REVIEW / MCINTOSH / MA8900 INTEGRATED AMPLIFIER
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
honour of Gordon Gow, Mcintosh’s long-
With just a backpack on his shoulders, Ken
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
POWER OUTPUT PER CHANNEL
SENSITIVITY HIGH LEVEL (BALANCED /
UNBALANCED FIXED OUTPUT
/ / 200 Watts
UNBALANCED VARIABLE OUTPUT
PHONO INPUT MOVING COIL
/ / 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
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
WEIGHTS & DIMENSIONS
DIGITAL-TO-ANALOG CONVERTER (DAC)
VACUUM TUBE OR SOLID STATE
DIMENSIONS (W X H X D)
/ / 5-Band
/ / Solid State
/ / 17-1/2” (44.45cm) x 7-5/8” (19.37cm) x
TONE BYPASS AND INPUT ASSIGN
/ / Yes
/ / Yes
RS232 CONTROL INPUT
/ / 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
/ / DSD64 (SACD)
/ / 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)
McIntosh’s new MA8900 integrated amplifier simply confirms the brand’s iconic status.