16 November 2016
- Product Reviews
McIntosh Labs MA8000 Integrated Amplifier Review
McIntosh Labs has some very strong heritage and history behind the name and brand, founded in 1946 by Frank McIntosh and Gordon Gow they went on to create their very first low distortion amplifier, named the 50W-1 which also included their very first patented technology the Unity Coupled Circuit which is still used in products today, and you can say the rest is history as they went on to make it what the brand is today and that is a huge giant in the amplifier and Hi-Fi world.

The brand has some distinguished appearances and one’s that stands out to me is the great 1969 Woodstock event, they supplied the amplifiers to power the sets and another great moment in time is the Greatful Dead’s “Wall of Sound” which apparently used forty-eight 300 watt McIntosh Labs MC2300 solid state amplifiers with a mass total of over 28,800 watts of continuous power. So some impressive historical events which included the McIntosh brand, this is a statement to their quality and continued success in this industry.

For me I have always admired their work and electronics which are always at the forefront of technology which is continually evolving and so is the company. I have heard many different amplifiers over the years and some of the very best from the likes of Krell, D’Agostino and Audio Research to name a few. So my expectations have always been high and in respect to McIntosh this is my first taste of what they have to offer, and what an introduction this is. The MA8000 is a formidable Integrated amplifier which is not short on anything when you read up on the specs which alone are incredible to read, so to get one into review has been such an honour and a pleasure indeed.

When the amplifier first turned up I was greeted with this huge box which weighed in at over 63Kg and the box itself was harnessed by metal straps which needed to be undone with some hefty cutters. It was the case of a box within a box and then you got to greet the amplifier which was nicely wrapped and sat on its own pallet inside the box. The pallet was bolted to the amplifier and as you can imagine it was some heavy lifting and a job in itself just to get the MA8000 unbolted and to sit this beast on to my rack. But boy does it look good, with those big blue VU meters showing.

Features and Build Quality

As you can guess with a net weight of over 45Kg this is a giant in the amplifier world and its build quality is nothing short of spectacular. The unit is made up of a steel chassis which is double layered with two big brushed aluminium handles at the front for lifting the unit. It also has a gorgeous glass front panel which gives the amplifier some elegance as well as the usual rotary dials for volume control and inputs. In the middle you have eight separate dials for EQ which is an eight band equalizer set at different octaves in the frequency scale so you can tailor the sound to how you want, should you wish. There is also a by-pass button which can deactivate the EQ from individual inputs. The amplifier also features a high drive headphone input which is located on the front left of the panel. Included in the feature list is the now infamous McIntosh Autoformer which guarantees the full 300 watts of power regardless of impedance. That’s right I did say 300 watts which is masses of power and should be able to drive almost any speaker on the planet. McIntosh have also put in place a feature which is called Power Guard which will prevent the amplifier from clipping and therefore protecting your much loved speakers. These are all McIntosh patents which they have developed and use in many of their amplifier series. In total it has 15 inputs which also include two balanced and five digital, with the rest being the standard RCA type.

On board is also a dedicated DAC which operates at 32bits and 192Khz so you can stream your high-resolution music to the amplifier directly. Not only that but it has 2 phono stage inputs, one for MC and one for MM cartridges, with a variety of tweaks so that you can get the best sound out of your turntable. It has three sets of taps to connect your speakers too with 2ohm, 4ohm and 8ohm respectively so you can match your speakers perfectly. This is one of the most comprehensive Integrated Amplifiers I have come across and is a one box solution which ticks all the right boxes.

It also comes with a nicely laid out remote control unit which in turn can also provide other functions and operate other McIntosh components. I feel compelled to tell you about the manual that comes with the amplifier which can also be found online, but it is the most detailed and nicely laid out manual that I have ever read and goes into great detail about the amplifiers design and what is lying beneath this monster. The circuitry inside is just incredible and has been designed with every part of the amplifier containing the crucial circuitry which powers and runs this beast from within. Down the left and right sides are two big heat sinks which dissipate the heat energy, but to what I am used of this thing runs relatively cool and feels warm to the touch after heavy usage.

It also features the Home Theatre By-Pass function which is activated via a single stereo 3.5mm trigger jack out of your processor and into the MA8000, it works flawlessly and is simple in how it works but I much prefer this approach to the by-pass feature, so powering down your processor and the McIntosh is done with one push of the remote's button. Something that I have been missing for quite some time and a great addition as I do watch quite a fair number of movies these days.

Although to some it might look like a complex piece of equipment and it is, but take the time to read the manual and you quickly find that it is a breeze to use and the functionality of the unit is seamless and everything works perfectly.

Performance and Sound Quality

For my review of the MA8000 I will be using my beautiful sounding Wilson Audio Sophia 2 speakers which are connected with Transparent Ultra Gen 5 speaker cables. As per other reviews recently I will also be using the brilliant Aurender N100H Music Server, Clearaudio Concept Turntable and the magnificent MYTEK Brooklyn DAC which can decode every format imaginable. Other cables are from Nordost and Chord Signature but I am currently changing over to all Transparent, for both power and Interconnects which will be used for future reviews.

The McIntosh MA8000 has been running in my system constantly now for a good few weeks and has been on night and day so as to give the unit enough time to settle into my system and the performance has improved quite considerably with at least a couple of hundred hours of burn in time on the MA8000. I also have connected a Martin Logan BalancedForce 212 Subwoofer which is connected via the XLR balanced outputs and crossed over at 30hz which is the lowest X-over point and it blends seamlessly.

As I mentioned earlier in the review I have reviewed quite a few different Integrated amplifiers and also listened to many in different systems to mine so have a good idea of where this amplifier sits in the high-end hierarchy of amplifiers. To put it bluntly, this amplifier sits somewhere at the top of the ladder and this is because of many factors due to its flexibility of inputs and outputs and all the different functions that it provides and most importantly its ultimate sound quality.

I am using a variety of music ranging from Popular, Alternative, Electro and also some Classical Music in there too. First up I am listening to Vangelis’s new album which is classed as Classical with Electro Ambient altogether. He is such a great composer whose music really does stir the soul. His latest album is called Rosetta and it is fantastic which has a great score to it with huge bass and great dynamics which test the big McIntosh and gives it a chance to flex its muscles. One point that I have noted is that at low volume levels this amplifier sounds fantastic, it retains all the bass, dynamics and detail which I have not heard from other Integrated amplifiers apart from the mighty D’Agostino Momentum Integrated, but it is nearly four times the price of the McIntosh MA8000. Track 4 Exo Genesis is a beautifully crafted score of music which has subtlety but also great orchestral parts with huge bass and dynamics that the McIntosh seems to generate with ease. Bringing out all the finer details as well as the bass which at times is monstrous. The energy that it can muster is simply incredible and an almost holographic soundstage which is huge filling the room with sound that appears to float in space around you such is the scale at which this amplifier powers my Sophia 2 Speakers. The sound comes from deep inside the soundstage on Track 6 Albedo 0.06 with a mesmerising and controlled sound that is simply captivating. The McIntosh replicates the big drums and brass sections of the orchestra in a manner which is so defined that you feel its visceral power, mean while the electronic synthesizer just blends seamlessly into the music which is what Vangelis is so good at,  the MA8000 makes his music sound so divine. Track 8 Rosetta is my favourite piece of the album which reminds me of my younger days listening to classical music and how good this amplifier really is as it just feels effortless in the way it portrays the music and it draws you in such is its musicality.
The whole album is a masterpiece in my opinion and really does show off the talents of the big McIntosh to its full extreme, never have I heard Vangelis sound so good. The McIntosh MA8000 is an amplifier to get excited about such is the quality of its reproduction of music.

Next up I choose an album which is memorable to many for its main title and that is The Pink Panther by Henry Mancini fone records, I have this in digital format and is from Native DSD in DSD64. It is a masterful and wonderful sounding piece of music which brings back memories of the films but also the cartoons that I used to watch as a child in the 70’s and 80’s. The intro has the Saxophone playing that great melody which is so distinguishable and percussion and piano in sync. The McIntosh renders a wonderful soundstage placing an almost holographic image of the stage within each instrument is beautifully separated from each other. The second track is performed with the guitar and double bass and each pluck of the strings feels and sounds so tangible it really is a masterpiece of music and in the way it is portrayed with each rich tone having such a fluid sound that just flows so naturally. The McIntosh has such a rich sound and I must stress that even at low volumes it retains all dynamics and detail which lesser amplifiers can lose at relatively low volumes. The MA8000 makes it sound so easy and effortless it really is a reference product in the sound it creates with every nuance and finer details picked up by the amplifier alone. I have heard other separates that do not sound nearly as nice as the big McIntosh such is the quality.

The internal DAC is a nice feature and one that I have used but I feel it adds slightly more warmth to the sound which is nice but when listening with a separate DAC fed into the McIntosh the sound seems to come together better with more definition and the bass is more taught. The sound is nice and when running J River media centre, it gives great results but I prefer the Mytek DAC which is just a flawless performer and really makes the sound shine and shows off the excellent preamp and amplification stages of the MA8000 which are just pure reference in sound quality.

For my final album, I have chosen to listen to a classic album on Vinyl by Santana, Abraxas CBS records. It is one of my favourite albums on vinyl and sounds glorious which makes you realise how good vinyl actually is when compared to its digital cousins. Singing Winds, Crying Beasts is the first track and it has such clarity and detail that seem to flow around the room from left to right with the sound of the bongo’s taking centre stage. The cymbals and percussion have an almost hypnotic sound on this track and the McIntosh portrays the feeling of this album perfectly. Black Magic Woman is the second track and this needs no introduction as it such a famous track with its sound so familiar. The electric guitar played by Carlos Santana sound is pitched perfectly and is such a great rock tune that speeds up and the timing is perfect through the MA8000. You can really turn up the volume on the McIntosh and it gives a spectacular performance that is presented to you with no hardening of the sound, nor is it ever harsh sounding, just a perfect tone that rolls off nicely at the top end of the scale. It is one of the most musical sounding amplifiers I have ever had in my room and the music I cannot get enough of it, listening late into the night and even at minimal volumes with the McIntosh keeping the sound perfect. It really does have masses of power that you can feel is in reserve and current also which is why it sounds so good.

Conclusions and Final Thoughts

The McIntosh Labs MA8000 Integrated Amplifier is an incredible achievement in engineering, as it is one of the most musically involving amplifiers I have had the pleasure of listening to in my room and most fun I have had reviewing, such a grand performance. No matter what source you feed it, as long as it is of a high enough quality it will render it brilliantly with a satisfyingly soulful experience. It really does bring you closer to the music such is the quality.
I feel like I have only touched the surface with its ability and what it can do such its complexity and features, the EQ functions are there should you need to alter an album's sound, there are so many ways in which you can tweak the sound it really does offer such a full package.
The built in DAC and phono stage are nice but I found the DAC a little too sweet for my liking but to some it may be perfect in sound but it is still a great addition to what is a reference amplifier.

The Speaker Shack most certainly awards this McIntosh Labs MA8000 with a Reference Product award as it sounds simply sublime.

Price at time of review is approx. £11,000

The UK Distributor is Jordan Acoustics

McIntosh Labs website.

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