Review: Musical Design D-140 Amplifier

Category: Amplifiers

Musical Design is a subsidary of John Hillig, Musical Concepts original
company started in 1979, doing upgrades and mods to Hafler amps and
preamps. So successful were these mods and upgrades to Hafler
products,that John branched out to doing Adcom,B&K,and Dynaco but to name a few.
Now Musical Concepts have upgrades for most any amp or preamp in the
market place today including some very exaulted brands.Such as
Krell,Muse,and Spectral.

A few years ago he decided to develope Musical Design to produce amps
and preamps under his own signature company. This review will deal with
one of his early power amps the D 140.

Having done upgrades and mods on a wide variety of high end gear, John
Hillig has a keen insight as few others, that build power amps. It is
clealry evident to me that a lot of that knowledge has been passed on to
the D 140. He has been at this for some 27 years now, and he keeps
pushing the envelope of performance, at a price most audiophiles can
afford. I totally applaud his efforts,to offer state of the art design, that
is within reach of most audiophiles.

Very few of Musical Designs products find their way to the secondary
market place. For the most part the Musical Design products are custom
crafted for the original end user for that customers specifications. To
get a true hand crafted gem such as the D 140 or any product from him is
a treat indeed. It does seem that audiophiles that have them keep them.
To me that speaks volumes on John Hilligs Musical Design products. Plus
the fact he is easily accessible via phone or e-mail to address
whatever concerns one may have in regards to his products. Now thats rare in
todays business environment. Over the years have purchased many items
from John and have never been disapointed in any purchase at any price
level. His Super Connect IV interconnects are in my opinion the best in
the market place at or above their price point. These have few peers

This is only the second Musical Design amp to come my way in all these
years. Was originally acquired for a customer,who at the last minute
decided on something else. In many ways, I can only thank him for
deciding on another amplifier. The Musical Design D 140 is a very special
Class A/AB power amp. Of which I have decided to keep.

The D 140 is housed in an unassuming black box with the obligatory rack
handles. Weighs about 35 pounds measures the standard EIA 19 inches
across the front is 5 1/4 inches in height including the feet, while depth
is 10 1/8 inches,add another inch for the back panel connectors. Front
panel switch with green power on LED.

Described as a 140 WRMS dual mono amplifier into 8 ohms.
Distortion (THD): less than 0.03% @140W/ch(8 ohms), typically less than
0.02%, less than 0.01% @ 0.1Watt at 1kHz. At 4 ohms this amp should be
able to double its output. Not sure on 2 ohm rating.

Was tested using the following LPs and CDs.

CD Selection:

Ben Webster At The Renaissance (Contemporary Records OJCCD-390-2)
The Royal Ballet Gala Performances (Classic Compact Discs CDSCD 6065)
Peter And The Wolf - Boston Symphony Orchestra (Sony SK 64079)
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)
Sneakers Motion Picture Soundtrack (Columbia DIDP 078100)
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)
Hook Motion Picture Soundtrack (Epic EK 4888)
Highlights From The Plugged Nickel - Miles Davis (Columbia CK 67377)
McCoy Tyner with Stanley Clarke and Al Foster - (Telarc CD-83488)
Fanfare For The Common Man - Telarc CD-80078

LP Selection:

Bob James - Hands Down (Columbia FC 38067)
Hiroshima - Self Titled - (Arista MFSL1-525)
John Coltrane - Blue Train - (Blue Note BST 81577)
Wes Montgomery - Bumpin' - (Verve V6-8625)
Rickie Lee Jones - Self Titled - (Warner BSK 3296)
Wynton Marsalis - Live Blues Alley - (Columbia PC2-40675)
Eric Gale - Forecast - (KUDU Records KU 11)(CTI Records)
Kenny Burrell & Grover Washington Jr - (Blue Note BT 85106)
Earl Klugh - Finger Painting - (Blue Note MFSL 1-025)
Larry Carlton - Friends - (Warner 23834-1)
Sadao Watanabe - Autumn Blow - (Inner City IC 6064)
Doobie Brothers - Minute by Minute - (Warner BSK 3193)
Santana - Zebop - (Columbia FC37158)
Pat Metheny Group - American Garage - (ECM 1-1155)
Frederick Fennel - Cleveland Symphonic Winds - (Telarc 5038)
Paul Desmond/Jim Hall - Complete Recordings - Mosaic(MR6-120)

The Musical Design D 140 was powered 24/7 before any evaluation was
done and tested with the Musical Concepts SuperConnect IV RCA
interconnects. No balanced outputs on this D 140. This amp runs quite warm at the
heat sinks, which means it is heavily biased into Class A output. The
build quality is very good indeed, with a steel cabinent, that is quite
stiff to reduce vibration. The face plate is quarter inch aluminium, and
although it could possibly be rack mounted, the face plate is not pre
drilled for that application.

I wish I could really pinpoint this amp. I cannot, it covers the entire
musical spectrum so easily, that one forgets the amp and just becomes
immersed in the musical signature of this fine performer. I found myself
going through CD after CD and LP after LP, trying to find real fault
with the D 140, there isn't any. One can use all the adjectives used in
equipment reviews, and they apply, to the D 140 sonic signature. I just
cannot find any weakness in the overall performance of the MD D 140. If
a glorious musical signature is what your after the D 140 has it in
spades. You want bass, it will rock with the best of them,not a bloated
bass, but tight and well defined. The mid-range is just mesmerizing, with
vocals just spot on.The upper registers shimmer, but not shrill by any
means, a cymbal splash, for once sounds like a cymbal strike and will
give you chills for its uncanny accuracy. Play Telarcs "Fanfare For The
Common Man" and you will hear exactly what I am talking about !
here. This is not what I was expecting from an amp in this price
range. In fact played several classical selections just to make sure what I
was hearing was indeed true and replayed them a few days later. I was
just as impressed days later as I was upon inital playback.

As you can view from the playlist, many genres of music was played and
evaluated. If you want to rock, it rocks, if you want the splendor of a
full blown symphony, it will raise the hair on your neck. If jazz is
your bag, you will hear jazz with an intensity, one not often hears with
lesser components. With jazz it brings one into the fold and you'd
swear the guys are about to pop out of the speakers.

For the purpose of this evaluation the D 140 was paired with a CJ
Sonographe SC 1 preamp with Musical Concepts SuperConnect IV interconnect
cabels. Onix XCD 88 CD Player,Rega P3 Turntable with RB 300 arm, with
Denon DL 160 phono cartridge,Denon DMD 1300 MD Deck,Polk XRT XM Tuner. All
other interconnects were Audioquest. A/C Power Cabel was DH Labs Power
Plus. Speakers Alon Model 1 with Alon Black Orpheus speaker cabel.

No this is not the finest amp I have ever heard, but at its $1,295.00
price when new, it can compete with anything up to twice its price level
and sound vastly better than most in its price/performance category.
The D 140 is in lofty company indeed. Keep in mind were talking about
Class A/AB output power amps. Not Class A output.

The biggest compliment came from a dyed in the wool tube maven, that
was on hand for much of the evaluation. His opinion was, that if he was
not already very deep into tube gear, he could switch to the D 140 quite
easily. Not to start a solid state vs tube controversy, all of us have
been down that road before. However his opinion solidified my
impression of the D 140 as only a handful of power amps that has the ability to
work in both environments, be it solid state or tube.

In fact he took it home for a few days to evaluate in his system and
came away with the conclusion that while solid state, the D 140 did not
exhibit the typical solid state signature, that tube mavens do not care
for. Although he says his CJ Premier 140 is overall better than the D
140, it was not a let down to switch to the D 140. Considering that both
of these amps are 140 WRMS per channel units, but the price
differential is substantial, the CJ Premier 140 is five times more expensive than
the D 140. His conclusion was while it could compete impressively at
twice its price listing, it did fall somewhat short compared to the tube
amp he compared it to. But nonetheless he came away solidly impressed
by the D 140, and at its price point,he feels nothing else he has heard
comes close to the D 140 in overall musical signature, tube or solid
state. From him thats a major leaque statement, from a total tube maven.

Musical Design remains in business and has a solid following so
service, updates and mods for the D 140 are easily at hand from John Hillig at
Musical Design, the man behind this amplifier. Although the D 140 is
now discontinued, replaced by the D 150, which is getting solid reviews
and setting its own reputation.

After 48 years in this hobby/business, one does not often encounter a
product such as the D 140. It clearly delivers the promise of high end
at a very nice price, and one certainly need not make an excuse for
having it in thier system.

If your just starting your high end journey, or a jaded maven such as
myself. The Musical Design D 140 is a great starting place and for many
the journey could easily end with this amp. As far as Class A/AB amps
are concerned the D 140 in my opinion ranks in the top ten of this
classification of power amps available.

Finding one of these in the secondary market is difficult indeed, as
most audiophiles that have them, just don't give them up. About two per
year show up on line for sale. Thats excellent testament on how well
this amp is regarded.

However if waiting is not your game. Call John Hillig at Musical Design
and let him build for you his newer D 150 to your specifications. Think
about it, special hand crafted audiophile piece, made just for you, no
one else! Not off the shelf. It just doesn't get much better than this.

The only other Musical Design amp to pass through here was the D 75 a
few years ago. Another stellar performer worth the search. If one does
not need the muscle of the D 140, then the D-75 is an excllent choice as
well. The D 75 is 75 WRMS per channel into 8 ohms, house in an utility
type of chassis and is slightly smaller than the D 140. But as I
remember same great sonics and build quality.

Have not had the opportunity to evaluate the D 150. Although I am sure
John has raised the bar of excellence once again.

It is refreshing to find products such as Musical Design that offer
this level of performance. In your search for a power amp, the Musical
Design D 140 should be on your short list of amplifiers for consideration.

Associated gear
Click to view my Virtual System

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with all the 'flavor-of-the-month' products that come and go through audiophile systems, its about time someone wrote a review of this excellent 'timeless' amp. musical design gets overlooked, like lots of reasonibly priced gear, because of the a bizarre assumption that an esoteric product from germany,the uk, australia or switzerland that costs more than you car you drive somehow 'gets the music right'. the musical design pre's are world class as well.
I have a Musical Design SP 2B signature version preamp for a bunch of years, which definitely, as Jaybo said above is world class in its sound. It has been upgraded several times over the past 5 years with Teflon tin V-Caps, Blackgates and some power upgrades and can run with anything out there, including Suprateks, Thors et al. Thank God for the John Hilligs still out there creating their phenomonal stuff at real world prices. A labor of love for sure...
After discussing with JH today. This D 140 is the signature version which was $1,995.00.
John Hillig doesn't spend too much time on marketing, and he doesn't have to. He's still as busy as he can handle, for the reasons you so eloquently describe above. John Hillig's also apparently great with CD player mods, and makes a great DAC. I will probably get his platinum CD player mod and transport mod next year if it's feasible. Thank you for posting such a fine review. It's nice to see John Hillig get some written recognition for his integrity, brilliance and talent.
I was just browsing and came across this pic of the D140 with the wood panels on the face plate,ITS MY OLD AMP!,i made and put those panels on!
Not sure who the current owner is,hope its treating you as well as it did me.What a great amp.For sale?
Hot rod that picture of your amp came from somewhere on the internet. My digital camera was down at the time of writing the review, so I used this picture for the review.

My amp of the time did not have those wood panels. I am sure it is out there somewhere Hot rod. Maybe the current owner will chime in.