Quality seems to have lost its never-ending battle over quantity in the digital age. That already seemed the case in the era on mp3s, now when people are streaming music online via Spotify – or heaven forfend over YouTube, the hours spend meticulously tweaking tunes in the studio hardly seem worth it.
However, certain flag bearers for quality are fighting the good fight and leading the charge is Musical Fidelity – who for 30 years have been producing the best of British hi-fi.
The company’s new V-series, are a range of entry level Digital Audio Convertors that bring quality audio to the people at prices they can afford.
There’s a real “is this it?” feeling as you pull the V90 out of the box. Coming from an era when you could throw your back out lifting an amplifier, finding one that is smaller than a VHS cassette is perturbing. But don’t let that fool you – the V90-AMP is a serious piece of hi-f- and pumps out 20 watts per channel. The dull metal feel is gorgeous – it’s my second favourite piece of metal tech since the Addon T10 remote control (which is a joy to hold). According to the company the final finish is crystal bead shot blast, fine texture moonstone. But it looks and feels like “proper” hifi, whatever that ridiculous notion evokes for you.
The front is understated and simple, comprising a volume knob that doubles up at a power button and a couple LEDs for power and status. The volume knob has a nice solid feel to it but does have to be spun repeatedly to max out – rather than operating on a limited range so it’s hard to know at a glance exactly how loud things are going to be.
Round the back things are also pretty simple, with speaker outs, an optical/analogue input and a 24 bit asynchronous USB port. The USB port is given priority, so if there is not data stream the V90 will automatically switch over to the optical/analogue. The small size makes it a perfect for media centres and it blends in nicely with a Mac Mini – although it’s so inconspicuous it makes it easy to bring high quality audio to your living room, bedroom or office.
Living in shared accommodation and working in an open plan office it’s hard to rock out just as much as I’d like (which is a lot) so headphones have become an essential. And if your headphone game is particularly tight, you’ll know the value in a high quality headphone amplifier. The VPA is one such device, by-passing the internal amplification of your computer or line input and pumping out high fidelity music.
The V90-HPA is the same size and shape as the V90-AMP with a few key differences – the most obvious being the dual headphone outputs that give the device its raison d’etre. Unlike the V90-AMP, the volume dial is fixed, which I much prefer. The power and the input are both controlled by old fashioned toggles that make a reassuring click- it’s hard not to pretend you are setting a plane in motion when you flick them on (and as I discovered, no-one will stop you).
The inputs around back include 24 bit 96 kHz asynchronous reclocking USB, which accepts 16 to 24 bits, with any standard sample rate up to 96 kHz. The back also features a stereo RCA input and output.
Like all headphone amplifiers, the V90 HPA aims to deliver fidelity, sending a neutral signal from the artist to your ears, with as little interference as possible. There’s obviously a tiny downside to this of Garbage In:Garbage Out so if you’re listening to a 128 Kbs rip of “Stupid Girl” it’s going to sound terrible – worst than on your regular speakers even as there’s no sweetening of sound going on. This is of course, where all those lossless .FLAC/.AAC files you’ve had stored really come into their own.
The V90 HPA offers a high input impedance and low output impedance and will easily drive the vast majority of headphones (from 10 ohms to 600 ohms), including Musical Fidelity’s MF100s.
The very low distortion, extremely low noise, flat frequency response and low output impedance is exactly what you want in a headphone amplifier.
The V90 DAC helps bring the rest of your kit up to speed. The Digital Audio Convertor looks and sounds as good as the rest of the Musical Fidelity range and prevents you from throwing away older equipment. The back is fully equipped so that everyone is invited to play in the high-quality audio pool party with inputs for Coax, Toslink and USB digital inputs. All of these units need an external power supply, which can add a little bit of cable clutter to the back of your set up – but if you’ve already got a fair few set-top boxes it’s hardly going to make much of dent.
Inside the beautiful, beautiful exterior is mighty 32 bit DAC circuit with low jitter of just 12 picoseconds and a signal to noise ratio better than -117dB. Like all the Musical Fidelity gear I’ve tested it’s plug and play, which is a relief – it’s bad enough fiddling with cables and such when installing hi-fi gear. The last thing you want to do is to be running *.exe or *.dmg files as well. Simplicity underscores this unit – it has an on/off switch and an input selector and that’s it. It’s pretty barebones but considering that it only has to do one thing well this is more than welcome. I got a kick out the reassuring clicks from the toggle switches and felt assured that once I’d flicked switch it was game on (I was playing “How We Do”).
This is a brilliant addition to most systems, with a wide open sound stage and incredibly smooth performance on most of the tracks I pumped through it. Plus it’s just so easy to use – all I really want in life!
Even the sweetest of hi-fi setups is just eye candy unless great tunes are flowing through the air. And whilst vinyl has made a resurgence, for a lot of people music is a something that lives in an iTunes library, via a streaming service like Spotify or a website like YouTube. The V90-BLU gets music off these devices and out across your speakers. There are a host of simpler ways to do this but the V90-BLU has an emphasis on convenience and quality, with useful digital and analogue bypass facilities and includes an on-board DAC for simple connection to a host of audio equipment.
Perched atop your Hi-Fi, the V90-BLU delivers high quality sound from its internal upsampling, reclocking DAC and high quality analogue output stages. You can even hook the digital output into the V90-DAC if you want to daisy chain all your Musical Fidelity boxes into one. In an analogue system the BLU can be connected between any input source and amplifier or between a pre and power amplifier. It is in bypass mode until a Bluetooth signal is received and then it automatically switches over to the Bluetooth source.It has similar bypass and switching facilities for both COAX and Optical digital inputs.
For more information on the whole range head to Musical Fidelity