There once was a time when a CD player was a CD player; ie, it was a square box that played silver discs. Then, as manufacturers upped the quality threshold to previously unimaginable levels, we saw a proliferation of two-box designs; largely in the form of a CD transport for spinning the disc, and a digital-to-analogue converter for converting the signal to a form an amp can process.
The reasoning was to fully isolate the delicate electronics from the vibrations of the transport, and these design were largely successful in upping the sound quality threshold.
Further down the line, another design has appeared whereby the DAC and the transport remain in one box, while the power supply is isolated in another. This is mooted to have an even greater effect on playback, and if this Musical Fidelity pairing is anything to go by, it works a treat.
The X-Ray v8 is the integrated player, it includes a trans-port and DAC. However, to make it work you need to add either an outboard power supply (from £300), the matching integrated amplifier, or the powered upgrade X-DAC v8 tested here.
Before we wax lyrical about the sound quality (and, yes, we are going to), we'd better get the oddities and annoyances out. First, the CD player's display is only readable from straight on, which is annoying; second, the remote is badly laid out, which is also annoying; and third, there are minor alignment issues on the DAC's casework - again, annoy-ing.
More after the break
An optical input would be good, too, though the USB port is pretty useful. Overall, we'd expect better for £1800.
Majors with a natural presentation Nevertheless, such flaws are forgivable as soon as you hear this Musical Fidelity pairing in action. The products combine to deliver a cohesive, rich sound that makes most recordings inviting and enjoyable.
Its solid, articulate midrange gives anything from acoustic instruments to vocals an all-too-rare lifelike quality, so any type of music - from Mahler to Katie Melua - sounds incredibly appealing.
Move on to something harder hitting, like Grinderman, and though its best rivals deliver more bite and low-end punch, they also don't get close to matching the Musical Fidelity's inviting sound.
Overall, this X-Ray pairing easily earns a five-star rating. Worryingly for its rivals, it could be much better still.