The Musical Fiedlity Merlin 1 is an all-in one streaming system with a retro twist. With vinyl sales on the rise, the British audio company is hoping to take full advantage of the popularity in record sales by making its RoundTable turntable the focal point of this slick, minimalist setup.
Alongside a place to spin your records, there's also a digital amplifier with a Bluetooth aptX streamer to play high resolution music from your smartphone or tablet. A pair of loudspeakers complete the pricey £1,300 system that should appeal to someone who wants room-filling sound with the best that both new and old audio worlds can currently offer.
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The Merlin 1 stands out and for all the good reasons. First there's the belt design RoundTable turntable with its glossy, lacquered red wooden plinth. It's the biggest component measuring in at 482mm wide and weighing in at 6Kg. If you want something more low-key, you can also grab the turntable in a more conservative black but the more eye-catching hue certainly gives it more character.
Thankfully, the black metal arm is already fitted with a steel tipped bearing and a high end Audio Technica AT95E cartridge to delicately place on your vinyl. All of the elements from the plinth to the housing of the nine-inch pick up arm are high quality components to ensure you get the best listening experience.
Next there's the two eliptical-shaped loudspeakers adopting the same glossy red finish. It's an all metal construction with speaker grilles that let you peer into the components inside. There's sturdy metal stands to keep them in place and you can position them vertically or horizontally depending on how much space you have to play with.
With the amplifier, Musical Fidelity plays things a little more conventionally. It's a small matte black box with status indicator lights on the front and a large volume dial. You'll also find the 3.5mm headphone jack to utilize the built-in headphone amp and a source button to switch through the different modes. The credit-card sized remote control is nowhere near as sleek as the main components. It does offer you the ability to mute, adjust volume and easily switch between the different audio sources.
Around the back is where you’ll find all of the important connectivity ports. Along with RCA inputs and earth terminals for the turntable, there's 50W per channel outputs for the loudspeakers. Addiitionaly, there's also digital/analogue line-in, phono and Bluetooth aptX support, which is available via a small plastic antenna you have to plug into the back. A USB input port is also present and is primarily used for updating firmware. But it does also mean that you can hook it up to a PC and rip the music from your vinyl, which is a handy addition.
When you want to break away from the turntable, the amplifier is well equipped for digital audio playback. Two 24-bit 192KHz DACs along with twin high-grade amplifer modules means it's built for high resolution audio from sources like Tidal. There's also an integrated headphone amp to support high resolution-friendly headphones when you want to listen in private.
There's no companion smartphone app to add any extra functionality, so it's simply a case of establishing a Bluetooth connection between the system and a mobile device to stream your music.
The loudspeakers use single BMR (balanced mode radiator) drivers, which aim to deliver low distortion, a near flat frequency response and punchy, clear sound quality. That's also aided by a diffraction multiplier system, which basically aims to create a large soundstage from some pretty compact loudspeakers.
Getting the Merlin 1 up and running is really straightforward once you’ve carefully taken all of the components out of the box. The back of the amplifier is where you'll connect cables for the loudspeakers and the turntable, which can be done with minimal hassle. For digital playback, it's a simple case of either using the remote or the source button on the front of the amplifier.
The trickiest task of getting everything in place is securing the belt around the turntable. There's a pair of white gloves to arrange the small thin rubbery band to ensure it’s applied correctly and doesn’t pick up any muck that could affect its long term performance. There's even an alignment protractor and Allen key to adjust the counterweight supplied to make sure the arm is in premium position.
Listening to vinyl, the Merlin 1 really excels. There's plenty of warmth when you drop the pick-up on the record, delivering that satisfying crackle of the needle. Soundstage is wide and while you're not going to get overwhelmed with bass, vinyl lovers are well catered for here. Listening to Daft Punk's Random Access Memories and David Bowie's Nothing Has Changed, it draws out the best of both older and newer sounds. The electronic beats still shine in tracks like Lose Yourself to Dance while drawing out the guitars and the percussion in Bowie classics like Heroes and Let's Dance.
The amplifier is is well suited to the compact yet surprisingly loud speakers. While treble performance lacks a little fidelity, they make the most of the power and should fill a decent sized living room with rich, high quality sound.
Moving to digital playback and the Merlin 1 handles most Bluetooth streaming sources with ease. Playing Spotify and Tidal from a series of different sources including the Samsung Galaxy S6 and a MacBook Air, there's plenty of detail, more punchiness and crispness in the vocals. Things get even better when you plug in a pair of high resolution headphones like the Audeze EL-8 or Audio Technica ATH-MSR7. It's everything you could want from a Bluetooth streamer.
The Merlin 1 is not a groundbreaking system, but it's unique in the sense that there’s very few setups that offer a turntable with a streaming amplifier for this price. Musical Fidelity has found a gap in the market and the Merlin 1 ticks the most important boxes.
If you did want to buy it in separate pieces without the turntable you could save some money and get it for closer to £800. Even at that price you'd still be getting something that's perfectly set up for digital music streaming.
While we'd have loved a little more power in the speaker department, it's a minor gripe from an otherwise slick, solid system. If you don't want to go through the hassle of building an all-in-one system then this is definitely worth considering. It looks good, doesn't take up a lot of space and delivers impressive sound.
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From the eye-catching red finish to the delivery of new and old audio formats, the Merlin 1 is a great value for money system.