Company Background Information
MC 801 Power Amplifier's
The factory supplied feet were round and tall having a good sized diameter about them with a soft spongy material on the bottom. Not bad at all for standard feet and I felt no urge to change them out even though there was plenty of aftermarket feet at my house. My Audio Research amplifier has twenty screws to hold the top cover in place and it was a joy to discover that the 801 could be "uncovered" with the removal of only six. For serious safety concerns most people would probably not want to tinker around there anyway. Of course with me a peek inside is always mandatory. Once there you can see that it is divided into five main areas each separated by a good deal of real estate. Behind the front face plate there is a simple circuit board for the display and on/sleep mode button. There is also a section on the other side of the IEC socket connector located in the center of the amplifier up against the rear panel where the power enters and then moves on with wires to the left and rights channels as well as the power transformer. The circuit boards for left and right channels are found as far on the opposite sides of the amplifier as they could be.
The 801's key switching contacts are made of mono-crystalline (OFC/OCC) with gold-plated finishing. They claim to use a symmetrical grounding system and the shortest signal path possible to minimize interference and delay. Taking a moment to inspect the overall layout gave me the sense this was a much uncluttered design with all wiring tucked safely away from any fumbling fingers. Add this to the large power transformer located near the front panel and in towards the center of the 801 pretty much wraps it up. All five sections divided by lots of wide open space, simple but very effective as we shall soon see.
Music With The MC 801
It was time now to move on to another recording from 2L, The Nordic Sound [2L-RR1-SABD], where the choral arrangement from "Consortium Vocale" gave off a realistic sense of being inside the cathedral to experience the original event. Open, spacious and magnificent are words that best describe the way it sounded as the 801 from Music Culture Technology helped me explore the music. The layering of the choir was distinct and exact painting a picture of height, depth and width, while adding just the right amount of recording hall reverberation. When listening to the duet between male and female vocalists on "Kristiansand Symfoniorkester/Solistkoret" each performer was seen neatly situated in a separate distinct space. It should also be mentioned that the percussion section of the orchestra was also truly magnificent. During certain passages the 801 flexed its muscles showing me how capable my Von Schweikert VR-35 loudspeakers were in their ability to take things deep, sounding thunderous and expansive. Yet on quitter passages, whether with string or horn instruments, this amplifier from Germany was equally adept at showing off its gentler side.
Turning to a CD favorite of mine YO-YO MA & Friends [Sony Classical 88697-24414-2] on the opening song "Dona Nobis Pacem (Give us Peace)" the sound of the cello was divine. The 801 allowed for a warm soothing feeling rather than shrill or hollow. The cello sounded vibrant and powerful, being full of great character and pleasing to hear, allowing music to come alive with a realistic presentation of timbre. The tone of the cello has always mesmerized me but now I felt even more drawn into the music as each familiar piece was rekindled with a new spirit bringing new imagery to old recordings. Vocals have a way of making a person stop to take note, which comes perhaps from the social aspect of us loving communication within the species. Either way to hear James Taylor's rendition of the George Harrison tune "Here Comes the Sun" was a delight. The small inflections revealed within his voice helped stamp his unique mark upon the song. The 801 was able to isolate and bring out even small details of the music allowing for it to be experienced with new more invigorating shades to the performance. It was not overly analytical but rather balanced the intricate details and the total underlying spirit of the event.
Searching through my collection of CD's to find the Diana Princess of Wales Tribute [Sony C2K 69012] I felt compelled to listen to Michael Jackson's "Gone to Soon". One thing for sure his voice has an incredible tonal quality that this song seems to bring out. Most people hearing this never recognize it as a Michael Jackson piece as this was not his trademark style of singing. The 801 takes you on this songs sentimental journey allowing you to hear his magnificent voice performing in an up close and personal way. This was not only a quiet amplifier but it avoided the pitfalls of overheating as well, never getting hot and always staying cool to the touch. The 801 provides you with plenty of good clean power, enough to drive most loudspeakers, RCA as well as XLR inputs and an elegant looking front face plate. There will be more on the 801 later as for now let us move forward to its "partner" the MC 601 preamplifier.
MC 601 Preamplifier's Physical Inspection
Finding your way to the rear of the unit there are RCA/XLR inputs and outputs. With ample RCA inputs there was just one XLR input. For me this was plenty as my turntable uses RCA cables and only my CD player had the balanced output option, which was used for this review. There is an IEC power cord, a ground connector and a fuse holder on the back panel. Again I shelved the stock factory supplied power cord for an aftermarket one as I suspect many end users might when buying preamplifiers in this price range. Lifting off the top cover (again for safety concerns most people will never venture inside the unit) there is a layout similar in simplicity to the 801 amplifier.
While I do not like repeating myself often it must be said that the 601 has these similarities with the 801. They both use key switching contacts made of mono-crystalline (OFC/OCC) with gold-plated finishing. The 601 like the 801 uses a symmetrical grounding system and the shortest signal path possible in an effort to minimize both interference and delay. Behind the front face plate is a circuit board for the display and function buttons. Where the MC 601 differs from many others I have seen is that the circuit boards are raised up considerable suspended between the top cover and the bottom platform. Looking underneath as best I could there were a few wires hidden from view making for a very clean organized appearance when looking down from the top. Overall there was about one third useable space available for qualified technicians to perform any necessary repairs if need be. For the next part of the review, out came the 801 power amplifier and the Audio Research VT50 tube amplifier was placed back into its normal position within my review system along with the 601 preamplifier.
Songs Through The MC 601
Wondering how it would do on rock and roll music Queens Greatest Hits CD [Hollywood Records 2061-62465-2] was selected. Here on "We Will Rock You" the sound of that large group of people clapping to the music was realistic. The 601 had the singers clearly planted in front while the audience remained appropriately in the background. Like the 801 amplifier, the soundscape tended to sound delightfully a little larger than had been expected. Roger Taylor's drum breaks on "Fat Bottom Girls" was wonderful, letting you hear all the little intricacies of this drum performance. The same could be said for the opening guitar chords of "You're My Best Friend". Reproducing those deep low drum sounds on Janis Ian's "All Road to the River" from the CD Breaking Silence [Morgan Creek 2959-20023-2] proved no problem as the 601 never missed a beat (excuse the pun). The sound of the bass guitar on the opening of "Guess You Had To Be There" was tight and powerful, very close to what it might sound like played in my living room live. Music passed music through the 601 with great realism and clarity. The many intricate performances found on this CD played right into the strengths of the 601. Music sounded intimate as if sitting in the fifth row.
On "Corcovado (Quiet Nights of Quiet Stars)" from We Get Requests [LIM Records B002HTWYZ6] we find Oscar Peterson on piano, Ray Brown on Double-bass and Ed Thigpen on drums. To have all three of these masterful musicians playing together on one CD is a thrill enhanced further when played back through the 601. A little history first on this memorable CD, Oscar Peterson was a Grammy Awards winning Canadian jazz pianist known the world over. Ray Brown played Double-bass with the likes of Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Sarah Vaughan and more. As for Ed Thigpen he was a world renowned drummer playing with the Billy Taylor trio and Ella Fitzgerald. While it is difficult to describe the sound of instruments, once you hear their magic nothing else need be said. The 601 gave me the feeling that a three-dimensional image of Oscar Peterson on piano was right there before me. The ability to reproduce the lightening quick attack of piano notes was amazing. As for the triangle playing softly in the background, courtesy of Ed Thigpen, it had a very clear high pitched solid sound to it. Drums came alive with details and when closing my eyes could be perceived as if in the corner of my room playing just for me. Let us not forget Ray Brown on double-bass with that full bodied mellow sound capping off this fine musical event. All three musicians were correctly situated on the soundscape with relation to left and right placement with just the right amount of depth thrown in.
This is a good sounding preamplifier with RCA/XLR inputs and outputs, a sturdy remote control with ample of functions, an attractive front display, plus enough inputs to satisfy most of us. If that is not enough there are several kinds of phono modules available for your record collection (moving magnet, moving coil and one that has both moving magnet and moving coil). The thought of placing both the 801 and 601 together in my review system has been nagging at me since the UPS driver first dropped off these two packages. This now seemed the appropriate time to pair them together for my final listening comparisons.
The MC 801 and MC 601 Together As They Were Meant To Be
For duets and female vocals give "Girl from Ipanema" with Al Jarreau and Oleta Adams a listen. Having heard him at an outdoor concert in Berkeley California, a long, long while ago, it was easy to remember what there was to like about him. The MC products did well to represent this duets sultry combination of vocals making me feel a bit younger than I had a right to, ah to be able to turn back the clock. Now for something a little different let's take the vinyl recording of Bo Diddley In The Spotlight [MCA Chess Records CH 9264] for a spin on my turntable. Since the review sample did not have the optional phono stage everything was run through its auxiliary port from my Whest phono device. The lyrics on "Story of Bo Diddley" was fun and the music exciting featuring Bo Diddley on vocals/guitar with Otis Spann on piano. Once again things were quite intimate feeling as if one was sitting in a small club at a weekend late night showing. If you really want to get up to dance though try listening to "Scuttle Bug", same musicians but with an unknown bass player thrown in. This was all music and did they jam, oh yes. The pianos ivory keys "singing" a duet with Bo Diddley's guitar was masterful as the attack of notes were not lost on this expressive combination from MC.
It was nice to stumble across a vinyl version of the classic "Thick as a Brick" on The Best of Jethro Tull [1975 Chrysalis FV 41078]. It was at a concert in the Fillmore East December 6th 1969 that I heard them for the first of two separate occasions. That particular day they performed as the backup band for Blood Sweat and Tears (they also opened for Jimi Hendrix among others during those early years) but the status of being a backup group quickly disappeared as people quickly grew to love their music. Ian Anderson shows his many talents doing vocal, flute, guitar, saxophone and mandolin. The opening flute piece swiftly grabbed my attention with its truth of timbre and vocals that were astonishingly clear as well as powerful. This combination of electronics provided a platform for which Jethro Tull could be heard at its best. "Leaving On A Jet Plane" on Peter Paul and Mary's [Warner Brothers BSK 3105] (Ten) Years Together is also a personal favorite album of mine. This trio of folk singers exhibited proper individual soundscape placement as well as good vocal tonal qualities. Here again the emotional content of singers shown through uniting listener with performance.
Finally we come to, "Puff the Magic Dragon", a true classic. Hearing it played back on quality equipment gave the song that magical quality it deserved. The 801 amplifier and 601 preamplifier combined the richness and depth of tube magic with the majestic power of solid state audio gear without using tubes or a hybrid design. How it did so baffled me but surely it must be found in the engineering. Being a lover of music the bottom line was what it did for me and less how it did it. Preferring to leave the technical design to the engineering experts at Music Culture Technology it was easy for me to sit back and just enjoy the music. With the 601 and 801 everybody wins as both vinyl and CD playback camps were the better when inserted into my home audio system.
The Listening Environment
Interconnects: Acoustic Revive RCA cables (phono stage to preamplifier, Acoustic Revive XLR Balanced cables from preamplifier to amplifier, Monarchy Audio XLR DAB-1 Balanced cables from CD player to preamplifier
Power Cords: Cardas Cross, Cardas Golden, Mr. Cable "The Musician" and Cherry Synergy Twin S30 Salamander audio rack.
United States of America Distributor