It is difficult not to get carried away with excitement when you have an encounter with a wonderful sounding audio component, especially when it is affordable. If the sound is engaging it is easy to make sweeping conclusions, euphoric exclamations of the superiority of the product and one’s complete contentedness. Sound familiar? Most of us who have been in the game long enough have gone through this honeymoon phase of ownership several times.
Reviewers are no different, which is why I wait a period of time prior to writing my articles about audio components – usually. Occasionally the review schedule is shortened for a variety of reasons or I feel strongly enough about the known performance aspects of the product that I can draw conclusions. Such is the case with the Musical Fidelity V90-DAC and M1PWR Amplifier.
You know what’s coming, don’t you? At least you think you know; the tried and sometimes true exclamation that a component is a “giant killer.” Recently I read Malcom Gladwell’s David and Goliath, which is not so much about the Biblical battle as the circumstance of being an underdog. Gladwell’s assertion is that we vastly overrate the giant and underestimate the underdog. He alludes to examples of individuals, teams and even social movements which should have had no chance but which came out on top in competition with seemingly far more formidable foes.
So it is with audio components and the audiophile; we routinely overestimate the capacity of the “giant” represented by the component with serious bling, overbuilt construction, and/or a pedigree of excellence, and underrate the ability of the lesser heralded stereo maker with a nondescript box. This is a story about David and Goliath because it is about a little Class D amp and a little, low cost DAC which have gone toe to toe with far more formidable gear. Welcome to the world of Musical Fidelity audio components!
Never Paid Attention
How many components or audiophile companies have you rubbed shoulders with in your lifetime? Hundreds upon hundreds, I would assume, and I can relate. The eyes begin to gloss over at the sheer number of manufacturing and sales concerns in this niche market. I had seen the brand name Musical Fidelity many times but only recall the cute X-CAN series of tubular affordable components. As to reviewing the company’s products I was uninterested – that is, until I had to send back the Simaudio Moon Evolution 750D DAC/Player following extended loan after review. I was stuck for a transport/player and in the hunt for an affordable but solidly performing substitute for the occasion when the big gun products were not in my room. Enter the unassuming M1-CDT Transport (MSRP $999 at the time) which I tried on loan from Randy Bingham, National Sales Manager for Musical Fidelity in North America. I had seen enough positive accolades to give it a spin, pardon the pun. Though it has taken a lot of work with cabling on every system to establish an acceptable performance level, the MCDT has performed admirably, though not with the same effortlessness and weighting on the music as the 750D.
I was even less prepared to consider Randy’s Suggestion that I write up the V90-DAC, a whopping $300 product. Whoo-eee, can you see my face lighting up with ecstasy at the thought? I deal with serious components, not introductory stuff – ok, except for when I need a cdp quickly! I didn’t really want to spend time writing about a bargain bin DAC, but the M1PWR Amp did intrigue me. It, too, was being heralded as somewhat of a shocker, an immense value added box. So, I capitulated in favor of reviewing both since it had been a couple years since I worked with a Class D amp. Technology creeps forward inexorably and I didn’t want to get too far outside the mainstream of Class D amp development. Could it be that something better had happened than the last time I tried Class D? I had worked with three well regarded Class D amps, namely the Jeff Rowland 501, Channel Island Audio D-200 and Wyred4sound; you won’t find a review of the Wyred4Sound amp because I had a short demo period, not a review. When push came to shove all came up short. They had elements of greatness, but Class D as a technology hadn’t arrived to seriously challenge Class A or A/B. I am stating now it has arrived! By that I mean I finally have been able to use Class D to build an impressive, low excuse audio system. I say “low excuse,” because none but the very highest echelon, typically over the $100k mark are what I would consider a “no excuse” system.
A cursory examination of these products shows the V90-DAC to consist of a smallish silver box with diminutive aluminum face plate and two toggle switches on the front; the one on the left controls power On/Off and the other selects between the Input options detailed below. The rear is just as tidy with its four inputs and one set of single ended outputs.
The M1PWR is also a study in efficiency as with similar chassis construction in black face shows the power On/Standby on the left above a pin sized LED indictor and the Mono and Temperature indicators with attending LEDs on the right. Upon startup the power LED (blue in power saving/Off mode) turns Orange (standby). During loud musical passages the indicator may flash orange prompting the lowering of listening level so as to prevent the amp from clipping.
The Manual explains the purpose of the red LED; “TEMP LED (red) will come on if the device is getting too hot internally. This could indicate excessively high current through the speaker outputs. If the TEMP LED comes on, maximum power output will be internally reduced to allow the device to cool down. A Flashing RED LED indicates the chip has reached upper temperature limit and although the unit may continue to work, it should be shut down to clear the fault.
Continuous operation into very low impedance/short circuit may cause the unit to shut down. Switch off the unit and check wiring and speakers themselves for short circuits. Allow the M1 PWR approx. 10 minutes to cool down before attempting to turn it on again.”
At no time during the review period did I drive the amps to the point where the Red LED was operative. Perhaps as a reviewer it is my prerogative to attempt destruction of an amp if it has protection circuitry, but I don’t see much sense in it. With all but the most difficult to drive speakers the output will be such that the listening level would be unhealthy to one’s ears and should not be maintained regardless of the limits of the amp.
The rear of the M1PWR provides 3.5mm low voltage power trigger, Stereo/Mono switch which changes mode only upon startup, Left and Right single ended inputs as well as Left and Right Loop Outputs (linked to the inputs so as to pass the signal unaffected directly to another amp or subwoofer), and one set of Left and Right speaker posts.
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