Myron Ho is a seasoned marketing and brand strategy professional, now working in the Southern California area as a marketing consultant for various large corporate clients. As a youth growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area, Myron studied classical piano and participated in many statewide competitions for such. A passion for music and movies has naturally dovetailed into the same passion for the equipment and tools that bring about excellent reproduction of both. Aside from home theater-related pursuits, Myron enjoys travelling and exploring new restaurants with his wife, Angel.
Class D, or switching, amplifiers have been widely accepted in the professional studio and touring realms. Inherent in a Class D design for amplifiers is higher efficiency (or less heat), as the amplifiers are only "switched on" when there is music coming in from the input signal. So there is less need for large, heavy, and often costly heat sinks. For high-end home audio and home theater, though, they have traditionally been found mostly as built-in components to powered subwoofers, where large bass drivers can leverage the greater power output that a Class D amp offers. Many consumers and manufacturers have been hesitant to adopt Class D amplification, citing some of the issues with sound quality that plagued many of the early designs. More recently, pioneering companies such as Anthem (Statement M1) and Mark Levinson (N° 53) have successfully launched switching amplifier products into their premium lines.
Musical Fidelity, a British manufacturer known for money-no-object mono-block amplifiers like the Titan and pure Class A AMS amplifiers, has been actively building up its entry-level M1 product line, which includes the M1PWR, a Class D switching amplifier based on the Bang & Olufsen Ice Power module design. The M1 products give little indication that they are part of the entry-level line in the family, featuring beautifully machined metallic enclosures and sleek lines. The M1PWR weighs in at a little over eight pounds and retails for $1,300, although recent prices through authorized dealers have been seen for under $500.
To test the M1PWR, I kept everything in my setup the same, with the Oppo BDP-105 as my source for movies and music and my Parasound Halo JC2BP for a preamp. Substituting the M1PWR for my reference Crown XLS-2500 amplifiers (which incidentally are also switching amplifiers, although the topology is a proprietary design by Harman, rather than the B&O Ice modules) to drive my Salk Signature Soundscape 12 speakers. I first ran one M1PWR amplifier in stereo mode. I painfully ran through all of my standard reference material for music and movies. I say painfully because the experience was far from enjoyable. Dynamics were collapsed. The soundstage shrank to a small, short, flat rectangle slightly forward of my speakers. The ambience cues I normally get, which let you "see" the recording venue - be it a symphony concert hall, small intimate club, etc. - all but disappeared. Music sounded almost flat and lifeless, and the noise floor was rather high as well. I couldn't hear the usual tape hiss, microphone feedback, reverbs, and other small details I expected to hear on some of my reference tracks. The manufacturer claims a signal-to-noise ratio of 95 dB in stereo mode, which is right around the maximum dynamic range of the RedBook CD format. I will say that there was something sweet and a little warm about the midrange.
Luckily, I read the specs on these amps beforehand, which are rated at 65 watts per channel. I had an idea this would not be enough to drive my power-hungry speakers ... at least not to THX reference levels. I therefore asked the manufacturer to send me two M1PWRs, so that I might use its mono bridged mode feature. I didn't want to penalize the amp without testing whether this was a matter of the sound's character or just that it wasn't enough power. In mono mode, the M1PWR almost doubles down into 100 watts per channel into eight ohms (200 into four).
Click on over to Page 2 for the High Points, Low Points, Competition and Comparison and Conclusion . . .
The difference was immediately apparent. The soundstage immediately expanded. Vocals were clear and crisp. Instruments came alive and had a definite dimensionality to them. Bass was tight and well controlled. Overall, it was a very musical sound. I heard no noise artifacts or any other degradation to the sound quality that other Class D amps may suffer from, just good clean sound. Trading blows with my reference Crowns, I felt that the additional power output of the Crowns enabled them to be a bit faster. In action films, bass on the Crowns had a bit more oomph. The noise floor was still a little lower on the Crowns, even with the M1PWR in mono mode, allowing me to eke out just a little more of the low-level details. While the Crowns have a more matter-of-fact character, I felt the Musical Fidelity amp was a little more, well, musical. The midrange had a slightly warmer feel, reminiscent of the tonal character of some of its higher-end brothers. Overall, the amp was a pleasure to listen to, and what you would expect for the entry-level offering from a quality manufacturer like Musical Fidelity. With SVS's powerful PC-13 Ultra subwoofer plugged in, the sound further improved, bringing in a greater level of that effortless feeling, which demonstrates one of the greatest benefits of pairing your towers with a quality subwoofer. It allows you to dedicate your front-channel amplifiers to reproducing just 80 Hz and up, so that the deepest bass frequencies don't take all the precious power from your midrange and highs.
• A warm, natural-sounding midrange makes this a great selection for music.
• The M1PWR's looks and form factor make for easy setup in any system.
• At its street price, the M1PWR is a great buy.
• Power output, especially in stereo mode, is quite low and may not be the best solution for driving lower-sensitivity speakers or otherwise difficult loads.
• A relatively high noise floor makes it difficult to hear some of the subtlest details.
• This amp does not accept balanced inputs for those looking to put together a fully balanced system end to end.
Comparison and Competition
The value proposition of the M1PWR depends on how you are operating the unit. At its original retail price of $1,300, running one per channel in mono mode for $2,600 total, competitors abound. Fellow Class D amplifiers like the Wyred 4 Sound mAMP is $800 cheaper and significantly more powerful. The Red Dragon Audio M500 MkII and the M1000 MkII are both similarly great values. If you don't like Class D architecture, the Parasound New Classic 2250v.2 is a great value at $1,350. At the M1PWR's lower street price of $499 for a stereo amp, especially for the way it sounds, the M1PWR is almost in a class of its own.
If your speakers are relatively easy to drive and power requirement is not critical, the M1PWR has a great sound and is a superb value, especially at the current street price of about $499. I loved the tonal character of the M1PWR. I just wish it were more powerful, especially in stereo. After all, more powerful amplification is a big reason why people buy separates instead of utilizing the built-in amplification in a receiver or integrated amp. What a combination we would have if Musical Fidelity came out with a switching amplifier with power on par with the Titan. One can always dream . . .