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Musical Fidelity V90-DAC & M1PWR Amplifier Review

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Musical Fidelity V90-DAC

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.

Giant Killers

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.

Musical Fidelity V90-DAC Rear View

Quick Overview

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.

5 Responses to Musical Fidelity V90-DAC & M1PWR Amplifier Review

  1. Mario Munos says:

    Good job reviewing the power amp. The DAC’s review, however, is hardly a complete review, particularly the comparison to the EE Minimax. No where you mention that the V90 is an upsampling DAC (to 192K , non-defeatable), while the EE Minimax does not upsample at all. Also, as other reviewer have measured, the V90 output runs almost 1dB louder, which although small is bound to trigger all sort of perceptions of subtle subjective sound preferences, thus, skewing that subjective opinion in favor of the V90,in a comparison with other DACs. So, the difference that you heard and prefered, must likely, was the combination of the higher output and the 192K upsampling. Besides matching outputs, a proper comparison would have been playing through the EE Minimax ripped files from the CDs used for the comparison, but upsampled to 192K (either on the fly or as previously upconverted files) using the appropriate media player/sample rate converter programs.


  2. Richard Behling says:

    You owe it to yourself to review a D-Sonic high power amplifier.

  3. Dan says:

    I’m running my MF M1 PWR in mono mode(200w) with 4 ohms Linn AV5140 speakers.
    Will I heard a Big difference if I switch to Stereo mode and Bi-amp both speakers.
    Stereo mode would be 130w on Highs and 130w Low per speaker into 4 ohms.(260w per speaker)

  4. Vahram Sahakian says:

    But the instructions /and all MF sites/ say։
    1x RCA coaxial connector SPDIF 32-192 kbps [!!!]
    2x TOSLINK optical connector 32-96 kbps {!!!]

    I have a question
    WHY kbps???
    Kbps is a file data rate unit!!!!

    Maybe it’s a mistake?

    Can be KHZ?

  5. Bob P. says:

    For the money, the M1 amp is a steal.. It is very clear and detailed, maybe a bit too precise. . However, all the sound comes through. I am using a vintage Conrad Johnson tube preamp with the M1. The combination of mellow tubes along with the precise sound of the M1 is a perfect match. If you are careful to match components, the M1 is a great choice at a great price.

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