I'm no stranger to Britain's Musical Fidelity, having reviewed a number of their budget minded and mid tier products over the past few years. A few of the items that have come through my systems include the V-DAC II, V-Link 192, M1 CLiC, and the M1 CDT. All offered remarkable sound, even without considering their affordable prices. The V-DAC II and M1 CDT disc transport remain in my systems currently.
Musical Fidelity’s founder and principal is known for updating the lines pretty consistently. On the plus side of that, the company seems to add improvements and offer higher levels of performance for slight premiums, and sometimes without price increases. The company also has a reputation for making very well constructed components, with legacy products being enjoyed for decades by long time customers. Musical Fidelity has also shown itself to be front-runners, being one of the first companies to produce outboard DACs and SACD players.
Recently, the V-DAC, V-Link, and M1 series of digital products have been very successful. Musical Fidelity also introduced an upper end reference product called the M6 DAC, along with several CD players with digital inputs. In keeping with tradition, the company's products are built to last, based on the samples I have seen from the M6 and M8 series. By the way, other changes abound, with Musical Fidelity hiring industry veteran Randy Bingham to a full time position as their North American representative -- Mr. Bingham is very knowledgeable and is especially passionate about music -- and the push to open up new avenues to music lovers with new Bluetooth devices and affordable products.
Circling back to the entry level, Musical Fidelity now offers the V90 series. The series includes a phono stage, an integrated amplifier, a headphone amp, and the subject of this review, the $299 V90 DAC. The V90 is different in design and execution than the highly acclaimed, now discontinued V-DAC II. According to Musical Fidelity, "the engineering team looked carefully at the requirements of modern music sources to ensure the V90 delivered the perfect balance of technical performance, sleek and attractive looks and outright musical enjoyment. The heart of the V90-DAC is its 32 bit DAC circuit. Delivering a remarkable low jitter of just 12 picoseconds and a signal to noise ratio better than -117dB the V90-DAC offers a technical performance only usually found in much more expensive products."
The V90 differs under the hood from the previous V series in the use of a 32 DAC chip, an additional TosLink input, and a slightly better measured signal to noise ratio. It handles 192 Khz natively on the coaxial input, and 96 Khz on both the TosLink and asynchronous USB inputs. All incoming data is upsampled to 192 Khz, and the USB input is compatible with both Windows and Mac operating systems. Drivers are required for use with Windows.
On the outside, the V90 differs quite a bit from the V-DAC series. While the dimensions of the two DACs are quite similar, the V90 is a bit wider. The chassis layout is different as well, but remains nice and sturdy. All digital, analog, and power connections are on the back panel. The front panel has an input toggle switch and a power switch. The unit is supplied with a 12V wal wart power supply, and is compatible with a variety of external supplies as well, which makes it upgradeable. Overall, the look and feel of the V90 is first class.