McIntosh MC1201 monoblock power amplifier Page 5

For instant sonic bliss, turn to track 5 of Modern Jazz Quartet (EastWest Japan AMCY1165). That's Jerome Kern's "Yesterdays," followed immediately by "Bags' Groove," another on my all-time hit parade. As Bags beat his vibes, I tapped: "It's thrilling to get this close to the music, to cozy up and feel without effort the 'vision' of the composer or performer playing out before me. That's certainly one of the privileges of being an audiophile, no? I think if more people realized how effectively audiophiles escape by 'levitating into the audiophile zone,' the High End would succeed more widely. Perhaps that's why music and its reproduction are so passionately pursued, and argued about ad infinitum. It's an addiction, and everyone's passionate about their addictions."

The stereo MJQ recording was cushy and illuminated, Milt's vibes fast and brilliant. The sound was more transparent than I'd experienced with the MC1201s before, so I had another look at the fold-out insert. It was mostly in Japanese, but when I scanned the bit of English printed there, you coulda knocked me over with a feather—it was an old Atlantic remastered with 20-bit K2 processing! I couldn't find JVC's name or logo anywhere, but K2 is what Yoshida and Taguchi have been churning out those great-sounding XRCDs with. Realizing that, it struck me how much the two recordings sounded alike, with their large, lushly painted sonic landscapes for your acoustic third eye to feast on. The tonal color and shimmer of the vibraphone once again raised the hackles on my neck.

Enjoying MJQ—and perhaps DCC's finest release, Bags Meets Wes! (GZS-1093), with Milt Jackson and Wes Montgomery—I took some notes. "Nice image padding and placement, good, very round palpability, and nice lush'n'shimmer in the lower treble as so ably struck by Bags hisself in this sublime moment of proto-late-'50s jazz, a template of sorts for all to come. Lush...lush...the lazy circling of Connie Kay's wire brushes on his snare drums rattling around like fine golden chips on a scrim of gossamer sound." It was so immediate and vibrant it gave me the shivers.

While I'm no great fan of Chausson, do yourself a favor and find Musique Français pour Clarinette & Piano (Lyrinx LYR 2195, SACD/CD hybrid, distributed by Harmonia Mundi, available through Acoustic Sounds), where you'll also find works by Saint-Saëns, Debussy, Widor, and Poulenc. During the Allegro animato of Saint-Saëns' Sonata Op.167, I noted that "the clarinet has rarely sounded so vibrant and alive, so burnished and acoustically buoyant. Like a spring day, it gave my heart joy to feel the energy of such beautiful playing on such a gorgeous-sounding CD layer. (John Atkinson currently has the Accuphase DP-100/DC-101 SACD/CD converter; I'll tell you more about the SACD layer when the Accuphase returns, which will be soon. Right, John? John?)

Debussy's Rhapsody No.1 is utterly beautiful music, wonderfully recorded, and alone worth the price of the disc. Once again, I noted a distinct and natural sense of atmosphere, an acoustic of involving proportions. Interestingly, and no doubt due to miking techniques, the clarinet sounded anything but pinpoint, while the piano reproduced with the appropriate image size, nicely balanced with the clarinet. In a very French way, the piano was a touch laid-back in the soundstage, less prominent than might be the case on another recording. The spotlight was always on the clarinet, accentuated slightly by the MC1201s in their way, yet the tonality and the elegiac, rhapsodic music has to be heard this way to be appreciated.

The Poulenc clarinet sonata is a real treat; I love it. It's adventurous, stunningly "intellectual," yet as light on its feet as Pan. The MC1201s dug it all out and delivered it whole, and it sounded very full. Don't play the next track, Romance for clarinet and piano, unless you're ready for some serious action from your spouse or S/O. The piano's lower registers typified the Big Macs' output: no overhang in the highs at all, a clean and detailed midrange tilting toward the lush side, and a definitely big, lush bottom end with heavy-hitting grunt, power, and sweep.

Not ready to let this disc go, I enjoyed the effusive last movement of the Poulenc sonata, Allegro con fuoco, in which clarinetist Florent H;aeau and pianist Patrick Zygmanowski sound like young artistic stallions, doing a zesty, wonderful job with the music. I could feel the enthusiasm, the timing, the pleasure in the notes. Bravo. Once again, I'd rediscovered the very purpose of the High End. Get this disc.

To round things out, I then turned to the innovative, floppy-limbed Moby and Play (V2 63881-27049-2). I'm indebted to reader Dan Turner (danturner@computron.net), who wrote to explain that the sound I'd picked up in the background of several tracks on this great recording was that of a film projector, "the sort we used to watch in biology class in middle and high school that would melt the film if it got stuck." I remember, Dan, all too well. I recall filmstrips on hygiene, and how to "duck and cover"! (New digital format! Everyone under the desks!)

The bottom end on track 4 of Play, "Why Does My Heart Feel So Bad," was, according to my notes, "big, powerful, and vast enough to sate all but the most jaded and demanding listeners." The sheer quality and power of the track's deep, abusive bass was massively impressive, as was track 12's kick-drum sound. In absolute terms, it sounded to me as if the MC1201s delivered ultra-power and grip on the bottom, but not as deeply or as cleanly as the Linn Klimax manages, if the Scots amp is a bit smaller in scale. It's just that everything was so BIG on the Macs, even and especially the bass. The deepest stygian depths were perhaps a slight bit masked by all the exciting stuff going on just above and up into the midrange.

Throughout Play, I heard that luscious, billowy midrange, that huge signature soundstage, "over, under, around, and through!" The JMlab Utopias seemed to disappear, the recorded soundstage taking over the acoustics of our listening area with no apparent effort whatsoever, particularly via the Linn CD12/Mark Levinson Reference 2 combo with all Cardas cables. That, as George Cardas would drawl, was special.

That film-projector sound at the beginning of Moby's "The Sky is Broken" sets the stage, functioning for me almost as an emotional dither that was very effective and evocative. Lots of detail through the big Macs, especially in the upper midrange. Moby's on top of the microphone—you can hear him almost swallow the thing! I sensed him in a very physical way wriggling around behind the microphone, which he "plays" in the same way he does other instruments.

Anyway, digging Moby deep, I picked up on the sweet, dreamy, somewhat plump lower midrange that, while not the last word in resolution, was enjoyable and entertainingly BIG. (What a surprise.) The midrange was cushy too, with high frequencies fully in attendance, the lower treble popping out at me as usual from the overall rather laid-back presentation.

Darling, give me my pipe, my slippers, and a beautiful woman...and you can have my pipe and slippers!—William Powell as Nick Charles in Song of the Thin Man

The McIntosh MC1201s are hugely powerful amplifiers whose true outer limits I never reached. The JMlab Utopias are so efficient that if I played them any louder than I did, I'd have blown my ears out. The Macs were like big, burbling V8s. You can mosey a 427 'Vette around at 5mph to leer at the babes, but a simple stab at the Loud pedal will launch you immediately into HyperSpace, leaving your hairpiece fluttering in the breeze. Or cruisin' on a $60k "hawg" (hardly) from California Choppers and "blatting" the proles with a run up the revs. Ah, life is good.

The MC1201 is not voluptuous like the MC2000, la dolce vita of tube amps. Nope, these monsters are for guys who'd rather get switched than have anything other than McIntosh. Like my pal Dan Billet. If you're a successful McIntosh kinda guy, you like a somewhat forward sound in the highs, and you absolutely love big blue meters...what's stoppin' you? If you're some kinda Liberal Democrat New Yawkah like yrs trly and you're spoiled rotten more often than not, well, you might pick a few nits—mostly in that little tipped-up region in the lower midrange that makes the MC1201 sound rather more "hi-fi" than I prefer on some absolute scale of perfection. And the MC1201 is perhaps not the last word in ultimate resolution.

But, as Kal Rubinson said some time ago regarding another component, that's my problem. It might not be yours.

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