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Mcintosh MA8900 - towards audio simplification

Rajeshh

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#1
I was planning an upgrade on my amplification the last couple of months, moving up from the fantastic Wyred4sound MPre & MAmps i wanted to make sure that i have amplification that works well with everything i listen to, meaning not just vocals/jazz/80' but also modern fast paced tracks like Massive Attack, Radiohead & Kendrich Lamar. This is something that the Wyred excels at.
But with the Wyred i was running 5 boxes, 3 for line stage amplification, a separate phono & another Music server, add my Mac Mini, the Apple TV & all the power chords, interconnects & conditioners involved it was getting a bit much. I really wanted a one box solution that ticked all my boxes. Music & movies included.

With this in mind, i began the audition rounds, the fun part of the buying process.
I was fascinated by tubes & went to audition the Mcintosh MC275 + C22 (Not exactly one box) but in my opinion the best looking audio gear with attitude. I have never heard vocals so good, it was spooky. Unfortunately it just could not handle fast paced tracks. The next in line was a Line Magnetic Audio LM-518IA
& the Leben CS-600 with Harbeth Super HL5plus, I had similar results with all of them.
The Leben was really exceptional in its vocal abilities, but until i can afford to have a dedicated cigar room to play just jazz & vocals, tubes are not going to work for me.

Next up was solid state amplifier auditions, i auditioned the Ayre AX-5, Devialet Pro220, Mark Levinson N585, Accuphase E470 & E650, Mcintosh MA5300 & T+A PA 3100HV.
The stand out was the T+A PA 3100HV, a truly extraordinary amplifier, paired with a Revel Ultima2 in a well treated room, it is one of the best sound i've heard. The kind that grabbed you by the collar and forces you to pay attention. Unfortunately it was way out of my budget.

I also really liked the Mcintosh & the Accuphase E650., the Mcintosh dealer at this point invited me to an extended audition of the MA8900, it was delightful experience, a slight warmth in the midrange because of the Autoformers, with all the transparency & details of the Accuphase. As a bonus, the included modular DAC the new DA1 is on par or better than standalone DACs such as Mytek Brooklyn+ DAC which ive used.
I found that the Accuphase was perhaps even more transparent, which may or may not be a good thing for my tastes, it sounded brilliant on Vinyl but a bit fatiguing & unforgiving on some digital tracks though an Accuphase CD Transport+DAC.
For a while, i was quite confused between the Mcintosh MA8900 & the Accuphase E650, but in the end after multiple auditions & considering a few factors such as ease of use, resale value, etc., (subjective tastes & looks included) chose the Mcintosh.

Here are some pics, ive gotta say that the blue meters are mesmerising too :)

6SXn0CjtQwGv9lWyP28JTQ_thumb_55f5.jpg

eMXlV2DQReOZ2EgraDT1%A_thumb_55f7.jpg


iJ987U8uSrCyqnU07bpOsQ_thumb_5585.jpg

HflaPJiBSWyRJYdUF9vYsQ_thumb_55dc.jpg
 
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mpw

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#4
nice !
congratulations !

Rajeshh - can you send put a pic of the left corner - i see a cream colored triangular shaped bass trap ??


regards
 

audiopro

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#7
Very neat. This Amp sounds fantastic with a speaker that is slightly lean and leads with the leading edge of notes. Heard it with a monitor platinum 300 and it was stunning. You are absolutely right about the phono stage. It's a superb phono stage. I would strongly suggest you try the mcintosh with a nordost power cable like the hemidel onwards if your dealer will let you borrow one. Which dealer has the e650 on demo?
 

JayaRaa

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#8
Congrats Rajesh. It is an interesting combo you have (KEF/McIntosh)
The phono stage on the McIntosh are generally of good quality but sadly the same cannot be said of their DAC's
Which power cords, interconnects & speaker cables are you using at the moment?
 

Rajeshh

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#9
@audiopro Thanks! My Kef dealer in Singapore stocks Nordost, i've tried them (speaker cables, not the power cables) but never quite warmed up to them, i thought they leaned out the sound a bit too much.
For cables, I am leaning towards an all Tellurium Q cables upgrade - UltraBlack Speaker cables, UltraBlack USB cable & Black power cable.
I was using the Tellurium Q Black XLR cable earlier & found it extremely good & balanced.

All the auditions were in Singapore where i am based. The Accuphase dealer there is a great guy who indulged with pairing with multiple speakers including the Tannoy GRFs, The JBL Everests & Von Schweikert speakers.
UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_51af.jpg

And some unbelievable sound with full blown Accuphase Class A Monoblock system., a very expensive system with the sound quality to match.

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_51b5.jpg
 

audiopro

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#10
@audiopro Thanks! My Kef dealer in Singapore stocks Nordost, i've tried them (speaker cables, not the power cables) but never quite warmed up to them, i thought they leaned out the sound a bit too much.
For cables, I am leaning towards an all Tellurium Q cables upgrade - UltraBlack Speaker cables, UltraBlack USB cable & Black power cable.
I was using the Tellurium Q Black XLR cable earlier & found it extremely good & balanced.

All the auditions were in Singapore where i am based. The Accuphase dealer there is a great guy who indulged with pairing with multiple speakers including the Tannoy GRFs, The JBL Everests & Von Schweikert speakers.
View attachment 28472

And some unbelievable sound with full blown Accuphase Class A Monoblock system., a very expensive system with the sound quality to match.

View attachment 28473
Superb. I am happy that you got to demo everything rather than buying blind. You are right that the Nordost does lean out the sound a bit but with the Mcintosh it works well. i myself had a MC352 power amp that I tried with various cables. The Mc tends to be a tad slow (except when its used with the phono stage) and the Nordost improves the PRAT if that's important for you. For some reason when you use the phono stage everything falls into place.
 
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Rajeshh

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#11
@audiopro That is good advice, i shall certainly ask for a Nordost home trial, any particular model you recommend?

@JayaRaa Thank you! at the moment i am using a Isotek Initium power chord hooked up to a Isotek Evo3 Aquarius conditioner & a Atlas Hyper 3.5 speaker cable.
For DACs i have a simple theory that newer is always better because of the rapid advancement in chips & Op amp techniques. The newer generation Mcintosh uses a newly developed DAC module, I am using a Wyred4Sound Recovery (USB reclocker) bolted directly onto the USB input via a adaptor from my Mac mini & it sounds very good indeed.
 

audiopro

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#12
@audiopro That is good advice, i shall certainly ask for a Nordost home trial, any particular model you recommend?

@JayaRaa Thank you! at the moment i am using a Isotek Initium power chord hooked up to a Isotek Evo3 Aquarius conditioner & a Atlas Hyper 3.5 speaker cable.
For DACs i have a simple theory that newer is always better because of the rapid advancement in chips & Op amp techniques. The newer generation Mcintosh uses a newly developed DAC module, I am using a Wyred4Sound Recovery (USB reclocker) bolted directly onto the USB input via a adaptor from my Mac mini & it sounds very good indeed.
I tried the Hemdeil 2 power cable and compared it to the Shunyata Ztrons. The Shunyata made the mc sound heavy and slow where the Nordost balanced it out the best. I was using the C50 as a pre so it pretty much sums up your MA8900 hardware. Remember that the power cord will change the way your DAC sounds as well. If you can get a home demo then its a no brainer. Try the different taps on the mc autoformer. Sometimes the 4 will sound better than the 8 and vice versa. One tends to be more dynamic while the other tends to be flatter but more musical. Of course it depends on the speaker but try both and see which one you prefer.

Lastly - change the links on your KEF. You will be surprised at how much difference that little link makes. Usually one can get fantastic discounts on links from dealers. Is that the Ref 1? What does it sound like? Haven't heard this particular model.
 

Rajeshh

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#13
@audiopro Yes, that is the Kef Ref 1s, its an extremely open and fast speaker, with the brawny & tight bass of a floor stander. It is amazing what the speaker can do, it is transparent enough to reflect even small change in the chain. They were my No. 1 pick, after a face off with the B&W Diamonds 805 D3 & Focal Sopra N1, mainly because well integrated bass is important for me.
They don't need links, because it comes with high quality connectors built inside the cabinet.
 

audiopro

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#14
@audiopro Yes, that is the Kef Ref 1s, its an extremely open and fast speaker, with the brawny & tight bass of a floor stander. It is amazing what the speaker can do, it is transparent enough to reflect even small change in the chain. They were my No. 1 pick, after a face off with the B&W Diamonds 805 D3 & Focal Sopra N1, mainly because well integrated bass is important for me.
They don't need links, because it comes with high quality connectors built inside the cabinet.
Very nicely balanced system. I can see why you picked the Mc over the Accuphase in this case (kef sound signature). Congrats and great job on system matching.
 

Rajeshh

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#15
Here my impressions about the break in.
Initially the amplifier sounded alright at low volumes that I normally listen to, but critical listening revealed a few things missing -tight bass, airy treble & separation.
Music at high volumes sounded like it was one big mass as opposed to instruments playing separately & bass was overblown.

After going through break-in with my previous Wyred amplifier I was patient this time around. I must say that break-in for high end amplifiers is a painfully long process, I could hear some differences to every few days, so I decided to just leave it alone and let it play.

It took a good 200 hours for the Mcintosh to finally settled in. The treble became delicate and airy, bass was still a bit much on some tracks, which overshadowed the midrange and details.
I decided to change my speaker cables to the Tellurium Q Black 2, and I must say that now the music sounds incredible, especially from my Mac mini to the USB DAC via a Wyred4sound Recovery.
 

Rajeshh

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#16
I am extremely impressed with the Tellurium Q cables range, I guess this is not a brand that is as well known as Audioquest or Kimber, I do find their cables and interconnects extremely good, something that shoots above the price, always a good thing.

Very tight controlled & organic bass, I can hear the textures of the drum beat as opposed to a boom that I felt earlier, the vocals are forward with this cable & im getting a very nice and focussed sound stage.
This is working very well in my small room, where earlier I had a bass overload.

I wanted to go up the range and get the TQ Black Ultra but decided to hold off until they release a new version sometime next year. IMG_2569 (1).jpg
 

Rajeshh

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#17
Tweaking the sound - Ive realised that this is by far the most important thing to get good sound with a reasonable high end setup.

I spent the good part of my free time the last 2 months, trying to tweak the sound to get the best possible sound that plays well with all the genres of music that I listen to.
This is quite varied - from Bollywood & Tamil to Jazz, Fusion & a fair bit of hip hop, electronic and a heavy dose of Rock

While the setup sounded good, I felt that I was still not reaching the potential that the system was capable of. I also had some issues to deal with - boomy bass, getting the right texture of percussion hits/guitar strings, mid range magic.
The setup sounded good on some genres and not so good on some other.

Stands - I ordered a pair of custom height stands from India and brought them to Singapore, the stands looked good and were heavy as a rock. Really no complaints about the finish or the built quality either. But when I put my Reference 1s on them, the speakers sounded horrible. - hard edged & BRIGHT!
It took me a long time to figure out what was wrong, to give you an idea of how bad the pairing was, the speakers sounded better on the floor!
So, I cancelled a sale of my older stands a light weight DALI E600 & put the speakers back on them, the brightness vanished and I was back with a more nuanced sound.

Placement - I had a IKEA Aptitig chopping block under my stands, this helped to tighten up the bass & make it less boomy, on a lark I tried playing the setup without them under the stands. The setup sounded way more open! like the midrange completely opened up.
I also had a Ikea lamp behind the left speaker, I took it out. I got an extremely balanced mid bass & more midrange magic There was less bass smear onto the midrange.
The downside was more boomy bass when the bass hits.

Power - I am using a Isotek Evo3 Aquarius power conditioner, with the entry level Isotek power cables. I paid a visit to my Mcintosh dealer for advice on power solutions, to my surprise, he advised using a good power cable & plugging the Amp directly to the wall socket, his rational is
1. Mcintosh does not advice using ANY conditioner.
2. Mcintosh being a high powered amplifier needs unrestricted power for increased dynamics.
3. Singapore where I live, dosent have an issue with power and what we get from the wall is rather good.

I took his advice and picked up the Isotek Optimum power cable and plugged it directly to the wall. My sources and all my other gear are plugged into the conditioner.
This had the biggest change, the boomy bass disappeared, bass became controlled and balanced. The vocals had way more heft - male and female voices sound like the real thing.

All in all I think I am done tweaking for a while.
I am just enjoying the music with a glass of whiskey now.
 

Fiftyfifty

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#18
Hi Rajesh,

Congratulations, you seem to have achieved some kind of a milestone!

One aspect that you did not mention is speaker placement and its effect on tonality. I've seen that speaker distance from front walls, side wall and toe-in have a really significant impact. I generally try to get that right first. And while adjusting, I sometimes move the speakers well into the room, even if the furniture doesn't allow, just to get an idea of the difference it can make.

Coming to the Mac-mini - do you go directly to the DAC via a USB cable or do you use some kind of a USB regenerator? In any case, I found a huge improvement by taking the Macmini off the power conditioner and plugging it directly into the wall socket.

Best wishes!
 

Rajeshh

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#19
@Fiftyfifty Thanks!
Speaker placement was a whole another story, I spent the most time moving them around to get the optimal tonality. I have a challenging room with the left speaker in a corner, so not much room to manoeuvre.
I ended up moving the entire setup to give the left speaker some space from the side wall. Also I played quite a bit with distance from rear wall, too much in front and it seemed to increase resonance with certain frequencies, too little and I was getting boomy bass. Now I have got it dialled-in just right.
W.r.t Toe-in, I have them at a slight toe in, about 10 degree. Works very well.

You are right on the digital source part, the Mac mini can't keep up at this level. Getting the source right is what i'm experimenting with.
The best sound I am getting is from a ELAC Discovery I have on loan from a friend & a Ultrarendu I had borrowed from another friend a while ago.

I have decided to go for a one box streamer+DAC. The best I've heard so far is the Naim NDX 2 & the Totaldac D1, which are rather expensive options. So I might just get the ELAC streamer as a stopgap for now.
 
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Rajeshh

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#20
And to add to my previous post about power - The changes I described with totality and bass control: This was done purely by the Isotek Optimum cable, plugging the cable to the conditioner or the wall had the same effect.
The difference was that when plugged to the wall, the amp was a minuscule less smoother but completely unrestraint with noticeably better dynamic swings. A trade off I can live with.
 
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