More listening to the McIntosh Combo
Fellow audiophile society member Spencer brought over a disc by the late
lamented Jeff Buckley. Comparing his favorite track, "Corpus Christi
Carole," on both systems, I again noted that the McIntosh midrange seemed
somewhat unnaturally fuller than on my reference system, with a
corresponding lack of shine on top.
When I played my standby Terry Evans track, "Blues No More," I found the
midrange a bit bloated. Brushes on drums and cymbals were a bit less vibrant
and alive, and the mild, natural throatiness of Evans' voice was less
evident than I'm accustomed to. I've played this JVC-XRCD (derived from an
Audioquest original) on countless systems at audiophile shows. I don't think
there's a single note I'm not familiar with. When the timing is off, when
the color is muted, I can usually pick it up.
It was interesting to hear Spencer's comments about the sound of another
Serinus standby, Rachmaninoff's Symphonic Dances (Reference
Recordings). When comparing the McIntosh combo to my reference system, his
critique was, "not as smooth a finish," and "your reference system delivers
so much more tension between sounds, which makes the music sound more
alive." For my part, I thought the bass through the McIntosh combo was
muddier on bottom, and not as vibrant on top. Again, keep in mind that I
have fine tuned my own system to be a balance of all the equipment working
together. The McIntosh gear simply changed that balance, and by changing the
other components as well, a rebalance would certainly occur.
When I switched the MCD1000 for my reference transport (a Sony professional
model heavily modified by APL-HiFi), the sound became more transparent. The
mild gray coloration that I had noted through the McIntosh combo – a
grayness made all the more apparent by the combo's midrange boost – mostly
I also noted more detail. I heard more of the complexity of sounds created
when hammers strike piano strings, or when an operatic baritone or blues
artist moves from a whisper to full out declamation. I could hear more of
the throatiness on Evans' voice. There was more there there.
I spent a while going back and forth between transports while playing David
Del Tredici's "Paul Revere's Ride". I noted that highs and percussion seemed
stronger with my reference in place. The chorus took on more of a
three-dimensional quality, with the edges of voices rounded in a more
truthful manner. When amplified soprano Hila Plitman began to sing, her
voice sounded less flat, forward and in your face with my reference. In
short, the sonic picture became more lifelike, and less one-dimensional
As I continued my extended comparisons, sometimes listening to all McIntosh,
sometimes to my reference transport plus the MDA1000, and sometimes to my
reference transport plus my reference Theta Gen. VIII DAC/preamp, I
concluded that the MCD1000 is the weak link in the McIntosh chain. Yes,
compared to the transports incorporated into most one-piece players, it's
excellent. But for an expenditure of $7000, I would expect more air,
silence, detail, weight, three-dimensionality, transparency, and range of
color. I no longer have the Theta Carmen II transport here for comparison,
but the extended time I spent with it suggests that it yields more rewarding
sound for a far lower price. It also plays DVDs, which the MCD1000 does not.
Even using my reference transport, I felt the MDA1000 could not deliver the
last iota of detail and three-dimensionality communicated by the Theta Gen.
VIII. That, however, may have as much to do with my choice of amplification
and cabling as anything else. Both units are so good, each with its own
strengths and weaknesses, that I would never swear on the Bible that one is
clearly superior to the other.
I am convinced that, with the right transport, amplification, speakers and
cabling, the sound of the MDA1000 will strike many listeners as second to
none. A case in point: I wish the Parasound JC-1 Halo monoblocks were still
around to pair with the MDA1000.
My extended review time with the Parasounds allowed for a group audition by
members of the Bay Area Audiophile Society. Some of those audiophiles found
the Parasounds too bright and in your face.
I think a lot of this criticism originated in a lack of system synergy,
rather than from weaknesses in the Parasounds themselves. The Parasounds
were paired with the extremely open Theta Gen. VIII, the extremely open
Theta Carmen II, and extremely open Nordost Valhalla cabling. Had the
Parasounds been paired with the McIntosh MCD1000/MDA1000, or, better yet,
with my reference transport and the MDA1000, and/or if the cabling had been
the WireWorld Golden Reference previously reviewed for Secrets, I think BAAS
members would have appreciated the Parasounds even more. So, here again,
with equipment of this quality, you get down to system balance as the final
factor for delivering a close to perfect sound. Matching the MCD1000/MDA1000
pair with the appropriate other components could give you audio nirvana.
The McIntosh MCD1000/MDA1000 is the first CD system
sent my way for review that can hold its own next to my reference transport/DAC.
The sound is certainly different, and with the right system synergy, you
will most likely love it.
The Mcintosh MCD1000/MDA1000 combo delivers some of the most satisfying two-channel digital sound I have yet heard in my reference system. It is also
distinctly handsome, offering a stunning sonic and visual match for McIntosh
amplification. Any criticism pales in light of its extreme musicality. If it is
within your budget, or if you simply want to hear equipment that delivers
state-of-the-art, two-channel digital sound, by all means audition the
MDA1000, with or without the MCD1000.
- Jason Victor
JASON VICTOR SERINUS REFERENCE SYSTEM
Digital Front End
Theta Gen VIII DAC/Preamp
Sony 707ES transport heavily modified by APL Hi-Fi
Jadis DA-7 Luxe with GE 5751 Jan and Jan Philips 5814A tubes
Talon Khorus X speakers MK. II (with 2005 upgrade and Bybee filters on
woofers and tweeters)
Rocket UFW-10 subwoofer
Nordost Valhalla single-ended and balanced interconnects
Nordost Valhalla balanced digital interconnects
Nordost Valhalla bi-wired speaker cable
Nordost Silver Shadow digital interconnect for DVD-V
Nordost Valhalla Power Cables
Elrod EPS-2 Signature
Also on hand and sometimes used:
Interconnects: WireWorld Gold Eclipse 5 and Gold Starlight 5 digital,
Harmonic Tech Magic One, Acoustic Zen Silver Reference II balanced, and
Nirvana BNC-terminated digital.
Power cables: Elrod EPS Signature 2 and 3 plus EPS 1, 2, and 3; WireWorld
Silver Electra 5, PS Audio X-treme Statement, Harmonic Tech, and AudioPrism
PS Audio P600 Power Plant power synthesizer with MultiWave II
ExactPower EP15A (for subwoofer)
PS Audio Ultimate Outlet; PS Audio Power Ports
Ganymede ball bearing supports under all components and speakers
Michael Green Deluxe Ultrarack, Basic Racks and Corner Tunes
Shakti stones on amp, Theta, and transport
Stillpoints ERS EMI/RFI sheets on most components
Bedini Dual Beam Ultraclarifier, Audioprism CD Stoplight,
Marigo Signature Mat for use atop CDs, Ayre demagnetizing CD and the
original Sheffield/XLO demagnetizing and break-in CD.
25.5' deep, 37' wide opposite the speakers, 21.5' wide in the listening
area. There is a large archway leading to the dining room next to the right
speaker. Ceilings are 9'2" high with heavy wooden cross-beams. Heavy
curtains cover windows behind the sound system. Floors are hardwood and
carpet, walls a combination of plaster and wood.