What's The M1 CLiC All About?
The M1 CLiC Universal Music Controller has a lot going for it based on its feature set. On the digital side the CLiC has nearly everything covered for all but the most diehard audiophiles. Two traditional coax S/PDIF inputs and a single TosLink input are joined by USB (Type B - DAC), USB (Type A - hard drive), USB (Type A - iPod), and both a wired Ethernet and wireless network connection. The TosLink input supports sample rates up through 24 bit / 96 kHz and the coaxial input supports all the way through 24/192 kHz. The CLiC's adaptive USB (Type B) implementation is a bit dated in that it only supports up through 24/48 kHz music. This is where the high resolution support of the coaxial input can come in handy. When combined with the Musical Fidelity V-Link 192 it's possible to feed high resolution to the CLiC via USB output from one's computer. Granted the V-Link 192 is an aded cost, but it's a viable option for many high resolution fans who want a direct USB connection. The other two Type A USB ports operate as hosts in that they support hard drives and iPods/iPhones. The front USB port accepts memory sticks and standard RAID-less hard drives. Browsing these drives can be accomplished via the front panel with a physical remote or via iPod/iPad application. The rear USB port offers an Apple certified iPod/iPhone connection. Browsing music stored on the Apple device must be done via the CLiC similar to browsing a connected hard drive. Attempting to navigate with the Music app on the iPhone itself doesn't allow access to one's music collection. Using a music application like FLAC Player does allow browsing one's music and selecting the CLiC output connection but the CLiC doesn't accept audio pushed to it on this USB port rather it supports pulling audio selected via the CliC interfaces. Metadata support when browsing an iPhone is much better than browsing a connected hard drive containing FLAC files even when the FLAC files have all the metadata and album art embedded.
The network interfaces on the CLiC support Universal Plug n' Play (UPnP). My wireless network is entirely 802.11n 2.4GHz and 5GHz, neither of which are supported by the CLiC's current wireless implementation. Thus, I used the CLiC via wired 10/100 Ethernet connected to my 10/100/1000 Gigabit switched network. UPnP support opens all kinds of possibilities for playback and control of the M1 CLiC. The CLiC functions as a UPnP renderer that converts digital audio into analog for playback. Both a control point (remote) and server are required to complete the UPnP ecosystem. The best UPnP capable server I've used is Asset UPnP. In addition to Asset UPnP I frequently use JRiver Media Center's UPnP/DLNA capability and did so during this review. The UPnP server simply makes music available to UPnP devices like the CLiC on a network. While it is possible to use the CLiC's front panel interface as the control point to browse the UPnP server I don't recommend it as the interface isn't as good as what's available via the Musical Fidelity and other iPad apps. The CLiC also supports Internet radio via its Ethernet input. Browsing the World's radio stations via the iPad app is easy a quite fun. It's possible to relive that ranchero music experience one gets when visiting southern California and tuning in what seems like 90% of the radio stations in the area without leaving the couch.
The Musical Fidelity iPhone / iPad iOS applications are pretty basic but definitely get the job done without a steep learning curve. Musical Fidelity offers two versions of the app both free of charge. I used the HD version on my new iPad (3rd generation) more often as the larger interface is simply easier to navigate. Upon launching the app all M1 CLiCs on the network are automatically identified and selectable as different zones [Image]. Once a CLiC is selected the iPad app offers identical options to that of the front panel interface. Selecting these options is much easier than using the physical remote with its up/down and right/left arrows. As one navigates throughout the iPad interface the front panel of the CLiC follows along. For example when selecting Media Server the front panel displays the same browsing options such as album, artist, genre and displays the albums and tracks in mirror like fashion as they are navigated on the iPad. When a track is selected for playback the album art is displayed on the iPad app and the front CLiC panel. The iPad app doesn't offer nearly as many features and options as other applications, but it also doesn't require more than 30 seconds to master. There is no standard play queue or way to create playlists. Selection of a track sets the entire album as the play queue. Other options include shuffle, repeat, track back, track forward, start/pause, and volume control for those using the CLiC as a preamplifier.
On the analog side the M1 CLiC is classic Musical Fidelity. The analog inputs remain entirely in the analog domain from input to output. Analog sources are rare these days, but as a Universal Music Controller the CLiC appropriately accepts three. In addition to inputs the CLiC offers both fixed and variable analog outputs. When using the CLiC as a preamplifier, with its analog volume control, the variable / Pre Out RCA outputs are connected directly to an amplifier. I used the CLiC exclusively with its fixed output RCA connections running into my Spectral Audio DMC-30SS Series 2 preamplifier. When the fixed outputs are in use the CLiC's volume control is disabled.
During the review period I thought a lot about the target audience for the M1 CLiC Universal Music Controller. Some products are easy to line up with a target audience. The CLiC was different in that it offers a bit of everything. It took a few days of heavy use for me to conclude this product has a large target audience. Both learned computer audiophiles and those dipping their toe into computer audio for the first time will enjoy the CLiC. Experienced users will likely think of many creative ways to use the CLiC with different sources, servers, and controllers. Less savvy users may be happy using the CLiC initially as an Internet radio player with an iPhone input and volume control. It's unlikely anyone will need every feature of the CLiC. It's more probable users will seek out the CLiC to fulfill a couple specific needs. Thus, I can see the CLiC working well at the center of main audio systems, different audio zones in a residence, and as a great product for an office system. The CLiC is a universal product with nearly universal appeal.
What needs work
The M1 CLiC isn't without faults. In fact some faults seem like works in progress or possible oversights. My issues with the CLiC can be put into two categories. First is a specific issue related to high resolution playback. The second category contains inconsistencies found during regular use of the CLiC and what I consider small annoyances. Readers should keep in mind that these issues may be resolved through the software update feature built into the CLiC. For reader reference I used the following versions during the review.
HW Info: 2.189
SW Info: 126.96.36.199
Serial # IPY0020
My largest issue with the M1 CLiC is dropouts during playback of 24/176.4 and 24/192 content over both Ethernet and the front USB input. No matter what I tried I couldn't get the CLiC to play an entire 24/192 track on either of these inputs without several dropouts. My network consists of business class managed Cisco Gigabit switches with more bandwidth than I can ever use for audio playback. I've successfully played this content many times on other UPnP devices and don't suspect my network as the source of this issue. I was able to play 24/192 content via the CLiC's coaxial S/PDIF input. This fact makes me wonder if my issues are related to processing power or a software configuration issue within the CLiC. This is complete conjecture on my part. The USB and Ethernet interfaces receive the files in a different fashion than an audio PCM file received via the S/PDIF interface. Via Ethernet and USB my guess is the CLiC must do more processing of the file and simply can't keep up with sample rates of 176.4 and 192 kHz. Again, I am speculating. The CLiC manual states 24/192 FLAC files are supported via these two interfaces but the compression level must be L4 through L8. I've yet to see a device with such specific playback requirements. When playing uncompressed FLAC files not only did I hear audio dropouts but the CLiC became sluggish delaying its response to commands by 15 to 20 seconds. I created test files at FLAC compression levels 0, 1, 4, 5, and 8 to test the advertised requirements. None of the compression levels worked flawlessly but the more compression applied the fewer dropouts I heard during playback. This held true for both Ethernet and front panel USB playback.
The inconsistencies and small annoyances I found with the CLiC may be inconsequential to some users or showstoppers for others. A few inconsistencies I found with the CLiC are an LCD screen that frequently displays what I call the loading screen for no reason, lack of USB memory stick recognition, and the mute function that doesn't work when the fixed outputs are in use. The last issue of the mute function not working all the time is likely by design, but it's an issue for me that mute doesn't always mute the output. The loading screen issue is displayed as small squares going from left to right across the screen with nothing else in the background. During playback the CLiC would load a track, start playing, display the album art, then 30% of the time display the loading screen until I manually switched tracks or intervened. The memory stick issue was a bit more troubling as it prohibited playback. I used a working FAT32 formatted memory stick containing FLAC and Apple Lossless files arranged in folders as Artist >> Album >> Track. About half the time I connected the USb stick to the front USB port the CLiC didn't recognize the stick. I attempted to navigate to the stick via the front panel or the iPad remote and experienced weird behavior. Sometimes the CLiC wouldn't even enter the USB menu and wouldn't produce an error message either. After about five attempts at this the CLiC would produce an error saying it couldn't find a USB drive connected. Yet other attempts to navigate the USB stick, with less than 100 tracks, produced the loading screen indefinitely.
Small annoyances with the CLiC's operation include no Apple Lossless support via the front USB port but full support via connected iPhone in the rear USB port. When I attempted to access Apple Lossless M4A files on a USB stick the CLiC produced a message saying the format was unsupported. On a similar note I found it impossible to browse the music on a USB stick while playing music from an iPhone connected to the rear USB port. Attempting to do this stops playback of the iPhone content. Another annoyance is the inability to stop or pause Internet radio playback from the included physical remote control. The only way I could stop playback of Internet radio was via the iPad interface. If it's possible to stop Internet radio some other way I was unable figure it out.
The last annoyance I have is with the CLiC's requirements and specifications. I have no doubt consumers will be disappointed to find out certain FLAC files are unsupported or that certain types of files don't work on all interfaces. For example the specification of FLAC compression levels 4-8 may require a user to convert an entire library to comply with the CLiC. The user manual has frequent confusing statements such as, "AAC & M4A - Support sampling rates: 24-96 kHz (output sampling rate = max 48kHz) Resolution: 16 bit Quality: 8-320 kbit/s Channels: stereo." I can honestly think of several ways to interpret this statement, none of which equal true native support for 24/96 playback. One last example of accurate but very confusing specifications can be found on page 21 of the manual. I have serious doubts all but the most learned computer audiophiles can decipher the meaning of the following FLAC and WAV requirements for CLiC playback.
Supported containers: FLAC Support sampling rates: 44.1-96 kHz Resolution: 16/24 bit
Tags: FLAC tags
FLAC 192 kHz/24 bit; available through USB and wired network only Supported containers: FLAC
Support sampling rates: 192 kHz
Resolution: 16/24 bit
Tags: FLAC tags Channels: stereo/mono
Supported containers: WAV
Support sampling rates: 22-96 kHz
Resolution: 16/24 bit
(16Bit Integer, 24 Bit integer packed type1, 32Bit integer, IEEE – 0, 24 float type3) Tags: WAV tags
LPCM (192 kHz/24 bit)
Supported containers: WAV
Support sampling rates: 192 kHz Resolution: 16/24 bit
(16Bit Integer, 24 Bit integer packed type1, 32Bit integer, IEEE – 0,24 float type3)
Tags: WAV tags
What I liked About The M1 CLiC
The M1 CLiC Universal Music Controller isn't perfect, but there are many things I like about the unit. Given it's universality the CLiC not only works well in a main audio system, but may be even more suited for an office or desktop environment. Placing the CLiC close to one's listening position will nullify the fact that the LCD screen is too small to read from more than eight feet away. A very powerful system could consist of the CLiC with a set of powered speakers. In this configuration the CLiC is used as the preamplifier with its analog volume control and a single set of interconnects routed to the speakers. Done and done. In an office the CLiCs front and rear USB ports would be very accessible and convenient for attaching a colleagues USB memory stick or one's iPhone on a daily basis. A bonus for those attaching an iPhone is the rear USB port also charges the iPhone while it's connected. I also very much prefer a USB Type A connection for iPhones over the more common dock connection. Using a dock connection usually requires the iPhone be placed on top of the electronic component. This causes placement issues as the overhead space must remain clear for the iPhone to be docked and I've always thought the dock connectors are a bit awkward. For some reason I think I'm going to snap off the connector when placing my iPhone in a typical dock because there isn't a nice locking click voice or a solid feeling that the iPhone is in the right place. None of these, personal or otherwise, issue exist with the CLiC's connection as it uses the standard iPhone charging / syncing USB cable. I like the ability to route the cable under the CLiC exposing only the iPhone connector when not in use. It's just a nice clean look. When using the CLiC in my office I listened to much more internet radio than I ever have using just my computer. So many radio stations available on the Internet only support playback via web browsers like Google's Chrome and Apple's Safari. Playback through such a browser eventually frustrates the listener as the browser must be closed and reopened because of an unknown issue or in the case of Chrome a major over use of memory when left open for an extended period. After a while Internet radio becomes less intriguing and more of a hassle when using a traditional browser. Listening through the M1 CLiC is a completely different experience. It's a dedicated device that couldn't care less if one's computer is even powered up or has the virus of the day.
The M1 CLiC's support of UPnP is great in an office setting and a main listening room. Windows users with JRiver Media Center will see the CLiC appear automatically as an additional playback zone. Simply selecting the CLiC Zone sends all audio over Ethernet or wireless to the device for playback. The user browses JRiver as if a local USB DAC was connected. There's nothing to setup or even worry about bit perfect playback as the audio flowing over Ethernet bypasses any Windows resampling efforts. Sending audio to the CLiC from JRiver over the network also enables playback of sample rates up through 24/192 kHz whereas the direct USB connection of the CLiC only supports up through 24/48 kHz. Another great benefit of this combination of JRiver and the CLiC is support for the JRemote iPad/iPhone/iPod application. JRemote is the best remote application I've used to date. The app allows selecting playback zones that appear in JRiver. Once selected JRemote functions as the CLiC's UPnP control point with all the excellent album art browsing and playlist creation users have come to love. Using the M1 CLiC in one's office with an Apple computer isn't as slick as Windows with JRiver. I used the OS X version of PlugPlayer to play music through the CLiC over Ethernet. The interface is nothing to write home about but is fully functional without the need for an Apple iOS device. I spent many hours switching back and forth between Chrome to work on CA and PlugPlayer selecting music for playback through the CLiC. PlugPlayer can also send audio from an iTunes library to the CLiC over Ethernet UPnP. This is something Apple will likely not support any time soon unless a device is AirPlay certified.
When I first downloaded the free Musical Fidelity HD iPad application I was underwhelmed. I am used to full featured apps like JRemote and Aurender that make one's browsing and playback experience a dream. Both these apps feature a press and hold popup menu giving the user great playback options such as Play Now, Play Next, Add To Playlist, etc… The Musical Fidelity HD iPad app is very limited in that it allows selection of the CLiC's input source, radio station, or track for playback. When one track is selected the entire album is added to the queue. There are no additional options or even menus to navigate. After using the app for a few days I began to like its simplicity. There's virtually no learning curve. Find a track, select it, and the whole album is queued for playback.
The Sound quality of the M1 CLiC Universal Music Controller was pretty good but not great. I include sound quality in the "What I liked About The M1 CLiC" section because it's true, I liked the sound quality. A component doesn't have to be reference level to be enjoyable. Especially enjoyable was the CLiC's ability to make Internet radio sound well worth listening to through a revealing system. As I type this I am listening to 93.5 KDAY based in Los Angeles as this station plays a great mix of N.W.A. and what's called Classic Hip-Hip. The track Area Codes from Ludacris featuring Nate Dogg is playing right now. Through the CLiC this track has great bass despite being an very lossy Internet stream. Audiophile quality? No. Enjoyable? Absolutely. I'd much rather listen to random Hip-Hop tracks over Internet radio, as long as they sound this good, than listen to the next Patricia Barber remaster on a super system. The majority of my listening was done via the Ethernet interface in combination with JRiver or Asset UPnP as the media server sending lossless FLAC files to the CLiC. For the most part the CLiC sounds good. All my usual favorites from Ray LaMontagne, Shelby Lynne, The Black Keys, and Pearl Jam sounded good via the CLiC connected to my very revealing Spectral Audio DMC-30SS Series 2 preamp, DMA-260 amplifier, and TAD CR1 loudspeakers. The M1 CLiC enabled me to forget about listening for every possible ounce of detail and simply play my favorite music at all volume levels enjoying every bit of every track. The CLiC doesn't extract the same level of detail and resolution as separate components in higher price ranges, but those components don't offer the universality of the CLiC. It's a tradeoff that as far as I know must be made. I've yet to hear a component that does it all and sounds like a reference component. The most telling tracks were from Ray LaMontagne's God Willin' and the Creek Don't Rise album. The CLiC smoothed over the finest details in Ray's voice. This smoothing over causes a little loss in the emotional power of the album, but only when one is used to hearing absolutely everything the recording has to offer. At times playback via the CLiC sounded like I had a thin linen sheet between my listing position and the speakers. This didn't cause any specific detrimental affect on the bass, mid range, or treble individually rather just a softening of the complete range of frequencies in a linear fashion. Again, the M1 CLiC Universal Music Controller sounds good and will likely please many computer audiophiles looking for a digital / analog hub to run all types of music and sources through to a large or small audio system.
The Musical Fidelity M1 CLiC Universal Music Controller is an ambitious product. The CLiC's feature set includes a plethora if digital and analog inputs as well as a built-in analog preamplifier. Execution of these features is very good and typical Musical Fidelity. The CLiC stumbles a bit when it comes to software implementation. A few features such as high sample rate support over Ethernet, FLAC compression peculiarities, and USB memory stick playback hinder the CLiC's overall appeal. Contrarily support for UPnP, a simple iPad application, and the ability to upgrade or fine tune the software implementation increase the CLiC's appeal. I suspect most users won't encounter show stopping issues as many music collections contain 99% 16 bit / 44.1 kHz content. Playback of this CD quality audio and even 24/96 material is smooth sailing with the CLiC and produces good sound quality. The Musical Fidelity M1 CLiC Universal Music Controller doesn't perform on a level greater than the sum of its parts. However, it has great potential and I look forward to using the CLiC in the future as a potential hub for several digital and analog sources.
- Product - Musical Fidelity M1 CLiC Universal Music Controller
- Price - $1,999
- Product Page - Link
- User Manual - Link (PDF)
- iPad App - iTunes Store
- Source: Aurender S10, C.A.P.S. v2.0 Server, MacBook Pro, SOtM sMS-1000
- DAC: Berkeley Audio Design Alpha DAC Series 2, dCS Debussy
- Preamp: Spectral Audio DMC-30SS Series 2
- Amplifier: Spectral Audio DMA-260
- Loudspeakers: TAD Labs CR1 Compact Reference
- Remote Control Software: Musical Fidelity HD iPad App, Aurender iPad App, JRemote, MPaD
- Remote Control Hardware: iPhone 4, iPad (3rd Generation)
- Playback Software Windows 7: J River Media Center 17
- Playback Software OS X 10.7.3: PlugPlayer
- Cables: Spectral Audio MH-770 Ultralinear CVTerminator Series II Loudspeaker Cable, Spectral Audio MI-350 Ultralinear CVTerminator Series II Analog Interconnects (RCA), Mogami W3173 Heavy Duty AES 110 ?, MIT Oracle ZIII Power Cables, Wire World Silver Starlight USB Cable, AudioQuest Diamond USB Cable, Kimber Kable B Bus Ag USB Cable, WireWorld Ultraviolet 5 S/PDIF Coax Cable (BNC), Kimber Select KS2020 S/PSIF Coax Cable
- Network: Cisco SG200-26 Switch, Baaske MI-1005 Ethernet Isolator, Micro Connectors Augmented Cat6A Ethernet Cable, Apple AirPort Extreme, Cisco RVS4000 Router, Cisco DPC3000 Docsis 3.0 cable modem, Comcast Extreme 105 Mbps Internet Service