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Review: McIntosh MA8900 AC Integrated amplifier

Review: McIntosh MA8900 AC Integrated amplifier is an all-rounder for connoisseurs and is suitable for all kinds of music styles.

Question: How do you know that you are getting old? A: Hair grows out of the ears. B: Early morning awakening (senile bed escape). Or C: You would like a forklift to lift a 34-kilo integrated amplifier to the highest level of the rack. All of the answers are correct. Let’s stay with answer C, after all, this is not about menopause, but about hi-fi. Heavy hi-fi. The intervertebral disc crunches when the McIntosh MA8900 AC (9,780 euros) is finally in the rack. Oh what: enthroned!

McIntosh amplifiers are the Harley Davidsons of the high-end world – massive, American, not to be overlooked. Not everyone likes them, but many love them. It starts with the traditional light blue eyes and the bright green McIntosh lettering as soon as the MA8900 sucks at the socket. This exudes eerie charm not only in dark rooms. German sales – applause! – includes a Shunyata power cord with the integrated amplifier, after all you don’t drink whiskey from baby bottles. The “AC” in the type designation stands for Audio Components, the German distributor. It grants a five-year special guarantee on McIntosh products purchased from German dealers.

For a long time, the McIntosh MA8900 AC (price tag: 9,780 euros) behind the MA9000 AC (easily five-digit: 12,980 euros) was the second-largest integrated amplifier of the Americans, but now the traditional manufacturer from Binghamton, New York, has put an even stronger box on the market: the MA12000 AC for a suspect small car 17,950 euros. The latter then weighs 49 kilograms. They all have one thing in common: They are huge and need a correspondingly stable and large rack. The MA8900 AC has dimensions of 44.5 cm (width) x 19.4 cm (height) and 47.6 cm (depth). The last value in particular puts many racks in distress, especially since the depth with the cables connected increases significantly. Sure: racehorses and sports cars just need a lot of exercise.

Equipment de luxe

The workmanship of the bolide is flawless and pleases the eye and the sense of touch. The whole thing seems so massive and solid that you think this amplifier could survive a nuclear war or a Helene Fischer CD. The switches and knobs run smoothly and click fine when you operate them – that wasn’t always the case with McIntosh knobs in the past, which like to wobble. In terms of performance, the MA8900 AC lags behind its bigger brothers with its 200 watts at two, four and eight ohms. But what does neglect mean? The amplifier has the typical McIntosh autoformer, which has enabled perfect adaptation to the complex loads of the loudspeakers for over 60 years. The autoformer at transistor-Amplifiers are one of the peculiarities of Mcintosh, as these are normally only used with tube amps. They are located between the loudspeaker and the output stage transistors, which means that the latter are decoupled from the speaker load.

The amplifier therefore offers various sockets for speaker cables on the back: While only one ground pole is available, the owner can choose between a two, four or eight ohm tap for the hot pole. Eight-ohm models receive the necessary voltage, four-ohm models enough current, while even two-ohm speakers run without buckling of the amp. In practice, every sound transducer needs to be tried out; in the case of the Martin Logan Impression ESL 11A, the eight-ohm version sounds best, even if some dealers recommend the four-ohm tap here.

The equipment: The American has an integrated D / A converter, which has two optical, two coaxial and one USB-B interface for connecting notebooks / desktop PCs. In addition, there is the company’s own MCT socket for high-resolution digital signals from McIntosh drives. Its predecessor, the MA7900 AC, also had a built-in converter section – with the difference that it was permanently installed. Because the McIntosh MA8900 AC offers the possibility to have the digital module on the back replaced by the dealer, for example if there is a defect or a new, more advanced digital module is available. The latter actually happened a year ago: Since then, McIntosh has been offering a revised module called the DA2, which owners of the integrated amplifier can later purchase or purchase for a price of 1. 275 euros can be installed. Compared to the DA1, it has an HDMI interface with audio return channel (ARC), which will please TV and home theater fans.Something is also happening with DSD playback : Instead of “only” DSD256, there are now DSD512. Too bad that there is still so little DSD material to buy.

Overall, according to the German distributor Audio Components, the new converter chip should produce less harmonic distortion and a higher dynamic range. The McIntosh MA8900 AC always comes with the DA1 module as standard. So the DA2 upgrade costs extra and must be installed by an authorized McIntosh dealer or a McIntosh service agency. The integrated amplifiers MA9000, MA7200 and MA5300 can also be upgraded in this way, while the two McIntosh preamplifiers C53 and C2700 already have the upgrade ex works.

When looking at the five tone controls on the front, which start at 30, 125, 500, 2000 and 10000 Hertz, high-end purists have to be strong: influencing the sound, yuck! However, if you often listen to old, loud and almost bass-free recorded rock music, you will be happy about the possibilities of influencing the sound and making poorly recorded, bloodless music a little bit more bearable. And that’s what it’s all about: enjoying music and tinkering – and not a rigid worldview. Oh yes: The tone control can also be completely removed from the signal path using the “Equalizer” button. In addition to six analog RCA inputs , the Whopper also has an XLR option and two phono docking options (MC and MM).

In addition, there is a more than useful 6.35 mm headphone jack socket on the front with a “Headphone Crossfeed Director” switch (HDX). This is intended to ensure that playback via headphones is more focused on speakers reminds, so offers more space and depth. When the HDX function is activated, it actually sounds a bit more distant and quieter, the sound comes more from the front than from the side, but also has a slightly duller effect than with classic headphone playback. So it’s a matter of taste, but it is definitely helpful to be able to influence the playback in no time using the five-band equalizer. Overall, the headphone section of the McIntosh MA8900 AC sounds surprisingly good and powerful – if you don’t wear super-expensive headphones on your head every day, you can save yourself the purchase of an additional headphone amplifier.

If you dive a little deeper into the menu of the MA8900 AC, many great setting parameters catch your eye. For example, the option to adjust the input level of each connection separately, louder or louder. In this way, stark differences in level between different sources such as turntables and CD players can be prevented. In addition, the proud owner can change the names of the inputs that are shown on the display as desired. The iconic blue eyes can also be switched off if desired, while the display can be switched lighter or darker. Only the green lettering cannot be deactivated.

A few words about the remote control: McIntosh has finally, finally, retired the chubby remote control, which always appears slightly sticky with its soft rubber and which was enclosed with the previous model and other devices. The new, beautifully slim remote control already deserves this name, lies comfortably in the hand and looks classy with its chrome frame.

Remote of McIntosh MA8900 AC

And one more thing: new owners should definitely replace the short bridges between the pre-amp and power amp section with short, high-quality cinch jumpers – this improves the sound in some cases significantly. Let’s go.

McIntosh MA8900 AC: Sound Tests & Comparisons

Gentlemen, start you engines!

Let’s rummage through the music collection on the music server (NAD M50.2), which is docked to the amplifier’s converter via a coaxial digital cable. Let’s leave the electric guitars on, for example with the outstanding Rival Sons album Feral Roots (2019), which was also produced extremely well by six-time Grammy Award winner Dave Cobb. The opening number “Do Your Worst” develops a monster groove with its massive drums, which at most the deceased can escape. A slack or cautiously tuned amplifier takes the drive away from the piece, while a good one spills the groove authentically into the listening room. And yes, the Mcintosh can do it: The feet bob along, and even the wife one floor below nods approvingly. You can see the band standing on the stage with their legs apart in rock ‘n’ roll poses, while sweat drips from the ceiling. A cross check to compare the analog inputs with the digital ones. Same piece on McIntosh CD player MCD301: are there any differences? Yes, little ones. It sounds slightly brighter and more energetic on a disc, and a bit more rounded and fluid on the server and the amplifier’s converter. A matter of taste.

Generous set design

McIntosh MA8900 AC

The American’s enormous stage width is noticeable here, which – depending on the respective recording – can sometimes extend beyond the sound transducers to the left and right. The individual instruments are clearly separated from each other, as one can expect in the 10,000 euro class. However, they do not stand out unpleasantly from the sound, as can sometimes happen with very analytical amplifier colleagues. The McIntosh MA8900 AC always keeps the big picture in mind and sees itself as a mediator – and not as an agitator. Its depth graduation, however, still has room to the rear. Perhaps this is also due to the fact that for him the action always takes place a bit in front of the loudspeaker baseline. On the one hand, this promotes the direct in-your-face sound impression and conveys closeness,

The McIntosh MA8900 AC gets along very well with blues, classic and hard rock, as we saw at the Rivals Sons. But what about completely different music? There’s the brand new London Grammar album Californian Soiljust right. The British found their niche already with their debut “If You Wait” (2013) with the sparsely orchestrated indie pop and the fairy voice of Hannah Reid, which is always the focus. In “Missing”, a new piece, Reid’s organ is tangible and crystal clear in the room, it literally floats in space, and this also applies to the following “Lose Your Head”. If the recording allows, our test candidate shows the action wonderfully three-dimensional and tangible – everything has its place, everything can be located. This is naturally more difficult with rowdy rock music, unless we are talking about the prog rockers Tool and their excellently produced albums.

McIntosh MA8900 AC

Let’s try something more reduced, like Johnny Cash . His cover version of the nine-inch-nails hymn “Hurt”, which has been reduced to the bone and still resonates today, still leaves a lump in the throat. Here, the fragile voice of Cash and his groaning acoustic guitar, including the noises around him, stand right in the room – it almost seems as if the old man is complaining the story to the listener directly in the face. This is of course also due to the Martin Logan Impression ESL 11A, which are known for their pronounced spatiality and directness. But the Mcintosh MA8900 AC also has its share of this enormous plasticity.

Count peas?

A few words about the detailed resolution: There are cars in the 10,000 Euro league that go into even greater detail, yes. One notices this, for example, with the aforementioned “Hurt”, where the guitar strings snap and creak when cash is easily wasted . A detail like this, for example, is brought out a touch more clearly by a Devialet 400 that has been in the author’s listening room for a long time. Is that why the American lacks resolution? No, it corresponds to what one can expect in this price range – with a bit of room for improvement, of course. But let’s not forget: This amplifier is a team player who wants to bring people together and not divide. In other words: sober chief analysts with a penchant for extreme pea counting prefer to look at other brands.

Full there in the upper room

McIntosh MA8900 AC

Which brings us to the treble: The highs are there without being too intrusive. One could also say: This integrated amplifier presents itself a touch more gracious in the high range than some competitors in its price range, without any trace of sharpness. On the other hand, you never have the feeling that something is missing. There can be no talk of mustiness or passivity above, especially not with voices.

The human ear perceives sibilants, i.e. sibilants that often occur in the middle and upper heights, to be particularly uncomfortable and piercing. Amplifiers that overshoot the mark here are perceived as shrill and tiring – the long-term suitability suffers, the listening session ends earlier. This cannot happen with the McIntosh MA8900 AC: The silky and suppleness of this device invites you to linger, sometimes with a beer or glass of wine in hand until after midnight. Okay, on the Metallica album St. Anger, which sounds like a beer can and junkyard(2003) even this amplifier cannot save anything, because here it was obviously intentional for blood to flow out of the ears. If, on the other hand, it is about conventionally produced music with a bit of high frequency energy, the amp takes some sharpness out – with the help of the equalizer if desired. In combination with the Martin Logan Impression 11A, there is a wonderful airiness and lightness in the treble that every hi-fi fan should experience. This also applies to extreme levels: even at a concert volume, the McIntosh MA8900 AC with its large displacement never appears thin, pointed or pressed.

The golden mean

This is also due to the representation of the mids, which come across as organic and beautifully bold in their entirety. The adjective “earthy” is probably best. In other words: this amplifier puts a touch more emphasis on the mids than on the highs. The lower mids in particular , i.e. the range between 150 and 400 Hertz, play a decisive role in whether the sound is perceived as full and warm or not. And this is where the great guy from the States reaches out: the melodic punk rock attacks on The Offspring’s new album Let The Bad Times Roll (first sign of life since the 2012 work Days Go By) appear full, full and somehow completely right. Like a Harley exhaust, which massages your calves with a pleasant bubbling, in order to stay in the picture chosen at the beginning. You could also say: While the middle and upper mids come across as neutral, the McIntosh MA8900 AC goes a step further in the lower range.

Dark as the night

Which brings us to the bass: What does the fat man do, for example, with organ music that goes really deep into the frequency basement? Excellent for this: Anna von Hausswolff. The Swede is particularly popular in the Gothic scene, as she explores the darkest corners of human existence with her sacred doom folk pop, which is often dominated by dark organ sounds, and her lyrics. Often long, deep tones occur, also called drones, with which stereo systems tend to lose their temper. Not so our test candidate, who played on “Deathbed” from the 2013 album Ceremony  hammers deep abysses voluminously, but still rock solid into the room, as if it were the most natural thing in the world. The contrast to the bright female voice creates another wow factor. The width of the stage of the amplifier is impressive again, which, in combination with an almost man-high Martin Logan electrostat, pulls up a huge cathedral of lament and transports the listener to another world: it smells slightly musty in the church building, somewhere a pinch of stale incense wafts past , while someone next door prays quietly that this devilishly good music may please sink back into the ground quickly.

Speaking of electrostats: attentive readers might be wondering how you can judge the bass with the partially active Logans (the bass is active, the rest is passive). Two answers to this, first: Before that there was a couple of Focal Sopra 2 here that the author of these lines still has well in mind. Second: As a countercheck, the older Elac FS 189 were dragged out of the home cinema room and connected. Let’s linger in the dark for a while: How good that the new solar fake album Enjoy Dystopia  is already on the music server. Sven Friedrich’s Berlin electro-dark-wave project released his most successful work to date in early 2021, which reached number four on the German album charts. Even with purely electronic music, the McIntosh MA8900 AC exudes authority and serenity. The bass goes very deep without being softened or spongy. It does not belong to the dry type, but neither does it become boggy in the ground. There is nothing to complain about here.

Muscleman

The deep, always slightly melancholy voice of Sven Friedrich always sounds silky and natural. Which is not to say that the American is a sleeping pill in terms of fine and coarse dynamics: When the beat machine suddenly starts in the catchy “I Despise You”, the goth’s make-up crumbles from the face, the change is so brutal. Electronic music always works with the McIntosh-Brocken – regardless of whether it is Kalkbrenner, Depeche Mode or Front 242.

It could be a bit more jagged and dynamic, however, here comparable integrated amplifier sizes from its price league pack even more vehemently. The McIntosh MA8900 AC is not a softie, but it cannot deny a certain inclination towards coziness – typical for this cult brand. Figuratively speaking: It is reminiscent of a muscular bodybuilder or heavyweight boxer who, although always dominating the scene in the ring, is not the fastest and most agile. Most competitors below its price range put its rough and fine dynamics into their pockets, but amplifiers that are expensive at the same time often sound even more jagged. Therefore, it is more suited to fast speakers. These don’t necessarily have to be boxes with a five-digit price tag. With the Martin Logan Impression ESL 11A, which can be adjusted to the room, the amplifier forms a dream team that leaves nothing to be desired. You shouldn’t operate the MA8900 AC only with rather cozy, darker-tuned boxes, as the temperament and liveliness could fall by the wayside. As is so often the case: trying is better than studying. Amplifier and loudspeaker have to fit together, only then does satisfaction arise. The most expensive components are of little use if they do not harmonize or are set up carelessly. Always test what it sounds like with the two-, four- and eight-ohm taps on the McIntosh. Then the hair in the ears will no longer bother you – and you will now find a good reason for the senile escape from bed … You shouldn’t operate the MA8900 AC only with rather cozy, darker-tuned boxes, as the temperament and liveliness could fall by the wayside. As is so often the case: trying is better than studying. Amplifier and loudspeaker have to fit together, only then does satisfaction arise. The most expensive components are of little use if they do not harmonize or are set up carelessly. Always test what it sounds like with the two-, four- and eight-ohm taps on the McIntosh. Then the hair in the ears will no longer bother you – and you will now find a good reason for the senile escape from bed … You shouldn’t operate the MA8900 AC only with rather cozy, darker-tuned boxes, as the temperament and liveliness could fall by the wayside. As is so often the case: trying is better than studying. Amplifier and loudspeaker have to fit together, only then does satisfaction arise. The most expensive components are of little use if they do not harmonize or are set up carelessly. Always test what it sounds like with the two-, four- and eight-ohm taps on the McIntosh. Then the hair in the ears will no longer bother you – and you will now find a good reason for the senile escape from bed … Testing is above studying. Amplifier and loudspeaker have to fit together, only then does satisfaction arise. The most expensive components are of little use if they do not harmonize or are set up carelessly. Always test what it sounds like with the two-, four- and eight-ohm taps on the McIntosh. Then the hair in the ears will no longer bother you – and you will now find a good reason for the senile escape from bed … Testing is above studying. Amplifier and loudspeaker have to fit together, only then does satisfaction arise. The most expensive components are of little use if they do not harmonize or are set up carelessly. Always test what it sounds like with the two-, four- and eight-ohm taps on the McIntosh. Then the hair in the ears will no longer bother you – and you will now find a good reason for the senile escape from bed …

Conclusion

The McIntosh MA 8900 AC is an all-rounder for connoisseurs and is suitable for all kinds of music styles. With its immense power, it drives almost every loudspeaker to maximum performance, no matter how demanding it may be. It goes best with light or neutral transducers, as it is – typically McIntosh – tuned a bit darker and warmer. But there can be no talk of overcast or dull. The adjectives “earthy” and “round” best describe its sound character, sometimes it is reminiscent of a good tube amplifier – only with a lot more power. This makes it ideal for long listening sessions, at all volumes, even at very high or low levels.

It depicts the stage wonderfully wide, works out individual elements nicely and at most leaves a little room for improvement in terms of stage depth and dynamics. If you can do without the very last bit of resolution – in terms of price – you will find it an integrated amplifier for the rest of your life: The McIntosh MA 8900 AC may not be an outright bean counter, but it has the fascinating gift of literally sucking the listener into the music .

In terms of equipment, I don’t miss anything: The amplifier offers an abundance of analog and digital inputs and, thanks to its high-quality, exchangeable converter section, makes an external D / A converter superfluous. If you buy a copy from a German dealer with an “AC” sticker on the back, you also receive a special five-year guarantee on your new purchase. And last but not least, I think that’s particularly good: I finally bought the McIntosh MA 8900 AC.

McIntosh MA8900 AC fact sheet:

  • The overall tonality is on the slightly warmer side, the result is an earthy, velvety sound in front of a pitch-black background. Light or neutral speakers go best with the MA8900 AC.
  • Powerful, authoritarian, very deep bass that never becomes spongy.
  • Organic, strong mids, with the lower mids being emphasized a little more.
  • Minimally reduced in the heights compared to other 10,000 euro bolides, so here a little more gracious and therefore also very long-term suitable.
  • Wonderfully wide stage, some of which protrudes over the loudspeakers to the right and left. Slight, manageable deficits in the stage depth to the rear.
  • High, if not extremely high, resolution. Not for heir counters, this amplifier understands music as a total work of art and not as many individual instruments. Instruments can still be precisely located in the room.
  • Appealing dynamic behavior, but there are more hands-on colleagues in this price range. In other words: not the fastest, but very muscular.
  • At 34 kilograms a real chunk, excellently processed and built to last. Visually a real eye-catcher: the blue eyes, the green McIntosh lettering, the stainless steel chassis and the old-fashioned rotary knobs really look good.
  • Extremely powerful: With 200 watts at two, four or eight ohms, it drives almost any loudspeaker. These three tap options allow its owner to experiment with the sound. An integrated equalizer is also available.
  • The built-in, exchangeable D / A converter module leaves nothing to be desired and, in combination with the phono inputs, makes the integrated amplifier a complete package for all cases.

Facts:  McIntosh MA8900 AC

  • Product: McIntosh MA 8900 AC
  • Category: Integrated transistor amplifiers
  • Price: 9,780 euros
  • Dimensions & weight: 44.5 x 19.4 x 47.6 cm (W x H x D), 34 kg
  • Colors: black
  • Inputs / outputs: 7 x line level (6 x cinch, 1 x XLR), 2 x phono (MM / MC), 1 x USB-B digital input, 2 x Toslink, 2 x coaxial S / PDIF, 1 x MCT -Digital input, 1 x pre-out, 1 x power amplifier in, 1 x speaker terminal with 2, 4 and 8 ohm taps (autoformer), trigger inputs and outputs, headphone output (6.35 mm jack)
  • Data rates: S / PDIF: 24 Bit / 192 kHz (PCM); USB: 32 Bit / 384 kHz (PCM) & DSD64-256; MCT: 16 bit / 44.1 kHz (PCM) & DSD64
  • Power: 2 x 200 watts at 8/4/2 ohm taps of the output transmitter
  • Other: Bass, treble and balance controls (can be switched off), dimmable display, VU meter lighting can be switched off, mono switch, adjustable input sensitivity, remote control
  • Guarantee: Five-year Audio Components special guarantee

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