I think Mac's are more refined as I've owned both. Bryston's are great no question, but even with Bryston's great amp warrantee I still feel the Mac's are more reliable internally and smoother sounding...like the softness of edges in sound and texture you'd hear in a live venue. I think both companies are horrifically expensive, and others are catching up in lower priced bang for the buck solutions, and aren't far off sonically. Yes there's a difference, but not as big as 10 years ago between mid and higher priced product. What's unfortunate is that I think if both brands were 1 K to 2K less on their models the volume of sales would be in the reach of more music lovers and they'd bite. I hate the thought of music lovers having to stretch so hard and uncomfortably in this economy to get "the best". There is a higher priced level, but I think it's rediculously so. Just my two cents.
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Forget about same league. They're not even the same design-wise. The Brystons are 'pure' solid-state and excellent sound for the money. McIntosh has stupidly IMO tacked autoformers on after the output stage to very dubious "user-friendly" benefit, and to their sonic detrement as far as I'm concerned. If you want "softer edges", just go for a great tube amp. At least the "soft" in tube amps comes from the nature of the vacuum tube and not from electronic affectation ;--) If you want solid state, get a great SS amp like Bryston, Sanders, Levinson, Pass, Rowland. They all represent better price/performance value and have not been compromised with silly "features" that do nothing but muddy the sound.
If you want the best of both worlds, you should be thinking about one of the following recent (and raved about) hybrids that have tube input stages and ss output stages:
But in tubes, excepting OTL, transformers are a necessary and accepted part of the circuit. It is one of the virtues of SS that they are not required, what they are doing in Mac is a mystery in this day and age. Allegedly in the early days they were put in because Mac didn't have a clue how to design transistors. There may be some truth to this, I was at a Mac clinic in Chicago in the middle 60s when a electrical engineering student from Cal Tech brought in a very good looking home made transistor amp labeled "Fengs Folly". It measured beautifully and the Mac guy ask him"how would you like to work in upstate NY." He was at least half serious. If you want the sound of transformers get tubes, if not get transistors, don't mess with mister in-between.
I have to agree with many of the points raised.
The autotransformer is a cheat, designed to match the speaker load to the load of the amplifier.
This must be done due to the impedance mismatch which occurs when a high output impedance device tubes tries to drive power into a low impedance device speakers.
A modern solid state amplifier can produce enough current to drive an arc welder. If you properly design the power supply of a solid state amplifier you can drive almost anything which is not true of any tube design.
The autotransformer means that the MAC amplifier is not direct coupled, direct coupling means you have your output stage directly connected to the load, the speakers, gaining maximum transparency, by using an autotransformer, you are taking the strain off the output stage, which makes the output stage work much easier to power the load, the down side is lack of transparency.
So if you want a solid state amp that is warm and punchy but lacks the kind of resolution that is possible buy a MAC amp, if you really want to hear what is going on but anything else!
The proponents of MAC amplifiers may like the sound if there is any brightness or hash in their previous systems than they would love the MAC sound.
I have found if a solid state system is really well dialed in you will not have any problems with musicality with a non MAC solid state amp,
the magic formula: good acoustics, good power conditioning, good and synergistic cabling, a tube preamp never hurts, vibration isolation for the sources, shakti stones on your power distribution breaker box, works miracles by the way, and a couple of other good tweeks and you will make solid state amp magic without any required band aids.
Garbage in garbage out. 30 years of professional experience says so!
I've owned two McIntosh amps, both with autoformers. They are fantastic, IMO. Powerful, smooth, and undistorted.
There's a lot of talk about how autoformers kill transparency or muddy the sound. Intuitively, one might think this is possible. However, in my experience, the amps are extremely clear and I achieve tons of transparency in my system. I think McIntosh amplifiers render detail well while not hardening the treble. This is a difficult balance that many transistor products do not achieve. Some may say that the autoformer adds an unnatural warming effect, but in my view, the sound of the autoformer design is probably more faithful to the recording. At very least, it can be more listenable. My two cents. Enjoy.
The Shakti Stones are around $200 a piece. You can order them direct here:
They show up used here for about $125 or so. Usually get snatched up fast. Must be a lot of us nearly insane types around here.
The CBF's are $25 a piece. You can order them direct here:
Alan Maher Designs
Each product reduces the noise floor, but does so in different ways. The CBF is actually better IMO because it is more compact and can fit inside components or the breaker panel. In either case only way to find out if it works is by trying them out.
I have the Lexicon/Bryston 501 monos on my B&W 800N's. I home auditioned the Mac 501's for 10 days against them in a diligent manner. I love the Mac appearance and resale value, but must say that I could not really ascertain any real difference in sound quality--it was a wash to my ears. Considering the price difference & unmatched Bryston warranty, unless cost is not an object, the Bryston wins easily in my humble opinion---Mac wins easily in the appearance category:-)
A Shakti to the wallet I'd say, and a placebo effect at the most and they don't even look pretty.
An autoformer can lend a tube like sound to a solid state amp. This can and will make an amp smoother and less detailed like all but the best tube amps. After all sending a signal through hundreds of feet of wire is not going to increase detail. The sound derived is not necessarily a bad thing but a matter of preference.
Anyone considering the shatki stones should take a look at my Audio Peas. These are bags of frozen peas (highly tweaked) that you simply set anywhere in your listening room for instance improvement in sonics. A bargain at $75 per.
One study said the Peas were nearly 2.5 as effective as shatki stones. Yes, those stones are a RIP-OFF, pure and simple. I'm sorry to be blunt.
I've had the opportunity to use both.
I've used a 4B-SST(for about three years) and now use a McIntosh MC352 in my main system.
Both are well made, excellent sounding amps. However,the Bryston presents a much different sonic picture than the McIntosh. Without dissing the Bryston, (unlike some in this thread do to McIntosh), I would have to say it has a brighter,perhaps even an etched quality,especially in the treble region. The McIntosh is way more neutral sounding,Is it softer, rounder?...yes, but not dull in any way. I'd say more musical and far more listenable than the Bryston.
Dordevic,At the time I had the Bryston and then the McIntosh amp, I was using Legacy Focus speakers. I would consider them to be excellent sounding.I would have kept them but just could not tame there low-end response in my listening room. Three 12in. woofers per side was just too much to deal with.I'm now using Tyler Acoustics Woodmeres.
With any steio gear it comes down to what "You" like the sound of ! I am very one eyed towards SS as it has so much more punch and control compaired to value and the good SS Do have warmth - I havent listen to the Bryston but I did try the Mc when looking for a new power amp and as good as it was I know have a LFD PA2M SE driving my speakers.
I owned the Legacy Audio Focus 20/20's and loved the Bryston sst amp. I heard absolutely no hint of brightness or etched sound. In fact, the Legaqcys are so warm sounding compared to every other hi end speakers, it would take a lot to ever make them sound bright. The are rolled off on the top end. The Focus 20/20's are my favorite speakers of all time, dont get me wrong, I was just stating my findings. I would buy the sst series Bryston in a second if I was going to invest serious money again.
Read the patent on the shakti stones, and you will see that it is a thoughtfully engineered piece based on sound principles of piezoelectric theory. Don't make the mistake of judging the shakti stones by name or appearance. I would say their biggest problem is marketing it in such a pseudo voodoo way which crippled their reputation with the audiophile community.