Review: Musical Fidelity X-RAY CD Player

Category: Digital

While conventional wisdom suggests in CD Player design, dictates that the size of the unit is 19 to 17 inches wide about 3 inches tall and about 12 inches in depth. Well that was thrown out the window in executing the design of the Musical Fidelity X - Ray CD Player. To acheive the necessary chassis ridgity that was sought after another route was developed. This concept of having chassis in CD Players less than the EIA standard is not new. Several of the elite brands such as Esoteric, Wadia and some others have use this concept for quite sometime. However Musical Fidelity is the first in entry level high end to embrace this concept.

The execution of the oval case work is finely done and was quite expensive to produce and, at its introductory price of $1,295.00 has few peers indeed.Most likely the reason the current X - Series is now housed in rectangular housings,far less to produce than the X cans of the original X - Series. The entire execution of the original X Series from Musical Fidelity was a bold departure from the norm and in my opinion Musical Fidelity should be applauded for this extraordinary concept and achievement.

Visually this was a love it or leave it design, but one could hardly fault the sonics of this player. To do better would cost dearly, not that this was inexpensive. One would have to spend near twice the price to do better sonically.

Countless reviews and lavish praise has been written on the X - Ray CD player. Released in late 1999, most units did not arrive stateside till 2000. This is a UK made unit as opposed to some MF gear manufactured offshore. Build quality is exemplaray, fit and finish is first rate as one would expect from Musical Fidelity. One could almost call this a jewel like presentation, it is that nicely done.No plastic here, full metal jacket right down to the buttons on the front panel.

But none of that execution would matter if the sonics did not live up to expectation. One of the first CD players to embrace the 24 bit format with 8 times oversampling. It would be useless to go into the usual superlatives of the sonic rendering of this unit. At this price point we come to expect the finest in digital play back and the X - Ray more than delivers an exquisite signature, that is far more analog in nature than digital. Add to the fact that this unit would make an excellent transport for future DAC upgrades, as time,dollars and technology continues to improve.

Listed below are the important features used in the X - Ray.

Five pole hybrid analogue filtering: Our sophisticated post D-to-A filtering removes digital aliasing and breakthrough artefacts present in other designs, which are often responsible for mixed performance with different amplifiers.

Extremely low jitter: The X-RAY uses data and clock re-timing circuitry, along with a stable master crystal oscillator, to achieve excellent jitter performance. This improves sound quality whilst also providing consistent performance from disc to disc.

Excellent low level linearity: Gives unprecedented detail retrieval and resolution of the tiny audio 'clues' which give truly lifelike reproduction.

Optical and co-axial digital outputs: Very low jitter digital outputs allow digital recording or connection of an external DAC.

Latest 24 bit DAC architecture: The X-RAY uses the very latest 24 bit Burr-Brown DACs, interpolating the CD disc's original 16 bits to 24 bits, prior to conversion, for performance near the theoretical limit for 16 bit.

Architecture: 9 inches wide by 4 inches height by 14 inches in depth.

Weight: Approx 14 pounds.

Tiffany Plated Analog Output RCAs.

Digital Coax and Toslink output connections

IEC mains inlet connector

CDs used for evaluation.

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)
Private Investigations Best Of Dire Straits (HDCD) (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)
Jazz Roots - McCoy Tyner (Telarc CD 83507)
Nicks Bump - Ben Sidran (Liquid LIQ12139)
Tiger's Baku - Tiger Okoshi (JVC 6010-2)
Deep Into It - Larry Carlton (Warner Bros 9 48006-2)

Keep in mind this is a very revealing CD player. Audiophile discs and good discs will deliver a mesmerizing peformance you can get easily spoiled with. However poor recorded discs can be most irritating to listen to and you will know without question which discs those are in your library. A player of this caliber needs solid components to work with. Unless you have or planning to add a far better than average preamp and amp, then pass on this CD player, it is that revealing. You will need a preamp the likes of Musical Fidelity,Pass Labs,Krell, Levinson and so on. This CD player will not elevate weaker components, but radically expose those weakness to an alarming degree. For instance a NAD, Rotel or Cambridge preamp would in my opinion be a poor choice to mate the X - Ray with. The NAD 116 that was here just could not keep up with the X - Ray and produced one of the most glaring signatures I have ever heard.

This is not just a plug and play unit. To get the most from this unit you will have to try various interconnects and power cords to get the signature that is to your liking. After about a day of experimenting with various cords and interconnects. I settled on the Tara Labs RSC interconnects and retained the stock power cord. For me this yielded the best signature and sound stage. Others who try this unit will no doubt experience other cords and interconnects that work with their system. This has been the first CD player unit that I have tested where the use of cable and interconnects yield a dramatic difference in sonic signature. Usually install a very good aftermarket power cord and interconnects and your set. Not so with the X-Ray. But once you have gone through this process, the X-Ray delivers a stunning performance.

The front panel is of minimalist design and from left to right is the power switch to left of display and to right of display is tray open/close switch. The four buttons below the display is the Play/Pause followed by Stop and Previous Track and Next Track.

The remote however will access several functions not found on the panel as well as those on the panel. The remote fits nicely in your hand and the keys and their functions are clearly marked and easily activated by your thumb. Although housed in plastic has a very nice feel to it. Listed below are its functions.

Open/Close - Tray Operation

Direct Track Access Buttons

Search Button scan forward or backward

Track back/forth button to change to next/last track

Index - back/forward button to select index point

Play/Pause - to start and pause playback

Stop - Stop playback

Several Buttons Have A Special Function. Those are listed below.

Time - Shows total of disc,total of track and time remaining for a track.

A-B Selection

Shuffle Playback - Tracks played in random order.

Repeat Playback - Single Track or entire disc.

Intro - Will play about 10 seconds of each track.

Program - Program only tracks you want to hear.

Autospace - Presets 4 seconds between each track,useful when recording.

Display - Push once turns display off,push again dim display comes on and push again for normal brillance display.

This player needs a solid and level resting place and vibration should be held to a minimum. The tray extends about 95 percent so take some care inserting the discs. The tray operation is quick and opens and closes with a solid authority that only a handful of other CD players can approach.

This CD player is not for everyone. Its bold looks and the need for proper interconnects and power cord, may put some people off and thats a pity. For here is a digital player that has the prowess to more than impress the most jaded of us. The specifications more than tell the story. It is as cutting edge now as it was when new. A build quality that gives away nothing to the esoteric units and cost far less. Even now at its preowned value of $640.00, I know of no other digital player that could be considered its peer.

If you have been lusting after some of the lofty high end brands, here is a player that will deliver the music with a verve that will leave you astounded. Plus your wallet will thank you. These do not come along all that often, but are well worth the wait and search to acquire. Plus Musical Fidelity, remains in business, and service and parts if needed is not an issue. Thats important in selecting any piece of pre-owned gear.

Anthony Michaelson founder of Musical Fidelity, clearly wanted to make a statement with the original X series and succeeded most likely beyond his expectations. I know of no other manufacturer like Musical Fidelity that would have taken such a risk.

Start Reviews:

Gobind - West Midlands, England

X-ray – a word that conjures up many images like skeletons, hospitals, George Clooney (maybe not then) and an iconic Musical Fidelity CD player.

The first thing that strikes you about this CD player is its shape. Now I’m not one to complain about traditional hifi boxes but this rock solid half width black lozenge sat upon 2 circular struts immediately catches the eye and the silver fascia with its symmetrical layout further adding to the appeal creating a product that just looks so right!

First impressions are everything and listening to the X-ray I darted for the manual to confirm to myself that no valves were present! The sound was rich and deep with a noticeable absence of treble harshness. Set in a wide soundstage vocals dripped emotion whilst guitarists could be heard plying their trade with a transparency that would shame players at thrice the price – all very analogue. Eyes closed, here is a player that transports you to the heart of the music and plays a merry dance with your emotions – an electronic cupid if you like. Don’t mistake the X-ray for a cuddly teddy bear for when called into action by the Black Eyed Peas it produced blistering pace and rhythm with taut bass.

A word of caution, vinyl collectors beware as your CD collecting friends have a new weapon that means they can genuinely recreate the sound you love without the trials and tribulations of vinyl ownership, for once, you may be the envious one!

If you are not mesmerised by the styling (which I admit is a subjective thing) then the honesty and passion of the music emanating from the X-ray will surely draw you in and leave you yearning for just one more track, now where’s that remote gone!

Review Number two
Mohammed - Cheshire, England

I had a CD in my hand. I heard it could deliver break beats, jazz-infected stabs, and ambient interludes with a relentless exposition. The album's soul was not rooted in voice, but the language of arrangement and drum. Blink, or be distracted for only a second, then misunderstand its maker's intent, and do music in general a grave injustice.

I was keen to bring every phrase to the fore, and absorb every emittence with my unbreakable enthusiasm for sound. I employed a new player for this purpose. A shopkeeper had stocked it only recently, but wanted it warmed and properly partnered before I visited his humble quarters. In the darkness of his listening room, dressed in cotton drapes and velvety effects, it presented itself with a discerning minimalism. It looked diminutive and incapable, yet weighty and confident. I wanted to touch it, but saw its meaningful grooves and serious metal upon closer inspection, and a potential for devastating musical inflictions for the first time. With a regretful cowardice, I gave the shopkeeper my CD and asked him to place it inside.

The Musical Fidelity X-Ray was quick to establish a hold on the music. It read the disc and interpreted its content with an unprecedented precision. The release, my much-loved drum-sound dialect, was controlled, spacious, and very fast. Every note had an identifiable depth, and about them drifted the pleasant ambiences that secreted character and emotion from the effortless reproduction. The machine represented the disc with a warm honesty, and in the process I was informed of variants in tone and texture that were once truant. I looked at it. Inanimate things don't say much, but beyond its brushed oval fascia I knew it was smiling.

End Reviews

Lastly, make no mistake this will become the center piece of your set up due to its unique shape. It will draw people to your system and mesmerize them with its performance. However it takes a bold foot forward to opt for a CD player of this design. I particular like the way it does not fit in with all the other components in the rack. This is a true statement piece, that commands attention. A focal point if you will.

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Click to view my Virtual System

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Sounds interesting. Do you know if the warranty is still only 1 year?
I am not sure what the warranty was on the Original X-Ray when new. This unit has been replaced in the Musical Fidelity line up with the X-Ray v3 and the v3 has been replaced with the v8.

If searching for the original X-Ray, the subject of this review, no warranty is available from Musical Fidelity. Although Signal Path, the Musical Fidelity Service Center in the U.S. advises parts and service are readily available,should an issue arise. Pricing is most reasonable. Although Signal Path sees very few of these units for service. they are built very well indeed.
I hope the first version is better than the V3. Mine spent more time in the shop than listening too, and was very, very harsh. Swapped interconnects and power cords to no avail. Tube or SS amplification and preamplification made no difference...clanging cymbals was the wife's critique. It took forever to read the cd and change tracks and open and close the door...

Very thorough review and as a result I'll have to give the original version a try's always possible I had a lemon, as no one's perfect.

Was this unit mfg'd in UK or had they already started mfg'ing in the Far East?

Best, L'wood
Strikes me as odd that you would post this review shortly after listing one for sale.
This was a UK made unit. I have not been thrilled with some of the off shore results of MF product. It is my hope that they will return to UK based manufacturing, and very soon. A customer of mine has a MF v3 and he is thrilled with the unit. So it is possible that yours was not built to standard. I have not heard the v3 version so I cannot make a valid comment of that units merits.

As far as the one listed for sale, keep in mind that I have a lot of gear that goes through here on a regular basis and from time to time some gear has to move on. However if the unit does not sell, I will not be dissappointed to keep and move on another item.. I as well post from time to time to get a feel on the pre-owned market place on certain pieces. Because it is listed in no way means the unit is not as described in the Review or in the ad. So while S7horton may deem this as strange, I can appreciate his point of view. I can say that all that have been here to view this player have been impressed. Still the turn off for some is its non-conventional appearance.