Musical Fidelity M6DAC D/A processor Page 2

Out of the box, my first impression of the M6DAC's character was its natural-sounding midrange. The late mezzo-soprano Lorraine Hunt Lieberson's rich, creamy-toned performance of "E Viva Ancora," from Handel's opera Ariodante (ALC file ripped from CD, Wigmore Hall Live 0013), sounded both superbly natural and free from treble grain. Accompanist Roger Vignoles's piano was set back in the supportive Wigmore Hall acoustic, a venue I used to attend regularly when I lived in England.

But the M6DAC's forceful low frequencies emerged as a consistent factor in my auditioning, reminding me of my long-term reference DAC, the audaciously priced Mark Levinson No.30.6. The bass guitar in "Lullaby," from Leonard Cohen's Old Ideas (CD, Columbia 8697-98671-2), sounded appropriately "phat," with an optimal combination of purr and weight, the leading edges of its notes nicely defined by the ping resulting from wire-wound strings and a touch of presence-region equalization. (The album's credits indicate that a bass synth was used on this track; if the bass line is indeed a bass synth, I will resign my membership in the Audiophile Reviewers' Cigars'n'Cognac Society, Bass Guitarists' Section.)

The big orchestral bass drum in Malcolm Arnold's overture Beckus the Dandipratt, with the composer conducting the London Philharmonic Orchestra (24/176.4 ALAC file transcoded from WAV file, Reference HR-48), had impressive weight. Orchestral music was generally presented with a rich balance and a wide, deep, stable soundstage. At the 2013 Axpona show, pianist George Vachnadze, of Chicago audio retailer Kyomi Audio, lent me a CD of his 1996 performance of Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto 2, with the Tbilisi Symphony Orchestra conducted by the late Jansug Kakhidze (Sony Classical Infinity Digital 62294). I had recorded George for a live-vs-recorded dem in Maryland back in 2009, and during the sound check he had played an excerpt from this melodically rich concerto. This CD fulfills the promise of what I had heard in that fragment. Through the Musical Fidelity M6DAC, the piano sound was rich, with extended low frequencies, if projected a little forward of the accompanying orchestra. And George brings out the muscular lyricism in this wonderful music.

Comparisons
I compared the M6DAC with three other D/A processors that bracket its price, though I wish I still had on hand our review sample of NAD's M51, which Jon Iverson reviewed in July 2012. and which offers extraordinary resolution, rivaling the M6DAC's, for just $2000. The M51 has long since been returned to NAD, however, so my first comparison was with Musical Fidelity's own M1DAC ($749).

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With levels matched to within 0.1dB at 1kHz, the M6 was tonally identical to the M1. However, it sounded more refined than the less-expensive DAC with Gina Bachauer's performance of Brahms's Piano Concerto 1, with Antal Dorati conducting the London Symphony (CD, Chesky CD36, engineered and produced in 1967 by the RCA/Reader's Digest dream team of Kenneth Wilkinson and Chuck Gerhardt). The highs were cleaner, the soundstage deeper, the lows subjectively more extended, with greater authority given to the piano's lower register. Mick Fleetwoood's supremely intelligent drum patterns in "Rhiannon," from Fleetwood Mac's The Dance (CD, Reprise 46702-2), had more weight through the '6 than the '1, and this recording's glassy-sounding treble was less irritating with the more expensive DAC.

Next up was the M2Tech combination of Young and Palmer Power Station ($2748), which Jon Iverson enthusiastically reviewed in May, again with levels matched at 1kHz. The Young's measured resolution equaled the M6DAC's, and the Young is certainly a top-class DAC. Miles Davis's trumpet and Cannonball Adderley's alto sax in "Autumn Leaves," from Adderley's Somethin' Else (24/96 ALAC files ripped from DVD-Video, Blue Note/Classic DAD1022), had a palpable presence through the M2Tech combo, with solid imaging. However, there was a touch more bite to the M2Tech's high frequencies that might make system matching more difficult. And with 16-bit/44.1kHz material, such as pianist Wolf Harden's recording of Busoni's virtuosic Variations and Fugue on Chopin's Prelude in c (CD, Naxos 8.555699), the M2Tech Young DAC lacked the M6DAC's low-frequency majesty. John Bonham's drums on Led Zeppelin's How the West Was Won (24/48 Apple Lossless files ripped from DVD-A, Atlantic 83587-9) were a little less visceral, a little less explosive.

My final series of comparisons was with the Arcam FMJ D33, which I reviewed in February 2013 ($3200). The Arcam uses the Burr-Brown PCM1792 DAC chip, not the Musical Fidelity's Burr-Brown DSD1796, which has greater specified dynamic range. However, the D33 has slightly lower measured resolution than the M6DAC. With the D33 set to my preferred Filter 1, which is an apodizing type, and adjusting for most of the 1.3dB-lower level of the M6DAC, The Dance sounded a distinctly softer and more laid-back through the Arcam than through the Musical Fidelity, with less authoritative low frequencies. The D33 also looks rather dowdy beside the M6DAC. However, the pianos in both Harden's Busoni and Vachnadze's Rachmaninoff were more solidly presented within the surrounding ambiences through the Arcam, with more of a sense of space around each instrument.

I preferred the Arcam's stereo imaging—it was more solid, more palpable than the Musical Fidelity's. However, changing to the FMJ D33's default Burr-Brown filter eliminated this difference between the two DACs, leaving me with the D33's less weighty low frequencies and softer sound.

Summing Up
Musical Fidelity's M6DAC is a superb-sounding, versatile D/A processor capable of handling high-resolution files via USB, which, along with its smart styling and excellent measured performance, might be thought sufficient to justify its $2999 price. Its Bluetooth capability sounded better than I expected it to, and on all of those grounds I recommend the M6DAC. But with three of its features offering little or no practical utility—the nonchoice between filters; the Level Adjust function, which would have been more useful as a proper volume control; and the de-emphasis Off choice, which might have been more useful as a de-emphasis On, for serial datastreams that lack the correct flag—I can't help thinking that a more universally useful DAC could have been produced from the same ingredients.

COMPANY INFO
Musical Fidelity Ltd.
US distributor: Musical Fidelity
PO Box 51206
Phoenix, AZ 85076
(480) 297-4053
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