Musical Fidelity A3.2 Integrated Two-Channel Amplifier
Click on the photo above to see a larger version.
- Power Output:
115 Watts RMS per Channel into 8
Ohms, 185 WPC into 4 Ohms
- MFR: 10 Hz - 20 kHz ± 0.3 dB
- Input Impedance: 200 kOhms
- MM 3.5mV, 47 kOhms
- MC 350 microV, 47 kOhms
- Input impedance: 47 kOhms
- Pre-Out Impedance: 50 Ohms
- Damping factor: 120
- Sensitivity: 250mV for Full Output
- S/N: >103 db, A weighted
- THD: < 0.01%, from 20 Hz to 20 kHz
- Remote: Full function, multi-component.
- Size: 3.75"H x 17.3"W x 15.75"D
- Weight: 27.5 Pounds
- Available Finishes: Silver
- MSRP $1495 USA
experimenting and research, I still find myself somewhat torn on the
question of integrated amplifiers (these have the preamplifier and power
amplifiers in the same chassis) vs. separates, for myself. I am now mostly in the
integrated camp for a variety of reasons, including lower
cost, shorter signal path, fewer connections in said path, and fewer
boxes needed to enjoy my music.
Yes, I know that I cannot experiment with various preamp/power amp combinations this way, unless I just use the pre-out jacks, wasting the power amplifier sections. However, there are enough integrateds out there to keep me busy as a reviewer, let alone as a consumer. And there is enough variety of the pre and power section combinations out there to scratch audiophile itches for a lifetime. In audio and all other things in life, I am convinced of the benefits of simplicity. It forces me to keep only what is essential, and then focus on its refinement.
I would be completely remiss if I were to conduct a series of integrated amp reviews and not have at least one entry from Musical Fidelity, which makes some really fine products. Herein is a review of their latest offering, the Model A3.2.
Musical Fidelity is based in the UK, and was founded in 1982 by Anthony Michaelson, who still is the owner and chief designer, and is heavily involved in the circuit design aspect of his products. Anthony has a degree in engineering and plays the clarinet professionally. Some of the most accomplished audio equipment designers I have known share two traits, a background in sciences and the ability to play an instrument.
the company with about $200, after getting laid off from an earlier position. I guess there can be a
positive aspect to layoffs after all. The world would probably have been
without the benefit of Musical Fidelity products, had it not been for that
Over their 20 year history, Musical Fidelity has released several products
that can be considered benchmarks in the evolution of audio gear.
Currently, Musical Fidelity offers a variety of power amps, preamps, integrateds, DACs, and CD players. Their products include the A3.2 series which replaces the A3 series that lasted for only 2 short years. I do detest such short life cycles on products, but such is the marketplace. David Solomon of Kevro (the US distributor) pointed out to me that the new A series incorporates the NuVista circuit found in the limited edition NuVista Integrated amp. This is said to deliver a big difference in performance, but unfortunately I did not have a sample of the preceding models to investigate that claim. The A3.2 Integrated reviewed here is intended to replace the previous A3 and A300.
Manufacturers often misunderstand all the attributes the consumer is looking
for when making a purchasing decision. It is rarely as simple as acquiring
the physical product itself. In the case of audio gear, it is often also
various increments of status appeal, sense of comfort in the ‘quality’,
knowledge of the technology, etc. The last attribute is particularly true
for components that claim a ‘performance/sound quality’ improvement over
other products that would otherwise meet the same basic needs. Consumers of
these ‘high end’ products want to know (or ‘consume’ in marketing terms)
information on why this product can deliver better quality than otherwise
Some companies are particularly tight lipped about these details, and in a sense choose not to provide that extra attribute of the product. I would guess in a lot of cases the consumer just bites the bullet and buys the product, leaving frustrated the desire for a little more knowledge. Such was the case with Musical Fidelity, because I could not gather as much technical detail as I usually would for an integrated amplifier review. Neither could I open the chassis to take a peek and pictures of the inside as I usually do, because the cover is fastened with an odd shaped screw head.
However, here is what I did
The A3.2 includes what Musical Fidelity calls their ‘NuVista circuit’,
and is claimed to result in an ultra-wideband frequency response. This
circuit is also found in their $5000 NuVista Integrated. The A3.2 has two
bipolar output devices per channel, and this follows well with the ‘less is
more’ school of thought. The only caveat to that philosophy is a limitation
to the power available, but I had not found the amp to be lacking for any
setup I could put it in. Output into 8 and 4 ohms is 115 and 185 wpc
no data available into lower impedances. Again, I had no problems driving
the Dynaudio 1.3 MkII that dips down to 3.8 ohms. There is a 3 year warranty
offered with this product.
I had a few quibbles with the remote, which has the capability to select inputs and change volume, but no facility for power on/off/standby. David Solomon mentioned that the amp is recommended to be left on at all times. Volume control was not variable in as small increments as I would like, instead each push of the volume buttons on the remote resulted in a fairly large change. I resorted to walking to the unit for most volume changes, which is fine by me, but it does defeat one of the purposes of having a remote. It also would not register commands from about 20 feet away. On the plus side, it did have the capability to control a Musical Fidelity CD player and Tuner as well.
I really was not impressed by the light show on the front panel when I turned on the power switch. The blue LED input indicators lit up sequentially, and served no purpose that I could tell. David Solomon corrected me, and said this happened because it was searching for a source signal, and stopped when one was found. I still don’t care for it. I also was not impressed by the blinding intensity of the blue LEDs on the front panel. This was especially annoying when I would listen at night in a nearly or completely dark room. Sorry, no headphone jack either. Of course, the LED thing is just my opinion. If you like lights, the A3.2 has them for sure.
The unit has a brushed aluminum faceplate and is very handsome looking. The rear panel has five sets of RCA inputs, plus a phono input with a mm/mc switch for you vinyl buffs. There also is one set of variable RCA outputs for bi-amping or a subwoofer, I rate this feature as a deal breaker and an absolute necessity for my sub. There also is a fixed level RCA output for taping. A set of five-way binding posts allows for speaker connections, and an IEC AC input will let you power cord buffs spend more on that connection than you will on the amp, if that floats your boat.
All critical listening was done after several weeks of burn-in. The manufacturer recommends 250 hours, David Solomon feels this is to allow time to cook the large transformers.
Initially, I plugged the A3.2 into my PS Audio P300 Power Plant. That is one of the reasons I prefer integrateds over monster amps, I can plug all components into the P300 and have the luxury of laboratory spec power for all my components. The PS Audio Power Plants have set the benchmark for all power conditioners, and have convinced me of the merits to try and build a system around them.
But wait, what is that hum I hear? I was in disbelief,
but the transformers were buzzing away, and in a completely quite room I
could hear it from my listening position. This was completely not
acceptable, and I was certain the hum was the fault of the amp, and not
induced by the incoming AC.
A chat with David Solomon revealed that they have had similar complaints before, when mating the A3.2 with the PS Audio Power Plants. He suggested that I plug the amp straight into the wall, and sure enough the hum was gone!!! Could this be!!!?? My revered P300 was causing the amp to hum. A quick call to Paul McGowan of PS Audio had the P300 on its way to the factory for modifications. The returned unit did not cause any hum in the ‘Sine Wave’ mode and only a very slight hum in a few of the multi-wave modes, so slight that I could only hear it with my ears a couple of inches away from the transformer.
Jonathan Hart of PS Audio explained there were two reasons for the hum. First, my P300 had drifted out of calibration. This he said was fairly uncommon and even then found only in units older than 3 years, which my unit is not. A modification that has been in production on newer units was put in place to prevent this drift. This recalibration and modification are covered under the product warranty. The other reason for the hum, is that some transformers may not be designed to be used with the multi-wave functions of the P300. Such is probably the case with the transformers in the A3.2, but the hum is only in a couple of the modes and even then negligible. Although this is not a review of the Power Plants, I thought I would mention it as there are a lot of them out there.
review settled for me the debate of the pros and cons between an integrated
amp and separates. I compared the Musical Fidelity 3.2 to a PS Audio IV
preamp and Bryston 4B power amp, but keep in mind that
pre/power combo would cost more than twice the integrated in today’s
dollars. All tests were done at two levels that registered at 60 dB and 80 dB at my listening spot, using a –20 dB pink noise test tone.
On "Rimshot" (Eryka Badu, Baduism, Universal, UD53027) there is a lot of LF information, and I was curious to see how the Musical Fidelity A3.2 would compare to the PS Audio/Bryston combo. At the 60 dB setting, with the preamp in active mode, the Musical Fidelity A3.2 was a little less dynamic, and the bass response was not as tactile. At this level, the difference were very small, and almost indistinguishable, so if I were not in a critical listening and nit-picking mode, I would not have noticed a difference. At the 80 dB setting, the differences were a little more obvious, as the Bryston seemed a little faster on transients and the bass could be felt as well as heard. Whereas, with the Musical Fidelity A3.2, the bass was certainly heard but not felt to the same extent.
"This is my story, this is my song" (Thelonious Monk, Straight no Chaser) on the remastered SACD brings out a lot of the detail and tonality of the grand piano. This track broke down the strengths of the Musical Fidelity A3.2 relative to the PS Audio/Bryston combo. Initially, the PS Audio/Bryston combo seemed more detailed, but several repeated plays showed this combo to be sharper in the higher frequencies, which often can be misconstrued as more detailed. The Musical Fidelity A3.2 was just as detailed when microscopically analyzed. The answer lay in taking a holistic approach in listening to the track, and then it was clear that the Musical Fidelity 3.2 was balanced throughout the frequency spectrum and not tipped up at the extremes. Overall, the Musical Fidelity A3.2 rendered the piano with a completely natural sound, whereas the PS Audio/Bryston in comparison sounded a bit ‘plinky’.
The above findings repeated over many other tracks. In general, the Musical Fidelity 3.2 was more balanced and natural sounding throughout the spectrum, but would seem a bit less when comparing just the high or low extremes. Overall, I found the tonality of the Musical Fidelity A3.2 to be more natural and non-fatiguing.
As luck would have it, I received a sample unit of the Creek 5350SE just as I had wrapped up this review. I decided to delay submitting this review to be able to do some direct comparisons. Although I will save most of my comments for the Creek review, I will include one comparison here.
"O Grande Amor" and “Girl from Ipanema” (Stan Getz and Joao Gilberto, Getz/Gilberto, Verve, 314512414-2) on this remastered SACD, were two tracks that really helped me differentiate the tw amps. The A3.2 gave the vocals and the tenor sax a richness and warmth like I had never heard before. I cannot remember how many times I repeated those tracks before I could bear to switch to the Creek for comparison. I literally had to force myself to stop listening to the A3.2, and I honestly cannot remember ever having enjoyed listening to those tracks as much. The poor Creek was setup for a fall, how could anything upstage the A3.2, and the Creek did not. Mind you the Creek did not do anything wrong, but just did not have the magic of the Musical Fidelity.
with the Creek I heard more detail in the upper keys of the piano and
prominence on the double bass. I cannot tell you which is more neutral or
‘correct’, in the end it probably comes down to system matching and
preferences for certain sound 'character'.
A common concern of those contemplating between integrated and separates is that of power limitations. Well, at the 80 dB setting mentioned above, the volume control was at 11 o’clock. At this level, driving the moderately taxing Dynaudio Contour 1.3 Mk II, I could measure peaks of 90 to 95 dB at my listening spot. I never ventured the dial past that point, but would guess that I was using less than half the output at that point. Unless your room or speakers require more power, I could not think of any sane reasons to justify the need for more power.
In case I
was not clear above on how I feel about this unit overall, let me be more
by saying that I will purchase one for my own use.
Ergonomically, I have my quibbles, but they are not significant. Sonically, it left me wanting for nothing. Yes, it was different from the Bryston/PS Audio combo and the Creek 5350SE, but not any less in an overall comparison. I can honestly say I preferred the A3.2 over the Bryston/PS Audio, especially in the midrange and high frequencies. And I preferred it over the Creek in the midrange, but preferred the Creek in the frequency extremes.
Ideally, I would want the best of both integrateds. But the differences are very small in absolute terms, and for me the magic in the midrange makes this a unit impossible to pass up.
Dynaudio Contour 1.3 MkII
Triangle Electroacoustique Titus 202
GR Research AV1
Subwoofer : Velodyne F1500R
Amplifiers: Bryston 4B
Creek 5350SE (integrated)
Preamps: PS Audio IV
SACD: Sony DVP-NS755
Powerconditioner: PS Audio P300
Cables: Home Made
- Arvind Kohli -