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Musical Fidelity X-Pre Preamp Reviewed

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HTR Product Rating

Performance
3 Stars
Value
4 Stars
Overall
3.5 Stars

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So aggravatingly prolific is Musical Fidelity that it's hard to know what has and hasn't been reviewed. The excuse for such a flood of products? Anthony Michaelson argues that it's the only way to keep everyone watching his brand, to avoid ennui, to ensure that his company will survive the bleakest sales period in audio history. And his latest mid-field offerings are so effin' good that he's kicking his opponents while their down.

Read more Musical Fidelity reviews here.

Let's dispense with something right away. The latest MF products, like most other affordable, so-called UK products, are made off-shore. But time for a reality check. First of all, companies in the West not making cost-no-object products have to do it if they're to survive, unlike makers of high-end audio, watches, exotic cars or other goods where the customers DEMAND manufacture in the company's country of origin. Secondly, gone are the days when Taiwan, China, Korea and other Asian countries produced shoddy products. There, I've said it and it sounds traitorous, but this is the 21st Century.

So it's no wonder that Musical Fidelity has, in the X-PREv3 pre-amplifier and the matching X-P200 stereo power amplifier, a couple of seriously covetable products with prices of, respectively, only £799 and £899. Fit, feel, function and finish are impeccable. And the sound is so good that the pair can see off gear with price including an added zero.

You gotta love the X-PREv3, a fully remote-controllable gem with a motorised volume control, gorgeous tiny blue LEDs shining at you, three line inputs, tape and main outputs and an mm phono stage. And that huge volume control is simply irresistible. One turn, and you'll be hooked, it's that smooth. You cannot fault the X-PREv3 however you examine it. Moreover, you will sigh with relief at its dimensions of only 8.6x3.9x14.7in (WHD). It was designed with vast overload margins, low feedback, ultra-quiet operation and superb stereo separation, the later effected by dual mono circuitry including separate power supplies for each stage and isolation of each gain block.

Housed in the same chassis is the X-P200 rated at 120W/ch, but it's bridgeable into mono for 260W. This is accomplished by wiring a single speaker to the two positive terminals and switching the amp to bridged mode through front panel buttons. You can also bi-amplify with the X-P200 with throughput circuitry; the back of the X-P200 has a single set of outputs in addition to the two pairs of inputs.

The X-P200 is 'a direct descendant of and evolution from the original Nu-Vista M3,' one of the finest amplifiers of recent times. And it's no mere boast: as one who used every Nu-, Tri- or Mu-Vista at some point, I can attest to the family resemblance. Despite the dearth of glassware, this is one tube-y sounding amplifier.

I used the two pieces with the matching X-RAYv3 CD player, the matching X-series accessories (see below), the SME 30/2 turntable/Series V arm and Decca Super Gold cartridge, and speakers including LS3/5A, Quad ESL 57 and 63, Sonus Faber Guarneri and Wilson WATT Puppy 7. Yes: Wilsons at £22,000. And not one pair hassled the X-P200. In fact, I never got the volume control past the ¾ mark.

While I immediately discovered that the line stages were superb - the X-RAYv3 showed them to be as quiet and widely dynamic as promised - I was not prepared for the sheer goodness of the phono stage. Nowadays, any phono stage is a gift as most pre-amps come in line level form. But this was no compromise beyond the lack of mc step-up capability. It suited the Decca perfectly, matching its speed, stage width and depth, and bass control and extension. This was mirrored by the line stages, so the X-PREv3 easily dealt with big band crescendos from Jackie Gleason LPs, subtle acoustic guitar work from Antonio Forcione CDs and LPs, close harmonies by the Judds on CD, mono Judy Garland. It rose to the occasion every time - even complementing the McIntosh MC2102 all-valve power amplifier.

As much as I adore the X-PREv3, it was the X-P200 which impressed me even more, if for no other reasons than its unflappability and brute force. Hey, I abused this amplifier, even when I mono'ed two of them to cope with Guarneris and the WATT Puppy 7s. They never even grew warm, after six-hour-long sessions. The transient attack is breathtaking, the bass deep, rounded and controlled without too much damping, the soundstage is massive. I dug out Kodo drummers, some vinyl blockbusters like the Billy May Orchestra on Capitol, hard rock via Green Day - and I played it offensively loud. The X-P200s never let me down.

So what you have here is the heart of a system offering embarrassing good value, with the added bonus of classy looks. (I'm a sucker for the matt silvery finish MF has adopted.) And you'll find yourself listening for hours longer than you might deem normal. But that's only the start of it.

The Upgrade Path
What struck me as so appealing about the ¬¬¬'Xv3' series is the upgrade path. As one who fell in love early on with the original, cylindrical X series, I found the new edition a wonderful return to the earlier range's wit, novelty value, practicality, anti-obsolescence and user friendly-ness. Even a complete Xv3 series system in its ultimate form - pre-amp, CD player, TWO power amps and all five accessories - will occupy minimal space.

But how to go about upgrading to that all-in level is real 'pub argument' stuff. Three of the five accessories are purchased solely on a need-to-use basis, so that's entirely moot, while the fourth and fifth - the range's outboard DAC and phono stage - are true upgrades of existing elements rather than add-on facilities. Here's the list of options, housed in the smaller 7.1x3.5x8.2in (WHD) boxes:

The X-LPv3 (£249) is obviously only necessary for vinyl users (shame on you if you're not amongst them) who demand more than the X-PREv3's basic mm capability. And it's an absolute cracker of a phono stage - versatile, affordable and great sounding - so it is a true upgrade as well as an add-on. However, the built-in stage is so good, that the X-LPv3 can wait. The X-CANSv3 (£249) are aimed solely at one sort of user, the headphone aficionado, so this is something you either need or you don't. Again, the device is a bargain, the best I've used below the AudioValve headphone amp. As for the X-10 v3 valve buffer (£299), well, that's more of a religious consideration than a purchase, and I am not about to sway you with words: listen to it, and seen if you can live without it. Odds are, probably not.

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