Review: McIntosh MXA60

January 25th, 2011

by Jeff Kitts

Over its 60 years in operation, McIntosh has been at the forefront of high-end hardware for audio and video. Its products have included power amps, preamps, loudspeakers, music servers, turntables, DVD players, and more—all highly rated in their respective categories and priced well beyond the threshold of affordability for the average consumer. Since 1949, the Binghamton, New York–based company has focused its product line almost entirely on the mainstays of modern home entertainment—the reproduction of music from physical media, like vinyl and CDs, and video from DVDs

This philosophy is exemplified by McIntosh’s recent 60th anniversary offering, the MXA60 Integrated Audio System. It’s the first all-in-one tabletop unit the company has ever produced—and at $7,500, it’s obviously geared toward an elite clientele. These days, it’s nearly impossible to find a tabletop audio device that doesn’t include an iPod/iPad dock, a Bluetooth dongle, a USB port, or some form of internet streaming capability, but the MXA60 eschews all that in favor of traditional McIntosh build quality and music generated by either the onboard CD transport or AM/FM radio. The MXA60 may not embody all that is new and cool in the world of home audio, but let’s face it: true high fidelity never came from a dongle.

Now that we’re clear on what exactly the MXA60 isn’t, let’s take a look behind the glass faceplate and see what it can do. At its core, the MXA60 is a 75-watt-per-channel tabletop stereo unit with two speakers, a CD player, and a radio. It measures 22 inches wide (including the speakers) and 11 inches high, with a depth of nearly 15 inches and weight of 64 pounds. The faces of the main unit and the speakers are slanted upward at roughly a 70-degree angle, giving the system a striking visual aesthetic that also allows audio to be fired toward ear level. With its two backlit “blue-eyes” output meters, glowing 12AX7 preamplifier vacuum tube, large dials, and glossy piano-black finish, the front of the unit is classic McIntosh. The heavy-duty glass is scratch and fingerprint resistant, and the all-metal casework provides a formidable outer shell.

On the bottom of the unit is the CD transport, which is capable of playing standard CDs, SACDs, and discs encoded with MP3 or WMA files. The transport has a die-cast mechanism base and disc tray for fast, quiet, and accurate operation, and audio data is read at twice the normal rate, which ensures better tracking and error-correction processing. In addition, the MXA60 can store up to nine AM and FM station presets and contains a software-controlled digital tuner for outstanding reception and sound quality (the included McIntosh RAA2 remote AM antenna module will boost AM reception when installed).

At the heart of the system is a conservatively rated 75-watts-per-channel amplifier with very low-noise solid-state circuitry and a vacuum tube–assisted line stage that gives the MXA60 the sound quality and warmth for which McIntosh components are prized. In order to avoid clipping, the MXA60 utilizes McIntosh’s Power Guard, which employs an electro-optical limiter to ensure distortion-free performance and reliability.

Flanking each side of the unit is a loudspeaker that measures five inches wide, 11 inches high, and 11 inches deep. These specially configured two-way speakers feature custom-designed mid-woofers with a four-inch diameter, allowing a level of performance that rivals much larger models. In the back of the unit, the MXA60 offers a small but useful assortment of in/out jacks (including balanced XLR and unbalanced RCA) in the event you want to expand the system, plug in additional audio sources, or use an external subwoofer, power amp, or speakers.
So what does all this mean once you place the MXA60 on a table or shelf in a listening room? In the Guitar Aficionado media center, it was pure audio nirvana—particularly when you consider the minimal unboxing and setup time for such a compact unit. Instruments had good separation, vocals were crisp and forward, and the overall soundstage had a rich, enveloping effect. The MXA60 also has loads of headroom, producing a pleasant and distortion-free listening experience at any volume.

To celebrate its 60th anniversary with a unique product like the MXA60 is a bold move on McIntosh’s part, as it lies somewhere between a classic piece of Mc gear, a shelf unit, and an audio system that has all the playback capabilities of something from, say, 2003. This is a system for those who have large CD collections, enjoy terrestrial radio, and aren’t the least bit interested in having their music served wirelessly from a “cloud.”

LIST PRICE: $7,500
McIntosh Laboratory Inc., mcintoshlabs.com

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