For audiophiles who want the cutting edge of convenience, control, and durability, there are few other components that can match the MA8900.
The McIntosh MA8900 sports a number of features not found on competitive integrated amplifiers including:
McIntosh MA8900 Stereo Integrated Amplifier
- A defeatable five-band equalizer
- Large, blue, easy-to-read power output meters
- Autoformer output coupling with taps for 8, 4, and 2 ohm speaker loads
- A built-in DAC with USB, coaxial, and optical inputs
- Cutting edge switching and control technology that resists the ravages of time
- Classic McIntosh looks and sound
I was first introduced to McIntosh equipment when I was in high school. The father of a friend had purchased the “ultimate audio system” – a McIntosh preamplifier with McIntosh tube power amplifier and a pair of the mighty Klipschorns in oiled walnut finish. What was it about that exposure that set me on the path of audiophilia? I had never heard an audio reproduction system that was so clean and clear. The music seemed to flow into the room much as the live music did from the Louisiana State University Symphony Orchestra, which I’d had the opportunity to hear often. The combination of absolute clarity with absolute control was something that I’ve seldom experienced since.
POWER OUTPUT PER CHANNEL:
NUMBER OF CHANNELS:
2, 4, or 8 ohms
RATED POWER BAND:
20Hz to 20kHz
TOTAL HARMONIC DISTORTION:
FREQUENCY RESPONSE +0, -0.5dB:
20Hz to 20kHz
FREQUENCY RESPONSE, +0, -3dB:
10Hz to 100kHz
SENSITIVITY PHONO (MOVING COIL):
SIGNAL TO NOISE RATIO (MOVING COIL):
SENSITIVITY PHONO (MOVING MAGNET):
SIGNAL TO NOISE RATIO (MOVING MAGNET):
SENSITIVITY HIGH LEVEL (BALANCED):
INPUT IMPEDANCE (BALANCED):
SENSITIVITY HIGH LEVEL (UNBALANCED):
INPUT IMPEDANCE (UNBALANCED):
SENSITIVITY (POWER AMP):
SIGNAL TO NOISE RATIO (HIGH LEVEL):
SIGNAL TO NOISE RATIO (POWER AMP):
PHONO INPUT MOVING COIL:
1 (adjustable loading)
PHONO INPUT MOVING MAGNET:
1 (fixed loading)
UPGRADEABLE DIGITAL AUDIO MODULE:
DIGITAL COAXIAL INPUTS:
DIGITAL OPTICAL INPUTS:
DIGITAL MCT (DIN) INPUT:
DIGITAL USB INPUT:
BALANCED VARIABLE OUTPUT:
UNBALANCED FIXED OUTPUT:
UNBALANCED VARIABLE OUTPUTS:
1/4" High Drive with Headphone Crossfeed Director (HXD®)
AM/FM TUNER OPTION:
HOME THEATER PASSTHROUGH:
UNBALANCED ANALOG CONNECTOR TYPE:
SPEAKER BINDING POST TYPE:
DIGITAL AUDIO SPECIFICATIONS
DIGITAL-TO-ANALOG CONVERTER (DAC) TYPE:
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:
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
TONE BYPASS AND INPUT ASSIGN:
RS-232 CONTROL INPUT:
POWER CONTROL OUTPUT:
1 Main, 2 Trigger
REAR PANEL DATA PORTS:
REAR PANEL IR SENSOR INPUT:
INPUT LEVEL MATCH:
VACUUM TUBE OR SOLID STATE:
DUAL LAYER CHASSIS:
Polished stainless steel & black painted steel
MCINTOSH MONOGRAMMED HEATSINKS™:
120V 50/60Hz, 4.4 amps
STANDBY POWER REQUIREMENT:
DIMENSIONS (W X H X D):
17-1/2" (44.45cm) x 7-5/8" (19.37cm) x 22" (55.88cm)
75 lbs. (34.1 kg)
McIntosh MA8900 Review, 2017, Integrated Amplifier, Integrated DAC, Integrated Amplifier Reviews 2017
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It took quite a while before I began to understand just how exceptional that McIntosh/Klipschorn system actually was. I heard many other audio reproduction systems in the following decades, but none had the clarity and power that I remembered from that original experience.
And we’re now in the 21st century. Does McIntosh still have it when it comes to clarity and power? I believe that they DO, and that the McIntosh MA8900 integrated amplifier is a prime example. This amplifier still has the legendary “McIntosh sound,” and is a worthy successor to that ultimate system.
The McIntosh MA8900 Integrated Amplifier weighs a TON! A giant power transformer and dual output autoformers dominate the center of the amplifier while massive heat sinks for the output transistors line both sides of the amp. McIntosh’s signature glass faceplate and chrome trim (with big, blue power output meters) are up front. This is an amplifier that won’t EVER be mistaken for another brand. For some, its looks and prestige alone will be sufficient to trigger a purchase, but even if you’re a hardcore audiophile, this brand has more than you might suspect to recommend it.
The MA8900 has the traditional “McIntosh sound,” characterized by a slight warmth in the midrange, and a tight, generous bass range. But unlike what many might think, this amp also has amazing detail throughout its entire frequency range. The treble is NOT recessed, the midrange does NOT lack detail, and the damping factor in the bass does NOT reduce its tightness.
The McIntosh MA8900 Integrated Amplifier sports lots of “gee-whiz” technology. But unlike many manufacturers, who use the latest and the greatest just to be different, McIntosh chooses their technology to meet their specific design goals – sound quality and durability.
I’ll take the liberty of paraphrasing from the McIntosh technical paper on reed-switching as an example:
“McIntosh uses electromagnetic switching for audio signal routing. The switches use a magnetically activated reed pair. When current is applied to the activation coil, the two reeds inside a sealed glass enclosure are forced together. The sealed enclosure is filled with nitrogen gas to avoid corrosion.
When the coil is activated with a direct current (DC) voltage, the two reeds come together quickly and have a total resistance of less than 0.15 ohms, creating a laboratory grade contact for the audio signal. The wires are plated with Ruthenium (atomic number 44 on the Periodic Table of Chemical Elements) to heighten conductivity.
Why do we use it? Utilizing electromagnetic switching provides ultra-low contact resistance, which results in less distortion, consistent operation over decades of use, zero crosstalk of the signal between sources and zero crosstalk between channels.”
In addition to magnetic reed-switching, McIntosh also does away with the traditional wiper-pot controls. Used on most competitive equipment, they can become dirty over time, leading to a “scratchy” sound, and eventually to failure. The MA8900 avoids this by using a laser-trimmed resistor ladder that is electronically-switched. This technology does away with any susceptibility to airborne contamination (smoke, pet dander, etc.) or galvanic corrosion. It also allows far better channel-to-channel balance and separation.
And the McIntosh autoformer system must also be considered. To my knowledge, this technology is unique to McIntosh and offers multiple advantages. In a typical amplifier, the output transistors are directly-coupled to the speaker load. This forces them to directly compensate for variations in resistance, capacitance, and inductance of the speakers and the speaker wires. The McIntosh autoformer, by comparison, keeps the output transistors in their most linear operating envelope while delivering power to just about any speaker impedance.
Some criticize the autoformer system for reducing the bass damping factor, but my experience – using both highly-sensitive, 8 ohm Tekton Pendragon speakers AND less-sensitive Thiel 1.6 speakers with an impedance of 4 ohms (nominal) and 3 ohms (minimum) – lead me to believe that such criticisms are academic. Both my sets of speakers exhibited excellent bass control and excellent extension through the MA8900’s autoformers.
The autoformers provide one other (seldom considered) advantage. For speakers with highly reactive loads, or for speakers with exceptionally low impedance (ribbon speakers and electrostatic speakers come to mind), the impedance of the autoformers is seen in series with the speaker impedance by the output transistors. This allows the McIntosh MA8900 to safely drive loads that might easily damage other amplifiers.
McIntosh does offer more powerful (and less powerful) amplifiers, but I consider the MA8900 to be more than sufficient for almost every speaker on the market today.
One of my only criticisms of the McIntosh MA8900 is the lack of backlighting on the remote control. The better current crop of remotes (specifically, the remote that came with my OPPO UDP-205 disc player) has a motion sensor so that when you pick up the remote, all the buttons are automatically backlit. On an amplifier of this price, I expect a better remote control than what McIntosh has provided.
The McIntosh MA8900 arrived on a pallet via freight. The shipping weight (including pallet) topped 140 pounds. I’d strongly recommend that anyone making this purchase employ friends or paid assistants to remove the bulky 75-pound amplifier from its shipping cartons.
The front of the amplifier shows a clean and sparse faceplate. The five tone-control dials are located centrally, and the left and right dials are dual use. In Normal mode, the leftmost dial selects the desired input, and the right one controls volume. But by pushing in on the left dial, a menu system appears, offering a wide variety of adjustments. Two that I opted to use were the temporary disabling of the auto-off function (to speed the burn-in period) and the disabling of the power meter lights (too bright at night).
The rear of the amp includes the usual inputs and outputs, plus the DAC which is upgradeable. This small feature is, again, indicative of McIntosh’s commitment to ensuring utility over time. No other manufacturer that I can think of offhand, does so much to future-proof their equipment.
For this review, the following associated components were used:
- MacBook Pro using an external USB HDD and jRiver Media Center 22
- Optical TOSLINK connection to the McIntosh MA8900 integrated amplifier
- Thiel 1.6 floor-standing loudspeakers
- Tekton Pendragon floor-standing loudspeakers
- PowerSound Audio S3601 dual-18-inch subwoofer (driven from the preamp outputs of the McIntosh MA8900 and used only with the Thiel 1.6 speakers)
NOTE: Since I don’t have a vinyl collection – the phono inputs were not tested. Since I don’t have a multi-channel home theater source, the HT bypass was not employed. Inputs used for this review included digital optical Toslink, digital USB input, and the analog unbalanced line level.
“Back to Louisiana” – a live recording by Delbert McClinton from the CD “New West Records – On Air World Café”
This music allowed the pace of the McIntosh to shine through. The trumpet was especially vivid, and the thrust of the music was such that you just couldn’t keep your feet from tapping.
“Zydeco Around the World” by Rocking Doopsie & the Cajun Twisters from the CD “Alligator Stomp, Volume 3 – Cajun & Zydeco Classics, 1992”
This selection was chosen to highlight the accordion. Being an instrument firmly in the midrange, and with significant complexity and overtones, the accordion can tax the resolution of some amplifiers. The McIntosh delivered the accordion with clarity and power.
“Bossa Suave” by Cabaño” from the CD “Café Europa.”
The female voice in this cut along with the percussion instruments puts the upper midrange and treble on display. The McIntosh excelled at providing detail and dimensional imaging to both.
“Mas Que Nada” by Babel Neścimento from the CD “Chill: Brazil Vol. 1”
This cut features male voices both solo and in harmony. If an amplifier isn’t up to snuff, the voices can seem ragged or blurred. The McIntosh MA8900 hit the correct mix of tone to accurately portray the men’s voices with clarity and nuance.
“Barflies at the Beach” by the Royal Crown Revue from the CD “Interscope Records 1997”
The drums in this cut demand that the amplifier deliver both the percussive leading edge and the fundamental vibration of the drum head while keeping the vocal separate and intelligible over the thunderous background. Some amplifiers seem to lose the vocal in the drums during this cut, but the McIntosh kept the singer’s voice both clear and to the fore.
“Quand Est Ce Qúon Arrive” by one of my favorite bands, Balkan Beat Box from their CD, “Nu Med”
Again, this is a song to test the pace of the amplifier – if the percussion isn’t compelling, then something’s wrong. The McIntosh delivered the best performance of this cut that I’ve heard.
“Soy Yo” by Bomba Estéreo from the CD “Amanecer” of 2015
This cut provides a great test of channel separation. The out-of-phase drums in this cut should sound as if they’re completely to the right and left of the listener (and almost behind you!). An amplifier that lacks great channel separation will allow the drums to blur with the center image. The McIntosh delivers separation every bit as good as good as my mono-block amps.
“Baile Di Los Pobres” by Calle 13 from the CD “Entren Los Que Quieran” of 2010
The rapper’s voice on this cut should be completely independent of the background rumpus. The clarity and articulation came through perfectly via the McIntosh.
“Vivaldi – Cantata PV 679: Che Giova Il Sospirar, Povero Core – Aria: Cupido Tu Verdi” by Bellezza Crudel
This high bitrate recording from 2L records features the soprano voice and amazing imaging.
Some amplifiers seem to blur the voice and the string instruments. But with the McIntosh, the soloist was clearly separate. The soprano range of the female voice is also where amplifiers can sound nasal if the tonality isn’t spot on. The MA8900 avoided that flaw and delivered the singer in all her glory.
“Haydn – String Quartet in D, Op. 76, No. 5 – Finale: Presto” by Engegård Quartet
This is another high bitrate recording that is also available as a free download from Norway’s 2L website ( http://www.2l.no ).
The string tones are amazing and the imaging should be both deep and wide. The McIntosh’s DAC handles the higher bitrates and delivers stunning sound.
“Sergi Rachmaninoff – Movement Musical in e minor, Op. 16, No. 4” from the CD “A Steinway Celebration”
Solo piano is one of the quickest ways to assess the tone of an amplifier. The McIntosh yielded a “the piano is in the room with you” sound while preserving the particular forward and clear tonality that Steinway instruments are so well-known for.
THE MCINTOSH MA8900 INTEGRATED AMPLIFIER is everything an audiophile might desire, both sonically and in durability. It isn’t cheap, but it truly delivers what you’re paying for.
- Durable construction using state-of-the-art technology
- Speaker impedance matching for 8, 4, and 2 ohm loads
- Traditional McIntosh look with power output meters
- Uncolored, audiophile sound competitive with ANY other make
- Flexibility when needed via five-band tone controls
- Replaceable built-in DAC with future proofing
- Home theater bypass adds flexibility
- Traditional walnut case option
- Return of the “travelling McIntosh clinic”
- Variable subwoofer crossover
- MQA capability for the DAC
- Motion-sensing back-lighting for the remote control
The McIntosh MA8900 is a state-of-the-art component in every way. Many “audiophiles” deliberately ignore the brand, thinking that the multitude of features (including, specifically, the defeatable five band tone control) imply that McIntosh products are somehow “mid-fi.” This is an unfortunate attitude espoused by many who have never even heard a McIntosh product. What a shame.
Sonically, I find the McIntosh sound to be everything I remembered from my first exposure to the brand. The sound is dynamic without being harsh, controlled without being lifeless, detailed without becoming shrill, and absolutely realistic. The MA8900 won’t hide the sound of your recordings or your speakers – if they have shortcomings, you’ll know it quickly. But the amplifier can help you make the best of your music, your speakers, and your room if you’re willing to experiment with the balance and tone controls.
Audio purists will immediately blanch at the idea of modifying the source signal in any way. But if a recording is substandard, sometimes a touch of equalization (“five-band tone control” in McIntosh-speak) can improve it significantly, allowing you to listen to a favorite performance despite its poor recording quality. If your room is asymmetrical, sometimes a touch on the balance control can restore the desired imaging. And if your speakers happen to be less than totally linear (this applies to almost EVERY speaker on the market, including YOURS), then you can flatten the response, again with a minor touch-up from the equalizer.
Even if you don’t need the audio controls on the McIntosh, there’s no need to fret about them. When not in use, they’re completely isolated from the active circuitry and won’t affect the sound at all.
About the McIntosh MA8900’s power rating of “only” 200 watts per channel – keep in mind that most home listening is done at power levels of one watt or less. The McIntosh MA8900 integrated amplifier’s true 200 watts per channel is more (far more) than most listeners will ever need or use. With the autoformer output coupling, those 200 watts are available to 8, 4, or 2-ohm loads. I suspect that if you wanted to, you could almost weld with this amplifier (but for the onboard sensing-circuitry that would protect the amp from dead-shorts).
Add to that the painstakingly excellent construction and the unique technology, and the McIntosh more than meets the needs of the average listener. Further, its durability exceeds that of any other amplifier that I know of in the consumer market.