Musaic MP5 and MPL HiFi System Review
A system that tries to make your smart home smarter
What is Musaic?Musaic is a family of components that are designed to offer multiroom audio that can be controlled from a single point and share a single library of material as well as multiple streaming services and internet radio. If this all sounds a little familiar, that's because this has been an area that companies have been piling into with considerable enthusiasm for the last few years. Once Sonos had proved that networked audio could be made bombproof, the concept has proved to be popular with the public and manufacturers have responded in kind.
This has meant that recently, the stakes have become higher. Companies like Denon and Yamaha have been hard at work extending the range of components that can join these systems far beyond the original premise of small, self contained speakers. These devices have also been augmenting the content available to the system as a whole with some devices acting as servers and 'media nodes' and making the content they can access available to other speakers. In short – these systems have become vastly more sophisticated.
In the face of this increasing ability, the small grouping of Musaic products look like they have their work cut out for them. Dig a little deeper though and it becomes clear that Musaic has looked at a different angle to its rivals about the business of making a smart home system and it is one that might just be exactly what you are looking for. Of course, if it sounds like nails being dragged down a blackboard at the same time that isn't so good so does Musaic have what it takes?
SpecificationsThe Musaic range comprises three products. There are the MP5 and MP10 speakers that are self contained units that can be placed on any flat surface and left to crack on as standalone units. These are then augmented by the MPL player which is designed to add Musaic functionality to an existing audio system via RCA or digital outputs. The headline audio functionality is encouraging too. All components support sample rates up to 24/192kHz and handle what might be seen to be the standard clutch of formats- WAV, FLAC and AIFF. DSD is not supported which might be seen as an annoyance but given the paucity of material on offer is unlikely to matter to most people.
The ability to play network audio is then backed up by support for Spotify, Tidal, Qobuz, Napster and some less well known services, along with internet radio access via TuneIn. Additionally, a Musaic device can be used to read music directly from the library of an iDevice. In short, there are plenty of ways to enjoy music on a Musaic device but nothing that really stands out from the pack. Where the system moves into less tried and tested ground is in the additional features that Musaic has employed.
All devices in the range have the ability to interface with Philips Hue and Lightwave lighting systems. Control for these systems are built into the control app and functionality of Musaic. This means you can have music start gently and have lighting gently added for an alarm (or indeed turn every light on full and give it everything its got depending on what sort of sleeper you are). More interesting still is that Musaic is fully signed up with the IFTTT (If This Then That) protocol that allows for the system to interact with any compatible device.
This takes Musaic into a totally different area of ability. IFTTT was a big deal once again at CES and the scope of products it takes in is extremely impressive. Some functions are very straightforward – if you favourite a track on a streaming service, it can be added to a playlist for example – but others are more impressive. A doorbell that will trigger a notification through a speaker is useful for those of us that listen loud as are smoke alarms that sound through the speakers or indeed a child's hearing aid that can give an audible warning to a parent when the battery is running down have some impressive possibilities.
In terms of the products themselves the MP5 and MP10 are self contained units. The MP5 seen here uses 36W of power to output to a pair of 55mm full range drive units. The larger MP10, boosts power to 60W and makes use of a 90mm bass driver to increase low frequency extension. In addition to the network audio features, both speakers have Apt-X Bluetooth and an auxiliary line input on a 3.5mm connection.
The MPL is a compact head unit type device that is built around an ESS ES9010K2M Sabre DAC. It can output the same functionality as the speakers via analogue RCA, coaxial or toslink connections. It also features an aux input and Bluetooth to augment the functionality on offer. An IR emitter connection is fitted as is the ability to act as an IR blaster to ensure that the IFTTT functionality can be used with non-Musaic devices.
DesignIn terms of their industrial design, Musaic hasn't taken any huge risks with their products but this has resulted in a set of electronics that should find their way into most domestic settings without causing too much of a disturbance. The use of curves and choice of materials also helps them seem smaller and more compact than they actually are – although it is also fair to say that even the MP10 is considerably smaller than some self contained rivals. There are some other useful touches too – the fitment of a cut down set of controls on the top of the devices that at least mean you can stop them playing in a second or two rather than trying to access the same function via the app.
The app itself is a good one though. It has proved to be usefully stable while under test and the layout of the available functionality is good. Crucially, functions like moving between devices is simple and self explanatory and the overall layout is efficient. The Tidal integration is something of a litmus test for apps of this nature as it has to be done by the app creator and the Musaic implementation is simple but effective. This is not equipment that is going to have the design council of
Great Britain beating a path to Musaic's door but it is well built and well thought out.
The Tidal integration is something of a litmus test for apps of this nature as it has to be done by the app creator and the Musaic implementation is simple but effective
How were the Musaic units tested?Both Musaic units were placed on my home network allowing for them to access internet radio, streaming services and a Western Digital MyBook NAS drive. The MP5 was used on a Quadraspire QAVX rack and a kitchen worksurface. The MPL was connected to a Chord Electronics CPM 2800 MkII integrated amp via RCA and coaxial digital connections. The Chord was partnered with a pair of Audio Note AN-K speakers. Material used has included lossless and high res FLAC and AIFF, Spotify, Tidal and Internet radio. A Pioneer XDP-100R was used for limited Bluetooth testing.
Musaic MP5 Sound QualityPutting the MP10 on the network is extremely simple if you have a WPS equipped router and still pretty straightforward if you don't. Once this is done, the Musaic reveals another little secret to its abilities. The company is owned by Matthew Bramble who lists Cambridge Audio and Musical Fidelity amongst his previous jobs. As such, the MP5 benefits from a degree of sonic knowhow that does make itself felt once you start listening.
Listening to Chant of a Poor Man from Leftfield's Rhythm & Stealth album, the MP5 does a good job of making sense of the music rather than simply spitting it out as background sound. There is a space, order and general control to the way that it handles material that is not necessarily a given with single box speakers. It also handles voices with a sense of authority that you might not expect from a relatively compact and affordable speaker. The incredibly simple presentation of Me and Gun by Tori Amos gives very little scope for the Musaic to hide what its doing and the good news is that it is doing a great many things very well.
It isn't perfect – I do find the tonal balance to be slightly on the bright side for my personal preference, particularly if you play something very aggressive on it like Take the Power Back by Rage Against the Machine and this doesn't seem to be tied to volume. On the one hand, this is good news as the MP5 goes surprisingly loud and stays tonally even while you do so but it also doesn't mean that dropping the volume makes it go away. The counter to this is that more than its many rivals, the MP5 does generally feel like it is giving you a truthful take on what's going on rather than a sort of 'cuddly' take which can be the effect you get from some rivals. If you play poorer recordings on it, it will let you know that is what you are doing.
This honesty does mean that if you play the same songs on Tidal and Spotify, the extra information in the lossless service does make itself felt although both work well. The abilities of the MP5 are in fact impressively consistent across the supported connectivity of the device and a quick test with the Pioneer XDP-100R as a Bluetooth source suggest this extends beyond the network connectivity as well.
Musaic MPL Sound QualityThe MPL is no harder to get going than the MP5, it connected via an analogue connection to the Chord 2800 MkII, and it shows some commonality with the MP5 but some intriguing differences too. Like its all-in-one relative, the MPL is a fundamentally accurate and revealing piece of kit. It will take information buried in a mix and unpack it, not forcing that information and giving it unnatural prominence but letting it exist as part of the mix. Listening to the 24/96 version of Led Zeppelin's Achilles Last Stand, the very complex John Paul Jones bassline is rendered with real depth and intensity to it. The wider mix is spacious and logically laid out but impressively intense at the same time.
Where the MPL deviates from the standalone speaker is that it is slightly warmer and tonally more forgiving. Revisiting the same Rage Against the Machine material, played via the Chord – which is not intrinsically soft or forgiving – the MPL is less aggressive and can be played harder without becoming strident or overly sharp. The clever part of this is that the MPL still sounds perfectly exciting when you need it to and this is achieved at the same time as decent tonality and pleasing three dimensionality.
In some ways though, the 'killer app' of the MPL is not when it is used as conventional source via analogue but when you instead switch to the digital connections. At £250, the MPL suddenly looks like an incredibly compelling answer to what you connect to all those integrated amps with digital inputs. Connected to the coaxial input of the Chord, all trace of the MPL's own personality falls by the wayside, it simply becomes a really well sorted high res streaming and streaming service attachment. At a manageable price, it suddenly vastly increases the standalone capability of an already seriously able amplifier– and bear in mind that if you can get your head around the IR learning and IFTTT protocol, it has more to give in this area. That it does this while taking up pretty much no room, looking perfectly inoffensive and performing with impressive stability is the icing on the cake.
At £250, the MPL suddenly looks like an incredibly compelling answer to what you connect to all those integrated amps with digital inputs
- Lively and musical performance
- MPL offers huge flexibility
- Impressive feature set
- Can be a little bright
- Limited range of components
- Don't look terribly exciting
Musaic MP5 and MPL HiFi System ReviewThe home multiroom category is getting very busy of late and some companies have thrown some serious resources at it. Musaic cannot compete with the sheer scope of MusicCast or HEOS but there are some attributes that this little family of components have that means they warrant further attention.
The first is that they sound genuinely good. The MP5 manages to deliver a truly intense and complex musical performance at a price point where some rivals are really just sonic wallpaper. The MPL is rich, detailed and effortlessly refined and has abilities beyond its terrestrial price point. If you have a high end amp with digital decoding, the MPL is one of the best sorted streaming transports on the market and it comes at a thoroughly competitive price.
The second is that if you are willing to put the time and investment into IFTTT capable products, the Musaic system offers huge scope to be more than just a means of sending music into a few rooms. I came away from CES this year with a sense that it might be the next big area for audio hardware and in this regard, these little components are thinking very big indeed. For these reasons, the Musaic equipment warrants enthusiastic recommendation.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £250.00
Ease of Use9
Value for Money8
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