I have had a bit of a love hate relationship with musical fidelity products in the past. They always seem to get good reviews in the Hi-Fi press but a few times after prolonged use I find that the immediate wow factor is eventually replaced with a feeling that the initial gloss is hiding a few problems. I found this particularly true with an A308 CD player I used for a while. This was advertised as being 95% equivalent to the Nuvista 3D CD Player at half the cost. When one came available second hand for a good price I took a chance. Again at first it had this immediate appeal with detail and extended bandwidth but after months of use I felt that it was shiny glossy Hi-Fi for the sake of it like many audio products. It lacked soul, timing and musicality when compared to other players. This is not unique to Musical Fidelity but a common trait with many Hi-Fi products.
To sell a product it needs to immediately impress in the store or demo room and those units that seem a little more retrained can initially sound lacking on demo but over a longer period of use at home you being to feel that they are more natural and rewarding to listen to.
M1 HPA Headphone Amplifier
Having bought a pair of Sennheiser HD800 headphones I started to use these on the Yulong A100 headphone amplifier and they was not a great match. The HD800 can sound a little lightweight on the wrong equipment and this is a common complaint if you do some research. This was the case of the Yulong A100 with the Sennheiser. The HD800 sounded better on my Yamaha A1000 integrated headphone output which is surprisingly very good. The HD800 need a amplifier that can drive them very well so it makes sense that a high end integrated with a quality headphone output should sound better than many dedicated headphone amplifiers. This is due to the bigger and usually better power supply in the integrated and hopefully the headphone output taking its feed off the main amplifier circuity and not some cheap bolt on op-amp. Sometimes a cheaper integrated can better a dedicated headphone amplifier but this is hit and miss and you need to know the circuitry of the unit in question to be sure. Therefore I was still looking for a replacement quality dedicated headphone amplifier and I read some personal independent reviews on Head-Fi about the MF M1-HPA being an excellent match for the HD800.
Like many musical fidelity products the M1-HPA had an immediate appeal particularly with its open sound, detail and extension but I held off forming a firm opinion until after some months of use. Over time I tested the RCA input and its USB DAC input with Flac files. Its USB input is not very good. I compared this to the RCA inputs being driven from an older Copland CD Player. The USB input is generally ok for casual use, say from a laptop on basic headphones, but for a mid range dedicated headphone amplifier likely to be used with quality headphones it is not the best way to use this amplifier.
Thankfully its RCA inputs are very good. I am glad to say even after months of use this amplifier still appeals and drives the HD800 superbly. Anything lacking on the HD800 is completely negated with the M1-HPA. It has deep and tight bass with detail which is the main issue with matching the HD800 to a suitable amplifier. I suspect that the fact the M1-HPA never gets fatiguing is that it is partnered to the very musical and rich sounding Copland CD player. The M1-HPA has the grunt, detail, bandwidth and extension were-as the CD Player provides a complementary richer organic sound.
In summary this amplifier is very capable of driving difficult headphones such as the HD800 but going off past experience I would take care with source component matching and do not choose this if you wanted the USB input as your primary input. It would be ideal with a better quality USB DAC with RCA outputs if you want to use this with a computer based source. It is such a shame MF did not implement a better USB input DAC.
Is the HD800 and M1 combo as good as my older stax headphones ? Well the stax are darker sounding and relaxed so it is a matter of taste. With a good source that is not too bright this setup is a good match. The amp has lots of drive with an open and detailed sound on the HD800 so a rich organic source is a perfect match.