The more I listened, the more it became apparent that the Micromega M-150 was not a component that left any residue of its own character on a recording or the loudspeaker it was driving. The walking bass line so musically critical to “LTMBBQ” from jazz pianist Wayne Horvitz’s album Sweeter Than the Day ought to evoke for the listener the image of a large and powerful acoustic instrument, recorded with a sense of its volume and mass—and it did. For several years, my preferred orchestral recording for auditioning speakers at audio shows has been Bernard Haitink’s 2010 recording of Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 15. I heard believable massed string sonorities, and the snare drum (with or without the snares on) was reproduced in such a way that it was obvious that a stick was hitting a tightly stretched membrane. Favorite jazz, rock and pop voices, captured in their prime—Ella Fitzgerald, Mel Tormé, James Taylor, Linda Ronstadt, Freddie Mercury—sounded utterly like themselves. And although the M-150 didn’t editorialize, neither did the amp homogenize: It didn’t obscure the fact that the T+A and Marco Serri loudspeakers gave different accountings of familiar recordings than the Magicos did.
But we don’t make decisions about what stereo gear to commit to in a vacuum. It’s noble to compare the sound of a loudspeaker or amplifier to a theoretical ideal or a recollection of the real thing but, ultimately, one has to choose one speaker or amp over another. So I made some direct comparisons.
I had on hand for several weeks another French integrated amplifier that’s perhaps the most obvious competitor to the M-Series gear: Devialet’s Expert 120 ($6495). If the goal is to get a piece of high-end gear into your Significant Other’s designer-decorated living room, the Devialet may be your best shot. A mere 40mm in height, with a gleaming chrome-plated aluminum enclosure, the Expert 120 makes the Micromega look positively clunky. Accessing its rear panel is much less exasperating, as the back portion of the top panel can be removed to make connections. From the standpoint of electronic design, the Devialet is groundbreakingly sophisticated. But I preferred the sound of the M-150. Linda Ronstadt’s voice on “When You Wish Upon a Star,” from one of the several albums she made with Nelson Riddle, was notably more focused and dimensional. It was less synthetic-sounding, more convincingly produced by a flesh-and-blood human being. To my ears, there was a cardboard-cutout character to the Devialet’s imaging with less continuity to the soundfield. My impression was that the Expert 120’s long-term listenability might not hold up nearly as well as the M-150’s. Is the Devialet’s Class D amplifier section responsible? I don’t know. Switching amplifiers are getting better and better, and Devialet is certainly a leader in advancing this technology. But for the deepest kind of listening, my preference was for the Micromega.
On the other hand, I also compared the Micromega to the combination of a T+A DAC 8 DSD digital-to-analog converter and Pass Labs XA 60.8 monoblocks, a pairing that’s roughly twice the cost of the M-150. Playing many of the same selections I’d enjoyed with the Micromega through the T+A/Pass electronics resulted, for me, in a meaningful improvement. I heard subtler dynamic gradations, and simultaneous complex musical events were more coherent. The sound seemed more organic. It’s an old story. There’s a point of diminishing returns as the gear gets more expensive but often there is a return. It’s up to an individual music-lover to decide on the value of such incremental differences.
So, much of what an audio enthusiast with broad technological and musical proclivities will want from his or her electronics is “in there”—“there” meaning inside the compact chassis of Micromega’s M-150 integrated. A Class AB amplification circuit, DSP room correction, an excellent phonostage, a DAC with true DSD decoding, and compatibility with popular streaming platforms, Internet radio, an advanced app to run the thing—even a headphone output. Not much is missing. The lack of an HDMI input will trip up a few users, and I wish the app allowed for some rudimentary bass management for those attaching a subwoofer. And it would be great if getting at the rear panel connections were less of an ordeal.
But the Micromega is undeniably impressive in its scope of operation. I guess the M-150 qualifies as a “lifestyle product”—it’s versatile, easy to use, and visually appealing. There’s no question, however, that musical values were the top priority of the engineers who built this sophisticated machine. Adrien Hamdi mentioned to me that there are 2000 parts within the confines of the Micromega’s attractive case, and my sense is that every one was carefully considered. A powerful high-end sensibility informs the design and performance of the M-150. It’s in there.
Specs & Pricing
Type: Class AB integrated amplifier with DAC and phonostage
Power output: 150Wpc into 8 ohms; 300Wpc into 4 ohms
Analog inputs: RCA, mm/mc phono, XLR, room EQ microphone
Digital inputs: USB Type B, coaxial, optical, AES/EBU, two I2S
Network and wireless: LAN Ethernet, AirDream (wireless) compatible, DLNA/UPnP compatible, Bluetooth 4.0 aptX
Formats supported: PCM up to 32-bit/768kHz, DoP, DSD up to 11.2MHz
Phonostage loading: 47k ohms (moving-magnet); 110 ohms (moving-coil)
Dimensions: 16.9" x 2.2" 13.8"
Weight: 20.5 lbs.
Price: $7499 (black or silver anodized aluminum finish); $8499 (glossy aluminum finish in black, Carrara, Imperial Red, Electric Orange, Nogaro Blue)
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