Musical Fidelity V90-DAC D/A processor

They can't sound very good—they're not big enough. As we all know, in hi-fi, big products mean big performance. Musical Fidelity's V90 series can't be any good. They don't cost enough. With your golden ears, you must pay through the nose.

The V90 components turn all this around. They are tiny. Inexpensive. Beautifully built.

Your friends will laugh when you turn on your DAC. Or phono preamp. Or Bluetooth receiver (the V90 series now includes the V90-BLU). But, of course, audiophiles must forgo the pleasures of Bluetooth. Too easy. Too simple. Too much free music from thousands of sources around the globe.

I've been enjoying the V models since Musical Fidelity's founder and CEO, Antony Michaelson, introduced them four years ago. The V-DAC II and V-CAN II headphone amplifier have been references.

So when Antony introduced the third generation of V components, he gave me a bell, as they say in London. Which would I like to review?

All of them.

From V to V90
The V series has taken a 90° turn—a V-Tilt, if you like. The V90s are the third wave of Antony's mini-marvels that does not include a V-Tilt. No point in telling you what a V-Tilt was, since the long-ago-promised product never materialized.

Instead of slim and deep, the V90 components are 6.6" (170mm) wide by 4" (102mm) deep. This allows more space for connectors, switches, and knobs, as appropriate. The height remains 1.8" (47mm), and each V90 model averages about 1.3 lbs (600gm), not counting the new wall-wart power supplies that no longer hog two electrical outlets. Inspired by Steve Jobs or the Beatles, Antony packages the V90s in attractive white boxes. Dealers can dangle them from display hooks near the cash register. Small-box retailers!

Made in Taiwan, the V90 components are designed in England, especially for Alistair, Clive, and Nigel—you know, for chaps whose wives dole out their allowances. Sneak them into the house. Hide them behind your proper gear or some liquor bottles.

Antony cautions customers not to open a V90's case: there are no "user-serviceable" parts inside, and "tampering" will invalidate the warranty. "If customers did open the boxes, they would see mostly air there," he told me. "We use surface-mounted components for better reliability and short signal paths." Something like that. My tape recorder is busted.

"Then why buy your more expensive stuff?" I asked.

The industry's trend is to bloat the size and boost the price, but Antony takes the opposite tack. Of course, he makes more expensive DACs, headphone amps, phono preamps, the like. The idea of the V90 series is to approach those models' performance at a fraction of the size and a mere slice of the price.

The Musical Fidelity V90-DAC replaces the venerable V-DAC II, a sample of which has been part of my living-room system for two years. The V-DAC II is a very fine DAC. If you own one, maybe you don't need to upgrade.

The V90-DAC uses Burr-Brown's 32-bit PCM1795 chip. A two-channel sample-rate converter supports word lengths up to 24 bits and upsamples at 192kHz. A Texas Instruments streaming controller handles up to 24-bit/96kHz asynchronous via USB. The V90-DAC has not joined "the DSD Movement."

"Well, that would mean a separate DAC and a higher price," Antony replied by phone. Of course, he's planning to offer a DSD-capable DAC, but it won't cost $299, like the V90-DAC. There's a price for joining any movement.

Meanwhile, over the holidays, my kids bestowed on me four boxes of classical recordings comprising a total of 237 "Red Book" CDs. $25 digital downloads? I'm busy for a while. The Artur Rubinstein box alone contains 142 CDs and a hardcover book; the kids grabbed it for $96. That's 68¢ a disc.

414vdac.blu.jpg

On the V90-DAC's rear panel are RCA analog outputs, a USB input, and three S/PDIF outputs: one coaxial and two optical TosLink. The coaxial input operates at sample rates up to 192kHz, the optical and USB up to 96kHz, all with 24-bit word length. If you have a Bluetooth receiver with digital output(s), you can bypass its "native" DAC and run the signal through the V90-DAC, as I did with Musical Fidelity's V90-BLU and Arcam's rBlink. I used Musical Fidelity's M1CDT transport for spinning silver devils.

My head is spinning. I haven't even opened the 23-CD Leon Fleisher box. Compared to the V-DAC II, the V90 DAC offers still greater low-level resolution, superior dynamics, and fatigue-free listening. It does space and place particularly well, and really shines with brass, where lesser DACs tend to turn dull. The Brass Ear would love it.

COMPANY INFO
Musical Fidelity Limited
US distributor: Musical Fidelity North America
PO Box 51206
Phoenix, AZ 85076
(480) 297-4053
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COMMENTS
awehns's picture

So what is the difference between fig. 8 and 9?

John Atkinson's picture
awehns wrote:
So what is the difference between fig. 8 and 9?

Both show the waveform of a 1kHz tone at -90.31dBFS. Fig.8 shows the waveform with undithered 16-bit data, fig.9 that with undithered 24-bit data. Despite the lack of dither, the 24-bit waveform resembles a good sinewave, confirming the V90 DAC's excellent resolution.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

audiolab's picture

Fig 8 = 16 bit
Fig 9 = 24 bit
"Linearity error with 16-bit data was very low, at less than ±1dB to –110dB (fig.7), while the V90-DAC's reproduction of an undithered sinewave at exactly –90.31dBFS was excellent, with the three DC voltage levels described by the data well defined (fig.8). With 24-bit data at the same level the result was a well-defined sinewave (fig.9), though both the 16- and 24-bit waveforms were overlaid with intermittent high-frequency noise."

Scorpio69er's picture

"But from my own listening and my comparisons with the outstanding Auralic Vega and my workhorse Benchmark DAC1..."

Without controlled double-blind testing, subjective opinion about alleged sonic differences between DACs (or cables, etc.) is just nonsense.

"Audio as a hobby is dying, largely by its own hand. As far as the real world is concerned, high-end audio lost its credibility during the 1980s, when it flatly refused to submit to the kind of basic honesty controls (double-blind testing, for example) that had legitimized every other serious scientific endeavor since Pascal. [This refusal] is a source of endless derisive amusement among rational people and of perpetual embarrassment for me, because I am associated by so many people with the mess my disciples made of spreading my gospel...Remember those loudspeaker shoot-outs we used to have during our annual writer gatherings in Santa Fe? The frequent occasions when various reviewers would repeatedly choose the same loudspeaker as their favorite (or least-favorite) model? That was all the proof needed that [blind] testing does work, aside from the fact that it's (still) the only honest kind. It also suggested that simple ear training, with DBT confirmation, could have built the kind of listening confidence among talented reviewers that might have made a world of difference in the outcome of high-end audio."
--J.Gordon Holt
http://www.stereophile.com/asweseeit/1107awsi/index.html

John Atkinson's picture
Scorpio69er wrote:
Without controlled double-blind testing, subjective opinion about alleged sonic differences between DACs (or cables, etc.) is just nonsense.

If you feel that way, then why on Earth would you read Stereophile or its website?

Scorpio69er wrote:
J.Gordon Holt: http://www.stereophile.com/asweseeit/1107awsi/index.html

It is fair to point out that the late Gordon Holt almost never practiced what he preached in this interview I conducted before his passing, with respect to double-blind tests. All Gordon's review auditioning was performed under sighted conditions and the only blind tests in which he participated after I replaced him as editor in 1986 were ones that I organized.

Please go peddle your trolls somewhere else.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

Scorpio69er's picture

You don't bother much with credibility, do you?

re: "why on Earth would you read Stereophile or its website?"

Perhaps in the vain hope that you guys will, someday, live up to the legacy of JGH.

But I'm not holding my breath.

Further, I was reading Stereophile and corresponding with its writers long before you ever showed up. The issue of subjective testing was questioned and discussed within its (paper) pages. Back then, there was a genuine concern with truth. And there was also a sense of humor about this obsession. You may recall the Bob Carver amp challenge, which Carver won. That was honesty.

re: "the late Gordon Holt almost never practiced what he preached in this interview"

Within the interview, he talked about "those [blind] loudspeaker shoot-outs we used to have during our annual writer gatherings in Santa Fe". He also understood quite well, as he articulated, that "[blind] testing does work, aside from the fact that it's (still) the only honest kind". So JGH understood full well the validity of DBT, and, indeed, had he remained at the helm of Stereophile, that is the direction he would have certainly gone, since he was concerned with honesty and credibility.

re: "Please go peddle your trolls somewhere else."

Oh, I'm so sorry! I didn't realize that this had become the audiophile equivalent of the Rush Limbaugh show!

RUSH: "The earth is flat, by golly -- and that's the truth!"
CALLER: "Ditto, Rush!"

You, sir, can kiss my, er, amp. ☺

John Atkinson's picture
Scorpio69er wrote:
John Atkinson wrote:
the late Gordon Holt almost never practiced what he preached in this interview

Within the interview, he talked about "those [blind] loudspeaker shoot-outs we used to have during our annual writer gatherings in Santa Fe."

Yes, and as I wrote above, "the only blind tests in which [Gordon] participated after I replaced him as editor in 1986 were ones that I organized." It is those tests to which Gordon was referring in the text that you are quoting. Despite his advocacy of blind testing in my 2007 interview with him, Gordon performed all his review listening under sighted conditions, just as he had been doing since launching Stereophile in 1962.

Scorpio69er wrote:
had [Gordon Holt] remained at the helm of Stereophile, that is the direction he would have certainly gone.

Gordon worked for Larry Archibald and for me for 17 years since selling Stereophile. In all that time he was free to practice blind tests if he so wished. The fact is that he didn't so wish, even after trying the ABX comparator box. So please stop projecting your fantasies on to Gordon who, sadly, is no longer here to speak for himself.

Scorpio69er wrote:
You, sir, can kiss my, er, amp.

You don't like or appreciate what Stereophile does, please stop reading the magazine.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

Scorpio69er's picture

re: "stop projecting your fantasies on to Gordon who, sadly, is no longer here to speak for himself."

So you'll speak for him, since he's no longer here. Yeah. Right. But we are to ignore his own published (right here in Stereophile!) words. That's just me "projecting". Got it.

re: "You don't like or appreciate what Stereophile does, please stop reading the magazine."

Gee, can I get you a crying towel?

What "Stereophile does" is proclaim that various mega-expensive DACs, cables, etc, possess sonic attributes not possessed by standard items (that meet the required specs for the job at hand). But it flat refuses to validate any of its claims with what JGH plainly stated were "the kind of basic honesty controls (double-blind testing, for example) that had legitimized every other serious scientific endeavor since Pascal." Then, your poor feathers are ruffled when questioned about this nonsense. Cry me a river. You recommend gear that cost more than most folks make in a year, but whine when asked to justify it, scientifically. Audio reproduction is, after all, science -- not magic. Oh, that darn icky science stuff!

As noted, I was reading Stereophile before you ever got here, and I'll be reading it -- and holding its feet to the fire -- long after you've gone the way of the eight-track cartridge. After all, someone has to hold up the legacy of JGH around here!

ChrisS's picture

Hey sixtyniner!

Still going on about DBT...when nobody else is?

Where is the Calvary of Truth?

Where are your Minions of Science?

Just you?

Oh, dear.

Must be lonely.

ChrisS's picture

Hey sixtyniner, again!

Did you know you were paying John Atkinson's salary each time you buy a copy of Stereophile?

How comical is that?!

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