Musical Fidelity M1SDAC - A Wonderfully Musical-Sounding DAC

7/10/2013 11:48:06 AM

Serious hi-fi for the Bluetooth age

It’s hard to pigeonhole products such as the M1SDAC. As the name implies it’s a digital-to-analogue converter but there’s more here. It’s a forward-looking device that recognizes phones and tablets are viable music sources and should be celebrated rather than ignored. To that end the M1SDAC accepts Bluetooth apt-X signals, and makes a serious attempt to make them as listenable as possible.

Musical Fidelity M1SDAC review

Musical Fidelity M1SDAC review

Not those traditional hi-fi areas are ignored. This electronic brick will also accept analogue signals from two line-level sources, deliver sound to a pair of headphones and drive a power amplifier.

So, for those who feel the need to put this product into a specific category: the M1SDAC is a DAC/Bluetooth receiver and decently equipped preamp? Not bad going, if it sounds good.

This is a nicely built unit. It’s finished well and has a clear enough display. That large control knob on the front panel governs the volume levels and, when pushed, produces a change in input.

As with most modern DACs, high-resolution music streams are firmly on the menu. As is typical, the optical input is limited to 24-bit/96kHz, but the USB, co-axial and AES/EBU inputs will accept full-fat 24-bit/192kHz signals

Listen to Nick Cave’s The Lyre of Orpheus and this DAC is right at home. The open, expressive presentation works beautifully, with Cave’s passionate vocals rendered with real clarity

PC software for hi-res

Many Windows-based PCs won’t stream 192 kHz music through their USB output as standard. Musical Fidelity provides USB driver software for Windows Vista, XP and 7 to make it possible. Any recent Mac should just stream the highest-resolution files without issue.

Once we wire our MacBook to the M1SDAC we’re pleased with the results. Through its asynchronous USB input, playback is stable and solid. Listen to Nick Cave’s The Lyre of Orpheus and this DAC is right at home. The Musical Fidelity’s open, expressive presentation works beautifully here, Cave’s passionate vocals coming through with real clarity. The sound is composed and fluid, avoiding the clinical, sometimes mechanical edge some digital equipment still imparts.

A tidy appearance and good build quality combine with generous features and an open sound

A tidy appearance and good build quality combine with generous features and an open sound

The lovely midrange is underpinned by a deep, powerful bass performance that gives a really firm foundation to the music. That bass is rarely overplayed though, and always has the speed and tunefulness to keep up when necessary.

Transparency and fluidity

Have a listen to higher-resolution recordings, such as Kate Bush’s 50 Words For Snow or The Rolling Stones’ Gimme Shelter, and the good news continues. The Musical Fidelity is transparent enough to show the sonic gains made by the increased resolution, and sounds notably more fluid with material such as this.

It’s not all positive news though. Despite all the good things the M1SDAC does, it’s not the most rhythmic of devices. It’s good enough at defining the individual notes of The Dead Weather’s 60 Feet Tall, but can’t convey the momentum of the song or the sense of rhythmic interplay as well as Audio-lab’s MDAC.

This shortcoming is less apparent when listening through the M1SDAC’s optical input. Compared with USB there’s a loss of sonic punch and solidity, but the MF sounds a little more enthusiastic when it comes to conveying timing information with this input. The Audio-lab is still better in this respect though, and adds a little more dynamic punch to the proceedings.

Move to Bluetooth and we’re impressed. Pairing is as easy as we hoped it would be, and the sound quality is decent. In absolute terms, recordings sound less transparent than the wired alternatives, but the presentation is still good enough to allow us to enjoy The xx’s Coexist. The production may be sparse but there’s plenty going on here, with complex rhythmic interplay between instruments and beautifully recorded vocals. There’s a good amount of detail on offer, and it hangs together well. Bluetooth, particularly in aptX form, is a feature we wish more manufacturers would include.

Move on to analogue sources and the M1SDAC disappoints just a little. It sounds smaller and less transparent than we hoped. There’s still evidence of good detail retrieval and fine handling of dynamics, but it doesn’t quite hold our attention as well as we’d like. We think the headphone output is a good one though. It sounds solid, meaty and in control. There’s a degree of stability and composure here that’s mighty pleasing.

There’s no denying that the M1SDAC is a useful box. It’s thoughtfully conceived, and we’re particular fans of the Bluetooth capability. It’s up against some mighty rivals though. Audio-lab’s MDAC may be a few years old now, but we think it delivers a more involving sound.

The Musical Fidelity counters with a more full-bodied sonic presentation and a more comprehensive specification. And that’s enough to secure our recommendation

Round the back

1.    Flexible aerial

The top-corner location for the aerial point is convenient if you’re not going the detachable way

2.    Analogue in

It’s rare to see analogue inputs on a DAC, but it means the SDAC can act as a hub to an analogue/ digital system.

3.    Digital out

Digital outputs may seem out of place, but they open the door to recording or processing possibilities.

4.    Pro touch

An AES/EBU digital input is more usually associated with professional kit, but it boosts the SDAC’s flexibility.

Round the back

Round the back

Feature facts

Volume control

The M1SDAC could do with a speed-sensitive volume control. It’s a little slow to track big changes and requires lots of knob-twirling.


Pairing is fuss free. Thanks to aptX, the Musical Fidelity latches on to the signal within seconds and delivers a stable connection.


Musical Fidelity provides a detachable aerial with a magnetic base. This gives greater freedom as to where the aerial can be placed. Alternatively, the aerial can be screwed directly into the back of the M1SDAC.


As is the fashion these days, the M1SDAC has an asynchronous USB input. This puts the DAC in charge of information flow – an arrangement that usually leads to a better sound.

Rating: 4/5

For: A full-bodied, open sound; fluid dynamics; authoritative bass; refinement; good features

Against: A shortage of rhythmic drive

Verdict: A forward-looking product with a refined sound but not quite enough sparkle


·         Price: TBA

·         Finishes: 2

·         RC out: 1

·         RCA in: 2

·         XLR: out: 0

·         Optical digital out: 1

·         XLR in: 0

·         Transport: No

·         Integrated: No

·         Coaxial digital out: 1

·         Coaxial digital in: 2

·         CD text: No

·         Optical digital in: 1

·         DAC: Yes

·         Display off: No

·         Multidisc: No

·         Headphone: 1


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