Musical Fidelity M8 PRE Preamp/M8-500s Power Amp (Part 2)

9/12/2014 11:38:20 AM
The volume control and its LED readout sit above the long row of front mounted input buttons. The large knob controls a laser-trimmed resistive (analogue) attenuator with 0.5dB increments. Rather scarily, the knob must be rotated quite a few times before the display reads around 60 or more and playback reaches a usable level. The first time, I thought the amp was not working and I was nervous of what seemed like a high setting, but one soon gets used to it. At least one can turn the volume way down for late night listening without suddenly losing channel balance, which can happen with some old-style analogue potentiometers. A remote handset provides mastery over playback volume (including Mute) and also controls a Musical Fidelity CD player should you need one. The M8 PRE and M8-500s power amplifier are priced at close on $13,300 for the combination and, while that is a lot of money, I must say they really are very nicely put together.

The M8 PRE and M8-500s power amplifier

The M8 PRE and M8-500s power amplifier combination

For listening, I wired the Musical Fidelit y pre and power up to a Musical Fidelity V90 DAC fed via my Lenovo laptop with J. River Media Center 19. Further listening was carried out later on with vinyl replay using a Townshend Rock 7 with Origin Live Conqueror arm and Aladdin moving magnet cartridge.

Via the laptop, the sound quality of this preamp/power amp combo came across very much as I hoped and anticipated. The perceived transparency clarity and control were extremely impressive and music was delivered with a level of control and sure-footedness that is unusual. Initially, I wondered whether the delivery was just a fraction cold, dry or clinical, but, by virtue of the units warming up and running in, and trying many tracks and pieces of music, I realised that this pre/power combination, once run in and warmed up, is simply truthful. It merely transfers the source material as-is. It does not appear to add any character of its own – or if it does, it is vanishingly small.

It may sound like a cliché, but the M8 PRE and M8-500s sets the music free to speak for itself. One can try and coin phases such as depth, transparency, stereo imagery, control, smoothness, dynamics, precision, crispness, attack, and drama, but they cannot attempt to convey the way music seems to emerge effortlessly from a stable and silent background, without the clutter of extraneous stuff that can confuse the ears and brain.

The M8 PRE Preamp rear view

The M8 PRE Preamp rear view

Yes, the amplifier is very powerful – more than enough for most mortals – and bass is clean and tuneful, giving real power and depth when required, but it is the amplifier’s ability to simply go with the flow that is most impressive.

At the other end of the spectrum, cymbals and high hats are crisp and dynamic, even on some old analogue recordings, where one might expect something more muted, and massed or solo strings are sweet or ‘stringy’ as recorded.

I played Kodaly’s Dances of Galenta [Linn Records/Scottish Symphony Orchestra]. This CD layer rip may not quite match the sense of occasion and space of the SACD recording from which it is derived, but Musical Fidelit y’s rendition of it preserved the lush, expansive, sweet string sound of the original. Reproduction was never harsh, but very transparent and enjoyable. Playing Courtney Pine’s ‘Get Busy’ from his CD Closer To Home [Island] highlighted the well-paced bass delivery of the Musical Fidelit y pre and power combo, with the deep powerful driving bass rhythms on this track conveyed brilliantly, while the rich reedy sound of his saxophone sat well in the mix, together with studio-added reverberation.

M8 PRE Preamp and remote control

M8 PRE Preamp and remote control

However, don’t expect this Musical Fidelity pair to paper over the cracks and smooth out rough old recordings, as if viewed by a soft focus lens. This is no valve amp clone. If there is an artificial edge, or roughness in the recording, it will be clear – just as surely as some subtle hints of reverberation or layers in a mix, or noises you never heard so clearly before. This combo will reproduce all and, of course, it is not always nice. Honest, yes; euphonic, no. For example, Joni Mitchell’s LP Blue [Reprise], recorded with the intention of capturing a raw edge: it still has it even in the re-mastered version which I ripped to hard disc. Yes, it still sounds raw, but the Musical Fidelity is honest to it – still a great classic album nonetheless.

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