Musical Fidelity M3x Vinyl Phono Preamplifier

hfnoutstandingJoining the M3scd CD player/DAC and M3si amplifier, the new M3x Vinyl represents the brand's 'entry-level' MM/MC phono preamp. We lift the lid on a novel design

Scratching my head, I remain amazed at the plethora of affordable phono stages now on offer, as if to prophesy that the LP's return has no end in sight. Either that or it's sheer opportunism, but hey, that's all good news for hi-fi users. What these phono preamps do is ensure that LPs are accessible to a wider audience than high-end devices serve, while filling the gap between the costly stuff and those £99 USB-equipped decks which probably chew up more LPs than they actually play. Musical Fidelity's M3x Vinyl, however, begs a different sort of question.

Once newcomers and returnees to LP, who bought integrated amps without phono stages during the past 30 years, ask the key question 'how do I play LPs through my line-level-only system?', they'll also query what they get by looking beyond the sub-£500 phono amps from Thorens, MoFi, Pro-Ject, Rega and others. At £1200, in silver or black, the M3x Vinyl thus faces a challenge, for those aforementioned entry-level phono stages are all far better than merely satisfactory.


Size Matters
So my justification for the M3x Vinyl may strike you as specious, desperate, illogical or simply stupid. My instant love for it, though based on the sound, was strengthened by its concept and presence. Equally, there are some odd omissions, but then every piece of hi-fi I've ever tried is a curate's egg to a greater or lesser degree.

There is a major conundrum facing those of you who looked first at the photos and wondered, 'Why is this phono stage housed in a 440x97x385mm (whd) box when it would fit into an enclosure the size of a paperback book?' PM's boxout covers off the technical explanation, but for me it was more about practicality. Was I making excuses for MF? No, it emerged that the case size has two real purposes, the first, as PM notes, being the separation of the circuitry from the power supply. The result is one quiet piece of kit.

The other, real-world reason, is that tooling up for a single box to suit a range of matching models – in this case, a CD player/DAC and matching amplifier – saves costs at the manufacturing stage, while creating a uniform look for the series and providing the option to stack M3 units.

There are other factors too. At the risk of perhaps sounding daft, this outsized box 1) means you can use thick interconnects without it being pulled off the shelf (the wee Thorens, MoFi and NAD phono stages need to be held down with weights when deploying unyielding cables); 2) there's no need for toothpicks to select settings; and 3) it's large enough to place under small-footprint turntables if space is an issue.


This surfeit of internal real-estate also begs the question… why-oh-why, at £1200, did Musical Fidelity not include two separate sets of phono inputs? I'm not suggesting for a moment that many audiophiles run two decks or one with two arms, but it's a nice option to have.

Flexible Benefits
Then we get to the real meat of the M3x Vinyl and why it joins the £1000-£1500 shortlist: it is as flexible as the vast majority of users require, and I had no trouble 'tuning it' to two MM and four MC cartridges. The front panel – and I would find it hard to choose between black or the silver – places its six buttons with 17 accompanying blue LEDs, in a row, clustered by role. Left-to-right, they include power on/off located out on its own, then the MM and MC selectors, followed by the third group, which provides six settings for MM capacitance loading: 50pF, 100pF, 200pF, 300pF, 350pF and 400pF.

Next are two useful buttons, the one labelled 'IEC' inserting a subsonic filter (what used to be called a 'rumble filter' but is now the most recent amendment to the RIAA curve) and which proved useful when I played some slightly warped singles. Next is the +6dB gain booster, which – whether by my choice of cartridges or the capabilities of my system – I didn't need, but I can understand its usefulness, especially for those who want to push the M3x to its limits with a low-output MC.

Musical Fidelity (Audio Tuning Vertriebs GmbH)
Supplied by: Henley Audio Ltd, UK
01235 511166