MC240 vs 8B
It started when I had some time on my hands a couple months ago and stopped in at the only hifi shop in our town, Sounds Unique, to see what they had and kill some time. They had done a custom audio install in my car, and are great folks. Brian showed me some speakers they had on sale I'd never heard of (I haven't shopped hifi since I got my system in 94), and so started several hours-long visits comparing speakers followed by 1 hour drives to SoundQuest in El Paso to compare some B&Ws. Having just moved in to a new place, I decided to go ahead and get my system set up early so I could also compare my existing Snell E Is, and take my tubes to listen to on the various speakers. I hadn't heard my system in 9 years but brought it up occasionally for maintenance: Mac MC240 and MC30s, Marantz 8B, CJ PV-5 modded with silver wire and silver and ceramic sockets by Bob Hovland when I lived near him in LA long ago (wonderful guy).
I'd long intended to get some new bi-ampable speakers and put SS on the bottom and my tubes on top (I've since been disabused of this thanks to help here), and since I was finally going to set up my system, the speaker listening frenzy ensued. I've been listening to several systems but the best so far was B&W PM-1s with Classe $7.5K monoblocks, McIntosh CD/processor, PS Audio Pre, $5K speaker cables.....pretty incredible resolution and space (and money!). The PM-1s sounded way, way better than CM-9s and I didn't want to hear anything more expensive!
I woke up the MC240 first, and immediately felt I liked--no, loved it better than the above setup. After listening to the expensive SS, the MC240 was blowing my mind...it's the tubes and the cut-it-with-a-knife thick palbability, whatever, I can't describe it but it was far better than anything I had heard to me for my jazz. Ever seen a painting of an animal so realistic you thought it was a photo but it wasn't and you marveled at the accuracy? That's the Classe setup. The Mac is the animal. When you are petting the animal, you aren't thinking about how accurate it looks. Pianos are pianos, trumpets are trumpets, just like I could reach out and plink a high note on Bill Evan's piano. Solid, real. You can't describe this unless you hear it. Course this isn't exactly an A-B-A test with the Classe.
But clearly, the incredible highs, space, room feel, ambience, and most especially resolution, and tight and ultra-resolved double bass that the Classe setup showed me was in the music were not in the Mac. Tomasz Stańko blowing air through the trumpet, Coltrane's breath control, the noises a sax makes besides the tone-the reed edginess, the breath, the faint ring of the brass tube when handled, keys being depressed, etc....all that kind of resolution stuff they talk about in reviews wasn't there. The Mac was real in a different way. But it reinforced my desire for biamping with SS on the bottom, or maybe just getting a SS amp. So I decided to get a B&K ST-140 for cheap to see what I was missing.
After listening to the MC240 for a week, I decided to try the Marantz. I only remember it being thinner than the Mac if having a little more highs....it's been 9 years. I used to listen to the Mac, not the 8B. Over the last couple days I woke up the 8B.
My concern with needing SS to get non-mushy bass and to get some resolution and air is now gone.
The 8B has the bottom that's missing in the Mac, and much tighter. I honestly don't think I had, or paid much attention to, really high quality recordings in the 90s...it just seemed like the Mac had more, if soft, oomph in the low end while the 8B didn't. Because that's what most jazz CDs in the early 90s had: faint, wooshy bass.
Well I have some good quality CDs now.
The 8B has the highs, air, and resolution of fine nuance I was missing in the Mac. Cobb's ride cymbal in "So What" in the Macero/Keyes remaster of "Kind of Blue" (and the reverberance of the horns, but not the definable room walls the Classe had); the incredible realistic, wood and buzzy vibrating strings of the contrabass and drum kit and cymbals in track two of "The Guitar Mastery of Ed Bickert." In this CD on the Mac, his guitar tone was warm, round, and thick and I like thick warm jazz guitar tone, but it wasn't engaging, wasn't right. With the 8B it is slightly brighter and in fact he is either still using the single coil on his Tele or a jazz box on this so it's correct. Wow it just sounds fantastic and I am listening to HIM, not the drummer, in these first tracks for the first time. The tone is great, the playing is beyond skilled. His later stuff on "Pure Desmond" and "This is New" is fatter...wow, he is the best guitar player in the world, maybe now joined by Peter Bernstein...get "Heart's Content"....but I digress.
In CD after CD I just could not believe the separation, incredibly detailed accuracy and tangible realism in great detail of this instrument or that voice... And it is every bit as palpable and REAL as the Mac. Just not as thick and viscuous. That's good. The 8B soundstage is twice as large and it has pinpoint imaging. I was looking right at the stand up bass on one CD low and 3 feet to the left of the left speaker and it never moved. Everything never moved on good recordings. I can listen to the snare, or the bass, or the vibes, or any instrument, and it is there, distinct, separate, and real and I can tune everything else out. Diana Krall, Ella Fitzgerald, and Eliane Elias all sounded impossibly, lusciously, lasciviously good (Krell: "peel me a grape..."). Indescribably good.
When the 8B came on, the highs and space floored me. And CD after CD it just blows me away: I listened to it long ago on my Snells but guess I don't remember. Or maybe it was the CDs. The 8B just sounds spacious, resolved, real, natural. I was a little concerned that Krall's voice didn't immediately sound as good as on the Mac, I guess the Mac's emphasis lower in the mids did her justice, but with a few minutes and the 8B realized it is must more accurate and realistic, and quickly just adored it. You could hear so much of the sounds her mouth and breath made as she sang that wasn't there with the Mac. But still, which amp's portrayal was timbrally correct? The Mac has lower mid emphasis and lack of high end, the 8B has the highs and generally higher emphasis in mids. Didn't know which was the correct one.
John Scofield's "Selections from Quiet" is acoustic and there is a blond acoustic pictured on the front. The acoustic sounded right on the Mac, just like a steel string played with a jazz pick. For once I listened to the last track, of him talking about making the album. Just to listen to talking but then it was interesting. And he said the guitar was a flamenco nylon string. What? But on the 8B, it sounds just like a flamenco nylon. Second, on "Gary Burton and Friends Six Pack," B.B. King's guitar didn't sound right on the Mac...it always sounds the same, so I attributed it to Burton's jazz mix. On the 8B, not only is it perfectly B.B.'s tone, but it is far and away the best sounding B.B. I've ever heard. Wow.
Coincidentally I just read a Stereophile piece on a vintage 8B and they trashed it. Wow again. Well I've listened to the ARs they say people prefer and don't like their hard sound despite their detail. I will not begin to claim that my opinion is up there with the Stereophile reviewers or many of you. But I have listened for many, many salesman-irritating hours to hifi and think I have good ears. I can't wait to compare the 8B to the Classe and I'm sure in many respects it will lose but I think I have world class sound in the 8B.
OK, I have not had the amps in to be speced after their hibernation; I just brought them up over a couple days myself. So maybe the Mac (or 8B) could fare better.
But I now no longer am researching solid state amps online. I stopped my Adcom and B&K Ebay searches. I'm good to go. I paid around $1200 for the 8B in 93. This week 2 8Bs sold on Ebay for 3K and ~4K; guess mine's in between them condition-wise and all original. Almost the same for the Mac. So I won't mind keeping them indefinitely. Maybe I'll get the itch and shop in the future; as time goes on the 8B could get me a more and more expensive modern tube amp. And, sure, when I switch back to the MC240 I'll love the thick midrange but I'll never wonder whether the MC240 or the 8B, if either, is my keeper. The 8B is really in a different universe and I am in love.