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Musical Fidelity M6 500i Integrated Amplifier Review

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Unencumbered

Musical Fidelity desires for its products to embody pragmatic appearance and operation. The looks will not win awards, at least from me, as they are plain bordering on drab; a flat black aluminum chassis with one large silver dial and array of silver buttons does not stir my soul. However, it means no preoccupation with looks; let the sound do the talking. On the face of the unit is the oversized Volume control knob with a simple but easily seen digital display showing volume in half decibel increments. Underneath the Volume control starting at the left are Power/Standby with indicators, Tape Monitor, Balanced, CD, Tuner, HT/AUX, and Tape input selector buttons, and the IR receiver lens at the end of the line.

On the back side two sets of closely spaced binding posts allow for bi-wiring. Scrunched in between with small, difficult to read print beneath each set are the L/R inputs associated with the functions on the front panel. Above the HT/AUX inputs is located the switch to allow dual functionality for a HT system to be incorporated. A pair of XLR inputs are provided at the lower left, and the detachable 15A IEC sits opposite on the right. Generous heat sinks flank both sides of the unit, which seemed to be massive considering the low heat generated by the unit. At no time, even if left on for hours or playing demanding music, did the casework become hot to the touch. One need not worry over excessive heat being generated by this 500 Watt amp.

Even though the amp has a form of volume protection circuitry, wherein if turned off at a very high volume it will turn on with the setting down to protect speakers from potential damage, the Owner’s Manual warns that the HT input is uncontrolled, that is, controlled by the source, not the M6 500i. Consequently, caution is to be used when setting up such a system.

The supplied remote control is extensive, as it is a system remote. The functions are laid out sensibly and one can operate it by feel in a dimly lit room. Oddly, the M6 500i almost invariably ignored the first press of the volume button, up or down. I had to depress it a second time to control it. This was a consistent operational quirk which never seemed to become worse over time. I have come to accept that certain IR devices will exhibit peculiarities and if they don’t worsen I tend not to worry over it. Perhaps there is a wormhole between my listening chair and the amp rack? Regardless, the volume control hiccup would not stop me from considering ownership of the unit.

There was one truly irritating feature of the M6 500i, that being the puny footers. I don’t believe I have ever encountered such skimpy footers on a larger piece of gear. This would not be an issue if the M6 500i weighed about ten pounds or did not have rippled heat sinks. I do not have thick fingers, but when I attempt to jut them under the amp to lift it the prickly heat sinks sink into the fingers and prick them. People with thick fingers might find it all but impossible to grip the amp from the bottom. The first thing I would do if I owned this amp would be to secure rubber rings of appropriate diameter and longer screws to extend the footers. Surely, Musical Fidelity should address this obvious, though not sonically significant, shortcoming. It is a good sign that these are the worst aspects I can mention, perhaps trifles to some, as issues about an integrated amp that has the capacity to thrill.

So, on we go to the listening sessions! I fervently enjoyed the crispness of the M6 500i, especially with artists featuring heavy bass lines such as Norman Brown or Larry Coryell. Supple is not a word that is typically associated with bass, but the combination of the M6 500i in conjunction with the Mac Mini playing iTunes through the BMC PureDAC, currently on review, was tremendously rich as heard through the Vapor Audio Nimbus White linked with a mix of Clarity Cables for the speakers and power, with Silent Source Cables for the interconnects. A supple guitar sound is not a blurred guitar, no matter how tonally spot on. When one sees an overweight person, they don’t appear supple, but a fit person is quite tony. Consider the general sonic character of the M6 500i to be limber as opposed to ponderous.

Electric guitar can sound thin and grating, much like a buzzer on a microwave. Joe Satriani’s guitar in a less than spectacular system carries that “buzzy” sound, but the M6 500i tames this to a great degree. Swapping out the PureDAC for a set of AMR’s ifi DAC, ifiUSBPower, and iPUrifier along with Mercury and Gemini USB Cables was revelatory, as this “dirt cheap” digital combo tightened up the rig even further, as well as thickened the guitar, chasing away much of the buzzy nature of Satriani’s guitar.

Vocals proved to be a strong point with the M6 500i as well. I typically listen to female vocals such as Joan Baez, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Annie Lennox, and Paula Cole to see if their voices seem immature, and thus rendered thinly, with an emphasis on the upper end of the frequency spectrum. Even with highly respected amps such as the Pass X600.5 one has to match equipment well or there is an irritating amount of such thinness. Not so with the Musical Fidelity integrated, which had the grace to be difficult to thinned out female vocals. The sound would not be mistaken for ripe tube amplification, but neither will it allow these women to sound as though they are singing their debut album.

Limitations of Integrateds

Integrated amplifiers are judged to be exceptional values if designed well, as with the M6 500i. However, they do hit hard limitations in comparison to exceptional combinations of preamp/amp separates. I returned to the Pass Labs X600.5 Monos to prove the point. I then compared the Musical Fidelity to the Teo Audio Liquid Preamplifier, a “rock your world,” statement piece of a passive preamp, with the Pass mono amps. Watch for my review of this hot ticket preamp in the future! This combination torched the M6 500i soundly, however the combo is right at four times the price. This should be expected of high-end preamp/amp combos with superior synergy. It is not an everyday occurrence achieved by tossing in any set of preamp and amp. Honestly, it didn’t happen with the Pass XP-20 Preamp and X600.5 Monos, which were fairly evenly matched by the M6 500i. The Pass amplification had an edge in terms of openness, but the M6 500i had the edge in transients. One obvious conclusion to be drawn about the effect of the preamp as regards these results is that a combination of mixed brands is sometimes far more efficacious, especially in light of the technological advantages of the Teo Liquid, as to be revealed soon. When such an unexpectedly powerful synergy is not available, then indeed a well made integrated could be most pleasing to the ear.

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