This is the second component in a row
I have reviewed from Musical Fidelity. Last month it was the company's fine A3.2 CD player and next month their model M-250 amplifiers are scheduled. This pre-amplifier's styling is particularly neat, simple and downright classy appearing, even more so than the companion CD player. In the center of the front panel resides a large volume control knob/assembly held in place by eight rugged appearing bolts. Near the edge of the knob is a hole through which a bright blue LED shines giving easily visible position setting that ranges from almost 7 o'clock to 5 o'clock. With CD sources and my current collection of components the usual listening level was a setting typically between 9 o'clock and 11 for nearly all recordings. It had a smooth solid feel when changing settings, a feel of quality if you will. The lower left corner has an unobtrusive on/off button and accompanying blue indictor light. So far things could not be simpler. On the right side are seven more matching unobtrusive buttons arranged horizontally with four above and three interspaced below. Above each button will be found the expected blue light that clearly shows which input button has been selected. That is almost all that there is. When turned on there is a total of three bright blue lights glowing and showing against a neatly brushed aluminum faceplate, a classy appearance indeed.
I had put more than four hundred hours of burn in time on this unit before replacing the Herron tubed unit that has been residing in my system lately. With that much burn in time, first listening impressions should have a great deal of validity at least on a comparative basis with a well-known reference. The Herron is rarely regarded as having "typical or traditional" tube sound. The Herron does seem to offer much of the life-like sparkle in the treble range so common to really good tube equipment, but does not have more than a hint, if that much, of classic tube fullness or bloom in the mid to upper bass range. That bloom or fullness is responsible for much of the appeal of the sound of tubes by many music lovers. The A3.2 is now the entry-level pre-amplifier for Musical Fidelity but it certainly is not a budget unit. Soon to be available is an upscale model, the 308 at approximately twice the A3.2's modest price. A bit later on, possibly by the end of the year Musical Fidelity's "ultimate units" should be appearing. They will feature the never before used in the audio field,
trivistors. As with the rather rare nuvistors, the trivistors are extremely small vacuum tubes with metal in place of glass, unlike the nuvistors the trivistors feature a triode configuration.
Other passages on the same disc might continue to reveal most of extra harshness present on the recording. It was not possible to predict which passages would be helped by the A3.2 pre-amplifier. I know the preceding two sentences sound a bit strange, but exactly what I was hearing on some discs. Remember that much of the time I am listening for faults, distortion or problems and not simply enjoying the music. While sitting back and simply listening to the music the overall effect was nearly always the same; it was relaxing and very sweet and smooth. Rough edges such as high frequency distortions seemed to be either smoothed or somewhat glossed over. The result was never irritating nor unpleasant but definitely a bit different and sometimes left me with the questioning sensation, is something missing? There certainly were no notes obviously missing and no instruments disappeared. There were times however when the A3.2 did not seem to present every last bit of detail from some old recordings that were extremely familiar to me. On new recordings and as I am also a music reviewer and usually have a few unopened recordings waiting for audition, opening a new recording and listening attentively is easy to do and repeat as needed. Listening to new recordings never seemed to result in obviously missing detail.
Admittedly the reproduction of fine or almost hidden details in recordings interests reviewers as it can be an indication of quality. That tends to be more nearly accurate if the resultant sound is not leaner or brighter. A change to leaner or brighter tonal quality results almost axiomatically in more apparent detail. If there is greater detail with a new component substituted into a system and the resultant sound is neither brighter nor leaner sounding then there is an excellent probability it is the superior component. A full or rich bass response has a distinct tendency to hide a bit of inner detail compared to a leaner or less full bass response.
I tried and reduced the overall bass output to a typical level for my usual listening preference. As a result, repeated a number of times, there was a definite increase in audible detail in the top end, specifically a "bell tree" for a typical example sounded distinctly clearer and more detailed. Tonal balance can affect sound quality in more than one way. In any event the phono section was a gift with this unit. I used a top Grado model, "The Reference" for checking out the phono section but this Musical Fidelity A3.2 has a switch that allows it to handle some moving coil models. This phono section showed that there was only one significant flaw as previously mentioned. My separate phono amplifier retails for double the price of the entire A3.2 unit including that phono amplification section. As usual I ask that you take the rating numbers listed below with at least a few grains of salt.
Musical Fidelity Ltd.
Kevro International Inc.