Musical Fidelity MF-200 Audiophile Stereo Headphone review

Discussion in 'Headphone Reviews' started by dalethorn, May 25, 2015.

  1. dalethorn

    dalethorn Obsessive Auditor

    Jul 3, 2011
    Charleston South Carolina
    Youtube review:


    Sources: iPhone6+ with v-moda Verza/Portaphile Micro/Decware Zen Head amps, various computers using HRT Microstreamer/FiiO E17k/Beyer A200p DAC/amps.

    Review notes: My first impressions of the sound of the MF200 are based on direct comparisons to other headphones - the v-moda M100 and XS, the FAD Pandora VI and IV, the Beyerdynamic T1 and T90, the AKG K812 and K712, and notes that I've accumulated from many prior reviews. I'll describe how I relate to the MF200 (i.e. my personal tastes and how I use the headphone) only after covering all of the objective issues.

    The Musical Fidelity MF200 is very well made and sounds great, but the most common question I've gotten (from my youtube review) is whether the value is good in its price tier (~$350 USD). I think so. I have the well-regarded B&O H6 and B&W P7 headphones - both priced at $400, and the MF200 equals or in some cases exceeds those in physical quality or sound quality. To characterize the sound, the signature has a very small emphasis in the mid-bass, an uncolored midrange, and a fairly smooth and evenly-balanced treble that's neither bright nor dark or recessed. Underlying that near-perfect signature though is tonal quality, and many headphones don't get it right. One of my favorite tests for tone quality and accuracy is the Alsop/Baltimore recording of Dvorak's 9th Symphony on Naxos. At approximately 0:41 of Movement No.2 begins a counterpoint between 2 instruments - one followed by the other - a woodwind and a horn, but not necessarily in that order. The MF200 resolves those clearly.

    The MF200 is a closed-back headphone, with less-than-average isolation and a modest leakage. The isolation is OK for average outdoor use, but would not be sufficient for most commuters on the bus or the tube. The leakage is such that playback in very quiet offices or public libraries would have to be kept below typical audiophile volume levels. However, being a high-fidelity headphone, the MF200's sound quality advantage will be mostly lost in very noisy environments. Certainly most closed-back designs provide a less spacious sound than open-back headphones, on average anyway, yet the MF200 is very good in that respect, due no doubt to having a full-up (but not bright) treble. Headphones that have a full, smooth treble with complementary mids and bass - they tend to have the best quality soundstage.

    The MF200 is average in size for the better on-ear headphones, but it looks as serious as it sounds, which can be seen in the photo linked above or on my dalethorn website under Photos and IPHONE6-Plus-2. The weight is surprisingly light given the strong metal components, in the headband especially. For users who have an aversion to feeling a headband pressing on top of their head, it's a simple matter of sliding the earcups down an extra 1/8 inch to carry more of the headphone weight with the earpads. The earpads** are soft and squishy, but for users who aren't experienced with on-ear headphones or who are sensitive to such things, be aware that the headband needs to secure the earcups against the ears, and so the force needed to accomplish that is noticeable. I'm well used to the on-ear types, and after getting the fit adjusted (see my youtube video), the sensation of having a headphone on goes away.

    **The MF200 comes with leather- or pleather-covered earpads, which I prefer, but a second set covered in a fabric material is also supplied. Note that while the earcups fold flat (90 degree forward rotation), they also rotate approximately 10 degrees backward, and rotate in the vertical plane as well, to accomodate a wide range of head shapes.

    For maximum portability, the MF200 can be pulled off the head when not in use, earcups pulled down, folded flat, and worn around the neck with no discomfort. Supplied accessories include a cloth carry bag and a miniplug-to-1/4 inch adapter. Most users don't want to have to pay for a deluxe carry case if they don't need it, but for those who would like a slim zippered semi-hardshell case, I recommend the Grado case I purchased from HiFiHeadphonesUK. The total range of headband adjustment is 5/4 inches on each side - 3/8 inch larger and 7/8 inch smaller than my average-sized fit, which is a good range of adjustment for different sized heads. The cable is single-entry, non-detachable, about 4.5 ft long, terminated with a straight miniplug that has the extra conductor for smartphones etc. The single-button control box also contains a microphone. The single button does start and stop, and a double-click (on the iPhone at least) skips to the next track, while a triple-click moves to the previous track.

    The control box clicking action is ideal in my experience, since the tactile feedback was perfect and I had no "misses". The cable has a rubber covering which doesn't cling to my clothing, and I haven't noticed any microphonics.

    My final judgement of the sound is that the MF200 is a music-lover's headphone. Many reviews state that for a headphone to be especially musical (as opposed to dry or analytical), the frequency response (signature) needs to be enhanced at either end of the spectrum, particularly the bass end, to add some excitement or user-engagement. There is some merit to that suggestion when the use involves distracted listening (TV, movies, gaming, Internet, commuting etc.), but the MF200 appears instead to be tuned for pure listening enjoyment. In previous reviews I've included the following music examples with comments about how the headphones sound with each track. My suggestion is instead of reading each one as an absolute unto itself, you could compare my notes here to those other reviews and see how the MF200 compares with each individual track.
    Last edited: May 25, 2015
  2. dalethorn

    dalethorn Obsessive Auditor

    Jul 3, 2011
    Charleston South Carolina
    Musical Fidelity MF-200 review part 2 - music tracks

    Animotion - Obsession (1980's New Wave/Techno): The upper bass synth has excellent detail and tone, and both male and female vocals sound natural without favoring either. The MF200 plays this extremely well.

    Bauhaus - Bela Lugosi's Dead (~1980): Strong midrange sound effects - this is a good worst-case test for resonant-type sounds in the most sensitive midrange area. Handled perfectly by the MF200.

    Beethoven Symphony 9, Solti/CSO (1972): Excellent overall sound. Of special note here are the bass impacts beginning around 10:30 of the fourth movement. Those impacts are soft and well in the background, but you can really feel the weight they carry with the MF200.

    Black Sabbath - Iron Man (Classic Rock): Very good instrumental detail and the vocal sounds very natural. As with most classic rock tracks, there is very little or no deep bass. The MF200 plays this music very smoothly, and the lack of deep bass doesn't unbalance the treble.

    Boz Scaggs - Lowdown (1976): Great sound quality - this is a good test for any nasality in the midrange. Handled perfectly by the MF200.

    Cath Carroll - Moves Like You (1980's New Wave/Techno): This track's percussion and voice are crisp and well-balanced, and there's a good sense of space or soundstage around the voices and instruments. The MF200 reproduces the space and detail extremely well.

    Catherine Wheel - Black Metallic (~1991): Goth with industrial overtones - I like this since it's a great music composition and the sound effects are smoothly integrated into the mix. This may sound distorted or mushy with some headphones, but the MF200 renders the deliberate instrumental distortions clearly.

    Chris Isaak - Wicked Game (Pop/Rock): The MF200 plays this high treble energy recording very smoothly - the voice and instruments are very detailed but not edgy - amazingly musical in fact.

    Chromatics - I'm On Fire (Synth-Pop, female lead): This track has a good amount of space around the voice and instruments, making for a very pleasant stereo image. The voice is excellent, and the tambourine sound is realistic.

    David Hazeltine - Fur Elise (Jazz): A very high-quality recording from HDTracks. The MF200 reproduces the instruments smoothly with a spacious ambiance. The wire-brush-on-cymbal harmonics are very extended and detailed.

    Ed Palermo - Crazy (Pop Vocal): A dose of big band, pop, country, and jazz with a unique vocal is Ed Palermo's Big Band, and this track is a great demo for the MF200 - for instrumental tone and ambiance, and a perfectly-recorded vocal. The saxophone lead at 2:51 is especially gratifying.

    Grieg (Beecham-Royal Philharmonic) - Peer Gynt-Solveig's Lullaby (Classical): This very old (late 1950's) stereo recording must have been made on the most expensive gear in the world, since the overall sound quality and especially Ilse Hollweg's amazing voice are as close to "being there" as I've heard with some of the better classical recordings made since the year 2000. The MF200 plays this music perfectly.

    Hans Zimmer - Dark Knight-Aggressive Expansion (Soundtrack): The percussion in this track hits really hard, and the bass tones beginning around 0:45 have the ultra-deep "shuddery" kind of sound that indicates a solid deep-bass response. Overall, the MF200 plays this music very well.

    Hugo Audiophile - 15-16 (Electronic): I'm not sure what the 15-16 stands for - perhaps track numbers from a CD album. The deep-bass tones that start around 33-34 seconds into the track reproduce clearly with the MF200. This is a great recording for evaluating whether a headphone's bass will be sufficient for most environments, since for many headphones that have a weaker bass, the deep bass gets absorbed and mostly lost when the environment contains a lot of low-frequency energy.

    Jimmy Smith - Basin Street Blues (early 60's): This track has several loud crescendos of brass and other instruments that don't sound clean and musical with some headphones. The MF200 reproduction is very good. Listen particularly to the second crescendo at 15 seconds in for maximum detail. I want to emphasize that these crescendos are probably the worst-case test I have for instrument separation and detail, and the MF200 does these very well.

    Kellogg Auditorium, Battle Creek Michigan, Aeolian-Skinner Organ (1933) - Pedal, 32', Resultant, Arpeggio: This 16 hz organ pedal tone differs from other music tones in that you won't "hear" the tone - you'll only feel it. Although most music tones have harmonics (including this one), the harmonics from this tone will be too weak to provide any "feel", so whatever you actually hear would not be part of the fundamental 16 hz tone. There are ~30 hz sounds in the outdoor environment in big cities, generated by large trucks, buses, and subway trains, and they have a quality of "rumble" that's similar to some deep-bass tones found in music. This 16 hz organ tone is easily distinguished from those sounds when compared on a headphone that has good undistorted response at 16 hz. The MF200 plays this with full weight and enough detail that you can hear/feel the 16 cycle per second analog "beats" of the fundamental tone.

    Mantovani - Sunrise Sunset (Easy Listening, ca. 1972): A master musician and conductor** who specialized in light classics and orchestral pop music, Mantovani's accomplishments were overshadowed by music critics who couldn't tolerate the notion of "light classics" or "semi-classical" music, even when those recordings were no threat to the classical music genres. In any case the later Mantovani recordings from the mid-1960's through mid-1970's had the advantage of being mixed for much better hi-fi systems than those which the music critics possessed at the start of the Long Playing (LP) record cycle. Here in 2015, at least some of those digital remasters have improved the sound further, although it's not always the case. This track as played on the MF200 is a perfect example of the sheer musicality lurking in those later recordings, and is highly recommended for soundstage, instrumental tone, and musical balance.

    **Mantovani developed the "Cascading Strings" sonic effect circa 1950, a famous "Wall of Sound" effect for mono hi-fi systems that predated Phil Spector's own famous Wall of Sound effect by 10 years or so.

    Michael Buble - Nice 'n Easy (Jazz): The voice is prominent but well-recorded, the massed instruments are delineated nicely, and the bass line especially is clear and detailed. This sounds pretty good with most headphones, and it's very good with the MF200.

    Michael Tilson Thomas - Rhapsody In Blue (20th Century Classic): Great sound and soundstage, and terrific piano playing and tone. There are some very deep bass impacts starting around 38 seconds into the 17:24 length track, and the weight of those impacts is obvious with the MF200.

    Pinback - Non Photo Blue (Pop-Rock): Crispy sound with "crunchy guitars and bashing drums" - the MF200 renders this music as perfectly as I've heard an energetic pop-rock recording played with any headphone.

    Porcupine Tree - Trains (Pop-Rock): This track opens with some nicely-detailed string sounds and a forward-sounding male voice with a higher-than-average register. There are a series of "clip-clop" effects starting at 3:19 that should sound like they were made with wooden blocks of some kind. The MF200 reproduces the 'clop' portion of that sound pretty well.

    Richard Strauss (Mester-Pasadena) - Also Sprach Zarathustra (opening) (Classical): The granddaddy of bass is in the opening 1:50 of this recording, and I've heard it only once on a large and expensive loudspeaker system in Cleveland. For most people, that experience would be indistinguishable from being in a fairly strong earthquake. The MF200 conveys as much of that experience as is possible with the better on-ear headphones. The tympani also have excellent impact here.

    Scarlatti-Kipnis - Sonata in E Major K381 (Classical, Harpsichord): The harpsichord here is fairly bright and highly detailed, and the MF200 renders the tones and transients clearly.

    Tiger Okoshi - Bootsman's Little House (Jazz): The trumpet here is recorded fairly close up and is somewhat bright with a significant "bite". The MF200's reproduction is near-perfect, and the close-miked piano is also a treat. For comparison, I have several Maynard Ferguson tracks that feature a similarly strong trumpet with lots of brassy bite.

    Trombone Shorty - Backatown (Jazz-Funk): The deep-bass impacts here are strong and work extremely well with the horns and other instruments. The MF200 delivers the impacts with good weight and detail, and the horns have the kind of bite that gives them a wonderfully realistic sound.
  3. dalethorn

    dalethorn Obsessive Auditor

    Jul 3, 2011
    Charleston South Carolina
    I'm updating this review only because there was a clearance sale on the MF100 and MF200, and while the MF200 shows "out of stock", the MF100 was in stock and I grabbed the last one.

    The MF200 has an amazing sound, and I don't expect the MF100 to sound significantly different. The sound of the MF200 in fact was better in my opinion than the AKG K712 that I had, although the K712 was more comfortable generally with the big earcups - the MF200 is on-ear and casual users who aren't used to the ear-clamping might not be good with that.

    Here's the EQ curve (inverse of response curve) that I did for the MF200, which is outstanding:


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