M1: Portable Player, FPGA hardware decoding DSD/PCM - 2016 version
Video Review on Youtube
1. Calyx M, Chord Mojo, Soundaware M1 Esther, (AK100), Lotoo PAW 5000, FiiO X5, cited from head-fi review article, click here to see original words
2. ...Where the M1 is special is that it uses an FPGA (Field Programmable
Gate Array), programmed by Soundaware to decode digital files, and the CPU, digital DAC input, analogue DAC output,
and analogue amplification all have separate power supplies inside the DAP for maximum sound fidelity.
It comes in two versions with different tuning. The Vitality version has a more neutral tuning, whereas the Analog version,
which I was sent, is designed to sound like an old-school CD player. I’m guessing something like ones of the models that
used old Phillips R2R chips was the inspiration, because the sound is quite warm, even more so than the Chord Mojo.
Warm though it may be, it is possibly the nicest player I’ve ever listened with, excepting possibly the AK380, which I haven’t
spent enough time with to form a solid opinion of. The M1 can also be used as a digital transport, with a coax digital output,
or to an amp via the line out, which has a slightly low 1.4V output.
... A redeeming feature is that the software is
upgradable via downloadable firmware files, so after having been put in contact with the relevant person in charge, it looks
like that sometime in the future this will be rectified.
I was in two minds whether or not to add the Soundaware M1 Esther to the gift guide, as the software is a bit temperamental,
with issues such as the volume controls being slow to respond, the unit having trouble switching on after a full power down,
192k ALAC files not playing, and it is more functionally limited than, say, a FiiO X5 or similar. I’ve noticed that a segment of
Head-Fi members are quite happy to put up with a rather basic, and possibly even somewhat frustrating design if the sound
quality meets their needs. That is where this DAP got me: More than anything, it makes listening an absolutely wonderful
experience. With all the headphones and IEMs I plugged into it, from my Ultimate Ears Reference Monitors, the Torque Audio
t096z’s to MrSpeakers’ Ethers, it made listening an absolute joy. The warm signature takes away anything unpleasant from
recordings, but doesn’t sacrifice detail in doing so. Many of the albums I like, from Patricia Barber, Elbow, Bill Evans and
Beck have some harshness in the treble — whether from the recording or mastering I don’t know, and owning a revealing
system, especially revealing IEMs, can highlight this. Not so with the M1, which makes all of it a pleasure to listen to instead.
The M1 even does a decent job driving full-sized headphones, managing to do well with MrSpeakers Ethers. Even more
joy was to be had using the M1 as a source for my HeadAmp Pico Power or ALO Audio Studio Six.
Cited from 2016 Head-fi Buying Guide, click here.
Written by Amos Barnett (Currawong)