The Music Hall MMF-CD25 will only play compact discs, no DVDs, no DVD-As, no SACDs. The remote is littered with buttons that do absolutely nothing. Track forward and advance as well as disc initialization are noticeably slow. Hitting the track reverse button will not restart the track you are currently listening to, but instead take you to the previous track. The CD25 will not display either remaining track time or remaining disc time.
How's that for an introduction? Do I have your attention?
We all know universal players are the hot thing right now, and if a disc player canít play at least five formats, is it even worth your time? It depends on, I suppose, if you prefer your music to sound like music or just remind you of how music sounds. The CD25 is a dedicated CD player, and it sounds like music. So, in spite of the negative introductory comments about what this player can't do, let me tell you about what it can do.
The CD25 is a lovely piece of gear. It features a 1/2 inch brushed aluminum silver front panel and a solid-feeling black chassis. The player tips the scale at a hefty 17 pounds and sits on four gold-finished footers. The dome-style front display is very reminiscent of some Marantz designs Iíve seen, and while the remote allows three levels of display brightness, the display cannot be turned off completely. The HDCD indicator lies below the display and when lit, emits a bright blue. It does look a bit odd to simultaneously see the greenish display with the very bright blue dot. The HDCD indicator does not correspondingly dim with the display.
According to Music Hallís website, the CD25 is made in China by a small family owned business. Look around to the back panel and you will discover both an optical and coaxial digital output as well as the requisite analog stereo output. It also features an IEC detachable power cord, allowing you to experiment to your hearts content. Inside, the CD25 features an HDCD chip and a Philips CDM 12-10 transport controlled by a CD7 servo. The D/A converter is a Burr-Brown 1732 (24-bit/96kHz). The output stage uses OPA 2134 op amps.
My comparison for the evaluation period was with a Panasonic DVD-RP82 used as a transport, feeding a Rotel RSX-1055 receiver via the coaxial digital output. I have been very impressed with this receiver, and the CD playback through the Pannie has, up to this point, been very good. Every once and a while though, there was that sneaking suspicion that I may be missing something. When the CD25 arrived, I placed four Bright Star Isonodes under the footers, connected the analog interconnects, plugged in the power cord, and was ready to roll.
The first CD I played was Wyclef Jeanís The Preacherís Son. Industry, Baby Daddy, and Next Generation are absolutely flawless modern hip hop songs. You have everything in these tracks, powerful lyrics, outstanding production, and true creativity. The CD25 rendered them in all their glory. The bass provided a firm foundation which allowed Wyclef to seize control of the room. Switching to the Rotel, there was even more bass, but Wyclef withdrew a bit as everything seemed slightly flattened. Listening was still enjoyable and even toe-tapping, but something was missing. The distinctions the CD25 made between all the different sounds were drawn less finely with the Panasonic.
Next, I put in Beckís Sea Change. This is one of the few HDCDs I own and I must confess, HDCDs do seem richer sounding than regular CDs. The Golden Age and Already Dead are two of my favorite tracks and again, the CD25 presented a huge, room-filling sound. The Golden Age has a good amount of glockenspiel on it and it came through Beckís dense mix with brilliant clarity. I thought to myself, ďI could listen to this all day.Ē Interestingly, while the Panasonic will not decode HDCDs, the Rotel will decode the digital stream, and as soon as I switched the disc, the Rotel recognized it as an HDCD. This time there was nothing obvious to me as to the difference in the sound. On this disc, the Rotel and the Music Hall were both wonderful.
Beth Gibbons is the former lead singer of Portishead. She has gone solo now and together with her band, Rustin Man, released a CD entitled Out of Season. The Portishead morbidity has been seriously assuaged on her new record, and relatively speaking, it sounds quite optimistic. The first track, "Mysteries", is a beautiful song about the awe-inspiring power of love. The CD25 portrays her incredibly emotional delivery with just the right amount of clarity and scale. The Rotel presents her voice with a bit more sparkle and sheen that, while not unpleasant, is a bit harder and distant sounding. It sounds like a good stereo, while the Music Hall sounds more like a person singing. (We are talking about the difference between using the CD25 as a transport and letting the Rotel do the decoding, or using the CD25 with its DAC and its stereo analog outputs to the Rotel.)
Radioheadís most recent album, Hail to the Thief, is a fantastic display of their strengths as a band. Introspective lyrics, truly original production, and a lack of artifice are all their trademark qualities and are showcased brilliantly on this record. "The Gloaming" is one of my favorite songs because it builds steadily in complexity and will give your system a serious workout. Deep, deep bass, synthesizers, and haunting vocals all jumble together, and it takes some serious resolution to sort it all out. The CD25 was definitely up to the task. By comparison, the Rotel let too much fall into a general background ambience and did not display the very discretely nuanced sounds with nearly as much precision. As a result, the track lost much of its ďwowĒ factor and came off a bit of a mess.
The final track I want to note is "Nardis" from Bill Evanís At the Monterey Jazz Festival. This track is loaded with both drum and stringed bass solos. The bass strings sounded thick and meaty on the CD25, yet with transparency that allowed me to hear when they were played hard and when they were played soft. Similarly, the drum solos came across fast, slow, violent, and tame just when the song demanded it. Toward the end of the song, everyone starts playing at the same time; itís almost like several solos all at once. The Rotel shied away from giving all the sounds their proper due, while the CD25 was somehow able to figure it all out without breaking a sweat.
At $600, The Music Hall cannot be considered cheap. There are many one-box players out there that add a number of different playback capabilities beyond the CD25ís and at a significantly lower prices. The CD25 does, however, make a strong case for its existence. It plays CDs very well and if CD playback is high on your list of demands from your system, a separate CD player is, in my opinion, still the way to go. If it has sonic flaws, the CD25ís flaws are those of omission, and only in comparison with a truly state of the art player will those omissions likely be noticeable. The proof of this came time and time again when my instinct was just to let the music play, regardless of the CD that was on. If a component offers that much enjoyment and can allow you to forget you are listening to and evaluating a piece of equipment, thatís the highest praise I can offer.