McIntosh MHA200 Impressions

Discussion in 'Headphone Amplifiers and Combo (DAC/Amp) Units' started by roshambo123, Mar 14, 2021.

  1. roshambo123

    roshambo123 Friend

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    Update: SourceAV reports McIntosh has pushed the release date back to April
    Update 5/8/21: Impressions posted

    This is expected to ship March 2021 and retail for $2500. I live near theSourceAV who is a McIntosh dealer, so hoping they will add one to their demo showroom and I'll have the opportunity to hear it and post impressions here.

    It does not have a built-in DAC like the MHA150, and also lacks the speaker outs and cross-feed. They've added 4-pin XLR and stereo 3-pin XLR outputs and four selectable impedances. I'm not sure what topology "Unity Coupled Circuit output transformers" implies.

    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]

    Some notes from McIntosh Website:

    ■ Three options for attaching your headphones: a pair of 3-pin balanced XLR connectors for dedicated Left and Right balanced output; a 4-pin balanced XLR connector for balanced stereo output; and a 1/4” stereo headphone jack.

    ■ Uses a pair of our Unity Coupled Circuit output transformers to deliver pristine audio to your ears.

    ■ The Unity Coupled Circuit transformers have been adapted to produce 4 headphone impedance ranges of 32 – 100, 100 – 250, 250 – 600, and 600 – 1,000 Ohms at 500mW so that virtually every headphone can receive legendary McIntosh sound quality and performance.

    ■ Powered by a pair of 12AT7 and 12BH7A dual triode vacuum tubes.


    https://www.mcintoshlabs.com/products/headphone-amplifiers/MHA200
     
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    Last edited: May 8, 2021
  2. roshambo123

    roshambo123 Friend

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    Demo'd the MHA200 at theSourceAV today. Thank you to Wayne there for keeping me informed and letting me know when they came in, then assisting me with the listening session.

    I heard two different units, one with stock tubes and the other with a pair of GE Military 5751's from Upscale audio. The stock unit took input from RCA's coming from a Chord Qutest and the 5751 unit had balanced inputs from an SPL Director. I was very curious how it would sound with a good R2R DAC like Yggdrasil or Gungnir Multibit, although I had none to try. Both amps were brand new with minimal break-in. Headphones demo'd were HD6XX, HD800SDR, LCD2.1, LCD-X, LCD-4, Utopia, Clear Mg,

    General Comments
    The thing is small. The pictures make it seem larger than it is but it's the same footprint as a Jot 2, just 3.75 inches taller. Build is typical super-grade McIntosh with the exception of some slight play in the volume knob, which was exhibited by both units. The balanced 4-pin and 1/4 SE output sounded identical to me. I didn't measure but I heard no obvious drop in volume or degraded quality on SE.

    Listening Impressions
    The stock tube setup with the Qutest was so bright on HD800SDR and even LCD2.1's that it gave me a splitting headache. Maybe the Qutest contributed here, hard to say, but I moved to the 5751 unit which had much more tolerable treble, although the 5751's were warmer than the stock tubes. All comments therefore should be considered to be from the 5751 unit+SPL Director. If I bought this amp I'd throw the stock tubes out immediately, assuming this was not just bad DAC synergy.

    With the 5751's, I'd call it a mini-Big Boi. The MHA200 with the 5751's is closer to the weight class of Starlett than Jot 2 or MJ2, although certainly different than the Schiit or DNA house sounds. It has typical McIntosh sound, plenty of power, excellent clarity and blackground, good slam without bloat, and tasteful decay. It is not very tubey with minimal bloom, less than DNA Starlett if I remember, but around there, it is more neutral but with just enough wetness to give it engagement and naturalness. The 5751 contributed some warmth, and my preferences lean warm.

    Changing the impedance using the load knob made a big difference and I felt each headphone was best served using the setting closest to the headphone's nominal impendence, although the two closest settings were about equally good. The treble titled HD800SDR I wanted to run at the max 600 ohm setting since it seemed to give it some extra thickness and soften things up. The low Z LCD-X's wanted to be run at 32 ohm or 100 ohm, as running at 600 ohm turned them into steaming warmpoo garbage. The LCD2.1's and LCD-4's were best at the 150 ohm setting.

    Stock tubes not withstanding, I have to believe the MHA200 is a pretty neutral amp with the 5751's, as my response to the individual headphones was pretty similar to what would happen if I was demo'ing a Jot 2 or other neutral amp. HD800SDR and Utopia were just slightly too bright, the LCD-X was great, and dark headphones like HD6XX's and LCD2.1's were very good. In particular, the LCD-4's (a personal favorite) sounded fabulous, and were my favorite pairing. I didn't spend a lot of time with the Focal Mg but I thought it sounded very bass light, although mids and treble were good.

    Comparing the MHA200 to the WA33, going back to the Woo I felt like I had just dove into a Olympic swimming pool filled with tube bloom (not a bad thing if you're me). But then again, the MHA200 was obviously more tubey, lively, and warm next to something analytical like a Chord TT2. I'd say the MHA200 had a cohesive SET-like sound, although I do not know what topology is used. I am curious to what results tube rolling could produce.

    Overall, it's a very good amp, and the best performing amp in this size I've heard.

    [​IMG]
    1st unit with stock tubes and Chord Qutest

    [​IMG]
    2nd MHA200 unit with 5751 tubes rolled in

    [​IMG]
    Upscale audio provided 5751 tubes


    [​IMG]
    Tubes with their tube hut
     
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    Last edited: May 9, 2021
  3. Crowbar44

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    [​IMG]

    I think the review above is pretty spot on. I picked one of these up last week and have been using it with my LCD-2fs, HD660Ss and the onboard Multibit DAC from my Asgard 3 (My Bifrost 2 is on backorder).

    The MHA200 has really fast, punchy transitions, it's very musical and accurate. This is not a warm gooey OTL tube amp. The highs don't sound rolled off, nor do they sound harsh, again, very musical. I am impressed by the bass response, which goes much lower than my Asgard 3. Midrange is classic McIntosh tubes - just gorgeous. In general, I prefer this amp to my Asgard 3 in every way. The A3 is a fantastic amp, and a tremendous value, but the MHA200 (which costs 6x more) is better (it better be!).

    I like the pairing of the Schiit multibit DAC sound with the MHA200 - though I believe my non-Unison USB onboard DAC card in my Asgard is probably holding me back on getting the most out of this amp. Looking forward to the Bifrost arriving.

    I'm not a tube roller (for now), and I have absolutely no issue with the sound out of the box with stock tubes.

    For me, this is an end-game amp, very doubtful I'll find the need to replace it anytime soon. I have a set of OG Clears on the way, from what I've read, they should synergize nicely with the MHA200.

    This amp definitely deserves a listen, and should be on the short list of anyone looking for an amp in the $2.5k range. In particular, it's versatility and ability to drive any set of cans makes it a great investment. Those looking for an old school tube amp with rolled highs and flabby base but with gorgeous midrange need not apply. This amp does everything very, very well, best I've heard in fact, regardless of price.
     
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    Last edited: May 11, 2021
  4. dncnexus

    dncnexus Friend

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    So I wasn't really sure if I wanted to write up this review, since I don't really enjoy writing reviews that lean toward negative, but I thought that it might be beneficial for those who were interested in this amp, so here we are. Also this is my first review I have written in a long time, so forgive me if it is incoherent or not the best.

    I first learned about this amp when it was announced and quickly reached out to Gramophone (a local audio shop that I frequent here in MD) if they had this in. They did not, but I got reached out to about 3 weeks ago saying they finally got the MHA200 in the shop and have one setup for demo. I decided to go up last weekend and lugged up some of my gear notably the DNA Stellaris, Utopia, VO, and GenP. 212488550_357740949097357_5666280388509571649_n.jpg
    The source/streamer that was feeding the amps was a Denon HEOS link. I was going to drag up my Yggdrasil, but that would have been too difficult. If one wants to disregard my write up due to not having the magic synergy with this amp that is fine as well, that might be the case. I just know from what I have heard with what was available to listen with.

    General Comments:
    First thing to note is this thing is tiny. Like really tiny. Photos are hard to tell how small it is, but from just a footprint perspective, this is smaller than a BF2 or a Jot2. Its small and really cute. This can definitely be a desktop amp no problem.

    It has multiple output impedance selectors, so this should pair well with any headphone from Focal -> ZMF -> Hifiman in terms of straight power.

    A strong negative is the volume knob. I am not sure what is going on here. The volume starts at 6 o'clock, and doesn't even have volume until around 11 o'clock. Like silent until 11 o'clock. Then you reach 12, and there is a notch there, go past 12 and its an exponential increase in volume. You have little play on the volume knob, it's pretty poor feeling imo (same as other McIntosh I have felt) and was overall a bit of a headscratcher.

    The headphones that were used to listen were:

    ZMF Verite Open
    ZMF Verite Closed
    Focal Utopia
    Focal Stellia
    ESX900
    Audeze LCD MX4
    ETA GenP
    Sony CD900ST

    Sound:
    This has a lot of power on tap. More than any headphone really needs. Yes we can argue whether it can power something like the HE6 or the Susvara but if you are getting those headphones, you probably already know what amp you are looking to pair with it.

    This amp leans mostly neutral/bright, with a dry tonality to it. For those who have listened to the EC Aficionado, it is not that dry but close. I would say on a 10 (wet) -> -10 (dry), DNA sits around a 7 and the Aficionado sits around a -4. This amp I would say maybe sits around a -1. Pretty neutral but touch on the dry side imo.

    This amp feels a bit one note though, with music sounding like its coming from just a wall of sound. The imaging and layering on this amp is lacking and everything feels a bit smeared when listening, the ability to isolate and pick out individual instruments and the nuance of the sound was not there. The width separation and imaging felt constraint and smeared, and there was little to no depth on the soundstage. I think this is what attributed to the wall of sound feeling. I also found this amp to not be very engaging when listening, almost boring and not emotionally engaging compared to the Stellaris (and by extension Starlett). Decay felt a bit too quick, almost solid state without the tube decay. Bass was impactful but again felt a bit one note. Midrange felt artificial and not organic, and treble was a bit too bright, touching on sibilant.

    I am not sure on the tube topology, and it's hard to find the information. When listening I felt like it was a tube hybrid, but many has said that might not be the case. I am not sure, but it doesn't feel like a tube amp, rather a slightly warmer sounding McIntosh SS amp, lacking the benefits that most tube amps bring.

    Conclusion:

    I know this was a bit negative, so I apologize if I offended anyone especially those who own the amp. I was actually really interested in this amp and was originally contemplating getting this as a companion to the Stellaris, but I already had decided to get the Studio B instead. I know it was mentioned above that with stock tubes this is pretty garbage, but with upgraded tubes it is better. While this may be true, I can only judge this by the tubes I heard, as well as I believe that amps should sound good with most tubes, so even if these are not the best combo, it should not sound this poorly when having stock tubes McIntosh decided to put in it.

    At the asking price of $2500, I can't recommend this amp. One could get a Starlett for $2k and I think that is leagues above this MHA200. I cant think of why anybody would really wanna own this amp other than being fans of McIntosh.
     
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  5. roshambo123

    roshambo123 Friend

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    If you have the opportunity to try it again with tube rolling give it a go. I thought it was unlistenable on the stock tubes. And unless there's a magic tube pairing, it'll still be bleh with Focals.
     
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  6. wormcycle

    wormcycle Friend

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    Going to Bay Bloor Radio tomorrow to hear it, most likely with stock tubes, from the reviews here It should be better with something like 2021 LCD-X , HD650, rather then HE800S. HEKSE is another possibility.

    EDIT: disappointed, called BB Radio and they apparently sold the demo, have to wait.
     
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    Last edited: Jul 20, 2021
  7. neogeosnk

    neogeosnk Friend

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    Anyone know if this amp can power the Hifiman 6se? Did they ever fix the volume knob issue?
     
  8. dncnexus

    dncnexus Friend

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    I saw the new one, not sure if it can power HE6SE. Volume knob is not wobbly anymore, but it still has not a good volume range, you will really only have 12-2 as your usable range (silent up to 12, too loud at 2).
     
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  9. MRHiFiReviews

    MRHiFiReviews MOT: TSAV

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    Video I did for TSAV and their Youtube channel! McIntosh MHA200 Vacuum Tube Headphone Amplifier

    I hope you guys enjoy it, it provides some entertainment and you all have a great weekend.
     
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    Last edited: Nov 14, 2021
  10. Gazny

    Gazny Friend

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    Cool vid, could you share any thoughts about it? I read somewhere you liked it with the hugo 2. Why not include that here?
     
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  11. MRHiFiReviews

    MRHiFiReviews MOT: TSAV

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    What would you like me to add, that wasn’t shared in the video @Gazny ?, I tried to share as much info as possible without making the video to long. I definitely preferred the Hugo2/2go combo or the Chord Hugo TT2 feeding the amplifier as the DAC through Roon, vs. Matrix Element X or M. I went into this in the video some, as well as my favorite headphone pairings. Happy to add more here if I didn’t cover it in the video, just let me know. Thanks for checking it out.
     
  12. Pancakes

    Pancakes Friend

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    I'm sure it's a great amp. But, there are no comparisons to other amps and everything about it is apparently amazing. That makes your presence here an advertisement. This isn't that kind of site. I'll be nice and leave it at that and hope you get the hint.
     
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  13. MRHiFiReviews

    MRHiFiReviews MOT: TSAV

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    Should I remove it? There will be more comparisons to other tube amps coming in the future, lots of info to cover in 15-16 minute video this is the first of a few videos. If it’s not a video that should be here just let me know I can delete the post.

    I did cover some things in the video I think could be improved on and touched on those areas as well as how I preferred chord dacs and the Amprex tubes vs the stock tubes and the reasons for this. I don’t really trash on stuff just talk about what I like and some areas that could be improved or might be issues for users. That was my goal anyways.
     
    Last edited: Nov 13, 2021
  14. Pancakes

    Pancakes Friend

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    I suggest you spend a lot of time doing nothing but reading on SBAF. It's not about trashing products, it's about describing differences. Because that's useful. Your video is not that. It's an ad for either TSAV, McIntosh or most likely, your youtube channel.
     
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    Last edited: Nov 14, 2021
  15. MRHiFiReviews

    MRHiFiReviews MOT: TSAV

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    Ok thank you for your feedback.
     
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    Last edited: Nov 13, 2021
  16. MRHiFiReviews

    MRHiFiReviews MOT: TSAV

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    I have found it can power and control the drivers of the HE6seV2, however the dynamics are not fully fleshed out as much from some of the ampsandsound amps I have heard such as the Nautilus or the Mogwai family with their KT88 power tubes, but it sounded much better than I thought it would with the HE6seV2 with the Chord TT2 as the Dac feeding it balanced. I have about 8–10 headphones in house, happy to expand on my experience with them to help in anyway with impressions just let me know.
     
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