An immensely flexible design but somewhat sterile in use

Whether you’re an audiophile on a budget or you have deep pockets to fund a seriously high-end system, it’s likely that Musical Fidelity has a range of products to suit. MF’s ever expanding M1 series sits above the entry level V series and offers a choice of half-width separates in well made cases, based on its more expensive M3 and M6 models.
   The ViNL is new to the M1 range and, thanks to push button controls and a backlit screen, looks more like an all-singing DAC than a phono stage. The front panel sports an on/off switch; three buttons for MM selection and resistance/capacitance options; two buttons for MC duties; and a button to switch on IEC roll-off. Circuitry is based around MF’s classic kWP Tri-Vista preamp and features a specialised Texas Instruments microphone chip. The RIAA equalisation circuit is buffered by a low output impedance op-amp.
   For MM cartridges, the ViNL provides load resistance for 47kohm and 68kohm cartridges with load capacitance values ranging from 100-400µF across seven values. MC settings provide ten load resistance options to accommodate cartridges across a 10ohm-47kohm range. All settings can be toggled through while the unit is playing!

READY TO ROCK
Within the first few bars of Roman Festivals it was clear that the ViNL has plenty of grunt and is more than able to cope with dynamic swings within any piece of music, without getting out of ‘second gear’. The ViNL has a big sound that’s strident and certainly packs a punch, with a forward sounding soundstage that’s not lacking in any areas (especially bass). Where the ViNL is arguably more challenged is in its gelling of instruments and performers to form a coherent, musical whole that’s more enticing than the sum of its parts.
   This manifested itself with subtler material, where the MF seemed reluctant to relax. It swiftly motored through Antony’s ‘Spiralling’, allowing little time to pause, resulting in the song’s atmospherics being subdued. Similarly with the quieter Respighi passages, delicacy in the playing was less than obvious.
   With the Harvest album, the ViNL engaged me most with heavier tracks such as ‘Alabama’, the combination of ample bass and the guitar’s raw power came across effortlessly and got my heart racing. On the album’s mellower tracks however, I would have welcomed a tad more ‘romance’.

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Originally published in the January 2012 issue