We take a preliminary look at the new McIntosh MHA150 Headphone amplifier, which may be a bargain, even at its premium pricing.
There is a point in everyone's lives when one has to decide whether to spend around £5,000 on a luxury holiday or on a headphone amplifier.
This is, of course, completely untrue, because if you only had £5,000 in disposable income, you would probably have other priorities. But while some might see the availability of products like this as verging on insanity, there is definitely another way of looking at it.
And that is that if you have any kind of interest or hobby, then over the course of a few years, you're very likely to spend sums far in excess of £5,000. I know people who race cars who routinely spend more than that per year on just hotel accommodation. For that matter, I know people who, over the course of five years, probably spend that much on skinny soy lattes.
So, it's all a matter of how you look at it. And if the way you look at it is that extremely high quality audio is very important to you, then it's very easy to make a case for a purchase like this.
You can spend any amount of money on loudspeakers – as much as a house, if you want, and certainly as much as an Aston Martin. You can buy headphones for £30,000. But you don't have to. It's really not necessary to have a hand-crafted Italian marble base to your headphone amplifier to get extremely decent performance and, for a few hundred pounds, you're wafted faster into the extremely refined stratosphere of exotic audio with the purchase of headphones than with any other type of audio transducer. Spend a little bit more and you're likely to find better audio with a pair of headphones than with virtually any type of loudspeaker that can even distantly be called "affordable". Of course, there are very good speakers for much more realistic prices, but generally you reach closer to the top end with any budget if you apply it to headphones.
All of which places the McIntosh MHA150 Headphone Amplifier and DAC into context, which is that it's a lot of money for people that don't understand what it does or how it does it. But as a long-term investment in extremely high-end audio, it's practically a bargain.
We haven't seen the amplifier yet, but needless to say the specifications boast a massively well-built chassis with polished stainless steel and a glass front panel with characteristic blue-backlit meters.
The DAC can handle a very wide range of inputs including all flavours of DSD, as well as high sample rates (up to an incredible 32 bit/284 kHz!).
The unit is designed to work with practically all types of headphone, including, of course, McIntosh's own models.
Just in case you want other people to listen at the same time, the amplifier sports loudspeaker connections, too, with 50 watts available to power smaller loudspeakers.
We like the sheer exuberance of this amplifier. We like the fact that it doesn't cut corners or try to hide its single-minded purpose.
We'll try it as soon as we can, and we'll wait excitedly until we do.