Stereo Amplifier

Review: Musical Fidelity A2 Stereo Amplifier

Musical Fidelity has always believed that a good route to its eponymous goal lies through Class A circuitry, and while not all its products are based on this topology there have been enough to ensure that this is the technology with which the company is most closely associated. Indeed the manual for the new A2 integrated amplifier specifically states that Class A operation “in our experience offers the ultimate in musical accuracy and pleasure” and goes on to make it clear that the A2 owes much to the company’s earlier A1, which it modestly describes as “legendary”.

Certainly Class A has a whole army of devotees who will heartily endorse Musical Fidelity’s sentiments, and who have justified several products from a variety of manufacturers exploiting the idea, despite the cost and efficiency drawbacks it entails. In fact it would not surprise me to see Class A attaining the same kudos as the valve, sharing as it does many of the valve’s attributes; perceived musicality, nostalgia, expense and heat.

Musical Fidelity long ago achieved the rare feat of creating a house style which is unmistakable yet which will offend no one. The elements of that style comprise a high-gloss black front panel, with prominent rounded control knobs in the same finish, and protruding bullet-shaped buttons. The A2 has two of each, all ringed with delicate gold circles to match the legending, and this small number of embellishments on the otherwise solid black fascia makes clear the nature of the amplifier

The A2 sits firmly in the no-frills camp, with sound quality paramount and the barest of nods made to convenience. The signal path is unsullied by tone or balance controls, offering only the facilities to select a source and adjust its volume. Six inputs are provided, five being electrically identical line-level inputs with the usual selection of labels Tor likely sources and the sixth a moving-magnet phono input, Moving-coil users will need an outboard transformer or head amplifier.

The inputs include provision for two tape machines, and both can be fed in parallel from a pair of record outputs. These record connectors are in fact hard wired to the input selector, with no buffering between source and recorder, making it especially important to be careful with connections. If one of the recorders is a three-head machine which can monitor a signal off tape while it is recording, then this should be connected to the Tape 1 terminals as there is an associated Tape Monitor button. The Tape 2 input has no such facility.

This and the power switch make up the two pushbuttons, while the rotary knobs deal with input selection and volume. Each has an LED to show its position rather than a printed or engraved line, making it easy to see at a distance how the amplifier is set up. This must be the reason; perish the thought that anyone would put glowing lights on an amplifier just for effect. Unlike some MF amplifiers which are fitted with motorized controls, the A2 has no remote handset available.

The double tape facility means there are no fewer than eight pairs of gold-plated phono connectors on the back panel, alongside a pair of sturdy but basic loudspeaker connectors. These combine 4mm sockets and binding posts in the usual way, but in line with new EC safety concerns the sockets come fitted with blanking plugs, although these were not present on the review sample. It will not be news by now, I am sure, that the risk of banana plugs being accidentally forced into European mains sockets with predictably disastrous consequences has led to a major rethink as to how we should connect our loudspeakers, and the A2’smanual goes so far as to point out that the removal of the blanking plugs invalidates the unit’s safety approval. I guess I’m lucky I’m still here to tell the tale.

Another worthwhile warning concerns the heat produced by the A2, which as one might expect from a Class A design is substantial. Rarely is it more important to place the amplifier at the top of a system and ensure good ventilation, but the A2 warnings go further and suggest keeping the amplifier out of the reach of children-a superfluous imprecation to most owners I have no doubt, even if their reasons are different.

Performance

Plugging the A2 in and letting it do its stuff helps explain, to those unfamiliar with it, why Class A has such a following. It has a warmth all its own (quite apart from the temperature of the case) with as full, deep and physical a bass as one could want. The flatness of the frequency response extends all the way up as well, with the gentlest of HF droops confirming the aural impression. MF’s figures claim a response to 20kHz within 1dB, which is modest but accurate; what they don’t say is that the amplifier goes on to reach nearly 40kHz before dropping by 3dB, maintaining the smoothness of the overall sound.

The final effect is presumably what Musical Fidelity intends to convey in its name, a feeling that one is hearing everything the material has to offer with the emphasis on the pleasurable musical experience to be had from it. Stereo placement is almost tangible, and the whole sound has a depth and ‘connectedness’ about it which presents most sources in a decidedly favourable light without blatant flattery. It is always tempting to compare Class A circuits with valves, but that is an oversimplification; while there are similarities which will appeal to the same broad tastes, their fundamental characters are significantly different.

Little of this is suggested by the specifications in -the manual, which run true to Musical Fidelity form by being sparse and matter-of-fact. A notable figure is the power output, which is modest at 25 watts per channel and allows the amplifier to be abused without too much effort by those disposed to do so. It is still more than capable of filling the average listening room effortlessly, however, and the manual points out the importance of loudspeaker sensitivity and has some interesting comparative figures for naturally occurring sound levels.

The A2 shows Musical Fidelity’s usual commendable restraint in presenting its unconventional approach quietly, without putting a wacky box round it - a strategy far more likely to win converts among serious listeners. It integrates aesthetically with MF’s other equipment, particularly suggesting use with components from the Elektra range, and asks quite simply to be judged on its merits. By any standards it acquits itself well, encapsulating Musical Fidelity’s nominal raison d'etre admirably.