McIntosh MDA 1000 D/A converter

"You want to review the MDA 1000 along with the MC 275 amplifier in the same column?" Ron Cornelius, product manager and field training manager of McIntosh Laboratory, was incredulous.

Why not? Best of the past meets best of the present. 1961, meet 2004. I love incongruities. Besides, Ron set this up by delivering the two units together.

I love this—in part because the two units work so splendidly together. Not that I'd shell out $8000 for an MDA 1000 as easily as I wrote out a check for the MC 275.

Eight grand is a lot to pay for a D/A converter. Other DACs selling for far less might come close to the performance of the MDA 1000, but close might not be good enough. Its build quality is outstanding. In fact, this is a level of build I haven't seen from McIntosh before. The MDA 1000 and MDC 1000 are available only from "premier" Mac dealers, not all of them.

For optimum performance, the MDA 1000 should be paired with the matching MDA 1000 CD transport, which I didn't have. I did have my McIntosh MCD 205 CD changer. Load it up for the evening and fuhgeddabout it, as they say in John Atkinson's 'hood.

Oops. When I tried adjusting the level of the MDA 1000 via the remote, the MCD 205 ejected a disc. I'm sure the Binghamton engineers have this sorted out by now—I sure made them aware of it—but it was disconcerting.

Do you need the matching MCD 1000 CD transport? I don't know. The two pieces do look nice together. But if the MDA 1000 is properly designed—and I have every reason to believe that it is—any good transport should do.

I almost delayed reviewing the MDA 1000 so I could hold on for a while longer. It's that good. Good enough that I wonder why on earth I would ever adopt SACD, given the continuing paucity of software and my loathing for multichannel.

The MDA 1000 DAC just nails it. Because the MDA 1000 has its own level control, I could hotrod it straight into the MC 275 and thence into Quad ESL-988, Opera Callas Gold, or Harbeth Compact 7 speakers. Definition, detail, ambience. It's incredible how good "Red Book" CD can sound. This, after 20 years. Perfect sound forever? Indeed. It just took almost forever—20 years—to get it right.

I do have to tell you that the MCD 205 changer, with its own DAC, sounds almost as good to me. Maybe 87.5558% of the way there. (I do like to be a subjectivist tease, especially with the objectivist engineers from McIntosh.) The MDA 1000 might save you money. You could pay more. But if digital audio does get better than this, it's probably not by much. And probably for many thousands of dollars more than you'd pay for the MDA 1000.

There are seven selectable digital inputs to accept digital PCM, from 32 to 96kHz. All inputs are digitally switched and resampled to 24 bits. Then the signal is upsampled to 786kHz before being sent to the analog output stage.

The level control is especially useful. Programmed in the active state—the thing can be defeated—a setting of "80" delivers unity gain, and this can be goosed to a setting of "100." The gain is enough to drive any McIntosh amp to full volume—and probably just about any other power amp, too. For my listening, I didn't use a preamp.

The MDA 1000 delivers ambience, ambience, and more ambience. There's more there there and more where there. The MDA 1000 makes each digital recording sound analog and musical—as if all that processing power weren't there. Or at least it's not getting in the way. Which is the real trick, I guess.

Hi-rez, anyone? This is it—with your present collection of "Red Book" CDs. Heh-heh. Look at it this way: Even if you wanted to replace your current CD library with SACDs or DVD-Audio discs, you couldn't.

I wish I could afford the MDA 1000 DAC. I dread the day the van will arrive from Binghamton to pick it up. Perfect sound forever, anyone?

McIntosh Laboratory
2 Chambers Street
Binghamton, NY 13903-2699
(800) 538-6576

Erblichs's picture

McIntosh has updates for someone who wants a newer DAC, and I bought one, a D150 with a SACD/CD450t. Stereophile should review it. I am in the San Francisco bay area and got it to update one of my only analogue 2 channel pre-amps, a older Krell KRC-HR. One of the nice things is that it has extra digital inputs and fixed/variable XLR outputs. I am using the fixed XLR output into a XLR input of the Krell preamp via Acoustic Zens. One of McIntosh's retailers actually put it on a short term - 1 week major sale, so it was a no-brainer cost for me and I doubt that audible differences are present at this price point. My Tube Reference System: VTL MB450 mono-amps and Vintage Infinity IRS Betas.