Martin Logan and McIntosh – AXPONA 2017

by Rafe Arnott

Mmmmmm.
M&M’s.
You gotta love M&M’s.
I’m talking about McIntosh amplification, and Martin Logan Neolith loudspeakers of course.
Audio & Video Interiors was showing off some all-American iron in their room at AXPONA in Chicago this year, and you just couldn’t help but be impressed, not just by the deep-blue visuals that a Mc Stack possesses, but by the meaty beaty big and bouncy (Thank-you 1971) sound this set up was pumping out.

Do you like fast, stygian, and tight bass? Big, orchestral-sized sound staging with deep-V 3D imaging knocking out the rear wall by a good five feet? Transparency to source, the ability to handle massive dynamic swings with ease? OK then, this system would be for you. I’d like to also say that He Ain’t Heavy… but I can’t since each of the 148lbs McIntosh MC-1.2kw mono blocks ($23,995 USD) tethered to the Neoliths was putting out a staggering 1,200 watts (into two, four or eight Ohms) thanks to their proprietary Autoformer technology, and with a rated 0.005% total harmonic distortion I can assure you this isn’t a warm, romantic sound that some may associate with McIntosh of yore (think restored MC30 mono blocks which I’ve heard, and absolutely love), no this is the new sound of McIntosh. While it may not be everyone’s cuppa, I can certainly appreciate where the company is going with their latest iterations of amplifiers, and preamplifiers. With a C-2600 preamp/DAC $7,000 USD), a C-1100 dual-chassis tubed-preamplifier/controller ($13,000 USD for both chassis), and an Aurender A-10 digital music server ($5,500 USD) feeding the power-hungry beasts, you got a real dose of instant gratification of the solid state, and tubed variety which is why I think this room proved so popular with show goers.

It struck a balance between what I would call a traditional solid state, and tube sound. It brought the best of both worlds together in a fun, lively, and wholly engaging manner that had every person I saw in the room tapping their feet, or bobbing their head. AudioQuest was making sure everything was tied together but tight, with their flagship WEL Signature speaker cables, and interconnects allowing all that Mc-go juice to be slurped up by the monstrous Neoliths (Approx. $80,000 USD). A word (or two) about these loudspeakers, and what an outstanding job Martin Logan has done in virtually eliminating lag in the crossover integration of the bass section of the cabinet design with the electrostatic panels which handle the midrange, and upper frequencies. Electrostats are fast. Bleeding-edge fast. Transients are light speed, and timbre, and tone are true to specific instrumentation (strings are to die for through an electrostsat). It’s their speed, and transparency which set them apart form every other type of transducer design, and which is why the first electrostatic speaker I ever heard – the Quad EL57 – still has a single-digit number for Top 10 loudspeakers on my list. It was that first ‘stat experience that always makes me seek out speakers like the Neolith, and while what Martin Logan has done is very different from what Quad did back in 1957 they are still true to the qualities of the aforementioned electrostatic sound (with a big nod to lower frequency capabilities). Couple that with the new refined sound of the latest McIntosh gear, and this was a standout room in Chicago for 2017, that was a sweet treat indeed.