Musical Fidelity M1 DAC

In 1989, Musical Fidelity introduced the Digilog, one of the world's first outboard digital-to-audio converters, or DACs. It was a bold move by a small company. Far larger companies, with more resources, were slower to do something about digital—specifically about the mediocre sound then available from the Compact Disc. Notable for its complacency was the then-prominent British hi-fi company Quad. Their advice at the time was to buy a Philips-based player and attenuate the signal so that most of your gain came from your Quad preamp. Good advice, but the sound still stank.

Thanks to such an attitude among Quad and many others, audiophiles were left with cost-ineffective modified players, or kludges. Problem was, these tweaked players were expensive—lots of skilled labor involved—and mechanically, the basic machine was still crap.

I think Meridian and Marantz were the first to offer CD players of very high quality. Others came around—notably Denon (which still produces some of the best players on the planet), Yamaha, Pioneer, Onkyo, and NEC. (Remember NEC? They got out of the hi-fi business. Stuff was damned good. I digress . . .)

The Musical Fidelity Digilog sold for $995, if I remember rightly. At the time, many hi-fi customers didn't know what it was because the category was being created—by Antony, among others. I remember explaining what it did in my column in October 1989 (Vol.12 No.10). The Digilog helped kill off the kludgemeisters.

Many more DACs followed from Musical Fidelity. I still own the Tri-Vista 21 DAC from 2003 and occasionally fire it up. That one sold in the US for $2395.

The M1 DAC is by Musical Fidelity. At $699, it's a stunning bargain. Comparing it to $995 for the Digilog in 1989. Meanwhile, the M1 is far more versatile, way better built, and, if memory serves me right, sounds vastly better.

It appears that the way to sell a DAC in 2011 is to almost give it away, in real-dollar terms. Some people pay far more than this for a set of speaker cables, a pair of interconnects, even a power cord. The M1 DAC is a piece of kit that can transform your system. I kid you not.

At the moment, the M1 is the only DAC available from or by Musical Fidelity, aside from the even less expensive V-DAC for $299. But we're not counting accessories—the V-DAC comes in a blister pack. Get one before they're gone, for a second system.

"The M1's technical performance is, pretty well, as good as any at any price," writes Antony Michaelson in the product information sheet, which is long on words (like me) and short on specs.

"Pretty well"? That does seem to leave room for a future DAC from Musical Fidelity. If such a DAC does appear, you can safely assume it will cost far more than $699. Meanwhile, save your money and run with the M1.

I am not in a position to judge the M1's technical performance. What, me measure?

Antony continued: "The M1 DAC has vanishingly low distortion, typically less than 0.005% across the band. Frequency response is ruler flat. Jitter is extremely low. The noise ratio is outstanding, one of the quietest DACs in the world regardless of price." Whereupon he invited comparison with DACs up to ten times the M1's price. No one has sent me a $7000 DAC lately. Or a $1000 DAC, for that matter.

Compared to previous Musical Fidelity DACs, the M1 offers more input options: coax, TosLink optical, AES balanced, USB. It locks on to any S/PDIF signal at 32, 44.1 ("Red Book" CD), 48, 88, 96, or 192kHz. All incoming data rates are upsampled to 192kHz. But what about an incoming USB signal? Is that more limited in terms of incoming data rates? Antony was not available and, with the Christmas holiday fast approaching, I didn't find out (footnote 1).

Footnote 1: The M1's USB input is limited to 48kHz and below and 16-bit data. For playback of high-resolution files with the M1DAC via USB, Musical Fidelity recommends using their V-Link asynchronous USB-S/PDIF converter ($169), which I favorably reviewed in April 2011.—John Atkinson.
Musical Fidelity Ltd.
US distributor: Tempo Distribution LLC
PO Box 541443
Waltham, MA 02454-1443
(617) 314-9227

Kal Rubinson's picture

The comparison of the CD layer via the M1 with the SACD layer via the Sony's DACs is hardly a way to compare the media.  That there was a difference is not surprising but I do not know how one can draw much meaning from it.


dtc's picture

From the measurements that John Atkinson reported, it looks like the M1 takes in 24/192 but that the output is limited to more like 24/96. The output for 24/96 input starts to dive after about 40 KHz as expected. Other high end DACs reach out to 60KHz  + output for 192 input. But with the M1 is looks like the 192 KHz signals doesn't do that. Seems like they updated in input to 192KHz but not the rest of the chain. Am I reading this right? Do you get any advantage from a 192KHz input with the M1?

treb74's picture

Based on JA's measurements, would the slightly higher noise in the left channel from the power supply result in a sense of channel imbalance when listening?