Musical Fidelity M1 CLiC and M1 PWR Review 
Home Theater Preamplifiers Stereo Preamps
Written by Andre Marc   
Friday, 18 May 2012

Recently, I was very impressed by the Musical Fidelity V-DAC II, and have been eager to hear more products from the venerable British company. The V-DAC II is part of the V Series of entry-level mini components, which is just the first layer of the Musical Fidelity product line, which includes, in ascending order, the M1, M3, M6, and AMS products. At the very top is the must be seen to be believed Titan power amplifier.

John Quick -- of Tempo High Fidelity, the hard working importer of Musical Fidelity products -- sent me the M1 CLiC digital and analog "Universal Music Controller” for review.  The analog inputs of the M1 CLiC do not get digitized, by the way. I also received their brand new M1 PWR power amplifier.  The M1 CLiC is a rather fascinating product on paper, and very much classic Musical Fidelity in design and attention to detail. The CLiC retails for $1999.  It is available in black and, for a small upcharge, silver. My review sample arrived in black.

M1 CLiC: A Closer Look:

To demystify the CLiC, it is a digital streamer, a file player, a DAC, and an analog preamp all under one well-designed chassis.  This is a new breed of component that was very apparent as I perused the halls of this year’s CES. Musical Fidelity is certainly no stranger to digital, having made some of the best sounding early CD players, and being one of the earliest companies to produce outboard DAC units. Musical Fidelity has a history of releasing very well engineered products and, as you will see, I believe the CLiC is no exception.

I prefer not to get too technical in this review, as the Specifications Tab below outlines the major features. The M1 CLiC basics include coaxial, optical, and USB digital inputs. A front USB slot accepts USB sticks and FAT16 or FAT32 formatted hard drives, a rear panel input accepts an iPod or iPhone, and there are three sets of analog inputs. There are fixed and variable analog outputs. The latter is used when configuring the CLiC as a fully 100% analog preamplifier.  The CLiC’s digital conversion is done by what is essentially the equivalent of their highly regarded M1 DAC, a 192 Khz / 24 bit upsampling DAC.

Musical Fidelity M1 CLiC rear panel

All functions are available via the supplied remote control, or via the very nicely executed free app, available on the iTunes app store.  There is a decent sized front panel display with typical menu style navigation. In order to keep the front panel as clean as possible, very much like an Apple device, there are no controls available on the front panel save for standby. Network connectivity is available via WiFi or Ethernet. Like most manufacturers, Musical Fidelity recommends Ethernet for the very best performance.

The CLiC accepts all major formats depending on the inputs. Through the back USB input and optical inputs, anything goes. Through the network, WiFi or Ethernet, everything works except AIFF or ALAC, unless you use Twonky Media server software (more about that below). The CLiC has three SPDIF inputs, two coax that accept up to 192 kHz, and one optical that accepts up to 96 kHz. Also, an “adaptive” USB input accepts up to “only” 48 kHz. A word about the USB input. I just don’t think anyone who is interested in this product will care about connecting his or her computers directly into the M1 CLiC. As I will describe below, the charm of the CLiC is freedom from computers in the listening room. I think being able to stream from hard drives connected to your computer or a NAS in the location of your choice, plus the ability to playback files from directly connected storage devices or even an iDevice, is where it is at. 


 

Set Up & Listening:

I decided to first set up the CLiC as a digital hub, without using it as preamplifier. I ran Stager Silver interconnects from the Fixed Output into the McIntosh MA6600 integrated amp driving Harbeth Compact 7 ES3 monitors. I hooked it up to an Ethernet cable and navigated the menu until I found Music Server. It found Twonky Media, which I have installed on my Mac Mini and, to my surprise, Logitech Media Server, which I normally use with my Squeezebox Touch. This must be because LMS is now universal UPnP software. After using both for a few days I settled on the Logitech software simply because I am used to it. I then connected my Marantz CD player via coaxial digital cable and was ready to roll.

I found the CLiC’s performance as a DAC and streamer to be superb.  I don’t know why, but I was a bit surprised just how dimensional, organic, and transparent the presentation was. I felt, over all, it bettered my Squeezebox Touch connected to the V-DAC II.  I don’t know if this is because it eliminates the need for a digital cable, its superior streaming, its superior power supply, or a combination of factors. The fact is that streamed FLACs, with resolution ranging from standard CD files to 192 kHz / 24 bit files sounded stunning. Playing CDs’ on the Marantz decoded by the CLiC also sounded fabulous.  The CLiC’s upsampling DAC left me nothing to complain about sonically.

Musical Fidelity M1 PWR

I then decided to use the CLiC as an analog preamplifier, simply switching to the variable outputs, and connecting it to the new M1 PWR power amp, rated at 60 wpc into 8 ohms, and doubling its power into 4 ohms. The M1 PWR is the same size as the CLiC, so they are a nice visual pairing. Interestingly, the PWR can also be used as a 100 wpc mono block amplifier as well.  The amp is nicely finished, with quality connectors, and Musical Fidelity’s silver logo on the front.  The M1 PWR retails for $1299. The pair was connected with Transparent MM2 Plus interconnects. Each was outfitted with Shunyata Venom 3 power cords. Everything else stayed the same

The M1 CLiC and M1 PWR combo turned out to be very symbiotic. The pair was dynamic, clean, and there was plenty of drive.  I especially liked the smooth volume control steps via the remote or the iPhone app. The M1 combo offered up what was no doubt high end sound.  They were a great match for my Harbeth speakers, flawless in operation, and exceptionally quiet.  For kicks, I decided to briefly use the M1 PWR with the Belles Soloist 3 preamplifier I reviewed recently, which is my benchmark for sub $2000 preamps.  The CLiC faired very well in comparison, which is impressive since the he Soloist 3 is a great sounding purist preamp that punches well above its weight class and, with minimalist features, retails for slightly more than half of the cost of the CLiC.

Musical Fidelity M1 PWR rear panel

I briefly introduced the M1 CDT CD transport into the mix, which I connected via coaxial digital cable to the CLiC. The CDT is a transport only with no onboard DAC. A full review is forthcoming. It was a terrific addition to the set up. The CDT is a fine transport and is similar in dimensions to the CLiC and PWR combo. It is clear that Musical Fidelity offers complete audio solutions in the M1 series with all bases covered, including a phono preamp and headphone amp.

The best way to control the CLiC is definitely the free app for iPod, iPhone, and iPad. It works great, and allows for full control of the unit. You can see all your music files and artwork, switch inputs, control volume, and change settings. I found it very responsive and commands were immediately executed. During the last phase of the review period, on several occasions I found my wife had “hijacked” the M1 combo on her iPhone, where she downloaded the app and called up international Internet radio stations via the CLiC’s tuner. She even plugged her iPhone directly into CLiC and pulled up a bunch of albums, including Little Broken Hearts, the cool new album by Norah Jones.  I plugged my iPod Nano in the iDevice input and it worked like a charm as well.

The last part of my evaluation consisted of playing back files directly from thumb drives and Fat32 formatted hard drives. No issues there. Playback was flawless, and high quality. Just remember that the more files on a drive, the longer it will take to index.

 

Conclusion:

I think Musical Fidelity has engineered two great products here. As a matter of fact, I think the whole M1 series is a very smart line, offering an entry into true high-end sound for very fair prices. Not only that, but the products are cutting edge and well made. Nice form factors are a bonus.

Musical Fidelity M1 CLiC Silver

I found the CLiC amazingly easy to set up and navigate and, in fixed output mode, a superb sounding streamer and digital hub across all the inputs. The only input I did not explore was the back panel “adaptive” USB input since I just did not think plugging a computer into the CLiC was desirable. The free iDevice app worked like a charm and was a pleasure to use. As an analog preamplifier, the CLiC also shined. I thought it sounded at least as good as other preamps in its price point and is not in any way a compromise. The M1 PWR power amplifier delivers a clean sounding 60 wpc into 8 Ohms and was dead quiet, ran cool, and offered up nice three-dimensional sound beyond its $1299 price tag. The M1 CLiC and M1 PWR power amplifier are an excellent combination.  Add some nice speakers and you have a complete set up.

Musical Fidelity M1 PWR Silver

If you have ripped your CD collection, purchased downloaded music, and/or enjoy Internet radio, the CLiC has you covered. If you have analog sources like a tape deck or turntable/phono set up, no worries there. If you are the type of audiophile who has no interest in fiddling with a computer to enjoy your music collection, except for ripping and downloading, you have an elegant solution in the M1 CLiC/PWR combo. Highly recommended based on performance, value, and Musical Fidelity’s fine reputation.

 

Specifications

Musical Fidelity
US distributor: Tempo High Fidelity, LLC
P.O. Box 541443
Waltham, MA 02454
(617) 314-9296

Musical Fidelity M1 CLiC: $1999

  • Universal music controller
  • Low noise, low jitter, up to 24-bit 192 kHz, reclocking upsampling DAC
  • Seven digital inputs (see below)
  • Fixed and variable analog outputs (see below)
  • Ethernet connection
  • Built-in WiFi connectivity
  • Convenient front-panel USB connection
  • Full support of audio streaming and Internet radio
  • Front-panel menu control (color display)
  • Wireless remote control
  • Frigger output

Compatible Digital Formats

  • FLAC (up to 24-bit 192 kHz on wired LAN and up to 24-bit, 96 kHz on wireless LAN)
  • WMA/9 (up to 16-bit 48 kHz)
  • AAC, HE-AAC (up to 24-bit, 96 kHz)
  • LPCM (up to 24-bit, 192 kHz on wired LAN and up to 24-bit, 96 kHz on wireless LAN)
  • Ogg vorbis 1.0 (up to 16-bit, 32 kHz)
  • MP3 (up to 16-bit, 48 kHz)
  • Apple AIFF and Apple Lossless formats require use of Twonky media manager on NAS drive or PC/Mac


Digital Inputs

  • 2 x USB (iPod/iPhone input on the rear panel, memory stick, USB disc drive input on the front panel)
  • 2 x coax inputs (SP-DIF up to 24-bit 192 kHz)
  • Optical (up to 24-bit 192 kHz)
  • USB B BUS input for computer/PDA limited interface (32-48 kbps)
  • Network connection (Ethernet, WiFi)

Analog Connections

  • Three RCA analog inputs
  • Preamp out
  • Tape out

 

Musical Fidelity M1 PWR Amplifier: $1299

  • Power - 60 Watts per channel into 8 Ohms
  • Dimensions - W 220mm x H 100mm x D 300mm

 

Review System 1

CD Transport: Musical Fidelity M1 CDT
Server: Squeezebox Touch w/ CIA VDC-SB power supply via Ethernet to MAC Mini w/ Western Digital & Seagateexternal drives.
DAC: Bryston BDA-1
Headphone Amp: Pro-Ject Head Box II
Headphones: Grado SR60
Preamp: Audio Research SP16
Amplifier: Audio Research VS55, Rogue Hydra
Speaker: Thiel CS2.4
Cables:  Stager Silver Solids, Kimber KCTG (IC), Transparent  MM2 Super (IC), Transparent Plus (Speaker) Acoustic Zen Tsunami II (AC),Transparent (AC).Shunyata Venom (AC) Element Cable Red Storm (Digital AC), DH Labs TosLink, DH Labs AES/EBU
Accessories: Symposium Rollerblocks, Shakti Stone, Audience Adept Response aR6 power conditioner,Salamander rack

Review System 2

CD Player: Marantz 5003
Music Server: Squeezebox Touch via Ethernet to MAC Mini w/ Western Digital & Seagate external drives.
DAC: Musical Fidelity V-DAC II
Integrated Amplifier: McIntosh  MA6600
Tape Deck: Revox A77
Speaker: Harbeth Compact 7ES3
Cables: Kimber Hero HB,  DH Labs White Lightning (IC),QED Genisis Silver Spiral (Speaker),PS Audio (AC), Pangea Audio (AC), DH Labs TosLink

Accessories: Cable Pro Noisetrapper, Sound Anchors Stands, Wiremold AC Strip






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