Musical Fidelity M1 DAC review

Best DAC £300-£500, Awards 2012. A great product for a time, but more capable rivals have now overtaken it Tested at £400

What Hi-Fi? Verdict

Best DAC £300-£500, Awards 2012. A great product for a time, but more capable rivals have now overtaken it


  • +

    Expressive, detailed and dynamic presentation

  • +

    Ample socketry

  • +

    Robust build


  • -

    A touch of top-end aggression: needs careful system matching

  • -

    Lacks the rhythmic ability of the best

  • -

    Beaten for detail and insight too

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This was the undoubted surprise of our DAC Group Test for the November issue. Before we gathered this group together, the M1 DAC was the machine to beat. It won our last test at this price and picked up an Award back in 2012.

You will have noted already, however, that three-star rating above…

Musical Fidelity M1 DAC

Musical Fidelity M1 DAC


This is a big unit – you could shoehorn around eight Meridian Directors into its chassis. So there’s plenty of space to accommodate a variety of inputs, including an asynchronous USB for hooking up a computer and the rarely seen AES/EBU – a balanced digital input. There’s also a choice of standard or balanced XLR sockets.


In terms of sample rate support, the M1 DAC doesn’t stray too far from the norm: it can handle 24-bit/192kHz material through its coaxial and AES/EBU inputs but is limited to 24-bit/96kHz through everything else, including USB. It’s not the end of the world: full-fat high-res music is currently in very short supply.

Musical Fidelity M1 DAC

Musical Fidelity M1 DAC

Under the hood, all incoming signals are subject to Musical Fidelity’s ‘smart data-reclocking’ system. This attempts to minimise the chances of any jitter getting through and troubling the audio signal.

The power supply also has a trademark Musical Fidelity design trait: choke filtration on the mains input to avoid the negative impact of any mains-borne noise.


In isolation, the M1 DAC is perfectly listenable. You’re treated to a relatively clear, open soundstage. But, with a bunch of new rivals to contend with, the DAC shows that it is vulnerable to attack.

Play a 16-bit/44.1kHz CD rip of Nitin Sawhney’s Homelands and the Musical Fidelity DAC just doesn’t follow the path of a track as accurately as the likes of the Arcam irDAC, for instance.

Musical Fidelity M1 DAC

Musical Fidelity M1 DAC

The M1 sounds a little lost and vague at times and more complex beats, rhythms and arrangements seem to throw the machine off the sonic scent.

Play a Spotify stream of Kanye West’s Black Skinhead over USB and the low notes still hit with decent weight and authority but, compared with the very best rivals here, the M1 DAC’s approach to bass notes sounds a little hamfisted – in our opinion the likes of the Meridian Director and NAD D 1050 sound tauter and offer greater precision.

They are certainly, for us, much clearer in their conviction.


On a positive note, high notes are clean and listenable while the DAC is especially accomplished at projecting and expressing Kanye’s vocal. We simply think that rival units have the ability to step up an extra gear and uncover even more detail across the board.

We’re really surprised just how quickly the Musical Fidelity has fallen from grace.It was our class leader, but the new breed have stuck the collective boot in, so much so that the M1 DAC has to drop from five to three stars.

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What Hi-Fi?

What Hi-Fi?, founded in 1976, is the world's leading independent guide to buying and owning hi-fi and home entertainment products. Our comprehensive tests help you buy the very best for your money, with our advice sections giving you step-by-step information on how to get even more from your music and movies. Everything is tested by our dedicated team of in-house reviewers in our custom-built test rooms in London, Reading and Bath. Our coveted five-star rating and Awards are recognised all over the world as the ultimate seal of approval, so you can buy with absolute confidence.

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