Musical Fidelity M1 DAC
Best DAC £300-£500, Awards 2012. A deeply musical DAC with performance and price on its sideWrite your own review
- Expressive, detailed and dynamic presentation
- ample socketry
- unburstable build
- A touch of top-end aggression: needs careful system matching
Our July 2012 issue featured a First Test of this hefty, heftily specified Musical Fidelity M1DAC that culminated with an assertion that “it’s good enough to worry the class leaders”. Well, having brought it into a group containing the acknowledged class leaders, we’re happy to find we were right. The M1DAC is one of the very best pound-for-pound DACs currently available.
At the time, these devices were merely a way of improving performance from CDs. The story now is very different, with the explosion of computer audio causing the resurgence of the product category.
The Musical Fidelity M1 DAC is a thoroughly modern unit, with a full range of inputs including an asynchronous USB (on a Type B socket) to which a computer can be connected, and the rarely seen AES/EBU – a balanced digital input.
There's also a choice of standard or balanced XLR for the analogue audio output.
The M1 DAC will handle 24-bit/192kHz material through its coaxial and AES/EBU inputs, and is limited to 24-bit/96kHz through everything else – a fairly typical state of affairs at the moment. At its heart is digital to analogue conversion from Burr-Brown: it runs a pair of DSD1796 DAC chips in dual-differential mode for the lowest possible noise.
Upstream of that conversion is the same company's SRC4392 sample-rate converter: all incoming signals are upsampled to 24-bit/192kHz before conversion, again to help shift any noise way out of the audible band.
There's also what Musical Fidelity calls its 'smart data-reclocking system', which endeavours to minimise the chance of any jitter getting through and affecting the audio signal.
Finally, the power supply here isn't one of those plug-top devices sometimes found powering DACs, but an onboard set-up complete with a familiar Musical Fidelity design trait – choke filtration on the mains input to avoid any mains-borne noise getting through to the audio sections.
Musical Fidelity M1 DAC: Sound quality
Far less typical is how good the M1 DAC sounds. It has a pleasingly open character, one with a strong sense of dynamics and an impressive degree of insight. A solid, overtly powerful bass underpins the presentation, giving the M1 DAC’s sound plenty of authority as it thumps out Kanye West’s Monster.
Importantly, though, the low frequencies remain agile and tuneful.
Move up the frequency range and the Musical Fidelity’s clear and expressive midrange catches the attention: it conveys the subtlety and power in Adele’s Someone Like You superbly.
There’s plenty of detail but the DAC never becomes overly analytical. It’s always energetic and engaging, drawing the listener into the music. Pleasingly, it can also change up a gear and cruise when the music demands, too, delivering a soothing presentation.
Only the highest frequencies are a cause for concern: they’re a touch thin and can be provoked by aggressive recordings.
That said, careful system matching should ensure this never becomes a problem.
Musical Fidelity M1 DAC: Verdict
Overall the M1 DAC is a terrific performer for the money, being well-equipped, nicely made and easily one of the best-sounding DACs we’ve heard below the £500 price point. It’s a great buy.