Help me get the best sound under $5K in upgrades

I need help. My system: mac mini, McIntosh Pre 15, McIntosh MC2255, Joseph Audio RM22si / REL Strata iii.

I just switched to the McIntosh from an Audio Refinement Complete, but am willing to change anything other than the front end or going tubes. I don't want the maintenance of tubes, and want to keep the convenience of digital.

I mostly listen to acoustic/folk/jazz/vocals.

I'm considering planars and demo-ing a set of Maggie 1.7's next week.

I just want the best sound possible, and don't want to throw money away on things that I can't hear.

Is the McIntosh mostly just cool lights and nostalgia? Can I get better sound for my $? Can I do better than Planars with my sub and a really nice pair of monitors?
The McIntosh you have is an older piece from the 80's, it is very well re-guarded among MAC people. It has a lot of bells and whistles for an amplifier (which is nice) and it sounds very good. If you plan on keeping the McIntosh, I would search for some speakers that match well with it. Magnepans are touchy on resistance (they can dip to 1 ohm or less) That is not ideal for the Mac because of the large swings in resistance and amps required to drive Maggies correctly. Choose a more easy to drive type speaker (assuming you want to change your spkrs). OR you could trade that amp in to Audio Classics or sell it on the website here. Use that $$ to buy a MC352 which would match your pre amp very well and allow you to drive almost any speaker as well as sounding a lot better. The MC352 was designed by Charlie Randall and is one of the best Sounding solid state amps MAC ever made. Hope this helps you make a choice that's best for you.
I need to clarify something Matt said above. Maggies do NOT go below 1 ohm, in fact they really don't even come close. 3.2 ohms is about the lowest any Magnepan will drop to and most are around a flat 4 ohm load.

One of the only speakers that go that low would be an electrostatic speaker. My Martin Logan CLSIIA's will drop down to around .8 ohms, but my Magnepan MG3.6's only drop to around 3.8 ohms.

Your McIntosh amp should have no problem with the 1.7's. These are the specs I found on your amp:


250w/ch. (500w mono)

Response: 20-20kHz (+0 -0.25dB).

Distortion: 0.02%. Noise and Hum: -95dB.

Output Impedance: 1, 2, 4 and 8.(0.5, 1, 2, 4, 8 and 16 ohms in mono).

Damping Factor: 30 or greater.

Input Impedance: 50k.

Input Sensitivity: 0.75v or 2.5v.

Headphone Impedance: low.

Sentry Monitor. Power Guard. Autoformers.

Plus, this amp has autoformers, so no worries.
Yes Mofi, I was thinking of electrostats, sorry I was confusing the two. thanks for correcting me. I always respect your comments. But I will say that 3.2 ohms is not an ideal load for the Mc2255 when compared with a 8ohm load that this MAC was really designed for, in an era when most speakers especially McIntosh speakers (for which they designed to work with THIER amps) were stable 8ohm speakers. McIntosh didn't even come out with a amp to address tougher loads until the early 90's, with the Direct coupled MC7200. The MC352 will drive anything with total has a double balanced push/pull design.
Matt...the MC2255 has 1 and 2 ohm taps on it. McIntosh wouldn't do that if the amp was not capable of those load impedances. Look at the specs I listed above.

Also the MC2255 has autoformers, so the impedance of the speaker becomes a non factor. The autoformer keeps the amp safe at any output or load impedance.

IMHO, this amp is perfect for lower impedance loudspeakers.
I brought home a Parasound 2250 v.2 to compare. Thoughts? It's half the price, 275Watts, stable at 2ohms. I don't have any Maggie's to try it out with, yet; just the Joseph's.

Honestly, I do hear a difference vs the McIntosh. Wasn't expecting it, but I'd say there's more detail with the Mc. Am I just imagining things?
I've found the Maggies to need volume to come alive....that doesn't sound like acoustic music/folk to me. Be sure to audition the Maggies at low volumes. Going toward more efficient speakers might be a good move toward low volume transparency. Tannoys? Try a tube preamp to get more "aire" into your system - they don't require any maintenance to speak of, small signal tubes last probably 10+ years (do turn them off when not using however). Even then it's like changing a light bulb - no biasing required. Audio Note Kits? (get them fully assembled for 15%)
IMHO,Its not. Buy one and check it out . I have .
I used it to drive a pair of Mirage M 3's and while it did drive them it was not ideal synergy. The Mac 7200 was a much better sounding amp for that speaker...Now having said that the MC352 sounds way better than both.
I'm not looking or speaking from paper specs. I have owned all of the amps mentioned and listened to them intimately. If that's worth anything. Mofi has made valid and correct statements of the specifications. I'm talking about the way they sound, driving certain speakers. that's all.
Matt, "IMHO, It's not." What are you addressing? My question about the detail i.e. you don't think I'm imagining things?

Sounds like I'll need to try out the MC352 someday.

I'll see how it goes with the 1.7's. Who knows, maybe I'll go tubes and high sensitivity...will it ever end?
After listening to the Parasound for several hours I'd call it lifeless. Definitely lacks the detail of the Mc2255.

Pretty cool, actually. I've never heard a difference in amps before. Now I really want to find out what else is out there.
"Pretty cool, actually. I've never heard a difference in amps before. Now I really want to find out what else is out there."

Oh no, it's started. :-) Be prepared to spend lots of money, probably get divorced, have many sleepless nights, be on a first name basis with your local dealer, lose your eyesight reading too many magazines and blogs.

Run fast away while you can...
You might want to try a 80w or more tube amp with the Maggies. Use the powered subs to offload work from the amp and a lot fewer watts are needed. For SS, the Mc seems like a decent match.

Also I am wondering how the Maggies are set up? Placement is everything with those. Some rooms could be a challenge.

The Maggies seem like a good match for your listening tastes as you describe otherwise. The trick is to get them to sing like they are capable of. The whole setup has to mesh.
I did not see anything regarding a DAC. How do you get your music from the Mac Mini to the preamp?
Tried Parasound Halo this weekend. I think this is a winner for me. I'm getting A21 & P5, replacing the Macs. For me, they have more detail without fatigue.
I recently added Dirac room correction software to my setup (mac mini -> audiophillo -> Bryston BDA-1 -> Plinius 9100 -> Wilson Duette) and for the first time in a long time, I'm very happy with the sound of my system. The sound is much more focused, instruments are better separated, and my room modes are tamed. For me, it's proven a massive upgrade. The only risk I took was spending $75 on an omnidirectional mic to do the measurements, then I downloaded the two week trial version of Dirac. It took a bit of playing around to generate the best filter, but I'm delighted with the results. I ended up buying the software, which costs around $500. I recommend giving this a try. My system is in my main living room, and room treatment is not really practical.