Antony Michaelson, Grande Fromage of Musical Fidelity, is nothing if not forthright. “We messed up,” is the PG version of his assessment of the last few years of MF twists and turns. Having spent time and energy convincing the audiophile world that we all need an amp the size of Norway to accurately portray the dynamic range of a mouse fart, MF’s next product was, of course, a revisit of the A-1, a classic low-powered Class A design. Good – and, it must be said, not so good – products drifted in and out of the Musical Fidelity catalogue at speed. It got to the point where you asked for a product for review and in the few weeks between getting it and printing it, the product disappeared from the line up. Not a good way of keeping the client base sweet.
So, Michaelson made one of the boldest decisions a man at the head of a company can make. He killed off product lines and walked away from whole swathes of audio business that hitherto included MF products. Traditional MF heartlands were suddenly without one of the biggest names in their sector. In other words, Michaelson took stock, Scarface style! He recognised (correctly, in my opinion) that the lower and middle parts of the audio bear pit are already filled to bursting with components (but there is still room for well-designed accessories, like DACs, phono stages and headphone amps). So, neat little high-volume V-series products and more glitzy X-series components remain true to the cause first kicked off with the X-10D tube buffer all those years ago.
Products that can capitalise on the strengths of Musical Fidelity, Michaelson thought, start further up the price points. And so, Musical Fidelity today concentrates on the M6 series (for rank and file audiophiles) the AMS series (for the hardcore collector) and the Titan power amp (for the no quarter given statement product lover). The M6i integrated amp therefore represents the foundation stone of nu-Musical Fidelity.
It’s one heck of a foundation stone, too. Dual mono construction, chucking out a healthy 200 watts per channel into eight ohms and 45 amps peak-to-peak current, that puts it up in the beefy mono power amp class. The preamp stage has four phono single-ended inputs and one XLR balanced input, but like many audiophile products sings at its best in single-ended mode. There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with balanced, and the XLR sockets work well here, but single-ended is a better route overall. No idea why particularly, I just liked the sound of single-ended a fraction more. Two sets of single-ended phono outputs (one tape, one preamp out) and a pair of speaker terminals complete the deal. It’s worth noting there’s a switch at the back to select between AUX and HT (home theatre) – if used in HT mode, the amp is becomes effectively a power amp and signals are at a very high level. If you have a surprisingly loud tuner with no volume control, that’s probably the reason.
It’s a sign of change in the industry that phono is not included on the M6i, but the amp includes a Type B USB input for a computer. It’s clearly an amplifier with one eye on the future. It doesn’t need a driver (the DAC is both Mac and PC chummy) but will need you to select it for output. A cynic might say the reason for the lack of phono stage is the availability of Musical Fidelity’s V-LPS and X-LPSv8; a realist would point out that as the V-LPS is pretty much the best value phono stage on the market at this time, there’s not much to moan about.
The amplifier is a very physical beast; big and big boned, in black or silver with a large central silver knob and a row of silvery ball-bearing push-buttons with accompanying LEDs. As is often the case, the remote control is more basic; just a plastic handset that’s been standard MF issue up and down the product lines for years. Functional and useful, yes… but low on bling. Some bling would be good, though; those basic speaker terminals look a bit too basic on this class of amplifier.
There are some products that are best summed up by Macbeth; “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” These products come and go, passing through the audio system “like a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more.” This is not that kind of product. This is not a whizz-bang-fireworks kind of amplifier – it can do all that, but it also has staying power.
I’ve sat in on blind tests of amplifiers before, and Musical Fidelity amps are the ones that get spotted quickest by listening panels. The reason for this is the deep, tuneful bass. No change here, then, because the M6i delivers some of the most solid and ‘likeable’ deep bass notes you’ll hear from an integrated – at least from an integrated that doesn’t come with a sharp intake of breath when discussing price. It’s an abstraction, but some amplifiers sound like a ‘top down’ design – the final listening stage begins by getting the treble right and then the amp is tweaked and adjusted to fit – while the M6i is very much a ‘bottom up’ design. The bass works to provide an underpinning of what comes next up the frequency range. This applies across the board; whether it’s the tympani of an orchestra, a close mic’d cello, the complex interplay between contrabass trombone and bass on ‘Track A – Solo Dancer’ from Charles Mingus’s The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady or a Bootsy Collins layin’ down some funk phatness on James Brown’s ‘Talkin’ Loud and Sayin’ Nothing’. Don’t mistake this for a strong bass character, though; the amp isn’t bass-forward, or anything-forward. It just has a better class of bass than many of its peers. At the top end of things, it’s almost a calming influence over wayward metal dome tweeters. Once again, this is not a laid back sound, but one that is only raucous and aggressive when the music demands such things.