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Danny Kaey

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Everything posted by Danny Kaey

  1. Death by a thousand cuts... J/K. Look, I’m sure you can find all sorts of issues with any product. The LessLoss I reviewed a couple months back was this, that, the other, yet sounded very, very good. In the end, what matters only is, do you like it, do you want to own it. Like all PD products, its built here in the US, California no less. The drive is an all new OEM design from Denon, which dCS amongst others, also uses. It’s the only commercially viable CD/SACD drive available today, built with metal parts as far as I can tell. What’s it all mean Basil? I do enjoy the activity of these threads and the engagement they produce... cheers!
  2. Completely agree and in fact, I think we may even see some sort or resurgence of the format at some point. There are a growing number of people across the globe who want nothing to do w/ streaming, internet, social media, etc. (I get it, whole different subject, but still)... having a physical disc in hand, being able to sit through an entire disc's worth of music instead of bumping around from track to track every 12.4 seconds just isn't that interesting anymore. Thus, much like my preferred playback medium, vinyl, I believe this to resonate with more and more people...
  3. Thanks Ran. I have no doubt that streaming is the way of the future - let's hope that investments will keep taking place to improve the back-end of all these efforts... 👍
  4. I've been reading some of these comments over the past day or so and think that this isn't nearly the big issue some of you make it seem. The Stream-X module is just that, a module; an optionally available way to create a network ready endpoint for Roon or other software. You can always use a PC or Mac via USB to playback any format you wish (minus MQA) in higher quality than via the Stream-X option. That said, I'd like to reiterate that virtually all streaming capable DACs I've seen / used in the past couple of years, from AURALiC to dCS to Playback Designs, have all sounded better when used as a stand alone DAC w/ my EINSTEIN The Last Record Player leashed as the CD transport. So that tells me that there's something about NAS or internet derived music files that's still not quite as developed as CD transport sourced data. PS: since the review was published, I heard from Andreas who merely uttered, "the 8 series isn't nearly end-game digital..." which leads me to believe that we may yet one day hear more from PD...
  5. LOL! hey, these days HiFi covers all price points... you can get great sound for ridiculously little money or scale up, way past what you'd ever thought possible... 😂
  6. “I know you will want to hear what will comes next from Playback Designs. Unlike your MPS-5, this new series will be made up of 3 different components; 2 complimentary double-box units “endgame” sort of stuff, a transport / streamer and a DAC; lastly, an all-new, all-in-one player, streamer and DAC, similar to your MPS-5. Needless to say, each is an all-out assault at state of the art in digital playback and each will significantly improve over the 5-series and Merlot series. Naturally, each will come with a lifetime supply of Toblerone chocolate as well.” Save for the last drool worthy sentence, a complete and wishfully selfish fabrication on my part, that was the content of an iMessage exchange I had with Andreas Koch, owner and chief designer of Playback Designs, a company he had founded in the mid 2000s. No stranger to digital, in fact, Andreas is one, if not the digital Yoda, he pioneered many aspects of digital conversion used in modern day converters. Indeed, this Swiss Yoda’s digital genius first caught the eyes of his then employer, Studer, where in the early 80s he already began experimenting with many of the soon to be digital conversion themes that found their way to the professional recording industry, including of course, Studer’s own digital recorders. From early psychoacoustic filtering to splitting the audible music band into several bands which could then be digitized independently at their level best, so impressed was the top echelon of digital gods, that Andreas found himself called to duty pretty much anywhere digital analog conversion was required. From Skywalker ranch to several high-profile side projects, it wasn’t long before sometime in the mid 90s, Sony came calling. Sony of course was well on their way designing the next generation digital platform built around a core single bit strategy which became known by the marketing term Direct Stream Digital, or DSD for short. I sometimes think that even as of today, this seems forever and a half ago. In reality, in the grand scheme of all things digital, this was all rather fairly recent from a historic perspective. The rest as they say, is history. Having continued the underlying science and foundational working principles of 1-bit delta sigma converters, modern day DSD – Direct Stream Digital, was born. Though the work was rewarding and ultimately produced the Compact Disc’s successor, SACD, Andreas felt called to something bigger still and thus, removed from corporate shackles, their evil bean counters and nothing burger marketing departments, he founded his own company, Playback Designs. The mission was clear, yet profoundly optimistic: create the best DSD based digital playback gear known to man. The first product, the Playback Designs MPS-5, used a famed Teac CD/SACD transport to deliver optimal physical media playback. Still very early in the development of what was then became universally known as “streaming” or computer enabled playback of digital files, the MPS-5 also incorporated a USB input, which at the time (think 2007/8) was a complete novelty in the realm of high-end digital audio. Further, to literally Warp factor 9 ahead of the competition, which used generic, off the shelf DAC chips, Andreas designed his converter based upon an FPGA chip, or field programmable gate array. In short, an FPGA chip gives the designer complete freedom to deliver a conversion process built completely from scratch. Bonus? Much like Apple does with each iteration of iOS, a simple software update can unlock even more performance without any changes to the hardware. Cunningly legit. Looking back, a decade plus later, it can’t be stressed enough just how pioneering and forward-thinking Andreas’ use of an FPGA chip really was. No longer beholden to the inadequacies of existing mass-manufactured chips, Andreas could let his mathematical design genius fly completely free. To boot, those freely available software updates continued to bring forward hidden sound qualities, enabling the MPS-5 to be more of a platform for bigger things than just a buy-once-be-done with it DAC. When it was launched, the MPS-5 became an instant hit: heralded by virtually everyone in the high-end press as the best sounding, most analog digital playback system available, customers far and wide lined up with their checkbooks and orders went through the roof. Having heard what the fuss was all about for my own ears, I bought one myself. Digital bliss was here to stay. That was sometime in 2009. Since then, the MPS-5 has seen several significant software updates and two generations of outboard USB inputs, surpassing the built-in option (which really came down to available USB chipsets) by leaps. Throughout it all, the MPS-5 remained my digital reference. Given that digital conversion technology development moves by way of light years, it is a true testament to Andreas Koch’s wits that his first product performed so well, especially given the heated competition that sprouted across the globe. Sure, a few digital bits and bobs did this and that a little more, a little better, but none did it conclusively, consistently better as once complete package. Andreas’ own success brought forth even greater accolades as he then also branched out into OEM design work and shared his knowledge base with for example, Ted Smith at PS Audio, whom he taught the ins and outs of DSD and FPGA. Nagra was another recipient of Andreas’ depth of knowledge and so it wasn’t a surprise to see those products raise to the occasion as well. But back to Playback Designs. When, a few years ago, Andreas launched his all new Merlot series of products, he purposely built them around a cost factor principle: offer up almost top-level performance at real-world prices. To life came a new series of DACs, ADCs and streamers that performed well above their asking price. Soon after, in conversations with Andreas, I dug for more intel: “I’m willing to bet you are working on a replacement series for the MPS-5… aren’t you?” Then, a few months and a phone call later, Andreas proposed a meeting at his design studio to show me something he was working on. That of course turned out to be what was to become the Dream series of components all under the MPS-8 series name. Dream implied best in class, which in turn really only meant reference class, go big or go home. Still in its early prototype stages, the boards inspired confidence: fully separate, regulated power supplies for digital, analog and ancillary operations; a single clock for all operational aspects, the latest generation FPGA chips; latest design analog output stage and last but not least, an all-new reference level Denon based, all metal CD/SACD transport custom built to address high-end audio specifications and needs [I believe that this same drive is also used by dCS in their new Rossini transport]. “I’m about fifteen minutes out”, a cryptic iMessage read. Giddy with anticipation, I had warmed up the HiFi and left a spot open for the MPS-8 Dream Player. “Wow, did you add a few bricks for kicks?”, I quipped as I unboxed the well packaged player. Noticeably heavier, taller and appearing as a single block of CNC machined aluminum, my first impression of the MPS-8 Dream Player was rather positive. The old MPS-5 series’ two-tone, square-ish, angular chassis was replaced by an all new Playback Designs theme: if Apple had produced it, the color would without doubt be called “space grey”. Refreshing, I thought. A distinctly different chassis color to set itself apart from the monotone silver or all black you see so often. Next, you notice the all-new unibody looking chassis, which, though it is made of different panels, hides all screws internally: all you see is one smooth, wave-y front and side plate with an angular beveled top plate. CNC cut on the top, is a subtle, yet distinct Playback Designs logo. Similar to the MPS-5, the right side of the top plate contains five aluminum buttons to control the unit from close-up. Also like the previous reference player, the same split red LCD display is split by the new CD/SACD all metal drive. On the point of that LCD display, it may surprise you to hear that here too, Andreas went his own deterministic way. Fancy displays with color, OLED, etc., would all make for pretty graphics, but ultimately, the penalty for that would be adding significant engineering solutions regarding the clocking of such a display. In the case of Playback Design products, Andreas decided to keep it simple, therefore sticking to a minimalist LCD that can run off the same system clock, synchronized to the audio sample rate, as the rest of the digital circuit. This eliminates issues at the core and ultimately produces better results, both measured and audible. The back of the unit contains all of the usual I/O including a few new ones; most notably, if you have the optionally available streamer module – Stream-X – an ethernet port. YES!. Also on-board is PLINK, Playback-Designs proprietary optical link (not to be confused with Toshiba’s ancient TosLink standard) to connect other external Playback-Designs hardware or future outboard modules. While I have noticed an increased use of CD playback over the past few years, my de facto go-to digital solution is entirely Roon based, courtesy of my Roon Nucleus and eero network leashed QNAP 32TB NAS, which hosts about 6TB of various 16/44 and hi-res 24-bit and DSD files. Convenience always wins, though with Roon so perfectly integrating my entire digital library, I can easily enjoy Tidal, Qobuz as well as thousands of internet radio stations all accessible via Roon’s sophisticated iOS and Mac app. The fact that the Stream-X option makes available Tidal, Qobuz and other streaming platforms, is a bonus for those who wish to remain Roon-free. All in, it’s easy to see that ten years have passed since the MPS-5 came to life. Now then, with the MPS-8 Dream Player ready, set and connected to my EINSTEIN The Preamp and Power amp combo, via Kubala-Sosna’s Elation! balanced interconnects, in turn feeding YG’s Sonja 2.3 via KS Elation! speaker cables and all powered through KS Elation! power cords, I was ready to enjoy the fruits of Andreas Koch’s labors. Intuitive as it is simple to use, the supplied all aluminum, backlit, remote control allows all functions of the Dream Player to be controlled from the palm of your hand. A simple press on either of the up or down arrows selects the input for the DAC section: from TosLink to streamer, to disc playback (and all other inputs) you can easily switch between sections. As always, Andreas has given his utmost care to ensure that only the selected input is powered on and supplying digital bits; all other inputs are turned off and essentially out of the way. Thus, when you select the CD/SACD transport section, the time and track display is on; when you select any other input, the drive and all of its ancillary power is completely shut off and out of the signal’s way, ensuring maximum signal protection and noise elimination. One of the first CD’s I placed in the Dream Player’s drive was Yello’s latest, Live in Berlin double-disc set [Polygram]. Perhaps the single best recorded live album of electronic music (really of any kind) I am aware of, this disc is a tour de force of Yello’s rich music catalog. The Race, the album’s last cut, is a sensational demo that will expose any system’s flaws and accolades alike. From the roaring car racing through your living room at the beginning of the track, to the pulsating beat and Dieter Meier’s raspy, chesty and unmistakable voice, all aspects of your system are challenged. Here, the Dream Player simply shines. Given YG Sonja 2.3s ruthlessly revealing canvas, whatever the source delivers, you will hear. No more, no less. Bass is tight, firm; explosive, with dynamic contrasts that literally beg the question of just how much information a Compact Disc can actually store. Anyone claiming that for genuine high-end digital playback you need hi-res files, simply has to listen to this disc and then re-check their claims. Constricted or bandwidth limited? Nope. Not revealing enough or missing sparkle and shine? Nada. Hi-res? Absolutely. 16/44 CD? Indeed. What has always impressed me with the MPS-5, CD playback, the MPS-8 Dream Player takes further, farther, for real. CD for crying out loud. You know, the format that’s been around bona fide since ca. 1983. Case in point, Mark Knopfler’s latest, Down The Road Wherever [Blue Note]. Undoubtedly a hi-res studio recording, downsampled to 16/44, Good on you Son, shows off Knopfler’s classic ease and free-flowing artistry. Opening up with a guitar riff, you hear perfect timing; not just in the manner of his command. There’s a fullness, a body and weight to the riff, easily discernible on hi-res stuff, not necessarily Compact Disc. What Andreas Koch’s FPGA packaged algorithms have done is nothing short of astounding, taking a 40 year old medium to heights likely never envisioned. Could SACD be better still? You bet. Plucking my trusted go-to disc, Getz / Gilberto [Analog Productions/Verve], is a delight on so many ways. On Vivo Sónhando, Getz’s playful mastery of the tenor sax is a marvel in musicianship, recorded or otherwise. The old feeling of “you are there” is enveloping, downright materializing in front of you. Crystalline, pure highs, with no signs of stress, the MPS-8 Dream Player resolves the critical midrange and upper registers of the spectrum without any hint of exuberance or editorializing. The tape is in fact the master and the master, brought to you by DSD, is masterful. The softly faded percussion and piano, clearly in the background, nevertheless take on a lifelike presence that opens a window to the recording session. That this session is now close to 60 years old, is immaterial. Preservation is king. That this is the best I’ve heard this disc in my house is a remarkable achievement given that the MPS-5 was no slouch. Similar, though clearly not nearly as organically resolved, the MPS-5 masked certain elements that you really only register in direct comparison to the MPS-8 Dream Player. Percussive elements are ever so slightly smeared; the faint piano not quite as impactful and open. New is indeed, new, thus its lights out and practically game, set and match for Mr. Dream Player. Yes, but what about the Stream-X option? I have to confess that for the past few years I have preferred the playback quality of physical media to any stream, be it via a copied disc on my NAS, a hi-res file on my NAS, a Tidal or Qobuz stream. No matter the source, the physical disc – even if said this was merely a CD – generally always trumped the streamed version of the same cut. This has been my experience with dCS’ Rossini, AURALiC’s Vega G2, and yes, even my previous reference, the MPS-5. I don’t know what it is – aren’t bits, bits? Apparently not. In some cases, the differences where easily heard, in others, not quite as profound, but always swinging back to the physical format. Would the MPS-8 take things in a decidedly different direction? Yes. No. Maybe. Let me qualify that. First, the basics: my QNAP’d 32TB NAS attaches via Cat 5 to one of four eero mesh network routers located in my home office. There, about 6TB of various hi-res files in DSD, double-DSD and various hi-res PCM formats sit, waiting to be called to duty via Roon’s Nucleus, also attached to the same eero router. I haven’t yet decided the deal or no deal on network cables, so these are standard IT-grade Cat 5 cables, in other words, nothing fancy. Tidal and Qobuz arrive via my fiber optic Verizon, ne, Frontier 100/100 service and are then routed to another eero router in my living-room. CDs and SACDs obviously have the benefit of being physical present; the pits are in fact the bits. What comes next is somewhat perplexing, somewhat vexing. Why would bits derived from a stream – all clocked to be decoded properly – sound any different from bits derived from a CD’s pits, spinning around a mechanical device at high speed? I really don’t know. Fact is, that even with the far superior number quetching power of the MPS-8 Dream Player, those bits seem to take a back seat to their physical cousins. Perhaps the delta is somewhat shrunk; on some cuts it’s as easy as ever to discern the difference; on others, not so much. Sorting my audition notes, I scribble “faint”; “excessive”; “two-dimensional”; “timing is off”. In general, and not specific to any genre, these attributes seem fitting. A fault of the Stream-X option? Hardly. Given Andreas Koch’s digital design genius, his system delivers precisely what his system gets. Data. Here, I find myself in the following pickle: when I want to listen to music, I’ll use the svelte remote to select the Stream-X input; cue up Roon on my iPad or iPhone and bliss away. Everything works, each and every time. No hiccups, nothing to configure. Up to single-rate DSD and 24/192. Sounds terrific, it really does. But, if I really want to enjoy an album, a cut or song, I pull the CD, open the all-metal disc drawer of the MPS-8 Dream Player and play away. Somehow, this sounds better. On the newly released, and remixed from the original 24 track, 2” session tapes by Warner Sound [La-La Land Records], soundtrack of Superman, the original Christopher Reeve movie, John William’s score is a bombastic experience of truly epic proportions. Via the EINSTEIN leashed YG Sonja 2.3s, his score truly comes to life in a manner that can only be described as epic. Cinemascope wide soundstaging, with proper depth, width and height, unfold a symphonic score searching for equals. Cut two, The Planet Krypton, shines akin to Richard Strauss’ Also Sprach Zarathustra. Hearing is believing. The QNAP’d copy? Ever so slightly less so. That the latest Playback Designs MPS-8 Dream Series is an all-out assault on state of the art in digital playback is no surprise. You get a no-nonsense digital transcoder that, like its predecessor, will be upgradeable for at least as long, packed full of the latest technologies available. At $28,500, it’s not cheap by any means. Given the outstanding sound quality it produces, a fair price, especially considering the ever-escalating price points some manufacturers dare ask for their level best. In my book, Andreas has done it again, designing a genuine reference quality all-in-one DAC, player and streamer built to the highest standards. Frankly, the last disc player you may ever need. A+++++ Product Info: Product: Playback Designs MPS-8 Dream Player w/ Stream-X option Price: $28,500 Product Page - LINK Product Brief - LINK (PDF) Owner's Manual - LINK (PDF) Equipment used: Wilson Audio Alexx YG Acoustics Sonja 2.3 EINSTEIN The Loudspeaker EINSTEN The Preamp EINSTEIN The Last Record Player, CD source EINSTEIN The Silver Bullet Mk II, OTL mono block amplifiers McIntosh MC611, mono block amplifiers Kubala-Sosna Elation!, speaker cables, interconnect and power cables LessLoss C-MARC, power cables and S/PDIF 15” MacBook Pro 2018, source Roon system consisting of Roon Nucleus and Roon software HRS M3X equipment base Tabula-Rasa, solid wood equipment rack QNAP 32TB 8-bay NAS eero in home mesh network / WiFi
  7. Great review! Goes to show that high-end audio really isn't a binary proposition: there's variations on a theme and what makes one DAC sound good on one cut, another improves upon it elsewhere. While I think that direct comparisons are a nice value add, they don't necessarily add any sort of "gotcha" moments. Heck, the same DAC sounds different to different ears anyway... reviews - my own included - are just that: momentary captures of sonic attributes at a very specific time and place; nothing more, nothing less. Ultimately, you have to - ought to - hear it for yourself.
  8. CONGRATS Chris!!! Can't wait to hear them... LOVE the color! 👍
  9. Audiophile Style's Danny Kaey has a very busy day job with Apple and he actually has a life, unlike some of us who eat, sleep, and breathe HiFi. In other words, please excuse the late but much appreciated and unique video reports from Danny. Enjoy.
  10. hi there... good question. Resolution is one of those hard to define topics in general. In fact, just what "is" resolution really? For me, it's a few things, chief amongst them mid-range clarity and mid-range openness. Nothing - no amp - has ever bested the EINSTEIN OTL (Ouput TransformerLess) amps, which are my gold standard and will likely be forever. They really are crown jewels in the sense that you hear 1:1 what's stored on the medium. That said, they are massively expensive (retail $60k) and like a Veyron, Chiron, et all, have their limitations. EINSTEIN's The Poweramp, an offshoot Circlotron design for solid-state, comes very close to the OTLs in terms of resolution, clarity and overall sound, and is in fact my second favorite amp; it's also dramatically more accessible, 1/3 the cost of the OTLs. What's it all mean Basil? Now the MC611s are somewhat similar, somewhat different a beast than either of these amps. They get close to The Poweramp in resolution, not quite, but have bass power and output that's just fun to have around. Music, any kind, really sounds very musical which is a fundamental part of what I listen for. To your question, which amps the Macs compare to in the price range, I'd put them up against a Luxman 800 (I think they still make them, perhaps they don't), or really any other premium amp - I know that's a very generic statement. I'd wager the stereo MC462 is an absolutely killer amp too... I guess I was always looking for something big, massively powerful to play with.
  11. Hmmmmmmm... actually it was the other way around. I really had no idea what these would sound like - yes, I've heard Mac many times but never in a controlled environment. Having spent this time with them really brought me over the finish line. Fantastic product. I know that in "high-end" circles Mac has a split following; some dig it, some think it's mid-fi, though I never really understood why or how. If any "high-end" badge was on these other than Mac, they'd sell for 40k, I'm convinced. Very curious to see / hear what the rest of the Mac line sounds like.
  12. I bet! Have to say, I'm very impressed w/ Mac!
  13. There is a certain iconic romance associated with McIntosh Labs, America’s de facto institution for high fidelity playback. Well into its 70th year of existence, McIntosh has been around longer, went farther, sprung higher and generally enthused audiences more than any other American HiFi shop. How could one resist? Classic American styling, top notch construction quality, solid engineering and genuine high-end customer service and support – something many a “high-end” company could only dream of – all lead to the same conclusion: McIntosh not only draws people to music, it does so reaching more people than most other shops could ever hope to. Today’s styling cues are perhaps best associated with the legendary blue-ish tint (the actual color, like that quintessential Tiffany’s blue, is a trademark owned by McIntosh Labs) VU meters and that oh-so magical looking green font used for the McIntosh logo and product name. How iconic is McIntosh Labs you ask? Consider that upon entry to chez K, visitors and friends alike first catch the magical glow of Wilson Audio’s Alexx speakers, followed almost immediately by comments surrounding the MC611 amplifier pair, particularly when the amps are turned on and that spellbinding blue shine of those power display meters (8” across) draws your attention. “Oh, are these McIntosh amps?” “Wow, you have not one but two (!), McIntosh amps?” “Are these those famous amps I heard of, can’t think of their name, no wait, McIntosh!?” In my almost twenty years of reviewing HiFi, no other brand – outside of Wilson Audio – has garnered as much immediate attention as this pair of MC611s. Undoubtedly, a testament the reach and prominence of McIntosh outside of our HiFi circles. Having sought to review McIntosh gear for some time, the opportunity finally presented itself towards the beginning of the year: a few email exchanges later, a freight company representative dropped off two rather large – crated – boxes. “What are these anyway”, the rep quipped in broken English. “Amplifiers. You know, for music playback?” “Man, those are BIG!”, my helpful rep responded. Indeed. Even the crated wooden box of the mighty Boulder 1160 stereo amp wasn’t as large as a single MC611 shipping box. Opening the packaging, I immediately knew: McIntosh is truly a professional business, that means well, business. Weighing in at a tick under 100lbs unboxed, each, it’s obvious that McIntosh designed the packaging to ensure safe delivery under just about any circumstances. Definitely a two-man job, a friend and I moved the amps into position, now taking the place of my trusted, reference EINSTEIN The Silver Bullet Mk II OTL amplifiers. Giddy to see the blue glow of the VU meters, setup and connection is about as straightforward as can be. Connecting my Nordost Valhalla 2 Banana plug terminated cables to the Solid Cinch speaker tabs (1 set are available for each speaker impedance of 2, 4 or 8 Ohms), followed by Valhalla 2 balanced interconnects coming from my EINSTEIN The Preamp and lastly, a pair of LessLoss C-MARC power cables, a quick spot check, and a satisfyingly tactile flick of the power switch on each pair of MC611s brought the meters to glow. Rated at 600 Watts of output power, regardless of load, courtesy of McIntosh’s use of autoformers, the MC611 is an updated design based off the MC601, which brought to life this model’s updated design theme. Claimed improvements are vast and many: doubled filter capacity, resulting in 55% greater dynamic headroom from 1.8dB to 2.8dB and resulting improvement in low frequencies; an LED backlighting for the VU meters for improved color accuracy and longevity; a balanced S/N ratio of 124dB for balanced and 120dB below rated output; slightly updated visuals with the classic McIntosh circuit topology being printed on the top part of the chassis. As my industry friend and impartial mentor for all things audio, Arian Jansen (of SonoruS audio) said, “This is a fundamentally well-designed amplifier; it’s the American version of Luxman”. If anyone can take apart – figuratively – an amplifier or audio circuit on the fly, Arian would be my firm bet. He’s not disappointed me once. That said, there are countless examples of well-engineered and well-designed audio circuits out there; the question ultimately is how they sound and the music they reproduce. I make no bones about the fact that my EINSTEIN OTL amplifiers are in fact the best I had ever heard. Fast, ultra-wide bandwidth, powerful (yes, I know, generally surprising for a tube amp, let alone an OTL), The Silver Bullet Mk II has been my system’s anchor for some time. Even on the big Wilson Alexx speakers, which most who have and haven’t heard, find very hard to believe. The magic of the EINSTEIN crown jewels lies in their ability to produce music, more so than any other amplifier I have heard. Leaving behind a liquid, purposeful midrange clarity and top end extension, I enjoy music through these quite much. If there is one area where they can’t compete with bigger amplifiers, it’s in power output and overall bass definition. Much of it stemming from simple physical design limitations, an OTL amplifier’s output is roughly halved with each halving of the speaker load, the EINSTEIN’s simply can’t rock it like I sometimes want to. Sometimes, I feel like turning it up to 11, not merely 9. Cue my search for powerful amps. Therein lies the rub however. In my time searching far and wide for powerful amplifiers that also sound musical, I haven’t had much luck. Until the MC611s came along. From the first note I heard, via Technics SL-1000R / Dynavector XV-1s / EINSTEIN The Phonostage, off Michel Legrand’s self-titled (and now quite legendary and positively stunning all analog IMPEX reissue) Legrand Jazz, there was gobs of musicality. A certain rhythm. Pace, timing; ‘Round Midnight, a downtempo, musical tour de force, rich in Legrand’s colorful composition, shows not only incredible intimacy with Miles’ playfulness, but incredible cinemascope wide and deep soundstage. It’s been overused as a descriptive term, forgive me: you really get the sense and scale of the intimate, tight arrangement. The MC611s not only let all the color shine through, they showed no signs of holding back MD’s trumpet. Attack, sustain, decay came through with such clarity and power you – I – rarely hear through high-power amplifiers. Mind you, this was evident not only at indicated 6 Watt meter mark, where amps traditionally perform very well, but also at the 60 Watt meter mark, with peaks registering higher still. On a very recent discovery, French singer, Keren Ann, performing her latest album, Bleue, via Tidal’s MQA’d track Bleu, played through AURALiC’s Vega G2, leashed to Roon, you are at once transported inside Keren’s lush, svelte, smoky, soulful breath of each verse. The arrangement overall is sort of a Carpenter-ish adaptation for the 21st century. Opening softly with sequenced drums, a mild guitar riff and Keren’s center-stage vocals, the comparison to Karen Carpenter is more than just skin deep. Through the MC611s, you can hear the quality of the recording, which, for a pop singer in this day and age is unfortunately rare. No matter the output level, though lately, mostly because of how closely the big Macs mimic the overall tune of my trusted EINSTEIN OTLs, I have been on a late-night listening kick. Barely pushing past an indicated .60 Watts, the big Wilsons seem no less leashed and standing at attention. Clarity, focus and that liquid mid-range still grab your attention, particularly on albums like Keren Ann’s. Try cueing up Paul Weller’s latest live at Royal Festive Hall recording of past hits and sounds, and you’ll be hard pressed to believe that you are anywhere else but a member of the captive audience in the best seat of the house. The dramatic shifts you hear when switching between recording venues – undoubtedly a fundamental aspect of the big Wilsons mid-room setup with more than enough space to breathe – is quite profound, particularly when you switch from close mic’d cuts like Annie Lennox’ Nostalgia album [Tidal – MQA] to something like [Classic Records] epic 4 single disc 45rpm transfer of The Pines of Rome. Here, the pianissimo opening to La fontana del Tritone al mattino, opens up the brilliantly recorded Chicago Symphony conducted by Fritz Reiner. What Richard Mohr did on this recording is spectacular and genuinely a magical show of engineering. The MC611s transcribe the record venue with such clarity and – when needed – limitless power output that listening sessions approaching live symphonic sound bring forth the dramatic contrasts just as composer Respighi intended to. Dynamic headroom? Gobs of it. Splash, pizzazz? More than you can ask for. Where I miss the ultimate in resolving power brought forth by my reference OTLs, the McIntosh MC611s make up for in spades with sheer fun, playful limitless scaling of recorded venues. Toro y Moi’s latest album, Outer Peace, is another terrific demo of the inherent strength of the big Macs. Looped, sequenced, Pro-tool’d beats, synths, and vocals, Chaz Bear keeps raising the ante on this fine album. On Freelance, the album’s seventh track, a pulsating, catchy beat line carries the song’s rhythm. Here, the big Wilson Alexx produce such profound, powerful and dynamically wide-open bass, that when pushing the MC611s to an indicated 600 Watt peaks (!), your chest and ears best be prepared for the musical salvo coming at you. Mind you, I generally do not listen to music at 600 Watt peaks; this was merely an attempt to bring home Apollo 11’s F-1 engine test firing at earth and house shattering volume levels. But, even as I turned down the volume within fifteen or so seconds (I do value my hearing, after all), I was impressed by the scale, authority and shear power the MC611s are capable of unleashing when paired with appropriate speakers and willing participants at the volume control. What then do we have with McIntosh’s latest series of big-power amps? To me, these amplifiers demonstrate firstly that you can have high-output power in a musical sounding package. No matter what genre, source, vinyl or otherwise, I threw at these amps, the transformative nature of each cut – when called for – was heard clearly and undeniably. There are amps that make music sound more or less similar; there are amps that contour music emotionally; there are amps that reveal the last bit of detail, ambience and microscopic inflections of each note played. There are very few amps however, that manage to package all these attributes into one design that does it all generally equally well. That breed of amplifiers is rare indeed – yet, McIntosh somehow managed to do just that at a price point that in today’s terms is downright affordable. Add to that genuine high-end support, an honest Made in America badge, and knowledge that these amplifiers will sound as good in twenty year’s time as they do the day you bought them and you have yourself a winner. I was prepared to spend considerably more for a high output solidstate amp; that the MC611 won me over and left money in my pocket was a genuine surprise that I didn’t see coming. Well done and most definitely worth an audition. Highly recommended, A++++. Product Info: Product: McIntosh Labs MC611 Solid State Amplifier Price: $15,000 per pair Product Page - LINK Brochure - LINK Owner's Manual - LINK Connection Diagram - LINK Equipment Used: Wilson Audio Alexx EINSTEIN The Loudspeaker EINSTEN The Preamp EINSTEIN The Last Record Player, CD source EINSTEIN The Silver Bullet Mk II, OTL mono block amplifiers McIntosh MC611, mono block amplifiers Kubala-Sosna Elation!, speaker cables, interconnect and power cables LessLoss C-MARC, power cables and S/PDIF 15” MacBook Pro 2018, source Roon system consisting of Roon Nucleus and Roon software HRS M3X equipment base Tabula-Rasa, solid wood equipment rack QNAP 32TB 8-bay NAS eero in home mesh network / WiFi
  14. completely in agreement with you - I have seen my fair share of fancy and extremely expensive casework make its way through Chez K only to be largely disappointed with the overall sound quality. Therein lies one of the problems with high-end audio... not that there aren't any other problems with it.......... 🤣
  15. Valid point - hence why most DACs today do DSD/PCM, (MQA), etc. personally, and in this day and age, I’d much prefer a Roon endpoint DAC with built in Ethernet streaming - put differently, if I had the choice of 2 DACs, one with all formats and the second with limited formats but Ethernet streaming, I’d take the second option. I’m sure @Louis Motek - LessLoss Is perhaps even working on just such a solution.
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