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MCD500 + C500 (Tube and solid state – T+P) + MC501

Price: 25 000 + 46 000 (solid state or tube) + 42 000 (para) zł Total price: 113 000 zł

Distribution: Hi-Fi Club

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



Text: Wojciech Pacuła
Translation: Krzysztof Kalinkowski

Once again I decided to test a complete system, although this is not an easy task. Please look at the test of the previous system - HERE – to understand this issue better. There is one big problem with such endeavors: time. Or better said – the lack of it. To make sense out of it, we need to test many different combinations, think about everything, order the units, etc. And this all takes time, and the Polish distributors do not have many of the required devices.

However in this case it was much easier and actually it would be hard NOT to test a system. Because I had at home, at the same time, McIntosh, belonging to the same series, the ‘500’ – the player MCD500, preamplifier C500 and power amplifiers MC501. And the ‘500’ series is the second from top, just after the ‘1000’ series, in which the monster amplifiers MC1.2KW and MC2KW are included. And each series from Mac is actually a complete “tower”, like earlier it was common, only much more costly, a “tower” for current times… That those devices compose a ‘system’ was decided by the manufacturer himself, because the components were designed to work together and support each other.
The listening session was conducted after I tested all the individual devices, so I knew how they perform in a different surrounding. A splendid opportunity was also to compare the two versions of the preamplifier (the distributor supplied both of them) – the tube version C500T and the solid state one C500P. Both use the same controller unit C500C, which encloses the power supply and control circuits. The knobs and buttons are on the front panel of the ‘C’ controller, together with the display, and not on the amplifying section, which can confuse at first. But it has sense. And the inputs are in the amplifying section, which also contains the blue VU meters.
Now, as the system is fully balanced, this was also the way I conducted all the listening sessions, using the interconnect XLR 7N-DA6000 between the SACD player and the preamp and the XLR NF-G SE Blues Velum, leading the signal from the preamplifier to the power amplifiers (MC501 are two monoblocks). The player received the same power cable as my Lektor Prime from Ancient Audio, namely the best cable in the world – in my opinion (for today), Acrolink 7N-PC9100, and the preamplifier and power amplifiers by a somewhat cheaper, although still very expensive model 7N-PC7100. The system was listened to with the tube preamplifier module, later with the solid state one. All devices were placed on the Base rack system.

Discs used for testing: Compact Disc

  • Laurie Allyn, Paradise, Mode Records/Muzak, MZCS-1124, CD.
  • Lucy Ann, Lucky Lucy Ann, Mode Records/Muzak, MZCS-1121, CD.
  • Herb Ellis, Man With The Guitar,Dot Records/Universal Music Japan, UCCU-5287, CD.
  • King Crimson, Larks’ Tounges in Aspic, Discipline Global Mobile/WHD Entertainment, IECP-30006, HQCD/HDCD.
  • Tsuyoshi Yamamoto Trio, What a Wonderful Trio!, First Impression Music, FIM DXD 079, silver-CD.
  • Depeche Mode, Piece, Mute, CDBONG41, SP CD.
  • The Doors, The Doors, Elektra Records/Warner Music Japan, WPCR-12716, CD.
  • Thom Yorke, The Eraser, XL Records/Warner Music Japan, WPCB-10001, CD; review HERE.

Super Audio CD
  • Groove Note. True Audiophile. The Best of Groove Note, Groove Note, GRV1036-3, SACD/CD; review HERE.
  • Milt Jackson Sextet, Invitation, Riverside/Mobile Fidelity, UDSACD 2031, No. 01828, SACD/CD.
  • Manuel de Falla, The Three Cornered Hat, Ansermet, Decca/Esoteric, ESSD-90016, SACD/CD.
  • Mozart, Piano Contertos No.20&No.27, Curzon/Britten, Decca/Esoteric ESSD-90014, SACD/CD.
  • Depeche Mode, Exciter, Mute, DMCD10, SACD/CD+DVD.
  • Dead Can Dance, Toward The Within, 4AD/Warner Music Japan, WPCB-10077, SACD/CD; review HERE.
  • Henry Purcell, Fantasias for the Viols, Hespèrion XX, Jordi Savall, Alia Vox. Heritage, AVSA 9859, SACD/CD; review HERE.
  • J.S. Bach, Matthew Passion (ver. 1742), Dunedin Consort&Players, Linn Records, CKD 313, 3 x SACD/CD; review HERE.

Long Play
  • Depeche Mode, Sounds Of The Universe, Mute, STUMM300, 2 x 180 g LP; review HERE.
  • Clifford Brown and Max Roach, Study In Brown, EmArcy/Universal Music Japan, UCJU-9072, 180 g LP.
  • Duran Duran, Rio, EMI Electrola, 064-64 782, LP.
  • Miles Davis, Miles Davis And The Modern Jazz Giants, Prestige/Analogue Productions, 7150, 2 x 45 rpm 180 g LP.
  • Paul Desmond, Take Ten, RCA Victor/Speakers Corner, LSP-2569, 180 g LP.
  • Pearl Jam, Ten, Epic/Legacy, 97413021, 2 x 180 g LP.
  • Stan Getz & Charlie Byrd, Jazz Samba, Verve/Speakers Corner, V6-8432, 180 g LP.


Mac’s system has a clear, “own” sound. It creates the events to its liking. And does it with full consistency. This is a strong, clean sound, with incredible dynamics. This is also the first system in my career (let me phrase it this way), where SACD discs were much better than their CD counterparts, and where their assets translated into higher pleasure from listening. I think, that to a large extent, this is thanks to the MCD500 player, which – like I mentioned it its test – is splendid in that aspect and an exception among the SACD players. And the rest of the sound path allowed it to show that. Among the things that immediately draw attention is dynamics. Usually, the devices play the whole time, also when I am writing. That was also the case with McIntosh, which I connected one morning (after having tested the individual components) and then I sat down to respond to the readers’ emails. The first disc I listened to was a collection (I hate samplers, but this is one of the rare exceptions) from Groove Note, splendid recordings, with some really outstanding interpretations of classic jazz pieces. And sitting with my side turned to the system, not having it play loud, I had to stop what I was doing (and I apologize to all who needed to wait longer to get an answer…) because the way of attack, the way drums and percussion was shown, did not remind me of any other household audio device, but rather that, what can be heard from stage units or live. In that aspect my system seems a bit compressed, at least when we talk about the macro scale. I am sure, that this was mostly due to the helping hand of the MC501 power amplifiers.

Also classical music was splendid in that aspect, like from the disc of de Falla The Three Cornered Hat, where the kettledrums, not exaggerated, had enormous energy and brilliantly drawn reverb. It was toned down with the CDs, but – this is how it seems to me – the worse dynamic of the CD was just shown as it is, and the Mac did not make a “pulp” out of everything, but just showed as it is. And this is not about underlining any flaws of the CD, but just about honesty. And McIntosh has lots of it.

A second thing, that needs to be bolded out, is the splendid tonal balance of the American system. I underlined that at the test of every separate element, but it was audible best when we put the MC501 with the preamplifier and player coming from that company. The lower midrange will be slightly underlined, and the upper treble withdrawn, but those will be “system” changes, those which change the perspective, in which we look at the Mac, something additional, what modifies slightly the way we perceive it, without the need to re-formulate our opinions. The balance I am talking about allowed all discs to sound in a reliable, honest (this is the key word, for all products of this company), composed way. The differentiation of individual recordings was nice in this aspect, although, at least with the tube module, a trick was employed, which did not allow the neutrality of the system to turn into a heartlessness, even with very transparent loudspeakers. I am talking about a rounding of the micro-sounds, without diminishing the dynamics, but only smoothing out everything. This is why in general discs sounded without sharpness, also Peace Depeche Mode, and without brightening. Under one condition – that the loudspeakers do not have that tendency. Using the Mac’s with something like Harbeth, Chario, etc, we will never cross that border. With clean, linear loudspeakers, like my Dobermann, it will also be fine, because the system will “open”, but the vocals from not very well recorded discs, or those, that have a tendency in that direction – like the vocals from the mentioned single Peace, but to some extent the disc On Every Street Dire Straits, can have a slightly underlined upper midrange. This comes from a combination of two things – the striving from Mac to reach an absolutely flat frequency response and a slight rounding of the attack, and at the same time the aspiration towards opening of the sound. In audio there are no universal recipes, and no answers to all questions, this is why we need to make our individual decisions.

And with all this the treble, especially with SACD, is incredibly vivid, slightly sweet – but in a positive, natural way – and there is a lot of it. This resembles the sound of a good turntable, like the Kuzma Stabi S with Stogi S tonearm, I tested for “Audio” some time ago. It is enough to listen to recordings like Toward The Within Dead Can Dance, to know what I am talking about. Absolute lack of any limit in dynamics, lightness in showing every sound, and – indeed – nice treble, made the sound strong and palpable. And yet the American set does not resemble any other company’s system. I remember well how the Reimyo system performed, much more expensive, and based on a 300B tube in the power stage (8W). This was much more saturated, more differentiated sound. That what Mac is lacking in this comparison, is the differentiation of textures and resolution. Please remember, I am talking about absolute top hi-end, and not about hi-fi! The Japanese system is outstanding in that aspect, but also much more expensive, so this comparison does no harm, it just allows to see the American set in proper perspective. McIntosh just plays with bigger planes, bigger groups, weighting them splendidly, but not having such an insight in what happens within those, as the best systems with a SET tube in the power stage. This is why the palpability of the sound will be lesser here, it will be easier to talk about a distance. This may be good – in classical music this is necessary to show the real dimensions of the concert hall. Different than all the SET tubes, McIntosh will bring real dynamics and real bass. Without any compression and distortion, which will occur in all not so powerful tubes. So we need to listen and decide what we are actually searching for.

A real learning experience will be the comparison between the tube and the solid state pre-amplification in the C500. All my remarks are valid for the first choice, because I assumed, that the best combination will be when a tube preamplifier will be paired with a solid state power amplifier – a setting I use at home for quite some time. But as usual in hi-end this is not that simple. In my opinion, this is just my private opinion, and not something to consider, the resolution of the solid state module is much better than the of the tube counterpart. Yes, with the first one we lose some of the sweetness, incredible timbre of the treble, but we gain better separation, drawing and attack. The tube unit softened the head of the sound, and did also decay it too quickly. The sound coming from the transistor is much deeper, precise, and – for me – closer to reality. In both cases the depth of the stage is not especially deep, and we have to fight for every change, and the one for the better, is while switching from the tube to the transistor. I am sure, that for some of you, the sweeter, more rounded sound will fare better, or it will be better matching your system. But if you are searching for a live, direct sound, and you do have nicely set loudspeakers, then the solid state module will be better. This is a splendid unit, much more open than the C-2810 Accuphase and better resolving. We will not get the softness and sweetness, the Japanese competitor brings, without using tubes, or the depth of the stage, but all the rest will be on a higher level. If the recording studio gear would not have such bad associations for many audiophiles, I would say, that the solid state C500 is just a device like that – honest, not brightened, not mechanical and with all that incredibly even. The differentiation of discs is very good, as well as of the accompanying devices.

Listening to the McIntosh system was very educational. This is a well composed, very even and – yes, yes – honest system, with phenomenal dynamics and ease of sound. The ability to choose the type of the preamplifier is unique, the sound as a whole can be easily defined with this element. The ease of use is exceptional, as is ergonomics – those are elements, that always were outstanding in the Mac. Less good elements, like depth of the stage, or the three-dimensionality of the events themselves (voices, instruments) should not influence the positive reception of those devices. It can be done better, but then you would need to pay much more and resign from the control of the bass, its extension and the absolute, phenomenal “freedom” and ease with which all sounds. This is no “tubey” sound, in no way, it is not colored, it will not be as rich in harmonics, like a SET tube. That is life. This is a system for years, and there is a reasonable chance, that our children will use it, without the need of servicing. With the solid state preamplifiers it would be advisable some vivid loudspeakers, with a tube one they could be a bit brighter.

g a l l e r y


  • CD player: Ancient Audio Lektor Prime (tested HERE)
  • Phono preamp: RCM Audio Sensor Prelude IC (tested HERE)
  • Preamp: Leben RS-28CX (tested HERE; soon to be changed to Polaris II, tested HERE)
  • Power amp: Luxman M-800A (tested HERE)
  • Integrated amp: Leben CS300 (reviewed HERE)
  • Loudspeakers: Harpia Acoustics Dobermann (tested HERE)
  • headphones: AKG K701, Ultrasone PROLine 2500, Beyerdynamic DT-990 Pro, 600 Ω version (reviewed HERE, HERE, and HERE)
  • interconnects: CD-preamp: Wireworld Gold Eclipse 52 (tested HERE; soon to be changed to Acrolink Mexcel 7N-DA6300, article HERE), preamp-power amp: Velum NF-G SE (tested HERE)
  • speaker cable: Velum LS-G (tested HERE)
  • power cables: Acrolink Mexcel 7N-PC9100 (CD; reviewed HERE) and 2 x Acrolink Mexcel 7N-PC7100 (preamp, power amp (reviewed HERE)
  • power conditioning: Gigawatt PF-2 Filtering Power Strip (reviewed HERE)
  • audio stand Base
  • resonance control: Finite Elemente Ceraball under the CD (article HERE ) Turntables change continuously, as do cartridges. My dream setup: SME 30 with Series V tone-arm and Air Tight PC-1 cartridge (also in the PC-1 Mono version).