Ever since my first listen to a full MBL system at an audio show, I have marveled at the company’s sound. MBL’s omni-directional loudspeakers, which resemble no other loudspeakers on the planet, project music with such an air-filled, enthrallingly three-dimensional soundstage that, when I’ve listened to any of my familiar reference recordings through MBL equipment, I have often greeted the first notes with mouth agape.
As much as I find the sound of MBL’s loudspeakers impossible to resist, I have also noted a sonic signature to the MBL chain which I would describe as somewhat to the warm, sweet, and highly polished side of neutral. It’s almost as if one were to start with an untreated piece of wood, then apply an extra shiny, sweetly scented finish. Some might prefer the raw wood; others would pay extra for the varnish.
I’ve always wondered if what I perceive as the MBL sonic signature was a product of the speaker design, the electronics, or the combination of both. So when Jeremy Bryan of MBL North America invited me to review MBL’s new, strikingly styled, entry-level Corona line C31 CD player, I leapt at the opportunity to explore its sonic signature through loudspeakers from another company. (Founded in 2011, MBL North America, Inc. is a wholly-owned subsidiary of MBL Akustikgeraete or MBL Germany to handle all MBL brand activities in North America.) Hence I listened first through Wilson Audio Sophia 3s, and then through Wilson Audio Sashas.
The first thing to understand about that Corona C31 is that, in MBL territory, “entry level” does not come cheap. The player, available in various combinations of striking finish options and metal plating, costs $9,200. And that’s for a player that does not include a built-in volume control, nor offer a program function.
What that $9,200 does get you, among other things, is a fine, 34.2 lb CD player, 17.7” W / 17.5” D / 5.7” H, whose attention-attracting design and distinctive metalwork are meant to stand the test of time. Entirely manufactured in Germany – the company’s policy is to manufacture nothing in Asia, even though German manufacture is far more expensive – all metalwork is fashioned by MBL in Berlin. The tone color and shine of the finish (lacquer black or white) and the heavy, decorative metalwork (plated in gold or “palinux”, a precious palladium alloy similar to dark chrome) are pre-tested for consistency. MBL claims that if you buy a white Corona CD player tomorrow, and a white integrated amplifier two years from now, the tone color and shine will exactly match.
The company also subjects its metal plating to aging tests, to ensure that it will last 20-50 years. Audiophiles who have discovered their prized component’s metalwork peeling or rusting over time will appreciate this effort, even if it comes at a price.
While neither the unit’s front panel controls nor its remote allows you to program tracks, all the other standard functions, including shuffle and repeat, are available. You can regulate the large display’s brightness in five stages, from “very bright” to “off.” The unit’s software is also updatable using a standard SD card.
The back of the C31 contains USB, Toslink, and coaxial digital inputs; a coaxial digital output, and both XLR and RCA analog outputs. There are also connections for a power cable and for MBL’s SmartLink, which allows various MBL devices to talk to one another.
The unit’s digital outputs have an output impedance of 75 Ohm; analog outputs have an output impedance of 100 Ohm for RCA, and 200 Ohm for XLR. Total harmonic distortion is <0.001% @ 0 dBFS, signal to noise ratio is >110 dB (A-weighted) @ 0 dBFS, and channel separation is >100 dB @ 1 kHz.
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