve. And over the last 10 years the bar has been raised each year, that now to a point the CD medium has started to rival analog playback.

The Musical Design CD 2 appears to have started life as a Pioneer Elite CD Player( possibly a PD 52) and uses the stable platter transport, which has been used in some very esoteric CD Players. Also the internals were further reworked, to bring the Musical Design CD 2 to a higher level of performance. These were produced from 1996 thru 1998. Although I am not sure what John Hillig actually did to the internals. However the end result puts this CD player in very lofty company indeed. Probably one of the first, if not the first to employ wide bandwidth technology to a CD player. Most CD Players have a frequency response from 20 Hz to 20,000 kHz. The frequency response of the CD 2 is a staggering 2Hz to 60,000 kHz, with a S/N ratio of 110dB. This wide bandwidth adds a delicate touch of sweetness to the treble registers and sacrifices nothing to the lower end of the spectrum.

CD Used For Review:

Ben Webster At The Renaissance (Contemporary Records OJCCD-390-2)
The Royal Ballet Gala Performances (Classic Compact Discs CDSCD 6065)
Jurassic Park Motion Picture Soundtrack (MCAD 10859)
We Get Requests - The Oscar Peterson Trio (Verve 810047-2)
You Won't Forget Me - Shirley Horn (Verve 847482-2)
On Every Street - Dire Straits (Warner Brothers 26680-2)
Trio Jeepy - Branford Marsalis (Columbia CK44199)
Paris Jazz Concert - Louis Armstrong (RTE 1001-2)
Braveheart Motion Picture Soundtrack - London Symphony Orchestra (London LC0171)
Patriot Games Motion Picture Soundtrack (RCA 07863 66051-2)
Highlights From The Plugged Nickel - Miles Davis (Columbia CK 67377)
Private Investigations Best Of Dire Straits (HDCD) - Dire Straits (Warner Bros 49891-2)
Straight Up - Bob James Trio (Warner Bros 945956-2)
Land Of Giants - McCoy Tyner (Telarc 83576)
New York Reunion - McCoy Tyner (Chesky 5173324)
Gladiator Motion Picture Soundtrack(Decca 2894670942)
Copland - Appalachian Spring (Telarc CD 80078)
F. Fennell - Holst Suites (Telarc 80038)
Tchaikovsky - 1812 Overture (Telarc 80041)
John Williams - American Journey (Sony 89364)
Bizet - Carmen (Telarc 80048)
Live At Sweet Basil - McCoy Tyner Trio (Evidence ECD 22106-2)
Roseanne Cash - Black Cadillac (CAP 094634873802)

The Musical Design CD 2 was inserted into the system and powered for 24/7 before critical listening tests were conducted.

Before we get into the listening evaluation,lets take a look at the operating features of the CD 2.

On the units main panel from left to right you will find the Power/Standby switch followed by Display Off,Time and Repeat. Then in the center is the Display Window and below that is the CD Drawer. To the right of the drawer is two rows of buttons,Stop,Previous Track and Next Track. Below this row there are buttons for Open/Close,Pause and Play. And to the far right is the button for Output Selector Digital/Analog.

The Remote handles all of the above features, with the exception of Display Off and Output Selector Digital/Analog.

In addition the remote performs additional functions, not accessible on the front panel.

Random Play - Plays tracks in non sequential order

Direct Input Number Keys 1 -16 and 16+

Program Tracks



Compu Auto Edit

Time Fade Edit

Peak Search

One nice feature of this unit is the ability to control output selection. Can turn off analog output and use the digital output and use unit as a transport with an outboard DAC. A feature not often found and adds additional flexibilty to the Musical Design CD 2.

The comparison was to the Audio Analogue Paganini produced in 1998 and is s 24bit 96kHz unit 128 X oversampling with 2nd order Butterworth filter. Both of these units sound fabulous and each design is to minimze and elminate the grain and edge found in the digital medium. And to that end the design parameters of these two units have been realized. Although different paths have been taken to achieve the desired end result.

Now onto the Musical Design CD 2 listening test. I was rather amazed at the ease the CD 2 decoded the information on the disc and transfered the signal to analog. Each disc was played with solid authority and a signature that is so easy to listen to for hours on end with no fatique. This richness of the signature covers the full spectrum from Ray Browns playing on the bass, to the soaring notes of Chet Baker, to the mesmerizing sax of Paul Desmond. The guitars of Jim Hall and Joe Pass were crisp with the right amount of attack and ambiance. It is uncanny how soon one forgets that this is a CD Player delivering the music and one gets lost in the music itself. That is rare indeed.

When called upon the CD 2 can rock with the best of them. Most pleased with the playing of Dire Straits, Boston, Fleetwood Mac,Journey,Santana,etc.

Vocals are handled with an authority not often found at this level. Sade,Bonnie Raitt,Roseanne Cash, Michael McDonald,Sarah Vaughan,Ella Fitzgerald,Julie London etc, were spot on and rendered the artist vocal range as it was recorded. The Sade disc and Sarah Vaughan disc grabbed me as though it was the first time I had heard those selections.

Now to the dreaded torture test of public library CDs. How many of the 6 discs from the local library would the CD 2 be able to play? The CD 2 acquitted itself very well in being able to completely play 4 of 6 library discs. Fifth disc only about 7 of 10 tracks and the Sixth disc the CD 2 tried to play, but could not. Not bad at all for public library CDs, that have seen countless circulation,played in god knows what players out there. Plus these were heavily scratched and gouged. I was impressed with its ability to play marginal discs that have been compromised by over use.

I am most impressed with the Musical Design CD 2 player. For a machine now going on ten years plus, it continues to deliver the promise. If you can find one and it is good operational condition,then I can totally recommend the Musical Design CD 2. Although it is not in the leaque of the most esoteric of CD players, but then again the CD 2 is not priced in that lofty company.Nonetheless this player from Musical Design delivers the promise of a high end CD player.

This is typical of John Hilligs products from Musical Design over the years. Planned obsolescence is not part of his equation for producing products. And remains true testament that how few Musical Design pieces get to the resale market. Audiophiles that have them, keep them.

For those audiophiles that can spend to their heart desires, I wish you well. For the rest of us there is John Hillig and Musical Design/Concepts.

Nuff said!

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Click to view my Virtual System

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Nice review, Ferrari. You mention a couple of times the pricing of the player without saying what the price is - I'm interested to know what realm it is competing in on a price basis.
Two versions of this player were available. Standard version at $1,495.00 and the signature version at $1,995.00. Of course these prices were from 1998 as that was my last reference point. Today these usually sell from $500.00 to $800.00 depending on condition.
Based on today's prices, that would make them a steal!
very nice. but the photos of the inside are different than mine.. mine has an additional board floating in front of the output jacks with some nice film caps and opamps on it.