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DECEMBER 2017

MCINTOSH

MA8900

REVIEW / MCINTOSH / MA8900 INTEGRATED AMPLIFIER


MCINTOSH

MA8900 INTEGRATED AMPLIFIER Distributor: Synergy Audio Visual $14,995 RRP


“It sounds so complete after an hour spent pleasurably in its company; you’ll want one”

McIntosh’s new MA8900 integrated amplifier

Later revisions of the MC275 put things right.

simply confirms the brand’s iconic status.

So right, in fact, I bought one in 2009.

The Big Mc engenders a life-long loyalty

In 1993, my mate Ken bought the Gow

as exemplified by an audio buddy of mine

version. But not in Australia. It wasn’t available

called, Ken who had to work hard for his first

at the time, and the local distributor had a

McIntosh, an MC275 valve amp.

long waiting list. Ken was a long way short of

Back in 1993, McIntosh surprised the audio

the front of the queue.

world when it re-released its legendary 1961

Ever resourceful, he bought his from a Hong

valve power amplifier called the MC275.

Kong High-End audio store along with a return

This limited-edition production run was in

airplane ticket.

honour of Gordon Gow, Mcintosh’s long-

With just a backpack on his shoulders, Ken

serving president.

carried a spanking new MC275, all 34.1 kgs

Subsequent reviews were not just glowing; they were hell-hot. So much so, the new

of it, into Hong Kong’s airport terminal, and happily paid for the excess baggage.

MC275 became coveted and highly sought

Arriving in Melbourne, he carried it all the way

after for those that could afford the eye-

from the Tullamarine terminal, hailed a cab,

watering $7000 or so price tag.

put the new Mc in the back seat and made

In hindsight, the rereleased MC275 looked as good as the original, but the sound wasn’t. More than two decades since, my opinion hasn’t changed. The Gow commemorative MC275 had spongy bass.

for home. He wasn’t the only one to go to elaborate lengths to own a spanking new MC275, proving the commitment of the fan base to McIntosh is unlike any other in audio.


Ken went on to adore his MC275. So did the

“What the bloody hell is in there, boat

few of us who got to hear it and see its tubes

anchors?’’ he said, pointing to the very, very,

reflected against its upper chrome chassis.

large, black, shrink-wrapped MA8900 carton.

A visual delight from its first release in 1961,

“An American amplifier made by a brand that

the 1993 version looked as beautiful as the

could be building Cadillacs,’’ I say back to him.

original and had that magic McIntosh liquid midrange, disinterested bass notwithstanding.

With a little help from a compact forklift, he moved the big Mc from his truck, down my

The $14,995 MA8900 is a different beast

driveway and left it on the doorstep. Job

visually, but allow me to share with you how

done, he was gone.

lust engendering it is in the flesh. Yes, I know, I know, it’s solid state. But trust me, it sounds so complete after an hour spent pleasurably in its company; you’ll want one.

McIntosh doesn’t do small; I remember thinking after walking around a carton left on my porch that was big, bulky and heavy. So big, no one was going to cut it free from

It’s so formidable physically, and so pleasing

its pallet and make off with the 8900 down

aesthetically. It’s just so musical sounding that

the street.

it makes me want to stomp all over anyone into the vows-of-poverty approach to life and the universe. While I genuinely, deeply respect those

Later that evening and with a cast of thousands on hand to move it to the listening room, the MA8900 was unpacked and loaded onto my audio rack.

renouncing the material life and the world of the flesh to focus on the spiritual, I just wish they’d get on with it and leave me out of the loop. If a McIntosh amp the calibre and completeness of the MA8900 stand between redemption and me, I’ll take the Mc. As for spirituality, Van The Man belting out “Ballerina’’ aided by the grace, power, presence and dynamic clout of the MA8900 is as much “otherworldliness” as I need these days. Should I need more, I’ll press repeat on my Audio Research CD player or re-cue the SME V tonearm on my turntable. Piles of lucre aside, what you’ll also need to unbox and install an amp of this size and weight are forceps like a gorilla. Or in my case a dutiful son and a couple of audio buddies built like Tarzan. The Mc’s delivery driver was hairy but had neither the physique of ape or ape-man. As he told me that he had a “very heavy box on a pallet… to deliver”, I could sense his angst. No wonder, the MA8900 weighed 63.5 Kgs including pallet. Without the pallet, it was still a back torturing 43.5 Kgs.

“It’s so formidable physically, and so pleasing aesthetically.”


In situ, the MA8900 attracted plenty of

powerful amplifier rated at 200 watts per

admirers and accolades for its sheer,

channel into an 8ohm load.

formidable presence, perceived build quality and that unique McIntosh styling.

And speaking of impedance, the rear of the MA8900 carries connection options for driving

If the large, blue power output meters ring your

into 2, 4 and 8-ohm loads. The 4-ohm tap

bells, make haste for any Mc. The pair on the

was tried with Yamaha NS1000s and Wilson

glass fascia and the two chrome outer edges

Audio Sasha loudspeakers.

on the front of the chassis are the standard style signature for most McIntosh models.

8 ohms sounded best. I’ve heard people describe the MA8900’s sound as

So are large, visible transformers. The

“disinterested’’. My advice? Try the 8-ohm

8900 has three: a huge power transformer

setting. Result? Plenty of life and verve to keep

in the middle and either side hefty output

you entertained into the wee small hours.

transformers. This trio are built snugly just behind the facia. As for the monogrammed heatsinks? Two run either side of the chassis just behind the transformers. Their humongous size used to dissipate heat away from the high current output transistor signals. This is a seriously

And speaking of connections, since sparse and minimalist isn’t the McIntosh way, options abound. MA8900 owners can knock themselves out choosing from six unbalanced and one balanced inputs, fixed moving magnet and adjustable phono stages, a pair of coaxial inputs, two optical inputs, one USB input, one unbalanced fixed output and two variable

“Plenty of life and verve to keep you entertained into the wee small hours.”

outputs. Yes, there’s also a headphone output, while the headphone amp is loaded with Mc’s patented technologies. The USB input processes signals up to 32-bit/384kHz and supports DSD256, DXD256 and DXD 384kHz. McIntosh describes the MA8900 as a “next generation’’ model. Meaning, when it comes to the ever-changing world of digital audio, it sports features that make it relatively future proof. Each digital input, for example, cohabits in a McIntosh developed DA1 Digital Audio Module that supports an 8-channel, 32-bit DAC used in Quad Balanced mode with six digital inputs. Owners can give each input a custom name and more importantly, the 8900 is Mc’s first integrated where its input works indecently. But here’s the thing. McIntosh is now using digital modules that are easy to replace. Design features that ensure the 8900 and like designed Mc models remain future proof. Elsewhere this amp is loaded with patented technologies including autoformer output stages and fuse-less protection circuits called ‘power guard’ and ‘sentry monitor’.


Big, Bold And Beautiful The MA8900 was inserted in a

clear as a summer sky and

signal source. My notes record

system comprising SME 20/11

effortlessly dynamic.

the comment “quite enjoyable

turntable, SME V tonearm and Koetsu Rosewood cartridge, Audio Research Reference 7 MK2 CD player, Elektra Audio pre and power amplifier driving Wilson Sasha speakers. Cabling used was Inakustik throughout, including the tonearm cable.

My curiosity piqued when I replaced the Sasha with Yamaha NS1000 speakers followed and a pair of rare B&W 805

sonically, and analogue via the

Matrix. Every speaker proved an

SME combination light years

effortless match for the MA8900,

ahead of CD or DAC.

so I switched back to the Sasha

McIntosh drove the wicked

explosive dynamics.

bodied, detailed, rhythmic,

moving coil phono stage’’. The CD was leap years ahead

to exploit its full-range sound and

ease. The sound was full-

transparency delivered via the

by 1994/5 Rogers LS35/As

From the get-go, the new Sasha speakers with arrogant

but lacking both the detail and

Sounding like an audio dinosaur, I know. All I can do to assuage you I’m not anti-digital is ask you

First port of call was the Mc’s

take yourself to any decent audio

built-in DAC using a MacBook

store and A/B digital versus

Pro and my Tidal library as a

analogue audio.


If you come down on the

lean over and touch the guitar

MA8900 is, Martin Logan.

side of digital, you’ll have my

or cheekily give the high hat a

Intuition and years of grinding

commiseration.

good tap.

away at this hobby suggest

Though I played dozens of

This sense of realism made

vinyl and CD albums via the

possible by the MA8900’s

MA8900, one feature stood out

ability to conjure fine detail out

whatever the source: a sense of

of complex mixes was allied

cohesiveness that highlighted

to a realistic soundstage with

the way the MA8900 presented

realistic depth, lateral spread,

a highly detailed and clear sonic

and height. So “realistic” is an

message without scrambling or

appropriate word to describe the

pulling apart each element.

sound of the MA8900 driving the

With John Lennon’s Steel and

Wilson Sasha.

Glass filling my room with its

But the speaker brand I kept

sense of outrage, I felt I could

imagining would sing with the

a magical synergy between a Hybrid Logan and this doozy of an integrated model. Logan owners, please take note. So, the Mc could dish out the dynamic stuff, but feeling mischievous I played the Sinead O’Connor masterpiece called Streetcars.


Wow! Double Wow! I had the sense this woman troubled by inner

period with the Elbows CD track called The

demons, but gifted the voice of an angel not

Everthere. Sure enough, the skin folds on

only appeared in my room but was urging

the Manchester group’s kick drum are tight

me to walk into the studio and hold her

and taut.

recording notes.

I was listening for an instrument that sounded

Streetcars is sparsely scored, mainly Sinead’s

like a wailing mandolin somewhere to the

soaring voice accompanied by synthesiser.

rear of the mix. It emerged from a moveable

More a prayer than a song, by the time the

feast of instruments carrying the music to the

lyrics got to the part where she intones,

listener on a complex weave of rhythm and

“There’s no safety to be acquired/riding streetcars named desire’’, I knew I was in the presence of one of pop music’s most unique and enduring voices. And I had had a great-integrated amp as the conduit into her music. Speaking of great voices, the pairing of Simon and Garfunkel and their music helped to shape it has to be said, the vibe of a generation.

timing. And it was clear and insistent, wanting a good amp to make it heard above the raucous din of instruments and vocals. It isn’t hard to fall head over heels with an integrated amp with the sonic prowess of the MA8900. The technology and feature count also must be factored in to the eye-watering price tag. Those that can afford the MA8900 will not all be wealthy. I imagine most audiophiles and music lovers are ordinary people who must

So, I pulled out a vinyl copy of, you guessed

save long and hard to shop for a model in

it, Bridge Over Troubled Waters. I played the

this category.

track the Only Living Boy In New York which is a song about friendship and the things that matter.

And the category least you haven’t noticed is a high-end integrated amp. A perch on the top of the audio ladder where exotic rivals

Insistent drums, muscular bass, and forceful

from Mark Levinson, Krell, and Gryphon abide

guitars merge with otherworldly vocals replete

alluringly but mostly unaffordable.

with a multitracked chorus, on this superbly produced track. So beautiful I went on a bit of an S&G vinyl binge.

The MA8900 takes them all on and adds McIntosh’s legendary reliability and the newly derived nod to future proofing. The MA8900

When I heard the slightly out of tune guitar

doesn’t sound good- it sounds marvellous,

on the track For Emily Wherever I May Find

on all types of music. It engenders a sense of

Her, performed live and pressed on the

pride of ownership, has Cadillac build quality,

Simon And Garfunkel Greatest Hits album, I

intelligent user features, and it’s bloody heavy.

understood just how much of a detail maestro the MA8900 is. To prove I’m far from anti-digital, I closed the last listening session of a three-week review

A good thing, because once it’s brought home, unlike my review sample yours won’t be going back.


“ I imagine most audiophiles and music lovers are ordinary people who must save long and hard to shop for a model in this category”

WORDS: Peter Familari


ELECTRONIC SPECIFICATIONS

CONNECTIVITY

POWER OUTPUT PER CHANNEL

SENSITIVITY HIGH LEVEL (BALANCED /

BALANCED INPUT

UNBALANCED FIXED OUTPUT

/ / 200 Watts

UNBALANCED)

// 1

// 1

UNBALANCED INPUT

UNBALANCED VARIABLE OUTPUT

// 6

// 2

PHONO INPUT MOVING COIL

HEADPHONE OUTPUT

/ / 1 (adjustable loading)

/ / 1/4” High Drive with Headphone

NUMBER OF CHANNELS // 2 SPEAKER IMPEDANCE / / 2, 4, or 8 Ohms RATED POWER BAND / / 20Hz to 20kHz TOTAL HARMONIC DISTORTION / / 0.005% DYNAMIC HEADROOM / / 2dB FREQUENCY RESPONSE +0,-0.5DB / / 20Hz to 20kHz FREQUENCY RESPONSE, +0, -3DB / / 10Hz to 100kHz SENSITIVITY PHONO (MOVING COIL) / / 0.25mV SENSITIVITY PHONO (MOVING MAGNET) / / 2.5mV

/ / 0.5V/0.25V SENSITIVITY (POWER AMP INPUT) / / 1.4V SIGNAL TO NOISE RATIO (MOVING COIL) / / 80dB SIGNAL TO NOISE RATIO (MOVING MAGNET) / / 82dB SIGNAL TO NOISE RATIO (HIGH LEVEL) / / 95dB SIGNAL TO NOISE RATIO (POWER AMP INPUT)

PHONO INPUT MOVING MAGNET / / 1 (fixed loading) UPGRADEABLE DIGITAL AUDIO MODULE / / Yes DIGITAL COAXIAL INPUT // 2 DIGITAL OPTICAL INPUT

/ / 113dB

// 2

INPUT IMPEDANCE (BALANCED /

DIGITAL MCT (DIN) INPUT

UNBALANCED) / / 20K/20K DAMPING FACTOR / / >40 MAXIMUM OUTPUT (BALANCED / UNBALANCED) / / 8V Unbalanced

// 1 DIGITAL USB INPUT // 1 BALANCED VARIABLE OUTPUT // 0

Crossfeed Director (HXD®) SUBWOOFER OUTPUT // 0 AM/FM TUNER OPTION / / No HOME THEATER PASSTHRU / / Yes UNBALANCED ANALOG CONNECTOR TYPE / / Standard SPEAKER BINDING POST TYPE / / Standard SERVICE PORT // 1


DIGITAL AUDIO SPECIFICATIONS

CONTROL

GENERAL SPECIFICATIONS

WEIGHTS & DIMENSIONS

DIGITAL-TO-ANALOG CONVERTER (DAC)

TONE CONTROLS

VACUUM TUBE OR SOLID STATE

DIMENSIONS (W X H X D)

TYPE

/ / 5-Band

/ / Solid State

/ / 17-1/2” (44.45cm) x 7-5/8” (19.37cm) x

TONE BYPASS AND INPUT ASSIGN

OUTPUT AUTOFORMER

/ / Yes

/ / Yes

RS232 CONTROL INPUT

OUTPUT METERS

/ / Yes

/ / Yes

POWER CONTROL OUTPUT

DUAL LAYER CHASSIS

/ / 1 Main, 2 Trigger

/ / Yes

/ / 8-channel, 32-bit/192kHz PCM/DSD, Quad Balanced DIGITAL COAXIAL INPUT SAMPLE RATE / / 24-bit/44.1kHz to 192kHz DIGITAL OPTICAL INPUT SAMPLE RATE / / 24-bit/44.1kHz to 192kHz DIGITAL MCT (DIN) INPUT SAMPLE RATE

REAR PANEL DATA PORT

CHASSIS FINISH

/ / DSD64 (SACD)

// 4

/ / Polished stainless steel & black painted

DIGITAL USB INPUT SAMPLE RATE

REAR PANEL IR SENSOR INPUT

/ / 16-bit/44.1kHz (CD)

/ / 32-bit/44.1kHz to 384kHz (PCM) / / DSD64, DSD128, DSD256, DXD352.8kHz, DXD384kHz

/ / Yes INPUT LEVEL MATCH / / Yes

steel MCINTOSH MONOGRAMMED HEATSINKS™ / / Yes POWER REQUIREMENT / / 120V 50/60Hz, 4.4 amps STANDBY POWER REQUIREMENT / / <0.25 Watts

22” (55.88cm) WEIGHT / / 75 lbs (34.1 kg) SHIPPING WEIGHT / / 93 lbs (42.3 kg)

Profile for Sound Media Group

StereoNET: McIntosh MA8900 Integrated Amplifier  

McIntosh’s new MA8900 integrated amplifier simply confirms the brand’s iconic status.

StereoNET: McIntosh MA8900 Integrated Amplifier  

McIntosh’s new MA8900 integrated amplifier simply confirms the brand’s iconic status.

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