Review: Musical Fidelity A 2 Amplifier
This is a review of the Musical Fidelity A2 integrated amplifier, using the NAD 3020 as a comparison. Both of these fine units redefined the price/value criteria and both were and remain a genuine break through in integrated amplifiers.
It is clearly evident that the NAD 3020 and 3120(same unit less tone controls) more than showed what a quality integrated power amp is capable of. Totally stood the audio world on its proverbial ear in 1978 and remains to this day as a bench mark in Integrated Power Amplifiers. Volumes upon volumes of lavish praise has been written on the NAD 3020. And for good reason, for once here was a product within reach of most audiophiles and it delivered the promise of high end. As well many units continue in service to this day. A true hallmark of audio design of the past century. At its introductry price of $175.00, there was nothing in the market at that time that could even remotely come close to its sonic excellence.
Much has changed in the ensuing years, better design and parts, but no one has really challenged the NAD 3020, that is until now.
Enter the Musical Fidelity Integrated Amplifier operating in Class A output at 25 Watts RMS into 8 ohms and 50 Watts RMS into 4 ohms. Broke into the market in 2000 at a price of $695.00. Basically same value/performance proposition when inflation is taken into account.
Like the venerable NAD 3020, the Musical Fidelity A2 is a minimalist design, that far belies its overall performance. In fact I dare say the Musical Fidelity has taken the minimalist approach a step further. The controls are only a power switch, volume and input selector and like the NAD 3020 provides a very nice MM phono section, thats not often found in the digital age of today.
Like the NAD 3020, the Musical Fidelity A2 approach is similiar. Sans of the bells and whistles which do not produce music and put those saved resources into the circuits that produce the music and performance. One must remember that both of these products were built to a predetermined budget. However the over riding design goal was the accurate reproduction of music.
That goal has been more than met. The Musical Fidelity A2 is a true musical performer and will more than fit the requirments of most audiophiles. While only 25 Watts RMS into 8 ohms and 50 Watts RMS into 4 ohms, it has more than the rating would suggest and will drive all but the most inefficient speakers connected to it. It was tested using Alon Model 1 speakers which are 87dB speakers and drove those with total ease to very high levels in an 10 x 12 listening room.
Power output 25 watts per channel, 8 Ohms (14 dBW)
50 watts per channel, 4 Ohms
THD Typically: 0.005% at 1kHz
Frequency response 10Hz - 20kHz + 1dB
Inputs: Phono Moving Magnet and 5 Line
Input sensitivity: MM 3.5mV 47 kOhm
Line 300mV 47 kOhm
S/N ratio: MM -70dB
Power consumption: 180 watts
Dimensions 17.3 x 3.7 x 13.3 inches (W x H x D)
Height includes feet
Weight: 22.4 Pounds
IEC Mains Connector
Listed below are the various LPs and CDs used for evaluation in this review.
Bob James - Hands Down (Columbia FC 38067)
Hiroshima - Self Titled - (Arista MFSL1-525)
John Coltrane - Blue Train - (Blue Note BST 81577)
Wes Montgomery - Bumpin' - (Verve V6-8625)
Rickie Lee Jones - Self Titled - (Warner BSK 3296)
Wynton Marsalis - Live Blues Alley - (Columbia PC2-40675)
Eric Gale - Forecast - (KUDU Records KU 11)(CTI Records)
Kenny Burrell & Grover Washington Jr - (Blue Note BT 85106)
Earl Klugh - Finger Painting - (Blue Note MFSL 1-025)
Larry Carlton - Friends - (Warner 23834-1)
Sadao Watanabe - Autumn Blow - (Inner City IC 6064)
Doobie Brothers - Minute by Minute - (Warner BSK 3193)
Santana - Zebop - (Columbia FC37158)
Pat Metheny Group - American Garage - (ECM 1-1155)
Frederick Fennel - Cleveland Symphonic Winds - (Telarc 5038)
Paul Desmond/Jim Hall - Complete Recordings - Mosaic(MR6-120)
Ben Webster At The Renaissance (Contemporary Records OJCCD-390-2)
The Royal Ballet Gala Performances (Classic Compact Discs CDSCD 6065)
Peter And The Wolf - Boston Symphony Orchestra (Sony SK 64079)
Jurassic Park Motion Picture Soundtrack (MCAD 10859)
We Get Requests - The Oscar Peterson Trio (Verve 810047-2)
You Won't Forget Me - Shirley Horn (Verve 847482-2)
Sneakers Motion Picture Soundtrack (Columbia DIDP 078100)
On Every Street - Dire Straits (Warner Brothers 26680-2)
Trio Jeepy - Branford Marsalis (Columbia CK44199)
Paris Jazz Concert - Louis Armstrong (RTE 1001-2)
Braveheart Motion Picture Soundtrack - London Symphony Orchestra (London LC0171)
Patriot Games Motion Picture Soundtrack (RCA 07863 66051-2)
Hook Motion Picture Soundtrack (Epic EK 4888)
Highlights From The Plugged Nickel - Miles Davis (Columbia CK 67377)
The system consists of the Rega P3 turntable with RB 300 tonearm, with Denon DL 160 phono cartridge. The CD Player is the Onix XCD 88. Alon Model 1 speakers, with Alon Black Orpheus speaker cable. Sony Mini Disc decks model 501 and 480, with a Yamaha T 1 tuner doing the FM. Audioquest interconnects and DH Labs power cable round out the rest of the system.
The Musical Fidelity A 2 is a UK made unit, not some off shore produced unit bearing the Musical Fidelity name, so build,craftsmanship and parts are very good indeed. My only caveat is the volume control could have been of higher quality. Nonetheless it works very well and is quite silent in its operation.
Cosmetically it is a stunning visual concept, with its lustre black finish and gold accents around the volume and input selector knobs. Another very nice feature is the knobs have a lighted LED built in, so from across the room you know instantly volume level and input selection. Nice touch there.
The Musical Fidelity is a Class A output integrated amp. However it is not pure Class A, but rather biased heavily into Class A. The heatsinks are internal and the cabinent is properly vented from the bottom to the top. By the size of the heat sinks, I would guess it is only about 10 watts of Class A, I don't think the heat sinks can take much more than that. The A2 runs very warm indeed due to this Class A biasing and should be placed, where it can vent properly and nothing should be stacked on top of it.
The internal layout is typical of late model integrateds of this caliber and should give many years of reliable solid service.
The back panel consists of IEC power connector, so one can use a power cord of thier choice, I used a DH Labs Power Plus cable for this review. Five way speaker binding posts and RCA jacks that are tiffany plated, another nice touch at its price/performance level. It has inputs for Turntable,CD,Tuner, Aux and two tape decks with a monitor button on front panel. I would have liked to seen pre in/main out jacks so one can use as a preamp or power amp, but this is not provided on the A 2 for some reason.
The Brits have a way with modest power integrated amps and the Musical Fidelity A 2 is certainly no exception. The sonic signature of the A 2 is all one could ask for given its price/performance value. It has a fabulous stereo presentation, with great imaging,wide sound stage and enough low end definition to satisfy all but the most demanding of us. Great liquidity and transparency is a hallmark feature of the A 2 as is the all important mid range,where most of the music takes place. In short the A 2 is a fine musical performer, that will more than satisfy the most ardent high end mavens among us.
To do better than the A 2, and you can, one will have to dig very deep into their resources to do so. I have some high end separates here operating in Class A and the A 2 is by no means a let down to switch to. In fact in some areas the A 2 has a better signature, than some of the high power Class A power amps. There is something about these modest power Class A amps and I don't know what it really is, but they sound fabulous, without the grain and glare of higher power amps.
It is clear that Musical Fidelity in producing the A 2 Integrated, swung for the fences, and in my opinion clearly succeeded. I have listen to a lot of integrateds over the years, such as Classe,Sim Audio,Bryston,NAD and some others as well. Aside from the higher power of those listed the A 2 is stellar perfomer that can more than hold its own and has a sonic signature that few can match in integrated amps.
Should one need a few more watts the big brother is the Musical Fidelity A 220. Same cosmetics and design and somewhat larger than the A 2. Produces 50 Watts into 8 ohms and 100 Watts into 4 ohms.
Having been in this hobby for 47 years now,I remember when integrated amps were held in disdain by the audiophile community in large and for good reason. Most were just horribly designed with poor build quality. That changed in 1978 when NAD issued the now venerable 3020 and a few years later when PS Audio raised the level considerably higher with the Elite Integrated Amp. Both of those units redefined the role of the integrated amp design and clearly set the stage for what was to come.
Musical Fidelity has capitalized on this design and raised the bar to a higher level once again. The Musical Fidelity A 2 , can be the heart and soul of a great 2 channel system, that one can easily live with for years on end, and best of all one does not have to make any excuses for it, nor will it break the bank price wise.
Will it live on to be a cult icon such as the NAD 3020 ? Only time will tell, but the future looks very good for the A 2. They are somewhat hard to come by in the aftermarket, seems that people that have them, keep them. If you can locate one expect to pay around $400.00 for a good example, that is fully functional. They haven't lost much in value since they were new in 2000 and priced at $695.00 at that time. For some reason the A 2 did not have a production run as long as the NAD 3020 or the PS Audio Elite, why? I have no idea. But clearly Musical Fidelity should keep producing the A 2 and its larger brother A 220. Something as special as these units come along all to infrequently in the world of high end audio.
But the good is that Musical Fidelity remains in business today and that means that parts and service are obtainable, should the need ever arise and one should keep that in mind in acquiring any used piece of gear.
Lastly in my opinion the Musical Fidelity A 2 should be on anyones short list, when looking for a great musical performer, at what is now a near give away price.
Rega P3 Turntable/Denon DL 160 MC phono cartridge/Onix XCD 88 CD Player/Yamaha T 1 Tuner/Sony Mini Disc Decks 501 and 480/Audioquest RCA Interconnects/DH Labs Power Plus Power Cord
Classe/NAD/PS Audio/Sim Audio/Bryston/Denon, etc