Monday, January 26, 2009

System Update: New Amplifiers

The main point of listening to records is the belief that vinyl is the best software for reproduced music. All the other perks of record collecting are ancillary. The other side of the high fidelity equation is the hardware. For the past few weeks I've been looking to upgrade my amplifier, a humble but musical integrated tube amp. Over the weekend I picked up a McIntosh MC275 tube amp, a modern reproduction of a classic design first produced in 1961, and a McIntosh C220 tube preamp. I've spent the last 5 hours listening to records with the new gear in the system. The system is getting really close to sounding like live music, with the same kind of emotional impact. If I were more outgoing I'd be attending more live concerts. But I'm not. Like most audiophiles and record collectors, I'm introverted. I'm content sitting in my favorite chair with a glass of scotch listening to something that is a pretty good facsimile of live music. The fact that the new amps helped create music that sent a chill down my spine while listening to "The Way That Young Lovers Do" and had me laughing while listening to "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da" convinces me this has been a worthwhile venture.

Here are the old warhorses on tonight's playlist to test the new gear:
The Who, Who's Next, side 1 (Classics Records reissue)
Fleetwood Mac, Rumors, side 1 (WB original pressing)
Buena Vista Social Club, s/t, sides 1+2 (Classic Records)
Van Morrison, Astral Weeks, side 2 (WB reissue)
Miles Davis, Kind of Blue, side 1 (Classic Records reissue)
PJ Harvey, To Bring You My Love, side 2 (Universal UK pressing)
The Beatles, s/t (White Album), sides 1+2 (Apple Records original pressing)
Mahler, Symphony No. 2, final movement, Solti, London SO (London English pressing)


  1. Congratulations on your new audio gear! I wish you many hours of high-quality listening enjoyment.

    I would argue that there is much more to the live music experience than superior sound quality. (I would also argue that laughing to "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da" is a sign of mental instability.)

    Have you found anything in your sonic explorations that sounds worse at high(er) fidelity (the way hi-def can emphasize image flaws)?

  2. Detourist, thank you for your well-wish, insult and question. To answer the last: yes, the system is very revealing of poorly recorded albums, which often sound better on my second vintage system. I'm thinking of moving my 30-plus-year-old Thorens turntable into the main system for playing bad recordings. The McIntosh preamp allows running two turntables in the system.

    Look for my next Listening Session post on how a revealing system can contribute to one's music appreciation. Yes, listening to a record and attending a concert are different and great in their own way. My point is that good equipment can help engage the listener with the music.