For over three decades Musical Fidelity, a company based in the United Kingdom and led by the clarinetist Antony Michaelson, has been among the leading purveyors of a startling variety of audio equipment. It has produced everything from buffers to CD players to amplifiers, sometimes employing exotic tubes like the 6112 twin-triode Mu-vista. Perhaps its most intriguing flagship product has been its Titan amplifier, an unusual kind of monoblock that contains the amplification in one chassis and the power supply in a separate one, with each linked to the other by a special control cable. About a year ago I had the chance to demo the Titan briefly and contrast it with the Classé CA-M600. The Titan acquitted itself admirably, coming out on the somewhat sweeter more refulgent side along with plenty of power to spare.
So upon learning that Musical Fidelity was coming out with a new monoblock amplifier and a preamplifier to accompany it, I was eager to audition them, both on my main speakers and subwoofers. While Musical Fidelity tends to be somewhat sparse about supplying technical specifications, it’s clear that, like the Titan, the M8700m puts out plenty of juice—a whopping 700 watts into 8 ohms. Whether it doubles up into 4 ohms the company does not say. It also claims a superlative signal-to- noise ratio of 120dB, a number that seems to be increasingly common among high-end amplifier manufacturers as they seek to create blacker backgrounds from which the music can emerge. One other notable feature is that the company has also banished output-protection circuitry from the amp, which means that you need to be doubly careful about making sure that you don’t cross speaker cables at the terminals and risk frying the amplifier (or speakers). Finally, the amp does run in an internally bridged configuration, so you need to think twice before you connect a subwoofer like the REL to it, as you can create a common ground that also risks a fireworks display.
One of the first things that became evident upon firing up the amps was their fundamental prowess in the bass region, one that translates into a warm and resonant sound throughout the frequency spectrum. We’re talking death grip on the bass notes. This, friends, is take-no-prisoners territory. When it was first deployed on Wilson Audio’s Hammer of Thor subwoofers, I'd wondered how much difference power amps could make in the 30Hz-on-down region. Well, it only took a few second for me to stop wondering and a big and somewhat incredulous grin broke out on my face as those darned amps appeared to take the subs down another octave or so in depth. This wasn’t a matter of minor nuances. It was directly and audibly palpable. You could feel the molecules in the room vibrating as this amplifier immediately took command of the woofers.
Take the track “Mo Better Blues” on pianist Jacky Terrasson’s contemplative CD Smile [Blue Note]. The electric bass had always been impressive in a wide range of iterations over the years, whether it was with Classé or Nagra amplification. But with the M8700m, it achieved a different quality of solidity and sheer force. My room had never been pressurized to that extent before with these subwoofers—the impact was right in the gut, but never crude or thudding. On the contrary, the speed and control in the bass region was sensational.
Nor was this attribute confined to the subwoofers. When I ran the amplifiers on the main Wilson XLFs, I was once again impressed at their authority. On piano and acoustic bass, the amplifiers manifested both a clarity and power in the bass region that was second to none. The bass oozed out of the speakers without conveying any sense of time lag—the interstitial black space between the notes was final and absolute.
In focusing so intently on the bass, I don’t mean to convey the impression that this, and this alone, is what makes the amplifiers exceptional. It is not. Apart from their grip and control, the other particularly impressive quality is their low noise floor. In this regard, I believe that the M8700m surpasses its predecessor the Titan. The Titan had a somewhat rolled off top-end in comparison with the Classé amps, which seemed to extend into the ether. While the M8700m has a fuller and warmer sound than the Classés, I don’t think that they are truncating the treble region. Instead, it’s fascinating to observe how far you can hear into the recording. On Christian McBride’s CD Conversations With Christian [Mack Avenue Records], the final track “Chitlins and Gefiltefish” ends with him shouting, “Yeah!” Which is what you’ll feel like yelling back when you hear how vivid his voice sounds, reverberating off the walls of the recording studio. The low noise floor is also conducive to conveying a sense of the silky flow in Andras Schiff’s new and much-heralded recording of Bach’s Well-Tempered Klavier on the ECM label. schiff explains that he believes it is unduly intrusive to employ the pedal when playing this piece, and he relies solely on his own fleet hands to create a sense of line. The Musical Fidelity’s lack of strain and quiet backgrounds allow Schiff’s unique interpretation to emerge in all its subtlety, refinement, and complexity. Naturally, the dCS Vivaldi played no small part in recreating Schiff’s piano playing. But what I hope to convey is that the combination of the two pieces, the M8 preamplifier and amplifier, create a believable and intriguing representation of the original event.