an image to enlarge.
Upgrading your hi-fi system or individual components can be an enjoyable
as well as a challenging experience.
As a live gig photographer I meet musicians and
music lovers of all genres who share the passion to reproduce music
in their home to the highest (affordable) standard.
This is more intended as a shared ‘experience
reference’ over a review. I have read hundreds of reviews
over the years as a base guide before listening to any hi-fi component
, however, I am sure many will agree, our ears, how we experience
music, our homes are all unique! I have listened to music through
many components or accessories that have received 5 stars and lauded
as the next best thing only to find it did not work with my existing
components or my room, or it just was not to my taste. However,
reviews are still a good starting point!
My system upgrade actually began over three years
ago after my existing Musical Fidelity A3cr pre-amplifier, power
amplifier and A3 CD player were ‘internally’ upgraded
(fine-tuned) by a’ third party. This seemed like a good idea
at the time, especially as ‘I appreciated’, or was ‘accustomed
to the specific characteristics’ of my existing system (and
funds were limited). I just wanted to squeeze a little more out
of my existing system. However it did not take too long for me to
realise I had made a mistake. The end result was that I am now the
owner of a system with completely different characteristics…
punchier, deeper bass and greater speed; however, the flip side
- disjointed timing, poor focus and lack of overall clarity…
Fast forward three years and it is now time to
make a change. Listening to music was now almost a painful experience.
My treasured vinyl collection had become ‘the untouchable
collection’. I had resorted to just popping a CD on when doing
the housework – What I call ‘convenience playing. It
was definitely time to move on!
Of course it is important to upgrade any system
in stages. I wanted to keep my A3 CD player for now. It would also
make sense (for continuity) when listening to music through other
amplifiers. My main source is my Linn Lp12 with Origin live Ultra
DC motor. Despite my system not performing as it should, it was
imperative to ensure the ‘front end’ was right before
proceeding with amplification. (Crap in crap out). The first change
I needed to implement was the turntable cartridge. I continued to
use my existing amplification as well a ‘non-upgraded’
A3CR pre & power amp (though not mentioned below). I also did
not need to change my beloved Martin Logan Scenario electrostatic
Dynavector’s entry level DV-10X5 had served me well over
the years. At around £350 I consider the DV-10X5 as a great
value all-rounder moving coil cartridge and felt the natural progression
would be just to move up the Dynavector ladder. However, both the
DV-20X2L (£600) and the Karat 17D3 (£850) with its easily
recognisable gold metal coloured body and short (almost none existent
diamond cantilever) both proved disappointing. Surprisingly
both cartridges produced a poorly detailed ‘boxed in’
presentation. (The opposite of what I had read). To ensure the results
were not caused by a phono stage mismatch, I listened to both Dynavector
cartridges through my existing A3CR ‘upgraded’ built
in phono stage as well as Dynavector’s external P75 III phono
stage. This did not alter the results significantly so I decided
to stop climbing the Dynavector ladder at this point.
Of course there are many other cartridges to choose from; however,
it is not easy to actually trial a cartridge for obvious reasons.
I contacted a few dealers in London who just seemed impatient ready
to quickly reel off the specific cartridges they had in stock expecting
me to choose one and hand over the cash!
After further discussion with various manufacturers and colleagues
in the business I turned my attention to The Cartridge Man. I had
met Len Gregory ‘The Cartridge Man’ in 2008 during my
Origin Live Ultra DC motor turntable kit upgrade.
Len Gregory ‘The Cartridge Man’ has been involved
in all aspects of analogue reproduction for over 30 years.
I shared my experience of the Dynavector cartridges with Len.
“You won’t get such problems with any of my babies!”
he replied confidently.
After a brief impressive demo of the MusicMaker Mk III (moving
iron) with isolator fitted to Len’s own custom made turntable,
I returned home with a MusicMaker Mk lll with isolator fitted to
my Linn Lp12.
From the outset it was obvious the MusicMaker Mk III was in a
completely different league than the cartridges I have used before.
Open, sweet, absolutely no hint of harshness, with a much clearer
defined stereo image. The delicate textures of Miles Davis’
trumpet on “All Blue” and “Flamenco Sketches”
more evident than ever before. The complexities of Joni Mitchell’s
“Hejira” album at last refreshingly clear (specifically
Jaco Pastorius’ bass guitar) dancing delicately around Joni
Mitchell’s modulating childlike voice... I have owned this
album for many years and always felt there was much more in those
grooves than I was getting with previous cartridges. The MusicMaker
III was able to unravel dark and light entwined musical passages
throughout this album with ease. The name of this cartridge is befitting.
I need look no further.
After exploring many options outside of the Musical
Fidelity range, I was eventually lured back to Musical Fidelity
by the promise of something special from Antony Michaelson’s
engineers. The NuVista 800 integrated amplifier and the M8 series
PRE & power options are Musical Fidleity’s recent additions
to their amplification range.
After much discussion with manufacturers and dealers,
I chose Audio Venue to demo both the M8-500S power amplifier with
the M8PRE preamplifier and the Nuvista 800 integrated amplifier.
I also invited two colleagues along to share this listening experience.
Roger Thomas - fellow live gig photographer (ex-musician and sound
engineer) and Andrew Griffith - audio-video installation engineer
The all black matt finished M8-500S as its name suggests
is a 500w per channel amplifier. Both M8 power and preamplifier
are equipped with balanced XLR as well as RCA phono input / output
connections. For continuity we used the RCA phono connections to
link pre and power for the initial demo with the turntable as the
main source. First impressions... The driving drums of Incognito’s
“Parisian Girl” definitely packed a more rhythmic punch
with tighter control on instruments overall and Sarah McLachlan’s
“Angel” from her “Surfacing” album delivered
with greater clarity and three dimensionality (even at low volume
levels). Crank up the volume and M8 -500S continues to deliver…
with ease… These qualities are all definite improvements over
my existing system, but still not quite worthy of me parting with
£8000. At this point we decided to switch sources with Rachelle
Ferrell’s “Individuality (Can I be me?)” CD. Ferrell’s
6-octave vocal range is a serious stretch for any system. Though
not as three dimensional as vinyl, CD presentation through the M8
is upfront, powerful and precise. The stereo image was slightly
wider than what I am used to hearing with CD. Rachelle Ferrell’s
powerful emotive voice delivered with precision, though slightly
pinched on the higher notes. Nothing really to make the hairs on
the back of my neck stand to attention (or my short arm to reach
for my moth ridden wallet). Perhaps I was expecting too much?
As previously mentioned The M8 power and preamplifier
are equipped with balanced XLR as well as RCA phono connections.
Considering I was personally advised by many a sound engineer that
“balanced connections should make no audible difference to
domestic hi-fi systems” and I had no intention (or capability)
to utilise such connections previously. Also bearing in mind the
A3CR CD player and Linn turntable use RCA phono cables, therefore,
just using balanced cables between pre and power did not seem like
a good idea.
Despite the above cynicism we continued with the
switch over from RCA phono to balanced XLR between preamplifier
and power using Luminist Revision Poseidon XLR balanced cables (£325).
Surprisingly the difference was immediately clear (literally). We
all picked up on the bigger, wider presentation with greater detail
with CD. Rachelle Ferrell’s voice now had an urgent edge with
her higher register now delivered with ease. Vinyl also revealed
an even wider stereo image with a detailed presentation reaching
out way beyond my Scenario electrostatic black panels to touch us
in our listening chairs, as well as precisely placed echoes sinking
in the deep shadowy foreground. We had one specifically placed chair
to enable precise electrostatic ‘sweet-spot’ listening.
We each took turns to relish in the joy of listening in this sweet
I considered hiring the complete New Zealand All Blacks rugby team
to assist in manoeuvring the NuVista 800 integrated amplifier into
place. This unit weighs in at a back breaking 39kg+. Once in place
(chiropractors booked) and unit switched on we were treated to a
visual myriad of colours glowing from beneath the top grill indicating
state of warm up - starting from red to yellow, finally to green.
The NuVista 800 is also equipped with balanced XLR as well as RCA
phono input connections, however, there is no internal phono stage
so we used Musical Fidelity’s V90-LPS external phono stage
connected to RCA phono connections for this demo.
I have heard nothing but great things about the NuVista 800, so
my expectations were high. First impressions were favourable with
the driving energy from Incognito’s “Parisian Girl”
(12” vinyl) delivered with ease. With 330 watts cleverly engineered
within its stunning machined body it was clear from the get go that
the NuVista 800 has plenty of controlled punch in reserve. Rachelle
Ferrell’s voice still had an edge (as with the m8 pre-power
combo) but with slightly less bite. This is not a criticism; the
NuVista 800 presentation just seemed a tad warmer than the M8 combo.
This trait was even more evident with Sarah McLachlan’s “Angel”
To complete this sound comparison we decided to
switch quickly to M8 combo, then back the NuVista 800. We continued
to use the external V90-LPS phono stage with both units.
There is no doubt the Nuvista 800 is worthy of
the high praise given. This beautifully engineered integrated amplifier
not only looks stunning, it delivers a warm inviting sound combined
with clarity and controlled punch that will please those who have
the feel for all-round relaxed ‘long listening sessions.’
Audio-video installation engineer (ex-sound engineer) Andy Griffith
fell in love with this unit; however, I found the overall presentation
The M8-500S with M8 pre-amplifier combined with
the use of balanced XLR connectivity delivers all of the above with
an edge and a controlled muscularity without being clinical. In
fact we discovered the the M8 pre-power combo overall presentation
even more favourable when using the V90-LPS external phono stage.
Live gig photographer Roger Thomas and I revelled in the sheer musicality
this combo had to offer.
Aesthetically the NuVista 800 and M8 pre-power
combo units are strikingly pleasing to the eye. The NuVista 800
casing is machine aluminium finished in silver with a colourful
illuminating top rear - side body ‘and feet’. The remote
control unit is milled from aluminium and finished in satin. Using
this solid remote alone gives you a sense of the precision engineering
involved in the amplifier as well as the remote control itself.
You may even feel a little more comfortable holding this solid remote
in one hand while handing over the £8000 in the other!
The M8-500S power amplifier and M8 PRE-amplifier
are available in black matt or silver machined aluminium finish.
The brightness of the minimalistic red digital volume display on
the front fascia of the M8 PRE-amplifier can be adjusted via the
remote control unit; however, this flimsy plastic remote control
unit is more akin to a plastic toy ejected from an oversized Christmas
cracker. I grimaced holding this remote control while handing over
£8000 for this combo!
Complete system details:
Linn Lp12 with Origin Live Ultra DC motor turntable
kit. Cartridge Man MusicMaker Mk III cartridge. Musical Fidelity
A3 CD player. Van den Hull The second RCA phono interconnects
M8-500S power amplifier with the M8PRE preamplifier.
Luminist Revision Poseidon XLR balanced cables
Martin Logan hybrid electrostatic speakers. Chord
Legend speaker cable
Quadraspire Q4 EVO turntable wall bracket. Quadraspire Q4 Reference
with Q4 EVO top shelf
Campaign Audio Design Conqueror-Elite 5 way block and IEC
© Michael Valentine Studio Ltd.