MICROMEGA'S OTHERWORLDLY AMP
NOMINALLY, FRENCH FIRM
Micromega would seem a deeply conflicted organization. Is it micro, or is it mega? We may never know. (For the record, “Micomégas” is an 18th-century, ur- science-fiction novella by that most French of Enlightenment figures, Voltaire.)
Either way, the south-of-paris firm has an established record of filling niche sin the ever-shifting digitalaudiophile world, beginning with several notable high-end CD players. Today, like most such manufacturers, Micromega is redefining itself for the post-physical media age: Witness its latest M-one duo of streamingcapable, digital-input integrated amplifiers—streamplifiers, as I like to call them.
Micromega’s M-100 and M-150 are largely identical aside from output power and one salient feature. The M-150 we’re sampling here incorporates a 2x150-watt conventional Class A/B amplifier, in contrast to the Class D amps increasingly found among new-gen audio solutions including several of Micromega’s own. It also features a proprietary room-correction system, dubbed M.A.R.S. (from Micromega Acoustic Room System), which is optional on the 2x100-watts M-100.
Otherwise, the two appear indistinguishable: striking, low-profile components covered by an exquisitely formed top-and-sides cover machined from a single block of aluminum. These are available finished in black or gray anodized for standard, or, for $1,000 extra, in sumptuously glossy shades of black, white, red, blue, or orange— or any custom-specified hue for a further increase in buckage. Ours arrived in the custom Electric Orange color, a slightly creamier version of Safety Orange that stood out nicely— understatement of the month— atop my equipment rack. I loved it.
The M-150’s 4 x 2-inch white-onblack dot-matrix front-panel display is matched by an identical one on the top cover’s forward edge, this one flanked by a quartet of small, inset pushbuttons that navigate the amp’s functions—utilitarian, but functional. Also, perfectly adequate given that the Micromega is accompanied by a dedicated remote controller. About the size and shape of a Pop-tart, this furnishes a full set of direct-access input-select keys plus volume and mute.
The M-150's back panel is overhung about two inches by the the top cover, a design decision that cleans up the look but makes peering in and plugging and unplugging things a bit more challenging: doubly so since there are no rear-panel graphics, nor would there be room for any readable ones. Instead, these are printed, for reference, on the bottom plate.
On the rear panel there are one each phono, line, and line-on-xlr inputs, plus single optical, coaxial, AES-EBU (XLR), and asynchronous USB digital ports. A LAN port accommodates local network connection (there is no Wi-fi on board), while two Hdmi-looking ports allow for connection of other, similarly equipped future Micromega components. Outputs consist of a pair of speaker outs on impressively heavy, custom metal multiway jacks, and a pair of XLR pre-outs. There are no unbalanced (Rca-jack) pre-outs, so serving a non-xlr power amp would require adapters— not ideal.
'Snare whacks sounded about as live as any have sounded in my room.'
There’s also a single subwoofer output, low-passed at 400 Hz (you use your sub’s filter for actual crossover-ing), and an Iec-power-cord socket.
I set up the Micromega in my system very simply: speaker outs to my senior-status but still highly capable Energy v2.2 monitors, with digital sources comprising an Oppo BDP-105D disc player (via coaxial digital) and a Mac-based DLNA music server for network streaming.
An M-one-range white paper on Micromega’s website goes into the M-150’s audio-engineering bona fides at some length. Salient points include 32-bit/738-khz internal digital-audio architecture and D-to-a capability, and balancedaudio layout from the D/A converters through the audio outputs. The M-150’s dual-mono circuit topology extends from the power supplies to the speaker outputs, exploiting a compact yet high-capacity power supply architecture Micromega refers to as a “resonance supply.” This I take to be a variant of switchmode design, a concept that’s a bit like the front half of a Class D amp in that it can respond to instantaneous power demands without requiring the bulky, highly regulated current storage of conventional power-supplies, a factor leveraged in the Micromega’s super-slim design. The same factor dictates the forced-cooling tunnel that runs transverse across the M-150, venting via small grilles on each side and serviced by an ultra-quiet, mag-bearing fan. I could hear this running from the listening position, but only on silent or very-near-silent passages.
All this goodness promised a high level of sonics, and I was not disappointed. First off, the M-150’s svelte form belies one highly capable, substantially powerful amplifier. I noted no shortfall relative to my everyday 150-watts-per power amp, whatsoever, so that highly dynamic material such as my long-serving CD of the Sheffield “Drum Record” reproduced at lifelike levels with no evident loss of punch or leading-edge snap. This kind of dynamism translated to wonderful effect on Keith Richard’s weirdly well-recorded 1992 solo opus, Main Offender. The opening of “Wicked as it Seems,” a classic Keef-riff, drums, and bass stripper, sliced the air with authority and then some. Of particular note, the leading edge of Steve Jordan’s naked snare whacks sounded about as live as any drum has sounded in my room, even at near-life levels.
Aural detail and transparency scored just as high. A streamed stereo DSD file of Britten’s “Simple Symphony” (Nordic) features an unusually present, vibrant string sound that can seem almost overdone, but is true to an energetic string orchestra that’s really “digging in” in a vibrant hall. The M-150 delivered the full experience, with rich, woody sonorities and a full range of dynamic shading, such that Britten’s subtle counterpoint weaving bowed and pizzicato lines was vivid and easy to follow.
Imaging-wise, the M-150 struck me as just about neutral: soundstages were wide but not exaggerated; instruments were rock-solid in placement and presence; and front-to-back depth, where encoded in the recording, was fully evident but not sexed up. Short form: The Micromega’s sonic abilities were fully reference quality, at any volume I’d care to play in my room, and with any genre of music I listened to.
As is my usual practice, I performed the bulk of my listening without Micromega’s room correction in force, and for my usual reason; such corrections are entirely subject to the room (duh!), and the speakers in use. That said, here’s what I found. M.A.R.S. setup is straightforward. After plugging the supplied mike into a rear-panel socket, you proceed to run sweeps for middle, left,
and right positions, the latter flanking the central, head-height one by 8 inches or so. (Micromega thoughtfully supplies a mini-tripod for your convenience.) There’s no remote control access for this, so you have to traipse back to the front panel for each user-input— mildly annoying, but no big deal.
With calibration complete, you have three options: REQ-AUTO only corrects low-frequency errors, presumably all or mostly room-mode in origin; FLAT endeavors to correct higher-up anomalies (up to an unspecified frequency) of speaker response; and OFF does what it says.
What I heard, starting from the AUTO setting, was mostly the same as what I’ve heard from other competent room-correction systems: a slight tightening and “quickening” of stronger bass elements, like the nice round-wound Fender bass sound of the Richards album, which became somehow both more solid and better-defined. The FLAT setting added in a very subtle tightening— perhaps
“focusing” would be a better term—of imaging elements like pick-attacks and hi-hats. (Since my speakers in my room are, as far as I’ve been able to both hear and measure, quite close to flat above 200 Hz or so to begin with, this distinction was subtle indeed.) In both cases, net results seemed perhaps a bit less pronounced than what I’ve heard from familiar systems like Audyssey’s Multeq. On balance, I rate Micromega’s M.A.R.S. as a very competent, and potentially useful, example of the breed.
The M-150’s human factors couldn’t match its sonic excellence, though that in no degree lessened it. The front-panel display and controls are, as mentioned, less than friendly by my modern-day, onscreen-centric standards, but the supplied remote, with its generously spaced physical keys, supplies the basics of direct-access input selection and volume/mute control.
A free Micromega ios/android app duplicates these controls and adds the M-150’s limited on-board streaming features, comprising internet radio and server functions. Curiously, there’s no Mute function anywhere in the app, so if you need to kill the sound and happen to be deep into the streaming or radio pages, you have to navigate back to the Remote page, which could be three or four swipes, and then slide the volume lower. Oversight!
The Audio Server pages similarly present a common basic structure: Album, All Tracks, Artist, and Composer access points, including Playlists reflected from an itunes
library, but including a Folder for non-library material, which is where my hi-res files live. Streaming, via my Mac’s Twonkymedia DLNA server, worked seamlessly— once I’d eliminated my hardware IP switch in favor of a direct-from-the-router Ethernet cable. (The switch induced severe streaming dropouts, something I’d not encountered when using the selfsame switch with a few dozen other streaming components over the years.)
Thus debugged, streaming audio sounded uniformly superb. My files include uncompressed AIFFS, FLACS, DSDS (including a few 5.6 MHZ examples), and ALACS; all played smoothly and without a hiccough. Navigation was reasonably sprightly and ergonomically straightforward, though I never really uncovered the app’s Playlist functions (if any), nor any Search option.
A couple of odds and ends: The M-150 incorporates Bluetooth, with the better-quality aptx codec onboard. I also essayed the Micromega’s phono input— which can be set to moving magnet or moving coil gain via a rear-panel mini-switch— via my older-butadequate Rega/ortofon (MM) setup. It worked fine and sounded as excellent as everything else on the Micromega did. I also tried the M-150 subwoofer output though only to confirm operation.
Micromega’s materials state that the M-150’s front-panel headphone jack incorporates “binaural processing,” but at various other points refers to this as an option, and as “compatible with the binaural process.” I tried it, and found sound that might have been a bit more forward-wrapped than usual, but not dramatically so. The M-150’s headphones output did not have enough voltage-swing to drive low-sensitivity cans like my planar Hifiman Edition-x, to head-banging levels, however. Loud, no problem, but loud-loud, nyet.
At the most basic, sonics-first level, the M-150 is a really good, digital-input integrated amplifier. A really, really, really good integrated amplifier: I could cheerfully listen to it as my only two-channel system until— or if— something better ever were to come along.
But, well, there are a number of “buts.” First, the lack of any access to onboard streaming services such as Tidal or Spotify may give pause to 21st-century audiophiles. (Micromega plans to implement Tidal in a future firmware update.) Ditto the lack of Wi-fi and the absence of any onscreen interface.
But none of these will, nor should they, put off the dedicated audiophile in search of a truly compact, single-piece solution to the one task that matters: serious listening at the highest quality level. This the Micromega M-150 unquestionably delivers, though at a price.
'The M-150's svelte form belies one highly capable, substantially powerful amplifier.'
The super-slim form factor of the M-150 is made possible by a "resonance" power supply architecture that eliminates the need for bulky current storage capacitors. The amplifier also uses interior cooling tunnels to dissipate heat.
The M-150's M.A.R.S. feature can either be set to correct bass problems or for wideband processing.