Saturday, 13 April 2013

Musical Fidelity M1 SDAC - Review

Sneak peak of an upcoming review



Ok now is the real deal.

After 2 weeks of use...with 2 different ways to enjoy this Pre Amplifier... yes that is how MF has classified this product as. Its a pre amp with built in DAC. This unit can be used as a pre amp connected to a power amp and drive a pair of speakers, but it can also be used as a standalone headphone amp.

One thing that I notice about the packaging of this unit (and also the M6 DAC), it comes with a QC Passed label. I cant recall this label on my previous M6 and M1 kit. Well, it only further strengthen my confident in the product.

BUILT

The SDAC comes in the usual shoe box size casing, similar to other M1 range. It is however, feels slightly heavier than other kit due to its pre amp function I suppose. It weighs 3.3 kg and measures 220 mm x 100 mm x 310 mm.

It comes with a standard UK 3 pin plug. The remote is similar to othe M1 series remote. The good news (at least for me), the M6 DAC remote can fully control this unit as well. So for this review I do not have to unbox its own remote.

The light blue greyish LED display is big enough to be legible about 8 feet away. It shows the input you are on, the incoming digital signal freq and upsampling freq of 192 kHz.

It also comes with an antenna plus extension cable for its bluetooth capability and also USB192 driver CDROM


The front fascia includes a standby button with a blue (on) / amber (standby) LED soft button, a small and cutish dual function rotary knob. IR for remote and a 1/4" headphone jack. The rotary knob serves 2 functions:

1. Control the volume in 0.5 db steps
2. Press the knob and it goes to input selection

Refer to the video below.



The overall built, I would say acceptable for its price range. Knob feels sturdy and all digital and analogue inputs (RCA) and also the headphone jack provides tight fit to my interconnects.

SPECS

As oppose to the 24 bit DAC used in M6 DAC, MF went for a 32 bit DAC and a sample rate converter which asynchronously up samples all incoming rates to 192 kHz.

 


This unit comes with the following inputs and outputs:

INPUTS

1. 2 x coaxial
2. 1 x USB B asynchronous compatible with Windows, Apple and Linux OS
3. 1 x optical
4. 1 x AES Balanced
5. 2 x stereo RCA analgoue
6. 1 x Bluetooth with AptX and can store up 16 pairings.
7. 1 x 3.5 mm mono jack trigger in

NOTE: All inputs accepts native 24 bit 192kHz signal except for optical (96 kHz) and Bluetooth (16 bit 48 kHz)

OUTPUTS

1. 1 x coaxial
2. 1 x optical
3. 1 pair of pre out RCA
4. 1 x 3.5 mm mono jack trigger out

NOTE: All outputs allows native 24 bit 192kHz signal except for optical (96 kHz). Bluetooth signal is upsampled to 96kHz.

The pre out function will be muted when a headphone is attached to the jack.
The LCD display cannot be dimmed.

THE SET UP

1. Sony BDP 765 as transport with QED Coaxial Interconnect
2. Sony MDJA20ES connected with QED optical cable
3. ASUS Windows 7 laptop, using WMP and iTunes connected with Noops USB A-B cable
4. iPhone 5 and Blackberry Z10
5. The M1 SDAC connected to M1 PWR power amp with QED Signature interconnect
6. ProAc D18 speakers single run from M1 PWR amp with QED Silver XT Anniversary speaker cable
7. Headphones: Alessandro Grado MS Pro, BOSE Over the Ear

THE MUSIC

1. Zee Avi - Siboh Kitak Nangis (CD)
2. Andrea Bocelli - Time To Say Goodbye, Dare To Live, Vivo Per Lei, Because We Believe (CD, 192 kHz FLAC)
3. Foo Fighters - My Hero (CD, MP3 320 kbps/48 kHz)
4. The Eagles - Hotel California (CD, 192 kHz FLAC)
5. Joey Scarbury - Greatest American Hero (AAC)
6. Ella - Chinta Dahulu Kala With Azlan (MP3 48 kHz 256 kbps)
7. Gipsy Kings - A Mi Manera, Hotel California (MD)

THE SESSION

It was difficult for me to jump onto this SDAC since I have been listening to M6 DAC for the past 3  weeks or so. Just to 'reset'' my digital brain and 'erase' the M6 digital stamp, I went back to listening to black disc for the past  few days before hooking up the M1 SDAC. 

CD REPLAY

First to go in the Sony BDP765 is music from our local lass Zee Avi whom has made it big in the USA. Siboh Kitak Nangis is a song sang in Zee Avi's native language in Miri, Sarawak.

The ukelele on this track sounded very melodic and detail while vocals was very upfront. It felt like I was sitting right at the front seat of a jazz lounge. Quire lively experience, The best was to hear the mild scratch of the wire brush on the snare drums. Overall it was slightly dominated by the low end frequency, sounded a bit bassy which a bit of a surprise given the high frequency characteristics of the class D  power amp in the M1 PWR. Maybe this was Anthony Michaelson's plan all this long.... to match the SDAC with M1 PWR amp.

Andrea Bocelli's tracks reconfirm this. Dare To Live, Vivo Per Lei sounded a bass-ier than the usual lively and tonally balanced sound I hear on my set up. It does provide a full bodied sound and gets your adrenalin up with quite an authorative musical engagement. But it may still be a bit to bassy for some people. For me personally, for vocal based music, I would prefer a more natural sounding atmosphere.

Now, putting in Foo Fighters My Hero gave a a more realistic experience where it gave justice to how Foo Fighters wanted their audience to listen to their music. Full bodied, growling vocals, kick pedal heavy drums and roaring guitars. Two thumbs up for M1 SDAC for this experience. Its more natural and balanced throughout the whole musical spectrum.

Last but not least, Hotel California...the Live version. My my my... the kick pedal and guitar sound in the intro...is really really empowering. Again, it has this authorative sense ... as if it is saying to me - 'Hey dude, come and listen to me and I will rock you'. I do believe its the M1 SDAC doing this ...both the DAC and pre amp section because I dont believe the 70 wpc from the M1 PWR class D poweramp can give me this. I have tested this M1 PWR amp before with my CLiC and it was a different experience.

COMPUTER AUDIO SYSTEM - USB INPUT

Dont laugh.... but in the recent weeks, this old classic 80's song by Joey Scarbury have been playing on my mind, So browsed through iTunes and sure enough I found the song for $0.69.  Tested the The  Greatest American Hero  and it  made re-live my childhood nights for a moment. I remember watching this TV series with my late dad when I was growing up. The combination of this track and the M1 SDAC gave me this  emotion and thats what matters when listening to music. OK, the track of course is not the best of recordings.  The drums sounded flat  as most 80s songs are. Snare were rough and kick pedal were soft. But hey, this is not heavy metal. The vocals are transparent and most importantly, it did not sound digital and still have that 80's ambience. And this kind of musical engagement is what it is all about for me. Emotion runs high on this one.

Moving to another local artist, a duet by Malaysia's Queen of Rock ..Ella... with the growling vocals of Azlan...the front man of Azlan & The Typewrites. This was an excellent track to test the M1 SDAC. Rock vocals, heavy guitars and solid drumming. The low end reproduction of the SDAC balances out the screeching voice of Ella and gave more bass to Azlan's vocals which I need to admit that its not their usual natural sound. But I aactually like it this way. The drums and guitar of course was again very engaging and entertaining.

 OPTICAL

The few DAC's I have reviewed in the past few months have given a new life to my MD experience wwconnected to optical input.

Playing A Mi Manera which is basically a Spanish rendtion of Frank Sinatra's  My Way. The SDAC maintains its bassy sound which made the guitars on this track sound a bit muddled. But not to bad. When it comes to the solos, it sounded very lively.

The next track which an uptempo rendition of Hotel California. Again the guitars sounded a bit muddled but solos were great. Vocals were a bit flat. Still enjoyable but could not match my previous experience with NAD 390 DD digital amp and the now resident M6 DAC of mine which gave a big leap to the MD.

HEADPHONES

Now..... I would even buy this SDAC on its headphones capability alone. I was very surprised to go thorugh all the tracks above using my Alessandro Grado MSPro cans. The bassy sound from the M1 SDAC is there but it does not overshadow the high freq of the music. In other words, it compliments it and makes it sound more balanced. Truth be told, I spent a good 4 to 5 hours straight on this session.

It is  however still needs careful matching with the headphones. Using the BOSE Over the Ears, it became a little bit too bassy. Not the M1 SDAC's fault. It may come from the closed cup design of the BOSE.

BLUETOOTH

Similar to M6 DAC, the BT capability pretty impressive. Connectivity is simple enough even my 5 year old son knows how to connect his iPad to this unit. I came into my hifi room one day and saw him playing Smurfs with the sound coming out from my hifi !!! No dropouts throughout the 2 hour session I had on my Z10 aand iPhone 5.

The sound from my Z10 and iPhone 5 were refreshing and maintains the characteristics as above. Still on the low end side of the musical spectrum but at the same time, on certain songs could still provide that emotional connection expecially on one particular song that came in at random... P. Ramlee's Anak Dara Rindu.... Cant explain the emotion. For you local Malaysian lots... go and try to find this track. And its not even a well recorded track.


FINAL VERDICT

Looking for a well  equipped pre amp to match your power amp? Have both digital and analogue sources? Then one dont have to worry about insufficient inputs.

I would recommend this to match a lean power amp. Maybe its just me but the low freq characteristics from this SDAC will work best with a lean, soft sounding power amp or hifi set up. It will give a quite drastic change in music representation.

The M1 SDAC can be purchased from LTB Enterprise in Subang Jaya. Call Tony 019 3388577


Sample of sound....




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