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March 2018
Enjoy the Music.com Review Magazine
World Premiere Review!
McIntosh Labs MA5300 Integrated Amplifier
McIntosh Labs reputation shines through with excellent build quality and exemplary performance.
Review By Ron Nagle

 

McIntosh Labs MA5300 Integrated Amplifier Review

 

  McIntosh, the name seems to popup everywhere. Of course there is the computer company, the corner market has some apples and even the label inside my raincoat say's McIntosh. However, when you apply that name to high-end audio the word takes on an entirely greater significance. Any established audio manufacturer would give their eyeteeth to have the same reputation for build quality, long-term reliability, and customer service.

 

Back Story
McIntosh Laboratory was founded in 1949 by Frank McIntosh. In 1956 the company moved to its current location at 2 Chambers Street, Binghamton New York. In 1946 Frank McIntosh, then a design consultant for broadcast and TV stations, hired Gordon Gow to help him design a high power, low distortion amplifier needed for his clients. This amplifier would become the 50W-1. It included McIntosh's first patented circuit, the, Unity Coupled Circuit, still used by current products. During the companies 68 year history it has changed ownership four times. In 1990 McIntosh was purchased by the Japanese company Clarion. In 2003 another Japanese group, D&M Holdings, assumed ownership. Then nearly a decade later, in 2012 it moved to an entirely new continent! The Italian investment group Fine Sounds, based in Milan, assumed control of the company. Lastly, in May of 2014 a partnership between American and Italian investors renamed the parent company the McIntosh Group and brought the company back to its present home in Binghamton, New York.

The McIntosh Group has financial interests in other well-respected high-end luxury audio companies. Under the McIntosh Group's umbrella are Audio Research, sonus faber, Sumiko Audio, and Wadia. Within this tale are very poignant lessons to be learned, and that is no matter who held the reins of the company that no one tried to make drastic changes to the production or design of McIntosh Labs products. After all, they were sacrosanct! All these interests wanted to be associated with the brand name, longstanding reputation, and the potential that comes with the name McIntosh Labs.

 

Design Details
McIntosh Labs' MA5300 integrated amplifier is by no means overly large, or tiny and compact. It fits right where it should at 17.5" X 6" X 22" (WxHxD) and weighs a hearty 38 pounds out of the box. It's priced at $5000, which is almost bargain to middle-range of pricing within today's audiophile landscape given the feature set offered. Perhaps even a bargain, yet we'll get to that later. Anyone into high quality audio would instantly know the classic McIntosh Labs form factor from a mile away. In fact if you're a fan of Mr. Robot you can see the New York City House of McIntosh used as a set within the TV show.

Getting back to the classic McIntosh Labs design, there are two beautifully big, signature blue colored peak indicating power meters on the face. These are a McIntosh Labs brand dead giveaway. On the left front face is a rotary knob used to select an input source. This knob is also used to enter and select the TRIM or SETUP modes. Just to the right of that is a headphone jack. Moving just below the center McIntosh logo are left and right channel Power Guard activation indication LED's. And dead center is the selected information LED display so you can make adjustments as desired.

 

McIntosh Labs MA5300 Integrated Amplifier Review

 

The center digital display has a large blue LED readout on a dark background. The display shows, source selection, digital input, volume levels and setup functions. To the immediate right is the remote controls IR sensor. Just under the right side power meter is the Standby power On / Off push button. Lastly is the lower right side Volume control knob. This is also used to set the TRIM and SETUP functions. On line I count eleven Mac components that are classified as integrated amplifiers. The MC 5300 at 100 Watts into 8 Ohms and 160 Watts into 4 Ohms is similar to two other integrated amplifiers. The MA 252 and MA 5200 they both have similar power ratings per channel. The MA 5200 does have a MM phono stage on board, yet unlike the MA 5300 it doesn't have an upgradable digital audio module. Additionally, the newer MA 5300 integrated amplifier adds a much more sophisticated digital audio processor plus McIntosh Labs has added ability for internal software upgrades.

With S/PDIF coaxial and TosLink optical input capability the on board, the DAC can handle up to 24 bits @ 192 kHz. The USB input can process up to 384 kHz @ 32 bits (PCM). McIntosh Labs MA 5300 is also capable of processing DSD from basic 64 all the way up to DXD 384 kHz. There is a third digital input, MCT. This input will accept high bandwidth digital data for directly decoding SACD/CD from an external source. The MA5300 Includes a phono input capable of amplifying a moving magnet (MM) or (the company claims) a high output moving coil (MC) cartridge.

 

Backstage With McIntosh Labs' MA5300
There are a total of twelve rear panel connections, six are analog and six are digital connections. Digital input/control options are:

At the upgradeable Digital Audio Module are two S/PDIF coaxial, two TosLink optical inputs, a MCT digital input for streaming, and a USB digital computer audio input. To the right is a USB service port for servicing and software upgrading. To the right are two Mini plug Data ports, two External control 3.5 mm stereo mini plug connections, and last two mini plug Power control output mini connectors labeled, Main and Pass-thru.

 

McIntosh Labs MA5300 Integrated Amplifier Review

 

Analog input connections include a standard IEC power cord socket, next are two pairs of Power Amp and Preamp RCA jacks strapped for normal Stereo operation. Following those are four pairs of RCA input jacks, then a chassis ground lug, two RCA Phono inputs, and last are the left and right XLR jacks. McIntosh Labs' MA5300 remote control is full-featured and contains all the functions to setup and operate this amplifier. Some control functions are beyond the scope this evaluation and intended for other McIntosh components. Also the specifications and possible system configurations are extensive and numerous, so I will list them at the end of this report.

 

Installation
Not the usual procedure, and according to the owner's manual the amplifier's advanced high-current output transistors eliminate warm-up time so you can enjoy the MA 5300's complete sonic capabilities from the moment you turn it on. Ok, so no usual break in time, and so that's how I began listening. Installing my Kimber Kable 12 TC speaker wires proved to be more of a problem than it should. The speaker binding posts are arranged inconveniently, with one vertically above the other instead of side by side. (Defy gravity you will). My speaker cables have locking WBT banana plugs and they overlap, so a bit of wire twisting was necessary. Connected to the digital audio module I hooked up two separate digital TosLink optical feeds. The first from my Yamaha WXC-50 Internet Streamer. The other a direct TosLink out from my Sony UHP-1 SACD/CD player. In an A/B comparison I was able to switch back and forth from the Sony CD player via an RCA direct out connection to the same music via a TosLink signal fed into my Music Hall (tube buffered) up sampling DAC 25.3.

Note: All digital input sources were decoded to PCM. Even my reference SACD of Nils Lofgren Acoustic Live was converted to 16-bit/44.1kHz PCM. The Output from my Ortofon 2M Silver MM cartridge went directly to the MA 5300 onboard phono stage via unbalanced cables. For a comparison, my reference Tavish Design Adagio tube Phono Preamplifier was connected to an unbalanced line input. Last, I hooked up my Sangean HDG-1 Digital AM/FM radio to a RCA line input.

 

McIntosh Labs MA5300 Integrated Amplifier Review

 

McIntosh Labs MA5300 Integrated Amplifier Review

 

The Sound
The most difficult review of all to pen would be, all about nothing. Or in 'phile-speak it is about total tonal neutrality and transparency. Turning a page... I have heard some similar comments before about other Audiophiles Spouses. For some strange reason over a period of time they seem to evolve a cat like super sense of hearing. Walking past the back of my chair I hear my wife remark, "Sounds good, no extraneous noise, Pure Music". It was all so true, no there is nothing vacuum tube like to hang your hat on. And there is nothing edgy or hard nor is any portion of the music you hear emphasized beyond any other. The entire frequency spectrum treble to bass has a total see into the music balance.

No matter the source plugged into this amplifier I could hear back to the source, and not to the MA5300. My Ortofon 2M Silver (silver wire) cartridge sound came through loud and clear. The result was better than ever! It was a painted image on a large dimensional and detailed soundscape. Even the digital optical TosLink inputs were true to the musical source. My Music Hall upsampling DAC 25.3 contains a tube buffer at the output. I was very, very particular about the sound of that DAC. So I decided to plug in an ancient Bugle Boy miniature dual triode into the output of that DAC. Listening to a SACD recording of Nils Lofgren, Acoustic Live I could clearly hear the familiar overtones and timberal shadings of my old Bugle Boy buffered DAC.

 

McIntosh Labs MA5300 Integrated Amplifier Review

 

Conclusion
Nothing is lost and nothing is added passing through this MA5300 amplifier. In actuality it functions like a central switch board becoming a faithful conduit of the music from the source. If I were to begin building (once again) a highly accurate laboratory reference audio system. I would base everything on the corner stone that is the McIntosh 5300 Integrated amplifier. It is the McIntosh Labs reputation carried forward, the build quality and performance is exemplary! Considering the range of prices of modern high-end audio amplifiers, it is not expensive at $5000. Almost a bargain, actually, all things are considered. I know the phrase highly recommended has been totally worn out to death, but it still is true, go and listen to the McIntosh MA5300 integrated amplifier with phono stage, and you'll probably find yourself extremely happy.

Remember, Enjoy The Music and from me, Semper Hi-Fi.

 

Reference System
Sources:
SOTA Sapphire turntable with Grado laboratory reference tone arm, Ortofon Silver MM cartridge.
Sony UHP-U1 Universal CD/SACD/DVD/DVD-Audio player. 
Music Hall upsampling DAC 25.3 with headphone amplifier, Yamaha WXC-5 Wi-Fi Blue tooth receiver. 
Reference Amplification:
Sanders ESL power Amplifier
Speakers: 
Aurum Cantus V30M, Mark Daniels Omni Harmonizer tweeters.
Speaker Cables:
Kimber Kable 12tc 11ft. And a Kimber Kable 8TC 18" to tweeter. 
Interconnect Cables:
Monster Reference 4 pairs, two 0.5 meter, 1 meter and 1.5 meters, Nordost Red Dawn 
1meter, Audioquest Cinnamon XLR 1 meter. 
Chord Silver Siren 1 meter, Homemade Teflon RCA 1 meter, Autobahn 0.5 meter digital
Power Cable
Audio Advisor 7 gauge AC-9 SE MK-II IEC, Power Cords:3,12 gauge IEC Kaplan. 
line Conditioners:
Islatrol Industrial 20 Ampere AC line conditioner, Richard Gray 20 Amp Sub Station
Alpha Core Balanced Transformer Power Supply, Audio Power PE-1 power enhancer,
APC Power Block, Triad 2-Ampere isolation transformer. 
Alpha Core Balanced Transformer Power Supply, Triad 2 Amp. isolation transformer. 

 

Tonality

Sub–bass (10Hz – 60Hz)

Mid–bass (80Hz – 200Hz)

Midrange (200Hz – 3,000Hz)

High Frequencies (3,000Hz On Up)

Attack

Decay

Inner Resolution

Soundscape Width Front

Soundscape Width Rear
Soundscape Depth Behind Speakers

Soundscape Extension Into Room

Imaging

Fit And Finish

Self Noise

Value For The Money

 

Specifications
Type: Solid-state stereo integrated amplifier with phono stage
Frequency Response: 10Hz to 100kHz (+0, -3dB)
Power Output Per Channel: 100 Watts @ 8 Ohms, 160 Watts @ 4 Ohms
Number of Channels: Two (stereo)
Speaker Impedance: 4 or 8 Ohms
Total Harmonic Distortion: 0.005%
Dynamic Headroom: 1.8dB
Sensitivity Phono (Moving Magnet): 2.5mV
Sensitivity High Level (Balanced / Unbalanced): 0.5V/0.25V
Sensitivity (Power Amp input): 1V
Signal To Noise Ratio (Moving Magnet): 82dB
Signal To Noise Ratio (High Level): 95dB
Signal To Noise Ratio (Power Amp input): 110dB
Input Impedance (Balanced / Unbalanced): 20K/20K
Damping Factor: 8 Ohms: >200 and 4 Ohms: >100
Maximum Output (Balanced / Unbalanced): 8V Unbalanced
Connectivity: One pair XLR balanced, four pair RCA unbalanced input
Phono Input Moving Magnet: 1 (fixed loading)
Upgradable Digital Audio Module
Digital Coaxial Input
Digital Optical Input
Digital MCT (DIN) Input
Digital USB Input
Unbalanced Variable Output
Headphone Output
1/4" High Drive with Headphone Crossfeed Director (HXD)
Home Theater Pass Thru
Speaker Binding Posts By McIntosh Labs
Service Port

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

Controls
Tone Controls
Bass and Treble
Tone Bypass and Input Assign
RS232 Control Input
Power Control Output
Rear Panel Data Port
Rear Panel IR Sensor Input
Input Level Match

General Specifications
Output Meters
Dual Layer Chassis
Chassis Finish: Black painted steel
McIntosh Monogrammed Heatsinks
Dimensions: 17.5 x 6" x 22" (WxHxD)
Weight: 38 lbs
Price: $5000

 

Company Information
McIntosh Laboratory, Inc. 
2 Chambers Street
Binghamton, NY 13903

Voice:(607) 723-3512
Fax: (607) 724-0549
Website: www.McintoshLabs.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     
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