Musical Fidelity M6 Encore Connect: a well-equipped music server possessing a control application without equal!
Despite its name, the English brand Musical Fidelity did not benefit from the loyalty of its French distributors, or maybe it is the opposite. Whatever the case, the brand is now distributed in France by Light & Music Company, whose CEO is none other than the creator of the BC Acoustique products, which has somewhat reassured us, to be honest.
For this testing ground, we have chosen the M6 Encore Connect music server among the many devices made by Musical Fidelity, divided in various series: Nu Vista, Encore, M8, M6s, M5s, M3s, LX2, LX et V90, going from the top, the Nu Vista, whose products display both very high end performances and designs.
As indicated by its name, the music server that we will introduce to you in this article belongs to the Encore series, devices that are near the best that the manufacturer has to offer. This is a very modern device, giving access to the music lover to a CD player, digital and analog inputs, and possessing a hard drive to store ripped CDs or files from other music media.
It is worth noting that this M6 Encore Connect music server has a twin brother, the M6 Encore 225, adding in its box amplification stages delivering a trifle 225W/8Ω per channel.
Like any modern device equipped with a network player, not only does it possess an application for iOS or Android smartphones or tablets, but it now offers the Qobuz application, which must be installed through a computer Internet browser using a clone of the Logitech Media Server application. Furthermore, this music server’s possibilities are numerous and we have probably, despite the four days we devoted to this device, used only a (very) small part, the online user manual (linked at the end of this testing ground) being rather massive.
The Music Fidelity M6 Encore Connect music server with streamer is a massive device, radiating seriousness and sturdiness, available with a front panel with a satin natural aluminum finish or black with satin aluminum buttons. The whole displays a rather good aesthetic balance, and is in good taste.
On the right of the screen, you’ll find the volume control wheel, surrounded by a USB A socket to plug a removable storage device (a USB stick or autonomous hard drive) and a 6.35mm headphone Jack socket.
Then you’ll see a line of command keys for the CD player (of the slot-in kind), also working with other sources, running along the right side of the central display. Without being huge, the latter allows you good readability from a good distance. On its left, a series of keys will enable the display of the home menu, currently playing music, the addition or deletion of files from the current playlist, the selection of the source, etc.
The connectivity of the M6 Encore Connect music server is rather rich. Concerning the digital sources, we are spoiled since we have a USB B input whose use isn’t explained by the manufacturer, three USB A inputs to plug removable storage devices, four S/PDIF inputs (two coaxial ones and two optical ones), and you can add to the list a hard drive, accessible from the rear side, which will allow you to store ripped CDs or files coming from other media. However, you will not be able to play digital files directly from the USB devices, and the server will analyze their content to figure out what can be transferred on its hard drive. You will also note the presence of three auxiliary analog inputs.
Aside from the absence of symmetrical outputs, the analog outputs are in line with what we can expect from a source, even a music server: two stereo outputs, among which on at fixed level (Line) that you can plug into an integrated amplifier equipped with volume control, and another marked ‘Pre’ that can be used with a power amplifier. Under those are located two S/PDIF digital outputs, a coaxial one and an optical one.
The Musical Fidelity M6 Encore Connect is a very cleanly manufactured device and uses the same box as the M6 Encore 225, minus the amplifiers.
The motherboard is a MJ Embedded model designed according to Musical Fidelity’s specifications. It handles the audio streams, in particular those from the CDs to rip them on the hard drive, and from the encoding of the various formats that can be read on the network.
Along the rear of the box are fixed the DAC board, whose picture can be seen below, hidden by the preamplification board built on top of it. By their side is located the hard drive that will store the musical files. l
On this DAC board are located three S/PDIF coaxial and optical dual connectors, two in input and one in output, and their isolating and impedance converter, as well as its own power supply built around a DC-to-DC converter (on the left side of the board).
A Burr-Brown SRC4392 integrated circuit (in the middle of the board) handles the reception and the commutation of the S/PDIF signals and extracts from the I2S bus while also powering the digital outputs with the signals from the currently played music by encoding them into S/PDIF. It also takes care of the I2S buses coming from the decoding of other digital sources, especially those handled by the motherboard, such as hard-drive or network playback, and also the digitized signals from the analog inputs coming from a Texas Instruments PCM1863 digital-to-analog converter (to the right of and slightly below the SRC4392).
The digital-to-analog conversion is entrusted to a powerful Burr-Brown PCM5242 chip (up to 32-Bit/384 kHz) integrating a charge pump to outputs signals referenced at 0V, as they are differential signals (identical signals varying in opposite directions).
On the preamplification board, the three analog inputs are commuted by relays and the signals from the selected input are then digitized on the DAC board by the PCM1863 mentioned previously. To their left, the variable level outputs (to plug to a power amplifier) and the fixed level ones (to act as a source), also commuted by relays. All those relays are controlled by a ULN2003 circuit (a transistor array) preceded by a control logic composed of two Texas Instrument circuits, a SN74LVC8T245 bus transceiver and a SN74LV595A eight-bit register.
In the bottom right of the board are located a STMicroelectronics MC33079 low-noise quad operational amplifier delivering gain (powerless amplification) to the analog signals coming from the DAC board. Those are then directed as they are toward the line output and toward a Burr-Brown PGA2320 audio volume control circuit, which will direct them on one hand toward the variable level (Pre) outputs and on the other hand toward a National Semiconductor LM833 low-noise operational amplifier.
It is mounted as a voltage follower, i.e. it keeps the signals as they are, but its very low impedance outputs allow it to deliver high power (the LM833 can disperse up to 500 mW) and makes them immune to perturbations, which is required in this case as they are carried by wires up to the Jack socket of the front panel. All those analog circuits draw power from the ±15V symmetrical power supply, located to the left of the picture, calling upon a Texas Instruments TPS65130 voltage converter circuit.
Use and Sound
Musical Fidelity, going against a more or less overall trend in the high-end market limiting the use of a network player or music server via the installation of an application on a smartphone or tablet (or even to only Apple products), will allow you to control its M6 Encore Connect music server in multiple ways. It’s a certain vision of democracy intended for a somewhat aristocratic device.
Starting with completely traditional ways, i.e. the front panel controls or via the remote. But also via the Musical Fidelity Encore application for iOS and Encore remote control for Android, and above all thanks to your Internet browser on your PC or Mac computer (or even on your Chromebook) by typing the IP address of you M6 Encore Connect music server in the browser’s address window, that can be found in the application for smartphone or tablet (in “geek” mode) by going to --> Settings --> Player Settings, or more simply (for dummies) by typing http://encore.local/ in this same address window. This IP can also be found using the front panel commands.
Even if you can use any browser (and operating system), the manufacturer explains that only the Chrome browser will give you access to the complete functionalities of this control application via a computer. And this application also works when the Chrome browser is installed on an iPad or an Android smartphone! What more could you ask for?
Even if we installed the Musical Fidelity Encore application on an iPad, we have also, and mostly, used the application from the Chrome browser installed on our PC and have done a few screenshots that we will present below, especially since you have to go through http://encore.local/ to validate Qobuz.
- The home page displaying the library.
- The various menus.
- The Controller menu allows you to access your music and music media, among which Qobuz, as well as the Extras.
- The functionalities offered by the Extras.
- You can notably choose the input you want to listen to.
If Qobuz is not installed, please proceed as explained below.
- Click on the Menu icon in the top left and choose Settings.
- Then click on the Advanced tab.
- A web page will open. Double click on the Plugins tab and use the drop-down menu to find Qobuz.
- Tick the Qobuz box and click on Apply (in the bottom right), and the next window will be displayed. Then click on Restart now.
- The Encore Connect server will reboot.
- By clicking on OK and by refreshing the web page, you will notice that Qobuz is installed correctly.
- Click on the Menu icon in the top left and choose Settings, then the Services tab and validate Qobuz.
- You can also go to Settings and choose the Inputs tab to rename those.
- The name of the optical input 1 has been changed here, but on the music server it’s still Optical Digital 1 that appears… Is that a bug?
We are started our listening sessions on our usual reference system, the Sony UDA-1 amplifier and the Triangle Antal Anniversary speakers, with Vivaldi’s Vespri per l'Assunzione di Maria Vergine performed by the Concerto Italiano conducted by Rinaldo Alessandrini, and this with the Qobuz application integrated to the M6 Encore Connect music server.
It offered a nice restitution of this work, with a wide sound spectrum, lively but slightly less biting that what we usually hear. The voices are reproduced with finesse and the choruses are not invasive, while the high notes flow well without being excessive. It’s a somewhat subdued vision of Rinaldo Alessandrini’s interpretation of Vivaldi’s work, but it is undeniably beautiful.
With Dvořák’s Symphony No. 6 performed by the London Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Yannick Nézet-Séguin (24-Bit/96 kHz Hi-Res version), the rather uncommon dense vision of the conductor is somewhat reinforced by the electronics of the M6 Encore Connect music server and sometimes displays an almost tragic aspect which can both surprise and be gut-wrenching.
The M6 Encore Connect took us in the sometime dark world of Katy Perry’s album Witness with ease, following the beat without leaning on the bass, and slightly removing the edge of the treble of the singer’s voice, while delivering a good dose of emotion.
Listened to on our Oppo PM-3 headphones, the headphone amplifier delivers good power and remains non-aggressive, while delivering a large bandwidth with tight bass that dive rather deep in the low frequencies.
To conclude, the Musical Fidelity M6 Encore Connect music server with streamer is a very nice and modern device offering you a variety of ways to access to digital music, including Qobuz in Hi-Res, thanks to its applications, whose almost universal uses are one of a kind. Its very good sound performances nicely complete this picture.
Debussy: Jeux, Nocturnes, Prélude à l'aprés midi d'un faune Les Siècles Gramophone Editor's Choice
Elgar: The Music Makers, Op. 69 & The Spirit of England, Op. 80 BBC Symphony Orchestra Gramophone Editor's Choice