Musical Fidelity A1 (2023): hands-on
By What Hi-Fi?’s Ketan Bharadia
I am standing at the back of Musical Fidelity’s packed demo room at the High End Munich show and there is palpable excitement in the air. The company's owner, Heinz Lichtenegger (of Pro-Ject turntable fame), is about to tell us all about its latest integrated amplifier, the A1.
Only it isn’t really new. This fresh oering is actually a faithful remake of a design that helped to establish the Musical Fidelity brand as a real force in the market and the maker of some startlingly daring designs. What I’m looking at isn’t identical to the 1985 original, but it is close enough for me to need both generations side by side to spot the dierences. The 2023 version is a little bigger and includes vents in the casework to manage heat flow.
Putting the original’s charismatic sound aside, the conversation always turns to heat when talking about this iconic product. That heat is a direct consequence of what has always made this amplifier stand apart from the competition: Class A operation.
Class A is, in theory, the optimum way to get the best sound quality from transistor circuits. However, the problem is that such designs always run hot. Musical Fidelity’s solution was to turn the A1’s casework into a giant heatsink, and it worked to a certain extent. Even so, it is fair to say that the original amp still skirted on the edge of acceptability when it came to heat output.
It’s not 1985 anymore, so the case size increase (to dissipate more heat) and added ventilation (ditto) were essential. The claims are that the casework temperature has now dropped by a few degrees, keeping the new A1 on the right side of acceptability — and law. Whether we’re talking about the original or this remake, this is an amplifier that needs plenty of ventilation. Housing an A1 in a closed cupboard is an absolute no-no.
The reincarnated version feels nicely made and the switches and control dials have a pleasant precision to them. It has a remote, unlike the original, but this only adjusts volume.
The amplifier’s power output is broadly unchanged at a claimed 28 watts per channel, so it makes sense to take care with speaker matching. My demo involved Musical Fidelity’s new BBC-inspired LS3/5A design (also pictured), which has a nominal impedance of 15 ohms and therefore does not require much current. That suits the new A1 perfectly.
So how does the new A1 sound? It is always hard to make any firm judgement in a show environment, but first impressions are certainly positive. I hear a bold and full-bodied sound; one that’s richer, smoother and more easygoing than is typically the fashion today. The demo room was massive and packed with people, so it isn’t fair to talk about dynamics, detail levels or rhythmic drive. Even so, the listening experience leaves me wanting to hear more and eager to try the little amplifier in more familiar surroundings.
The original was considered a budget amp back in the ‘80s, but that is no longer the case with this latest version, which has a suggested retail price of €1,599 [around $2,700]. How much does that matter? Once again, more time is needed with the product before that can be decided. Regardless, it is still clear that this new A1 oers a chance to experience a lovely piece of hi-fi history. What value do you put on that?