McIntosh is something of a law unto itself in audio. Few companies share McIntosh’s fan base, which have been fanatically loyal to the brand for decades, to the point where faced with the choice of no McIntosh product in that sector, they would rather wait than buy beyond the brand. And, to reward their followers for their loyalty, McIntosh’s design is unchanging. The MB50 is perhaps the perfect expression of this; if there were such a thing as a streamer from the 1960s, this would be it. Not because the MB50 is technologically stuck in the past (far from it in fact), but because the design would blend seamlessly with McIntosh products from the era of the Beatles and the Beach Boys.
This timeless design works massively in McIntosh’s favour, I believe. The distinctive glowing green lettering on a mirrored black fascia, with highly polished sides and end plates, and side uprights of aluminium mean the MB50 could only be a McIntosh product. It will fit effortlessly in with all other McIntosh products made since the Eisenhower era (and that’s a huge number of prospective owners), it is distinctive and well made enough to act as gateway to McIntosh for those not with the programme, and it’s built with longevity stitched into its very weft and woof. Ten years from now and practically every product in your system might have been discontinued, but the MB50 will not only look as fresh as ever, but also still be serviceable thanks to McIntosh’s legendary reliability.
The MB50 is a half-sized device, designed to sit beneath McIntosh’s MHA150 headphone amp or MXA70 integrated audio system launched a few years ago. That brings its own DAC and line inputs, along with a 50 watts per channel amplifier, and even a pair of small standmount loudspeakers. Having a DAC on the MB50 and another on the MXA70, and a headphone output on both devices means there is some redundancy involved, but a few redundant systems are par for the course with McIntosh, and that is part of the reason why McIntosh fares so well on the ‘buy again’ stakes. It also suggests that even those who began their McIntosh ownership with the MXA70 have already learned the company’s core maxim: the only thing better than a McIntosh is another McIntosh.
The curious thing about McIntosh owners is that they aren’t quite as obsessed by famous name brands within the product, just so long as it has the right logo on the outside. They embody those who nodded approvingly when hearing of the old Rolls-Royce response to questions about horsepower or torque… “it’s sufficient, sir!” Where every other DAC maker proudly discusses who made the chips and how good they are, McIntosh is content with just describing this as a 24-bit, 192kHz compatible device, albeit one with a lot of additional functionality. This is not ‘mystery meat’ digital, however, and the MB50 actually sports a Cirrus Logic 8416 chip, which puts DSD beyond its capabilities, but is a perfectly serviceable chipset with a no-nonsense reputation. It’s virtually the same design as fits inside the MXA70. The MB50 is powered by a 5V wall-wart power supply.