If you've ever used an outboard DAC, you owe Micromega at least a nod of thanks. Not that this French hi-fi company invented the concept of digital-to-analog converters or anything, but its legendary CDF1-Digital was, to my knowledge, the first CD playback system to break the transport and DAC into separate components.
While the brand has changed hands since then, the original designer Daniel Schar has remained at the engineering helm the entire time, but these days you'd have to be daft to accuse Micromega of resting on its laurels or reputation. The company seems to have embraced a philosophy of offering something for everyone, from dedicated FM tuners and RIAA preamplifers to media streamers and everything in between. But it's never quite offered anything like the M-One integrated amplifier.
Hell, I'm not sure anyone has.
The M-One represents not just a triumphant return to form in terms of fit, finish, and aesthetics for a company that has, admittedly, taken a slight turn toward the plastic in the past few years; it also represents an eye toward lifestyle-oriented design that other audiophile companies quite frankly need to be paying attention to. And, of course, it's the exact opposite of a separate transport and DAC, given that it serves as a complete digital audio system all in one box.
Within its 56mm (2.2-inch) tall machined-aluminum chassis, the M-One packs a Class 2 USB audio input for PCM, DSD, DSD over PCM; a coaxial digital input supporting up to 768KHz/32-bit PCM, an optical digital input supporting up to 192/24, an AES/EBU XLR input, a Bluetooth aptX receiver, and two I2S connections, which are designed for future expansion. There's also trigger in and outs, an Ethernet port for network audio, as well as a high-impedance unbalanced line-level input, a high-impedance balanced line input, a subwoofer out, and a switchable MM/MC phono input.
If that weren't enough, the M-One also boasts a pair of beefy Class AB amps, each fed by its own power supply, though how much power you get depends on which of the two M-One models you opt for. The M-100 delivers 100 watts RMS per channel into 8 ohms and 150 watts RMS per channel into 4 ohms.
The M-150 ($7,499) reviewed here offers, by contrast, 150 watts RMS per channel into 8 ohms and 300 into 4 ohms. Other advantages of the M-150 include a built-in license for M.A.R.S., Micromega's room correction system, as well as optional binaural processing on its 3.5mm front-panel headphone output.
The one thing you really can't get a sense of from looking at pictures of the M-150--or even the box it comes in--is its size. Its packaging seems appropriate for one of those mini air hockey tables that you got for Christmas like ten years ago and never got around to setting up because, seriously? Who even has room for something like an air hockey table, miniature or not? Pull it out of the box, though, and--depth aside--the M-150 could be mistaken for a really, really nice UHD Blu-ray player. It measures in at just about 17 inches wide and nearly 14 inches deep.
In other words, you could easily rack mount this thing if you wanted to, though its height falls in between 1U and 2U, so it wouldn't quite be a perfect fit. Seriously, though, just because you can doesn't mean you should. The M-150 (and the M-100, for that matter) is obviously designed for tabletop placement, and that's evident in everything from its slick, customizable chassis (which can be ordered in your choice of black of grey for no extra cost, five glossy finishes for an extra Grover Cleveland, or any of 181 custom finishes for a bit more), to its dual displays (one on the front, one on the top), to its recessed input/output panel, which lends the unit a clean and tidy look even if you cram every possible interconnect possible into it.
About that, though. Given that the thick hood around the inputs and outputs eats up a weensy bit of space, and given that the M-150 is a little wisp of a thing to begin with, I'm not exactly making headline news here by proclaiming the back panel to be a little cramped. Micromega did a great job of thinking through the layout of the connections, mind you, assuming correctly that you wouldn't use both the XLR pre-outs and the gorgeous binding posts at the same time. So, the former are wisely jammed right in between the latter.
But even with such a smart layout, things can get a bit cramped, and you should go ahead and muster up a little extra patience when making your connections. You might also want to invest in one of those rednecky baseball caps with the LED light in the end of the bill, since the hood over the connections casts a shadow over the whole affair even in a decently lit room.
If you're using the M-150 as a USB DAC, Micromega provides a driver on its website, and setup of such is straightforward. So is M.A.R.S. (Micromega Acoustic Room System), except for the fact that you have to navigate the M-150's sometimes-tricky menus to get that done. Getting into setup screens of any variety involves pushing the bottom button on the left side of the top-mounted display, using the right-side buttons to scroll up and down, pressing the bottom left button again to select, or the power button of all things to cancel out of your choice... I've been using the M-150 for a while now and I still feel like a monkey trying to mate with a football every time I need to dig into the menus.
But that's thankfully infrequently. Most functions can be managed using the nifty horizontal remote. Just don't be surprised if you spend a while navigating its screens looking for a function that isn't there. The M-150 doesn't, for example, feature crossover settings for its subwoofer out. Its low-pass filter is locked at 400Hz, so you'll need a sub with its own crossover settings and such.
But back to M.A.R.S. for a minute: the system includes a really nice Dayton Audio mic (in fact, I think it's the same mic I was using for CEA-2010 measurements before upgrading to a much swankier Earthworks model), and the system takes three measurements (center, left, and right), with a nice five-second countdown allowing you to get out of the room before the frequency sweeps begin.
The key things you need to know about M.A.R.S is that A) it's very good, and 2) it's very subtle. Unless my ears are deceiving me, it only runs sweeps up to 1kHz, and most of its work is done on the bass frequencies. Once you're done and have the mic disconnected, you can navigate the menus and select between two different applications of M.A.R.S.: one that merely corrects for resonances in your room, and another that flattens the frequency response of your speakers, but only in the lowest frequencies. (For my thoughts on why this is a good thing, see my updated guide to room correction here).
With my pair of Paradigm Studio 100 towers, I didn't really hear any appreciable difference between those two modes, dubbed Auto and Flat. I did, though, hear a substantial difference between "M.A.R.S. On" and "M.A.R.S. Off." With it on, bass is much better controlled. I'm automatically suspicious of any new room EQ system that isn't made by Anthem, Dirac, or Trinnov, but Micromega knocked it out of the park with this one.
One last thing worth pointing out is that to update the M-150's firmware, you have to download a file from the Micromega website, load it onto a flash drive, plug said flash drive into the back of the unit, unplug the power, utter unmentionable incantations to the pagan goddess Dea Matrona whilst soaked in the blood of three virgin chickens... and, okay, maybe I'm making up that last step, but don't just assume that you can plug an Ethernet port into the back of this puppy and get the latest firmware.
Click over to Page Two for Performance, The Downside, Comparisons & Competition, and Conclusion...