Musical Fidelity MX-DAC DAC

Only 15 years ago, the world was getting excited about DVD-Audio and Super Audio Compact Disc. These two hires formats had been a long time coming; almost two decades, but it felt more.

The hi-fi world was rightly excited, but unfortunately this did not translate to the music buying public. Sound buffs might have got hot under the collar, but music fans didn't, and by 2007 DVD-A and SACD were virtually history.

Not so. Suddenly they have come back - in spirit if not in body. Just like a kind of digital poltergeist, the soul of the animal has returned with no physical form! Indeed, it's available on Musical Fidelity's new MX-DAC with support for ultra hi-res 32-bit/384kHz DSD and digital PCM - it plays 'double DSD', offering better sound than SACD ever did. In both cases this is notable things; the only real downside being that there's presently very little material commercially available in these formats. However, it's real allure because it is efficiently more future proof than many of its rivals.

Producer says this new DAC's technical operation is on a par with any digital converter at any cost - an impressive claim. The converter chip fitted is the most recent Burrbrown PCM1795 32-bit/192kHz multi-bit Sigma-Delta design, made by Texas Instruments. It operates in conjunction with a TI SRC439 sampling rate converter, and the MX-DAC is claimed by Musical Fidelity has a very low jitter figure of only 12pps.

Considering its price, the casework is a thing of beauty. Constructed in the 'European Union' (not Taiwan, as is typical with this business), it was designed in Britain and looks really fine. The front panel sports LEDs revealing source format, chosen and sampling frequency. It annoys me that many DAC makers appear unable to possess such displays that are complete, fundamentally favoring that you just listen in ignorance and trust to chance.

Everything is processed in the DSD domain, says the manufacturer.

Single-ended RCA and balanced XLR outputs complete the image, together with a DC power input signal. Juice comes from a modest 5V, 2A 'wall wart' supply, suggesting that there is room for an updated power supply at some future date? It's easy enough to set up; as ever while Mac owners don't, Windows users should set up the provided USB Class 2 driver.

Sound quality

Despite having whiz-bang DSD ability, most individuals will spend most of their time listening to this new DAC at 16/44 CD resolution; nearly all music on sale comes in this package and any type of hi-res is still uncommon, let alone DSD. The MX-DAC seems super clean and clear, with little sense of its own character. The song breezes along, this DAC throwing oodles of detail out at me, without ever sounding overly technical or analytical. Indeed, it is much less dull than most in the price. By comparison the acclaimed Audiolab M-DAC I need to hand sounds a little more vulgar, having a less sweet tonality but a fraction more detail.

Moving to the rich strains of Isaac Hayes' Cafe Regios, along with its glossy and warm feel is captured by the Musical Fidelity. It is almost always an excellent test to find out how well a DAC signposts the difference between records, and this demonstrates something of an open window. It's pleasingly fine also, using a genuine deftness of touch; it doesn't smash out the low-level detail in a way that some digital converters do, apparently attempting to impress. Instead, the unit serves up one which hangs back much, a spacious and wide recorded acoustic guitar. Within this, instruments are not suffocated, although not closely lose. The piano sparkles nicely, the electric guitar sounds realistic as well as the backing strings soar.

I love the beautifully resolved hi-hat sound, and the maracas come over. It is a wonderful few instants that reveals how good music could be from CD that is lowly. Going to a sterner test of the mettle of this product, I play REM's Texarkana and hook up the USB input. This 24/192 PCM record (which first appeared on DVD Audio) can sound a little muddy if played on mediocre equipment, but opens up with a decent DAC. The MX-DAC duly proves its ability, letting me follow every strand of the record individually, yet strings everything together quite convincingly too. It is quite breathtaking detail this modestly priced DAC is throwing so easily too, and out.

I begin to run the gamut of my hi-res music group, using a wide selection of files in DSD format and WAV FLAC. The MX-DAC continues to reveal a sizeable progress on its redoubtable 16-bit abilities.

Wings' Band On The Run is delivered in fantastically sharp focus, showing outstanding picture placement left to right and front to back. In absolute terms, it does not quite match space, the elegance and pace of some of the better, more expensive DACs, but it does surprisingly well all the same.


This new Musical Fidelity MX-DAC is a fantastic performer with useful functionality, also it serves this upward in a compact but classy package that's affordable for most budget-conscious sound enthusiasts. Its lively, musical and glass-clear sound has great allure and just begins to fade when compared with all the top DACs at the price.

Musical Fidelity MX-DAC DAC photo

Review price £700 / $1050