Over the last few years, with CD in particular sales may have started to drop off as the market adapts to the new High Resolution revolution which has now been gathering momentum and seems to be all the rage. Myself included loves what this new medium is offering but as an audiophile I have many different sources and also a fairly large CD collection and it just so happens that a fairly substantial SACD collection too. From previous experience of high end CD spinners, I know that this medium can offer some stunning sound as I have reviewed the excellent Metronome Audio CD 8S which is a fantastic player, also extensive listening to the Audio Research CD6 and CD9 players. With the ability to extract such a high-quality sound, CD is certainly not dead for many audiophiles who have large collections and a fairly high budget to play with.
When the McIntosh Labs MCD550 came up for review I jumped at the chance as I have a lot of respect for what this company does in the high-end audio industry. They make some seriously good equipment and am presently the owner of the gorgeous MA8000 Integrated Amplifier which is at the heart of my review system, this reference amplifier does it all with such ease that feeding it with good sources reaps the rewards. Connecting the MCD550 brings with it a synergy which is like what top grade petrol is to high end sports cars. They love it and you feel the benefits from the extra performance that you get. OK, enough with analogies and back to what I have here for review and that is McIntosh Labs MCD550 which is beautiful CD spinner but also one of the finest SACD players that I have heard in a while.Features and Build Quality
The MCD550 is built like all McIntosh products and that is with tank like quality and the fit and finish is of the highest order. In some ways, many people may look at them and think that their styling is more retro, but my opinion is that they are retro cool and I love the look and that infamous McIntosh logo which glows a very cool green when turned on, it also happens to match my amplifier in looks with the glass front panel and chrome side panels.
It has a dual chassis design with a high performance linear power supply feeding the delicate electronic components. An aluminium die cast CD tray offered via the front of the 550 is reassuringly sturdy and feels like it keeps the discs well balanced in the machine. At the heart of this player lies an eight channel DAC solution which is split into a quad-balanced configuration, one for each of its channels. They are performing at 32bits 192Khz PCM/DSD which offer a very wide dynamic range and low distortion.
Inputs are very generous too with 3 digital, one coaxial, one optical and a USB 2 connection so you can stream music files direct from your computer and use the 550 as a separate DAC should you so choose. For analogue, it has both fixed outputs and variable so you can feed the output directly to an amplifier negating the use for a preamplifier and use the digital volume control on the front of the unit. I am not using the DAC as I am going to be listening to it in its purist form and that is as a SACD/CD player as I expect this to be the best way of extracting the ultimate performance from this unit. But it is a nice feature to have if you are looking to keep everything as minimalistic as possible. It also offers a high-power headphone output which will drive any headphone out there. The remote is a standard remote which has other functions on it but it is fairly basic and gets the job done. One feature that I find great is the disc layer button, this means you can go from SACD to CD on the fly and is great for doing back to back comparisons. Performance and Sound Quality
For testing this player, I am using my new ProAc K6 Speakers which I have just finished reviewing so check it out if you get the chance, for amplification I am using the formidable McIntosh Labs MA8000 Integrated Amplifier which I have also reviewed on my site. Connecting all this goodness up is Transparent Cables Ultra Gen5 speaker wire and XL power chords. Player to amplifier is connected via XLR Transparent cable interconnects.
For my first selection of music I am playing Bryan Ferry’s – Boys & Girls
SACD which I have heard many times on other SACD players and it is immediately apparent how good the MCD550 is at reproducing the DSD layer. It is one of the most refined sound that I have heard with a great tonal balance and musicality to it. Slave to Love
is one of my favourites on the album and it is reproduced with excellent dynamics and all the extra detail that SACD has to offer, it is like great Hi-Fi with a boost switch which adds an extra sense of refinement to the sound and I have sorely missed hearing this type of quality from a player. I just wish that SACDs were still available, well commercially anyway and available from your local HMV rather than specialized shops on the internet which is all well and good but you do pay a premium for this type of material. Luckily, I have quite a collection already so I can enjoy all this sumptuous sound with plenty of material to play on it. Track five Valentine
has never sounded so good with Bryan Ferry’s voice sounding silky smooth and the bass has real impact that is so solid in presentation, defined and with an added texture to each note that is played. The Saxophonist playing off to the far left of Ferry’s voice has real presence in the room but never once dominates, in fact every instrument has great separation which puts them in their own space with no coloration in the sound.
My next album is the brilliant Roger Waters – The Wall
which is recorded live from one of his concerts in Berlin. On the CD layer, it
sounds stunning but on the SACD layer it is elevated to a new level of refinement in sound quality offering a more spacious feel and sound to the recording. Bass has real impact and at times very visceral in presentation which pulls you into the music with you reaching for the volume button on the remote and turning it up a few notches. On disc 2 of the album track 6 Comfortably Numb
is just a masterpiece and features Van Morrison singing with the massive band that is on stage with Roger Waters and you get all the sound stage presence that this brilliant disc has to offer.
The impact that each song has is so uncompressed and sets this player apart as one of the finest SACD players I have listened to. It generates so much energy in the room that you really do get to not just hear the music but feel it too which makes it all that more enjoyable.
With such the revelation that SACD is you would think that playing a standard red book CD would be a let-down, but in fact it is the complete opposite as this is where the fun starts and has me reaching to my massive collection and going through all my old CDs that I have not heard for quite some time such is the enjoyment that it makes you feel when spinning them up of on the MCD550.Laki Mera
and Marconi Union
are just a couple of bands and old favorites of mine which I have nearly all their albums on CD so I pull them out and stick on TOKYO+ which has a great ambient sound which the MCD550 reproduces in such a way that the context of space in my room does not seem to be the limiting factor and gives great depth and width which I did not think was possible from my room nor from CD. This type of music is so laid back and mellow in nature that the MCD550 expresses this with extreme subtlety and again refinement in sound that you can’t help but love what you are hearing. This is a great strength of this player as musically it can handle anything and present it with such style and grace that it becomes involving and gets your emotions flowing in full effect. This may sound a little over the top but in reality, it is what a good source should be able to do and the MCD550 is up there with the best of them. It is all down to the implementation and design of the player which effects performance and this design and implementation is one of the best I have had in my room to date.Conclusions and Final thoughts
I have had the pleasure of listening to many high-end CD players and also SACD players over the years and the McIntosh Labs MCD550 is one of the most musically engaging players that I have heard. It gives a performance which is refined and polished to the highest order and if you are fortunate enough to have the funds to allow you into this sector of the market then this is an essential listen and must be at the top of any serious audiophile looking for a multi format player. It breathes new life into CDs and brings out the best in SACDs which is still a very viable format in my opinion.
The Speaker Shack awards the McIntosh Labs MCD550 player with an Outstanding Product award as it is one of finest players we have had through our rooms.
Price at time of review £7,700UK Distributor Jordan Acoustics