Meitner MA-2 Playback System
This past winter I was given an opportunity to review a remarkable CD player. When Clement Perry asked me if I would like to review the legendary Meitner EMM Labs MA-2 CD Player, I enthusiastically told him YES. About a month later he called me up and told me to come and pick up the Meitner. It’s good that he lives only 15 minutes drive from downtown Manhattan NY residence by car. I hopped in a rental zipcar and headed out to his Jersey City home. We enjoyed a great lunch over at his famous Spanish restaurant, then had a remarkable listening session (as usual!). All this good food and music!! Heck, I also got the chance to take the Meitner MA-2 CD player home with me. Actually, I’ve always longed to hear what an EMM labs product would sound like. I remember back in the day when EMM Labs was the digital player to beat. Now, I get the chance to hear how this unit stacks up in today’s fiercely competitive digital world.
I’m sure almost everyone knows of Ed Meitner, but for those of you who may not know him, I will say that he was one of the original engineers behind the development of Super Audio CD (SACD) for Sony and has been creating state-of-the-art professional and audiophile products for decades. He is an electrical engineer by education he has been involved in audio design for over 30 years. Ed Meitner started with Olive Electrodynamics where he was involved in designing and building analog mixing consoles back in the early 1970’s. His notable accomplishments include creating the world’s first VCA-controlled preamplifier; the first commercially available cryogenically treated cables; the legendary Museatex BiDat CD transport and DA converter (which is still among's Clement's all-time favorite digital dynamos), and the coveted MTR-101 amplifier. Today, EMM Labs converters are used as DSD reference for the recording industry and, currently, most new SACDs are made with EMM Labs DSD converters. Ed Meitner created his brand, Meitner, to offer truly high-end audio that is accessible to more audiophiles at more affordable prices than other EMM Labs products.
The Meitner MA-2 CD player was packed nicely in a protective carton and it was a breeze to set up. After setting up the MA-2 in less than half an hour, I sat back, remote in hand, and hit the play button. Right away, from the very first track, it sounded very good and I turned up the volume and did something rare: I listened to the entire CD. I could hear its improved transparency and increased resolution. Of course, I let it burn-in for another few weeks or so before I started to listen critically. Most of my listening was done using my new reference Thrax Teres Hybrid mono amps with the Thrax Dionysos preamplifier, using Enklein David balanced interconnects. Throughout the system I used all Enklein David series cables. I used my reference Consensus Audio Engineering Conspiracy loudspeakers and Thrax Lyra loudspeakers for my review. The Meitner MA-2 CD player was used mainly as a CD player but from time-to-time I streamed Tidal using MA-2’s USB input.
The MA-2 CD player uses an advanced new slot-loading transport, utilizing technology developed for the EMM Labs XDS1 player to isolate the transport electrically and mechanically from the converter. I’ve noticed Red Book discs are read quickly and quietly and then played back flawlessly. The MA-2 is based on the acclaimed MA-1 converter. There is full asynchronous support from 44.1 kHz to 192 kHz at word lengths up to 24 bits through all four digital inputs: AES/EBU, TOSLINK S/PDIF, COAX S/PDIF, and USB. The MA-2 utilizes Meitner’s proprietary technology: MFAST (Meitner Frequency Acquisition System) asynchronous technology; the MFAST eliminates jitter from the input stream rather than merely attenuating it, and locks rapidly on to the incoming signal. Brilliantly, MDAT upsamples digital audio to 5.6 MHz, doubles the SACD standard sampling rate. The MDAC 9 is an one-bit D/A circuit and the MCLK is a dual differential discrete D-to-A “high-purity master clock module” which ensures end-to-end signal purity. (There is more technical information available on their website).
The Meitner’s design is elegant and functional and easy on the eyes. The front panel offers basic playback controls for the CD drive along with a sensibly sized LED display function on top of the middle of the front center. Right below are the controls for the On/Off button, input selector and play button. The rear panel houses various digital inputs, RCA and XLR outputs, the usual IEC male plug with an On/Off toggle switch above it.
Right out of the box, the Meitner MA-2 CD player produced music in a most beautiful and stellar fashion: it presented great tonal balance, transparency, detail and resolution while handling the music with a most natural character. The MA-2 reminded me of the Total DAC I reviewed favorably back in the summer of 2014 (here). Like the Total DAC, the MA-2’s overall sound was ultraclean, fast as lightning, and ultra-transparent -without a hint of hardness or etch. I put on a beautiful recording of Bill Evans' Waltz for Debby (JVCXR-0220-2) and the sound was outstanding despite it being a '60s recording. Its portrayal of individual instruments was extraordinary, revealing layers of detail with a bit more resolution than I am used to hearing from a digital source. The Bill Evans' trio was in perfect harmony, while it remained stunningly beautiful throughout each song. The cymbal work was most convincing in a way that breathed new life into Paul Motian's play. The shimmer was better delineated than I had ever heard from a digital source. This masterful recording came alive with incredible sheen and naturalness to a point I hadn't heard before from digital. Bill Evans’ piano skills at space and delicacy are legendary among jazz lovers. Through the Meitner, his performance was rendered so wonderfully alive, yet somehow was even more delicate and fleshed out with layers of subtle nuances . Scott LaFaro, who was one of the supreme jazz bassists of his day, had me captivated with his play. All in all, this felt like the first time I actually heard this CD sound so organic and powerful. Wow!
The MA-2 was able to illuminate the piano impressively. Listening to Beethoven’s Concerto N0.2 for Piano and Orchestra, OP. 19 in B flat Major (CBS MK 42177), played by Murray Perahia and maestro Bernard Haitink conducting the Concertgebouw Orchestra, was outstanding. The Meitner MA-2 CD player rendered the piano and orchestra with a wonderful sense of space and drama. Instrumental timbres were portrayed in a very natural way that I remind you remained free of any textural grit, grain and glare. Notes flowed effortlessly in both piano and orchestral passages as it revealed layers of detail and the piano and orchestrated passages were displayed with clarity, speed, and dimensionality. The system reproduced the orchestra’s full weight, producing an enormous size, scale, powerful dynamic contrast with excellent bass extension. The MA-2's soundstage capability was excellent with floor to ceiling and wall-to-wall spaciousness that was extended beyond the loudspeakers physical location and/or outer edges.
I was very curious to hear how it would reproduce chamber music, which I really enjoy listening to. The MA-2 CD player produced small ensembles wonderfully while the accompanying strings sounded utterly delightful. I put on a beautiful recording of Rossini’s Sonate a Quattro No.1 in G major (HMC 901776) performed by Ensemble Explorations. Would you believe Rossini was only twelve when he composed his Sonate a Quattro in 1804? This extraordinary recording was wonderfully produced. The MA-2 allowed the notes to flow effortlessly amid the complex mix of tonal nuances that proved very appealing. In my opinion, the MA-2 possesses an unmatched sense of resolution. I detected greater inner detail compliments of the music emerging from a pitch-black and velvety background. This gave greater discernment to the subtleties hiding in the back, pitch variation and even the bowing textures of individual strings. The blending of the instruments produced by the MA-2 was simply outstanding.
I really enjoyed my time with the Meitner MA-2 CD player and have discovered what many have about remarkable product. It is extremely fast, clean and quick-footed while totally devoid of noise and hardness. It has enough dynamic properties to make you jump out of your seat and yet subtle enough to hear even the softest of details. After all these years, I've discovered Meitner is still the authority in digital playback. I could easily live with the Meitner MA-2 CD player. If you are in the market for CD player in this price range, look no further.
Meitner MA-2 Digital to Analog Converter/CD Player
Input: 1x USB, 1x AES/EBU, 1x Toslink S/PDIF, 1x Coax S/PDIF
Output: 1x AES/EBU, 1x Toslink S/PDIF, 1x Coax S/PDIF, 1 pair RCA, 1 pair XLR
Dimensions (W x D x H): 435 x 400 x 140mm
Weight: 9.0 kg/19.8 lbs Includes a remote control
Designed and Manufactured in Canada