Like I wrote during the test of the MC275 Commemorative Edition amplifier from McIntosh I have a big esteem for this brand. Although I know it mostly from the period it was a part of the D&M group (together with Marantz, Denon, etc), but looking at its dynamic growth it can be said, that the increase in invested money increased the value added of the devices. Maybe it even did not have to – Mac is a symbol of the status of the owner in its country of origin, USA, something that has a similar role like shoes or watches. This is something completely unknown in Poland, because audio is still not recognized as a good investment (and the guilt is on the side of the distributors and the press) or social status marker, but as a whim, there, in US, it has its fore posts, among others, in the form of McIntosh. Please have a close look at films from US; there you will see good products in places related to important people. Not looking far – in the study of Dr. House in the film with the same title, you can see a Sota Cosmos turntable, and in the early episodes splendid electrostats from Audiostatic. The latter were probably a thorn in the eyes of the scenographers as they were replaced by shaggy Philips ‘poles’. How this relates to the Sota – I don’t know. Anyway, expensive audio equipment is, in the country we still need visa for, a visiting card. And we must say, that McIntosh is one of the best recognizable brands among physicians (expensive ones), lawyers (good ones), businessman (wealthy ones), etc. It is just so, that at a level you just have that equipment. What is the reason for that? There are probably many reasons, one of them being the wise advertising policy, but as one of the main reasons we have to mention something that comes with time: this brand has reputation. For reliability. For longevity. For not following trends. For its style. And while the MC275 reminded the classic tube amplifiers from the 50-ties and 60-ties, the tested MA2275 is a member of a team, where the design was fixed somewhere in the mid 70-ties. And this means a glass plate with green lit markings and big, blue VU meters. And I do mention the ‘275’ as looking at the design of the MA2275 one cannot suppress the impression that it is the ‘275’ from the year 2000. Maybe this is the genesis of the leading ‘2’ in the amplifier’s name. This is still a push-pull with a bi-filar winding of the output transformers and two KT88 tubes per channel. And only the preamplifier is new.
At home, I have not listened to McIntosh amplifiers for quite a while, so I was really curious how the tube integrated will sound. The more, as the warmly remembered power amplifier MC275 Commemorative Edition I mentioned is now in the system of one of my friends, and he does not want to leave it for any price. And this although his cabling (XLO Limited) costs more than the power amplifier itself. Already a short initial listening session, just after the device was supplied by the distributor of the Tound loudspeakers (whom I thank very much for his help), showed that the ‘2275’ is not just a ‘275’ with a preamplifier. I would say this is modern sounding, in opposition to a slightly anachronic sound of the archetype. To make one thing clear: I do not use this word in a negative sense. I just want to underline a certain culture of the sound, a certain approach to the product that was cultivated in the years 60-70. It was about shaping the sound in such a way, that maximum of music was extracted while the shortcomings are covered – flaws coming from a given technology or elements used, etc. That there were flaws is a completely natural thing, because there are no ideal devices, but in those times the quality of the resisitors, capacitors, transformers – at least in my opinion - was not as good as in modern times in top offerings. I do not want to get on someones toes, I do not say that it was bad – in contrary: successful implementations of that paradigm, like the mentioned MC275, are still incredibly attractive, and will be attractive for a long time. But every time we discuss the superiority of Garrard and old Thorens over new (good) turntables, when we call upon old Marantz as the sound reference, and the wide band speakers from Siemens as absolute top, we should keep in mind that this is not a “pure audio” thing, but sound and consciousness of owning something with a history, or “soul” come together.
I think that it is important, because it allows placing the MA2275 in a proper context. I wrote that this is modern sounding, based on tubes, that place their signature on it, but also touching on McIntosh sound tradition. There is no warming of the midrange and sweetness of the treble we have in the MC275. There is no distortion, I mean loss of resolution, the latter displayed when playing loud. The MA2275 handles loudspeakers with low effectiveness splendidly (under the condition that they have an even impedance curve), sounding with a strong bass and creating a dense stage, characterized with swing. Let us also say, that like other Macs this one is also no master of resolution. And the Americans were never to compete in that area, but rather to play with a dense, fluent sound. This “dense” returns from time to time on purpose. To some extent the device sounded like the splendid, solid state power amplifier Nagra MPA (article to be found HERE), at least in the sense of drawing the sounds as a set of the basic tone and everything that surrounds it. This gives a muscular but also a romantic transmission. And the recordings that carried those two elements – masculine stretching muscles combined with feminine sensitivity (only then we have the whole picture and sense) felt best with here. Such discs are for example The Silver Tree Lisa Gerrard (Sonic Records, SON212, CD), Roger Waters Amused To Death (Sony Music Direct (Japan), MHCP 693, CD) and SubHuman Recoil (Mute, LCDStumm279, CD+DVD-A). Every one of those, in its own way, builds a climate that involves the listener in a slightly iniric, incredibly suggestive world. McIntosh seems to “feel” this splendidly. Even at high volume levels, and such kind of sounding just encourages turning the volume up and up, there is no trace of losing transparency or sharpening of the sound, that often exists in solid state amplifiers forced to stretch their legs more than usual. Here the mighty output and power transformers show their supremacy over the still very good, but not as efficient, windings in the MC275. I think that this is one of the changes brought by the contemporary hi-end, and we talk about that kind of sound here. Keeping the assets of those earlier transformers, as the people responsible for them are the same as a dozen or tens years ago (!), the new amplifier adds something to the whole, that is possible now, when the significance of ‘size’ is better understood (I do not claim that it is fully understood, but there is a progress). It is as simple as that. Manley, could create smaller transformers for their brilliant power amplifiers Neo-Classic 250 that offer the same parameters as larger constructions, but I think that although this is a unique capability, still in the end size matters (this is just in case you did not notice that I am a man…). MA2275 has big transformers and that can be heard. Low passages of the electronics on the disc from Gerrard and Recoil (this is a group of ex-Depeche Mode Alan Wilder) were kept in place and there was no impression that something escapes from the transmission. Of course – strong transistors, like the admired by me Krell EVO 402 are unbeatable in terms of the definition of the bass and its ultimative power. This cannot be surpassed. But one can go for a compromise and keeping the timbre and perception of control, resign from a part of the lower bass. No, I did not feel this in the beginning. There is no doubt, that Macs engineers knew what they are doing, and did it well. When I compared the ‘2275’ with my Luxman M-800A, nominally an amplifier with lower specs, but capable of doubling the power at each halving of the impedance, this was very clear. Like I said – this is not very obvious, so it will probably not be audible, but it is worth to remember – in the end this is a medium power tube amplifier and we cannot change that.
I concentrated on the bass not by coincidence – its character – fullness and slight hardening of its medium section – was a true founding for the rest of the sound spectrum. The midrange is an evolution of it, also saturated, but without this ‘colorfullness’ like the MC275 had. This is no dryness, this not the case, because this is still a massive, full transmission, but this will not be the warmth one expects from a tube. This is one of the characteristics of the modernization of the sound of McIntosh I talked about. The sound is deeper, better defined, but not within the boundaries of the single instruments, percussion hits, breaths of the performers, etc, because those are secondary things with this amplifier, placed in broad stage. The stage is large, drawn with swing, aided by the very good dynamics of the device. The micro strokes are slightly smoothened, just like the whole treble, but as a whole the dynamics is splendid. And this every time, it is there with the discs with electronics as well as with bare productions of jazz from the discs Groove Yard The Montgomery Brothers (Riverside/JVC, JVCXR-0018-2, XRCD) and Pyramid The Modern Jazz Quartet (Atlantic/Warner Music Japan, WPCR-25125, CD). Every change of the climate, coming from wide angle to detail and back is noted immediately, showing breath again and again, big stage and swing, something that we do not get when a device sounds with a small sound, maybe detailed, maybe thorough, but absolutely not credible. McIntosh sounds in a completely different way – in a very credible, natural way, although it does not show some elements, or shows them less clear than other expensive amplifiers. This is just how it is. In some way this is similar sound like from the new integrated Pass INT-150 I just tested for “Audio”, but – paradoxically, when taking into account the difference in power in favor of the solid state device, McIntosh seemed to sound fuller, stronger, as if it would be a solid state device and Pass a tube one. Even the resolution of the MA2275 was slightly better.
But definitely we have to listen to this amplifier in our own system. This is not a typical tube amplifier, it sounds with a strong, quite “rigid” medium bass and the midrange is not as saturated like for example in the MA275. At first one might think that there is less color. Maybe this true to some extent, but this is due to the fact, that the MA2275 sounds clearer. Without doubts the midrange and especially its upper part, is very clean and has no distortion, that are the definition of many tube amplifiers. The upper treble is quite soft, and we can even say that it is a little withdrawn. This is why we have such a dense and strong sound. This is the reason that all discs, even those less well mastered, sound at least pleasant. Here we have to think about what we want in audio. From this Mac we will not get the strong, resolved, “flying” cymbals that are present on the TMJQ disc, or the ecstatic, vigorous cymbals from track 7 from the disc In Rainbows Radiohead. The transmission will be extremely even, but without run-outs. This is the place where we have to admit, that this is not the most expensive amplifier in the world, and actually – for hi-end – it is not that expensive. I must also add, that the built-in phono preamplifier is splendid. I listened to it together with the Bluenote Picollo set (test HERE), and the Transrotor ZET3 and it was fantastic – precision, but also “spirit” were there, the noise level was low, etc. And maybe the MM section of the Sensor Prelude IC RCM Audio is better - more resolving, more dynamic, etc, but on the other hand I heard only once a better device of that kind (meaning an integrated preamp) and it was built inside the preamplifier C-2810 Accuphase. “Mac” is splendid. Also the headphone amplifier is very nice, but with the restriction of careful choice of headphones. One can easily come to the conclusion that it was designed for working with Grado. With the AKG K701, and the Beyerdynamik DT-990 Pro (version 900 Ω) dynamics and saturation of the bass was a bit lacking. Only connecting the ProLine2500 from Ultrasone gave a picture of what can be done here. The sound was slightly softened, but not to the extent that it would matter. And such character helped in long listening to recordings, or watching films (what happens to me quite often). A certain problem can be the usage of a mini-jack instead of a regular 6.3mm jack, because the converters tend to loose ground contact. One can get used to that, but life would be easier if we would not have to bother. And one more thing – in my system the unbalanced input (RCA) sounded far better, despite my source, Lektor Prime, as well as the tested in the same time DP-700 Accuphase player (description HERE) are fully balanced devices. For me the XLR inputs lost coherence and definition of the sound, which became nicer. But in my opinion this went too far in that direction. Anyway, the MA2275 is an amplifier with a perfectly balanced sound, created consciously and with reign over all sound and construction parameters. The choices are choices made by the constructors, and they wanted to create a tube amplifier that would not repeat the mistakes of previous constructions. Yes, we loose a bit of the magic the MC275 had, but we gain something else – splendid bass control, clean midrange and a good definition of the sound as a whole. And the McIntosh touch, that makes the device sound and look good when it is being bought as well as when it is left as a legacy to our sons or grandsons.
McIntosh devices cannot be mistaken for anything else. The tube integrated amplifier MA2275 is not an exception here. In front we have a big, high glass plate, covering red lit control lights, green writings and blue VU meters. The whole has a “retro” looks, so like equipment from the 70., but this took considerable effort to have it done so. Making their own knobs, that look like coming from that age, they made them from metal, and that made them much more durable. And the glass plate guarantees, that it will look fine after ten years or more. In the front, besides the mentioned VU meters, we have the volume knob, input selector, timbre adjustment (yes! – this is one of the things so characteristic for Mac), balance, and the knob for VU meter mode selection (we can turn off the lighting for example). There are also small buttons for mute, mono, timbre control bypass and tape. And a mini-jack headphone socket. On the back we have quite a lot of sockets: balanced XLR input, five unbalanced RCA inputs, rec-out and pre-in pre-out connected by a cramp (I do not like this solution, it is in my opinion much better to handle this internally, by means of contactrons). And because we have the XXI century, and in USA the McIntosh is often chosen for complete installments, the amplifier is also equipped in special connections to accommodate for that – we have an input for an external controller pad and a series of small sockets called triggers. There is also a gramophone preamplifier input. On the parallel part of the chassis, made from chrome plated, polished steel, we find the loudspeaker terminals – very expensive and very good WBT sockets from WBT top series, separately for 2-4-8 Ohm impedance. Looking from above, we can see that the MA2275 follows the paths set by its predecessors in terms of general layout. Differently to the usual case, but more logical (just like in the Ongaku from Audio Note), we have the transformers and logical circuits in the front, and on the back, from the input the signal goes directly to the input and output tubes. This allows for shortening the most critical and sensitive path of the input signal. The device is “open”, the transformers are placed in separate shielding buckets (filled with dampening material), and the tubes behind them can be covered by a nicely looking cage. In the preamplifier section we have four 12AX7A tubes and in the phase inverter and output control section 12AT7A and in the current section two pairs of KT88 in push-pull setting. In difference to the classic Williamson setting, in the tube-transformer circuit also the tube cathodes are involved.
The internal circuit is mounted on PCBs. After the not gold plated (a pity) RCA inputs the signal goes to splendid switching elements – contactrons. The XLR input is on a separate PCB, from which the signal runs to the main PCB by means of a computer type ribbon, where it gets de-symmetrized. The headphone amplifier is based on the low noise IC MC33077 – at least it seems so. The same IC is used for the tape output. But I might be mistaken. Anyway, from the main PCB, after the signal gets amplified in the tubes we go by another computer tape to the motorized black Alps potentiometer, and from there to the PCBs with the power amplifiers. In the sound path nicely looking polypropylene Wima capacitors and precise resistors were used. Attention is drawn by the worked-out power supply circuitry, with the stabilization of the anode voltage of the preamplifier and a big choke for the power tubes. The power supply is hidden behind a vertical steel plate working as a shield, and also makes the enclosure more rigid. The device stands on high plastic feet to ease cooling of the tubes, that get quite hot. Let us also add, that the handling of the device is very nice.
PŁYTY PROSTO Z JAPONII
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