Musical Fidelity were one of the pioneers of the external digital to analogue converter, bringing their first to market in 1987 when CD was still in its infancy and the number of outboard DACs on the market could be counted on just one hand. The M6sDAC is their latest flagship model reintroduced following the sale of Musical Fidelity to Audio Tuning GMBH.
The M6sDAC is a feature-packed unit with three coaxial, three optical and a USB input, the latter supporting 32-Bit, 768kHz audio and DSD 64/128. The high rate of upsampling aims to move any digital artefacts to well outside the audio band, allowing their removal by filters without detriment to the uppermost reaches of the audio band. PCM signals can be handled up to 32-bit/ 384kHz and DSD up to DSD128. Its optical and coaxial inputs handle 24-bit, 192kHz high-resolution audio. The unit has both single-ended and balanced outputs and a quality headphone amplifier with a quarter-inch (6.3 mm) output jack on the front.
Furthermore, the M6sDAC can act as a digital preamplifier, with its volume controlled either via the front panel or the included remote. A switch on the rear toggles between variable and fixed output modes, though connecting a pair of headphones will mute the outputs and enable the volume control regardless of the output setting.
Musical fidelity are keen to stress the DACs technical capabilities, as with all of their products. Distortion at 20kHz is a claimed 0.0004%, with stereo separation better than 120dB, linearity better than 110dB and signal to noise ratio better than 119dB. Total correlated jitter is less than 12 picoseconds peak to peak, with linearity <±0.1dB down to -96dB. The DAC section incorporates the ESS Sabre ES9028PRO in a fully differential circuit. These chips are capable of handling up to eight channels of 32-bit, 768kHz audio and feature Hyperstream II technology with high dynamic range, exceptional signal to noise ratio and vanishingly low distortion. Interested readers can view technical information for the ES9028 Here.
Many manufacturers opt for the newer ES9038 Pro chip in their latest devices, though devices based on that chip are known to present higher levels of jitter than the proceeding ES9028. Of the filters available within the ES928 chip, Musical Fidelity have chosen a minimal phase filter with fast decay, which is not switchable by the end-user. Measured frequency response is flat to within 0.1dB throughout the audio band (20Hz – 20kHz), and a roll-off of just -0.4dB out to 45kHz and -2.4dB out to 90kHz. These measurements are outstanding by any standard.
The headphone amplifier is quite capable of driving high impedance headphones and is far more than the afterthought found in most source components. The discrete amplifier can output 1.5W per channel into a 32-ohm load. THD is less than 0.0012% (20Hz – 20kHz) with an A-Weighted signal to noise ratio of better than 115dB. Output impedance is 40Ω, and it will drive headphones between 10 and 600Ω with ease.
Clearly unboxing is a big part of the first impression Musical Fidelity hope to impart on the buyer. The unit is double-boxed, held securely within foam blocks and wrapped in a drawstring bag of thick cloth. Cotton gloves are provided, as is an instruction manual, IEC power cable and remote control. Everything is beautifully presented, right down to the manual itself which is spiral-bound with glossy covers.
The unit is smartly finished in typical Musical Fidelity casework, with thick wrap-around steel panels and a chunky aluminium fascia on which are a neat row of small metal buttons, a remote sensor, headphone jack and a machined aluminium volume knob. The volume knob fronts a digital encoder which rotates with small detents, and the controls themselves appear to be of excellent quality.
Around back are three coaxial and three optical jacks, along with a micro USB input. This is an interesting decision with no obvious purpose besides being slightly more inconvenient than the more standardised USB B jack as used in 99% of DACs. You do get an adapter in the box, however. Next to this is the output mode switch, balanced and single-ended outputs and an IEC power inlet. The jacks are standard issue and not the chunky jacks as found on the M6sVINYL which is a curious decision and presumably one limited by cost, though they’re of perfectly acceptable quality so no cause for complaint here.
The user interface consists of a selection of miniature LEDs indicating the chosen input, resolution and status of the upsampling circuit, which is not switchable and thus remains permanently active. The three front-panel buttons control power and input selection, which is the full extent of available end-user configurability. Filter switching would have been a welcome addition, as perhaps would a facility to disable the upsampling or an individual button to access each input.
The remote is the same lightweight plasticky unit as supplied with most Musical Fidelity components. An array of controls are specific to the DAC including input and the aforementioned volume, which is independent of the control for an amplifier or preamplifier for which buttons are also provided. The remote will also operate many components in the Musical Fidelity range, and due to its use of standardised RC5 coding will operate kit from many other brands too.
Sonics are best described as dynamic, expressive and often-times dramatic though with plenty of finesse when required. Stereo imaging is nothing short of holographic, with such pin-point presence as to make the sense of realism so palpable, the feeling of ‘being there’ so real. It’s enthralling, captivating, exciting and stirring all at once. Dynamics are handled with veritable ease, further adding to what is a performance that is, above all else, musical.
Yet despite all this, the overriding impression of the M6sDAC is that its sound is just ‘right’. Nothing is added, nothing is taken away. This is music at its best, able to uplift or emote. There’s no audio trickery going on here. This is digital audio reproduction at its best; nothing more, nothing less. This is not audio magic, I realised as I listened further. It’s simply the best representation of the digital audio signal. What comes out is what goes in, just superior due to the conversion, filtering and upsampling.
The M6sDAC is frankly astounding. So much is made of high-end digital requiring advanced clocking, hyper-accurate digital circuitry, advanced computing algorithms and the most interference-free power supplies. There are many products on the market at stratospheric prices which take the same zeros and ones, ad a sprinkling of magic audiophile dust and claim to deliver results that set new standards in digital audio reproduction. It’s funny how few of these can back up their claims with measurements, which, especially where digital audio is concerned, are a perfectly plausible way to assess a DACs performance.
What you actually need is a thoughtfully designed digital converter with a well-designed output stage and refined, quality power supply electronics. There’s no audiophile magic here, just a thoughtfully designed and beautifully built digital converter with exceptional measurements, able to lay claim to equally exceptional performance. The M6sDAC is quite capable of demonstrating what digital audio has to offer. Highly recommended.