Review: Musical Fidelity MF-100 On-Ear Headphone

of 05

Goal: A Good, Affordable Audiophile Headphone

Brent Butterworth

Musical Fidelity's known for making affordably priced boutique audio gear in which the focus is more on solid engineering than on fancy cosmetics and exotic technology. It's fitting that the MF-100 over-ear headphone isn't flashy or technologically dazzling -- or all that terribly expensive.

So what's interesting about the MF-100, other than that it comes with an audiophile-approved pedigree? You got me. Oh, here's one thing: It comes with two sets of earpads, one covered in perforated leather, the other in velour. You can choose whichever one you find the most comfortable. There's also a sound quality difference, so you can choose whichever one you think sounds the best.

I guess you just have to hope that the one that is the most comfortable also sounds the best. Fortunately, for me, that was the case.

Click here to see the full lab measurements for the MF-100.

of 05

Musical Fidelity MF-100: Features and Ergonomics

Brent Butterworth

• 41 mm drivers
• 4.2 ft/1.3 m cord with iOS/Android-compatible inline mic, play/pause/answer/forward track skip button
• Leather and velour earpad sets included
• Soft carrying case included

This isn't what you'd call a feature-packed headphone, but it wasn't intended to be. The whole focus is on sound quality. But in its one concession to utility, it does have the inline mic/remote.

The earpads are easy to change once you know how. Simply align the thin collar at the back of the earpad with the notch in the flange running around the earpiece, then turn the earpad until the entire collar is seated around the flange.

Although I found the leather-covered earpads the most comfortable and the best-sounding (with a welcome extra dollop of bass to better balance the MF-100's strong treble), I didn't find either one particularly comfortable. For an on-ear design, the MF-100 has a powerful clamping force that really mashed it into my earlobes and made it a little uncomfortable in >30-minute listening sessions. But I have an extra-large, size 7-3/4 head. For someone with a smaller head, it might be just right.

of 05

Musical Fidelity MF-100: Performance

Brent Butterworth

There's always a moment of trepidation when I put on a new headphone, especially from a company whose headphones I've never heard before. But it took only about 10 seconds of Holly Cole's recording of "Good Time Charlie's Got the Blues" (from Night) for me to tell myself, "Oh, good, these definitely aren't going to suck."

The upright bass sounded reasonably full, yet still tight and precise. Cole's voice had a slightly dry quality, with a super-clear sound in the upper mids and lower treble and a just-a-tiny-tad thin sound in the lower mids. Nothing alarmed me as a potential problem to listen for down the line. It was obvious to me that I was listening to a high-quality headphone with a voicing close enough to neutral that its accuracy would be a matter of taste and opinion. I know some headphone enthusiasts -- who I've noticed often tend to prefer the detail-amplifying effects of a little extra treble -- would consider the MF-100's sound more neutral than that of my reference headphone, the NAD Viso HP50, which to me sounds almost as dead-flat as my Revel Performa3 F206 speakers.

My good 'ol fave tonal balance test, Toto's "Rosanna," definitely showed that the MF-100 is tilted toward the treble, although not to the degree that it bothered me except when I cranked it up pretty loud. And as I noted above, this is a voicing I think most enthusiasts will approve of. It's not Grado SR225-bright, more like AKG K550-bright. So for some people, it'll be too bright. For others, it'll be just right.

The result with heavier music was basically the same. In "Sweet Sour," from the Band of Skulls' CD of the same name, the MF-100 brought the guitars, voices and snare drum to the fore, but pushed the bass and kick drum to the back. I like a more kick-ass sound, but again, it's a matter of taste.

Saxophonist David Binney's Lifted Land is definitely audiophile-friendly material: a natural-sounding recording of great music recorded purely as art and not with the hope that it'll be a big hit (even by the modest standards of jazz recordings). The upright bass solo that opens "The Blue Whale" has become a reference for me in judging the bass quality of audio products, and it certainly revealed the MF-100's bottom-end character. The precision and subtleties of bassist Eivind Opsvik's playing came through 100 percent, every note well-defined and showing no trace of bloat or boost. It actually sounded a lot like when I heard Binney's group perform this tune at its namesake, the Blue Whale club in Los Angeles

Still, though, Binney's alto sounded a little bright -- not with zigs and zags and harsh emphasis, just like someone had turned up the treble control by +1 or +2 dB. That's a musically benign -- and perhaps in certain ways beneficial -- coloration, but it obviously won't appeal to anyone seeking a warmer sound or powerful, pumping bass.

No one at Musical Fidelity told me what their goal was with the MF-100. But if their goal was to make a real audiophile headphone for an affordable price, they achieved it.

of 05

Musical Fidelity MF-100: Measurements

Brent Butterworth

I did a full set of lab measurements for the MF-100, which you can see here. Above is the frequency response chart, with right channel in red and left channel in blue. This curve suggests that the MF-100 does indeed have a somewhat trebly tonal balance. See the measurements article for a more in-depth discussion.

of 05

Musical Fidelity MF-100: Final Take

Brent Butterworth

The MF-100 is a well-made, high-quality, reasonably priced headphone that appears to please audiophiles, not the general public. Which if you're Musical Fidelity, makes total, complete sense. It's not the last word in comfort, and it doesn't have much bass, but for enthusiasts who crave that "hear every detail" sound many audiophile-oriented headphones deliver, the MF-100 is right on target.