McIntosh Labs C53 Preamplifier $8,000 Review

March 22, 2020 § Leave a comment

“While my digital sources in form of AURALiC’s Vega G2 or Playback Design’s MPS-8 generally held court during the review period of the C53, I did spend quite some time with the built in, rather high quality, DA2 digital board input. Here, my MacBook Pro delivered the C53s data in both Redbook, high-res PCM and DSD variants. Did the DA2 board hold its own against the pricier DAC alternatives I have on hand? Yes, but unlike the genuinely far higher than the suggested price class performing preamplifier, the differences to my two references were a bit more pronounced. On a recent discovery, Earthtones – Bahamas, the last cut, Any Place, is a perfect example of how a modern release can in fact be recorded well and mastered in such a way as to bring out the full excitement of the track, without the need for you to hit your head against a brick wall. Streamed via Tidal within Roon, the C53’s digital input was correctly identified and all settings automatically applied, giving you the experience of genuine plug-and-play. Here, the all new DA2 model was able to flex its muscle, offering up prodigious, if a bit less articulate bass than what my two reference DACs are capable of. Clearly audible is the overall Gestalt of the preamp section, which is extended, dynamic and clear of hash. Cueing up Steely Dan’s SACD rip of Gaucho, the DSD64 file yet again performed at levels above the all-inclusive asking price of $8000 McIntosh charges for the C53. A little less definition here, a little more warmth there, the DA2 module will undoubtedly delight you. If you are coming from an older DAC or even CD/SACD player, I would venture to guess that the DA2 module will in fact outperform even a top of the line DAC from just a decade ago. “

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