Son-Vidéo.com is proud to have recently fulfilled the dream of a seasoned music lover by designing a hi-fi system built with exceptional components, including a pair of McIntosh MC1.25kw monoblock solid state amplifiers, a McIntosh C2700 preamplifier, a McIntosh MCT500 digital transport and a pair of B&W 800 D3 speakers. In our article, discover this high-end installation and interviews with Alexandre, a Son-Vidéo.com call center consultant, and our in-house trainer Karim, both of whom contributed to the selection and installation of these components.
A high-end installation
This high-end installation is entirely comprised of McIntosh electronics. The main source is the McIntosh MCT500 CD and SACD transport which uses a perfectly silent drive mechanism paired with a chassis designed to eliminate any vibration and therefore ensure that the integrated components function optimally. These components are entirely developed and manufactured by McIntosh in the United States.
The McIntosh transport is designed to work in perfect harmony with the American manufacturer’s external DACs and amplifiers with integrated DACs. Therefore, it was paired with the McIntosh C2700 preamplifier in this installation. The C2700 is an audiophile vacuum tube model that uses six electronic tubes (five 12AX7a tubes and one 12A7) designed and manufactured by McIntosh. They provide high-precision preamplification with a maximum distortion rate of only 0.08%. The McIntosh MCT500 transport is connected to the digital section of the preamplifier. The latter uses a high-performance 32-bit 8 channel DAC in Quad Balanced mode, meaning that it operates in stereo balanced mode with 4 channels for the left side and 4 channels for the right side. It supports DSD up to DSD 512 and PCM streams up to 32-bit/384kHz.
The McIntosh C2700 preamplifier is connected to two McIntosh MC1.25kw monoblock solid state amplifiers via the XLR connection. Inspired by the revered McIntosh MC1.2KW, this is the American manufacturer’s most powerful model with a colossal 1200 watts of pure power in a single channel and an almost imperceptible total harmonic distortion of 0.0005%. To achieve this, it relies on a Quad Balanced design using not one, but two amplification circuits. In this installation, the monoblocks are placed on marble slabs to decouple them from the floor and reduce unwanted vibrations.
Connected to the McIntosh MC1.25kw monoblock amplifiers’ output are the sumptuous B&W 800 D3 speakers. This speaker is the British brand’s flagship model and is part of the Bowers & Wilkins Diamond 800 range, which also includes the B&W Diamond 802 D3, B&W Diamond 803 D3 and B&W Diamond 804 D3 floorstanding speakers, the B&W Diamond 805 D3 compact speakers, and the B&W Diamond HTM1 D3 and B&W Diamond HTM2 D3 center speakers. As their name suggests, these speakers use diamond in their design, notably for the domes of each Nautilus tweeter. Known for its extreme hardness, diamond offers an excellent transient response, minimal distortion and spectacular highs. This tweeter is combined with a 6” midrange driver with a Continuum cone, a technology that was developed over eight years by the British brand. The 10” woofer’s Aerofoil cone is of variable thickness to optimize its performance. Thicker in circumference, this cone provides better structured lows that can go as low as 17Hz.
How did you help this enthusiast choose their equipment?
When choosing the components, the goal was to make this music lover and McIntosh fan’s childhood dream come true. At first, they wanted information about the McIntosh MA8900 amplifier. Then, after several discussions we were able to put together a dream project by opting for the McIntosh MCT500 digital transport. We then decided to look at the more premium McIntosh MA9000 amplifier before focusing on adding high-end speakers to the project. B&W was the perfect brand as its speakers combine balance and musicality. We decided to choose the iconic B&W 800 D3 speaker from the 800 range. The main challenge was figuring out the power supply for these speakers which, even with a high sensitivity rating, have a negative feedback that is difficult to handle. That is why we suggested combining a preamplifier and a power amplifier in double mono mode to achieve a system that was perfect in every way.
What precautions were taken when inboxing and installing these luxury items?
The weight of the components has to be taken into consideration. In our case, it was 75kg per amplifier and 100kg per speaker. However, as the packaging was very well made there weren’t any significant risks. The amplifiers were packed in a cardboard box that opened up like the petals of a flower. We were therefore able to slide each amplifier off the box without necessarily lifting them. That said, we did have to lift them at one point to slide the marble slabs we used as a support underneath.
B&W goes the extra mile when it comes to its speakers. There’s a panel that serves as a slanted support to remove the speakers using the wheels, so it was very easy to take them out of the box and slide them into their listening position.
Is this type of high-end system more difficult to set up than other hi-fi systems?
As with any system, it is important to leave space around the speakers and to try and make sure that the distance between the walls and the speakers are the same. If one of the speakers is set too far back, the sound may be affected. It can change the very linear curve of this type of speaker. For the amplifiers, we simply plugged them in and waited a few minutes for them to reach their ideal operating temperature.
What was your approach when choosing the connectors?
We are actually still in the testing phase regarding the cables. There are Audioquest, Atohm and Viard Audio cables on loan until this sophisticated listener finds his heart’s desire. We quickly tried the various cables to check that their sound signatures were clearly identifiable and that the characteristics of the different brands were perceptible. We’ll wait a few weeks to get the listener’s opinion. All of the elements in the system are new, so a running-in period is necessary.
What were your first listening impressions?
You can’t go wrong with these components. The speakers provide an incredibly neutral sound. By listening to one track after another, we were able to hear the mixing differences from one era to another, but also the differences between various musical genres. No single frequency overshadowed the rest. Concerning the amplification, the pure strength of the McIntosh machines was definitely present. The sound filled the listening room from 1W. The higher the volume, the more impact we felt.
Is it possible to optimize this hi-fi system even more?
Yes, of course. In regards to the room’s acoustics for example. Some active or passive acoustic treatment needs to be added. If the listening room resonates too much, the sound will be unbalanced and the result won’t be good. It would be a shame to deprive oneself of the impressive qualities of the electronics and speakers because of an inadequate room. We returned to this installation with a TRINNOV technician to try out one of their acoustic correctors and observe how this type of equipment interacts. We connected the corrector via XLR to the McIntosh double mono amplifiers and preamplifier. The correction process was then carried out in four steps.
The first step involved connecting a measurement microphone that was positioned where the listener will most often be sitting, on the couch in front of the speakers. Then, we began to play pink noise and the software detected that the microphone wasn’t properly centered, so we moved it a little to the right to correct it. We didn’t move the speakers because their position wasn’t important right away.
Secondly, we looked at the curves generated by the software. Not surprisingly, we noticed that the lows were unbalanced (one speaker was above the ideal flat curve and the other was below). This confirmed that the room was generating sound reflection. In the upper midrange there were several incidences of significant shifts at certain frequencies. These first measurements confirmed that we needed to correct the problems we heard during our listening session. The curves definitely illustrated what we heard, which made it easier to carry out the analysis and subsequent modifications.
During the third step, we corrected the curves and applied those appropriate for these speakers, which are usually installed in the best possible conditions. We could hear the corrections and, more importantly, we could move around the room without noticing too many phase effects or missing soundwaves. It was as if we had been able to eliminate the initial reflections. The sound became clearer and deeper overall, the dynamics were evident and the instruments neatly materialized one after the other.
For the fourth step, we wanted to modify the curves to get as close as possible to the sound that this music lover wanted to hear, namely by adding a little more bass (around 60Hz) and deepening the upper-mids at 4kHz, which is a very critical frequency range. Right away, we were able to tap our foot along to the music, and enjoy the rhythm of the track and the sparkling sound of the saxophone. The results of the Trinnov acoustic correction proved to be essential and, above all, didn’t change the timbres of the dynamics of the music.