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October 2002
Enjoy the Music.com Review Magazine
Musical Fidelity A3.2CR Pre-Amplifier
Review by Karl Lozier
Click here to e-mail reviewer

Musical Fidelity A3.2CR Pre-Amplifier

 

  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.

So far all sounds neat and simple and for many, nothing else is needed. For myself I feel that I have to have a balance control. Other things that I would like to have in any pre-amplifier is a phase reversal switch, a mute, dual main outputs on the rear panel and a volume/gain control with exactly repeatable settings a feature appreciated by equipment reviewers as well as many listeners. After writing the above, I discovered that the remote control has a "mute" button and it is particularly classy as far as I am concerned. Pressing the remote's mute button causes the pre-amplifier to mute and the blue light on the volume control knob goes off. The same remote control is furnished with both Musical Fidelity's A3.2 CD player and with their A3.2 pre-amplifier. Others may demand remote control but so far it is not an audio priority for me. As with their CD player and power amplifiers, the A3.2 pre-amplifier is a solid-state unit. There is one other feature this unit has, but I am keeping it as a surprise near the end of this review.

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.

Hookup was straight forward using top notch interconnects in and out as well as Kimber's top A.C. power cord fed by P.S. Audio's Power Plant. I had no preconceived ideas about what I would hear from this new Musical Fidelity pre-amplifier. I knew that it was basically an upgrade version of their previous A3 model. However I had never heard that unit. First listening impressions were generally positive though I had some trouble getting an exacting handle on what I was hearing. Much of the time there was no obvious irritating distortion in the top end of the audible spectrum. In fact for the most part the top end was smoother or sweeter than ever, but not always and not always completely so. There were some discs that as a result, some sections or selections were almost totally free of edginess or digitis in high-level high frequency passages.

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.

The Musical Fidelity pre-amplifier does offer a very pleasing and basically natural sounding tonal balance. It does add a pleasing degree of mid to upper bass fullness. Part of the midrange is oh so subtly depressed and seemingly the high end slightly rolled off. The result is a rich and full bass end with reasonable but not outstandingly extended low end. With the subtly distant sounding presence range and sweetly rolled off high end it is very easy and logical to call the A3.2 a very musical sounding pre-amplifier.

This pre-amplifier may not appeal to pure audiophile type of listeners, if there is such an exacting category. Even they would be most impressed with the overall performance of musicality of the MFA3.2 unit. If they decide that certain performance characteristics are not quite the equal of some other units they will almost certainly find that those other units are far more expensive for the most part. Next they may come to the conclusion that while the other units may have some performance superiorities compared to Musical Fidelity's A3.2 pre-amplifier it probably tops them in plain old listening pleasure. In other words, once again we have a fine example of a component that is aimed at music lovers and hits the mark and does so at a very fair price. Throw in better than average esthetics, convenience and a decent remote control and you have "a winner".

Now is time for the surprise I promised. Actually it is one of those "free for nothing deals". It may not be needed by many listeners in this day and age. The age is the CD or DVD or SACD age for most of us. But without even asking, Musical Fidelity has added a phono section to this fine unit! This phono section is fairly good and if they could make a simple change I could call is good, not outstanding or state-of-the art, but it could very easily be a definite good. The restrictive flaw is a tonal balance problem. It is simply what I believe the British call a bit "plummy". Here in the states we say that the bass is just too much, a bit fat or bloated are terms I have to use. Throughout the mid-bass and even a bit into the upper bass range there is simply too much output by about 3 to 6 db. That should be a simple problem to correct by Musical Fidelity. On your own there a few possibilities of how you might cure this problem. If you are using a separate woofer or even subwoofer, simply turning down its gain/volume control would probably do it. Strange as it might sound, there are some vented design speakers that by inserting the correct amount of damping material, stuffing, or even a small pillow into the vent opening might do it. Experimentation would be needed and in effect what you would be doing is to change the vented or bass reflex design into an almost sealed enclosure design. Don't laugh; I've seen/heard it work.

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.

 

Tonality

88

Sub-bass (10 Hz - 60 Hz)

80

Mid-bass (80 Hz - 200 Hz)

82

Midrange (200 Hz - 3,000 Hz)

84

High-frequencies (3,000 Hz on up)

85

Attack

78

Decay

85

Inner Resolution

80

Soundscape width front

85

Soundscape width rear

85

Soundscape depth behind speakers

84

Soundscape extension into the room

72

Imaging

78

Fit and Finish

90

Self Noise

90

Value for the Money

92

 

Specifications

Inputs: 5 pairs line level,
1 pair phono, moving magnet (MM), or
moving coil (MC) - switchable

Total Harmonic Distortion: < 0.005% 20Hz to 20kHz

Frequency Response: 10Hz to 100kHz (1dB, line inputs)

Input sensitivity (for 1Volt RMS output Line level 240mV, 200k ohms
at maximum volume): Phono MM 2.5mV, 47k ohms
MC 400V, 47k ohms

Signal To Noise Ratio (ref 1Volt RMS output):
Line, >90dB 'A'-weighted
Phono, MM >80dB 'A'-weighted
Phono, MC >65dB 'A'-weighted

Dimensions: 440 x 100 x 390 (WxHxD in mm)

Weight: 12.5 kg

Price $1,695 (U.S.)

 

Company Information

Musical Fidelity Ltd.
Wembley England, UK.

Website: www.musical-fidelity.co.uk

 

USA Distributor:

Kevro International Inc.
902 Mc Kay Road
Pickering, Ontario
L1W 3X8
Canada

Voice: (905) 428-2800
Fax: (905) 428-0004
E-mail: info@kevro.comwww.kevro.com
Website: www.kevro.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     
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