McIntosh and Jeff Rowland
McIntosh MA6900 compared with Jeff Rowland Synergy 1 and model 6
How do the products of these two companies with entirely different philosophies compare?
Most obvious is the difference in appearance: solid blocks of aluminum for Jeff Rowland versus a mixture of steel plate and glass for McIntosh. Inside the difference also could not be larger: minimalistic inside the Rowlands versus mega circuit boards and wires galore inside the Mac. In spite of their obvious differences, both amps are silent and distortion-free and sound smooth and highly musical and although there are definite sonic differences, both sound very nice, and that’s why I wanted to share my feelings about the products of these two brands.
Above: the system prior to major simplification
Above: after simplification
The big Mac was purchased in an effort to slim down my system, removing the Jeff Rowland Synergy preamp and Model 6 monos, to be replaced by the single MA6900. Keeping it company would be only the CEC TL1x CD transport and Audiomeca Enkianthus DAC. I had already set the Rowlands aside while playing with the Mac and had a buyer for the Rowlands. Prior to his arrival I reconnected the Rowlands so that he could hear them before buying. The incredible thing is that while I was listening to my old combo with renewed ears, they really started to grow on me again, to the point where I was seriously doubting if I should still sell them! As fate would have it, the buyer did not show up and called hours later that he couldn’t make it and so I was saved from a potential mistake.
Jeff Rowland deviates most in the positive sense by being more transparent and having better low-level resolution with clearer focus. Also its soundstage is more distinctly layered and there’s a more open, arier treble. Jeff Rowland components always have a very fluid and organic sound, which in case of the Synergy 1 and model sixes is combined with a fast and open, agile quality.
McIntosh in turn deviates most in the positive sense by sounding more powerful and sonorous, with a very natural and appealing timbre. The Mac’s bass may be somewhat fatter than the Rowland’s, but that is only for the better, aiding the Logans in sounding more voluptuous. And don’t get this wrong: its bass is definitely not woolly or slow, just bigger than the Rowland’s, which in case of the model six monos is tight and articulate but somewhat on the lean side anyway.
One should take note that while the Rowland combo sounds pretty great from the start (the Synergy and sixes are always on, and the power amp bias is only lowered in standby), the big Mac sounds powerful and convincing from the start but needs 30 minutes to start sounding amazing. Only then will it show its superb continuousness and combination of organic fluidity and ballsy grip on the speakers. When warmed up, the Mac sounds smooth, big and inviting, and is so good that one almost forgets to tune in to the details.
In my view, the Rowlands don’t have any blatant negatives, but they can be improved in certain areas. The Mac made it very clear that music can sound more visceral, beefier and more powerful, without taking on the obvious downside of a typical muscle amp. However, the Rowlands remain masters of low-level detail and treble resolution, fluidity and air.
From memory, I’d say that the MA6900 takes some of the Bryston 7BST’s qualities and adds organic flow and some bloom to it. This is certainly not meant as talking down the Mac, as I have owned these Brystons and liked them a lot. I mention this so that one can hopefully better place the MA6900. I actually find the MA6900 to be mightily pleasing and if it wasn’t for its rolled off treble, I’d probably have kept it.
The Mac is so very pleasing in character that I would forgive it for being less finely resolved and imaging less clearly. But what did it for me, in the end, was its treble performance. No matter what setting the treble controls were set, there would always be a rolled-off quality to the treble. This is why I ultimately sold the Mac again, and not the Rowlands.