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CD/SACD player + integrated amplifier
MCD 301 + MA 6600

Price: 17 000 + 22 000 zł

Distribution: Hi-Fi Club

ul. Kopernika 34, Warszawa
tel.: (22) 826 47 67
Fax: (22) 826 24 58



Text: Krzysztof Kalinkowski
Photos: Marcin Olszewski

Because this issue of “Highfidelity” is fully devoted to devices from the American hi-end legend, the company McIntosh, also I received a set from this manufacturer for testing. Both elements of the system, the SACD/CD player and the integrated amplifier, were introduced to the market quite recently, in mid 2008. Both units have a typical ‘Mac’ look – glass fascias, green lit logos, blue VU meters on the amplifier – there is no room for any mistake here.

Yes, McIntosh design did not change significantly since the company was founded. There are of course changes being the result of technological advances, or functionality changes, but the main points remain same. Big blue VU meters, glass front plates, black knobs with chromed edge, a row of black button and indicator LEDs – this view is known to anybody, who is at least partially interested in what is happening in audio. It turned out, that this design is timeless, it survived changes in trends, the coming of new audio gear (like CD players), and even now proves itself. And with this, it became a kind of business card for the company. And it also means, that Mac does not need to be ashamed of anything. That for years it keeps on designing gear, that finds buyers all over the world, happy buyers, and that it can be proud of its heritage. There are not many companies, which would be equally consequent, and this is a pity. On the other hand, this design does not have to appeal to everybody…

For me this was the first true test of McIntosh devices, until now I listened to it only very briefly and in quite random circumstances. But every time I met them, those encounters were rather positive, like the sessions during the Audio Show, where Mac played paired with Thiele speakers. So now I had the opportunity to carefully listen to them, as well as to have a very close look at their design. And it is true, that their manufacturing quality is superb, like my Editor in Chief mentioned during the test of the MCD1000 + MDA1000. The enclosures are almost armored, perfectly fitted together, and it looks that they should endure more, than a standard life cycle. I like the looks and the quality (I have a very soft spot for VU meters), and it turned out, that my wife likes it too  Only one thing bothered me, but it may be the case of the one unit I had in test, namely that I had to reset the control computer of the integrated amplifier (what can be easily achieved by pressing a combination of buttons on the front panel), because it stopped playing any sound. But when it did play, then everything became extremely pleasing.

A choice of discs used for testing:

  • Antony and the Johnsons, Antony and the Johnsons, Secretly Canadian, 104, 1998, CD.
  • Lars Danielsson, Tarantella, ACT, 9477-2, 2009, CD;.
  • Chris Cornell, Scream, Universal Music, 2009, CD.
  • Mark Knopfler, Shangri La, Mercury, 6024-986771-5, 2008, SACD/CD.
  • Isao Suzuki, Blow up 2, JazzFine, R-0300423JV, 2003, XRCD24 + DVD.
  • Kari Bremnes, Over En By, Kirkelig Kulturversted, FXCD 293, 2005, CD.
  • The Police, Every Breath You Take – The Classics, Interscope Records, B000088NSZ, 1995, SACD/CD.


After connecting my Bowers to it(the description of my reference system below the test), the McIntosh sounded with a very impressive sound. It turned out, that this is due to the tone control circuitry integrated into the amplifier. When it was set to “0”, but the bypass was not activated, the sound was a bit boosted, something like a ‘loudness’ filter. This made me activate bypass and conduct all testing in this setting.

The McIntosh system had a different way of presenting sound than my reference system. The sound stage was moved to the front of the speakers, before the loudspeaker base line. I like building the stage behind the loudspeakers better, but this is of course depending on individual taste. This way of presenting the sound can be helpful, when our audio gear is standing in a very big room. Something related to that kind of presentation was the fact, that most attention was given to everything happening in the first plane of the stage, leaving the further planes in a kind of shadow. But this does not mean, that things happening deeper is neglected – the differentiation of planes is very good, as well as depiction of the size of the recording studio. It is just, that this aspect is not a priority for McIntosh, it rather concentrates on the soloists or vocalists. Looking at the soloists, just as Mac wants us to, it cannot go unnoticed, that the sound is a bit underlined in the lower midrange and upper bass. It is probably typical for all devices from this American company. This departure from an ideally even frequency response makes the vocals sound fuller, more sensual, also some instruments seem to be bigger than in reality, especially the guitars. This makes the whole transmission to become softer. For some recordings, especially older rock ones, this may be salutary, because it removes sharpness, which can be unpleasant on those. But in other cases it may soften the whole a bit too much, what has a negative influence on the rhythm, for example listening to Chris Cornell from Scream I had the impression, that it is just a moment away from blurring the whole rhythm of the disc. The same disc showed also, that the McIntosh set does not go as far down on the bass as my system. The synthetic bass recorded on this disc can knock to my neighbor living downstairs, while using my gear, with the Mac some of the oomph was not there. Interestingly, when listening to the McIntosh without a direct comparison, there is absolutely no impression, that anything is missing.

The other end of the acoustical spectrum was a bit withdrawn. At first glance I missed some of the audiophile “tastes” on discs I know very well, but it turned out, that they are all where they should be, but are not served on a silver plate, but just more in the background. This strengthens the impression of softening of the sound. Like I mentioned before, some discs gained on this presentation, like The Police. It can also help owners of loudspeakers, which are a bit rough on the treble (I am thinking about some models of Triangles or B&W) – such combination can be a bulls-eye. The characteristic I mentioned makes midrange play the most important role. And this is right, as the midrange IS the strongest point of McIntosh. This is one sub-range where there cannot be any reservations. The midrange is resolving and vivid. No reverbs are lacking, the character of every recording is reproduced truly. And the vocals sound just brilliant. Kari Bremnes enchanted more than usual (her voice was also a nit more massive – this due to the underlining of lower midrange), just like Antony and Chris. Fabulous. And if somebody says that such kind of sound cannot be achieved by a solid state amplifier, you should not believe him.

I was also very curious, which element of the set is most responsible for this sound. It turned out, that the player and amplifier in equal parts. After separating the preamplifier and power amplifier sections – it seems, that the power amplifier is most “neutral” in terms of sound, although listening carefully, we can find some traces of emphasis on the upper bass and reduction of the lower. But the MA6600 connected to the rest of my reference equipment as a power amplifier sounded so well, that I want to give other Mac’s power amplifiers a thorough listen.
In short, the tested gear is a splendid proposition for people, who want to listen to music and not to sounds. It has its clear character, what can be an asset for some, and a flaw for others, everybody has his or hers own preferences. But with loudspeakers, which do not hide anything in the upper range of the sound system, and have substantial bass, it can be an unforgettable combination, for years, or for life, especially when taking into account the legendary workmanship and elasticity of configuration.


MCD 301
The CD/SACD player from McIntosh is constructed in a very solid way. Typical for McIntosh the front panel is made of glass with aluminum side strips, all the other sides of the enclosure are made from aluminum sheets. Central place of the front is occupied by the disc drawer, above it is a green lit logo, below it a blue display, divided in two sections. The left one displays the track number or time (depending on the chose configuration), and the right one displays the current volume on the variable output port. On both sides of the drawer two big, black knobs were placed, with an aluminum edge – the left one is used to skip forward and back, the right one controls the output volume. Below there are two rows of buttons used to access other functions of the drive, we can also select the layer of a hybrid SACD disc (we can play the CD and SACD stereo layer, the SACD MCh is not available), as well as place the player in standby. There is also a headphone socket available.
The back panel is also well equipped. There are two sets of analog RCA outputs and two XLR – one balanced and one unbalanced set are with fixed output voltage, the other variable. Unfortunately the RCA sockets are close together, what can prevent installation of cables with not typical plugs, or very thick ones. There are also digital outputs provided, a coaxial S/PDIF and optical TOSLINK (the digital signal is available only when playing a CD or CD layer from a hybrid disc). Besides those, there are also four sockets for Mac’s system bus and an IEC socket.

Interesting solutions are also to be found inside. The central place is taken by the drive, taken from Denon (a brand from the same financial group as McIntosh), closed inside protective shielding and placed on special support pillars. The audio circuitry is placed on one L-shaped PCB. The digital to analog conversion is done in the Burr-Brown DSD 1792 DAC chip. The output circuits are balanced and doubled – one complete set, with the addition of an integrated resistor ladder, is there for the variable output and the other handles the fixed set. The power supply has a separate PCB and split in many sections, powering the analog section, digital section and drive separately. It is worth noticing, that two unusual solution were applied there – the IEC socket is blocked with a mains filter, a not very common solution, but really recommended, and there is also the possibility to change the mains voltage by simply re-plugging a special plug connected to the primary windings of the R-core transformer to a different socket. Simple, yet effective.

MA 6600
The looks of the amplifier is even more typical for McIntosh, if you can imagine that. The cabinet was split in five sections: just behind the fascia we have a compartment housing the amplifier’s control circuitry, the VU meters and their lighting and the optical fibers for lighting the logo. Behind this section there are three separate cups for the big mains transformer and two (one for each channel) adapting transformers, called autoformers by the company. The last part of the enclosure houses the audio circuitry. The glass front houses two big VU meters, scaled in output power (it is interesting to observe them – during the listening session they only rarely passed the 2W mark, while the volume was significantly high). Between the meters there is a green lit logo. Below them, there are four knobs and a alphanumeric display. This display shows blue characters on a black background and is quite readable (but would prefer a blue lit one, it would look better with the meters). The left most knob selects the active input, next one, being a bit smaller, selects menu entries, the smaller on the right selects a menu function, and the right most controls the volume. All the knobs are just impulse generators, and can be turned around without any constraints, and the functions are being displayed on the mentioned display. The lower part of the front is occupied by a headphones socket and buttons: store, mono, bypass, mute, output 1 and 2 on and off and standby. Oh, I almost forgot – above the display there are two LEDs, which light when the protection circuit is activated.

The back panel is split in two parts. The larger upper part contains the gold plated loudspeaker terminals, which accept all kinds of wire termination. Interesting are the outputs for 8, 4 and 2. This is related to the usage of autoformers. They have a similar function to output transformers in tube amplifiers – adapt the output impedance to the loudspeaker load. In the middle of this section of the back panel we find also a XLR input. The bottom part is much more crowded. To the left we have an IEC socket, then a whole array of system communication sockets and an external remote sensor connection. Then we have a battery of RCA sockets: five high level inputs, MM gramophone input, power amplifier direct input, two preamplifier outputs, one connected to the power amplifier input by a cramp, the other one is not connected, those can be switched on and off from the front buttons, and finally there is a recorder output. I have just one complaint about the RCAs – those are too close together.

Inside the amplifier we find one surprise: a socket for the optional tuner module, nicely shielded by a metal mesh. The power section is built symmetrically for both channels, on vertical PCBs mounted directly to heat sinks placed on both sides of the enclosure. Each channel consists of four pairs of transistors. Unfortunately I did not get through to the rest of the elements of the amplifier, I could only see that those were mounted on one big PCB, placed on the bottom of the unit.

Technical data (according to manufacturer):
MCD 301
- RCA and XLR sockets with a fixed level
- RCA and XLR sockets with variable level
- High class headphone amplifier
- Optical and coaxial digital output
- Double laser for CD and SACD read
Played formats:
Analog sockets:
RCA fixed 2VRMS
XLR fixed 4VRMS
RCA variable 6VRMS
XLR variable 12VRMS
Frequency response: SACD 4HZ-40kHZ +0.5dB/-2dB; CD 4HZ-20kHZ +/-0.5dB
S/N ratio: 110dB
Dynamics: 100dB
THD: SACD 0.002%; CD 0.003%
Power consumption: 35 W
Dimensions: (WxSxG) 15 x 45 x 40 cm.
Weight: 12.8 kg

MA 6600
- Power Guard® - clipping protection
- Sentry Monitor® - short circuit protection
- 200 Watts per channel at 2,4 or 8 Ohm
- Temperature monitors
- Loudspeaker protection
- Soft start circuit
- Autoformers – McIntosh famous output transformers
- Symmetrical input
- lit VU meters
- High quality five band equalizer
- Low noise electromagnetic switches
Dimesions: (WxSxG) 24 x 45 x 56 cm.
Weight: 34 kg

g a l l e r y


* DIY – custom cables – silver and copper