Musical Fidelity kW SACD player
Source: Hi-Fi News September 2005
Evidently Hi-Fi News is trying to distinguish itself from other audio magazines by trying to review first the latest gear under "Hi-Fi News Exclusive" label. In this issue David Berriman reviewed Musical Fidelity's latest kW series offering, new flagship CD/SACD player. Other "Exclusive" in the same issue were 3D Acoustic Omega Drive CD player (re-branded Shanling CDT-300, "A stunning piece of audio engineering, this player earns an unequivocal recommendation..."), Martin Logan Summit speakers (Ken Kessler wowed about their "unbelievable dynamics, speed, transient attack..." - but observed that they are not that easy to drive), Stirling Broadcast LS3/5a V2 speakers (another BBC LS3/5A wannabees, though Kessler was impressed), Marantz SA-15S1 SACD player and matching PM-15S1 amplifier (Kessler continued to be impressed...), Clearaudio Emotion turntable and finally DNM 3D-Six pre-amp. Moreover, they even had "Hi-Fi News Definitive TEST", subject was Tower of Power, i.e. ATC Anniversary SCM 50 active loudspeakers. Huh and hmm - if you get my point.
Back to MF kW SACD player. Some interesting design choices. It's stereo-only, as most high-end SACD-players nowadays, but with two output stages. The tube stage utilizes 6112 "mu-Vista" tube, and the other is a Class A transistor circuit. Both operate simultaneously and can be connected to different amp inputs, making sonic comparisons easy. Verdict? "I thought the A5 CD sounded astonishing, but the kW SACD has taken CD replay a step further ... revealed an even greater sense of delicacy and transparency." As for those two output stages, "...there is no argument; to my ears, the valve option is so obviously better as to make the choice a no-brainer." Only gripe was that there is no facility to access PCM layer on dual-layer discs, i.e. you end up listening always SACD layer. Well, as Microsoft says, "it's not an omission but a feature". Go figure. And yes, kW SACD is a limited edition of 500 pieces.
BTW, MF maintains in their Web-site all reviews as PDF files, including this one, so entertain yourself.
Viewpoint: The kW SACD has a completely separate DAC and filter stage for CD and SACD and hence seems to maintain pure DSD signal path. I was startled when I read in Hi-Fi World August 2005 issue review of Esoteric X-01. This is as high-end player as they can get: super build quality, latest TEAC VRDS transport etc. - and yet DSD signals are converted into 88.2 Khz/24bit PCM before analogue translation! Although said magazine gave it enthusiastic review like "Nothing compares" and "... surely the best sounding silver disc spinner money can buy" I have my reservations.