Positive Feedback Logo

Jeff checking in: Mactone, Audio Note (UK), Quality Record Pressings, and more!

03-17-2023 | By Jeff Day |

Greetings friends, I hope you are doing well, and your 2023 is off to a great start!

Mactone XX-440 line preamplifier.

I'm in the midst of listening sessions of, and writing my feature review for Positive Feedback about, the Mactone XX-440 line preamplifier (above), and the Mactone MH-120 stereo amplifier (below).

Mactone MH-120 amplifier.

I've taken to calling the Mactone combo "Max-tone" for their gorgeous tonal qualities.

I think a lot of listeners will be enchanted by these Mactone components, particularly those whose goal is to listen to all kinds of music, and want it to sound like ... well ... really great music. 

These Mactone components musical bent is aided by the thoughtful inclusion of a "presence adjustment" knob on the amplifier, which allows for the clever correction of the most common and annoying mastering boo boos on record albums, that of too much boost in the bass which results in overblown or boomy bass, and goosed up presence or brilliance regions in recordings that make them sound forward, unnatural, and harsh.

I think about 90% of hifi enthusiasts angst about the sound quality of their audio system are related to those two issues, and you can basically eliminate them with Mactone's presence adjustment, which is simple and effective. 

The Mactone XX-440 pre and MH-120 amp with my Tannoy Westminster Royal SE loudspeakers, which is a very synergistic match.  

I wish all audio companies built in some ability of adjustability over the audio spectrum range of 20 Hz to 20,000 Hz, it would lead to a much happier listening experience for most enthusiasts.

By the way, the Mactone presence adjustment is not a tone control, which I'll go into in the Positive Feedback feature review. I know that sounds contradictory, but I'll explain the difference in the review. 

As a result of the clever presence adjustment to use when needed, and the overall musically adept presentation, the Mactone hifi kit makes listening to music fun by easily immersing me into the emotional "feel" of the music in a tonally beautiful and refined way.

From left to right: Teiichi (son), Kenjiro, and Daichi (grandson). 

Mactone was founded by Kenjiro Matsumoto in 1964, which is only a year after the classic McIntosh C22 preamplifier was released, and only two years after the classic Marantz 8B stereo amplifier was released. 

Unlike Marantz, which was sold to Superscope in 1964, or McIntosh, which was sold to Clarion in 1990, Mactone has been in continuous production for 59 years with founder Matsumoto-san at the helm.  

Mactone XX-440 pre & MH-120 amp.

What this means for us audio nuts is that Matsumoto-san's vision for what high-fidelity stereo playback should sound like has had 59 years of continual refinement, and it sounds like it, with a very impressive and alluring result. 

While this might not be correct from a circuit design standpoint, I tend to think of these Mactone designs as an ultimate refinement of a vintage musicality aesthetic, one of gorgeous tonality, oodles of refinement, dynamic ease, and an engaging musicality that is hard to resist. 

I really enjoy the Mactone sound, and I hope more hifi enthusiasts get a chance to listen to these components, as I think they'll be impressed by what they hear. I am.

Here's some links to my previous posts about the Mactone components for some additional reading:

Today's Fresh Catch: The Mactone MH-120 amplifier and XX-440 preamplifier! HERE
The Mactone family: Introducing Kenjiro Matsumoto, son Teiichi, and grandson Daichi! HERE
First Listen: Impressions of the Mactone XX-440 preamp and MH-120 amp! HERE
Inside the Mactone XX-440 preamp and MH-120 amp! HERE
Sometimes I just have to pinch myself to make sure I'm not dreaming. It is such a privilege to be able to listen to such great audio kit and tell you about it.
It seems like I'm always hearing some impressive new high-fidelity audio kit, and each time learning something new and exciting about audio. I really enjoy telling you about it all, whether its about Max-tone (above), or ... 

The Audio Note (UK) CD 5.1x Red Book CD player that's now in for review.

... like the impressive Audio Note (UK) CD players that I've been enjoying so much lately, like the CD 5.1x shown above.

Audio Note (UK) CD 5.1x (top) and 4.1x (bottom) Red Book CD players.

I've enjoyed all the Audio Note (UK) CD players I've listened to, the CD 2.1x/II, the CD 4.1x, and now the CD 5.1x. 

Personally, I could live happily with any of these Audio Note (UK) CD players, as they are all very adept at playing music in a very natural, analog-like way, that just gets the music right.

These are CD players that we vinyl aficionados can listen to and not feel like we are missing anything, as they do a very impressive job of sounding like top-notch turntable & cartridge combinations, with the huge added bonus that I can listen to anything from any era of the recordings arts, which I can't easily do with my turntables.  

I should point out, as you scale the heights of the Audio Note (UK) Red Book CD players product line, there's no denying that each level you go up results in an impressive increase in performance and refinement.

There's just "more" there in every way as you go up in the Audio Note (UK) "Level" hierarchy, and with the top of the line Audio Note (UK) CD 5.1x its a rather breathtaking view into what is possible in a one-box digital player.

This is a very subjective statement, of course, but I think the CD 5.1x playing Red Book CDs outperforms the other "fancy" transport-DAC combinations I've heard playing hi-rez digital transfers. The CD 5.1x sounds more analog-like, more musically natural, than the somewhat synthetic, overly hi-fi-ish sounding presentations that I hear from most other high-performance digital competitors. Obviously, listen and decide for yourself, but I'm really impressed, and I think you might be too.  

I had no idea Red Book CDs could sound so musically impressive, and the part of my audio preferences that makes me adore high-performance integrated amplifiers, also makes me really appreciate the CD 5.1x's high-performance one-box design. 

I'm just getting started with the CD 5.1x, so there will be lots more to come. In the meantime, here's some links to additional info about the CD 5.1x:

Today's Fresh Catch: The Audio Note (UK) CD 5.1x Red Book CD player! HERE

First Listen: Audio Note (UK) CD 5.1x Red Book CD player! HERE

Inside the Audio Note (UK) CD 5.1x Red Book CD player! HERE

Chad Kassem's 'The Wonderful Sounds of ..." series of LPs

I've been buying Chad Kassem's "The Wonderful Sounds of ..." albums as they are released. 

Chad gets my favorite balance of high-fidelity sound quality with great musical performances of all the audiophile-style record labels with his Analogue Productions releases. They are superb.

Way back in 2008 Doc Leo brought over his copy of the sampler LP set celebrating the 125th anniversary of Thorens that Chad produced. Chad's great taste in musical selections for the 125th Thorens anniversary LP set blew all of us away at listening sessions, with their superb sound quality and excellent music.

That 125th Thorens anniversary LP set quickly sold out, and if you want to buy one, expect to pay BIG $$$ for it now, if you can even find a copy.

Doc Leo, Santos, and Wayne joined me for some hifi fun and games a couple of weeks ago, and Doc Leo mentioned that Chad had reissued that 125th Thorens anniversary LP set as "The Wonderful Sounds of Quality Record Pressings". 

"The Wonderful Sounds of Quality Record Pressings" contains those same cherry picked songs by Chad that appeared on the 2008 sampler LP celebrating the 125th anniversary of Thorens, with all those excellent selections of female vocals, classical, blues, rhythm & blues, and jazz that will wow and delight you. 

As a bonus, you can buy it from Chad for a fraction of what those out-of-print Thorens 125th anniversary LP sets are going for these days, which is a win-win for sure.

My Classic Turntable Company Garrard 301 playing Chad's new "The Wonderful Sounds of Quality Record Pressings" release.

I've been listening to Chad's "The Wonderful Sounds of Quality Record Pressings" on my CTC Garrard 301 with the Audio Note (UK) Io I moving-coil cartridge and silver wound AN-S4 step-up transformer this morning as I write this, and I'm wowed by what I'm hearing.

Audio Note (UK) Io I moving-coil phono cartridge.

Audio Note (UK) AN-S4 silver wound step-up transformer.

Kudos to Chad for another excellent "The Wonderful Sounds of ..." album - very highly recommended!

I almost forgot to add, I just noticed that Chad is offering his "Wonderful Sounds of ..." albums on hybrid SACD, which have a high-rez HD layer, as well as a Red Book CD layer, on a single disc.

I'm going to have to get one of the hybrid SACDs of one of the "Wonderful Sounds of ..." albums to compare to the LPs. 

I feel a shootout coming on, comparing the playback from the hybrid SACD with the Audio Note (UK) CD 5.1x Red Book CD player, to the playback from the LPs with the Audio Note (UK) Io I moving-coil cartridge and silver wound AN-S4 step-up transformer on my CTC Garrard 301. Sounds like fun eh?

Testament 1955 Joseph Keilberth Wagner Ring 19-LP stereo box set.

One of my all-time favorite opera box sets is the Testament Joseph Keilberth Richard Wagner Complete Ring Cycle 19-LP stereo box set from the 1955 Bayreuth Festival. It's spendy at about $550 USD (HERE), but worth every penny.

Well it turns out that this glorious Testament LP box set is also now available on a 14 disc Red Book CD box set (above), at about $120 USD (HERE). 

I ordered the CD box set and it is scheduled to arrive this coming Monday, which I'm really looking forward to listening to ... and yes there will be another vinyl vs. digital shootout! 

Yours truly is all smiles when out riding!

Spring officially kicks off on March 20th, and some of you know that in addition to my lifelong love for music & hifi, that motorcycle riding & racing have also been near lifelong loves as well, which I've been enjoying for 52 years now. 

A visit to the 1918 Maryhill Stonehenge Memorial dedicated to the people who died in World War I.

I'm really looking forward to some Spring motorcycle riding!

Winter is rough for those of us who love life on two wheels, but every time the temperature has been above freezing, I've been out riding my BMW R1250 GS Adventure motorcycle and exploring the rural and remote areas of the Pacific Northwest. 

On top of the Lolo Pass summit on the Idaho-Montana border.

When cabin fever sets in over the winter, weather permitting, there's nothing that gets my blood boiling like getting out on my motorbike. 

The Bluebird Inn in Bickleton, WA, established 1887. 

There are still hitching posts in front of the Bluebird Inn in case you want to tie your horse up out front. 

Fellow adventurer Jeff Frey and myself stopped in the small and remote farming community of Bickleton, WA, on our motorbikes for lunch (population 100), on our Wednesday ride.

We were going to have lunch at the historic Bluebird Inn (established in 1887), but it was still closed for the Winter, so instead we had lunch across the street at the Market Street Cafe. 

We had a nice chat with one of the local farmers who stopped in for lunch. He surprised us by telling us he had switched over from farming his property to installing wind turbines on the property, which paid a lot better, and was a lot less work than farming. As a result he was an enthusiastic supporter of wind turbine farms, which are generally opposed as being eyesores where I live. 

I also rode this 200+ mile loop last weekend and encountered rain, snow, and a little sunshine over the course of my ride. The Wednesday ride with Jeff was much better weather wise, but still was chilly.

Anyways, enough blathering on, its time to get back at it!

As always, thanks for stopping by, and may the tone be with you!

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Jeff's Categories

More Articles by Jeff

Get our Newsletter


Recent Discussions