Music Hall recently released its latest audiophile Compact Disc player, the CD25.3, a no-nonsense source component that is very competitively priced for an audiophile-grade disc spinner at $649. Music Hall is well-known for its high-value offerings in the audiophile world, ranging from very solid turntables to disc players like the CD25.3. Having a few of the key competing CD players in for review recently, as well as a few of the best affordable DACs, I am excited to see what this newly designed player can do in my system.
What Makes the Music Hall CD25.3 CD Player Special?
- It employs the ESS ES9018K2M Sabre 32bit/384 kHz audio DAC chip. This is a great value at its price. It isn’t uncommon to see the competition using 24-bit DACs even as you move up in price significantly.
- While I wouldn’t call this CD Player value priced, I do think it’s priced very appropriately for what you are getting. If you push your price up closer to the $1,000 mark, you might start to expect SACD playback (dead format, but…), and if you go to a lower price point you are often sacrificing build quality.
- You can use this Compact Disc player as a transport if you prefer the sound of your DAC.
- Music Hall added vibration dampening feet to the CD Player. This is always a nice touch. Vibration can affect the sound quality of your CDs, which is why the uber-expensive disc transports are built the way they are. You get a taste of that world but in this case, with a real-world budget product.
Why Should You Care About the Music Hall CD25.3 CD Player?
While vinyl is getting all the attention these days, from a budget and performance perspective, Compact Discs are still tough to beat if physical media is your thing, so there are certainly going to be a market out there of people who are looking for a quality player, and the CD25.3 absolutely fits the bill. I played music across my 25-year collection of Compact Discs and I was impressed by how they sounded every step along the way. I just don’t think the CD is dead yet, and for those who agree, this is a player that gives a solid reason to care about playing them in your audiophile system.
Some Things You Might Not Like About the Music Hall CD25.3 CD Player
- You can’t access the DAC in this player for other sources. If want that functionality, you might want to check out Music Hall’s previous CD player, the c-dac15.3, which had three digital inputs.
- This player only supports Red Book audio. If you’re hoping for a player that will do high-res disc formats such as SACD, or DVD-Audio, you will need to look somewhere else. Perhaps the new Reavon universal disc players.
Listening to the Music Hall CD25.3 CD Player…
The track “Fatal” by Pearl Jam (CD 44.1/16) is from their collection of B-sides titled Lost Dogs (buy at Amazon), released in 2003. This particular track came from their Binaural sessions, which were recorded a few years earlier in 1999. The track was produced by the Tchad Blake, who has produced and engineered some of the best artists of the last 50 years, including Bonnie Raitt, Peter Gabriel, Al Green, and U2. The liner notes of the album state that this was Blake’s favorite track from the Binaural sessions. This melancholy track features a lot of acoustic guitars, but when the rest of the band kicks in around the 45 second mark, the Music Hall CD25.3 was able to pull forward the backing guitar and bass guitar that are layered into the background without any issues. This is one of those gems that you find with bands that have managed to record music for 30 years, and this CD player highlights everything that is great about it.
“Georgia on My Mind” performed by the legendary jazz pianist Oscar Peterson (CD 44.1/16) is another track worth noting. Yes, his is yet another take on the 1930 classic by Hoagy Carmichael. This song has been performed by everyone from Ray Charles to Ella Fitzgerald. This version is from Peterson’s 1963 album Night Train, which features his longest running trio with Ray Brown on bass and Ed Thigpen on drums. The piano is known to be one of the hardest sounds to reproduce, but in my listening to this track, and really the entire Night Train album, it was reproduced beautifully. The piano sound was very natural, and really allowed me to feel like it was being played right in front of me. The rest of the track isn’t overly complex, but the mix is fantastic as the bass and the drums create a wonderful blend on this nearly four-minute track.
The cut “Little Black Submarines” by the Black Keys (CD 44.1/16) really shows off the dynamics that you hope to get from a great recording. This track is off the duo’s Grammy Award winning 2011 album El Camino (buy at Amazon). In many ways, it follows the framework that Led Zeppelin used with “Stairway to Heaven,” where the track starts off somber and slow in the first half and then everything really kicks in the second half. In the front half of the track, you hear a natural sound from Dan Auerbach’s guitar, as well as the drums and an organ. In the second half, when the band really kicks into the jam as signaled by the distortion really coming in off the guitar, you get that classic blues-rock feel that made the band prominent in the early 2010’s when much of the music world had started to move itself strongly away from rock music.
Does the Music Hall CD25.3 CD Player Have Any Resale Value?
If you use the 25.2 as a guide, this player will absolutely have resale value. The 25.2 still sells for around $400. That is close to two-thirds its value after 15 years. For a platform like Compact Disc where its popularity is in decline and has been for some time, that is an incredible retention of value, and it really speaks to how the buying public feels about Music Hall’s products. How the CD format trends in the coming years will strongly influence what you might be able to sell this player for in the future, but the build quality and reputation are certainly there for you to still be able to get a fair price.
Who Is the Competition for the Music Hall CD25.3 CD Player?
Paul Wilson reviewed the Rotel CD 11 Tribute ($599) (buy at Crutchfield) late last year, and he had nothing but praise for it. It is very comparably priced and would certainly be a player that you might consider if you are looking for a source in this price range.
If you know you already have a DAC that you love and just want to add CD playback, the Audiolab 6000 CDT ($599) could be worth a look. We have yet to review one of these units, but the price is certainly enticing for a transport, as they typically retail for about double of what Audiolab is selling this unit for.
If you’re looking for a CD player with a different form factor, you might want to check out the Pro-Ject CD Box S3 ($549) (buy at Amazon). This player features a 32-bit/384 kHz DAC from Texas Instruments, which is comparable to the ESS chip Music Hall has used here.
Final Thoughts on the Music Hall CD25.3 CD Player
As a lover of the Compact Disc, I found myself really enjoying this player. It had no noticeable flaws and sonically it reproduces a very neutral sound. I think you will always find complaints from some audiophiles when they look at today’s silver disc players because they want them to play every type of disc, and while I can certainly understand that if you have already made an investment into SACD or DVD-Audio, at this price point there are very few players that are going to play those formats, even used.
For my money, the build quality and the sonics of the CD25.3 exceeded my expectations for a CD player at this price range. I enjoyed the sound reproduced so much that I am adding into my reference system moving forward. I look forward to enjoying Compact Discs with this player for many years to come.