Musical Fidelity M1 DAC Page 3

There was bite, too. The M1 DAC was anything but too polite—like, perhaps inherently, SACD: the very format seems to round off everything. There are many times when I want my music edgy, even raucous. Been to any string-quartet recitals lately? I have, and the music is meant to put you on edge: that's the point. Don't look to the M1 DAC to make a system's sound excessively polite. Or the DAC Magic, either—by Cambridge Audio.

The sound of brass instruments on fine classical recordings was breathtaking—so alive I almost jumped from my seat. Woodwinds, too, were ravishing. Transients were cleanly, crisply articulated, which is no doubt why brass sometimes came out and bit me on the ass. Maksim, our cat, was transfixed.

Then I did something that for Antony is a total no-no. I used a George Hi-Fi Lightspeed passive attenuator into my 3.5Wpc Sun Audio SV-2A3 amplifier. I can almost hear Antony's disdain. Three and a half watts? Antony would suggest 300W, or even 1000W. But maybe, instead of piling on more power, you should turn down the volume. Or just get a proper headphone amp?

For sure, 3.5W did dynamically constrain the Triangle speakers in our living room, which is almost too large for them anyway, according to the manufacturer's recommendation. But the harmonic presentation was nothing short of flabbergasting. As a former (very poor) pianist myself, I look for the magic of the moment—the sound, not so much the movement, of the notes. I know that, in musical performance, timing is everything. Still . . .

I didn't play a single audiophile-fave recording during any listening session. If an audiophile recommends something, it goes on my no-play list. I deliberately sought out less-than-stellar material, including 1920s and '30s pop and jazz and historical classical performances, especially on the Archipel label. Some of these are reissues of recordings, more than 50 years old, that were once issue on the once-major record labels. (In most the world, where the Sonny Bono copyright law does not apply, recordings 50 years old and older are public domain.) Other Archipel releases are concert performances that somehow escaped into the public domain. These would be deemed "bootlegs" in the US. Archipel deserves exceptional praise for making the best of source material that is often poor—and sometimes excellent!

While I had the Sony SCD-XA777ES as a transport, I tried comparing some SACDs—including one of James Levine conducting the Boston Symphony Orchestra in Mozart's symphonies 14, 18, 20, 38, and 41, issued on the orchestra's own label (2 SACD/CDs, BSO Classics 1001)—the once-major labels no longer seem interested in what goes on at Symphony Hall. This is the kind of decadent, full-orchestra, overripe Mozart that Erich Leinsdorf performed so superbly with the BSO. Gemütlich Mozart? Would you like a little Viennese schmaltz with your Köchel listing? Sometimes I do—period performances can be too piercing. Which is to say, I enjoy decadence. The SCD-XA77ES, by Sony, is a superlative machine. Too bad Sony didn't support SACD by releasing more recordings in the format—I might have changed my tune. Too late now.

I strained to hear differences between the two-channel SACD and CD layers. The former sounded more polished, more polite, the latter a little scrappier, edgier. I'm not sure which I preferred—which is to say that the M1 DAC seemed to elevate "Red Book" CD sound to near parity with SACD. Or maybe better. I don't know, I just write. I do know that I loathe surround sound; and if the failure, so far, of SACD has helped preserve two-channel, so much the better. Stereo is a gift from God via Alan Blumlein—a gift like two ears. Or two testicles. Two-channel sound is why I so often flee to headphones.

Summing Up
What I mainly heard from the M1 DAC was nothing: an absence of artifacts, if you want to get fancy. There was no fudging of detail, no smearing of transients. Purity of tone was exceptional—and this remained true when I took the M1 DAC upstairs to play with its brother, the M1 HPA headphone amp. So addictive is this DAC that I can't bear to replace it with another—and now I'm commuting with the M1 as I listen. Downstairs. Upstairs. Downstairs again . . .

Some dealers offer the M1 DAC with a money-back guarantee. Before you judge its sound, let it run in—let it stay on passing music—for at least 100 hours. I think you'll keep it.

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?