Musical Fidelity M6 500i Integrated Amplifier

With some prognosticators saying 2012 will be the end of the world, do you want to chance spending the last year of your life unable to really crank up your stereo? Musical Fidelity is known for making “super integrated” amplifiers; its the new M6 500i represents another benchmark in this field.

The British company’s M6 500i is tough to resist. Especially when I don a Darth Vader mask and convince you the force is strong in this dark, monolithic machine. Can you feel it? You’ve had the urge to upgrade your current little integrated. Now focus. Forget about those telling you power isn’t important. It is, and the M6 500i delivers 500 glorious, window-rattling, tweeter-melting watts per channel that will take you from the back of the arena to the front row. Sense your desire for more power getting stronger? Let anger consume you as you contemplate ditching your current amplifier. Good.

With the M6 5001, listeners equipped with inefficient speakers will no longer be doomed to experience Metallica or Shostakovich at inferior volume levels. Remember, lifelike dynamic swings are just as important to musical accuracy as tonal accuracy. Even Shania Twain sounds better with oodles of power behind her. And the M6 500i’s tremendous bass control keeps speaker woofers pulsating.

Power and Connectivity

The M6 500i features four RCA line-level inputs (one of which is switchable between AUX or HT pass-through) and one balanced XLR input. Compatibility with most systems should be simple. I’d love to see another balanced input, but for $6,995, you can’t have everything. The M6 500i also includes tape out jacks and a variable level (RCA jack) output for those who might want to add a powered subwoofer or two.

This unit isn’t merely a high-powered brute. You won’t mistake it for that of a Burmester, but the metalwork is top-shelf. Finish quality is highly uniform, the front panel convincingly massive, and the volume control substantial. Buttons are tastefully small, and a nice remote is included. Fonts are stylish and understated. No giant logos, either—another mark that bridges the gap between a top-line component and a budget sibling.

Repeat after me: Exceptional Value Award. The M6 500i comes in silver, too, but as the late-night spy Archer would say, “Why would you?” Black suits its powerful nature just right.


Once you drive a Dodge Challenger with a Hemi under the hood, the wimpy six-cylinder model at the National rental counter always sucks—no matter how much Patrick Stewart tries to convince you otherwise. And so it goes with a well-designed, high-power amplifier. Adding the 3,000-watt JL Audio Gotham subwoofer to the system and spinning Iggy and the Stooges’ Raw Power Live: In The Hands Of The Fans, the M6 500i becomes both Death Star and time machine. Giving the volume control a forceful spin and closing my eyes puts me right back at that legendary September 2010 show, where editor Bob Gendron and I saw Pop passed right through the crowd. That’s realism.

But remember, power corrupts. If you aren’t careful, you might damage your hearing—or speakers—with the M6 500i. Case in point: A few bottles of Maudite placed TONEAudio contributor Jerold O’Brien and I in full-on Beavis and Butthead mode as we proceeded to liquefy a pair of AR3a speakers just like we did when we were younger. And while a small amplifier driven to clipping handily destroys a tweeter, a big amplifier driven to clipping scorches woofers, and usually involves minor pyrotechnics. That’s exactly what happened.

Feeling like the wise old owl in the Tootsie Pop commercial, we wanted to see how many minutes of Sepultura it would take to completely destroy the AR3as. The answer? Two minutes and fifteen seconds of “Stronger Than Hate” from Beneath the Remains, and the speakers were lifeless carcasses. We ended the festivities, as the M6 500i ‘s force kept growing stronger. We momentarily considered vaporizing O’Brien’s Vandersteen 1Cs.

The next morning, as we headed out to Denny’s for a Grand Slam breakfast (don’t let friends drive home drunk, especially when they are hopped up with the thrill of destruction), we pondered if it was all just a dream. Nope. The smell of burned electric components still filled the listening room. Heavenly.

Playing Nice

Mixing synergies with the Verity Audio Amadis, Magnepan 1.7s, Peak Consult Kepheus, and a handful of other speakers proves highly enjoyable, regardless of program material.  The M6 500i makes for a great system anchor as it opens the door to whatever speakers you have or might want in the future. Even the Magnepans, which need power in the manner a neurotic girlfriend needs attention, lit up with the M6 500i.

Lest you think we are all headbanging maniacs at TONEAudio, rest assured the M6 500i features a high level of refinement and tonal finesse that suits all types of music.  While this high-powered solid-state amplifier won’t fool you into thinking you are listening to a pair of tubed monoblocks, it is never harsh or strident.

Evaluating current Audio Wave XRCDs illustrates such traits. Walter Bishop’s piano on Jackie McLean’s Swing, Swang, Swingin’ just glides through the background of the tune, never dropping off the beat. Cymbals are crisp, awash with lingering decay.  When McLean enters, his sax is chock full of texture, bouncing from simmer to boil, and then overflows outside the speaker boundaries as the tempo increases.

Is there anything the M6 5001 cannot do? Not really. Sure, a couple of the higher-priced integrateds possess more midrange sweetness, and more resolution, but they cost two-to-four times as much. You get what you pay for with the megabuck amps, yet you get tremendous performance and value with the M6 500i. Separates aren’t the answer, either. You’ll be hard pressed to find a 500-watt-per-channel power amplifier that delivers the goods for $7k—and you’ll still need a preamp and pair of interconnects. And Darth Vader’s got no use for such extra troubles when galaxy-conquering power can be had from one box.

Musical Fidelity M6 500i Integrated Amplifier

MSRP: $6,995 (Factory – UK)    US Distributor


Analog Source AVID Volvere SP    Funk Firm FX•R    Denon DL 103R
Digital Source dCS Debussy    Sooloos Control 15    Mac Mini
Speakers AR3a (deceased)     Vandersteen 2Ce Signature    Magnepan 1.7    Verity Audio Rienzi    B&W 802 Diamond    MartinLogan Montis
Cable Cardas Clear Light
Power PS Audio P10

Meridian M6 Active Speakers

When was the last time you set up an entire music system in under five minutes?  I’m guessing never.

In case haven’t had the opportunity to use one, the Meridian Sooloos digital music server, now called Meridian Digital Media System, it is by far the worlds easiest to use – and I’ve used them all. The larger and more diverse your music collection, the more manageable it is, with all your music right at your fingertips, allowing you to sort through it and ultimately listen to it on multiple levels.
For those in the choir that I’m already preaching to, have you tried a pair of Meridian active speakers?

Listening to the M6 speakers connected to a Meridian Media Core 200, which holds up to 2000 CDs in a small box, barely larger than a Mac Mini, I ponder just how far the British hifi industry has come in the 55 years since my trusty Quad 57’s hit the scene.

In the time it took my next door neighbor to grab refreshments from the refrigerator, the M6s were set up and playing music, in this case “Egypt by Air,” courtesy of the Bombay Dub Orchestra.  While there are multiple connection options, depending on which Meridian front end you care to use, all that is needed between the Media Core 200 and the right speaker is a length of RJ-45 cable.  Home Depot cable will do, but I suggest the Meridan SpeakerLink cable, because it’s not that much more, is expertly terminated and is very thin, fitting into your décor very unobtrusively.  It is available from your Meridian dealer in lengths from .5m to 15m. String one more length from the right speaker to the left and plug the two power cords into the wall.  Done.  Those using the Audio Core will connect left and right channels separately, as in a standard hifi system.

Always curious to what those not of the audiophile brotherhood think about the latest hifi gear, I made it a point to have a few extra guests over to peruse the M6/Media Core 200 system while it was here. It was precisely the hit I anticipated – and then some.  Most of my friends know I’m a bit off the deep end, but the combination of these speakers and 2,000 CD’s, all controllable by an iPad proved too much for even the most anti hifi person to resist.  Not a single wife or girlfriend uttered the four word death knell to all things audio, “not in my house.”

Beautifully Built

These speakers epitomize high style and high quality. Barely a foot in diameter at the bottom, gently taper to about four inches at the top, their cylindrical shape covered in a tight black fabric, with a brushed aluminum top cap.  While the 5-½ inch woofer faces downward, the full range driver (crossed over at 200 Hz) does face forward, so this is not an omnidirectional speaker, though it does have very wide dispersion.  The small Meridian logo on the base indicates the front of the speaker and which way you should aim it. A slight bit of toe in worked well in room two, with the speakers about 8 feet apart.  The cabinet is made from a strong yet lightweight composite material, very similar to what Meridian uses for their F80 and M80 compact audio systems.  The M6s are built at Meridian’s facility in Cambridgeshire.

The M6 utilizes Class D amplification rather than the Class A, discrete amplification in the other models, making the compact shape possible. The M6s tip the scale at just under 40 pounds, so they are easy to set up and move about your listening space.  These speakers also lack the Meridian System Remote of the larger speakers, and separate SPDIF digital input.  Speaker Link is the only option for the M6, limiting source components to other Meridian products.

Quick and easy, yet highly versatile

Once plugged into the wall, and wired thusly, the band at the top of the M6s glows with a medium blue tone, indicating they are powered up and in standby mode.  Upon pushing play, the glow turns to a soft white.  With nary a fancy wire product in sight, the M6s delight.  The traditional audiophile might suspect heresy, but the music lover will be delighted.

A number of system options await you.  One of Meridian’s Media Cores or their new Audio Core 200, that looks like a compact stereo receiver, adding DSP speaker control, bass and treble level controls and the ability to add analog sources, like the output of your television or even a turntable. (Via outboard phono stage)  Like the larger DSP series of Meridian speakers, the Audio Core 200 lets you optimize LF output in accordance with where you have the speakers placed in the room, however, the Media Core 200 does not offer this functionality. For those with a Meridian Digital Media System system already installed, the M6s can be connected in another location with network access via the Media Source 200, which allows complete access to your music library, yet running a separate data stream.

This makes it a snap to indulge your musical tastes in one part of the house, while the rest of the family is enjoying something else in the living room.  All controllable via iPod, iPhone or a networked computer, though maximum functionality is only available with the Control 15, or an iPod, via a free app on the App Store.  This lets you scroll through your music by album cover, as you no doubt remember it best.

Serious ability

Meridian’s DSP speakers have always offered phenomenal bass response and these slender cabinets to not disappoint.  Cranking up the volume control as Rory Gallagher’s “Brute Force and Ignorance” hits the play queue reveals that the M6s ability to rock the house.  A series of heavy tracks leaves the M6s unfettered and prove that they can play at considerable volume without listener fatigue. The dense bass line on David Byrne and St. Vincent’s latest Love This Giant gives pause that these diminutive speakers can offer so much heft.

Sampling the Bad Plus’ For All I Care reveals how well the M6 provides room filling sound at low to modest volume.  This mixture of piano and acoustic bass is rendered across the soundstage convincingly, reinforcing the way the M6 paints an acoustic landscape – this is not a “pinpoint imaging” experience, but somewhat more diffuse. More like a pair of Magnepans than a pair of mini monitors in this sense.  The more reflective your room is, the more the presentation extends beyond the speaker boundaries.

The low crossover point lets the Meridian full range driver do much of the work, so the critical midrange frequencies are not split up. This adds to the effortless character the M6 provides, highly noticeable with vocal recordings.  Whether listening to Joni Mitchell or Frank Sinatra, the lack of midrange grain and phase anomalies usually caused by a crossover network in this range is a treat.  It helps with acoustic instruments as well – both piano and violin shine played through the M6.

Thanks to their wide dispersion and powerful LF output, a pair of M6s is easy to place in the listening room and is not as position specific as many other speakers we have auditioned. If you’re looking a pair of high performance speakers that go with the couch, these are the ones.

Practically a complete system

At first blush, $9,000 for a pair of speakers is more than a casual expense, but remember, the M6s are much more than a pair of speakers; they include a pair of stereo power amplifiers (150 x 2 for the woofers 100 x 2 for the full range drivers), an active DSP crossover network, a DAC, and a preamplifier.  Not to mention all of the ancillary cables that you don’t have to purchase to make it go.  Perhaps best of all, you won’t have to look at all of that stuff in your room.  You could easily spend a healthy percentage of the M6 price tag on three pairs of interconnects, a pair of speaker cables, a few mains cables and an equipment rack, perhaps more – and you’d still need to buy a system!

If you are a traditional audiophile that relishes an altar consisting of a large rack full of gear, a massive loom of cables, and all the anxiety that surrounds this affair, the Meridian M6 speakers will not fulfill your requirements.  In the past, “lifestyle” has always been a risqué word when applied to audio, suggesting B & O at best and Bose at worst, yet Meridian produces a winner here, proving sculptural beauty and cutting edge audio performance can indeed coexist. However, if the concept of a music system that doesn’t intrude upon your environment is appealing, look no further.

I urge you to visit your Meridian dealer and avail yourself to just how effortless this system can be.

The Meridian M6 Active DSP Loudspeakers

MSRP: $9,000

Associated Components:  Sooloos Media Core 200, Sooloos Control 15