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aswillman

M2Tech Marley Headphone Amp

2 posts in this topic

Super Wammer

I have had the pleasure of borrowing a M2Tech Marley headphone amplifier for the last couple of weeks from Keith at Purite Audio. This was the first time I had tried some of M2Tech’s more expensive gear using a HiFace USB/SPDIF converter & a DAC in my various computers. The full specification is available on-line so I won’t go into it too much but will share my impressions.

The device itself is very nicely made & oozes build quality. It is a fairly simple front layout with an on/off switch to the left and a dial/toggle switch on the right. The dial is a nicely machined knob with a light feel. It is depressed a number of times to cycle through the various menu options. I struggled with this initially as I could not find the display dim option but found it eventually. I suspect with practise & once set up, it shouldn’t be a drama. Round the back are all the connections. It supports pre-out (variable & fixed) as well as two sets of 6.3mm headphone outs and a single balanced headphone out. I didn’t find this a problem having the headphone input round the back but it might be an issue in some set-ups. The menu is pretty straightforward although I would have liked to see it dim further. The display can be quite bright dimming to an acceptable level on its lowest setting.

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Power is via a wall adaptor although most people are aware of the power upgrades from M2Tech. In my system, I plugged it directly into my Cambridge Audio 851D DAC. The source was my Media PC running JRiver with SPDIF out. I ran a second output from the 851D to my ModWright LS100. I therefore compared the headphone outputs of the Marley, the LS100 & the 851D (The LS100 already has an excellent headphone stage). Headphones used were Grado SR80s, Sennheiser Momentums and Sennheiser HD800s. I didn’t have a cable to test the balanced output of the Marley.

When it came to listening, this is a fabulous bit of kit. I will concentrate on the comparison between the LS100 and the Marley as both were better than the 851D (itself no slouch). I thought Marley just about had the edge in mid-range definition - cymbals were a bit cleaner for example. The LS100 had slightly more pronounced bass but Marley was slightly better defined. I have some music with some pretty nifty bass lines & it just seemed a bit more focussed with the Marley but the LS100 had more ‘oomph’. Both were warm and relaxing, really comfortable to listen to. Both were exceedingly comfortable on long listening tests. There is a nice addition on the Marley which switches itself off if you fall asleep whilst listening. I can see why they did that. I did my best to level match but obviously this may be a factor.

Music I tried it with is stuff I know well so mainly Indie, Americana and Folk. Bands including Younghusband, Tuung, Toy and Band Of Horses. I didn’t try any of my Classical music but I did try some HiRes choral music from the Tallis Scholars. The difference between the two was less pronounced with this and I would struggle to articulate what I heard. I think if this is your main genre, you might be best with a home trial.

Just for a further comparison, I compared my portable iQube (digital amp), a highly technical & superb measuring device. The iQube was a bit tiring by comparison on longer listening tests.

This to me suggests two things. The LS100 is absurdly good value for money. 6 Moons have already suggested with the LS100 you get an excellent 3 in 1 pre-amplifier. The second thing is the Marley is a really excellent product with the warmth of valves but with perhaps the slightly better definition of solid state – it combines the best of both worlds. I’m guessing this is what you get with a Class A amplifier. It is very revealing. I tested it in the setup below & it immediately showed up the deficiencies in the HiFace DAC (something I use & am very happy with in my computer setup with some Genelecs).

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If I had concerns they were minor. It does get quite hot but so do my ATCs. I suppose it’s the price to pay for Class A. The market is also very crowded with headphone amplifiers too. I haven’t tried them but thinking of the likes of Schiit audio. Often the amp has a DAC built in too. I'm surprised M2Tech didn't try & shoehorn a HiFace DAC but it does emphasise this is a purpose built product with a single aim – sound quality. I am no expert but ramming yet more electronics into a confined space which gets very hot would probably affect this. Plus M2Tech apparently make very good DACs! As mentioned, the balanced output was not assessed – there are after market cables for my HD800s but I can’t see the point over a 3m cable. I run my ATCs single ended over 10m & they are fine. Still the option is there if need be.

In summary I think this is well worth an audition if you are in the market for a headphone amplifier. It is a solid, well built device which is also a pre-amplifier. It is a very revealing and detailed headphone amplifier that had no problems driving any of the headphones I tried. It is however expensive (SRP £1050) and does not have a built in DAC.

Lastly, many thanks to Keith for the loan. We are very lucky on the Wam to have a bunch of dedicated & reliable dealers who trust us with their goods!

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Anthony absolutely my pleasure, thank you for such a thorough evaluation.

Keith.

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