Musical Fidelity V90 range review – AMP, DAC, BLU and HPA
Musical Fidelity have taken all their Hi-Fi know-how and carefully placed it in some tiny silver packages. These are aimed at audiophiles that are looking for quality at an affordable price in a form-factor that won’t dominate their living space. Please welcome the Musical Fidelity V90 range.
Musical Fidelity can legitimately claim to have brought to market one of the very first consumer Hi-Fi DAC’s (Digital Analogue Convertor) way back in 1987.
Now the role of the DAC has become important again with people investing more-and-more into MP3s and listening to their collection on computers or networked systems so the V90-DAC has quite a duty to fulfill.
The new V90-AMP is an example of how the designers have thought about what a modern user really needs on an amp in the 21st century. Not only in function and quality but also on how modern living areas seem to be getting smaller.
Spin the V90-AMP around and you’ll notice that it’s packing a USB input for a start, something you might not expect on a regular amplifier. Yet when you consider this maybe used sitting alongside a laptop or on your desk, it makes perfect sense.
The same goes for its headphone stage, the V90-HPA, which too sports a USB input plus standard line-level inputs.
As if to prove the up-to-dateness of this system the V90-BLU is a Bluetooth receiver with additional digital inputs.
The V90-BLU even separates the digital audio stream from the control signal stream, with significant sonic benefits.
I’ve tried to break down this review in to the individual components as they can be integrated in to your current system, used as stand alone components, as well as being put together to form possibly the cutest but potent Hi-Fi stacks at this price point.
With a choice of coaxial, asynchronous USB and optical inputs, it will work with most digital devices your household can throw at it which is already promising.
It’s a well-built little box for the money too. Just short of half-width size, there’s a 32-bit DAC housed inside the simple brushed aluminium case.
The simplicity of its looks is complemented by plug-and-play functionality, with just two small switches on the front for controlling power and source.
Hooking the V90-DAC to my Cambridge Audio CD player I noticed that the mid-range appeared to be a lot more smooth with a clarity and detail that I’d not experienced before through the Cambridge Audio amp.
The opening bars to The Grudge by Tool suddenly seemed much more open with the bass, guitar and drums sat in their own zone.
Crucify by Tori Amos really shows the V90-DAC’s strengths with the acoustic guitar sparking off her keys in the chorus.
Testing it’s skills with my Cambridge Audio DVD player, I wasn’t expecting much of a difference to be honest but the V90-DAC delivered more detail, especially in the treble and upper mid-range.
Plugging it in to my desktop computer via the asynchronous USB input (which is capable of 24-bit/96kHz), and clicking on to Singing A Song About Today by The Mooney Suzuki shows the V90-DAC’s characteristics remain constant no matter which input route you use.
In my opinion I don’t expect a DAC to colour the audio being fed through it tonally. Instead it should interpret the signal and present it in a clearly defined way. No matter what I sent through the DAC, which ranged from Bleed for Me by Black Label Society to Bloody Well Right by Supertramp, I found it well balanced and that it gave the instruments plenty of space.
There’s a lot more to this little box than simply accepting audio from your smartphone. It has some tricks hidden up it’s sleeve thanks to it’s sophisticated analogue and digital pass through skills.
In an analogue system the BLU can be connected between any input source and amplifier or between a pre and power amplifier. It sits patiently 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 too.
Selecting a range of tunes from my phone to squirt over Bluetooth proved that the BLU had great response and that it’s DAC is more than capable. Shake it out by Florence and the Machine sounded epic.
The V90-BLU’s audio quality is every bit as rewarding as it’s Musical Fidelity badge would suggest and delivers fabulous sound no matter what your chosen Bluetooth music source.
Linked straight to your Hi-Fi the V90-BLU delivers high quality sound from its internal upsampling, reclocking DAC and high quality analogue output stages.
I did find that using the V90-BLU along with the V90-DAC made for an even more impressive listening experience.
For such a small unit I was impressed by how versatile the V90-AMP is thanks to its auto selection of inputs and simple, combined connections.
The V90-AMP was designed for multi room and computer based audio. It has inputs for 24 bit asynchronous USB, optical/analogue with it kicking out a decent-for-most-rooms 20 watts per channel.
The V90-Amp has advanced, prioritised automatic input selection. Priority is given to the asynchronous USB input. Then the optical/analogue. This means that If the USB is connected but there is no data stream the V90-AMP will automatically switch to the optical/analogue.
Pushing If I Had a Tail by Queens of the Stone Age though the amp Josh’s relaxed vocals come across clear with the backing instruments nicely spaced across the room. The keyboard lines in Type O Negative’s My Girlfriend’s Girlfriend appears front-and-centre but when Pete Steele’s renowned tenor-vocals start I can’t help thinking that they’re lacking a little bit of oomph. Again, Little Blimp by The Joy Formidable also seemed to be a little light-weight. It’s perfectly listenable and clear but, to me, appeared a bit too clinical. PJ Harvey’s Down by the Water, on the other-hand comes through vibrantly with the staccato strings cutting through wonderfully.
The V90-AMP gives excellent sound quality and great flexibility for computer audio and multi room applications although, to my ears, the bass end could do with a little tweak.
The V90-HPA is a headphone amplifier comes packing its own 24-bit/96kHz-capable DAC with an asynchronous USB connection which makes it a ‘one stop shop’ for those wishing to listen to hi-res music from their computers.
There’s also a line-level RCA input for analogue sources, too, and a choice of either 6.3mm or 3.5mm headphone jacks, so both sizes are catered for.
The HPA produces the clean, open and well defined sound I’ve started to expect from the V90 range.
Via USB, the V90 sets up a big, punchy soundstage with Napoleon Says by Phoenix through the NADs and the EB-50s injecting the catchy melody line right in to my head.
Testing Leash by Pearl Jam Eddie and the boys came through superbly detailed but, dare I say, lacking a bit of atmosphere which was even more noticeable through the AKGs.
Hooking the V90-HPA up to my main Hi-Fi via the analogue inputs handed the little box some new skills. The DAC does a pretty good job but the preamp circuitry seems to be even better. Music coming from my CD player was given an extra push and was presented through all three earpleasers with great resolution and musicality. To my tastes the NADs fared better from the deal as they do tend to add a bit of bottom end.
Cult of Personality by Living Colour really opens up and everything came through nice and taut with those signature smooth and clear mids.
The V90-HPA is yet another very strong addition to Musical Fidelity’s range which works competently alone to increase the listener’s enjoyment from their digital archive but really comes in to its own as part of a Hi-Fi system.
The V90 series is aimed at the more affordable end of Musical Fidelity’s offerings but at no point did I feel that I was testing budget components.
The individual little boxes, hewn beautifully from aluminium alloy, act just like high end separates that have just been shrunken in the wash.
Measuring 170 x 47 x 117mm (w x h x d), they are all neat little packages and I’ve always had a soft spot for blue LEDs.
Everything was easy to set up and get started with. The on-off flick switches all felt sturdy and quality with the AMP being the odd one out as it was activated by pushing the volume dial.
I didn’t get the chance to test the phono stage, the V90-LPS, with my Pro-ject Xpression but I am sure that it would have produced similar results to the AMP and HPA.
To me it’s obvious that Musical Fidelity have consciously built this range to feel and sound as good as possible whilst keeping the price down.
If I was to be overly picky I would say that the V90 range could do with a tiny bit of attention paid to its bass response – but when there are other items asking for at least twice the amount of your money without still being able to out perform the V90, I suddenly feel like I’m just being awkward.