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Musical Fidelity V90-DAC & M1PWR Amplifier Review

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Assessment In Audio System

In the assessment of these products I varied my ancillary components from the affordable Cambridge Audio Azur 840E Preamplifier to the svelte Pass Labs XP-20 Preamplifier, and for comparison in amplification used the Wells Audio Innamorata and Pass Labs X600.5 Monoblock Amplifiers. These are very well regarded components at multiples more cost than the M1 series DAC and amplifier under review. If the V90-DAC and M1PWR stood up relatively well it would be a victory for these entry level products.

In working with the V90-DAC I replaced the well-loved Eastern Electric Minimax DAC Plus unit, which tangentially I had spent inordinate hours assessing and writing up chip aftermarket Opamps and eventually specialty discrete Opamps. Glancing at the puny 1 pound V90 unit I thought, “It looks like a joke.” I wasn’t laughing when I heard it! One reason I chose to give the V90 a chance is because it is a 32 bit DAC, and frankly, I would rather try one of them than a 24 bit DAC. Perhaps the universal law of DAC processing power has not been written yet, but my experience has been that of the DACs I have used any 32 bit DAC has bested any 24 bit. I can hear the tech-heads raging now, “There is a lot more to design and function of a DAC than the processing rate…!” Certainly, other variables such as the power supply are important but they have never overcome that one fundamental advantage of 32 bit processing capacity.

I remain undeclared in regard to one unheard exception, the 24 bit processing DAC with 384kHz frequency. That could conceivably tilt the field in favor of 24 bit versus 32 bit 192 kHz. Aside from that I’m not overly eager to spend time with 24bit players and DACs as it seems a bit rusty technology, at least rusty sounding. Manufacturers who wish to prove me wrong with a demo are invited to contact me.

The V90-DAC was somewhat better in definition, elucidation of musical passages, three-dimensionality of soundstage and creating the acoustic envelope of instruments and voices than the Eastern Electric Minimax DAC Plus, even with the discrete Opamps. For ultimate compatibility with the assembled components all I had to do was swap the digital coaxial cable to generate a sonic sea change. The benefit was so pronounced that I didn’t conduct my usual swapping of power cords. Sadly, the V90-DAC comes with a manifestly inferior throw-away 12V power supply/cord. Usually in order to dial in a component I find it necessary to adjust the power cords elsewhere in the system but in this particular case it was unnecessary, and that indicates the V90-DAC operates at an extremely high performance level relative to its cost.

As astounding the performance of this micro DAC it has some weaknesses including its weight; a single heavy digital cable or pair of output interconnects can pull it off its footers. The unit in my system now balances on its hind feet, face to sky, and can even be pulled completely off the shelf inadvertently. I never envisioned myself lauding a product which could fall off a shelf, but the sound is undeniable. The cables seem to be reining it in on top of the M1CDT Transport currently, but worrisome owners can always rig a safety harness from a strip or two of Velcro. Further, there are limited input options including 1 coaxial digital SPDIF at up to 32-192kbps (16-24 bit stereo PCM) , 1 USB type B Asynchronous up to 24/96kHz, and two TOSLINK optical 32-96kbps (16-24 bit stereo PCM). Since I am using Sonos with a coaxial output I have to switch cables between the transport and Sonos unit. The thought strikes me that at such a paltry price one could simply install a second V90 and not have to bother with constantly changing cables.

Musical Fidelity M1PWR Amplifier

Little Power House

I thoroughly enjoy Class D amplification as an alternative to the onerous qualities of bigger traditional amps. The M1PWR is farther along in its product life cycle than most components I review. I am keen to get my hands on new designs, however in this instance I am grateful that I did not dismiss the amp due to its length of time on the market. The capability is such that it was a bargain when it was introduced, but now it is a gift to the audio community!

I used the M1PWR with four speaker systems, three of them capable of the finest sound reproduction; the reference quality Legacy Audio Whisper Clarity Edition,  Kingsound King III electrostatic, Daedalus Ulysses, and the far less known Kirksaeter  Silverline 220. In each case the M1PWR propelled the speakers to their finest hour in terms of crystalline clarity, laser sharp refinement of images, super-clean Bass and deft, extremely delicate Treble. I have had many notable Class A or A/B designs which were not able to accomplish all these things!

One of my audio friends is a tube and vinyl fan and he was also surprised at the level of quality from such an unassuming product. As usual in assessment of it as a solid state product he thought the amp did not have enough robustness. However, he has said this of every solid state amp I have ever used or reviewed. At times I wonder if I were to create a faux tube amp by cleverly affixing some tubes to a SS design whether he would judge it to be warm enough.

As we love to politely joust regarding our listening experience I replied that he is into distortion wherein he literally prefers a less precise sound if it is fuller or thicker. He pays less attention to the Treble than the bass, so if the Treble is rolled off or the shine of the high end muted it does not bother him. But it bothers me, as I want extreme detail and definition, as I see reality being extreme in detail and definition. We sat nit-picking each other’s preference for the better part of a half hour, a very enjoyable process of whittling down one’s hard criteria for exceptional sound. It is fun to do so with another audiophile as long as it is cordial; get someone who thinks it’s all about coming out on top with their preferred sound being the best and it grows tiresome quickly. That we sat deliberating the merits of two amplification schemes, one being the Pass Labs X600.5 Monoblock amps and the other a pair of the humble $500 M1PWR in mono mode is a testament to the ability of the Musical Fidelity amp to excel in aspects of sound quality.

The truth is that the M1PWR is capable of such respectable sound that it is unnerving for the refined audiophile. It is symbolic of a technological sea change occurring in the industry, namely that Class A and A/B amps have another peer with which to contend. I am in touch with other industry insiders who share among themselves that certain Class D designs cede no ground to the best solid state amps, and, I might add, a surprising number of tube amps! I cannot help but anticipate the youthful technology of Class D over time usurping the others, and I believe it will happen sooner than later. With the sound of the M1PWR representative of what can be done with switching module amps the impetus to spend tens of thousands, or even thousands, more on an amp becomes a more difficult sell.

Musical Fidelity M1PWR Amplifier Rear View

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.

    Mario

  2. Richard Behling says:

    You owe it to yourself to review a D-Sonic high power amplifier.
    http://www.d-sonic.net

  3. Dan says:

    Hello,
    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)
    Thanks

  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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