MICROMEGA M-150 am­pli­fier

Any colour you like, as Floyd said, then you can stick it flat on your wall and en­joy Micromega’s unique vi­sion for on modern am­pli­fier de­sign...

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Any colour you like, in a neat flat amp that de­liv­ers a unique vi­sion on modern am­pli­fier de­sign.

Gotta love the French. As a na­tion they cel­e­brate their joie de vivre, and in hi-fi there is cer­tainly a soupçon of

vive la dif­fer­ence to their cre­ations, a pen­chant for that je ne sais quoi which lifts their prod­ucts above the crowd. French loud­speaker com­pa­nies fa­mously favour the sphere as an acous­tic en­clo­sure, and more re­cently French au­dio elec­tron­ics com­pa­nies have de­liv­ered wild lev­els of in­no­va­tion, notably De­vialet’s sleek Ex­pert am­pli­fiers and rather less sleek (some might say bonkers) Phan­tom ac­tive speak­ers.

From a first glance at the new M-One am­pli­fiers, you might think that Micromega has been watch­ing this de­vel­op­ment closely — is there a cer­tain déjà

vu in the com­pany’s choice of a wide flat am­pli­fier chas­sis? Mais au con­traire, mon­sieur — the M-One di­verges from De­vialet’s of­fer­ings on al­most every level, from the choice of am­pli­fi­ca­tion genre to its de­liv­ery of aes­thetic fin­ish.

Be­sides, Micromega needs no new urge to diverge into the avante garde — this is a com­pany which has long walked paths less trav­elled. We re­mem­ber it re­leas­ing the first ever two-box CD player in the late 1980s, and later the Trio three-box CD sys­tem, which pro­vided par­tic­u­lar ca­chet for a clique of con­nois­seurs. These new Mi­cromegas may share the gen­eral wide flat form and dual-po­si­tion wall-mount­abil­ity of the De­va­liet Ex­pert amps, they de­liver plenty of dif­fer­en­ti­a­tion all their own. Black, sil­ver, or... The M-150 — the higher pow­ered of the two present M-One mod­els — ar­rives in a wide box, its outer card­board car­ton look­ing rather like a flat­pack table, ex­cept for its proud an­nounce­ment that it is not merely de­signed in France but made there as well. The in­ter­nal pack­ag­ing is stylish but not ex­trav­a­gant, a foam in­sert lift­ing to re­veal the 430 x 345mm foot­print of the am­pli­fier in­side, wrapped in trans­par­ent plas­tic. Our re­view sam­ple came in sil­ver — not shiny chrome like De­vialet’s amps, but rather the lux­u­ri­ous matte sil­ver of an­odised alu­minium, with hor­i­zon­tal ridges di­vid­ing it into three sec­tions, the cen­tre of which is etched with the dis­tinc­tive Micromega logo.

The M-Ones are in­deed made from a sin­gle block of this alu­minium, and very sleek it looks in its nat­u­ral sil­ver. But one of Micromega’s sell­ing points here — for that leg­endary spousal ac­cep­tance fac­tor as well as to dis­cern­ing au­dio­philes with a sense of style — is a per­haps un­prece­dented level of ex­ter­nal cus­tomi­sa­tion in ‘MCF’ (Micromega Cus­tom Fin­ish). Stan­dard fin­ishes are an­odised sil­ver or black, but through a tie-in with French loud­speaker com­pany Fo­cal your M-One can per­fectly match the paint op­tions of­fered on Fo­cal mod­els (Black Lac­quer, Car­rara White, Im­pe­rial Red, Elec­tric Or­ange and Bleu Nog­aro) adding $1700 to the price, and you can go fur­ther, se­lect­ing any colour from the cen­tral Euro­pean RAL colour chart ($2100 over the stan­dard price, and a pause while your be­spoke M-One is cre­ated). Given that we’ve heard tell of high-end

speak­ers be­ing pur­chased merely through the clincher that they can be de­liv­ered in pur­ple, this is smart mar­ket­ing — here you have sev­eral dif­fer­ent pur­ples and pinks to choose from, and a rain­bow of other op­tions, if that’s what it takes to get your spouse to ac­cept the Micromega in your home. There was even early talk that tex­tures such as ‘car­bon’ and leather fin­ishes might be added to the M-One range, but such sur­faces haven’t (yet) sur­faced.

Fur­ther po­ten­tial dé­cor-friend­li­ness comes from the neat op­tional wall­mount­ing sys­tem. To this end there are twin dis­plays, one at the top, with four clicky press-stud but­tons, and a sec­ond on the low front edge, both op­er­at­ing si­mul­ta­ne­ously. This would be use­ful if the Micromega is po­si­tioned be­low eye level in a rack, and par­tic­u­larly it al­lows ver­ti­cal wall-mount­ing with­out any loss of vis­ual func­tion­al­ity.

One of the re­mote con­trol’s but­tons tog­gles the dis­play’s let­ter­ing size, with smaller let­ter­ing adding ad­di­tional in­for­ma­tion de­pend­ing on the in­put, such as the cur­rent sam­pling rate when us­ing the USB in­put. Con­nec­tions At first glance the con­nec­tions list seems lim­ited — a sin­gle pair of ana­logue line RCA sock­ets, for ex­am­ple, plus

a turntable phono in­put switch­able be­tween mov­ing mag­net and mov­ing coil, and a balanced ana­logue in­put on XLRs. So that’s three ana­logue in­puts in to­tal. Then the dig­i­tal in­puts — one coax­ial, one op­ti­cal, one AES/EBU on XLR. And USB-B, to plug in your com­puter. The M-150 net­works via Eth­er­net, and (via the Micromega app) plays in­ter­net ra­dio and net­worked files via UPnP/DLNA.

Both the coax­ial and AES/EBU dig­i­tal in­puts claim to be good to 32-bit/768kHz data rates (we tested only to 384kHz) with the M-150 ac­cept­ing PCM DSD and DSD over PCM (up to 11.2MHz DSD); the op­ti­cal in­put is good to 24-bit/192kHz. Twin USB-A slots were marked as be­ing for firmware up­dat­ing only (which we did), but then why two? Sure enough we were in­formed these will soon get a firmware up­date for file re­play from sticks and drives, with the same file com­pat­i­bil­ity as above.

Two sock­ets which look like HDMI are re­served for fu­ture use with I2S data streams (as are al­ready used in­ter­nally prior to the DAC), and as a fi­nal dig­i­tal bonus the M-Ones of­fer Blue­tooth stream­ing, with the aptX codec avail­able for “near-CD” qual­ity lossy com­pres­sion if your send­ing de­vice also sup­ports aptX.

The USB com­puter con­nec­tion of­fered it­self im­me­di­ately to our Mac Mini (Win­dows may need a driver for USB 2.0), of­fer­ing up to 24-bit/384kHz un­der the con­trol of its own clocks (45.1584MHz and 49.1520MHz, true mul­ti­ples for 44.1 and 48kHz re­spec­tively). And use­fully the Micromega USB driver re­mained avail­able to our com­puter even when we had switched the amp away from USB to an­other in­put. We’ve seen many de­signs where the USB driver de­ac­ti­vates at that point, some­times re­quir­ing man­ual re­s­e­lec­tion when re­stored. Micromega’s is the

cor­rect choice to pre­vent con­fus­ing the com­puter (and po­ten­tially other soft­ware run­ning, such as Amarra, ProTools or Tidal desk­top), even at the ex­pense of leav­ing dig­i­tal cir­cuits ac­tive dur­ing ana­logue lis­ten­ing.

But then as with in­creas­ing num­bers of sys­tems where DSP is an essen­tial el­e­ment of preamp op­er­a­tion, the ana­logue in­puts are dig­i­tally sam­pled here any­way (at what level Micromega didn’t choose to di­vulge when con­firm­ing the con­ver­sion), al­low­ing them to be sub­ject to the room EQ de­scribed later in this ar­ti­cle.

It was mak­ing the USB con­nec­tion that de­liv­ered our first mo­ments of lis­ten­ing to the M-150, as we directed a newly re­leased ver­sion of Queen’s We Will Rock You (an al­ter­nate, from the 40th an­niver­sary box set, 16/44.1) to the M-150 and on to our JBL Stu­dio Mon­i­tors. From the pre-take speech to the stomp­ing back­ing track, it sounded gi­gan­ti­cally scaled against an ut­terly in­audi­ble noise-floor, star­tlingly real in clar­ity and ac­cu­racy — it was mul­ti­ple lev­els above how we had first heard this song the pre­vi­ous week through a $3500 CD/stream­ing am­pli­fier.

This speaks to the DACs as well as the am­pli­fi­ca­tion. The M-One range uses AKM’s ‘Vel­vet Sound’ 120dB AK4490EQ DAC, with an Ana­log De­vices SHARC pro­ces­sor con­trol­ling vol­ume at 32-bit ac­cu­racy as well as other func­tions, in­clud­ing bin­au­ral head­phone pro­cess­ing. From the DAC the whole ana­logue dis­tri­bu­tion is car­ried out in fully balanced

mode, with the con­ver­sion to un­bal­anced im­me­di­ately prior to the am­pli­fi­ca­tion.

We also no­ticed the M-150 ap­peared on our Ap­ple de­vices as an Air­Play tar­get, though Air­Play is nowhere men­tioned in lit­er­a­ture other than one men­tion of of the M-Ones be­ing “AirDream (wire­less) com­pat­i­ble”. This seems to be Air­Play with­out the li­cence fee. (Micromega also makes a small stand­alone AirDream re­ceiver.) How­ever we couldn’t get this to work. The M-One could be se­lected from afar and ap­par­ently ac­cepted the stream, but the Micromega did not au­toswitch to it (as is nor­mal for Air­Play re­ceivers), and no la­belled in­put was avail­able to se­lect it on ei­ther the phys­i­cal or app re­mote con­trol (we gather it should op­er­ate when you se­lect LAN, but de­spite try­ing three iOS de­vices and a Mac Mini, it didn’t). A fur­ther bonus, though, if it works for you.

You also get balanced XLR pre-out­puts, a sub­woofer out­put, and a pair of con­trol trig­gers. On the front is a mini­jack head­phone socket, which on the tested M-150 of­fers three lev­els of bin­au­ral de­liv­ery. This — like the room EQ — proved both high qual­ity and im­pres­sive non-de­struc­tive, slightly soft­en­ing edges and bring­ing widely-panned el­e­ments in to­wards the cen­tre. Oddly the medium set­ting made things pretty much mono, the light and strong set­tings less so. As with the room EQ, com­par­ing or switch­ing off bin­au­ral modes re­quires in­ter­act­ing phys­i­cally with the unit’s own but­tons, these op­tions not be­ing avail­able yet through Micromega’s app, which is a neat iPhone-size con­trol app which found the M-150 im­me­di­ately and of­fered easy ac­cess to a num­ber of other set­tings — in­clud­ing bal­ance, in­di­vid­ual in­put sen­si­tiv­ity for bal­anc­ing of lev­els across sources, and easy re­nam­ing of all in­puts. For mu­sic it ac­cesses in­ter­net ra­dio, which in­cludes a good search op­tion and ac­cesses pod­casts as well as live sta­tions, and you can go to ‘Au­dio Server’ to play from UPnP and DLNA shares on the net­work. All worked fine, in­clud­ing high-res play­back, with the in­ter­est­ing side note that you could have the ra­dio play­ing or DLNA mu­sic stream­ing even when lis­ten­ing to a dif­fer­ent in­put — it only emerges when you se­lect ‘LAN’ as the in­put. Sim­i­larly it seems to con­tinue stream­ing af­ter you go to a dif­fer­ent in­put — so there’s the pos­si­ble dan­ger of suck­ing down in­ter­net ra­dio data if you for­get to stop it. In other ways it’s a bonus — we hate apps that get dis­con­nected all the time, whereas the Micromega app never lost con­nec­tion un­less the unit was pow­ered down.

As an of­ten more con­ve­nient al­ter­na­tive to the app you have the tablet-shaped phys­i­cal re­mote con­trol. Here Micromega’s quirk­i­ness comes to the fore, in a tablet­shaped re­mote which re­quires two-handed op­er­a­tion and yet is in­fra-red, not RF. Point­ing a two-handed re­mote is an un­nat­u­ral ex­pe­ri­ence, not as­sisted here by an un­pri­ori­tised lay­out of 17 more of the com­pany’s pre­ferred clicky press-studs, each marked with a fairly small four-let­ter leg­end. Real­is­ing that dig­i­tal in­puts are to the left and ana­logue to the right helps, as does fa­mil­iari­sa­tion, of course. But we don’t like but­tons that au­di­bly click dur­ing vol­ume con­trol, nor the need for two-handed op­er­a­tion un­less you can po­si­tion it on a table with a di­rect line of sight to the am­pli­fier.

The speaker out­put bind­ing posts are rock-solid ter­mi­nal blocks com­pat­i­ble with bare ca­ble, ba­nana plugs or spade con­nec­tors. A bet­ter class of am­pli­fier We imag­ined that such a slim de­sign would ne­ces­si­tate the use of low-heat Class D am­pli­fi­ca­tion, or at least some hy­brid form of it, as De­vialet im­ple­ments in its own slim am­pli­fiers with a shift from Class A low-level op­er­a­tion to bring in Class D when higher power is re­quired. Class D has come along way since its early brit­tle-sound­ing im­ple­men­ta­tions, and is be­com­ing ac­cepted even by no­to­ri­ously au­dio-cen­tric com­pa­nies, with Hypex’s nCore mod­ules be­ing par­tic­u­larly highly re­garded and in­creas­ingly widely used.

But to be hon­est, this re­viewer still awaits the ar­rival of a Class D am­pli­fier which prop­erly thrills the soul as well as pump­ing the watts, so it

Micromega M-150 in­te­grated am­pli­fier

Most users will be us­ing the solid bind­ing posts to drive their loud­speak­ers, but the Micromega also oƒers a sub­woofer out­put and balanced XLR line-level out­puts. Out­puts One each of coax­ial, op­ti­cal, AES-EBU, and USB-B. The USB-A slots be­low the Eth­er­net socket weren’t yet en­abled for file re­play. Dig­i­tal in­puts Ana­logue in­puts Top le is the in­put for the EQ mi­cro­phone, then phono and line-level in­puts, an XLR balanced stereo pair, and trig­ger sock­ets to the right.

Micromega’s M-One app is phone-sized, blown up for tablet dis­play, keep­ing things clear and and shown here stream­ing 24/96 El­ton John from a net­worked share.

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