Unboxing is something of a ritual for hi-fi enthusiasts. We sink our money into a piece of equipment, bring it home and savour that special moment of taking it out of the box. That's why so many companies, especially at the high end, make unboxing an occasion. Some provide instructions for proper unboxing on the flaps of the box. Some cloak the item in special wrap before putting custom formed packaging panels around it. Some have a second box inside the first.
Musical Fidelity has taken unboxing to a new level with the $2699 M6S digital to analogue converter (DAC).
First there's a letter to 'Dear Fellow Music Lover' from Antony Michaelson, who started the company in 1982 (and lately sold it to Pro-Ject). There's no quick start guide, you get a complete instruction manual and it's not a fold-out brochure, it's a ring-bound booklet covering the lot. The M6S is kept cosy in a wonderfully tactile string-pull bag. A lint-free cloth is provided.
The finishing touch is white cotton gloves, I guess to prevent the sullying of the unit with microscopic deposits of DNA that may fall short of Mr Michaelson's exacting standards.
A DAC converts digital signals, fast-moving streams of ones and zeros, to analogue signals; waveforms that actually mean something to your ears. Almost every digital music source has a DAC built in, and so do most amplifiers, so why bother? The M6S simply does a better job of it. For example, it up-samples all the incoming data streams to 768kHz getting rid of practically all digital artefacts, the sometimes audible distortions in compressed audio files such as delivered by DVDs and downloaded music.
It's easy to install. Plug in the digital sources, connect the appropriate analogue output to the amplifier and there you go. Apart from selecting the input the only control it has is a volume knob.
Utterly stunning: the M6S DAC is worth every bit of its $2699.
It has seven digital inputs (three optical, three coax and one USB), two outputs, (an RCA and a balanced XLR) and a 6.3 mm headphone plug served by its own internal headphone amplifier. If your disc player, computer or digital portable has a digital output (thereby skirting the DAC inside it) you can route it through this for vastly improved digital to analogue conversion.
Okay, but will you hear a difference? Look, I don't care if your ears are tin and you wouldn't know a C-sharp major if it snuggled up close and called you sweetheart, if your equipment is even halfway good you will hear brilliance, immediacy, depth and pure ecstasy you have not realised existed until now.
I started with the great Verve jazz recording of 1964, Getz/Gilberto, and when Stan Getz came in on sax about halfway through Girl from Ipanema my jaw dropped, my knees weakened. Realism. Stan died almost 30 years ago but right now he's standing in front of me in a smoky, darkly lit club and has never played better; creamy, breathy, utterly stunning. And so it continues through classics, rock and jazz on everything from MP3 to DSD.
If you can't afford suitable amplification and speakers just plug in good headphones; your backbone will shimmy.
Here's a trap for young players: It does not work with super audio CDs, there's no signal at all. The importer tells me that with a few exceptions SACDs do not output via digital so can't be run through any external DACS. It's a copyright protection thing.
So, is it worth $2699? Just have a listen to it. The kids can get by with last year's shoes.