McIntosh Laboratory MC462 power amplifier An Interview with Charlie Randall

Sidebar 1: An Interview with Charlie Randall

After being shown through McIntosh Laboratory's factory, in Binghamton, New York, where I saw the integration of cutting-edge and well-established technologies with outstanding quality control, I visited a bit with Charlie Randall, who first arrived at McIntosh as a college-student apprentice in 1985, and 16 years later was appointed President of the company. I first asked him how things are at McIntosh, given the ongoing parade of new formats—portable this, streaming that?

Charlie Randall: Really good. A lot of people thought that streaming, liquid music, iPhones, etc., would be the death of the industry. I think it's just the opposite. More and more people are rediscovering music. Just the availability they have in content now, compared to the way they used to have to do it. The only thing they're missing is waiting for your mom to run you to the record store—on the way home in the back seat, at least you could read about the music.

Sasha Matson: McIntosh's current design and engineering processes—is it a team approach, or are individuals in charge?

Randall: On the amplifier side, we have four people. All the product planning is a team approach. We might average a new model every five years. What we look for, if we are replacing an existing model, is what can we do to enhance the performance? McIntosh has a history of power creep: make it bigger, make it bigger. The problem is, especially in class-A/B, once you get up to 1200W, you can't pull any more power out of the wall without using more than one line cord.

Matson: How many patents does McIntosh currently hold?

Randall: In excess of 40, might be as many as 50. Here's a piece of trivia for you that a lot of people don't know: The blue in the McIntosh meter is trademarked, which is very difficult to get.

Matson: What do you say to some critics who talk about a "McIntosh sound"—voicing things a certain way: bumped presence region, the upper midrange, etc.?

Randall: Obviously, it's going to differ between solid-state and vacuum tubes. It's our heritage. Vacuum tubes, it's just inherent that there is more second-order distortion. We are going to work on a crazy amplifier towards the end of this year that will bring both worlds together. From a performance standpoint, it is purely subjective—it's what you like to listen to. I like them both. I think vacuum tubes do a better job in some areas, and solid-state, same way.

Matson: There is a strength and a bigness to the sound of the MC462 that I am really liking. You feel it even though the meters are just sitting there—it's not like I'm cranking it crazy loud.

Randall: One thing that's hard to see, just looking at the meters, is dynamic headroom. Even though the average response on the meters might be somewhere between 4W and 12W, if there is a demanding part that's inside there that the meter can't respond to that quickly, the amplifier has ample reserve to reproduce it. That's part of the openness and bigness that most people hear from McIntosh amplifiers, and especially the MC462. It's the same way with a car—you can't say a two-cylinder is better than an eight-cylinder.

Matson: Pricing in the High End?

Randall: Just from economies of scale, we can keep our prices much less than what we consider to be a high-end competitor. Because of the volume we are doing, we can buy at a more reasonable price. And the more you do in-house, you are saving costs inherent to using sub-suppliers.

Matson: Style and history?

Randall: Love it or hate it, it's us. We can't change it. The customer that buys a piece of Mac today, and tomorrow they want to add to it, we are always consistent about being backward-compatible, both in terms of how it works and how it looks. We make subtle changes.

Matson: What kind of listener do you think would enjoy an amplifier like the MC462?

Randall: Our design philosophy around the sound and the performance is just to be transparent. By that I mean, when any artist does a final mix of a recording and they sign off on it, that is their signature saying, "This is what I wanted it to sound like." Any audio designer should literally try to be as transparent as possible and let the artist's recording speak for itself.

Matson: Do you and your colleagues voice the final results with music, not only bench measurements?

Randall: Yes. With the McIntosh experience of 70 years now, and what we know from both a listening standpoint and measurements, we can pretty much tell if it is going to sound good. I think it's important for the customer to understand both. One thing they should not get hung up on is what it's going to sound like just from what they can read in the specifications. You are not going to be able to tell what that amplifier sounds like by just reading a number.

COMPANY INFO
McIntosh Laboratory, Inc.
2 Chambers Street
Binghamton, NY 13903
(607) 723-3512
ARTICLE CONTENTS

COMMENTS
Bogolu Haranath's picture

JA1 said it all ..... "It is an extraordinarily well engineered, exceptionally powerful amplifier" :-) ........

Ortofan's picture

... why do we need recordings with a resolution of any greater than about 18.5 bits?

Also, if the moral is to match the MC462's nominal output to the lowest impedance magnitude of the loudspeaker used, then which tap - 4 ohm or 2 ohm - is the better choice for a speaker that has a minimum impedance of 3 ohms, such as the B&W model used by the reviewer?
Depending upon which amplifier output tap is selected, there seems to be a trade-off between maximum power output and lowest distortion.

georgehifi's picture

Yet why review such an amp with these speakers that are easy loads, even a NAD3020 could drive them? Surely those that intend to buy this 50kg back breaker of an amp, are going to go for more substantial speaker than these?
This amp should have been reviewed with Wilson Alexia or similar to see if it perceived persona is more than just skin deep, and not a show pony.

Cheers George

PaulRS's picture

Correct me if I'm wrong, but a single-winding autoformer that McIntosh uses will not block DC. Only a transformer, such as used on most tube amplifiers will do that.

SNI's picture

@Paul IRS
You are right about that.
An autotransformer does not provide electrical isolation, as it is a single winding transformer.
Primary and secondare are connected both electrically and magnetically.
Double winding transformers are only connected magnetically.
Hence the DC isolation.
Anyways a two winding transformer is not very good at blocking DC, as the core can be saturated, and then build up heat.
Thus the primary task of a transformer is either step-up or step down or isolation, not a highpass filter
Generally the autotransformer is a step up or step down device only.
Historically the autotransformer came into HIFI because of lack of power. The Atotransformer coupled as a step-up transformer could increase the voltage swing on the secondary side. At that time most speakers were relatively high impedance, thus a higher spl was possible.
In modern times high voltage swings are no problem, as transistors have develloped, so no one uses transformers anylonger besides MacIntosh.
For what ever reason they still do, I don´t know.
No transformer is a linear component, they are pretty heavily inductive,
so using a transformer in the output, will introduce distortion of the signal.
Of course this can be reduced with NFB, but basically it is a workarround of a problem, that isn´t really there.

Alan Tomlinson's picture

"No transformer is a linear component, they are pretty heavily inductive,
so using a transformer in the output, will introduce distortion of the signal."

Well said. That said, there are a variety of distortion forms out there, and some of them are euphonic. No less an engineer than Rupert Neve has been using transformers in his recording consoles for a long time, and it's not because he didn't receive the memo about transformer-related distortion. In short, McIntosh probably has a fundamental sonic reason for favouring autoformers.

Cheers,

Alan Tomlinson

SNI's picture

@Alan Tomlinson
You might be right, that specific persons regard the distortion introduced by transformers as euphonic, and thus musical in some sense.
This point of view is not shared by everyone though.
I.e. if you look at very high end microphones like DPA (used for measurements by Stereophile, amongst many), Neuman, Shoeps etc. do have TL versions of their top performers. (TL = Transformer Less)
The TL versions are recommended over the transformercoupled ones, but the transformercoupled can be neccesary in studios with long and mixed cable runs.
In smaller set-ups with few mikes, the TL is recommended for its cleaner sound and better transparancy.
I´ve heard the difference, and there is no doubt, that the TL is the better choice in the purist cases.

But the choice of microphones and the choice of a lot of other recording gear, can be seen as a part of the musical expression.
An A/B stereo recording of Nirvana ore something, would probably not work in real life.
But IMO this kind of deliberate colouration should be held inside the recording studios. I don´t think it is wise to introduce stuff like that in the reproduction chain, as well as I cannot imagine that doing so will go well most of the time.
Good and sensible engineering with as few idiosyncratic elements as possible, will be best for the long haul I think.
Not that listening should be left out of devellopmentlabs, indeed not.
But the chances for good sound are present, but not in anyway garantied by good measurement results. On the other hand, I´ve not yet experienced good sound from equipment with bad measurements.
I don´t like distortion, no matter how euphonic it might be. It´s always there, and will be recognised as distortion eventually.

Best regards

Soren

jmsent's picture

No, an autoformer can't completely block dc. But when you consider the dc resistance of the autoformer winding, where the input tap is connected to the output transistors, and the other end of the winding is ground, you're probably looking at something on the order of a fraction of an Ohm. So, it's pretty likely that a dc fault condition would let very little voltage through to the speaker and pretty quickly blow an internal fuse in the amplifier. I believe that later Mac amps also have considerable additional fail safe circuitry in them that would disconnect the speakers in the event of any dc offset condition.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

There is information about transformer and auto(trans)former in Wikipedia :-) ..........

SpeakerScott's picture

The autoformer will present a very low impedance to DC. The older autoformers on McIntosh amplifiers are approximately .5H winding inductance (more on that in a bit) and less than .2 ohms DC resistance. If the amplifier sticks to one rail the autoformer will cause the primary mains fuse to blow protecting the speakers. It is an elegant solution to DC protection.

The inductance limits the autoformer from becoming a substantial part of the load for audio frequencies. As long as the high pass filtering for the amp is at a high enough frequency.

The autoformers themselves are incredibly linear, even the ones I've tested from McIntosh amplifiers from the mid 70's and earlier will pass a full power signal at less than .05% THD.

SNI's picture

200 mOhms is actually a lot in that part of an amp.

Best Regards

Soren

SpeakerScott's picture

Not really...that's still a damping factor of 40 for an 8 ohm speaker which is more than enough to minimize frequency response variation and not impact time domain performance in an audible significant way.

SNI's picture

@speakerScott
I don´t agree.

jmsent's picture

..is not just a function of the DCR of the autoformer. There's the feedback loop which effectively lowers the output impedance to very low values. JA has measured this in the review. The effective output impedance is on the order of .09 -.13 ohms at the 8 ohm tap...certainly more than adequate. I realize you don't like the amp, and I'm not here to defend it as I think it's overkill for a home audio system. But there's no disputing that it measures quite well in most respects. Your philosphical objections to autoformers not withstanding, what are your issues with it?

jimtavegia's picture

If you think of 6db per bit for dynamic range, one would think that 96db would be enough. Now I doubt there are many 16 bit chips made any more and 24 bit chips are so advanced and of such high quality and can playback more formats.

What I want is more samples per second and find that at 96khz there is just a much more smoother sound, more accurate to me and that is what I want to hear. I know mathematically that 192khz is better resolution, but my nearly 72 year old ears have a hard time hearing the improvement, but I'm sure it is there, probably. There is no mistake to me that 2496 is a great format for hearing what there is recorded in PCM. In my home studio I record everything at 2496 and some material at 24192.

DSD is even better, but now that is pretty much limited to downloads as no one I know is making affordable SACD players anymore. I wish they were. This Mac amp will handle anything you pass through it and, as the review showed, reveals flaws in poorly recorded material.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Denon makes DCD-1600NE, which can play CD and SACD ........ MSRP $1,199 :-) ..........

jimtavegia's picture

I did not know that Denon had one. I was sorry to see Oppo go.

Jim

Ortofan's picture

... more likely to be found in the video department.
A few DVD/Blu-ray disc players have SA-CD compatibility and a set of RCA audio output jacks.
The $330 Yamaha BD-S681 is one such unit.
https://usa.yamaha.com/products/audio_visual/blu-ray_players/bd-s681/index.html

Dtb1180's picture

Did you compare this amplifier directly to your tubed McIntosh? Also have you heard the lower powered models that are not quad balanced and do they sound similar? I have owned tubed (MC275 mark 6) and solid state (MC252 I think) and they have a similar house sound. What do you think?

Dr. M.'s picture

Greetings, Thanks for your focused questions.I still own my wonderful MC275; of course with ability to swap tubes comparisons will change.My review comments do refer to prior extended listening to the MC275. Please see my question to Charlie Randall in the attached interview now posted, about the "McIntosh Sound." Some people hit on Mac for this- I view it as a strength.

No, haven't spent recent in-house time with prior solid-state McIntosh amps- only under show and shop conditions. Enjoy the long and winding Mac road! - Best, Sasha M.

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