Product Review

McIntosh MCD1000 CD Transport and MDA1000 D/A Converter

Part III

December, 2005

Jason Victor Serinus


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.

Trading Transports

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 diminished.

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 digital.

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.

System Synergy

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 Serinus -


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 SuperNatural S2.

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.

Copyright 2005 Secrets of Home Theater & High Fidelity

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