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Audio

Living large with McIntosh audio electronics

The Audiophiliac spends quality time with the McIntosh C47 stereo preamplifier and MCT5000 CD/SACD transport.

Frank McIntosh started building tube electronics in 1949, and his exemplary build quality and performance standards made McIntosh Labs one of the most admired brands in the business. No wonder McIntosh Labs has a special place in the hearts of audiophiles all around the world. McIntosh owners loyalty to the brand is unmatched, some have stayed true for over 50 years!

The McIntosh C47 stereo preamplifier

McIntosh Labs

Unboxing the McIntosh C47 stereo preamp and MCT500 CD/SACD transport I immediately felt right at home. The black glass faceplates are classic, and it's comforting to note that McIntosh still designs and builds its electronics in its Binghamton, NY headquarters. The C47 retails for $4,000 in the US, £4,800 in the UK, and AU$7,495 in Australia; the MCT500 retails for $4,500, £5,995, AU$8,995.

The C47 preamp's tonal balance is neutral, I was halfway expecting it to sound soft and tube-like but the C47 is a 100 percent solid state design. Dynamic impact and overall liveliness was very good. It may have the classic McIntosh look, but the C47's features set is very 2018.

This preamp's abundant connectivity options should satisfy most audiophiles, there are separate moving-coil and moving-magnet phono inputs, three stereo RCA inputs, two sets of stereo XLR inputs, three sets of stereo RCA outputs, two sets of stereo XLR outputs, and a 6.3mm headphone jack on the front panel; digital inputs include one each USB and coaxial, two optical, and one MCT port for use with selected McIntosh CD/SACD players. There's also an assortment of data ports, voltage triggers, and external controls for use with multi-room home systems. 

As you can see the C47's connectivity is pretty extensive, with the notable absence of Wi-Fi or Bluetooth, the C47 stays close to its role as a traditional two-channel preamplifier.

Meanwhile the MCT500 will accept both SACDs and CD discs in addition to popular file formats such as AAC, AIFF, ALAC, DSD, FLAC, MP3, WAV and WMA via DVD-R or the front panel USB port. its outputs are limited to one each coaxial, optical, AES/EBU, and MCT connectors. As the MCT500 is a transport only there are no analog outputs. 

The McIntosh MCT500 CD/SACD transport

McIntosh Labs

The two components' slender remote controls are well designed, but their plastic construction feels out of place on high-end audio components in the C47 and MCT500's price class. Making up for that is the feel of the components buttons and knobs, the tactile quality of the presentation is first rate. They are a pleasure to use.

Pairing the MCT500 with the C47 the combination played SACD discs in pure DSD mode, without ever converting the data to PCM digital. That's noteworthy right there, most other SACD playback requires conversion to PCM digital, and audiophiles fret over those sorts of losses. 

These two McIntosh components are backed up with three-year warranties. They should hold their value for many years, the C47 and MCT500 are extremely well built, and over the really long term it should make buyers feel secure in their choice knowing Mac still repairs their electronics dating back to the 1960s! That level of commitment to customer service is rare, even for high-end companies.

c47back

McIntosh C47 preamp's rear panel

McIntosh Labs

Listening

I used the C47 and MCT500 with a Pass Labs XA25 stereo power amp and TAD ME-1 speakers. The sound was neutral, pure, and very easy to listen to for hours on end. With alto saxophonist Ornette Coleman's classic, The Shape of Jazz To Come album the music inhabited my listening room. The album was recorded 59 years ago, but after passing through the C47 and MCT500 the music sounded fresh.

Then I experimented with using an external digital converter, the Schiit Yggdrasil ($2,399, £2,295, AU$3,849), which sounded more three-dimensional than the C47's built-in converter with Miles Davis' In a Silent Way. There was more space between the musicians, and the soundstage was deeper. The Yggdrasil consistently sounded more full-bodied and clear. Still, I mostly listened without the Yggdrasil and enjoyed my time with the C47 performing the digital conversion duties.

As for the C47's phono input, I hooked up my SME Model 15 turntable, fitted with a Kiseki Purple Heart moving-coil cartridge to the C47. No problems there. 

I next compared the MCT500 with an Oppo UDP-203 Blu-ray player used as a CD transport (sadly, it's discontinued, but it sold for $550, £649, AU$949). The MCT500 made CDs sound more like hi-res files, the UDP-203 put up a good fight, but music was less complex and interesting. As to whether you can justify the price differential between the MCT500 and the UDP-203, the MCT500 would only start to make sense if you already own a large collection of CDs and SACDs. After all, if you already paid many thousands of dollars for the music, the MCT500 will make it sound better. 

As for SACDs, the sound was brilliantly clear, but I can't say each and every SACD made me sit up and take notice. The quality of the recording, mix, and mastering determines the sound quality of each SACD. One of my all time favorites is The Allman Brothers Live at Fillmore East, and listening back through time to those concerts was a real thrill.

I thoroughly enjoyed my time with these two McIntosh components. While I like the C47, it's a very competent sounding preamp with a very generous features set, I was more impressed with the MCT500. This high-end transport it will bring out the best in the sound of all your CDs and SACDs.