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MU-2 (1B)

Manufacturer: MUARAH
Price (when reviewed): 1780 EUR



Provided for test by: MUARAH


Images: Marek Dyba | Muarah

No 212

January 1, 2022

Established in 2015, MUARAH is a Polish manufacturer of audio components related to playing vinyl records. The current offer includes three turntable models, an integrated tube amplifier and a phono preamplifier, and a speed controller, as well as Mørch turntable arms.

CAN BE WRONG, because I always have problems with placing well-remembered events in a specific point in the past, but my first contact with the Muarah brand probably took place during the AUDIO VIDEO SHOW in Warsaw in 2015, and another one shortly after that in the Soundclub’s showroom in Warsaw. Every year Audio Show Video Show gives me, same as you, a chance to get to know a few, and most often even a dozen or so new Polish audio brands. Some of them manage to impress me and stay in my memory for good reasons, others less not so much. Since I attended this event so many times over the years, I know perfectly well that I won’t see many of these "newcomers" ever again - such are the cruel laws of a free market. There are, however, some that come back regularly to present their new achievements. Muarah belongs to the latter kind.

The aforementioned presentation of the Muarah brand stuck in my memory for two, maybe three, if you count the Soundclub’s presentation, reasons. First of all, for a completely new manufacturer, the gentlemen behind it presented exceptionally mature, so to speak, refined in terms design, quality of workmanship and aesthetics, products. It was one of those rooms at the AVS, where I didn't have the impression that everything was put together at the very last minute, with components not even fully broken-in yet, with setups composed without much thought put to it, which unfortunately still sometimes (less and less frequently) happens.

The first contact with Muarah products, thanks to the today well-known and easily recognizable company’s logo illuminated in green, provoked back then (at least for me) an associations with a certain, quite famous, American brand. I am not talking about any sort of copy right infringement, or too much of an inspiration, but rather about an aesthetic choice of Muarah designers, that was an important factor in creating the very positive first impression not only because it looked good, but because it looked somewhat familiar to many.

Presentations at various shows are never the right place to form an informed, firm opinion about the actual performance of any audio product. Attendees of such events realize, that there are so many factors at play, largely independent of the exhibitors, that presenting the real class of a given audio system or component, regardless of what price range it comes from, is actually impossible. However, some preliminary conclusions even from this type of presentation can be drawn and noted in memory or in a notebook for later, as „worth further exploring”, under better conditions obviously. Therefore, this time I did not try to judge how good the sound of the Muarah system was, but everything I saw and heard cleared a way for it into my private virtual "notebook".

The first positive impression was further strengthened after the presentation at Soundclub, where the conditions were much better, which allowed me to appreciate the performance of the Muarah system. Another factor was surely the uniqueness of the presented setup. The Muarah, more as a curiosity than as an attempt to actually revive a practically extinct branch of the evolutionary tree of the audio industry, took up the once, though quite briefly, popular quadraphonic. The gentlemen prepared a system capable of playing quadrophonic records giving many people a chance to either remember the "good old days" or listen to this format for the first time.

All these elements together, that is well-made and great-looking and sounding devices and this original, memorable approach to introducing a new brand to the market encouraged me to remember to always pop into the Muarah’s room during the AVS to find out about their new products. Each such visit confirmed my belief that it was a brand worth attention.

It's just that the last AVS took place in 2019, so more than two years have already passed (!) which gave me little to none opportunity to follow Muarah's further development. Meanwhile, quite unexpectedly, I got a proposal to review for you a phono preamplifier of this brand, the reasonably priced MU-2 model in the latest 1B version. I gladly welcomed this opportunity to finally get to know one of the products of this brand from up close, in fully controlled conditions of my listening room.

MU-2 (v2021)

THE DEVICE I RECEIVED FOR THIS REVIEW fits perfectly with the aesthetics I remember. It is not big, as it measures only 210 x 350 x 110 mm (width x depth x height) and not particularly heavy (4 kg). It features a front that is characteristic for the brand - it is a thick, very elegant plate made of cut glass. The central part of the front panel is occupied by a green backlit company logo with the name and function of the model (also lit in green) below. Even lower on the front, there is a place for the red power LED, with more green writing saying "power/warm up". On both sides there are cutouts with tubes visible behind them. These are 6922 double triodes, one per channel, additionally illuminated with orange LEDs.

One of the new features in this version of the preamplifier allows user to adjust the brightness, and even completely turn off both the logo and the tubes’ illumination. The switch is located behind the main switch on the bottom of the device, so it's not easy to find, but it is there. I read somewhere that some users of the earlier version liked this backlight, others suggested that it distracted their attention to some extent while listening to music and that they would prefer to have the option to dim these elements. As you can see, the people behind Muarah are not indifferent to users' comments, and the new solution should satisfy both parties.

⸜ FRONT AND REAR The chassis of the tested device is made of high-gloss polished surgical steel, perforated to ensure adequate ventilation. The chassis features four anti-vibration feet, also improved compared to those used in the original version of the MU-2. The rear panel houses two sets of high quality RCA sockets - input and output, plus ground terminal, standard IEC power inlet, and a fuse compartment next to it. In the box you will also find a high quality shielded power cable made by Muarah in-house.

An important element of the design is a rotary switch, operated with a large, easy-to-use knob, which allows you to select an input impedance loading. The first position is intended for MM cartridges and is marked as such. The value behind it is obviously 47 kΩ, and according to the manufacturer's specifications, the input capacitance has been set at 120 pF. For moving coil (MC) cartridges, the user can select one of five loading values: 50, 100, 200, 500 or 1000 Ω. I know that some users love to have more options but in real life these five values should suffice regardless of a cartridge one uses.

The gain for MM and MC cartridges is constant and amounts to 43 and 56 dB, respectively. The available settings and sufficient gain will allow the MU-2 to work with most cartridges available on the market, including low-level moving coil ones, maybe only except those few with the extremely low output.

⸜ TECHNOLOGY /font> When developing the MU-2’s electronic circuit, its designers decided to use a passive RIAA correction without a feedback loop to eliminate TIM inter-modulation distortions.

"High RIAA curve accuracy", as it says in the company’s materials, was achieved using a computer simulation, followed by careful selection of components, capacitors and resistors, with a low parameter tolerance of 1%. The preamplifier input stage does not use popular bipolar transistors or a matching transformer, but thanks to components individually selected for each unit, the MU-2 easily works with low-level moving coil cartridges. The manufacturer boasts that half of all components used in the tested device were produced in Poland, where each unit is also assembled.

As some of you have probably noticed on the basis of the information provided earlier, the MU-2 is not a new model in brand’s lineup, although for our test the manufacturer delivered a new, improved version. As I never had a chance to get my a hands-on experience with the original version, I asked Mr. Jacek Siwiński to point out the differences between the original and current versions. Here's what he wrote back:

The MU-2 (model 1B) is an improved version of the device of the same name, once tested in the "Hi-Fi Choice" magazine. The key changes are:
- increased gain from 41/51 dB to 43/56 dB, respectively for MM / MC, so it can work even with low-level output MC cartridges,
- higher RIAA curve accuracy - an improvement from +/- 0.5 dB to +/- 0.25 dB,
- elimination of the influence of the input impedance of an amplifier the MU-2 is connected to on the RIAA curve; the previous version was sensitive to it,
- slow build-up of 240 V anode voltage (takes about 5 seconds), which significantly extends the life of the tubes,
- added function of adjusting the brightness of the tubes’ backlight + the possibility of completely dimming the logo’s backlight on the front of the device,
- replacing the feet with ones offering a better vibration damping and even more aesthetically pleasing.


⸤ HOW WE LISTENED The first few listening sessions of the Muarah MU-2 phono preamplifier took place when I was still finishing another review, namely of a turntable of the legendary Well Tempered Lab brand, which returned to the Polish market thanks to the Wrocław-based Audio Atelier, the Simplex mk II.

This basic WTL model featured also an optional upgrade, the DPS power supply and was placed on top of the 10 Herz platform, already known to our readers, which turned out to offer another upgrade to this turntable’s performance definitely worth considering ( ALL YOU NEED). The tonearm was equipped with an excellent, but also only entry-level, Charisma Audio cartridge called ECO. This setup was not too expensive - a turntable with tonearm cost about 11,000 PLN + 2100 PLN for the optional power supply, and the cartridge is 4,000 PLN - but in terms of sound quality, it can easily compete with much more expensive designs.

This system seemed to me to be a more realistic partner for the MU-2 in terms of its price than my own, many times more expensive, J.Sikora Standard Max with the KV12 tonearm and the Air Tight PC-3 cartridge (which, of course, took part in the next, main part of the MU-2’s assessment). So, knowing the sound of WTL already pretty well, I decided to use it as a starting point for my Muarah’s assessment.

The most expensive element of the analogue part of the system was actually plugged in between the turntable and the phono preamplifier. It was the amazing Hijiri Million Kiwami RCA interconnect, and then the signal travelled to the GRANDINOTE SHINAI class A integrated amplifier via another of Mr. Kiuchi’s interconnects, and then to the MACH4 |PL| loudspeakers.


THE TWO FIRST OBSERVATIONS resulting from listening to the famous Jazz at the Pawnshop, and then LESZEK MOŻDŻER’s Piano albums, were the extraordinary spaciousness and specific „lightness” of the sound I heard with the MU- 2 compared to both my own phono preamplifiers, ESE Lab Nibiru and, even more so, GrandiNote Celio. The first aspect of the presentation was additionally well laid out and differentiated, which made the space rendering exceptionally convincing. On the first of these albums the reviewed phonostage beautifully showed the small interior of the Swedish club, with its small stage with crowded yet well-separated musicians on it.

The presentation was not as precise as with my Nibiru, but it was good enough to let me take a closer „look” at a selected, nicely visualized musician/instrument without much effort. Each of them had its own right size, a specific place on the stage, each was a separate entity. Yes, the instruments could use a bit more weight and body, but I perceived this difference between compared phonostages more as a matter of a slightly different sound aesthetics or interpretation of the recording rather than something being wrong with the presentation. The non-musical elements caught on tape, such as the sounds coming from the tables (the clinking of dishes and cutlery, conversations, etc.), were presented in a proper, natural way, assuming that this was what my turntable and phonos offered me, because it both cases these elements sounded very similar.

On the other one of these records, Możdżer's piano perfectly reflected the situation caught in the recording - it was located in a large, even enormous room, in which sounds seemed to bounce off the walls located far, far away from the instrument. The sound was spreading freely, effortlessly in this space, creating a convincing impression that everything was taking place a few meters in front of me, and only behind the musician there was this huge, huge space.

This placement of the foreground turned out to be one of the characteristic features of the MU-2, as regardless of the type of recording it was always located just behind the line connecting the speakers, and in some cases even further away from me. It created a slightly different, more distanced, though equally interesting perspective from which I could observe the events taking place on the stage. The MU-2, whether in the studio or in the audience of a live event, simply seated me 2, 3 sometimes even 5 rows further away from the stage. Of course, the phono preamplifier is not the only, or even the most important element that determines this type of presentation, but in this case I compared the Muarah with my own two phonostages with all other components in the system being the same.

With the Standard Max turntable and the Japanese release of the MONTY ALEXANDER’s Facets, the leader’s piano delighted me with the purity and juiciness of every sound. It sounded easy, effortless and, again, light (for a lack of a better term). It was light in a sense of this lightness and speed with which the musician's fingers flickered over the keys, and not as a lack of weight to the sound. The MU-2, in this respect, meaning the weight and density of the sound, may seem a bit sparing, but it is not true. All you have to do is to listen carefully to any decent piano recording to realize that every time a "heavy", full chord is played, you can feel its weight, as well as the size and weight of the piano itself. It may not sounds as powerful, as deep as with Celio, but without direct comparisons, you won’t miss a thing.

The Italian device, with a class A solid-state output stage, offers a warmer, denser sound, which I appreciate and like very much, while realizing that it actually adds something in these aspects of the sound - not much, but still. That’s a designer’s choice and I love it. The Polish phono preamplifier does not do that and therefore the sound with it seems to have a little less mass and density, and that’s a choice too (I suppose). The tested device clearly showed the greater capabilities of my turntable and cartridge, compared to the inexpensive WTL, both in terms of dynamics, richness and weight of the sound, but also - and perhaps above all - a higher resolution. It was a perfect proof of the MU-2's capabilities, suggesting that it will be a good partner for many turntables even more expensive ones than the Simplex mk II (which, still, offers performance of a much higher quality than its price suggests).

The double bass of one of my favorite players, Ray Brown, offered me quite similar impressions from the same album. The maestro of this instrument played here only the proverbial "second fiddle" supporting Alexander, but you could still hear at the right moments how low his bass extended and how big the box supporting the sounds of the strings was. The decays were long, full, I couldn’t find anything to complain about regarding the timbre. In this recording, Ray's bass sounded quite soft, it was slightly rounded, which the Polish phono showed nicely, but making sure not to add anything from itself.

In a word - the Muarah preamplifier seemed to simply convey the information read from the groove, without warming them up, or adding mass. It offered a clean, transparent, resolving sound - each of these elements at a level one expects from more expensive components. It added that extraordinary spaciousness, which spread - in a controlled and natural way - the sound over a very large, especially in terms of depth, soundstage creating a whole probably best described using such terms as: effortless, easy and light (in this effortlessness).

To challenge the MU-2 even more I switched to a slightly heavier repertoire starting with the Abacab by GENESIS. As it turned out, the Polish preamplifier played such music in a similar way as it did jazz and vocals, focusing on a good control and differentiation, but at the (small!) cost of the lowest, most powerful slam. I did appreciate the pace&rhythm though, which kept my feet tapping and finders snapping following familiar songs.

It felt the same with the AC/DC’s Highway to hell. The MU-2 delivered the rhythm, so important in this heavy rock'n'roll variety of music, with a steady hand, so to speak, and easily followed the pace imposed by the Aussies. Neither Bon Scott's charismatic vocals nor Angus's characteristic guitar lacked energy, there were no traces of any softening or smoothing out the roughness and a bit of "austerity", both essential for this kind of music. The presentation as a whole was filled with so much energy that, also due to the very good control of the events taking place on the stage, I pushed up the volume level far beyond my daily norm to share this exciting, stimulating like a good espresso, experience with the rest of my family and mots of my neighbors./p>

Finally, I returned to a much calmer, but only slightly less challenging classical music recorded in a very special way. I'm talking about the Tube only violin album released by the Tacet label. As the title already indicates, all tracks were recorded using only tube devices and the violin played the main role in each of them. Due to such approach to the recording process, it is an extremely analog, natural-sounding album with a brilliant reproduction of the timbre of the violin. With the MU-2, the so familiar rich, natural timbre, and beautiful saturation of the sound, were reproduced in a such a convincing manner, that I didn’t even try to find any weaknesses in it.

There is something special about the violin, which for me means that when a high quality recording is played in a natural sounding system, I immediately and completely let myself be carried away by the music. It was the case also this time, and once again the Polish device added effortlessness, panache and this open, airy, spatial way of presentation to it, that was present in virtually every music genre I listened to. To both, the way the recording was made and its faithful reproduction violin owed its beautifully melodious and smooth sound which for me sounded a lot like a live instrument.

The Muarah Mu-2 preamplifier (model 1B) did a really good job, also in terms of presenting small details and subtleties of performance, clarity of events (dynamics) in a micro scale, all necessary to properly present the mastery of musicians and all the intricacies of the music they performed. And so I sat still absorbing every note of the album, which I hadn't listened to for at least a few months, remembering once again how good the music and the performance were when played by a components with a real „feeling” of music.


AS A MUSIC LOVER, expecting my audio system to deliver the best possible presentation of music, I love testing high-end devices that are beyond my financial reach. But meetings with "humanly" priced products offering excellent sound are often even more interesting, because these come from (for me) the real world. When on top of that they are made in Polish it makes me not only happy but also proud.

The Muarah MU-2 has just made it to my list of such devices - reasonably priced, so potentially affordable for a large group of music lovers, and at the same time well-made and finished, with an appealing aesthetics and offering a much better performance than one expects judging by its price. And because it can be used with most MM and MC cartridges, it is a great choice for those who like natural, effortless, incredibly spacious sound no matter what pickup they choose.

And one more thing that I haven’t mentioned yet. The MU-2 features the popular 6922 tubes, which opens a door to a tone of fun for those into tube rolling. You can find a lot of those, both from the current production and fantastic old NOS ones, which gives you an option no solid-state device is able to offer, of shaping the sound to your liking.

Technical specifications (according to the manufacturer):

Frequency response: +0.15 dB / -3 dB: 10 Hz-70 kHz
RIAA curve accuracy from 20 Hz-20 kHz: +/- 0.25 dB
MC/MM gain: 56 / 43 dB
RMS noise A-weighted (MC, input shorted): -80 dBV
THD, output = 0dBV: <0.05%
IMD, output = 0dBV: <0.03%
Crosstalk MC: <-73 dB
Input impedance MM: 47 kΩ / 120 pF
Input impedance MC (adjustable): 50, 100, 200, 500, 1000 Ω
Input/output: unbalanced 2x RCA
Tubes: 2x 6922EH (or 6DJ8, ECC88, E88CC)
Dimensions (W x H x D): 210 x 350 x 110 mm
Weight: 4 kg