McIntosh MHA150 Headphone Amplifier

Discussion in 'Headphone Amplifiers and Combo (DAC/Amp) Units' started by dubharmonic, May 3, 2020.

  1. dubharmonic

    dubharmonic Friend

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    I've had the MHA150 for 3 years, and haven't written up a full review. Thanks to @EagleWings for encouraging me to finally put this together. My impressions on the MHA150 have changed a bit as I've tried loaner amps and new headphones, and will no doubt continue to evolve, though it's probably safe to say that new gear syndrome has worn off.

    [​IMG]

    The internal DAC is where most of the McIntosh flavor comes from in this unit. I'm told that it's based on an ESS chip. It has a "WOW" factor that's fun, sharp, intense, and a bit U shaped. With a soft headphone it's great for a while, but it regularly gets fatiguing, especially with more prolonged sessions. I'm usually listening for at least several hours a day, and fatigue becomes a problem. I added a Modi Multibit and then a Yggdrasil via AudioQuest Red River XLR cables, which is initially less exciting, but more natural and easier to spend long sessions with. I only use an Eitr or Pi2AES with the internal DAC because the built-in USB implementation will deliberately fade-in from silence, even in the middle of a song. I can't understate how irritating this is, especially from a device in this price range.

    The amp section is mostly neutral, and oozes power and control. It's also quite versatile, with 7 impedance/gain combinations and up to 50 watts per channel into 8 ohms. There's also bass control, which I love and use often with some headphones. Only recently I've been using the crossfeed feature, which can help reduce brightness. I haven't yet used it with speakers. As much as I want to get more into speakers, my home office would be a disastrous listening room.

    While the blue meters are cool, I'm not a huge fan of the look of the amp. It's solid, heavy, and well built, but ECP's modern design language is much more my style.

    [​IMG]

    Pi2AES → MHA150 → HE1000

    [​IMG]

    Hearing this paring is what prompted me to get the MHA150. It pushes all of the right buttons, and to my tastes doesn't do anything wrong, even 3 years after first hearing it. The intensity of the DAC offsets much of the softness of the HE1000. Extension on both ends is extreme. It's particularly extraordinary with atmospheric electronic music.

    Pi2AES → Yggdrasil → MHA150 → HE6se +5db bass boost

    This is the most fun I've had with a headphone. Many say that they prefer using the speaker taps, but I prefer using the TRS jack. The volume levels during listening are nearly identical, I don't think the HE6 has access to any extra power from the speaker taps.

    Pi2AES → Yggdrasil A2 → MHA150 → Utopia

    The Utopia doesn't usually do well with solid-state amps. It's too lean, has a metallic timbre, and feels abrasive. Thanks to @E_Schaaf and the loaner program, I was able to spend a few weeks with the Feliks Euphoria, which showed me how much potential the Utopia has. Dekoni Elite Hybrid pads, when used with the MHA150, give a similar-ish presentation to the Euphoria, save the tubiness. However even after pad-rolling, I prefer a tube amp with the Utopia.

    Pi2AES → Yggdrasil → MHA150 → HD800S +5db bass boost HXD

    I've been trying for a while to understand how to appreciate the HD800S. The Crossfeed reduces brightness and the artificially wide soundstage. Even so, this not a satisfying pairing.

    It's tough to recommend the MHA150 because of the price. I'd like to compare it to the ECP DSHA3F Ravenswood 3F. If I get the chance, I'll be sure to update this post.
     
  2. will_f

    will_f Friend

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    I’ve always wondered how this amp sounds. I guess if I manage to get rich I’ll pick up a TOTL tube amp instead. I like Focals but they benefit from a warmer than neutral amp
     
    Last edited: May 5, 2020
  3. purr1n

    purr1n Finding his inner redneck

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    It's expensive, but so is a lot of boutique headphone stuff with lesser known names. I love this amp, it's in my top three as for as solid-state amps, and thought it was the best of the bunch at TSAV. I used an external source when I tried out it. As you said, it's neutral, and won't do the Utopia any favors.

    As far as 3F, the 3F is really better suited for higher efficiency headphones like Utopia, HD800, ZMF, etc. The HE1000 seems to really like something that can power more than a few watts into a speaker load. otherwise it sounds soft.
     
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  4. EagleWings

    EagleWings Friend

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    Great write-up @dubharmonic . MHA150 is one of the better sounding SS units I have tried. But I couldn't isolate the tonal characteristics of the Amp section, as I only got to try it as a DAC-Amp. I could tell the amp section was very good in terms of performance though, as the aspects that you usually notice a considerable change when switching out amps such as; stage, speed, dynamics, transients, etc. were fantastic.

    In the meet where I tried, it stood out from all the other amps at the meet (iFi iCan Pro, Bryston BHA1, Pathos Aurium, Lyr3, Senn HDV820). I wish there was an Amp only version that retailed for $3000, so that it could be had for ~$2500 with dealer discount.

    This thing costs a pretty penny outside US though. In India, even after dealer discount, the price is around $7000.
     
    Last edited: May 5, 2020
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  5. Thad E Ginathom

    Thad E Ginathom Friend

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    I would have rated McIntosh as one of the best-known hifi names, but perhaps that's because I belong to another century! The style, the name, the meters: recognisable across the street. The sound? Well, now I come to think of it, I don't remember ever hearing any.
    Sheesh! Apparently it's US$5K in USA. Add to that the Indian routine pricing of make it about the same as flying there and buying one and I suppose...

    Anyway, beyond my horizons. I'd like to listen to some vintage McIntosh stuff.

    Thanks, @dubharmonic for the review. I confess that I might not have read it if I'd seen the price first, though.

    That USB thing: do you mean that whenever you "press play" it fades in? weird.
     
  6. GoodEnoughGear

    GoodEnoughGear Evil Dr. Shultz‎

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    The MHA100 and MHA150 are the same amp, just updated DAC. So if you don't care about the DAC you can save some $$$.
     
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  7. dubharmonic

    dubharmonic Friend

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    Any suggestions for additional headphones to try with the MHA150?

    Me too, man, me too. It makes me wonder how many of these they sell.

    Yes! It's not a quick fade-in, either, and this happens on both Win10 and macOS.
     
  8. Thad E Ginathom

    Thad E Ginathom Friend

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    Well, that settles it. I'm not paying $7,000 for that!

    My amplifier fades out the speakers and fades in the 'phones when one presses the 'phones button. It does prevent high-volume accidents, and it is gentle on the ears... but I don't always want to wait.
     
  9. dubharmonic

    dubharmonic Friend

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    The solution is to not use USB, coax doesn't fade, and sounds better!
     
  10. purr1n

    purr1n Finding his inner redneck

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    Verum is decently efficient, but 8-12 ohms. Basically speaker impedance. Really comes to life.
     
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