It’s been a long time since a Musical Fidelity component passed through my system. My one and only experience with the brand was the single-box version of the classic A1 amplifier which was a wonderful sounding thing, though in true British fashion it had many reliability foibles. Fast forward a few decades since its launch, however, and we now find the brand under the ownership of long-time Austrian distributor Audio Tuning GMBH, parent company of Pro-Ject Audio Systems.
I’ve always admired the brand’s emphasis on measured technical performance over the audiophile buzzwords of the day, and their current range is no different. From the M1 right up to the no-compromise M8, the range seems, on paper at least, to be packed with sensible designs and no-nonsense products with excellent technical performance. A great many hi-fi components of today owe a lot to Musical Fidelity designs. The brand was one of the first to produce a so-called ‘super integrated’ amplifier with the 1992 A1000, and the X series in 1997 were some of the first components to inspire designs that differed from the usual rectangular boxes often associated with traditional hi-fi.
I’ve recently had a couple of reliability concerns with my current amplification, and have been looking for a better digital front end, so I figured now would be as good a time as any to see what Musical Fidelity have to offer. To get an idea of the quality of product on offer, and the current sound signature, I asked for the M2s pairing, one of the newest to be launched since the company changed hands.
The M2s range includes an integrated amplifier and CD player. This review will focus on the former, though naturally the two saw extensive use as a pair throughout the review. The M2si is a simple no-frills analogue integrated amplifier. You get neither digital inputs nor a phono stage; there are no flashy displays, only a minimal selection of LEDs to indicate the status of various functions. What you do get however for your £799 (UK SRP) are 6 line-level inputs, one of them with a home theatre bypass function, preamp and line-level tape outputs and a remote control.
That might not sound like much but consider this. Most of the cost of an amplifier is not in the electronic components, most of which cost pennies each, but in its casework, cooling heatsinks and the power transformer. In sacrificing superfluous features, the M2si chassis is more solid than most at this price and it’s powered by a hefty toroidal transformer feeding a linear power supply with separate supplies for the pre and power amplification stages. This allows the class AB amplifiers to comfortably deliver a rated 60W per channel (18dBW), with more than enough current delivery to produce copious amounts of low end from a wide variety of speakers.
And while there’s certainly nothing wrong with having a DAC or phono stage built into your integrated amp, chances are it will be easily bettered by an off-board unit. So it makes sense to put the money into the parts that you’ll actually use. Perhaps the only missing feature I would have liked to have seen is a headphone socket. Even if it didn’t have a dedicated amp, feeding a headphone jack from the power amp with a couple of dropping resistors costs very little. Thankfully the tape outputs can be used to feed an external headphone amp, and are a welcome inclusion in an age where many integrated amps are dropping line-level outputs entirely.
Specs And Measurements
The M2si is built around a class A/B amplifier with a single pair of output devices per channel. It delivers an underrated 60.5W per channel into an 8 ohm load (22V RMS, 20Hz-20kHz) with a claimed 25 amps of max current delivery (peak to peak). Power at the onset of clipping is actually closer to 78W (25V RMS) into an 8 ohm load, almost doubling to 137W per channel into a 4 ohm load from 20Hz to 20kHz. Rated frequency response is flat to within -0.1dB from 10Hz to 20kHz, though during my tests this extended to beyond 50kHz which is excellent.
Rated signal to noise ratio is 96dB (A-weighted), though no reference is given for this measurement. In normal operation with sensitive speakers I can hear only a faint hiss when up close to the speaker and nothing from a foot away, so I would say that the M2si performs well, and better than many, in this area. Only when passing’s the 0dB point of the volume control does the noise rise considerably, but in the unlikely event that you did reach that point you either have insensitive speakers which wouldn’t present an issue, or the music is so loud that any noise exists so far below the level of the music as to be a non issue.
Preamp gain is 4.5x (+13dB) at maximum volume, and power amplifier gain is fixed at 34x (+31dB).
The audio signal path remains entirely analogue through the volume control which uses a laser trimmed attenuator, essentially a very fancy controller incorporating high precision SMD resistors laser trimmed to extraordinarily high tolerances, resulting in a stepped attenuator with superb tracking and channel balance but also low noise and distortion. A variable gain control block varies the gain based on a control voltage, giving a logarithmic volume control with excellent performance and load driving ability at any volume level.
The volume control itself is motorised. Personally, I much prefer microprocessor control with a digital encoder which gives smoother operation particularly when using a remote control, though the M2si does go some way to overcoming this. When operating the volume control remotely, the volume will be gently nudged upwards in a few small steps before rising continuously, which does at least allow for adjustment in smaller steps; particularly important with sensitive speakers which don’t need a lot of encouragement to go very loud indeed.
Input switching is solid-state and thus totally silent. The volume is muted during the fraction of a second that it takes for the inputs to switch, and ramped quickly up to the previous state. This is a nice attention to detail which is barely noticeable but prevents sudden and potentially damaging noises if you’re switching between active sources at high volume. There is some low-level crosstalk between inputs with active sources, but it’s noticeable only at high volume.
The packaging is lavish and certainly gives a great impression with thick foam inserts supporting the amp which is covered by a drawstring felt bag. Included are an IEC cable, remote, documentation and cotton gloves to avoid leaving prints on the finish during installation. Though it has to be said that the paint finish of this casework should certainly be more durable than most.
Though weighing only 9.2KG the M2si certainly is a hefty thing and is of an all-metal construction with a wrap-around top panel hiding unsightly fasteners beneath. Both components are available in black or silver finishes. The front fascia has a slight bevel running along the top and bottom and is dominated by the large metal volume knob and neat rows of buttons for inputs and power. That’s it. There are no tone or balance controls; a few blue LEDs are all you get for a display. Around back are a pair of speaker terminals comprising 4 mm binding posts, able to accept banana plugs, bare wire or spades. The six inputs are on unbalanced RCA jacks, with with a switch accompanying the AUX1 input to toggle the HT function.
This allows the M2si to power the front channels of a home theatre setup by providing a direct feed to its power amplifier from the preamp outputs of a home theatre receiver, giving the receiver control over the system volume. If this input is to be used with a standard line-level source it is essential that this switch be in the correct mode (right when looking at the back) or the amplifier will be run at maximum volume.
The tape input is not a traditional tape monitor function, rather an input like any other which just happens to have an associated line-level output. It’s still a welcome feature to find on a modern integrated, many of which are sadly omitting line-level outputs. Power is via a standard C13 IEC socket.
The remote feels a little plasticky and dated, but replicates the functions available on the front panels of both the amp and CD player as well as a few additional functions inaccessible via the units themselves. of these, the only function applicable to the amp is a mute function. The remote feels good in the hand if a little lightweight and is logically arranged for the most part. Both components use the Philips RC5 code standard, and as such can be controlled by other compliant remotes.
The first thing I noticed on powering up the M2si was the low end. A relatively low damping factor of 36 means the M2si lacks the bottom end control of some rivals, but it makes up for it by putting that heavy supply of current to good use. The low end is deep and authoritative. Musical Fidelity have always had a tendency to produce huge muscular amps capable of demonstrating unflappable composure, even at high levels with demanding source material and driving a demanding load. While the M2si doesn’t quite possess the grunt of its bigger siblings, it has the same air of confidence and can unleash thunderous quantities of low end that is quite unusual for an amp of this price and rated power. With relatively high amounts of gain on tap, it only takes a nudge of the volume knob to get sensitive speakers rocking. And the M2si can get plenty loud with a more demanding load while showing no signs of strain or distortion.
Low end aside, the sound remains pleasingly neutral across the frequency spectrum with a slight tuning towards pace and excitement rather than absolute accuracy. The sound you’ll get from the M2si depends largely on your speakers and room, rather than the character of the amp itself. There’s plenty of detail and noise levels are low, with background noise only becoming evident at the top of the volume scale which it is highly unlikely you will ever reach. Detail is excellent at the top end and through the mids, and respectable at the low end though it does become a bit vague and blurred especially if you’re pushing larger drivers.
The review sample of the M2si was well used, and having continuously pushed the sample hard over a number of weeks I have experienced no reliability issues. Based primarily on my experience with the A1, and having fixed a few musical fidelity products over the years, I did have questions as to their reliability. But after seeing the quality of the newest products myself, they are a vast improvement inside and out and I am confident that any such issues are firmly in the past.
I’ve thoroughly enjoyed spending time with this Musical Fidelity pairing. The M2si is a fine demonstration of what a reformed brand can produce from the get-go. Modern manufacturing, fresh engineering expertise and no doubt some considerable investment have produced a fine pairing indeed. Highly recommended.
It would have been great if you could tell us what speakers you used for your tests
this amp was tested with Fyne F501s and Tannoy Precision 6.2s.
Thank you so very much.
Hi Ashley. I have this speaker for few months. Now I am planning to purchase a pair of standmount speakers. The choices are Sonus Faber Sonnetto 2 (4 ohm, 87 db) and Dynaudio Evoke 20(6 ohm, 86 db). Could you please comment whether M2SI will be good enough to drive them? Or I need to explore other option?
It would be fine to drive either.
How would you comoare this to the Arcam A19? I’m currently owning the Arcam, but I always feel like my B&W 707 needs more power. What I like about the Arcam is the refined treble which tames the B&W’s tendency to sound a bit harsh, and the strong low-mid range, along with large soundstage (if a bit 2-dimensional).
I’d say it compares favourable and will give you more headroom. I’d say you’re probably best to look at the M3sI though for a real increase in power.
Is this a good amp for Tannoy xt8f? Looking for a warmer sounding amp without hard and Bright Highes. OR better arcam sa 20 of mf m5si?
M5sI would be better because of the extra power and power supply headroom. Also try the Marantz 8006 if you want a warmer sound.
Thanks for your answer. I have heard the m5si and was very impressed. But also Read from someone who had focal and found the Highes of the m5si too hard. I have looked at Marantz but many complains about the volume. You can’t get this right. OR too hard OR too soft sounding. Had once a nad 356 with the same problem. No go!
Can you advise me of a streamer? No Cambridge. I hate their Bright and hard sound.
The M5sI would I’m sure be bright with Focals as Focals are usually over bright at the top end anyway. I’m curious though to know what complaints you’ve heard on the maranta in regards to volume? It should get plenty loud, especially with efficient speakers like your Tannoys.
As for streamers. Perhaps a Yamaha NP-S303 into a DAC or the Marantz ND8006 depending on your choice of amp. Also heavily depends on your budget.
Many users report this:
“A disadvantage of the digital volume control is very inaccurate. Amplifier is often too loud or too soft without an intermediate volume setting. Annoying …”
I had this with a NAD c356. And thats why I sold the NAD then.
Many dealers said arcam with Tannoy is a good match. But the sound of arcam has changed. In the past mayby yes; now i don’t think so. I have heard the SA 20. No match with the MF m5si which sound big and voices sounds full. With the arcam thin voices. Not the sweet voices from her older amps.
The Yamaha streamer is good? Never had Yamaha. Good products, but what i know the housesound was always on the bright side.
I don’t believe that to be true at all. Some digital controls are linear, so you have to turn the volume louder to get the same audible volume. Whereas most analogue volume controls are logarithmic and some pots (like some from Alps) have a built in loudness attenuator which in many ways makes them less accurate than a digital control. A properly implemented digital control, or an analogue resistor ladder is always more accurate. And many amps with analogue controls are actually using digital controls behind the scenes – including the MF amps, Yamahas, Arcams and many if not most others. I wouldn’t personally buy an amp without a digital volume control now. Incidentally it’s important to note that most “digital” volume controls are actually analogue as far as the audio signal is concerned, and only the method of control is digital.
When I look for a streamer, I always look first and foremost at the software. Streamers are IOT (internet of things) devices, and entirely reliant on their software. It doesn’t matter how good the hardware is if the software isn’t up to scratch, and if development of the software is abandoned the streamer will quickly become obsolete and eventually its usefulness will be limited.
Some audiophile streamers have truly horrible software. Yamaha’s MusicCast platform is one of the best out there in my opinion. The NP-S303 is a budget option but it’s pretty neutral sonically. There’s no reason why the digital output wouldn’t be as good as any other streaming transport if you want to feed a separate DAC.
Ok. I can Order a Marantz 8006 and see how it is. The i would take the nd 8006 streamer.
If mf m5si don’t know. The Yamaha maybe too budget? There is also the bluesound mode 2i. But Never heard it.
From a dutch recensent about the om 8006,
The main flaw of this amplifier in my opinion is in the volume control. My rather sensitive speakers, AOS Studio 100 TL, require little power and on top of that, I’m not naturally someone who listens to loud music. In my setup, the Marantz control allows only a limited number of clearly discrete volumes. From nothing to too loud in just 8 steps and no possibility to have anything in between
What do you think of the Denon pma 1600ne wird tannoy xt8f? More power, better control, better with tannoy? But Marantz i think ist warmer.