Sounds like Mac itus to me.
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Was not familiar with the McIntosh MAC-3. Looked it up. It's a 5.1 Channel Home Theater Surround Decoder circa 1997. I could see it being the weak link in you system. I'm guessing a simple dedicated 2-Thanks for that! That definitely makes sense. I'd tried out the Schiit Freya+ earlier in the year but it didn't work well with the combo that I had at the time (Freya+<Vidar<Carina's), and looking back on it, the Vidar and Carina's didn't vibe well. The MAC-3 was always intended to be temporary to me but this was pretty eye opening. Thanks again!
I owned a Mac surround amp and pre-amp for years. It never sounded that good with two channel. When I did finally switch to pure two-channel, it was an amazing difference. In my experience, I agree with the others, replace the Mac.
Man, love to hear someone that owned it as well say this. Now the fun begins! Thanks @deadhead1000!
Contrary to a lot of thoughts the preamplifier is the most critical source component a great one can make a system and a so so or bad one can cripple a system so yes find a preamp that does not change or alter the bluesound and if your lucky find one that enhances it and yes macintosh components are not the most transparent of components they are a perfect example of listen to our sound not accurate sound.
Just a little update, I ended up buying a used PS Audio Stellar Gain Cell DAC for what I felt like was a reasonable price. The DAC part wasn't important to as I have a Bifrost 2. I've only had it for a few days but, you guys were right, a 2 channel preamp changed the game.
I even ran the system direct through the Bifrost just to see, using Roon as a volume control, and the GC pre added much more to the music. The Elac Carina's that I have really have come to life!
As far as the DAC goes on the Stellar, it's really musical and has really good sound to it. But running the digital signal through the Bifrost 2 and using the analog inputs on the Stellar GC really bring it up a notch. Super clean, musical, and engaging sound. I can't stop listening. This thing is wonderful as a standalone Preamp.
Thank you all for your help, cheers.