McIntosh MCD85 CD/SACD Player/USB DAC Page 2

The controls here aren't exactly intuitive but become more so after a period of use. Fortunately, the supplied remote control, while something of a buttonfest, duplicates them, as well as adding extras such as direct track access, programming and so on. It certainly makes the day-to-day operation of this unconventional-looking player considerably more conventional.

The styling here, and the fact the player is so tall, probably makes this a 'top of the rack' machine, a fact the company celebrates by emblazoning the model number in aluminium badging along the flanks of the MCD85 in its usual rather gothic script. Mind you, combine it with the company's aforementioned preamp and power amplifiers, and you have a quartet of components each requiring significant headroom – not for nothing does McIntosh's promotional photography show these products lined up side-by-side.

sqnote Easy Does It
So, positioned atop one of my racks, and connected both to my reference system and via USB to my M1 MacBook Air, the McIntosh player was good to go. I must admit to having 'short-shifted' some of my listening with home-brewed compilations burned onto DVD-R, but whether playing these (with their mixed formats), SACDs or good old CDs, the MCD85 delivered a consistently good sound.


Inside the MCD85 a switchmode PSU [centre] powers the CD/SACD drive [underneath] and digital board [bottom right]. Note Bravo SA9227 USB streamer, CS8416 coax/optical interface, CS8421 192k SRC and ES9016S DAC

It's rich, warm and lush, with excellent bass extension and definition, even if it's not the most open and airy sound. That's no drawback, especially if your musical tastes run to recordings not exactly the last word in detail and resolution. And what the MCD85 loses in the nuances of ambience and presence, it more than compensates with in its sheer ease of presentation.

Playing the slick production of The Police's Reggatta De Blanc from SACD [A&M Records 493 644-2], the MCD85 does a fine job with the Sting/Copeland rhythm section, all growling strings and taut skins, propelling the familiar tracks crisply and infectiously while giving plenty of space for the slightly hoarse vocals and the chopping guitar of Andy Summers. Yes, I've heard this set played with more attack, particularly with streamed DSD files, but the McIntosh MCD85 gets things right in a 'how it used to sound back in 1979' kind of way.

921mac.remIn those days I was spinning this album from two 10in albums, the title instrumental punching really hard before spinning into 'It's Alright For You' and then the phasey bass of 'Bring On The Night'. Before I knew it. I'd listened to the whole SACD, hit the button for the CD version, and then gone back to the single-bit layer again. I was having fun.

The same went for another hi-res favourite, the gloriously over-the-top Rage Hard Frankie Goes To Hollywood compilation [ZTT ZTT177SACD], where the bass weight and punch of the MCD85 more than made up for the slight lack of top-end space and ambience. Yes, a bit more openness and sparkle wouldn't go amiss, but the big, hefty sound here is never less than entirely entertaining, and the added slam of the SACD layer over the CD version was readily apparent.

Big Boned
Change pace to a modern SACD/CD release, in the form of Ragnhild Hemsing and Tor Espen Aspaas's Beethoven's Testaments Of 1802 [2L-160-SACD], and the big-boned McIntosh sound is at ease with the simple violin and piano performance on the 'Kreutzer' sonata. The ambience here – a 2L hallmark – is more hinted at rather than explicitly painted, even when playing the SACD layer (or even the source DXD via the MCD85's USB input), but both instruments are persuasively weighted and delivered with excellent timbral detail and speed.

On the subject of that USB-B port, as all inputs here are sample-converted to 192kHz/24-bit it's hardly surprising that the digital inputs are on a par with the disc playback. Indeed, you could quite easily buy the MCD85 on the basis of its use as a big, rich-sounding DAC with benefits for a McIntosh-based system. But don't forget that adding the company's DA2 DAC module as a dealer-installed upgrade to one of the company's preamps is only going to cost you £1295, and will bring you not only USB, coaxial and optical inputs, but also HDMI (ARC) ready for the sound from your TV set.

That said, the MCD85 player/DAC, though probably best considered as a component for the McIntosh faithful, is a persuasive way of doing what it sets out to achieve – namely forming a good 'bridge' between an existing disc collection and a growing computer-stored library.

Hi-Fi News Verdict
As big and bold in its sound as it is in the metal, this player will certainly attract attention when placed atop a hi-fi rack, as its dimensions dictate. It's an exceptionally easy listen, thanks to its warmth and generosity of presentation, even though at times it can be a bit too lush. And while the ergonomics aren't the most intuitive, if you like the way it looks and sounds, you'll get used to them pretty quickly.

McIntosh Labs
Binghamton, NY, USA
Supplied by: Fine Sounds UK
01592 744710