Musical Fidelity M6x DAC Review

Posted on 12th February, 2024
Musical Fidelity M6x DAC Review

David Price samples this swish-looking, suave-sounding, mid-market digital-to-analogue converter…

Musical Fidelity

M6x DAC

USD $2,599

Musical Fidelity M6x DAC Review

The latest in a long line of premium DACs that began with 2013's M6, the M6x now proudly holds the mantle of Musical Fidelity's top number-cruncher. The formerly British and now Austrian-owned company has produced many digital converters over the years, beginning with the Digilog way back in the late nineteen eighties. Suffice it to say that things have come a long way since then.

Musical Fidelity has kept to a fairly purist remit for its new flagship. There's no onboard streaming, no fancy LC display, and you don't get full preamp functionality. However, it does sport a good headphone stage, which will please head-fi fans. The company says that too many features in one box compromises sound quality, so think of this as the digital equivalent of a belt-drive turntable where you must remove the platter to change the speed. Yet there is an obvious surfeit of LEDs – its fascia glints blue when powered up.

Musical Fidelity M6x DAC Review

This DAC isn't a cheap design, so the high-quality aluminium casework comes as no surprise. It's quite large at 100x440x390mm [HxWxD] and heavy at 6.9kg; that 'full metal jacket' accounts for much of this, along with a hefty (for a DAC) toroidal transformer. Following best practice, this is well-screened and positioned as far away from the two printed circuit boards as possible. It's neatly laid out inside with twin ESS Sabre ES9038Q2M DAC chips running in dual differential mode on this new model. These spin up to 32-bit, 768kHz PCM and DSD512 through the USB input and up to 24/192 via S/PDIF and AES/EBU. MQA decoding is also standard. As you'd expect, the digital data stream from your digital transport is reclocked. Round the back, you'll find USB B, twin optical and single coaxial digital inputs, plus AES/EBU.

Musical Fidelity M6x DAC Review

The fascia sports a small volume control, so the unit can drive a power amplifier without recourse to a preamp. The aforementioned welter of LEDs gives you a comprehensive picture of the selected PCM and DSD sampling frequency, input, fixed or variable output, MQA status, digital filter type and upsampling status – the latter being switchable. Yet this is harder to read than rivals such as the Pro-Ject DAC Box II, for example, which has a simple backlit LC display and seems none the worse for it. The M6x's buttons are also more fiddly than they should be, making this DAC a mixed bag ergonomically.

THE LISTENING

Musical Fidelity has long had a 'house sound'. It's hard to put your finger on it precisely, but it revolves around an ever-so-slightly warm bass, a satisfyingly clean and detailed but subtly well-lit midband, and a smooth, refined treble. The M6x largely sticks to this recipe, and very nice it sounds too. It's an animated yet suave-sounding performer that never gets to the point of being tonally harsh or excessively forensic.

Musical Fidelity M6x DAC Review

Spin up a well-recorded piece of music, such as the classic 'art rock' of Japan's Quiet Life, and you're greeted with lots of texture to vocals, synthesisers and snare drums. Yet, the listening experience is more about having fun than reverse engineering the recording. It's grippy in the bass, yet more obvious is the fine sense of timing – it syncopates tightly with the drum kit work. The music is delivered in a controlled yet compelling way - as if the M6x itself is rather enjoying itself. Rival designs, such as the classic Benchmark DAC3 B, seem a bit more forensic and wooden, less exuberant and endearing.

Musical Fidelity M6x DAC Review

This character makes it a fine all-rounder that plays a wide variety of music in an enjoyable manner. From the early nineties piano groove-driven house music of P.P. Orange's My Feelings, to the sumptuous, soulful acid jazz of 4hero's Escape That from the end of that decade, the Musical Fidelity shows no fear or favour. It has an impressively self-effacing sort of nature; it's as if it doesn't want to draw attention to itself. The latter track comes across in an impressively spatially expansive way, highlighting one of this product's obvious strengths. The former is rendered with all the speed and attack it merits, with unexpected delicacy for this type of music.

THE VERDICT

Musical Fidelity's M6x isn't the world's greatest DAC, but it sure gives a whiff of what far more exotic designs can achieve, like a sort of 'my first dCS'. It's a consummately classy-sounding product that's hard to criticise given its modest price, wide feature set, and fine connectivity. The neat build quality and finish are the icing on the cake, but be prepared for a sea of blue LED light when you switch it on!

Visit Musical Fidelity for more information

David Price's avatar

David Price

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.

Posted in:Applause Awards 2024 DACs Hi-Fi
Tags: musical fidelity  focal naim america 

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