Upgrade your headphones' sound with Musical Fidelity's new amp
Musical Fidelity's M1 HPA headphone amp sounds sweet and sports a USB input and onboard digital-to-analog converter.
I've been a fan of Musical Fidelity from its beginnings in the early 1980s. The British company's original 30-watt-per-channel stereo A1 integrated amplifier was a hit with budget-minded audiophiles back in the day, and it also offered seriously expensive gear.
The HPA has very low output impedance (below 1 ohm), so Musical Fidelity claims it can "drive" any headphones with ease. The circuit is a fully discrete Class A design, with no op-amps in the audio path, so it's built like a small high-end power amp. The HPA has two inputs--line and USB--and there's a variable output, so the HPA can be used as a stereo preamplifier in a hi-fi system. It has two 6.3mm headphone jacks on the front panel.
Some previous generations of Musical Fidelity's styling were a little over the top for my taste, but the M1 HPA is understated and very classy.
I was in the mood for David Bowie so I popped in his "Diamond Dogs" CD. I love this-period Bowie, and "Rebel, Rebel" never gets old. His stinging guitar leads cut through better on the M1 HPA than they did with myamp ($699). The impact of bass and drums scored a bit better as well with the HPA.
I'm not claiming there are day-and-night differences between the two amps, but the HPA was more rock-and-roll with my Sennheiser HD 650 full-size headphones, and that was even more evident with my Grado RS-1 headphones and the HPA.
My Audeze LCD-2 headphones have higher resolution than the Sennheiser or Grado; so on Bob Marley's "Exodus" CD the sharp drum attacks and shaker percussion at the beginning of "One Love" were much clearer over the LCD-2 than they were with the other 'phones. My Ultimate Ears Reference Monitor in-ear headphones were even better in that regard, but I still preferred the overall sound with any of the full-size headphones.
I hooked up my Mac Mini to the HPA's USB input and played Apple Lossless files from iTunes. The sound was perfectly acceptable, but nowhere as transparent and clear as what I heard from my Blu-ray player hooked up to the HPA's analog connections. Oh, well, you can always add a better external digital-to-analog converter and use it with the HPA.
I loved the sound of the HPA and highly recommend it to anyone who's already invested in a set of high-end, full-size headphones, but you may have to spring for a better DAC if you don't already have one or a Tempo High Fidelity Web site to find a local dealer.. Check the
Musical Fidelity hasn't forgotten the budget-minded audiophiles, and offers the V-Can headphone amp for $199 (review to come).