<img src="http://www.computeraudiophile.com/files/mclogo.jpg" style="padding: 1pt 10pt 7pt 0pt;" align="left">Today I stopped by two local HiFi shops to demo some equipment and discuss some computer based audiophile options. Both dealers were very hot on the McIntosh MS300. Is this just because it is the unit that sells the most, I don't know but I won't rule it out. I briefly asked about the Linn Klimax and one dealer told me they would have one on the floor as soon as they were able to sell one. At ~$20,000 that may take a while. The MS300 is only about $5,000. Certainly this is not a new product on the audiophile market and has been the subject of many reviews, but I think it is worth some space on Computer Audiophile. The MS300 is built just like all other McIntosh products. Like a tank. I would say it is built to last, but since this product is more computer than their other equipment I'll hold off. Three Hundred GB of space and 44.1 audio does not make my built to last category. one of the dealers told me the MS300 is the exact same product as the MCD201 (minus the SACD chip) with an added disk transport mechanism and the necessary software/firmware. [PRBREAK][/PRBREAK]
<img src="http://www.computeraudiophile.com/files/ms300fs.jpg" style="padding: 1pt 10pt 7pt 0pt;" align="left">I spent some time with the on-screen user interface and one thing that I noticed immediately was how fast the MS300 responds. I expected a slower interface for some reason, maybe just from using too many cable/satellite boxes lately. Using either the McIntosh branded keyboard or the remote control, this thing zings in my opinion. I was viewing the artists whose names begin with the letter A. I hit the #5 key twice and it instantly brought me to artists whose names begin with K. Browsing by genre and flipping between the two methods was instant as well. Over all I had a very good feeling about the user interface. The MS300 was connected to a rather large LCD screen that immediately turned me off. As I have said in the past, when I listen to audio I am a two channel guy and a monitor between the speakers doesn't do it for me. That said, I am warming up to certain remote control options that involve little touch screen (cough... iPod Touch ...cough). Sure this music server can be operated without a permanent monitor attached, but navigating the small display with a high library is not an option many people would chose.
How does the MS300 sound? In my limited listening sessions it sounds equivalent to the other McIntosh disc players with the same class of internal parts such as the MCD201. In a quasi AB comparison between a FLAC encoded file and the source CD it was ripped from there was absolutely no audible difference. Since I really haven't spent an extended period of time with the unit I will not comment on the sound further than this. I usually need to listen to a piece of music or equipment or codec over several days or off and on for a couple weeks to really render a solid opinion on it.
A cursory look at the documentation on the McIntosh website yields a plethora of information. From the quick setup guide to the advanced user guide. There are easy to follow instructions on everything this unit can do. There are even suggestions on how to use several different wireless technologies with this wired 10/100 Ethernet unit. McIntosh recommends Linksys and DLink because of their large market penetration and availability almost everywhere.
Will I be purchasing one of these anytime soon? No. When I got home from my dealer's shops I started to think about the limitations of this type of music server in general. Sometimes I do want the ease of a CD player, but many times I want more options and the ability to upgrade / expand easily. Physically a new hard drive could be put into the MS300 in about two minutes. Whether or not this works is unknown and I'm not sure many "hackers" have the cash or desire to experiment with this piece of equipment. Sure it is possible to stack and connect more than one of these units together for expansion, but purchasing additional MS300s for more disk space makes about as much sense as buying a whole cow for a gallon of milk. If you have the cash and want that type of "scalability" then that is great for you. Lack of a 24/96 DAC is also a big downer. This also plays into the lack of upgradability. With separate transport and DAC units like a Mac Mini and DAC1 USB I can upgrade wither piece of even part of one piece whenever I want to. Not happy with your DAC1? Send it to Steve at Empirical Audio and you will get a much improved unit back. I think I'll be passing on the MS300 because if the previously mentioned limitations and the relatively high cost of this "dated" technology.
Think otherwise or have personal experience with this unit? Let us know on the forums or comments to this article. We'd love to hear from you.
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More information: <a href="http://www.mcintoshlabs.com">McIntosh Laboratory, Inc.</a>.
MS300 review: <a href="http://ultimateavmag.com/mediaservers/1105mcintosh/">Ultimate AV</a>.
MS300 review: <a href="http://www.6moons.com/audioreviews/mcintosh/ms300.html">Six Moons</a>.
MS300 review: <a href="http://www.hometheaterhifi.com/volume_13_2/mcintosh-ms300-music-server-5-2006-part-1.html">Home Theater HiFi</a>.
MS300 review: <a href="http://www.enjoythemusic.com/Magazine/equipment/0207/mcintosh_ms300.htm">Enjoy the Music</a>.