New Musical Fidelity A1 integrated amp: Matches well with LS3/5a

A blue light comes on when the integrated amp is powered on.

The new version of the 1985 classic integrated Class A amp from Musical Fidelity, the A1, still runs very hot, but it still sounds very good.

The first batch of the new Musical Fidelity A1 reached Malaysia on Sept 8 and for the past week I have been listening to it driving my pair of Falcon LS3/5a Maida Vale BBC mini monitors on TAOC AST-60HB speaker stands. I decided to use the LS3/5a because many people had recommended the original version of the A1 as one of the amps which matched well with the BBC monitors and I had been scouting around for an amp to match the LS3/5a.

Since I was in a nostalgic mood, I decided to use vintage Western Electric wires as speaker cables. These are bare wired and I found that it was quite tricky to attach them to the speaker terminals because the terminals are quite close to each other and it is a tight fit which is made worse by the overhang of the top plate. It is advisable to use banana plugs.

Note the overhang of the top plate and how close the speaker terminals are to each other. Those using large spades on their speaker cables may find it problematic to attach them to the terminals. It is advisable to use banana plugs.

Switch on the power and a blue light comes on which matches the colour of the words on the front panel.

I heard the original version of the Musical Fidelity A1 many years ago in a second-hand dealer’s showroom. Based on memory, I can safely say that the new version sounds more dynamic, has better extension of the bass and showed more control and authority overall while retaining the fluid, slightly warm and coherent sound that made the original Musical Fidelity A1 such an enticing integrated amp to listen to. In terms of sound quality, the new A1 hits a very high score and there were many moments when I felt I was listening to a single-ended triode amp.

Even though it is rated at only 25 watts of Class A sound, it could drive the LS3/5a, which is 15 Ohms and has sensitivity rated at 83dB, to play so loud that my wife shouted from upstairs to turn down the volume while I was listening to Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours. Even though the LS3/5a’s bass response goes down to only 70Hz, the Musical Fidelity A1 drove the speakers with such authority that the bass did not sound light at all.

The new A1 retains the circuit designed by the late great Tim de Paravicini of EAR Yoshino fame but the components are the latest low-noise ones available in the market and they have been properly rated for high-temperature use, so you don’t have to worry about the transistors being deep fried by the heat. The power supply has been beefed up. From its website: “The new A1 has received an updated transformer from shared (1985 original) to more efficient ‘dual mono split rail’ windings. The amp stages are supplied by fully independent left and right power supplies for better power handling and stereo imaging and each power amplifier now has double supply capacity resulting in reduced ripple and noise.”

There are some differences compared with the original A1 — the volume control is a high-quality ALPS RK series potentiometer which is motorised (there is a remote control) and there is a ‘Direct’ button. Pressing it reduces gain by 10dB and is meant to cater to new source components which have higher than normal outputs. The enclosure is also slightly longer than the original and there are now ventilation holes on the sides of the integrated amp.

The new A1 has a ‘Direct’ button which reduces gain by 10dB.
There are ventilation holes on the sides of the enclosure.
The new A1 is slightly longer than the original version.

The phono stage caters to MM and MC and I spent all of yesterday listening to vinyl on my souped-up Rega Planar 3 turntable with RB250 tonearm and Benz Glider MC cartridge. On MC, the matching input impedance is automatically selected.

When listening to a Johnny Cash LP, I felt that his voice sounded denser than with other amps and when I heard Joan Baez singing Diamonds and Rust, the slight ‘sharpness’ and ‘brittleness’ that I heard in other systems were not apparent on the Musical Fidelity A1 and LS3/5a combo.

The Falcon LS3/5a Maida Vale edition.

Even though I used the Falcon LS3/5a Maida Vale for much of the listening sessions, I am sure the new Musical Fidelity A1 will work well with other speakers. I used the A1 to drive the ATC SCM50 floorstanders for a while, and the sound was quite good too.

The new Musical Fidelity A1 retails at RM9,980 and is available from A&L Audio Station in Amcorp Mall.

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