Review: Musical Fidelity A5 Integrated Amplifier
This is in reference to my second system that occupies what we call the "den," or a "great room" in our house off the kitchen as one large, open teo room area. The dimensions of this den only area are roughly 15 x 20 x 12 (high ceiling) with several angles for an extended bay window area and angles in the ceiling for the roof line and the bay window. These probably help cancel standing waves.
The goal of this second system was to cost-constrain it such that it didn't become a money pit like the main system. All was entirely well with this system until we decided to rearrange the furniture that is.
I used to have this system powered at first by a Rogue Audio Cronus integrated, modified by Rogue (improved caps and connectors to reduce transformer hum) and then the CJ CAV50 until my wife and I decided to move the furnishings around 90 degress such that the system is now required to fire down the long dimension of the room. This adds considerably to the room's listening volume as it now takes into account the kitchen area (not cited above in the dimensions).
I listen to pretty much all styles of music, with the exception of most country and western, which I grew up in part on via Boston AM radio in the family and find it to be cerebrally and technically bankrupt for the most part, with the exception of some Johnny Cash tunes. For me Beatles, Zep, Genesis, Floyd, Yes, ELP, Miles Davis, Neil Young, Bowie and most good UK rock was my mainstay, though I also dug Joni, Jackson Browne and Dylan back then. Still do but also have added Jazz, Classical, Industrial, Ambient, Techno, Punk, New Wave, Metal and Hardcore.
The tube based system was a nice respite after a busy day and I often found myself listening to this system more during the work week, with the larger main system reserved mostly for the weekends or with friends visiting. When we moved the whole room around by 90 degrees the first thing I noticed was that the bass impact was reduced or missing big time. The former listening position was a couple of feet forward of the rear wall behind. This probably reinforced the bass somewhat. In the new position the area behind the listener is now 20 feet to the back wall of the kitchen. Also I was able to move the 2Ces more into the room, which improved the soundstaging immensely, but reduced the bass impact. I spent considerable time moving the speakers around and got the best I could out of them given the power restrictions.
So I got thinking about power and called Tim, the owner of Bradford Audio in Eugene, OR and asked if he had something I could audition over the weekend in order to see if power,or lack thereof, was at least the problem/solution. He told me that he could loan me a Musical Fidelity A5 integrated that was well broken in over a year of constant use in the shop. In fact, I had heard this very unit on a couple of occasions when visiting the shop, hooked up to Magneplanar, Vandersteen or Paradigm speakers (Tim's a dealer for all three). I always thought the great sound I heard was due to components other than this one until I heard in my own system.
Right off the get go the A5 was sweet and unlike any solid state amp I have heard before or since. I have Krell in my main system and after 5 years this now sounds sweet. But the Muscial Fidelity seemed close to the CJ in sweetness right away. It sounds very tubelike in the best sense I can think of, airy and gentle and forgiving on the mids, while keeping them crystal clear, plus it plumbs the bass out of those Vandys like mad. My wife and I ended up drinking wine that evening listening to one of her favorite 80s bands, Depeche Mode, on vinyl (black box set of the singles) and CD (Ultra) along with some David Bowie (Diammond Dogs, Hunky Dory) again on vinyl. I was now hearing staging, presence and depth that I had idea existed from the Vandys and the upstream components. Clearly the amps were the weak link in my system. Several times we go wow to what we heard.
So, sleep on it, right?
Sunday over coffee I listened to a DG copy of Saint Saens 3rd Symphony with the Organ and then Kind of Blue both on vinyl at a relatively low volume and I was in amazement at how much sweet detail and punch this amp delivered a low level. Several times I was shaking my head asking, "is this what you should do?"
Reluctantly, I returned the amp later that afternoon before the shop closed and installed the CJ back into the system, hoping I would reconsider all that I heard. But the CJ as good it is for low level listening, just didn't have the oomph I like for some of the rock I listen to, but even then, also in the highest registers with the accompanying air and ambience that a powerful amp provides from the source components and software.
Well, I ended up ordering the amp and the new unit has been in the system for about a month always on so as to fully break it in. It has gotten sonically and steadily better over time and last week it finally "opened up" and now sounds almost as good as I remember that fully broken in demo unit. A few things to note: I have become increasingly reluctant to purchase high end components from out of the US (the amp is manufactured in Taiwan), but having said that I enjoy cartridges from Japan (Lyra, Shelter) and a CD player from the UK (Meridian). The fit and finish of this piece is attractive in an industrial way, it is very unassuming. The top panel rings a little bit and so I put four rubber casters on it and that solved that problem. The remote works well and the big center volume knob is very smooth to the touch. This a quality piece for sure. Perhaps I need to rethink this international manufacturing thing. There are talented people the world and I hope that all people will eventually contribute to a peaceful and sustainable planet. I had considered another Krell like the 400xi integrated but I was hoping for something more like the CJ and the Krell I have is nothing like that. The A5 is.
The sound continues to open up more and improve with time, perhaps a followup to this in a couple more weeks will be in order. Bass and drum impact and depth of staging keeps getting better all the time. The detail still keeps me wowinfg every now and then. I have "cranked" it a couple of times into the mid 90dB zone and it never sounds harsh nor does it make the Vandys beam, which surprised me greatly. I had no idea the Vandersteens could sound so smooth, well-behaved and dynamic. Solid state, when done well, can be very satisfying and sweet and Musical Fidelity has accomplished all of this and more with what should be front and center on everyone's list if you are in the market for a high value, sweet and powerful integrated amp.
9/10 for sound quality
7/10 for build quality (have not popped the top yet)
10/10 for value
Music Hall MM7 table
Shelter 501 mk2 cartridge
Project speed controller
EAR 834P Deluxe phono preamp
Conrad Johnson DV2B CD player
PS Audio P300 AC regenerator
Vandersteen 2Ce Signature speakers
Harmonic Technology cables throughout
Conrad Johnson CAV50 integrated; Rogue Audio Cronus integrated