Musical Fidelity MF-100 Headphones Review
What happens when a company that makes a 700 watt amplifier makes a pair of headphones?
Hi-Fi reviewSRP: £119.00
What is the Musical Fidelity MF-100?At this year’s Bristol Show the number of headphones on display was lower than some previous years. There were still plenty of models around and about and it isn’t like the models that have been cascading onto the market in recent years have gone away. Nonetheless, there is the slightest sense for the first time in a while that the headphone boom might be levelling off. Sales of tablets and smartphones are still strong but a pair of aftermarket headphones a user is happy with will generally last more than one upgrade.
With this in mind, the number of new manufacturers making a go of designing their own headphones and entering the market might slacken off and those that have already entered will need to make a decision on whether they have carved themselves enough of a share to keep going. A number of brands have found their portfolio usefully extended by adding headphones while others have their headphone offering as a sort of outlier to the rest of the range and it isn’t immediately obvious what the connection between them is.
On the face of it, Musical Fidelity wasn’t the most obvious brand to move into earphones. The company is famous for full size hi-fi and in the case of amplifiers in particular, makes some of the very best models I’ve ever spent any time with. On paper, the EB-50 earphone didn’t have much in common with these monster amps and yet it looked and felt like a Musical Fidelity product. I reviewed them for AVForums back in 2012 and I still think that they are one of the best sub £200 designs on the market. Now Musical Fidelity is augmenting their range. Another pair of earphones has arrived and the company has also moved into over-ear designs with the MF-100. Is this latest offering able to deliver the brand values in a new category?
Musical Fidelity MF-100 DesignThe main design intention of the MF-100 is to create a headphone that offers some of the air and space of an open backed design while itself being a closed one. This is no small task to do as the design of these two different types of headphones are somewhat contradictory. Open backed designs radiate almost as much information out of the rear of the earpad as they do into the ear which lends them a much less hemmed in feel to them. The downside of course is that using such a headphone in a public place is not going to be popular so closed back designs that only radiate energy towards the ear are the solution for this.
By paying close attention to the geometry of the components inside the earpad, Musical Fidelity claims that they have achieved the best of both worlds in this regard. Exactly what this geometry has done is unclear but there is something afoot. If you place the MF-100 on your head with something like a television on in the background, there is a sense, that there is more noise from the outside world coming into the earpad than you might expect even though the seal around the ear is good. The drivers arranged in this geometrically precise fashion are dynamic types that are a wonderfully precise 41mm in size, as if in response to almost every other headphone using a 40mm driver, Musical Fidelity elected to go one larger. The material this driver is made of is unclear but diagrams provided by Musical Fidelity suggest that it is a metal of some description.
An interesting aspect of the MF-100 design is that Musical Fidelity supplies two sets of surround pads for the enclosures - one made of traditional leather and the other from alcantara artificial suede. This is a neat piece of thinking - I am a big fan of leather for pads but I know a few people who are much less keen (my wife for one) and I am sure that if you aren’t enthusiastic about using animal products, the synthetic option will appeal. In the case of the MF-100, I much prefer the leather pads which feel slightly softer on the ear and less weird than the furry alcantara pad. The only catch is that although the pads are interchangeable, actually making the change is very tricky indeed. The pads have to be carefully worked onto the MF-100 by folding a lip onto and under the forward grille of the housing. This is fiddly and rather time consuming. I certainly wouldn’t advocate doing it on the move but it possibly becomes easier with practice.
The rest of the Musical Fidelity is an attractive piece of industrial design. Unlike the silver finished EB-50, the MF-100 has a black finish with some lighter detailing. The styling is clean and elegant and some nice touches abound. The colour marking of red for the right enclosure and blue for the left is shared with the bolts on the EB-50 and makes putting the MF-100 on in a hurry extremely easy. The rotation and axial movement of the earpads is good and you should have no difficulty getting a comfortable fit with them. I’m slightly less convinced by the headband though. The padded area is a little small and the pressure is exerts on the side of the head is fairly high. This means that after an hour or so of use, the MF-100 has a habit of digging in to the rear of the ear which affects absolute comfort.
The styling is clean and elegant and some nice touches abound.
The MF-100 is well set up for travel though. Like many hybrid sized designs, the cable exits on one side to reduce the number that might tangle on the move and is supplied with a metal section that contains a single button remote (one press to start/stop, two to skip forward, three to skip back) and microphone to make and receive calls. You also get a nice soft touch storage bag and a quarter inch jack adapter to allow for use with a full sized headphone socket. That being said, the 1.5 metre cord is better suited to use on the move than for connection to a home hifi that would put you practically on top of it without an extension cord. While the earpads fold flat on their hinge, there is no provision to fold the MF-100 further and while they fit easily in the bag, they aren’t as compact as some rivals are.
Musical Fidelity MF-100 SetupThe MF-100 was tested with the standard equipment set of Lenovo T530 ThinkPad with and without a Furutech ADL Cruise headphone amplifier. They were also used with an iPad 3 and Google Nexus 5 smartphone. Material used included lossless and high res FLAC via Foobar as well as more compressed audio from Spotify, Grooveshark and other general material from the web and Netflix played via the iPad.
Musical Fidelity MF-100 Sound QualityThe timetable for this review was relatively tight so as the MF-100s arrived looking very new, they were left to run for 24 hours while I finished up on the NAD DAC2 review just to make sure that they were sufficiently run in. Having done so (and spent a Krypton Factoresque half an hour changing the earpads over), the MF100 revealed a number of characteristics, some in keeping with the existing EB-50 and some that are considerably different.
The most immediately arresting aspect of the performance is that like the EB-50, the MF-100 is very sensitive - indeed it is almost as sensitive as the Grado SR60i which given the latter is open backed is no mean feat. My new acid test for sensitivity is whether I can plug a headphone or earphone into the feeble headphone socket of my Nexus 5 and not immediately max the volume in pursuit of enough volume. The MF-100 managed to reach an acceptable level with notches to spare and across all the devices I connected it to, the MF-100 needs a commendably low amount of input power to reach a healthy volume level.
Part of this is down to the bass response. The MF100 arrived with a printed frequency response that looks like a relief map of Norfolk but the low end of the Musical Fidelity is still something that grabs your attention. Listening to the new Souljazz Orchestra album Inner Flame on lossless FLAC, the MF-100 manages to fill the big band sound out with real depth and impact. The area that really impresses is that (helping to suggest that the frequency chart is not a work of fiction), this bass integrates well with the rest of the frequency response but it nonetheless gives the MF-100 a grunt that is appealing. One of the more unusual areas where this manifested itself was watching an episode of Star Trek-The Next Generation (I know, I know), where the ‘generic Enterprise noise’ was very deep indeed.
The upper registers might not have the attention grabbing heft of the bass but they are also possessed of some very likeable qualities. There is a smoothness and very slight warmth to the MF-100 that makes listening to it for long periods of time very easy - you are far more likely to feel pressure on your ears before you find the sound wearing. This makes the MF-100 an excellent partner for bright equipment or modern recordings that can come across as slightly aggressive on less sympathetic equipment. This smoothness doesn’t seem to come at the expense of fine detail which if not as forensic as the Grado SR60i is still plentiful and lends a sense of reality and depth to the performance. If I were to be very critical, the tonality around voices and stringed instruments can be a little soft as a result of the very forgiving overall setup but by the same token, give the MF-100 the monstrous wall of sound that is Invaders Must Die by the Prodigy and it stays in control and listenable even when pushed to high levels.
The low end of the Musical Fidelity is still something that grabs your attention.
Although, as I mentioned earlier, the MF-100 has a relationship with the outside world that suggests that there is something akin to an open back design going on, the noise isolation from your surroundings when the MF-100 is running is effective and more than up to the task of commuting and equally the noise retention is good enough that your fellow commuters won’t hate you. Where the MF-100 is more definitely identifiable as a closed back design is that the scale of the performance is not as effortlessly wide and unrestrained as a true open back design. For a closed back design, it is entirely respectable and you need to look at spending significantly more money on designs like the Focal Spirit Classic to really find a closed (or mostly closed) design that really sounds as big as an open backed one.
- Refined and powerful sound
- Excellent build
- Usefully sensitive
- Some long term comfort issues
- Can sound slightly confined
- Changing earpads is tricky
Musical Fidelity MF-100 Headphones ReviewThe MF-100 is a sign that Musical Fidelity is taking the personal audio sector seriously and their decision to release a product that is even more affordable than the sensibly priced EB-50 is to be commended. Neither is the MF-100 a ‘by the numbers’ affordable headphone either. The work on the enclosures has resulted in a headphone that while not as truly spacious as a genuine open backed design, has a less constrained feeling than some of its more traditionally designed rivals. The impressive sensitivity and big low end that the MF-100 is endowed with make it flexible and an ideal candidate for anyone looking for a pair of headphones to work with a lower powered headphone amplifier. Only the very slight limits to long term comfort really count against it.
There is no shortage of competition and if you are looking for a genuine home headphone, the MF-100 is unable to rival the slightly cheaper Grado SR60i but it does - slightly short cable aside - work effectively as a hybrid that is as happy at home as on the move. For that reason, the MF-100 is a headphone well worth seeking out and earns our recommendation.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £119.00
Ease of Use8
Design and usability8
Value For Money9
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