REVIEW: MCINTOSH MA5300 INTEGRATED AMPLIFIER
American brand McIntosh is not known for small, subtle amplifiers. However, according to the Binghamton company, the MA5300 integrated amplifier is its smallest both regarding output and size. Don't be fooled though. Have you ever ordered a Small Mac?
One thing that physical music formats give you that streamed sources don't is something to do with your eyes. Stay with me here.
With LPs, you have sleeve notes as well as the mesmerising spinning vinyl to keep your attention. Even with CDs, you get the little booklet and, perhaps, the track counter displayed on your player. With streaming, there is generally little or nothing to look at, but this is where McIntosh has you covered with their MA5300.
Not only is it equipped to receive the latest digital sources, but the dancing VU meters shrouded in McIntosh's iconic blue light behind a black glass front panel will also entertain your peepers.
The Binghamton, NY company's MA5300 Integrated Amplifier was announced late last year and packs an internal DAC, MM phono stage plus loudspeaker and ‘High Drive' headphone output.
McIntosh MA5300 design
'Unmistakeably McIntosh' is perhaps the most succinct way of describing the MA5300 presence.
Upon first releasing it from its incredibly secure multi-boxed and screwed-down packaging it soon becomes apparent that those New Yorkers have a slightly different definition pinned to small than I do.
For a start, the amplifier weighs 17.2kg. As you'll know, there are much heavier amps than this, but I bet their bumf never uses the words "small" or "compact". Physically, it is quite dominating and measures 7 1/2-inches x 6-inches x 22-inches ((44.45cm x 15.24cm x 55.88cm) WxHxD).
Analogue inputs from left to right includes two pairs of Power Amp and Preamp RCA jacks strapped for normal stereo operation, four pairs of RCA input jacks, and then a chassis ground lug. The MM phono inputs and a couple of balanced XLR jacks round things off for the analogue section.
Digital inputs come with the replaceable DA1 Digital Audio Module which can be upgraded with future modules when new digital audio technologies come along. The DA1 comes with an 8-channel, 32-bit digital-to-analogue converter (DAC) used in Quad Balanced mode supporting high-resolution audio including DSD256 and DXD 384kHz. Here you get two S/PDIF coaxial, two TosLink optical inputs, and a USB digital computer audio input. To the right is a USB service port for servicing and software upgrades. Additionally, there are two Mini plug Data ports, two External control 3.5 mm stereo mini plug connections, and finally, there is a pair of plug power control output mini connectors labelled, Main and Pass-thru.
All inputs can be given user-friendly names to simplify system control and configuration. Also present is a proprietary MCT connector should you have a compatible McIntosh disc transport.
Regarding loudspeaker output, the MA5300 offers "direct coupled" amplification. Quoted figures are 100 watts per channel into 8 Ohms or 160wpc into 4 Ohms. Again, remember this is a small Mac.
Not having owned or used any McIntosh equipment I gave the owner's manual a quick glance just in case there were things that I should know. Right there in the manual, McIntosh states that due to the amplifier's advanced high-current output transistors, the usual warm-up time associated is no longer required. Good to know.
For an amplifier of this size, it still felt quite snug once you start plugging in your components. The speaker binding post spacing is useable, but other inputs could benefit from a little extra spacing in my opinion.
I plugged in the Elac Discovery Music Server via Coaxial input and an Oppo UDP-205 direct into the first unbalanced input. Similarly, the Pro-Ject 1Xpression loaded with a Cartridge Man Music Maker was hooked up directly to the MA5300 phono inputs.
I will admit that I was expecting a sound as big and brash as this imposing amp's presence; sat there glowing green and blue through the darkness. The strapping American, to my surprise, is so well-behaved; almost gentle. It was as if someone dragged in an angry Timber Wolf only to have it curl up sweetly in front of the fire, breathing softly.
Testing out its phono input with some classic Human League I closed my eyes and hoped for the best. What I heard was… well, the only word that came to mind was "authentic". It sounded just as it should be, without anything 'edgy' or overly emphasised. Testing it with something a little more complicated by way of Refused's album ‘Freedom' and, again, everything was sonically in its place.
Turning to Audio Fidelity's Remastered Best of Bread ripped to FLAC, and everything is honest to the source. The vocals were realistically presented, and it was as if the music was coming straight from the streamer and DAC to the speakers. There was no colouration coming from the big Mac.
Slipping on Mew's ‘+-‘ album on CD and Jonas Bjerre's vocals soared while the instruments were placed perfectly within the sonic picture. The McIntosh also allowed the pin-point production to stretch its legs. The MA5300 proved very adept at channel separation – putting you right in the acoustic sweet spot with the arrangements engulfing you. The drums in the track ‘Witness' have considerable weight, and the closed high-hats sing and shimmer with the occasional hit of a tambourine – I could close my eyes and convince myself that I was there in the studio.
This delicate, intricate handling of music was not what I expected when unpacking this gentle giant. I, of course, know that McIntosh has an ardent fan base and I am beginning to understand why.
Turning to Tidal via Roon Essentials I selected Vocalise, Op. 34, No 14 (arr. Earl Wild) by Sergei Rachmaninoff played by Joyce Yang as it appears on her Wild Dreams album. In no time I was having one of those "people are playing in my living room" moments. The tonality of the piece was beautiful, rich, and realistic. The high notes where crystal clear whereas the lows were dark, rich and warm. There was no blurring of the notes, either. I turned the amp up using the sleek remote control, and the impression of having a grand piano in front of me simply became even more apparent. I was grinning by now. "How do I hide something this big?" was the question creeping into my mind now.
I love learning new things and what I learned by living with the MA5300 integrated amplifier is that looks can indeed be deceiving. The McIntosh MA5300 is beautifully transparent. If you have sources that you bought because you love how they sound, that's what you hear. Furthermore, I cannot fault the build quality of the Mac either. Not only does it look like it would take a beating, but I also dare say that it would be touch and go which would come off better in a head-to-head match between team Mc Labs and a tank division.
The little McIntosh MA5300 has changed my mind about the green-logoed American brand. If you were looking for an integrated amplifier with substantial physical presence but also deft handling of music then I recommend you test your ears with the McIntosh MA5300 – to use an American-themed analogy, it's like having an Offensive Lineman American footballer who can perform ballet exquisitely.
For more information visit McIntosh.
StereoNET UK's Editor and Bass playing gadget junkie. He's captained the GadgetyNews good ship for over a decade, making low jargon high tech a very handy thing. His passion for gadgets and Hi-Fi is second only to being a touring musician.
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