THE AUDIOPHILES STATE OF MIND, LIVING WITH THE MCINTOSH MA352 INTEGRATED AMPLIFIER
Audio Nirvana is what we strive for, musically, that buzz when all falls into place and you hear all and become part. Music is a medative state and is bred into us. Genetically and culturally, it's part of being human and can lift our spirit and get us motivated.
Something I feel it is challenging as an Audiophile is that we become too aware, even critical, like a bad habit I'm listening to the system rather the artists intent. I need to break this habit, relaxed and no distractions. Something that when it does happen, it makes you realised why you are so hooked on HiFi as that artist intent reveals so many more nuances, adding another level.
"In My Dying Time" got me thinking; timing. Bonham intentionally takes Page's guitar rift as the lead playing offbeat and leaving it to the rest of the band to keep time, all of it coming back together after a few bars to show that they are all in perfect sync with each other. It neatly falls neatly in to place, rather than it being a wall of mush. The setup keeps this timing in place; the amp needs the power to keep those speakers on a tight leash, the speakers respond and kick when asked. With the MA352, you can pick out the musicians, their intent and their timing; the amp is keeping up with the band and grabbing holding those Focal Sopras and ansome, making sure they do not miss a beat.
I sat there and thought wow, and wandered over to the right speaker and turned it in by half an inch because the sound seems slightly to the left. Yes I know, back to listening to the system rather than the Music. That's the underlying itch; you are always chasing that balance between the system and the emotion. I am enjoying my equipment and the pleasure it brings me, but I still want to play more. This addiction, of course, I know. It can be managed and Nintronics do their upmost with auditioning, events and of course knowledge as we feed one of life's great pleasures; Music
So, back to the Mac and scratching that itch; with the McIntosh MA352 it has a five-band equaliser, I had concerns about this so first thing I did was turn it off, and then I turned it on, and then as a turned it off. I'll be honest all set to zero with it off and on; it makes no difference; this thing is neutral, so I left it on, and on occasion I use it!
The EQ comes into its own when I plug in my Sennheiser HD800's, which by default sound flat. They are brilliantly detailed, super light and the soundstage is spot on, but they sound flat. EQ came in useful here; I played around a bit until it suited my taste. 50hz turned to 2 o'clock, 125hz turned to 1 o'clock and 500hz to 12:30. It all started to fall in to place keeping detail but giving it more body to the performance. My go-to has always been the Chord Hugo2 as a headphone amp/Dac, and the output stage on this is hard to beat. But placing this DAC through the McIntosh and using the MA352 as the headphone amp, its another level it beats the Chord Hugo 2’s Headphone out spot on, and that’s no mean feat.
Now I'm and not convinced about McIntosh's HXD (Headphone Crossfeed Director) filter, which is McIntosh's proprietary crossfeed implementation. It aims to produce a more speaker-like presentation. The Sennheiser’s already have an excellent soundstage; this is one of the things that attracted me to these headphones in the first place. They do not seem to need this filter and to be honest, I found it too heavy-handed, it crushed the soundstage, so I left it off. I would be curious though How it performs with other headphones such as the Audeze LCD-4’s.
You have a well-integrated package A valve preamp, a robust power amp capable of driving challenging speakers and a very capable headphone amp. Yes, it is growing on me, it still has several idiosyncrasies, maybe with modern equipment, I am just getting a little use to having my cake and eating it, but then there are always compromises. For me, the sound from this amp is not one of them; this amp always manages to impress when it comes to sound, so maybe I need not eat so much cake, sit back and listen to the Music.