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Music Hall Maverick SACD CD Player Review

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Music Hall Maverick SACD Player

My System

B&K Reference 31 Preamp/Processor, B&K Reference 7270 Amplifier, Boston Acoustics VR-970 Speakers, DIY Infinite Baffle subwoofer, DIY speaker cables using Belden 1810A, DIY audio cables DIY using Canare LV77S, DIY sound treatments. When evaluating the Maverick, I compared it to the source I listen to the most for music: my HTPC with a Prodigy bit-perfect soundcard and WinAmp.

Pre-Review Comments

I want to preface my review with three important qualifiers.

First, my system is what most folks would classify as “mid-fi.” The primary limitation of my current system is probably the Boston Acoustic speakers. For the money, they are exceptionally accurate, although there is only so much six-year old $1500/pair speakers can do. Retrospectively, while reviewing the Maverick, I was also reviewing some very nice Song Audio monitors ($2000/pair) and this gave me a chance to hear details I would have missed on my Boston Acoustics.

Second, the Maverick has been on the market for several years now, so this won’t be a detailed review. Rather, I’ll be limiting this review to giving my overall opinion of the Maverick to you and how it fits into a mid-fi system like mine. Third, I compared the Maverick and my HTPC using the music I typically rely on for making evaluations (Diana Krall – Girl in the Other Room, When I Look Into Your Eyes; Boz Scaggs – Dig; Queen – Greatest Hits; Lyle Lovett – I Love Everybody; and various classical musical selections, primarily Wagner, Tchaikovsky, and Grieg). I don’t listen to much rock ‘n roll so if you prefer AC/DC to Wagner, I can’t swear that any of this review will be useful to you.

What I LIked About The Maverick

I can summarize what I liked about the Maverick in one sentence – it has outstanding DACs. I use an HTPC to listen to music because bit-perfect S/PDIF output is superior to the transport in any DVD player. When I used the digital output of the Maverick (thus using the DACs in my B&K), I was unable to distinguish the Maverick from my HTPC. However, when I used the analog outputs (and thus the DACs in the Maverick), I was clearly able to distinguish the two sources and I preferred the Maverick. Although I could tell a difference in the two sources when listening to my Boston Acoustic speakers, I must also admit that the difference was small and to be frank, I’m not positive I’d get it right consistently in a blind test. However, with the Song Audio monitors, the difference was easily and consistently detectable. To my ears, the Maverick is smoother, less edgy, more (dare I say it) analog. And yet, smoother didn’t mean less detail. When Diana Krall sang “Let’s Face the Music and Dance,” I could hear every breathe she took. Seriously, the clarity and detail was superb.

I own only a couple of SACDs (purely for evaluation purposes) and so I didn’t spend much time comparing SACD and CD. However, I can assure you that the Maverick’s SACD capabilities are outstanding. In every case, when I compared the SACD to the CD, I preferred the SACD. It’s difficult for me to express why I thought the SACD sounded better. I didn’t hear greater accuracy or even more detail. The best way I can describe the difference is to say the SACDs sounded “fuller,” or “richer.” Even though it was 2-channel SACD, it sounded very much like I was hearing multi-channel audio.

What I Didn’t LIke About The Maverick

There are only two things I didn’t like about the Maverick.

First, when you insert a CD into the player, it reads the disc for a few moments and then starts playing. I want to be seated comfortably in the sweet spot before the music starts, so I would prefer to hit Play on my remote to start play. Granted, this is a trivial problem since all one has to do is to restart the song. Second, if you want to switch between CD and SACD, you must first stop the recording. This makes it impossible to compare the two “on the fly.” Of course, unless you were explicitly trying to compare the two formats (e.g., during a review!), the inability to make such a switch wouldn’t matter.

And Finally, the Wife’s Opinion.

When I listen to a new piece of equipment, I like for my wife to listen as well. I respect her opinion, plus it provides me with a “reality check” on my evaluation. As she will readily admit, she doesn’t always hear the same differences that I do. As a general rule, when she can detect a change in audio (or video) quality, the difference is probably fairly substantial.

For her comparison, I played songs from four different CDs on my HTPC and the Maverick. She let me know when she wanted to hear the next source, but did not know what source was playing. Although she could hear some differences, she wasn’t able to consistently distinguish the source with the Boston Acoustic speakers. However, with the Song Audio speakers, she was able to tell the two sources apart fairly consistently. Although she was able to detect a slight sonic difference (which I attribute to the difference in the Maverick DACs and the B&K’s DACs), she ranked the Maverick and the HTPC as “too close to call” in terms of overall preference.

In Summary

If you’re using a DVD player to play CDs, the Maverick will definitely provide a better sound. However, I think it’s only fair to add that to take advantage of what the Maverick has to offer, you need a system capable of resolving the added fidelity. In my case, adding the $1495 Maverick to a system with aging $1500/pr speakers wouldn’t make sense. As I was able to determine, however, with just a little bit better speakers the improvement in sound is significant. And for me, the real “bang for the buck” came with the performance of the upsampling function of this CD player. If your speakers are up to the task, I say buy this unit for the CD playback and consider the SACD player a bonus.

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