Let's say that something new in audio comes out. Now what if you wanted something within that product category? It could be speakers, a new streamer, or amplifier for example. Now what if, let's say, there was no dealer near you. Ok, to be fair there's a McIntosh dealer near me. But let's not let that fact get in the way of a good story.
So you read through magazines both print and online, pay close attention to reviews on amplifiers, and think you've found something that would fit perfectly within your audio system. Of course all those know-it-all reviewer guys always say to "audition ________ within your system is highly recommended". So why would Yours Truly just go and buy the new McIntosh MC611 quad balanced solid-state monoblock amplifier without ever hearing it? Insanity! You'd feel a reviewer could, you know, just get a pair under the guise of it being "for review" and then, if he loved them, buy them. What type of wack job buys $15,000 worth of amplification before hearing it within his system?
(As I wave to you) Hi! My name is Steven. R. Rochlin. I buy gear sight unseen, sound unheard.
Now before you go on about this having to be a positive review, listen up, I have a sick sense of joy playing with new 'toys'. Seems in the past few years these toys are, well, exotic Italian cars, perhaps a British cruiser, the occasional fine Swiss mechanical timepiece... and an Italian pro-sumer espresso machine. Look, I either can't or don't have time to actually, you know, check things out first. Read reviews, find a place that sells it... buy it. It is like the new Rolex SS ceramic Pepsi that was just announced, of course i called the local AD at around 7am and left a message. So when it comes to certain cool toys like McIntosh Labs MC611 monoblock, just shut up and take my money!
Look, am a guy so that whole ego / herd mentality thing kicks in. So when it comes to the McIntosh MC611, one can't say "I read many reviews and all the guys seem to love it." But what if the amplifier was not available? Your ego wants to be the first guy on the 'Internet block' to have one. You've read reviews of the company's other amps using the same circuit technology / topology, and the company in question is McIntosh, a brand you've loved for years yet never owned.
This is their brand new quad balanced amplifier with 600 staggering Watts continuous per monoblock, with a comfortable headroom of 2.8dB. C'mon, geeks like me immediately start doing math in our head and calculate 1143.2766000000001. Ok, in truth my brain rounded to 1150 Watts total output.
Wait, over 1000 Watts? Per monoblock? Who in the living hell needs 1000 Watts of power per channel?
(As I wave to you and smile) Hi! My name is Steven. R. Rochlin.
Oh, and before I forget how crazy this all may sound on the surface, our Editor Tom Lyle was already scheduled to review a pair of McIntosh MC611 monoblock amps. Am never one to 'steal' review gear from other reviewers, so buying it made the most sense. Oh, and Tom has no idea I'm writing this preview, or even that a pair of them are in-house.
Hi Tom! Surprise!
Why Buy A McIntosh Amplifier Sight Unseen, Sound Unheard?
Now really, is it any stretch to say that you trust McIntosh Labs to make a great product that sounds wonderful, looks incredible, and will be rock solid reliable for decades. Not a few years of operation, or five years, or ten. Have seen many McIntosh amps that are over 30 years old still selling quite well within the second-hand market. Maybe after a decade you should consider changing the possible dried out power caps, yet other than that plus a quick spray of lube/cleaner on the knobs and you're good to go. These are knowns. It simply is. McIntosh Labs. So with an excellent reputation, decades of consistently producing extremely high quality audio gear, how could you possibly go wrong?
Enjoy the Music.com's very own Ron Nagle gave a world premiere review of McIntosh Lab's recently released MA5300 integrated amplifier in March 2018. Ron loved it so much he bought the review sample. Yes, even us reviewer-types read other reviewer's reviews (wow that sentence is a mouthful!). Again, even us reviewer-types read other reviewer's reviews. I'll get more into that later (actually I won't, that'll have to wait for the full review), yet the point is due diligence. As for these new McIntosh MC611 monoblocks, they improved the design over previous version, and of course it looks great. After reading other reviews about Mc's quad balanced amps I felt, hey, why not just buy it? How bad could it really be?
The Long Road Of Amplification Topology
Dynaco and Quad amps from the 1960s and 1970s: Hey, it's what I grew up listening to.
Yamaha Natural Sound receiver: Because I was kicked out of the house. It drove the original Boston Acoustic A40 nicely and Tannoy 15" Gold monitor ok.
Adcom 535 and 545 because they sounded great for the $$$. Also, they sure were loud... right up until a dead quiet channel due to blowing a rail fuse.
VTL 225 KT90 triode monoblocks. BEASTS in every sense of the word. These were the then just-released KT90 tubes from Yugoslavia. Because soon afterwards that plant shut down and everyone scrambled to purchase KT90 tubes, I smartly also ordered two compete output tube sets as backup (32 matched KT90 output tubes total in 'backstock' for those counting).
Threshold massive Class A monoblocks on trial from local high-end store, as was trying to figure out what worked best with the Infinity four-tower IRS system, with the VTL working the uppers, Threshold for bass towers.
Audio Note Ongaku made by Kondo-san himself. Hmmm, also procured that sound unheard and look how that turned out. I sense a theme here of bat-shit audio gear crazy, yet let's keep going shall we?
Wavelength Audio Cardinal monoblocks (original, eventually upgraded to X-1 silver status). Still have those monoblocks here. Too much in love to part with them. If you get the chance and have the system for 8 glorious SET watts I highly recommended them. Many only know Gordon Rankin for his digital expertise, yet his tube amps rock my world!
Ok, let's hit fast-forward a bit as to why we're going on about pervious amps 'n' stuff. Then came that whole Enjoy the Music.com gig thingy decades ago, and so many amps came and went. Of the hits are the 47 Labs Gaincard, which my review seemed to spur a whole new category of manufacturers making single-chip amps with about 20 Watts output. Also experimented with Final Labs, which used the same basic single-chip topology, yet was driven only via battery power instead of 47 Labs Power Humpty. Am not shy about saying my heart loves the Gryphon Audio products, and when I hit big IPO or Lotto that's my ~$500,000 'end game' system. Yet until then... so today it's the McIntosh MC611 quad balanced monoblock amplifiers.
Taking a look back at output topologies we have pentode, triode, ultra-linear, Class A solid-state, Class AB, Class D, single and multi solid-state output device amps, single and multi output tube amps. Amps in pretty decorative jewelry-like boxes made of exotic wood. Utilitarian amps that look like ugly black boxes. Amps that weight only a single pound or so to those weighing well over 80 lbs each. Oh my, forgot to mention the teeny tiny almost matchbook sized GREATechuVAC that produced about a single Watt. Cute little bugger too! My point being is, how could I have never reviewed, let alone owned, a McIntosh Labs product? What type of world am I leaving for Keith Richards? Look, there's only one me and am at merely a very tiny small part within the world of high-end audio. So when it comes to McIntosh Labs I always wanted to get around to it one day. Kinda like how we guys like to say about, you know, cleaning the garage or repainting the bathroom, I'll get around to it... eventually.
Finally: McIntosh Labs MC611
Cables. Wait, do I have any short speaker cables as they only need to be three feet long? Hmmm. I did have a superb set of two-meter length Kimber Kable all silver KS-1030 interconnects so am good there, yet speaker cables...? Hmmmm. Lots of eight-footers and two-meter stuff, but a few feet in length? Nirvanna Avantgarde 'jumpers' would work, but not really made for that job. Hmm, what else do I have around here. Monster Cable Sigma M2 extremely thick, and a bit stiff, bi-wire set I bought around 1991 or so. Hmm, those are too long. I got it! During my 2014 review of Flagstone PlanterSpeakers by Madison Fielding I also reviewed the Tributaries SP8BW-BK02S cables. Tributaries were kind enough to send me a roll of wire so I could custom wire up the outdoor speakers and still have some of it on a roll in the garage. So I cut up a custom set of three-feet pair speaker cables, as each cable had four 14 AWG wire so bi-wiring the speakers was easy. Now with my system set and ready for the McIntosh MC611 quad balanced monoblocks to arrive...
The First Day.... Was It A Mistake?
No, please no.
But wait, the amps are cold! As in cold 50F. All that output transformer stuff, and brand new parts... everything was c-c-cold. Two hours later things are getting better, at least in the bass timing region yet still not quite right.
No, please no.
About six hours after first very cold turn-on and the bass was now pretty darn good. Not super-OMG-killer great or jaw-dropping for me, yet good-ish. (As I begin to smile, and a huge sense of relief rolls over me) I like where this is going, as the highs were also now sounding cleaner and more extended. Both amps played that evening and all day the next day. On day three they really gave a big glimpse of what is to come. Call it 85% there. But before I get into the sound we're hearing today, two weeks later, let's step back a bit to my muse / wife Heather.
On the first night, after about six hours of warm-up from dead cold new, had my love Heather sit in the sweet sport for a listen. Damn damn damn, I really should have had my camera ready because her jaw literally was gaping open in happy amazement. This was not the typical "Steven, yes I hear a small difference my love..." as many wives/sig others might say just to keep their audiophile... happily amused. No, Heather's jaw dropping and facial expression was worth 1000 words, which frankly I'd rather post her pic than having to type more words about what she did. Like all the words you just read. Simply posting a pic of her jaw-drop with eyes-wide-open all-amazed facial expression would have been better than this paragraph.
Those Magical Blue Meters
On day three we're watching Bladerunner 2049 and I turn off the blue meters. Now all that is aglow are the green backlit logo and other small bits. Still lovely, yet no pair of big blue meters shining into the room as the movie played. Within only a very few minutes Heather asks what happened to the amp lights. Informing her they were turned off for the movie to keep the room dark, she says to turn the blue meter lights back on because she really likes them. Two days after that while listening to music with the blue light off, Heather comes in, listens, and within five minutes asks for the blue meter lights to be turned back on because "they're so pretty". This simply proves a given for those who've met Heather and I. That is the fact in my muse Heather being the one and only true Ms. Right. Those two blue Power Output meter lights have stayed on ever since.
For those curious, the left monoblock Power Output meter is normal ye ol' dancing indicator, while the right one is set for peak hold. This way i can (generally speaking) see output power both active and peak.
Approximately 2400 words and not a single in-depth comment about how these McIntosh amplifiers really sound. But hey, if you got a new pair of 600 Watt McIntosh amps you'd be all excited 'n' stuff too.
The Sound Today
Highs over 10kHz are glorious. Smooth, extended, and wonderful upper harmonic support. Is it the magic of the output transformer?
10kHz to 2kHz is well-defined, top-tier resolution, and natural. There's a human seamless sensation to the sound, not etched or mechanical.
2kHz to 200Hz sound solid. McIntosh amps of decades ago were known to have a nice bit of support (augmented) for midbass. With the MC611 it is not that classic McIntosh sound I've heard as a youth within friend's hi-fi systems; it was more even with the other frequencies. Maybe a tiny touch of classic McIntosh, but really 100% not sure. Think it is there a tiny bit, maybe. Need more time to analyze.
200Hz to 20Hz is stunning. Of course with 600 Watts per monoblock continuous, and peak power output of 1143.2766000000001 Watts, there was at least a two-fold of headroom to drive my speakers. Deep bass transients shows zero compression. Very impressive definition too; grip of the Gods capable of energizing the listening room without breaking so much as a drop of sweat. If anything, the woofers gave out at higher SPL levels/peak before the amp could get near 300 Watt continuous, let alone the 600 Watt rating. Thus this amplifier's peak output <cough> limitation </cough> is not a factor at all... one would naturally assume.
Imaging, well, nothing 'sticks' to my Dunlavy SC-IV Signature speakers. I mean nothing! Unless the music mix has an instrument hard-panned to speaker 'dry', which almost no one really does, my listening room simply disappears. Soundstage has moved about two feet forward, yet is now about two feet wider that usual as well. Normally I hear a nice foot or so past the outer edge of the Dunlavy SC-IV Sigs, yet with the MC611 monoblocks add two more feet per side for a total of three feet wider than the outer edge of each speaker. If there's one thing I'd truly like to point out, it is that images sound naturally 'solid'. Have you ever heard a system that images great, yet doesn't reproduce the physical sense of the musician / instrument being within that space? Would not say this is due to any frequency augmentation. It is that the McIntosh MC611 quad balanced amplifier produces a more solid-sounding image.
As a popular example for imaging, Roger Waters Amused To Death... Never heard the TV to the left sound so physically real. There's what sounds like a truly 3D-sized TV with a tiny touch of depth there. As for all the other audio tracks on the album, it has never imaged solidly better. This includes having the soundscape go to the ceiling, etc during certain songs. Classical orchestra concert hall 'air' and natural reverb into the venue itself sounds so naturally scary-real that the only other time I've heard this effect was within my audio lab in Gainesville, FL.
As for PRAT (pace, rhythm and...), or funk feel, or whatever you want to call the groove or playing within the pocket, here is where the McIntosh MC611 shines. We have good sounding music, sure, yet does it funkin' groove you? Yes! Memories of my time with the delightful Van den Hul Frog MC cartridge fills my mind here. We all know some turntable setups boogie, some don't. Am extremely happy, elated, overjoyed, and ecstatic that this amp can boogie! Rest assured small-scale jazz and orchestra are fine, yet on went da funk and it was impossible not to tap my toes. In fact during one pop song everyone in our home started to dance. When the music truly grooves ya, you gotta get up and dance. At least that's how it works at our place.
It is now 1:34pm and I have to 'find time' to edit (a very loose term here, editing now @ 3:35pm) this article. Need to sort out posting tech specs, manufacturer details, oh, and the huge thing I need to write about just what "quad balanced" means and why it is a very interesting amplification topology. Have not even told you how awesome these monos look within my system in a holistic sense. Or the cool top graphics, or how the amp just gets a small touch warm (never hot) even when I am playing Prodigy, Rammstein, Chance, or ZZ Top.
Not even enough time to tell you about that truly erotic scent of new electronics when I first opened the shipping box (why has no one made a unisex fragrance called New Electronics?). Have no time for all that, there's a compete magazine to get out in only a matter of a few hours. So until then, as always in the end what really matters is that...
Forgot to write the most important part of this review. Eh hem (as I clear my throat and start to speak authoritatively), "This reviewer highly recommends you audition McIntosh Labs MC611 quad balanced solid-state monoblock amplifiers within your system. Enjoyed them so much within my sound system that I'm buying the review pair!"
Bought them first, and then reviewed them.
As always, in the end, what really matters is that you...
PS: It is now August 2020 and still loving the McIntosh MC611 monoblock amplifiers. They have worked flawlessly through thick and thin. Hey, look, listen, it's a McIntosh big arse quad-balanced monoblock, high reliability and sound quality is a given. And yes, my Muse and wife Heather still gets pissed off if I turn off the blue meter lights. :)