McIntosh's New MHA50 Portable Decoding Amplifier

Why am I covering the release of the new McIntosh MHA50 Portable Decoding Amplifier? A few reasons; 1) McIntosh is one brand that sells itself because it has the best brand recognition in the industry (think blue glow), 2) Most people like to buy things that they find attractive (there's nothing wrong with that, even in hi-fi), and 3) We tend to ignore these 2 very important things.

The MHA50 sits between your phone or computer and your headphones and is designed to make you enjoy your music that much more.

US Retail Price: $700. Coming to dealers near you in October.


Headphone Power Output: 200mW
Headphone Output Impedance: 8-600 Ohms
Rated Power Band: 20Hz to 20kHz
Total Harmonic Distortion: 0.005%
Frequency Response: +0, -0.5dB from 20Hz to 50kHz
Signal To Noise Ratio: 105dB
Preamplifier Output: 1.8V
Headphone Output: 3.5mm with Headphone Crossfeed Director (HXD®)
Digital USB Input: 2 (1 Type A, 1 micro B)
Wireless Input: Bluetooth 4.1 A2DP with aptX
Source Support: Apple iOS devices; Android devices (must be compatible with USB On-The-Go technology to use a wired connection); MacOS & Windows OS computers
Digital USB Input Sample Rate: PCM 16-bit, 24-bit, 32-bit to 192kHz, DSD64, DSD128, DSD256, DXD352.8, DXD384
Output Meters: No [bummer]
Vacuum Tube or Solid State: Solid State
Power Requirement: 5V DC, 0.7A
Output Autoformer: No
Battery Playback Life: Up to 6 hours with Bluetooth connection; playback can last even longer when using the wired connections
Included In The Box:
  • 1 leather carrying case
  • 1 Lightning to USB-A cable
  • 1 USB micro-B to USB-A cable
  • 1 USB micro-B to USB micro-B cable
  • 1 wall mount charger with USA plug and adapter for Europe and Japan
  • All cables are 8"/200mm long
Dimensions (W x H x D): 2.7" (7cm) x 6.1" (15.5cm) x 0.6" (1.4cm)
Weight: 0.5 lbs (0.2 kg)

v1m's picture

I had some experience recently with the entry-level McIntosh integrated MA5200 in my system for a few weeks. The onboard DAC, which like other Mac forays into digital music will have yielded the tech found in this new headphone DAC/amp, was nice enough. I can't knock it for pleasantness, but I found it less than what might be expected of this feature in a $4K amp. The DAC rendered files a bit too blandly and undynamically for my tastes. By contrast, the $200 Meridian Explorer 2 is more involving and, yes, romantic, if less refined. I bypassed the McIntosh DAC for the remainder of my time with the amp, which I returned. YMMV.

Regarding the $700 MHA50, I have to reality-check McIntosh on their price point for this new mass production device. Leaving aside Bluetooth, it will in all likelihood not be more than twice as good as the $300 OPPO HA2 which inherits the technology of a brilliant desktop headphone amp (a big slab o' bliss, let me tell you). Nor can the MHA50 do what a full-fledged DAP can, eg the very nice sounding $600 Astell&Kern AK70. Paired with Audioquest Nighthawks on jazz and classical and Meze 99 Classics for pop and rock, the AK70 is a delight. And you don't have to juggle your cellphone to use it.