Musical Fidelity M6x ViNYL Phono Stage Review
M6x ViNYL Phono Preamplifier
AUD $3,000 RRP
One of hi-fi’s many contentious topics is the relative difference in sound quality between discrete circuitry vs. op-amps. Many think that you get better results from so-called operational amplifier chips – effectively integrated circuits designed to amplify signals – than you would by designing a circuit the old fashioned way, with separate transistors on a printed circuit board. Others strongly disagree – so it’s interesting to see Musical Fidelity fall into the latter category.
I’ve tried hundreds of phono stages over the years, and my favourites tend to be discrete transistor designs or tube products – the latter, of course, have to be discrete anyway. I have reviewed some highly regarded op-amp based designs over the years and found most to have quite ‘samey’ sound, best described as a bit technical or even clinical. As ever, it’s as much down to how you do things as it is what you do – but for me, this has been a recurring theme. Whereas the previous M6 ViNYL was op-amp based, the new M6x ViNYL is not.
However, there’s more to life than transistors, you know. Its gain stage may be old school, but its front end certainly isn’t. Its full size (440x100x380mm, 5.5kg) case features three separate, independently selectable cartridge inputs under microprocessor control. You can toggle between three different turntables, with a choice of MM (47k ohm, 50-400pF) or MC (25-1.2k ohm, 470pF) and +6dB gain on/off. Two pairs of RCA unbalanced inputs and one pair of balanced XLR ins are fitted around the back, so you can keep three turntables permanently attached and switch between them, instead of having to plug and unplug them. Balanced XLR and unbalanced RCA phono outputs are also provided. It’s a lovely interface, and gives analogue addicts a lot of control over what they’re listening to – I can see people buying it for this fact alone.
I’ve heard a lot of phono stages recently, and this takes its rightful place up there with the best at its price point. It has a spry, light and detailed sound with lots of detail and a lovely spacious soundstage. Music comes at you on a large scale through the M6x ViNYL, reminding us what the venerable LP record is capable of if properly handled. Yet it’s not one of those syrupy, sumptuous sorts of phono stages, that seem to work more as an effects unit than a supposedly neutral amplifier. Far from it…
The Musical Fidelity’s open and expansive soundstage is rather special. Everything is in its correct place, with each instrument in the mix able to play happily along without being swamped by any other. Glen Campbell’s Witchita Lineman showed how lovely this experience can be. The tracks’ trademark soaring strings and backing brass were set neatly behind the lead vocal, guitar and percussion. I was impressed by the air around the instruments, and the general vastness of the recorded acoustic, which made my CD version sound positively closed-in.
Then there’s its detail and transparency. The way the M6x ViNYL – with the help of my Michell GyroDec/TecnoArm turntable and Lyra Dorian moving coil – unpacked this track was quite something. Instrumental timbre was natural and believable; strings were wonderfully wiry but not edgy from my first pressing of this classic LP, which has never been anywhere near a digital cutting lathe, let alone a digital remaster or recorder. Campbell’s voice was also wonderfully tactile like he was in the room with me. I got the same fabulous results with Kate Bush’s Moving, which was positively ethereal.
Compared to ModWright’s PH 9.0 tube phono stage – admittedly nearly twice the price – the Musical Fidelity has a slightly well lit upper midband and a drier and leaner bass. Yet this is subtle, and on some records even helps to illuminate an otherwise murky mix – such as with Rose Royce’s Wishing on a Star. Yet the M6x ViNYL is never unpleasant to listen to; indeed, its excellent detail retrieval and fine timbre make it a pleasure. And then there’s the unit’s lovely rhythmic swing. This phono stage lets the music sashay along with a spring in its step. It always sounds positive, propulsive and purposeful – without ever being in your face. The result is a delightfully lilting musicality, one that few of its price rivals can match.
Overall, this is an excellent phono stage for the money and treads a path between high-end sound, versatility and user convenience. It’s not quite top tier material, but is nowhere near the price of no-compromise design and still has two major pluses – its discrete transistor design and its connectivity. The super build, finish and fine styling all go without saying – so hear it if you can.
David started his career in 1993 writing for Hi-Fi World and went on to edit the magazine for nearly a decade. He was then made Editor of Hi-Fi Choice and continued to freelance for it and Hi-Fi News until becoming StereoNET’s Editor-in-Chief.