Musical Fidelity M1 DAC Page 2

Meanwhile, I could not try the M1 DAC with my Mac mini because it requires the Snow Leopard or later version of the OS X operating system(OS X 10.6). I can't upgrade OS X because my G4-based computer is too old, so I'm stuck with Panther or Leopard. If I wanted to force the issue—work with my Mac's Audio MIDI setup, for instance—I perhaps could, but I didn't want to screw up my settings, since I have got my original Mac mini to work with my Musical Fidelity X-CanV8 headphone amp. (More later.)

Upsampling is that vexatious business involving bogus bits—bogus in that a "Red Book" CD, still my format of choice (heh-heh), has 16 bits, and that's all. Upsampling—which also extends the word length from 16 to 24 bits—is handled by a Crystal chip. Two Burr-Brown chips, in dual-differential mode, handle the D/A conversion. You need to know this? What are you going to do? Antony asked on an earlier occasion. Buy a pair of Burr-Brown chips?

The M1 DAC offers two analog output options: standard RCAs and, for the first time in a DAC by or from Musical Fidelity, a pair of balanced XLR connectors. Dual-differential means that the noise from one Burr-Brown chip partially cancels out the noise from the other. In a high-end Musical Fidelity system—that is, one from Musical Fidelity—you could run balanced from the M1 to a Primo line stage to a pair of Titan power amplifiers. But this is not a big deal. You still benefit from dual-differential mode even if you use the unbalanced RCA analog outputs. Capisce? I wish I did.

John Atkinson himself has called upsampling a "magic bullet." Or did he say it wasn't a magic bullet? In either event, maybe it is, in that the effect of upsampling is to make the most of the 16 bits that are encoded on a "Red Book" CD. You further resolve what is there by adding something that isn't. Digital prestidigitation. Or . . . magic bullet.

Why get hung up on this shit? The big deal with the M1 DAC is its choke-regulated power supply—in effect, a built-in mains line conditioner. A choke is an inductor. (With its iron core, it looks like a transformer.) An inductor keeps current from changing quickly. This smoothes out ripples in the voltage waveform, and generally results in smoother sound. There are drawbacks: A choke must be properly implemented, or it can almost literally choke the sound quality. Chokes are expensive. One does not expect to find a choke-regulated power supply in a $699 DAC.

While we're on the topic, the M1 does not have a crappy wall wart. You couldn't fit a choke-regulated power supply inside a wall wart anyway. So, if you wanted to, you could go on a binge of power cords—er, power cables. Dealers may encourage you to do this: Wires are where the fat profit margins are.

Mention hyperexpensive interconnects, cables, and power cords, and Antony gets miffed. He rightly points out that overspending on wires results in what he calls "a misallocation of resources"— ie, the customer has less to spend on electronics from or by Musical Fidelity. He told me about one audiophile bloke who spent more on wires than he did on his electronics. He was less than satisfied with his system. You might say that expensive cables wrecked his hi-fi experience. (Antony didn't say; I surmised.)

I first tried the M1 DAC in our living room, in place of a Cambridge Audio DAC Magic. I used my LFD Mk.IV integrated amplifier, which Antony surely considers underpowered at 50 or 60W into 8 ohms. The LFD is no Titan. Speakers were Triangle's 30th Anniversaire Comètes, a pair of which I hope you acquire while you still can. I used a Sony SCD-XA777ES SACD player as a transport, so I could readily compare "Red Book" CD, through the M1, with SACD, just by switching layers and changing inputs on the LFD. Later, I took the M1 DAC upstairs to play with his brother, the M1 HPA headphone amplifier.

The M1 DAC is one of the reasons I went gaga over these limited-edition Triangle speakers, which cost $1795/pair (plus suitable stands, which you might already own). Je ris mon mauvais rire. This speaker is so resolving and exquisitely extended, and sells for a song. It cries out for an M1 DAC by Musical Fidelity. (This "by" business bugs me. Either it's a Musical Fidelity product or it's not.)

I did not hear a day/night difference between the M1 DAC and the excellent Cambridge Audio DAC Magic, which, at $449, is also a superlative bargain. But I did note an improvement, and perhaps the M1's choke-regulated power supply played a key role in that. I wonder what a DAC Magic might sound like, liberated from its wall wart and given a choke-regulated supply of its own. You'd probably wind up with an M1.

With the M1 DAC, I heard a degree of low-level resolution I'd never before heard from a DAC. I think this may have had to do with the M1's astonishingly low noise floor: an absence of hash, of electronic grunge, of anything that compromised purity or sweetness of tone. La restitution sonore—something that French hi-fi scribes rattle on about, but beer-drinking Britcrits largely ignore in favor of toe-tapping.

Musical Fidelity Ltd.
US distributor: Tempo Distribution LLC
PO Box 541443
Waltham, MA 02454-1443
(617) 314-9227
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