Before we noticed, from the last test of a phonostage, which was described during the test of a turntable (Electrocompaniet ECG 1 + ECP 2) , three months have passed, and since a phonostage only test (Audio Flight FL Phono) even half a year. So we decided that it is time to catch up and have a look at something that arrived on the market during this time. As usual in such case, we were not sure from which price segment we should take the device for testing. On one hand we have never hidden, that we have most fun with extreme High-End devices like Ypsilon or Audio Tekne, but on the other, we are painfully aware, that reality bites, and we will be choosing between the RCM Sensor 2, Trilogy 906 or Tellurium Q Iridium. Fortunately this is only a hobby, and audio products are difficult to be treated as necessities, so having something interesting in our system, and trying to develop further, we do not need to hurry. It is much better to approach this with a clear mind, and think a few times over, if we really need this, and what could we need in the future. And here we touch the essence of things, as functionality and user friendliness should accompany good sound, and not only be a marginal item. So what am I talking about? I do not know, how you perceive it, but I noticed in myself, that I have a kind of sloth, which makes me reluctant to unscrew a device (like the Octave Phono Module), plug it out of the system, or other actions required to change the settings of the phonostage. In addition I am very happy if a device is able to handle at least two turntables/cartridges, what makes the life of a reviewer much easier, as it allows comparisons without the need for re-plugging cables and pauses, negatively influencing comparisons. Applying the criteria above would make probably only the Phasemation EA-1000 pass the test, from the devices we tested, so we have placed the threshold really on a high level. However also this time we were lucky – we found the newest proposal from McIntosh, the top, but modestly priced, for a high-end product, MP1100 phonostage.
While on more or less budget level phonostages are often characterized by small dimensions, when we move to the higher quality and price level, then the size increases, and in High-End it often reaches really imposing figures. Fortunately McIntosh kept common sense and it fits within one item of the full-size Hi-Fi limit. As usual for this American legend, the front panel is made of glass and has aluminum sidings, and has the company, a bit old-school looks. So we have a centrally placed, green lit logo and model name, on both sides we have the familiar VU meters for the left and right channel. Just below those there are two classic knobs, from which the left selects the inputs, while the right sets their load. Between those and the two line display we have the mute and standby/reset buttons. But if you want to know more about the functionality I refer you to the user manual.
Through a window in the top panel we can see four 12AX7A (two per channel) placed in a special trough and also lighted green. However, I have good news for all people not being fond of the neon aesthetics, the lighting can be switched off through the menu of the device.
The MP1100 is the first, in the history of the American manufacturer, fully symmetrical phono preamplifier, and considering the fact, that McIntosh itself describes it as reference, the project received appropriate attention. The construction is dual mono, and the channels were separated not only electrically but also mechanically. Also, the power supplies were electrically separated. But this is only a prelude to the attractions awaiting us on the outside. Looking at the back panel we can initially think we deal here with an integrated amplifier and not a phonostage, and that because at the bottom there are four ground terminals, which very much resemble loudspeaker terminals. As we deal here with a balanced device, it should not come as a surprise, that all the sockets are located at the back accordingly. So, the input terminals are going towards center from the extremes, following the middle line of symmetry. So we have doubled line outputs in XLR and RCA format, line inputs in the same assortment and phono inputs one balanced and three RCA ones. One level lower besides the four ground terminals I already mentioned, there is an IEC power socket, trigger ports, external IR input and … three digital outputs – coaxial, optical and USB. Why? Most probably someone from R&D decided, that it would be worth connecting the analog with the digital world and implemented in the MP1100 the ADC functionality (a reverse DAC) which allows to digitize the vinyls you own to 24 bit/96 or 192 kHz digital files. You can also download a dedicated software from the manufacturer’s web pages. But going back to the analog, on all inputs you can precisely define the load for each used cartridge. At our disposal are 8 capacitance settings, 7 resistance settings, not even mentioning the MM/MC choice, as this is obvious. There are also presets available for the company turntables MT10 and MT15. But you can also create your own presets and store them in one of five empty slots. You can also select a mono profile and choose from different correction curves – RIAA, LP, NAB and 78. But this is not all, the unit also has two filters available, Rumble and Scratch, where the first eliminates the noise of the LP, while the latter minimizes the clicks and ticks you might hear if the vinyl is scratched. The device is also equipped with a remote controller, which allows you to set almost all settings from your comfort chair, if you have eagle sight or have some binoculars handy, as the display is absolutely not readable from a distance of a few meters. When you come closer things are different, of course, and using the remote you do not leave fingerprints on the fascia.
So until now, you could see the MP1100 as an audiophile equivalent of a classic American road cruiser, where emphasis was put on the comfort of the trip, meaning here user friendliness and intuitiveness. But what is the impression when you turn the ignition key, I mean, awaken the phonostage from standby? In short, it does not come far from the elegant design and the stereotypical master of the American sound, although with a slight correction to the latter. I mean the McIntosh sounds big and energetic, but without any traces of sluggishness and bulky sound sometimes associated with that kind of sound. Here we do not have too much of the slow and thick, because we cannot say a bad word about timing as well as control of the whole, including the lowest notes. In addition I base my observations not on the anorectic, in terms of the bass support, baroque trill, but on really heavy metal sound, like “Hardwired … To Self-Destruct” Metallica or “Das Seelenbrechen” Ihsahn. What was interesting, even in the climatic moments, the cacophonic madness did not escape control even by a millimeter, and the whole had some tube-like boost and saturation. Due to this delicate reclaim the shrillness was somewhat tempered, and the result of that was a little less offensive character of the sulfur and hellish fire exhaling repertoire. Interestingly the guitar riffs and percussive passages did not lose anything from their rage, and the slight shift of the gravity point down even increased their power and intensity. It is also worth mentioning, that the McIntosh was very generous in handling their mastering, which is far from being audiophile grade, not branding it, but only showing a shallow stage, on which the long-haired musicians growled their lugs out.
But to notice this fact, we should have some comparison with better recorded discs. If our musical interests do not reach beyond hard’n’heavy genre, then the case of flat sound stage is a non-issue and we can feel like being in seventh heaven, I mean behind the seventh ring of hell, or … wherever one likes to be. But let us rest this topic. I mentioned about some better recordings and I would like to have a closer look at that topic. Leaving the clatter aside, let us turn to the more sublime musical themes served by the Tingvall Trio on the album “Vagen” http://tidal.com/album/7358963 , where besides the sounds of the instruments we can hear what we call playing with silence, which makes a splendid job here. Only here we can truly appreciate the breath and the idea for the unconstrained, natural sound implemented in the MP1100. Maybe the contours are not as precise, as some solid state devices are able to draw, but let us be frank – we are not deciding to buy a tube product to have our senses attacked by sounds split in analytical particles, instead of having a homogenous spectacle.
As a kind of desert I left the typically Hollywood-like approach to symphonics, the soundtrack to „Star Wars: The Force Awakens” John Williams, where the dense and pompous arrangement comes together with above average musicality. It turned out very quickly, that the dark, full of subcutaneous unrest, climate ideally fitted the McIntosh, which could finally show what it is capable of, showing its devotion to momentum and playing with a wide and deep sound stage, reaching far beyond the line of speakers, with a very realistic performing apparatus placed on it. Really great.
After the almost two weeks of using the MP1100 I must confess, that I regretted having to plug it out of my system. Not only that McIntosh introduced to market a phonostage capable of reproducing an orchestral tutti easily, as well as the brutality of the heavy metal hell, yet the contact with it was wonderfully spoiling. It made playing vinyl resemble an incredibly comfortable ride with an American limousine. Everything was there for touching, there was nothing we needed to reach down for, replug, unplug, as we can make every setting not even having to leave our listening chair, and the green light can make us feel like little explorers, reading the comic books with Superman and his “allergy” to kryptonite. But those are just insignificant add-ons to the company design and classy, tube sound, which does not leave us inert. You can only love it or hate it. I think I do not need to mention, that I am fully part of the first of the two mentioned groups of people. And You?
System used in this test:
– CD/DAC: Ayon CD-35
– Digital player: Lenovo Z70-80 i7/16GB RAM/240GB SSD + JRiver Media Center 22 + TIDAL HiFi + JPLAY
– Digital source selector: Audio Authority 1177
– Turntable: Kuzma Stabi S + Kuzma Stogi + Shelter 201
– Phonostage: Tellurium Q Iridium MM/MC Phono Pre Amp
– Integrated amplifier: Electrocompaniet ECI5; Devialet Expert 440 Pro
– Loudspeakers: Gauder Akustik Arcona 80 + spike extenders
– IC RCA: Tellurium Q Silver Diamond
– IC XLR: LessLoss Anchorwave; Organic Audio; Amare Musica
– Digital IC: Fadel art DigiLitz; Harmonic Technology Cyberlink Copper; Apogee Wyde Eye; Monster Cable Interlink LightSpeed 200
– USB cables: Wireworld Starlight; Goldenote Firenze Silver
– Speaker Cables: Organic Audio; Signal Projects Hydra
– Power Cables: Furutech FP-3TS762 / FI-28R / FI-E38R; Organic Audio Power; Acoustic Zen Gargantua II
– Power distribution board: Furutech e-TP60ER + Furutech FP-3TS762 / Fi-50 NCF(R) /FI-50M NCF(R)
– Wall Socket: Furutech FT-SWS(R)
– Antivibration platform: Franc Audio Accessories Wood Block Slim Platform
– Ethernet cables: Neyton CAT7+
– Table: Rogoz Audio 4SM3
– Accessories: Sevenrods Dust-caps; Furutech CF-080 Damping Ring; Albat Revolution Loudspeaker Chips
Maybe it will sound strange, but when I started to write this paragraph, I could only think – finally! Why did I decide to open our meeting with this optimistic phrase? Please look at the list of our latest reviews and meetings. For an analog lover, like myself, such long abstinence from any review of such devices is like being exiled to Siberia. And you probably know, how big the devastation of psyche can be, when you are devoted for so long from something that brings you joy, in this case the turntable. Well, of course, I always have my reference point available for me, but as it often happens, there is always a burning need to explore further, to search for new products, which approach the world of the vinyl disc in a different way. So I waited, and waited, but finally my patients was rewarded. So what did put me in a state of bliss? A very interesting, as it is made based on electron tubes, phonostage coming from a very renowned and recognizable manufacturer from United States – McIntosh. So when I revealed my hand of cards for today’s test, I can only add, that this product is named MP1100 and was supplied for testing by the Warsaw based Hi-Fi Club.
Describing the looks of McIntosh products is not very rewarding. Not that I would lack the appropriate words, but each approach to the very unified design is a kind of acrobatics. However I need to do this somehow, so I will just remind you about the general looks and concentrate on the functionality of the tested device. Starting from the front we see a fascia which is typical for all McIntosh components, a panel from darkened glass, held in place by aluminum sidings. On this plate, resembling a TV screen, we have two VU meters, scaled in dB, with the company logo and model name placed between them. But this is not all, as on the lower part, we have, looking from left, a knob for input selection, mute button, a multifunctional display, allowing us to find out in which mode the preamplifier operates currently, a standby button and a second knob, which is used to set the appropriate load for the used cartridges. Moving to the back, on the top plate we have three rectangular holes used for venting the electron tubes placed below. And when you think, the most important parts are already described, the back panel tells you wrong. The constructors from behind the ocean placed there a wealth of various analog and digital inputs and outputs, making the unit a real centerpiece of a system. To my surprise, besides the various inputs for the cartridges and line outputs, in XLR and RCA standards, we have a set of digital outputs (USB, Optical and RCA), what means, that the MP1100 can be used as a device to turn your vinyls into digital files. Please allow me not to comment on that, so that I keep my mental balance untouched, and just add, that there is a battery of four grounding terminals available and there is also an IEC power socket. So this is how our tested unit looks like, in short. So if you are not offended by the digital connections, please proceed to read about how the unit fared in my test.
So what can you expect from a device, which uses hot, glowing tubes in its construction? Well, nothing else than vividness of the sound. Yes, I met some tube amplifiers, which tried to imitate solid state, but you will find nothing like in the American construction. You do not apply the amber glowing attributes of an old radio in your product to later claim, they have no influence on the final sound. McIntosh engeneers are very consistent in claiming the final sonic result by applying the tube technology. This means, that in the continuation of this review we will be revolving around the aesthetics related to vacuum tubes. However before I start digging further, there is one item I need to mention before. The device has a built-in “eco” functionality, which powers it off, when there is no signal present at input for some time. This goes against our typical approach of warming up our gear before listening. But I would say this is the only negative thing that I noticed during the dozen or so days I used it in my system. It was a bit different presentation, than I have on a daily basis, but you cannot blame the product, that it sounds in the aesthetics of the used circuitry. Going closer to the specifics and supplementing the knowledge abou the sound of the MP1100 we must mention the proper reproduction of the virtual sound stage, in terms of width and depth. Looking at the mentioned vividness we need to see, that it calls upon homogeneity, what results in slight rounding off the edges of the virtual sources. No, it was not anything similar to drawing contours with a thick marker, but it was not a thin scriber but rather a thicker, soft pencil, but we can hear this from the first moment. After listening to a few discs, this becomes an indispensable part of the sound, but when you switch over from the solid state Theriia to the tubed McIntosh, then you can clearly hear the difference in the intimacy of the generated music. And when we add to the list the slightly darker presentation of the world of sounds, then we have an almost ideal recipe for a device allowing us to draw most pleasure from the interaction with the beloved music, and not analyze the individual sub-ranges. To show you the results of my testing, I will use three disc examples. The first one was Andreas Vollenweider with “Caverna Magica”. The effect? This was probably the only part of the test, which showed, that smoothness and homogeneity of the sound, placed above everything else, is not always the ideal partner to all music. Unfortunately, electronic music has its own rules, and while it was not at all bad, I missed sometimes God’s spark in some of the critical moments. But I would not scratch the tested phonostage from the list of potential listening candidates, because you need to take into the equation my system, which is directed to musicality by itself. And it is widely known, that building a synergistic system is based on the consequences of the choices of the individual elements, and the tested counterproposition to the Theriaa was only tested here, and not evaluated for keeping. This is the reason, that small shortcomings in the reproduction of the acuity of the treble, are only an indication, where to watch out for, where to plug-in the 1100, and not a problem in itself. To visualize the assets of the American preamplifier, in the next step I tasted the disc “Missa Fortuna Desperata” Jacob Olbrecht from the catalog of the Harmonia Mundi label, pressed during the best years of the analog. That resulted in only positive impressions. Vocals supported by instruments from the age seemed to be created to cooperate with products carrying tubes in their innards. The fantastic balance between saturation and the reproduction of resolution of the individual vocal parties allowed to reproduce the different timbres of the vocalists perfectly, what translated into their very good separation and localization between the speakers. And not only that, the veil of the treble not being fully lighted disappeared, I did not feel even the shortest moment of loosing the presence of the musicians in the church. When the whole ensemble sung, it got really dense, when a single solist was singing, then you could hear the echo of the church filling in the void. Trying to describe this with only once sentence, I would say this was a sonic masterpiece. True, this was still within the tube aesthetics, but worth every penny spent for this preamplifier. The last disc I played was the concert disc from Antonio Forcione, issued by the Naim Label. In this case you could also hear the influence of the tubes, but it had no effect on the energy of the sound of the guitar opening this double album. It was a bit warmer, a bit more saturated, but when the musician wanted also energetic and predatory. Even more, from this approach profited the contrabass, which provided a touch more sound from its body, but not too much. Also other instruments present on the recording benefited from the McIntosh touch – the flute, cello or even the drums. Of course, when confronting this presentation with my master, I must confess, that it had clear signs of the used construction, but in contrast to electronic music, it was just another point of view, and not a too soft idea for reproducing the reality of the musical event. And I must say, that if I would not have my current, well configured set, I would be able to live with this kind of presentation for years. Of course I would try to change some cables here and there, but those would be just a final touch to the sound, and not a try to make brutal influences on the musical presentation.
I am happy, that despite the fact of having my system receive additional amount of warmth, saturation and smoothness, I still perceived the tested device in such positive aura. Naturally this is a completely different way of sounding, than I have in my current system, but due to the general sonic abilities and the engagement of the listener in the musical events presented, it will catch a lot of people, who will become its fervent supporters. I had already a very sonically dense system to start with, and before this test I was very reluctant to try out products carrying electron tubes. Yet this test clearly showed, that as long as the manufacturer has an idea of what our game is about, he can balance the final sound, so that even most musical genres can profit from it. Approaching the end of our meeting and concluding this test I warmly encourage you to try out for yourselves what McIntosh can bring into your system, especially their phonostage MP1100. This is really a very interesting proposal, and even if it would not convince you with the wealth of functions, then it for sure will do that with the sound it produces.
Distributor: Hi-Fi Club
Price: 37 600 PLN
Total Harmonic Distortion: Phono: 0.02% (Phono), 0.005% (Line In)
Frequency Response: +/-0.2dB @ 20Hz – 20,000Hz; +0.2, -3dB @ 10Hz – 50,000Hz
Maximum Voltage Output: 20/10 V RMS
– Resistance: 25, 50, 100, 200, 400, 1k or 47 kΩ
– Capacitance: 50, 100, 150, 200, 250, 300, 350 or 400 pF
– Line In: 100 kΩ (XLR) / 50 kΩ (RCA)
Phono Voltage Gain: 40dB, 46dB, 52dB, 58dB or 64dB
Signal To Noise Ratio (A-Weighted):
– MC: 80 dB
– MM: 84 dB
– Line In: 118 dB
Maximum Input Signal: 10mV (MC), 100 mV (MM), 20V (XLR), 10V (RCA)
Sensitivity (for rated output): 1,25 mV (MC), 10 mV (MM), 4V ( XLR), 2V (RCA)
Rated Output: 4V (XLR), 2V (RCA)
Output Impedance: 200 Ω (XLR), 100 Ω(RCA)
Digital Output Sample Rate:
Optical: PCM – 24-bit/96kHz or 192kHz
Coaxial: PCM – 24-bit/96kHz or 192kHz
USB: PCM – 24-bit/96kHz or 192kHz
Vacuum Tube: 4 x 12AX7A
Power Consumption (On): 50 W
Dimensions (W x H x D): 44,5 x 15,2 x 45,7 cm
Weight: 11,8 kg
System used in this test:
– CD: ReimyoCDT – 777 + ReimyoDAP – 999 EX Limited
– Preamplifier: Robert Koda Takumi K-15
– Power amplifier: Reimyo KAP – 777
– Loudspeakers: TRENNER & FRIEDL “ISIS”
– Speaker Cables: Tellurium Q Silver Diamond, Harmonix SLC, Harmonix Exquisite EXQ
IC RCA: Hijri „Milon”,
XLR: Tellurium Q Silver Diamond
– Digital IC: Harmonix HS 102
– Power cables: Harmonix X-DC 350M2R Improved Version, X-DC SM Milion Maestro, Furutech NanoFlux – NCF, Hijiri Nagomi
– Table: SOLID BASE VI
– Accessories: Harmonix Beauty Tone Milion Maestro, Harmonix TU 505EX MK II, Stillpoints „ULTRA SS”, Stillpoints ”ULTRA MINI”; antivibration platform by SOLID TECH; Harmonix AC Enacom Improved for 100-240V; Harmonix Room Tuning Mini Disk RFA-80i
– Power distribution board: POWER BASE HIGH END
Drive: SME 30/2
Arm: SME V
Cartridge: MIYAJIMA MADAKE
Phonostage: RCM THERIAA