- Written by John E. Johnson, Jr.
- Published on 18 June 2012
I tested the M3 with an OPPO BDP-95 universal player and Carver Mark IV ribbon speakers. Interconnects and speaker cables were Wireworld and Marc Audio.
I have to say that for the past several decades, I have been a “Separates” audiophile. I use individual components for the source, preamplifier, and power amplifier. One of the reasons I went this route was because integrateds just didn’t have enough power for the kind of volume that I wanted.
The M3 changes all of that. Its ability to deliver room-filling volume in my not-so-easy-to-drive ribbon speakers was amazing. Couple that with terrific detail, deep bass punch, and I realized that here was an integrated that could satisfy a “Separates” hifi enthusiast, but who might have limited space – such as a small apartment – or a spouse who won’t put up with seeing a rack full of components taking up one wall of the living room.
I am going to create a new term to describe the M3. It is a “Bias-Killer”, meaning my bias against integrateds disappeared with the first disc I put into my OPPO and pressed “Play”.
OK, so about all that detail I mentioned. Sarah Chang, Dvorak, and the London Symphony Orchestra are a challenge for any audio system. The very high frequencies of her violin, Dvorak use of multiple octaves, and an orchestra not know for being timid, make for great listening, if the audio system can deliver what is demanded of it.
After Dvorak, I felt in the mood for something more laid back, so when I see album titles like, “The most Relaxing Classical Album in the World . . . Ever!”, the “Buy this album now” button in my web browser gets clicked.
The choice of musical selections on albums such as this one are not always my particular preferences, but they do indeed relax the listener, namely me. But, for the first two or three selections, I sat up and paid a lot of attention to the sensations that the audio was making me feel, rather than whether or not I liked the music. Did I feel irritating harshness? No. Did it sound soothing? Yes. And, I actually did like the selections. So, for the rest of the afternoon, I listened to this album, which has two CDs, measuring my heart rate and blood pressure every 15 minutes (after all, my degree is in the biological sciences). Both went down. Hey, you never know. Maybe Blue Cross/Blue Shield will pay for the M3 as cardiovascular disease prevention.
OK, back to reality. Below is shown the cover art of a test album that I have used so many times, I think the digital image is wearing out. In particular, the “Copland Fanfare for the Common Man” has bass drum thuds and brass played at fff (“Fortissimo – as loud as can be played), and maybe another f to go with it. If a preamplifier, power amplifier, or speaker is not up to the task, this album will let you know.
So, did I get the M3 to clip? Of course I did. I could get my previous 1,200 watt monoblocks to clip with this recording. It is typical Telarc, with no compression. However, the clipping with the M3 does not sound quite the same as with other amplifiers, and apparently, this has to do with the circuit that makes the amplifier deliver almost the same maximum output at 4 ohms as it does at 8 ohms. More succinctly, easier on the ears.
Notwithstanding, I don’t recommend playing any amplifier at full volume. It may not damage the amplifier or your speakers, but definitely, it is bad for your ears – and the damage (usually tinnitus, and eventually, hearing loss). And I certainly suggest you refrain from putting this album through its paces with a set of ear buds that seal tightly in your outer ear canal. Ear buds can easily generate 120 dB or more, and if you popped this album in your iPod, put in your ear buds, and started the Fanfare without checking to see what your last volume setting was, you might hear the left ear bud in your right ear, and vice versa.
With that said, I played the Fanfare at modest volume, and the bass depth was marvelous, courtesy of a robust power supply, and the brass was clean, detailed, and melodic, courtesy of low IM.
Overall, the sound of the M3 was slightly warm, not as much as a pure tube amp, but a bit away from neutral. I had a very enjoyable listening experience during the review process.