McIntosh MA9000 Review
McIntosh announced the launch of the new MA9000 integrated decoding power amplifier. It combines the latest and top-notch technology of McIntosh, the most versatile and perfect digital function that adequately balances decoding and front-stage components. With the built-in flagship amplifier component, McIntosh MA9000 Provides a power output of 2×300 watts.
McIntosh is one of the few veteran audio factories that are still active. McIntosh was founded in 1949. The soul of McIntosh is the founder Frank McIntosh and his designer, Gordon Gow. The two of them teamed up to design his unique Unity Coupled Circuit. Another famous person who brought McIntosh into a glorious era was Sidney Corderman (he was 16 years old when the Second World War broke out). He joined the company in 1951 and served the company for 52 years. Frank McIntosh retired in 1977, and Gordon Gow succeeded as president.
Classical & Modern Style Design
The appearance of the McIntosh MA9000 is eye-catching, with two large, sturdy handles on the left and right, which makes people love it at first sight. The two iconic blue large power indicator meters on the panel, with green trademark characters and red indicator lights, exude an elegant and timeless temperament. The panel glass is completed after 12 processes. Unless you break it, the life of this glass panel is probably longer than you and me. The appearance of the MA9000 is exquisite and beautiful. If you look carefully, you will know that such quality is really rare in the Hi-End audio industry.
The two large knobs on the left and right and eight small knobs are lined up on the panel. The knobs are not of the modern and conventional streamlined, smooth design, but the kind of thin stripes engraved decades ago. It feels good when rotated, and it has an ancient flavor. Besides, other toggle switches are also retro style, so that the overall MA9000 exudes the classic taste of antiques. However, there is a small volume and input terminal indicator window on the panel, which is a modern digital display. What the designer wants to convey is the beauty of the balance between classic and contemporary.
Runway Lights Inspire the Glass Panel Design
Everyone likes McIntosh’s two classic blue meters. This design concept comes from McIntosh’s industrial design consultant Art Burton, who was formerly a pilot. The blue color comes from the indicator light color of the airport runway. Before that, the letters on the McIntosh product panel were not seen in a darker room. If you want to see clearly, the bubbles on the glass plate may be highlighted, so they are in a dilemma.
At this time, Art Burton mentioned his experience as a pilot. He said that the blue runway light allows the pilot to see the runway clearly when landing without dazzling, so it is recommended to use blue as the primary color of the panel. The blue is not dazzling, but it also makes the tiny bubbles on the glass plate ignored. After McIntosh tried it, it was found that the effect was perfect, and this design has been used ever since. The first power amplifier to use this panel is MC2505 (1967).
Unique Heat Sink
Among McIntosh’s products now on sale, there are only nine types of integrated amplifiers. Except for MA252, a front-tube, and rear-transistor hybrid design, the other eight types are transistor amplifiers. Among the eight models, only MA8000 and MA9000 are the most similar, with the same output of 300 watts per channel. They also have eight equalization adjustments, and the appearance is the same. The difference is only that the net weight of MA8000 is 45.4 kg, and the net weight of MA9000 is 45.8 kg.
What is the difference between this small 0.4 kg? We think one is from the heat sink, MA9000 uses a heat sink with Mc letter, and MA8000 is his previous heat sink. Moreover, the digital processing of MA9000 uses the DA1 module, while MA8000 does not use a digital module, the processing capacity is only up to 192kHz. Also, MA9000 adds an MCT digital input, but MA8000 does not. Therefore, MA9000 should be regarded as an upgraded version of MA8000.
Unity Coupled Circuit Design
I will spend some time explaining Unity Coupled Circuit, McIntosh’s most valuable patent, and it has been used until now. Unity Coupled Circuit existed before McIntosh was founded. In 1946, Frank McIntosh hired Gordon Gow as his assistant. The two wanted to develop a low-distortion and high-output vacuum tube amplifier to meet the industry’s needs at that time.
As a result, they developed the Unity Coupled Circuit, which produced 50 watts output per channel, a distortion of less than 1%, and bandwidth of 20Hz-20kHz. At that time, five patents were applied for this design. The first patent was obtained in 1949, so McIntosh was founded that year. However, the term Unity Coupled Circuit was not officially adopted in advertising until 1954.
The so-called Unity Coupled Circuit is related to the transformer winding method. In the general push-pull design of the power tube, since the load impedance of the vacuum tube is as high as 4,000 ohms, and the impedance of the typical speaker is about 8 ohms, the impedance ratio of the two is as high as 500 to 1. At this time, the coil winding of the output transformer must be 22:1. However, such a high winding ratio will attenuate the high-frequency band due to leakage inductance and shunt capacitance. It will also cause Notch Distortion if it is in the Class B amplifier structure.
Frank McIntosh and Gordon Gow developed an output transformer winding method to reduce the impedance load of the power tube to 1,000 ohms. The ratio of the tube load impedance to the speaker impedance is reduced to 125:1. The winding ratio of the output transformer is down to 11:1. The leakage inductance and parasitic capacitance are also significantly reduced, so the problem of high-frequency attenuation is solved, and the distortion rate is also reduced. The winding method of this kind of transformer is called the Bifilar Method.
Why Use an Output Transformer
Everyone knows that McIntosh uses output transformers for tube models and uses transformer coupling for transistor models. But McIntosh does not call this an output transformer, but an Autoformer. Audiophiles know that the output transformer must be well designed and manufactured; otherwise, its bandwidth will be limited.
McIntosh claims that their Autoformer bandwidth (15Hz-100kHz) far exceeds the 20Hz-20kHz we need to remove this doubt. What are the benefits? The circuit architecture of McIntosh is balanced. It cannot only remove noise and distortion by common-mode rejection, but the coupling of Autoformer and speakers can achieve the best 2-ohm, 4-ohm, and 8-ohm load. Besides, due to the transformer coupling, the residual DC signal can be led out through the transformer grounding, and will not be sent to the speaker. Also, because of the transformer coupling, the influence of the speaker reverse on the amplifier is reduced. I believe this is one reason McIntosh amplifiers have traditionally been particularly charming in low-frequency performance.
There are three transformers on the front of the McIntosh MA9000 body, one of which is a power transformer, and the other two are Autoformers. The transistor amplifier connected to the output transformer is the unique feature of McIntosh.
You may ask why there are so many transistor amplifier manufacturers in the world, why only McIntosh uses output transformers? I cannot answer this question for the manufacturer, but I think there may be two reasons. First, if the transformer is not well designed and manufactured, installing it will do more harm than good. Second, with the addition of an output transformer, the cost will rise significantly, and the size and weight of the cabinet will also increase.
Eight-band EQ Processing Adjustment
On the far left of the panel is the input switch knob, and on the right is the volume control knob. These two knobs also have menu control functions. Although the knob’s appearance remains the same as it was decades ago, the internal control has been changed to a microprocessor-based electronic type instead of a mechanical type. The other eight small knobs on the panel are equalized adjustments, divided into 25Hz, 50Hz, 100Hz, 200Hz, 400Hz, 1kHz, 2.5kHz, 10kHz eight-band adjustment. Many audio fans certainly disagree with the equalization adjustment, believing that the over-equalization adjustment of the music signal will cause problems such as sound quality degradation and phase distortion.
Honestly, everyone knows this truth, and McIntosh’s engineers also understand. In that case, why does McIntosh insist on keeping equalization adjustments? They believe that the sound quality degradation and distortion caused by the equalization circuit to the music signal are insignificant compared with the spatial distortion. So they insist on providing eight-stage equalization adjustment. Looking closely at the position of the eight-band equalization, it is actually in line with the problems that occur in ample space and the correction of ear sensitivity.
- The equalization below 50Hz is to compensate for the rapid attenuation of general speakers below 50Hz;
- Between 100Hz-200Hz is to solve the mid- and low-frequency peaks that general space often encounters in this frequency domain;
- 400Hz and 1kHz are related to the performance of the mid-range frequency band. This frequency band covers the most types of instruments and the most comprehensive range.
- 2.5kHz is to correct the problem of high-frequency harshness, because most people’s ears are most sensitive to the frequency domain between 2kHz-4kHz, and it is also the critical frequency domain that we would find high-frequency harshness.
- Finally, why should there be 10kHz compensation? Because after middle age, our ears’ perception of high frequencies will begin to decline. The 10kHz adjustment is used to compensate for the natural decline of the ears so that we can still hear enough instrument overtones.
I suggest that if you are listening in a small room, the eight-stage equalization compensation is positive. You can also turn off the EQ function. Press the EQ button on the front panel until the indicator light is off, and you can hear the pure sound without EQ.
Exclusive HXD Headphone Output
Next, there is a headphone jack at the bottom left of the panel, HXD, an abbreviation of Headphone Crossfeed Director. McIntosh’s unique headphone circuit, which has independent amplification, also creates a sense of space for headphones.
The headphone amplifier of this machine can also be set not to use. If the idle input file is set to “OFF”, the pressure on the power supply part can be reduced, the interference will be further reduced, and the sound will be more beautiful and charming.
Complete Analog Input Interface
MA9000 has enough output power, which can drive speaker output or act as a pre-amp. Both functions have independent switches. There are up to 10 groups of analog input interfaces in the front stage, including two balanced terminals and eight unbalanced terminals. Among the 8 RCA terminals is the input amplifier of the moving coil and moving magnet phono. Each set of terminals uses gold-plated sockets, which dramatically helps with oxidation resistance and contact tightness. Besides, each group of terminals can be selected to be disabled.
Rich Digital Input Interface
McIntosh saw that the current audio market started the trend of “integration”, and various manufacturers began to follow suit. This design makes the sound system simpler on the premise of maintaining a high level of audio performance. Is this okay? For consumers, of course, it is good. We only need to buy a piece of equipment and pack everything in. The idea of using a machine as music or even the audio-visual center will be realized. The single-piece amplifier contains all functions.
The newly launched MA9000 has built-in DAC, MM phono amplifier, MC phono amplifier, headphone output, pre-amp output, EQ adjustment, and a rich trigger interface integrated with other audio equipment, which is more convenient for smart home planning. This design is entirely the embodiment of the above concept. McIntosh found the trend of the audio market and saw the needs of consumers.
MA9000 uses the latest DA1 advanced digital audio module, uses Quad Balanced balanced 8-channel 32-bit digital-to-analog converter (DAC), and has the complete digital connector on the market. USB input supports 32-bit/384kHz PCM signal and supports DSD256 and DXD 384kHz. Moreover, it supports the introduction of better performance digital decoding modules in the future, and the MA9000 DAC can be replaced and upgraded. In addition to USB, MA9000 also has two sets of coaxial and optical inputs and supports 24-bit/192kHz high-quality lossless audio playback. Besides, of course, it is also equipped with its MCT input, which provides a secure DSD connection for playing high-definition audio up to DSD128 on SACD.
The digital transmission MCT interface developed by McIntosh can transmit the DSD64 signal of its SACD turntable. Generally speaking, the DSD signal of SACD cannot be digitally transferred, so most of the SACD “turntables” on the market are decoded by the turntable’s built-in decoder. However, some Hi-End manufacturers have high-level DSD decoding technology, which can output DSD signals in SACD to DAC for decoding, such as Emm Labs, Playback Designs, DCS, etc. Therefore, the MA9000 interface provides MCT terminals, which is very meaningful.
Other Functional Design of McIntosh MA9000
In addition to the terminal mentioned above functions, MA9000 has many features.
The Power Guard protection circuit to avoid cutting distortion and damage the speaker is used to detect whether the output signal is distorted and to protect the speaker with a fast response.
Sentry Monitor real-time current/temperature monitoring protection circuit, in case the speaker is accidentally short-circuited, it can protect the internal circuit from damage. Once the short-circuit condition is removed, it will automatically resume normal operation. With excellent protection performance, it avoids the impact of the protection system on sound quality.
The high-current output transistor used in MA9000 is also a new product, eliminating the thermal equilibrium lag time of the transistor. There is no need to wait, and the transistor can immediately enter a stable working state. In other words, MA9000 does not need to Take time to warm up the engine, and it will work when you turn it on.
With Mute and Standby functions, MA9000 will automatically switch to standby mode to save energy if there is no music signal input after some time.
Home Theater Byass function, convenient for users to use with home theater. Once turned on, the audio signal will skip the pre-amplification circuit and directly enter the power amplification circuit. This function is mainly reserved for home theater. The purpose is to combine home theater and two-channel audio. A higher-quality power amplifier is used to drive the main speakers of the left and right channels to improve the movie’s sound effect. Replay effect.
If you compare the sound with images, adding more filters can easily lead to image distortion. The same is right for the music. Whether it is the equipment itself or the influence of other components of the system on it, it is hard to escape the law. The McIntosh MA9000 gives people the feeling of being very measured. It does not significantly change the original sound characteristics of the speakers. It just makes some minor modifications. And under the warm tone, it always maintains a high level of resolution and control.
Although MA9000 has a traditional and classic appearance, it shows light and fast speed without any slowness. Every utterance is clear, and it displays a neat and decisive side. The low frequency does not have an old-fashioned atmosphere. It is full and strong. The bass comes fast, closes fast, and is full of strength. The mid-range has no strong flavor, excellent resolution, high transparency, and lively and cordial sound.
When playing <What a difference a day makes> by Ingram Washington, the singer’s voice is very calm and thick. McIntosh MA9000 expresses this easily, and the sound density is high, showing that the singing voice is particularly penetrating. The jazz drums and piano are played very clearly, and the distribution in the sound field is naturally opened. Especially in the Saxophone solo in the latter stage, you can hear the strength and feel the airflow.
McIntosh MA9000 not only plays these popular and jazz music, it can quickly reproduce the music’s liveness, but also shows its ability when playing classical music. These concertos and symphonies often have an extended dynamic range, and MA9000 can still maintain a stable output and drive under significant dynamics.
Those who like to listen to Gustav Mahler’s symphony will love this musical vibe. British conductor Georg Solti directed Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s “MAHLER Symphony No.1”, Chapter 4 “Die zwei blauen Aupcn”. In the beginning, the orchestra’s firepower was fully fired, the rock shattered loudly, knocking on the gates of hell, the brass group roaring hard, ushering in the first theme of the storm. This music is fierce and explosive. MA9000 presents a substantial dynamic performance, but the well-organized level and details of the music are exquisite in the explosion. It is not easy to express Georg Solti’s “MAHLER Symphony No.1” in this way.
The gentle side of McIntosh MA9000 is as exquisite and pleasant. Listen to “Tchaikovsky: String Quartets” by Yo-Yo Ma and Lorin Maazel conducting Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. That is an orchestral version of the original string quartet, and the cello is the soloist. MA9000’s healthy and bright sense of large scale, cello sound with warmth, brings a piece of more romantic music.
Suppose you want to use a few words to evaluate the performance of MA9000 in various aspects, such as comprehensive functions and a sense of hearing. In that case, I might say that it has strong comprehensive strength, a high degree of completion, or a recommendation. But fundamentally speaking, I prefer to call it a “sincerity” product that contains thoughtful design and powerful functions for the sake of audiophiles, distinctive sound characteristics, outstanding technology, and pleasing musical aesthetics. It proves that McIntosh still pursues and persists in product features and sound. If you are not a fan of McIntosh before, this new integrated power amplifier may make you change your opinion.
McIntosh MA9000 Specs
- Power Output per Channel: 300 Watts
- Number of Channels: 2
- Speaker Impedance: 2, 4, or 8 Ohms
- Rated Power Band: 20Hz to 20kHz
- Total Harmonic Distortion: 0.005%
- Dynamic Headroom: 1.8dB
- Frequency Response +0,-0.5dB: 20Hz to 20kHz
- Frequency Response, +0, -3dB: 10Hz to 100kHz
- Sensitivity Phono (Moving Coil): 0.30mV
- Sensitivity Phono (Moving Magnet): 3.0mV
- Sensitivity High Level (Balanced / Unbalanced): 0.6V/0.3V
- Sensitivity (Power Amp input): 1.7V
- Signal To Noise Ratio (Moving Coil): 82dB
- Signal To Noise Ratio (Moving Magnet): 84dB
- Signal To Noise Ratio (High Level): 98dB
- Signal To Noise Ratio (Power Amp input): 114dB
- Input Impedance (Balanced / Unbalanced): 10K/22K
- Damping Factor: >40
- Maximum Output (Balanced / Unbalanced): 8V Unbalanced / 16V Balanced
- Digital-to-Analog Converter (DAC) Type: 8-channel, 32-bit/384kHz 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: 16-bit/44.1kHz (CD)
- DSD64 (SACD): Digital USB Input Sample Rate: 32-bit/44.1kHz to 384kHz (PCM), DSD64, DSD128, DSD256, DXD352.8kHz, DXD384kHz
- Vacuum Tube or Solid State: Solid State
- Output Type: Autoformer™
- Output Meters: Yes
- Dual Layer Chassis: Yes
- Chassis Finish: Polished stainless steel & black painted steel
- McIntosh Monogrammed Heatsinks™ : Yes
- Power Requirement: 120V, 50/60Hz, 6.6A
- Standby Power Requirement: <0.25 Watts
- Dimensions (W x H x D): 17-1/2” (44.5cm) x 9-7/16” (24 cm) x 22” (55.88cm) including knobs, connectors and cables
- Weight: 101 lbs (45.8kg)
- Shipping Weight: 134 lbs (60.8kg)