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Naim vs McIntosh

 

Bronze Member
Username: Sourav

Post Number: 28
Registered: Feb-07
I currently own a predominantly Naim system.

Naim 150x, Naim 122x, Flatcap 2x, CDX2.2, Naim Phono Stage, Naim DAC. My speaker is Dynaudio Audience 72. I have Rega P5 with separate PSU. Also own Sonos ZP90 as streamer to DAC.

So far very satisfied with the sound. However lately thinking of upgrading the amp/pre-amp section.

In vacuum tubes got audition of McIntosh MC 275 with 2300 preamp. Also heard Conrad Johnson PL70 and Cary Audio 120MkII. Likes MC275 a lot. It has warmth of Tube as well as good bass (as needed by the kind of music I listen to). Also later on I can use it as monoblock by buying another MC275 if I need more power

But thinking whether going for MC275+ 2300 (around USD 10K) would be worth. Instead should I spend the similar amount in upgrading my Naim to NAP250-2 + NAC282. The problem is my Naim dealer doe snot have this combo for demo.

Any experience/opinion would be highly appreciated?

Regards,
Sourav
 

Gold Member
Username: Nickelbut10

Post Number: 3703
Registered: Jun-07
If your looking for a warmer sound, why not make your current, very good setup, warmer? Room and system synergy is where I would first look. Your components obviously have the synergy...but Naim and DynAudio? Really. The warmth you seek may be obtainable why either better speaker choice with the Naim equipment and some cheap room treatments. Also, are you using Naim cables or generic ones?

Personally, if paired properly, I find Naim to be quite a "dark, and luring" musical sound. Its very nice.
 

Platinum Member
Username: Jan_b_vigne

Dallas, TX

Post Number: 17207
Registered: May-04
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I have owned (and presently do own) two vintage MC240 McIntosh amplifiers for the last thirty years. The MC240 was the middle of the line amp in the line1961 group comprised of MC225 (EL34's), MC240 (6L6's) and the MC275 (6550's). I've had a C22 in my system and can't say enough good things about the pairing while realizing McIntosh and Naim are acquired tastes for many listeners as both have very identifiable house sounds. Neither is more right nor more wrong than the other but they are not alike. I've also sold Mac gear for twenty five years and have a familiarity with the Naim gear you own.


I'm not as down on the pairing of either line with the Dyanaudio's as Nickelbutt appears to be but, without further details of the system, it would be difficult for me to even begin to lead you toward a more satisfying system.


If you were to walk into my shop and inquire about a swap from Naim to McIntosh, I would have to first ask, what is it you're trying to achieve? If you're "very satisfied" with the music presentation you currently listen to, why are you thinking of "upgrading"? Is this just an itch for new gear? Or, is there some aspect of the music reproduction you are not so satisfied with? If there are certain aspects of Naim's house sound with which you are very satsified, then swapping to a line such as McIntosh could be more of a lateral move than an upward step despite the price. Yet, the things which are the hallmarks of McIntosh sound for the last sixty years are also not in abundance in the Naim line.

In short, what does your current system do well that satisfies you? And, what does your current system not do as well as you would prefer and is this what's driving you to change equipment? Please be as specific as you can manage. Without knowing what is driving this desire, there's no rationale for saying one line is superior to the other save for the reason the Mac gear is subjectively gorgeous and will barely loose its value over the next twenty years.

"As I said, it is difficult to believe from its measured performance that the McIntosh MC275 was designed almost half a century ago (by a team led by company cofounder Sidney Corderman, footnote 1). Good audio engineering is timeless."â€"John Atkinson; http://www.stereophile.com/content/mcintosh-mc275-power-amplifier-measurements


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Bronze Member
Username: Sourav

Post Number: 29
Registered: Feb-07
Firstly NickelBut10 I have found Dyn and Naim going very well for my kind of music (mostly Jazz and Indian classical). What I found best in the combo is the sound is not very upfront on your face, rather the sound stage is more towards the back.
May be as you are saying some other speaker would be more warmer. I would like to know your suggestions.
By the way I'm using Naim cables between all Naim components. If u are saying the cable between Naim power and Dyn then it is not.Again good suggestion. Need to explore.
 

Bronze Member
Username: Sourav

Post Number: 30
Registered: Feb-07
@Jane.

Firstly thanks a lot for offering the consulting.

Why I'm looking for a change ?

1. Yes u r right. Typical upgrade bug.
2. Always wanted to own a Tube gear.
3. My local McIntosh dealer is giving me 36 months 0 interest credit.
4. What I always found lacking in my Naim system is little bit of bass. I thought I need to upgrade to higher Naim pre-power to get the same as Dyn is 86db sensitivity hard to drive speaker. But that will cost me around USD15K (252, 282 and HiCap what I thought would be meaningful upgrade instead of 202/200). So If I anyway need to spend that why not also explore good Tube ones ?
5. After having a home audition of McIntosh with rest of my system and Dyn what I found is the warmth is too good, Prat is also as good as Naim. Only difference may be that the Naim is little more detailed. At the same time MC275 and MA2300 combo is 2.5 times costlier than my current Naim pre+power+flatcap combo.

Now coming to what all current system does to satisfy me - PRaT, Details, Warm sound (though not as good as the McIntosh combo I auditioned), Soundstage which is not forward (on ur face) and Reliability.

By the way you have mentioned that MC has great resell value. Is that not applicable for Naim too ? My current system is worth of around USD 4K (pre+power+Flatcap). And I thought I'll get at least around 50 to 60 percent of that if I sell them today (they are 5 years old now). Are u saying in case of MC I can even expect more if I sell Mc gear after 5 years of buying the new ?

Regards,
Sourav
 

Platinum Member
Username: Jan_b_vigne

Dallas, TX

Post Number: 17211
Registered: May-04
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"What I always found lacking in my Naim system is little bit of bass. I thought I need to upgrade to higher Naim pre-power to get the same as Dyn is 86db sensitivity hard to drive speaker. But that will cost me around USD15K (252, 282 and HiCap what I thought would be meaningful upgrade instead of 202/200). So If I anyway need to spend that why not also explore good Tube ones ?"



If bass quantity is your main concern with the Naim gear, have you tried a proper speaker set up procedure to re-establish the correct priorities in music? Have you done any sort of speaker set up at all following a guideline from, say, Wilson speakers? Obviously the system will sound quite different when it is properly located and you will hear more music - and more bass - once your listening chair has been properly situated. Have you done anything as simple as walking the room to determine whether you or the speakers might be located in a null zone caused by standing waves? Have you considered doing any room treatments which might smooth out the room's bass response and therefore make the quantity of bass more apparent?


86dB is not a terribly low sensitivity speaker system. Actually, it's not that far from average. Do you listen at high volume levels?


You are correct about the Dynaudio's, they are somewhat difficult speakers to drive. Not terrible but certainly far more difficult than average. Though what makes them difficult is their severe impedance swing and their electrical phase angle. Starting with a nomimal four Ohm load in a multi-waty system you are certain to have impedance drops below three Ohms and the typical Dynaudio crossover will have severe phase angle issues. This wouldn't actually account for the less than bombastic bass though the Naim gear isn't well suited to this sort of speaker load.

Unfortunately, neither are most transformer coupled tube amplifiers. In its price range the MC275 will have about the lowest output impedance of any tube amp - which is a positive. But your speakers are very reactive as a load. Pairing a reactive load with a higher than average output impedance will create a situation where the frequency response of the system rises and falls with the reactance of the speaker load and the rising and falling output impedance of the amp at various frequencies. The average tube amp will create noticeable variations in frequency response when paired with the Dynaudio speakers. As long as you wish to keep the speakers, then I would never suggest a tube based power amp as most tube amps have an even more reactive nature with low impedance loads due to their higher even than the Mac's output impedance. This is one reason many buyers think they want to try tubes and then are disappointed when the speaker isn't well suited to the amplifier. They blame the amp when the amp - especially the MC275 which is an excellent amp - is not the problem. The real issue is they don't understand how to pair amps and speakers when it comes to matching electrical values.

The real, real issue here is most dealers don't even care to know enough about what they are selling to have the knowledge which would keep a customer from making an obvious mistake in their system matching. And the magazines aren't there to explain stuff, they are just there to get you to buy new gear.

The low impedance and high phase angles of your speakers will also demand much higher current delivery than anything other than a SOTA tube or a very good solid state amplifier can produce. Vacuum tube amplifiers are generally described as voltage devices - they produce high voltage and low current. Your speakers are needing an amplifier which can produce very high current on demand. Which is neither the Naim not the tubed McIntosh.

Dynaudio subscribes to the theory that watts are cheap and therefore they can design a speaker which will require high wattage - high current actually - and the buyer will be fine with that decision. To adequately drive your speakers, you'll need a solid state, high current amplifier. Wattage is not as important as the amp's ability to deliver both instantaneous and long term current to your speakers.

If you decide to buy new speakers, then you might consider the MC275 or some other quality tube amplifier. But not with what you presently own.


You say you've heard the 275 at home with your speakers. If you were satisfied with the results, then I would say the Mac gear will be a fine choice when it comes to value. The design hasn't remained popular just because of the McIntosh name. This isn't a combination I can recommend based on the electrical parameters I have outlined above. There are far better matches to the Dynaudio's in solid state amplifiers. But, if you were happy with the results, then it's your system to listen to.


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Bronze Member
Username: Sourav

Post Number: 31
Registered: Feb-07
Hi Jan,

Firstly thanks for such an informative detailed post.

Couple of Qs/Points -

1. Which are the amps you consider to be most compatible with DynaAudio ?
2. I know my current Naim pre/power combo (122x/150x) is less powerful to drive audience 72 beyond certain volume. But do u think Nap250.2/Nac282 would also be not enough to drive audience 72 (i.e. ability to supply high current on demand) ?
3. What is typical symptom when an amp and speaker combo is not compatible (as you say amp is not able to drive the speaker or "Starting with a nominal four Ohm load in a multi-waty system you are certain to have impedance drops below three Ohms and the typical Dynaudio crossover will have severe phase angle issues.")? Is that typically manifested when u see that going beyond certain volume is jarring or when in overall the richness and timbre of sound is missing at any volume level ? I'm particularly asking this Qs as in last 5 years I've never found my Naim+Audience 72 combo missing anything musically, apart from a bit bass, till I keep the volume at certain level, say 11'o clock, which is typically good enough for the size of my music room (12x11).
4. I've heard Sonus Faber with MC275 in my local dealers shop. I found them little upfront compared to audience 72. Which speaker do u recommend as a good fit for MC275 and also with any Naim amp?


Regards,
Sourav
 

Gold Member
Username: Kbear

Canada

Post Number: 1200
Registered: Dec-06
I've heard a pair or two of Dynaudio speakers, and always found them to be bass heavy. But perhaps this was a set up thing. I would have liked to have played around with them a bit but did not. Nevertheless, Dynaudio is very well regarded. Simaudio is generally considered a good match with Dynaudio speakers, even though the Dynaudio speakers I heard were paired with Simaudio. And in my system, an all Simaudio front end was a little too thick sounding. I would be inclined to try Bryston with Dynaudio, or the very affordable Anthem 225. High power and current ss amps that sound very good to boot.

Naim amps tend to be picky with speaker cables, as certain cable characteristics help the amp remain stable. Jan is much more knowledgeable about this kind of thing than I, but it doesn't take a lot of reading about Naim to find there is general agreement about this. So Naim cable is generally recommended (minimum 3.5 feet). However, in my experience Nordost and LFD cables work well too. I've heard Naim systems that sound great and others that, like yours, seem to be missing a lot of the lower end. It does seem that with Naim, set up is important.

Speakers that I believe are considered a good match for Naim are: Kudos, Neat, PMC, and Harbeth. I bet older Castle speakers would sound great too (not the new stuff, which is made by another company).

All the best.
 

Bronze Member
Username: Sourav

Post Number: 32
Registered: Feb-07
Hi Jane,

Just to add to my Q2, the specification of NAP250 says that -

"A new top-quality transformer is used providing the ability to deliver more than 15 Amps and swing a massive 400VA on transients. The NAP 250 is stable into any load and able to drive a 2-Ohm load for long periods of time.".

Just wondering whether that would be enough to cater to my Dynaudio Audience 72.

Regards,
Sourav
 

Platinum Member
Username: Jan_b_vigne

Dallas, TX

Post Number: 17213
Registered: May-04
.

The problems introduced by any speaker with both low impedance and severe electrical phase angle issues will be one of requiring both instantaneous and long term current delivery. Not to belabor the technical side of this but phase angle is a component, or a result, of capacitance and inductance - which happen to be the component parts of a crossover network. Caps and inductors (coils) - those parts that make a crossover act as a filter - are said to "resist work" by creating electrical phase shifts as the signal passes through them. In other words, for "work" to be done both voltage and current must be in place at the load end of the circuit - in this case the loudspeaker - and as the two components of "work" are shifted in phase further and further away from each other less "work" is accomplished and the harder the amp must work to have the load of the speaker respond properly. Current is the main component of "work" being accomplished in a common "audiophile" loudspeaker/amplifier circuit. The more severe the phase shifts, the more current the amp must deliver for the loudspeaker to be "happy". As the impedance drops along with the increase in phase angle, the more difficult it becomes for the amplifier to drive the speaker as more and more current is constantly required from the amp.

An amplifier is not much more than a modulated power supply and, in the case of which amplifier your speakers would prefer, the better and stiffer the power supply along with the highest amount of capacitve storage is what you are looking for in an amplifier. It would take quite a bit to explain how current sourcing works in an amp and speaker circuit but Nelson Pass has designed "Current Source" amplifiers. These would be the ideal amp for your Dynaudios on a technical basis. Don't look at just the "wattage" of Pass' amps as watts are largely inrrelevant in his current designs. Unless you desire very high volumes from the Dynaudio's I would think a 50 watt Pass amp would be sufficient.

Otherwise, you should be looking for an amp that promises both high instantaneous and high long term current delivery. "Watts" are made from both Volts and Amps (current) so in theory you could simply throw high wattages at the speakers but that isn't a guarantee of good performance and tends to be expensive. Better to find an amp with a very good power supply. If you can find a Jeff Rowland amp at a price you can afford this would be an excellent pairing for the Dynaudios IMO. John Curl designed Parasound amps have very good power supplies but they tend more towards a character I wouldn't necesarily pair with your speakers.

I generally suggest the heavier the amp the more current you are likely to get out of it but that is only a very general statement at this time of design. One reason the MC275 weighs so much more than most other 75 watt tube amps is the quality of its power supply and power transformer. But tube amps in general just aren't well suited to the sort of demands the Dynaudios present.

What happens when the amp is not up to snuff for the speaker's load is the speaker's motor - it's component parts, the voice coil and diaphragm - begin to drive the amplifier through what is known as "back EMF" (electromotive force). Since virtually all amplifiers use some degree of negative feedback this makes for sound that is subpar. It's not that the amp will not deliver bass - that is more typical to be a room and speaker set up issue - but that the amp is ... "confused" by what is happening in its circuitry. Once the power supply has been drained of its reserves of current there is a certain amount of time required for the power supply to refill its storage caps. More demands placed on the power supply by the next incoming signal of music will not be properly handled. If the speaker is literally fighting back against being moved , then the amp has problems which are first noticed as excessive heat which will eventually lead to parts failure or, at the very least, temporary shutdown. Therefore, the best approach is considered to be simply having as much current available as possible for your budget.


The purpose of adding the additional parts to the Naim gear is to increase the quality of the power supply. So, yes, buying the "tweaks" to a Naim amp or buying a higher wattage Naim amp will make it more able to deal with difficult to drive loudspeakers - to a degree. You have to understand that Naim is a company which feels there are no other components you should be buying beyond more Naim and maybe a few Naim approved components. Nothing Naim builds or approves would be suitable, to my knowledge, for the load requirements of the Dynaudios. I suspect if you called Naim, they would tell you to replace your speakers with speakers they feel suit their gear. If Naim claims their product is stable down to 2 Ohms, then I would say give it a try as long as you are satisfied with the overall character of Naim products. If you want a change in the presentation of music, there are other brands well suited to your Dynaudios.


Lower volumes do make for less stress on the amplifier. Whether any amp not designed for high current delivery - stable into low impedance loads - would be suitable for your tastes isn't something I can comment on. But the lower the volume levels, the less amperage - the fewer watts - will be needed to drive the speaker. In home auditions are about the only way to determine which amp will suit your needs.




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Gold Member
Username: Kbear

Canada

Post Number: 1201
Registered: Dec-06
"Otherwise, you should be looking for an amp that promises both high instantaneous and high long term current delivery."

The NAP250 seems to be pretty high up the Naim line, and from the quote provided by the OP it appears that Naim has little concern about it's ability to drive speakers that present a tough load. Not to rely too much on what WhatHiFi says, in their review they state that the amp can drive virtually any speaker. I think this might be an example of a Naim amp that is likely up to the task, though perhaps the other models that you suggest, Jan, would be even better.

If the OP is not having any heat or stability issues, and is only lacking some bass, perhaps it's simply a set up issue.
 

Bronze Member
Username: Sourav

Post Number: 33
Registered: Feb-07
@Dan

You r right I never had any heat or stability issue is such even in my current Naim amp (150x) which is just entry level in Naim separates. However, I always run them not more than 11'o clock position. I never had to given the size of my listening room.

Actually before i bought this setup with Dynaudio Audience 72 I auditioned 3 amps - Musical Fidelity, Arcam and Naim (my dealer had only these 3 at my price range). And I found Naim to be sounding the best with free flowing music and awesome balance of the music. But always thought it lacks little bit of bass. And my dealer said that you need to move up in amp section which I didn't do due to the money constraint.

Now I've some spare money and hence the dilemma whether to go in Naim's upgrade route or to go for McIntosh MC27e tube amp which anyway supports 2 ohms impedance in monoblock setup.

Regards,
Sourav
 

Gold Member
Username: Kbear

Canada

Post Number: 1202
Registered: Dec-06
Personally, I'd be tempted to try Naim speaker cable, or a cable like it. Don't buy new cables without trying them first. Hopefully a dealer will let you borrow a set to try in your system.

Then there is placement. The Audience 72 should definitely not lack bass, but perhaps it's not located where bass has proper reinforcement.

Again though, many people online state they think Naim systems lack bass. There must be something to this. It's definitely a characteristic of the Naim sound and probably to the point where it becomes an issue if not set up right. Others will probably say that Naim is honest and other gear is too bass heavy. Not sure what is right, but again I've heard Naim sound excellent in one setting and not very good at all in other settings. I suspect that certain aspects of set up need to happen to get a well balanced sound out of a Naim system, but when there it is very engaging.
 

Platinum Member
Username: Jan_b_vigne

Dallas, TX

Post Number: 17215
Registered: May-04
.

"Now I've some spare money and hence the dilemma whether to go in Naim's upgrade route or to go for McIntosh MC27e tube amp which anyway supports 2 ohms impedance in monoblock setup."




The issues are somewhat different for a tube amp when it comes to low impedance loads. With the exception of the very rare OTL (output transformerless) tube power amps everything else with tubes as power output devices will be transformer coupled to the speaker load. So the three pots on the rear of the MC275 represent the single power transformer and the two output transformers - one for each channel. Due to the transformers a tube amp is somewhat immune to the effects of back EMF since the transformers tend to isolate the outputs from the load itself. That still doesn't make the tube amp the ideal partner for the Dynaudios but one issue which should be considered with a solid state amp is not as serious a problem with the tubes.

The more serious problem with the tube amp paired to the reactive load of the speaker is - the output transformers. The ouptut impedance of the output tube itself is too high to adequately drive a common loudspeaker load and, therefore, the transformer is used as a step down device to bring the amp's output impedance down to a reasonable point. But "reasonable" is in the eye of the user and most tube amps have nominal output impedance numbers which are in the 1.5 to 5 Ohm range. When tubes were the only game in town speakers were rather different than what we know today. Most loudspeakers up until the 1960's were higher overall impedance than what we have today and were much more of a constant load on the amp. That worked well with high output impedance tube amps as Ohm's Law predicts the reactance of the load (the impedance swing) will cause frequency response variations within the amplifier. Connect a typical tube amp with a 2 Ohm nominal output imedance to a speaker such as the Dynaudio and the peaks and dips in the speaker's impedance will cause more and less power to flow to those frequencies where the impedance is highest and lowest. The result is very uneven response which is quite noticeable to most listeners. The various taps on the amplifier's output side compensate somewhat for these variations in impedance but they are not up to the task of a speaker such as your Dynaudios.


Here the McInotsh MC275 is a good choice if you are wanting a tube amp due to the superior transformer design and high quality winding of the output transformers. The nominal output impedance of the 275 from the 4 Ohm tap (where you would connect the Dynaudios) is a very low (for a transformer coupled amp) 0.33 Ohms (as measured by Stereophile's John Atkinson). While still higher than most any solid state amp, this is a number which should cause minimal variation in frequency response even with very low impedance and highly reactive speakers. In this respect the Mac would be a decent match for your speakers.



The issues of current requirements remain with the 275 and I am not all that much in favor of tubed amplifiers with such speakers. But, if you are going to go tubes, the Mac will provide the best chance anywhere near its price range for a suitable pairing. If you've heard the Mac in your system and you detected no issues with the overall sound, then I would say you can consider the 275 as long as your volume requirements are what you describe. I would certainly discuss this with the Mac dealer however and make them aware of your concerns. Hopefully they are technically savvy enough to understand what you are bringing to their attention. With assurances regarding your satisfaction with the purchase, then you can procede with some degree of confidence and an equal amount of trepidation. You might also want to contact Mac directly and discuss this issue with their technical assistance staff. Personally, I wouldn't make the sort of investment the Mac requires until I was reasonably certain I would be satisfied long term.

No matter what you decide with the 275, its resale is very high and the amps move rather quickly when they are on the used market due to demand for the product. The resale value of a 275 amp of any vintage has been very stable over the last three decades simply because this is a very high quality amp.


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Bronze Member
Username: Sourav

Post Number: 34
Registered: Feb-07
Hi Jan,

Again thanks for the detailed inputs in your previous two posts.

I did have the home demo of MC275 (along with the McIntosh tube preamp MA6300) with Audience 72 for around 2 days, and I didn't find any issue with the overall sound. Also had my friend listening to the system and my wife delicately. None of us heard any instability or unbalancedness over extended period of listening (around 60 mins on go for 5-6 times over 2 days).

Only point which I noticed is that to get reasonable meat in the sound I had to go to volume level of around 40-45+ at the preamp. This is in contrast to my Naim+Audience 72 experience where I hardly go above 9'o clock position in regular listening in the same listening room. I thought that this is what I have to live with in case of tubes.

By the way, based on your suggestion I've already wrote a mail directly to McIntosh explaining the concern over impedance and high transient current demand of my speakers.

Regards,
Sourav
 

Bronze Member
Username: Sourav

Post Number: 35
Registered: Feb-07
@Dan

My current Audience 72 + Naim 122x pre and Naim 150x power produce very engaging sound. Also the sound is not at all tiring - I can keep on listening to them for hours without any fatigue. The sound is basically balanced but I probably need little bit un-balanced one towards the bass section. And hence the upgrade bug is bugging me. And what I read in the different forums that NAP 250.2 (mind the .2 - the latest upgrade of NAP250) brings that extra bass into the play.

However, your (and Jan's) inputs on speaker cable and positioning may be the first ones I should try to satisfy my crave for bass than making any changes worth of $$$$. Thanks a lot for the suggestions.

Regards,
Sourav
 

Platinum Member
Username: Jan_b_vigne

Dallas, TX

Post Number: 17216
Registered: May-04
.

Where the volume controls sits to arrrive at a specific volume level is irrelevant other than the psychological factors it conjures up. Each pre amp and amp will have a voltage level out and a voltage level in requirement plus each volume control will have what is called a "taper". Some volume controls have most of their volume gain in the first half of the rotation while a linear taper control - the sort Mac uses - will increase in constant steps over its entire range. Mac uses this control due to the fact they are still in use in situations where accuracy of a volume control change is important. Linear taper controls tend to require more advancement that would an "aduio taper" control to reach the same voltage output. Therefore, a Mac pre amp will usually have to be set a bit higher for equal volume than would most other pre amps.

It's purely a psychological thing in that we tend to think amps are more powerful if they get loud with very little rotation of the volume control. That's why so many companies use audio taper controls. On the plus side, the linear taper of the Mac's control allows for finer, more discrete steps when you are trying to make small adjustments to the playback level. And the volume control for the Mac is more evenly balanced between channels than most other controls.

It has nothing to do with the fact the amp has tubes. It's just the way McIntosh has always designed their gear.




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Bronze Member
Username: Sourav

Post Number: 36
Registered: Feb-07
Good inputs Jan.

The other thing what I remember from the demo is little bit rounding of high frequency sound as if the amp is filtering some of the very high frequency bandwidth. However that created a very silky ness in the presentation which was very interesting and very different from naim's presentation of high frequency sound.

Regards,
Sourav
 

Platinum Member
Username: Jan_b_vigne

Dallas, TX

Post Number: 17217
Registered: May-04
.

That would be more accountable to the generic house sound of each company than to system specific values I would say. The MC275's power bandwidth is essentially flat out to 100kHz. I've never seen such a spec for the Naim products though their stated frequency response for most of their amps states a -3dB point at 50kHz - one octave away from where Mac places their bandwidth limit (frequency response and bandwidth being two slightly different specs). Both amps should be capable of essentially flat response out to 20kHz into a resistive load.

One thing I generally caution against is the buyer who is looking to vacuum tubes to obtain some of that much vaunted "tube magic" or "tube sound" which they read about constantly. Tubes and solid state should sound not like tubes or solid state but rather as the designer of the product perceives music in a live event. If the vacuum tube amp is displaying a "tube sound" you will, first; be hearing a colored sound which is far from neutral, and, second, always be hearing the electronics and not the music. Mac's house sound has for decades been criticized by those who prefer another product line or are not selling Mac gear as having the "soft" top end you mention. Yet, those very same critics forget to mention that Mac has for decades been a laboratory grade product which to this day is the go to standard for many audiology labs. When I was selling Mac I would certainly mention the fact that should the gear be flat enough for an audiologist , it is probably going to be flat enough for your listening pleasure. (This need for lab grade standards also accounts for the linear taper volume control used in the Mac vs the non-linear "audio taper" used by most other manufacturers.)


Yet, there is no denying the 275 will sound somewhat "soft" to a listener who has been acclimated to a solid state sound. While the phrase "Mac is Mac" is a fairly accurate description of Mac's house sound the reviewers and Mac themself I suppose will tell you there is a very slight difference between Mac's tubed and their solid state gear when it comes to a final subjective impression. Whether this comes down to the distortion components which are often mentioned as accounting for the audible differences between the two topologies or whether the effect is due to some other as yet unidentified component of the amp's performance is hard to say. But there is no getting away from the facts of how tubes and solid state operates. Vacuum tubes have very low degrees of high order harmonic distortions while transistors virtually always exhibit higher degrees of higher order harmonics. In other words, in a push pull circuit the second harmonic will be strongly suppressed with either tubes or transistors. Yet the tube will have the low and mostly even order harmonics exhibiting the greatest "harmonic distortions". These are the same harmonics which are quite natural to occur in a musical instrument and we accept them as sounding "musical" or, at least, more natural in their construct. A transistor will tend towards continuing to have higher level distortion components into the upper harmonics - out to approximately the seventh order of harmonic - which then trends toward a reproduction which is slightly off kilter from reality as harmonic content naturally falls away as the fourth, fifth, sixth and so on harmonics are reached. Both components might measure the same "total" harmonic distortion content but the spectra of how that distortion is composed tends to favor the vacuum tube over the transistor for real world accuracy. Our ears are quite sensitive to the structure of harmonics as they occur daily in our life and this shift in emphasis created by the two devices will often times lead to our perception as either soft or hard, rolled or tipped up when what we are responding to is the distortion component created by the device. Whether that is what you might be responding to in your initial assessment of the 275 is impossible for me to tell from afar. Having lived with Mac tubes for thirty years most other components sound very unnatural to my ears. My time spent around Dynaudio products and Naim gear would suggest to me I would probably welcome a bit of respite from the combination of even very good transistors with Dynaudio tweeters. Here again a bit of speaker set up change might make the difference in what you perceive. It's certainly not unusual for a speaker reposition to be called for after an equipment change. Just be careful not to make too many changes at one time. Two or three changes performed in quick succession will easily lead your brain astray and you won't have a recall of where you began or what you are searching for.


I would hesitate to call Naim anything other than "musical" though I would suggest the inherent nature of the output devices is difficult to overcome without creating an obviously colored sound. The midway point between the traditional vacuum tube "sound" and the nature of transistors would be a FET type output device - MOSFET's specifically in home audio gear. Though, as I stress constantly on the forum, there are no free lunches handed out in consumer audio and everything has a series of tradeoffs to accept or reject. MOSFET's are no different in that regard and they bring with them their own characteristics which you would need consider.

You're judging between two components which are very highly regarded and that regard comes down in part to the respective house sound each has created for their brand over the decades. If you've always driven "X" model of car and you start looking at "Y" model of car, you have some very subjective impressions to filter through. Though your reference for what a car should do and not do are relative to a car. With audio gear your reference should be what does the component do - and more importantly not do - which creates the subjective impression of live music being reproduced in my home. This is what makes comparisons between two components a tricky maneuver in that we tend to compare the two components against one another as if they were combatants in a ring. As we check off which component won which round, we loose sight of the end result, which is recreating music we find emotionally persuasive. IMO this is winner/looser style of decision making is likely to lead to a false conclusion in that we should be asking a more basic question which would go something like; does the music I am hearing in my home lead me to believe the original event is being recreated in as lifelike a fashion as possible? Or more simply, which music do I enjoy more?



Naim is well known for its ability to create very pleasant music while Mac is well known for being true to the essence of the original source.





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Platinum Member
Username: Jan_b_vigne

Dallas, TX

Post Number: 17218
Registered: May-04
.

I would mention here that the 275 offers the distinct advantage of tubes over solid state - tube rolling. Vacuum tubes do have distinct characteristics which are peculiar to each brand or type of tube. Change a tube and you will likely change the perceived character of the component. The OEM tubes in the 275 are the 6550's which have an equivalent tube type in the KT-88. The two tubes are for the most part completely alike and can interchange for each other in most circuits without any adjustments to the circuit itself yet they measure somewhat different from each other. (The fixed bias of the 275 makes such tube swaps very simple.) A 12AX7 - used in the low level stages of the 275 - comes from so many different manufacturers and there are so many equivalent tubes which can be used that you have an somewhat endless variety of results you can obtain by using different tubes in the 275.

Mac is very peculiar about replacing parts with identical parts and therefore one consideration they would have when selecting OEM tubes for the new 275 would be the availability of continuing stock. This does not preclude the selection of OEM tubes based on sound quality but it might sway a decision to go with this tube vs that tube based on how many the supplier could reasonably predict as future proof. As the number of tube manufacturing plants has dwindled over the decades this would be an important concern for Mac and for a customer who performed basic maintenance on the amp. The idea is not to have a different but equivalent part result in a perceived different sound quality. But that is the nature of tubes - each tube will have its somewhat specific character.

Therefore, I would make you aware of the concept of tailoring the 275's music making to your tastes by swapping tubes at some time. If you are unfamiliar with how tubes are manipulated to create certain characteristic sounds, just plug something like "12AX7 vacuum tube reviews" into a search engine.



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Bronze Member
Username: Sourav

Post Number: 37
Registered: Feb-07
@Jane

Thanks for describing the tube rolling option. Though I'm aware of this option, your explanation helps a lot to understand this me well. Especially the point that McIntosh NC 275 supports automatic biasing making the tube rolling much easy.

Coming to ur overall observation on Naim vs McIntosh "Naim is well known for its ability to create very pleasant music while Mac is well known for being true to the essence of the original source. " - this is what is tearing me apart on taking a decision. Since the price point is very similar I'm just wondering which way to take the further move. I'm probably the few of the lot who liked both types of signature sound. If I would had enough money (and enough space in my listening room), I probably would have kept both of them with 2 different set of speakers . But alas, I'm not in that situation.

Regards,
Sourav
 

Platinum Member
Username: Jan_b_vigne

Dallas, TX

Post Number: 17220
Registered: May-04
.

"I'm probably the few of the lot who liked both types of signature sound."


I'd say both are apealling presentations. I can enjoy either but I made my decisions long ago. However, I realized my system would be shaped around the requirements and abilities of the amp. That wasn't very difficult for me since my tastes were already leaning in the direction of simpler components which, IMO, have a very straight forward approach to music. My current speakers are single driver, full range systems which are in many respects about as far away from the Dynaudios as you can get. My guess would be if you select the tubes, you'll eventually change your speakers.


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