After ten days the MC452
now has 120 hours on it. For the past two days I have heard no change in the 452's presentation, so I believe it is now rendering its permanent sonic signature. Right out of the box during it's first two hours of play my immediate impression was that the MC452 reminded me of the sound I was getting from my MC501's, only weeks ago connected to the same SF Guarneri Memento's. I was instantly impressed.
The MC452 is installed in the two channel system in my studio connected to a C1000C/T preamplifier running Gold Lion 12AX7 tubes, an MCD500, a Bryston 10B Sub active crossover, PS Audio Power Plant Premier, Sonus faber Guarneri Memento speakers, and a pair of McIntosh XLS112 powered subwoofers. The studio is treated with ATS Acoustics 2x2 and 2x4 panels, plus floor to ceiling bass traps in the two front corners. All interconnects are Wireworld balanced Silver Eclipse, all power cords are Wireworld Silver Electra, and the speaker cables are Kimber 8TC terminated with WBT solid silver angled locking banana connectors.
As I said, my immediate impression of the MC452 sound was that it resembled the MC501, but this impression was short lived. On day one I let the 452 play continuously through the night with the MCD500 on repeat. By 10:00 AM day two my 501 impression was history, replaced with the thought that the MC452 was very bright sounding, almost to the point of being edgy and aggravating. It definitely was not the McIntosh sound I was used to hearing, nor the sound I would tolerate owning were it to continue in that vain. I closed the studio door and left the MCD500 playing. At one point during day two I turned the sound system off, and let the gear get cold, then two hours later turned the system on again. Still, the sound of the 452 was too bright to be able to sit and enjoy what was coming from the speakers. Days three and four were carbon copies of day two. By day five I began to hear what I considered music, although the brightness in the upper midrange was beginning to fade, it was still persisting. Day seven surprised me. I found myself sitting and listening for several hours in the late afternoon, beginning to be impressed with what was presenting itself. I was hearing a much smoother range of frequencues with the balance between lows, mids, and highs in closer relationship. The edgy, bright midrange had deminished enough that I began easing the volume up, and found that I was enjoying what I was hearing. As days eight, nine, and ten (today) came, the MC452's sound has smoothed a tiny bit more, but has remained in the same sonic window it settled into by the end of day seven.
So how does it sound? Not like the MC501's at all. I believe McIntosh has quietly revoiced this amp, and I would suspect the MC601 as well. I can't say whether it is the new ThermalTrak output transistors that have altered the sonic signature, or if the audio circuits have been intentionally redesigned to voice the amp differently. What I am experiencing is a sound that seems dynamically quicker, more analytical, particularly in the upper midrange frequencies. There is a sharper clarity to strings, grouped voices, drum snaps, and cymbals. Piano comes across slightly crisper in tone in the upper octaves, yet not in an objectionable manner. The 452 presents itself as more forward than the 501's, which by comparison now sound slightly darker to me in their presentation.
I used several different artists CD's, first played on the studio system with the MC452, then immediately replayed on the main system with the MC501's. Once I began to seriously compare the MC452 with the MC501's, I selected Dan Siegel - Hemisphere as my first CD to audition the amps. The drums. cymbals, and voices through the MC452 were slightly more dynamic, quicker if you will, and were presented more forward in the overall mix. The faintest of sounds, like a gentle tap on a triangle, rang perfectly, and diminished to silence with a greater clarity on the 452 than on the 501's. The sound of maracas on the CD's first track, drifting across the sound stage from right to left, were more distinct in their texture and presence through the MC452. By comparison, the maracas sound seemed slightly muted in the sound stage presented through the MC501's.
As I moved to Fourplay - Between The Sheets, the MC452's slightly forward presentation continued. Solo vocals, and harmonies had a certain crisp clarity not heard through the 501's. Fourplay likes to use various unusual sounds that drift across the sound stage in support of the instruments being played. These various sounds all seemed enhanced and at a closer position to me than when auditioning the same CD tracks on the main system with the MC501's.
I played Liz Story - 17 Seconds To Anywhere to get a feeling for solo piano through the 452. It presented Liz Story's talented piano playing in a more up close and personal fashion, again with a new found dynamic quickness as she strikes full chords, as well as individual keys. The MC501's do a fine job with piano, but the new dynamic quickness through the MC452 was not as present with the 501's. The MC452's sustained notes lingered effortlessly and faded to an absolute jet black silence as the notes diminished. It seems to me that between the new MC452's dynamic quickness, its effortless power delivery, and the ultra silent background, I am able to hear deeper into the music, picking up new sonic cues in music that I had previously missed.
Don't misunderstand my comparison of the MC452 to the MC501 amplifiers. The 501's are amazing amplifiers, detailed, dynamic power houses. I am not hammering on the 501's in any way, just simply offering my interpretation of what I experienced comparing the same music on two different amplifiers. The MC501's still rock the house, but when compared to the 452, the 501's do it with a slightly darker presentation.
There is definitely a new voice with the McIntosh MC452, one that places the entire musical presentation more forward, with dynamics that seem to be faster in their attack. The 452 is a bit more in your face, so to speak. The forward nature of the sonic signature, coupled with a sense of faster dynamic attacks leaves me believing the new MC452, and quite possibly the new MC601's, have been intentionally voiced by the McIntosh design team as a way of refreshing the amplifier lineup against the onslaught of so many other players on the field. Time will tell if my opinion has merit.
A few other things. The MC452 is a heavy amplifier. Get help when it's time to unbox or move this beast. The speaker terminals are new, and unique in their manner of clamping to spade terminals. McIntosh even supplies a small molded wrench to tighten the terminals. Since I use locking banana plugs, I discovered the holes in the terminals for banana plugs are very tight. With the banana plugs in the unlocked position, I had to push hard to get the WBT solid silver banana plugs into the MC452's terminal holes. Locking the banana plugs was only a half turn on the connector's knurled knob instead of the usual turn and a half. There may be some banana plugs that will not fit into the holes on these new termenals. Also, be aware that the MC452 has no provisions to allow bridging the amplifier for use as a mono block. It is strictly a two channel amplifier. The new balanced and unbalance line outputs on the rear that allow daisy chaining to another amplifier are a nice feature for those who may need this option.
Now the big question. Can a MC452 replace a pair of MC501's in a sound system and leave an owner happy? I believe it can. The MC452 has plenty of power, far more than the 450 watts advertised, and when coupled with the apparent faster dynamics and new forward presentation, is a strong candidate for a two channel replacement to a mono block setup. The power supply in the MC452 is not lacking in any way. Channel separation is as good as the mono 501's, and the sound stage is wide, deep, and 3 dimensional. There is no compromise in the current necessary to drive both channels to full output. I am thinking two MC452's might make the perfect bi-amp setup.
Ultimately, I am very impressed with the MC452. It has gobs of power, and with the quickness of its dynamics the MC452 sounds like it has more power than the MC501's. This power is delivered effortlessly without a hint of dynamic compression. When a drum slams, a horn blasts, or a guitar rips into a screaming lead, it is all there and then some. It doesn't disappoint in the softer subtle sounds, either. The new sonic signature has surprised me, and was not expected. It will take awhile for me to absorb and adjust my old expectations to the changes. Now that the MC452 has settled into its permanent voice, I am thoroughly enjoying listening to it. The new MC452 voice is like living in the same building, but moving up one floor with a slightly better view. The MC452 is a winner.