Thursday, 27 October 2011

Confined Space: Musical Fidelity M1 HPA

Confined space in general has always been considered as a hazardous area, well at least in the oil and gas industry. There are also people who cannot stand being in a small area or room for a long time due to claustrophobic.

In hifi world,the terms of openness, airy, liveliness etc are widely use to describe how the music flow right from the source to the amp and to the speakers and provide the listener with all these experiences that can be described in the terms above.

Big speakers are usually related to big rooms in order for them to sing. Heck, I got a bashing for buying D18s in putting them in a small room. But hey, me ears are telling me that those speakers are filling up my room with music nicely.

Now, if we often describe the experience we feel with our system to be fulfilling in a given room size, how then there is a big following of so called head-fi??? Whom majority of them have confined their listening pleasure to a set of cans around their ears? Are they missing something that hifi and audiophiles quest for? Cost is no longer a strong reason for people to say that head-fi is cheaper than hi-fi hobby. I have listens to a pair of cans that cost RM25K, nearly double the price of my D18s. And I saw one guy walk away with purchasing it a few months back. !!!!

Enough of rambling. This is a story of how my recently conversion into the dark side was even further darkened by the introduction of Musical Fidelity M1 HPA. Coincidently HPA stands for Head Phone Amp. The idea of using headphones for listening pleasure came to me about 15 years ago but I was not introduced to it properly. I didnt enjoy the confined listening area around my ears. Never got into it again until I got my second child in 2010. Had to start thinking of option to enjoy music without waking up the kid.

Long story short, I went from Musical Fidelity X-Can V2 to X-Can V3 and to M1 HPA within less than 2 years period. And this HPA have further strengthen my believe towards the wonderful dark side of LP.

I have gone through most of the LPs I have now on both D18s speakers driven by MF M6i amp and also a pair of Alessandro Grado MS Pro cans driven by M1 HPA. Both methods gave me a different perspective of the LPs I play.

Here I give you a fe examples.

1. Brand new Diana Krall Quiet Nights - Via the D18s, her vocals were very transparent, fulfilling with a slight touch of low end especially on the Ipanema track. The details of each instrument was defined and well balanced. Of course the LP being brand new, didnt hear any crack and pops. Switch to the MS Pro cans, I didnt loose any of these characteristics. But wait, I gained something else, a sense of space. I feel like I was in the studio where Diana Krall was recording the album. Listening through the cans gave me this enclosed and more control over the reproduction of the album. I though my mind was playing tricks on me. I did the same comparision with Andrea Bocelli's album. It confirms further that confined is not always hazardous Smile

2. Now, vocal-based artists and albums are sometimes easier to comment on their good recording. But how about some heavy metal and rock stuff. Out went Diana and came in Guns & Roses. Still one of my beloved LPs thus fars, Spaghetti Indicent. PLaying Since I dont Have You on D18s just gives me the rocking sensation. The growling guitar of Slash and and the subtle drumming on this track can be considered to me as one of the fine moments of Guns N Roses in their career.The atmospehere it creates in my room was very lively and full of energy. And this was at my normal moderate listening level of 10 o clock on the knob.

Switch to HPA, hhhhhmmmmmm....bass was heaviers and defined, Axl's vocal strength was further refinedwith such balance with the guitar. Its even easier to hear the separation between vocals and instruments used on this track. Again, it gave me this feeling of me being in the recording studio with them.

3. Last example, went in Black Dog Bone. This was an LP from the 70s that is worth every cent (out of Rm40 I paid for it hehehe). I really love the quality (and the simplicity of the recording) from that era. It was clear that the band had fun recording the album. I can really feel that their songs blaring through my D18s have managed to give me this sensation of being in the 70s although I was only born in late 70s.

Switch to HPA and it became a bit too harsh mainly because the cracks and pops were much more evident and the ones that I could tolerate via the D18s, it were too loud for cans.

So, for TT lovers, try out headphones for a more defined experiences with LPs. However, ensure that you are exposed to head-fi properly. Dont make the same mistake I made 15 years ago. Mistake meaning I was listening to a RM15 headphone bought from TTDI pasar malam hehehehe. Get a dedicated headphone amp and a good pair of cans.

Finally, a little bit on M1 HPA.

Its a pure class A headphone amp with low impedance to drive cans with low distortion. I have tested this HPA with 5 different headphones:

1. Alessandro Grado MS Pro

2. Bose Over the Ear

3. Bose QC 15

4. Monster Dr. Dre Beat Studio

5. Sennheiaser PX100

All of them were driven nicely with no sound of stress nor distortion. For moderate listening, 9 o' clock on the knob is sufficient.


The HPA comes in a similar black ash metal shoe box casing like MF's other M1 kit. Sturdily and stylishly builts. Very sleek look. The PSU is built in and power via a good 3 pin plug. I however changed the power cable to QED Conduit just because I had a spare unit.


It comes with the following:

1. 1 x Line input

2. 1 x USB input (like MF other M1 kit, limited to 48 KhZ)

3. 1 x pre out

4. 1 x line out

5. 2 x headphone sockets

There you go. Another M1 kit that made it nicely onto my rack.