McGary Audio

Essential Sound

Thursday, November 12, 2020

Home Theater Speaker Review!
Premium Atlantic Technology
Multichannel Speaker System:
8600eC, 8600eLR, 8200SR,
SBT-500 Dual-Subwoofer


“High-End Speaker Ensemble Is Impressive Purveyor
Of Premium Multichannel Music and Movie Soundtracks”

Brevis...
Price: $11,769(system)
Likes: High-dollar sound
at a reasonable ensemble price
Dislikes: Hefty center channel
Wow Factor: Believe it!
 
by John Gatski 
  I have been a fan of Atlantic technology speakers since the mid 1990s. Great value/ performance from subwoofers, mains and surrounds. In fact, the best-sounding soundbar I ever tested was an Atlantic unit that I reviewed in 2012. With better materials and focused design techniques, Atlantic Technology has kept up, and even exceeded, today’s transducer performance benchmarks.
  The Atlantic Technology premium system, assembled for this review showcase, includes a L/C/R, surround and subwoofer speaker system that reveals all the nuance, dimensions and extended bass that modern pre-pro/receiver, amplifiers (via advanced resolution soundtracks) are capable of delivering. When you listen to a speaker ensemble like the AT’s, you immediately know you are in a different class.

 
Atlantic Technology 8600eLR

 
The models:
Atlantic 8600eLR

  The anchor of this reviewed system is Atlantic’s newest tower, the flagship 8600eLR, retail priced at $2,855 each. Whether you are critically listening to two-channel music, or enjoying surround-sound movies, with the 8600eLR’s you’ll appreciate the speaker’s ability to deliver the explosive dynamics of the latest Hollywood blockbuster or the subtle detail in a classic recording.
  With the design of the 8600eLR, Atlantic Technology implemented a new driver technology in an all-new configuration, which is claimed to “deliver its superb performance in a wide variety of acoustic settings.” 
 
  Overall, as an ensemble of speakers for your high-end quality home theater or multichannel Hi-Res music listening, you can’t go wrong with this system. They should match up to most any amplifier, Class A, A/B or a good Class D and give you what you crave (or should crave): accurate, dynamic and uncolored loudspeaker sound.

 This all-new, sealed box speaker design features internally braced, non-resonant, MDF cabinets and house seven state-of-the art, Atlantic Technology drivers configured in a D’Appolito/M-T-M array; the compliment includes four 8-inch fiberglass woofers, two 5.25-inch fiberglass mid-drivers, and an advanced 1-inch aluminum/magnesium dome tweeter, placed in a powerful, neodymium magnet structure. The midrange and tweeter drivers are internally isolated within a separate, airtight sub-enclosure.
 The crossover consists of a 4th-order Butterworth, asymmetrical, time-aligned, Linkwitz-Riley crossover. Specifications include a 91-dB sensitivity with power handling of up to 300 watts per speaker. Although the specs say the speaker has a low bass response of 50 Hz, I did a quick measurement and found the bass nearly flat to 35 Hz in my home cinema room. AT says their measurements have a tighter tolerance than most speakers’ stated specs plus/minus 2 dB). The bass extension reaches under 40 Hz, which enables its satisfactory home cinema and music-listening deep bass capability.
   As I found, the Atlantic 8600eLR is equally adept at music and movie soundtracks. In bigger rooms, they cast a sonic impression that is immediate, present and accurate. The cabinet measures 51.7-inches tall x 11.4-inches wide and the speaker weighs in at 108 pounds — manageable by one person who does not mind pushing heavy boxes. 
 
Atlantic Technology 8600eC

The models:
Atlantic 8600eC Center

  This speaker, priced at $2,300, is a big one — a massive center channel to place on a stand. Its drivers are similar to the LR’s, but with smaller-size bass drivers (2 x 6.5-inch fiberglass woofers) and cabinet, also a sealed box design. The 8600eC employs the D’Appolito M-T-M array for better dialog intelligibility. This speaker measures 37.6 inches long x 13.7-inches front-to-back x 14.5 inches wide; the weight was a whopping 91 pounds and took two people to hoist onto the stand behind the Vizio LCD. Whew!  
  As with the 8600eLR, the 8600eC’s sonic character is top class — with a solid anchor of the channel’s focused dialog, bass and sound cues that complete the steering of multichannel audio. There is a fullness that completely fills up the middle acoustic space; there are no gaps in coverage from this center channel, and it casts its impression far out of the near field, which is good for bigger rooms.
  Being that they essentially have the same driver arrangement, both the 8600eLR and 8600eC have similar crossover and sensitivity ratings: crossover frequency, 450Hz, 3kHz; 91 dB and 93 dB sensitivity. Nominal load rating is 6 ohms. Recommended amplifier power: 25 - 300 Watts RMS.
 
 
Atlantic Technology 8200e-SR

The models:
Atlantic 8200e-SR Surround
 These surrounds can be configured for dipole or bipole (switch selectable), depending on desired set up. The two-sided surround speaker sports  5.25-inch woofers and  1-inch dome tweeters on each angled side of the baffle. They are finished in a beautiful satin black lacquer. Optional pedestal stands are also available at $400 per pair. For added convenience, the surround speakers can be hung on the wall with the supplied integrated keyhole bracket. 
  Like the L/R and the Center speakers, Atlantic Technology conservatively rates the speaker response: 80 to 20 kHz, plus or minus 2 dB. Other specs include a 3 kHz crossover. They are 15 inches wide x 10.8 inches tall x 7.5 inches deep, and weigh in at 20 pounds each. Grills are removable. Combo plug/spade jacks are on the back.
  With my RTA, I easily got 60 Hertz (within 2.5 dB) on their back of the room stands. The 8200eSR, timbre wise, blended perfectly with the 8600eLR and C speakers, offering a lush, expansive rear surround field with lots of heights and width sonic cues from movies, as well as the ambience of music soundtracks. Hi-Res surround music was superb with these doing the surround duty. 8200eSR MSRP $1,760 per pair. Optional pedestals $770 pair. (Package price $2,400)   
 
 
Atlantic Technology SBT-500 Subwoofer

The models:
SBT-500 Subwoofer
  The Atlantic SBT-500 subwoofer, at $1,999, is an attractive, power-house (500w Class-D amp power), accurate, compact subwoofer that has plenty of oomph, even with the small tandem of 10-inch bass drivers.
 Dialed in for clean performance and high SPL, the quick response SBT-500 is rated to 23 Hz, within 3 dB, and 27 Hz at a max SPL of 107 dB. At 107 dB, I measured 25 Hz with a subwoofer test tones and an RTA, which is impressive performance for such a small box just shy of 19 inches wide and front-to-back distance. SBT-500’s weight is an easy to manage 66 pounds.
  The side firing woofers are covered by removable grills. The back panel sports a number of features including:
•Volume control. Sets the subwoofer’s overall output to match the sound level with the rest of the audio system;
•Continuous adjustable 40 Hz to 140 Hz, 24dB per octave low pass crossover. The steep 24-dB-per-octave slope allows for much better blending with the other speakers, while making the woofer less localizable;
•Low pass/bypass switch. The low pass setting sets the upper frequency limit of the subwoofer with the sub’s adjustable crossover control. A bypass setting is for processors and receivers with their own crossovers and low-pass outputs.
•EQ switch. The max SPL position provides stronger overall output with restricted deep bass output. The max range position provides deeper bass extension with restricted maximum overall output.
•Absolute phase invert switch. This switches between normal or inverted phase to allow better acoustic matching and blending with satellite speaker systems. This switch also allows you to compensate for unusual room acoustics that occur when the woofer is physically separated from the main speakers by a significant distance.
•Line in/XLR inputs. Connect mono or stereo signals to line or XLR inputs for better rejection of hum and noise over longer cable runs for more flexible sub placement in larger rooms.
•Main power/automatic standby. The three-position power switch (on/off/standby) gives users operational flexibility. Automatic standby senses a signal presence to turn the subwoofer on. It automatically turns the SBT500 back to standby after 10 minutes of inactivity.
   Editor’s Note:  (The Atlantic Technology SBT-1000 sports two 12’s in a bigger cabinet with twice the power at  $750 bucks more. Its performance is a bit more extended (20 Hz extension, 23 Hz at Max SPL).

The set up
  With the assistance of a strong helper, I unboxed the speakers and mounted the center channel on a Raxxcess pro speaker stand. Wow, this baby is huge. The 8600eLR towers were spaced about 12 ft. apart with a slight tow-in. I left the grills on, though they looked great with the grills off as well. The SBT-500 subwoofer was mounted near the center with side grills off. I bypassed the subwoofer crossover and used the pre/pro or receiver’s 80 Hz setting.
  The rear channels were mounted behind me on adjustable stands and switched them to the dipole mode. I set up the system with an RTA and routed the signals through an AudioControl M9 pre/pro for test ones to verify levels. The pre-pro delay parameters per speaker were also set according to the distance from the listening point.
 
  Listening to (and watching) the Blu-ray DTS Master HD lossless soundtrack of Adele - Live At The Royal Albert Hall, I immediately heard the incredible vocal clarity and its proper location in the mix, as well as an enveloping sense of backing vocals and a healthy spread of the band instruments. The rear channel’s pumped out the Hall’s ambiance cues, applause and well-steered sound cues from the venue that made it very natural, not gimmicky.
 
  I utilized a number of different components for the multichannel review: the high-end Audio Control M9 preamp/processor,  an older AudioControl AVR-4 receiver, Marantz SR-7012 receiver, Marantz AV-8802A preamp/processor, three Mytek Digital Manhattan+ Class D amplifiers, and an old Conrad-Johnson multichannel amp from the late 1990s.
  I sampled stereo Hi-Res music via a Benchmark HPA4 preamp/HP amp with resistor attenuator, Benchmark DAC3-HGC D/A and Benchmark ABH2 amplifier (one of the quietest analog amplifiers ever measured). I also tried other stereo DACs in the system, including the iFi iDSD D/A, Mytek Manhattan II and a TEAC UD-503.
  Interconnects included Wireworld speaker (Eclipse) and interconnect cables (Eclipse). HDMI interlink was courtesy of Essence Electrostatic fiber optics line. Power products came from Essential Sound Product’s Essence Pro II power strip and power cords.
  After the measurements, I did a sampling of numerous Hi-Res surround music and BD movies. Right off the bat, I was pretty impressed with the timber accuracy and balance of these speakers. The center channel really anchors the front. Surround cues and effects with front-to-back and L-to-R pans showed the speakers ability to convey theater-like spatiality. These are not budget speakers trying to overachieve. These are serious speakers.
 
The audition
  Having worked with Hi-Res music since its1990s inception (multichannel PCM, lossless PCM and DSD), I first listened to the AudioControl M9 pre/pro, the Oppo BDP-205 and the Mytek Class D amps combo sampling the highest quality Hi-Res music I had on hand: multichannel and stereo.
  First up was  the state-of-the art, multichannel DTS Master HD lossless soundtrack of Adele - Live At The Royal Albert Hall from a few years ago. This recording recreates the live feel of this famous venue with studio-caliber sonics for lead and backing vocals — and the ace band she used for this series of shows. Through the Atlantic system, I immediately heard the incredible vocal clarity and its proper location in the mix, as well as an enveloping sense of backing vocals and a healthy spread of the band instruments. The rear channel’s pumped out the Hall’s ambiance cues, applause and well-steered sound cues from the venue that made it very natural, not gimmicky.
 
The AT speakers shined via the AudioControl M9 pre/pro

  And the speakers showcased the AC M9 and Mytek amps’ conveyance of width and space on the subtle detail of each song’s performances. For example, the audience sing back to Adele on the hit Someone Like You sounded like I was there. And not one area of the spectrum was inaccurate. No extra brightness, fatness or diminished tonality could be heard. These speakers are tight, fast dynamic with nary a hint of excess color. Thanks to the Atlantic confab, I heard the music in its essence. Bass was musically deep and dynamic; no fat bottom here.
  Next I played AXI Records Live Albert Lee and Friends Blu-ray in 24/96 PCM surround. Man, the live feel of this BD is just so immersive. With Lee’s masterful guitar licks and the full dynamic range of a live performance via the band, this recording shows you how good a multichannel in Hi-Res is. Drop it down into stereo and 80 percent of the immersion is gone. The Atlantic’s made this BD a pleasure to sample.
  Another premium multichannel performance came from the Chris Botti In Boston Blue-ray with the trumpeter’s crack band/orchestra and numerous guest stars. The Hi-Res sound track, like Adele, showcased the Atlantic speaker ensemble precision, ability to properly place the instruments in the front mix and the relay of the back channel ambiance.
  The standout cut, in my opinion, is his duet with Sting on the venerable Police nugget, “Message in the Bottle.” The 8600eC really focuses Sting’s course vocals and Botti’s biting, yet reassuring trumpet tone.
 
  "I demo’d about 20 surround Hi-Res discs in all, and the conclusion was always positive when listening through the Atlantic's. BTW, I cant say enough about the SBT-500 subwoofer, its pair of 10's were dead on in handling music-caliber bass, such as the deep reach of a kick drum, organ solo or an electric/acoustic bass." 

  I also played a number of surround SACD’s through the system via the Marantz 8802A pre pro and its direct decoding of DSD multichannel (the M9 does not decode direct DSD). The Mytek Class D amps stayed in the equation.  One of my favorite surround Hi-Res studio recordings is the old DMP label’s Warren Bernhardt — So Real, engineered by digital recording ace Tom Jung some years back. This jazzy album which features guitar, piano, bass and drums was specifically recorded to show the listener how immersive multichannel is. The DSD 2.8 MHz 5.1 recording projects a sense of space that is just incredible! The percussion has so much space and air you can imagine the drum kit sitting in front of you.
  Thanks to this master recording and the Atlantic speaker ensemble, the recording was presented just as effectively as I have heard it done on speakers totaling $60,000. Piano and drums are amply spaced with a wonderful, clarity in the keyboard notes. The Steinway grand’s upper-register keys just percolate in the melody on several tracks.
 
Atlantic SBT500 SW is versatile for room setup

  In the title cut “So Real,” the multi-channel spread of the drum stick rotating on the snare is ear opening. Like the snare is right next me. Brushed cymbals have that hair-to metal percussive sheen, but no unwanted hardness or bite.
  I demo’d about 20 surround Hi-Res discs in all, and the conclusion was always positive when listening through the Atlantics.' BTW, I cant say enough about the SBT-500 subwoofer, its pair of 10's were dead on in handling music-caliber bass, such as the deep reach of a kick drum, organ solo or an electric/acoustic bass. The compact size does not mean small bass; it relays the bass the system reproduces. The small drivers are quite effective in delivering tight, high-SPL drum kit hits and bass guitar — without mid-bass fatness.

In the home cinema
  From my numerous listening sessions with the Atlantic system during multichannel Hi-Res music playback, I knew that movie soundtracks would be just as impressive. I played Blu-rays in the 5.1 and 7.1 (with extra surround speakers in the rear and found the Atlantic’s penchant for dynamic, airy presentation perfect for any kind of movie. Effects-laden sci-fi, block buster musicals, dialog-heavy dramas. You name it. The Atlantic 8600e/8200e/SBT-500 could deal with it.
  Cinema-wise, the SBT-500 kept up with the low-bass effects of cinema soundtracks quite well. It could not create the in-room, sub 20-Hz bass extension of my Paradigm Sub 15 Pro, but I only noticed the extra sub 20 Hz room vibration difference when actively comparing the two subs A-B. The upgrade AT SBT-1000 would likely give you more 20 Hz bass impression than the ‘500, but I was fine with the little brother. It is so dynamic and quick.
  I started with an old animated BD from 10 years ago. Bolt, which has a fantastic soundtrack of special effects and music. The opening 10-minute sequences of chase scenes — with music soundtrack, panning and steering motion sound effects, and deep subwoofer snippets.
 
Incredible soundtrack from LOTR Extended Ed. BD

  The Atlantic ensemble handled it all with wide expansive presentation and the tight bass that the SBT-500 transmitted. This is first-class sound that sounds better than many theaters I have watched movies in. It helped that the Mytek Manhattan Class D amplifiers delivered precise detail, and linear bass with plenty of dynamic wallop. Don’t let their half-rack size fool you; these are big performance amplifiers in the world of Class D. The Atlantic’s happily obliged.
  I also tackled the unabridged Lord Of The Rings Trilogy Blu-ray set with the expansive DTS Master HD multichannel soundtrack. These three films are beautifully shot, and the audio is an incredible workout for a home theater system. The hundreds of tracks of sound effects used for the mixes are as good as you will ever hear, and the Atlantic speaker do them proud. Smooth, clear, centered dialog with secondary vocals in their precise locations in the L-R and surround channels. A vast array of sound effects indicating motion, water flowing, implements of war such as bows and arrows, catapults, monsters, etc. Bass effects are deep and powerful, as well as subtle and restrained when necessary.
  I have watched this movie on more expensive speakers, but that does not they sound better than the Atlantic’s. These speakers are not mid fi; they are offer upper-echelon sound for less money!
 I watched at least 30 movies with this system, including lossy Dolby Digital soundtrack DVDs. Though not quite as dynamic as lossless BD soundtracks, they still sounded terrific with the Atlantic System. Watching the blockbuster Troy (with Brad Pitt) I soon found myself not thinking that I was listening to a lossy soundtrack. Dynamics, sound localization and pulsing bass were quite immersive.
  I made a few equipment changes along with the way including the aforementioned switch to Marantz AV-8002A pre/pro, and powering the Atlantic’s with a receiver, the Audio Control AVR 4, which is still one of the best sounding receivers ever made (quality Wolfson D/A section). All the pre/pros, the receivers and amps performed well with the Atlantic system. No component made the speakers sound substandard.
 
24-bit music via the ultra-accurate Benchmark DAC3


Two channel buffs rejoice
  For audiophile listening, I used the 8600eLR front speakers for stereo-only listening tying it to a Benchmark DAC 3-HGC, Benchmark's HPA4’s line stage preamp and Pass Labs X350.8 high-end MOSFET amplifier. As expected, the 8600’eLR's were audiophile all the way with the Pass and Benchmark components, a very transparent setup that gave me hours of listening pleasure. Even my old CDs sounded great. For example, the original early 1980s Donald Fagen - The Night Fly  album allowed me to refamiliarize myself with all those tracks from a slightly bright, but quite-good, early digital recording. Recent hi-res stereo recordings, such as the recent The Beatles - Abbey Road remaster, remix, revealed live-like dynamics and subtlety that your 1970's stereo system could not imagine. And the LR Atlantic's shined that musical light better than many $10,000 grand speakers I have heard.
 
Power, finesse from Mytek Brooklyn Amp+

  I had no complaints with these Chinese-made, high-caliber Atlantic systems that included the 8600eLR towers, the 8600eC center and 8200eSR. The attractive esthetic, build-quality and their ability to explore the subtle edges of Hi-Res music and film soundtracks, in my theater/listening room, clearly revealed a high-end speaker system at a very reasonable package price. Throw in a capable SBT-500 subwoofer that is clean and dynamic (but takes little space), and you got yourself a winning speaker ensemble.
  The towers anchor the L and the R for multichannel or stereo use. They are an accurate, dynamic, revealing pair of speakers, showcasing dynamic, properly transmitted nuance and strong, clean bass — all extending deep into the room. I heard no anomalies in stereo or home theater playback. They are my kind of speakers; they just kind of get out of the way.
 

Keep it centered
  Whether on Hi-Res surround music, or a deep, richly detailed, multichannel movie soundtrack, the massively large center channel 8600eC was always the anchor — with well-defined, accurate, sibilance-free vocal timbre and superb bass balance. Its seven-driver, sealed-box design reflects a speaker that is structurally solid and resonance free, and its size and driver complement enable the 8600eC to project deep into a mid-size to large-size room. This speaker performs like it is three times its price!
  The 8200eSR surrounds are well matched to the 8600eLR, and C speakers. The bi-pole/dipole switch allows extra custom tailoring options for room optimization and its driver array showcases a neutral timber that can handle aggressive sound effects, or it can relay subtle, lower-level detail to softly enhance the ambiance. Heavy, but well constructed.

A tandem-driver sub
  The compact, but a cut above most small subs,  SBT-500subwoofer is so much better than its size or price belies. It does not plumb the sub20 Hz region as flat as other more costly and larger subs, but the sheer linearity to 25 Hz and its ability to be clean is refreshing. If I bought this system, I would seriously consider two of these subs. They are that good.
 
 

The verdict
  Needless to say, Atlantic Technology lives up to my impression of great value/great performance. Only in this case, their flagship ensemble also is a great deal, considering the quality. The 8600eLR towers, by themselves are excellent music speakers with a clear, musically satisfying accurate character that works for two channel or multichannel. The center channel, bigger than most in this class, projects a full anchored middle with clear dialog and an openness to other parts of the audio spectrum. Its large size moves the sound further out in a big room, and it maintains its fullness at the greater distance of a big room.
  Overall, as an ensemble of speakers for high-end home theater or multichannel Hi-Res music listening, you can’t go wrong with this system. They should match up to most any amplifier, Class A, A/B or a good Class D and give you what you crave (or should crave): accurate, dynamic and uncolored loudspeaker sound. For sure, Atlantic is a winner of the Everything Audio Network Stellar Sound Award and a candidate for the Everything Audio Network Multichannel Speaker Ensemble Of The Year award.

  EAN Founder John Gatski has been evaluating consumer, audiophile, home cinema and professional audio gear since 1988. In 1995, he created Pro Audio Review, and he has written for Sound-On-Sound, Audio, Laserviews, Enjoy The Music, The Audiophile Voice, High Performance Review, Radio World and TV Technology. Everything Audio Network is based in Kensington, Md. Articles on this site are the copyright of the ©Everything Audio Network. Any unauthorized use, via print or Internet, without written permission is prohibited. John Gatski can be reached via email: everything.audio@verizon.net








Friday, June 26, 2020

Audiophile Review!
McGary Audio SA-2 Tube Amplifier
“Delivers More Power, Finesse”


Brevis...
Price:  $7,985
Likes: Magnificent sound
Dislikes: Would be quibbling
Wow Factor: Silky smooth dynamics!

by John Gatski
  I have reviewed a lot of amps in 30 years of evaluations. Numerous solid state and tube amps. When it comes to tube designs, I make I no secrets that I am fond of the quiet, quick accurate, valve designs over the overly smooth, euphonic versions. I like folks like Rogue Audio David Berning, LTA and the like.
  Two years ago, I reviewed the made-in-Virginia McGary Audio SA-1, a 30-watt powered EL 34 output stereo amp and really liked its ability to resolve Hi-Res music with a detailed, tight bass and dimensional stereo image. However, some owners said that with their speakers, the McGary sound needed some more horsepower. Hence, the McGary SA-2 Stereo Amplifier.

Features
  Retail priced at $7,985, the SA-2 is hand assembled-in-Gainesville Virginia by Mike McGary, an engineer and part-time hi-fi designer; McGary uses top-quality electronic components, circuit design, and point-to-point wiring. This is an all-new design, versus the SA-1, and McGary notes, is an all-vacuum tube design (not a hybrid) with increased power output of 80 Watts RMS per channel and self bias using KT88/KT90/KT120 tubes (no bias adjustments required) with a  20 Hz – 20 kHz bandwidth.
  The retro, red- and white-paint scheme, open-chassis hulk of a tube amp features user-adjustable (global) negative feedback control (1.5 dB-9dB range), and triode or ultralinear output mode of operation. The SA-2 can be configured in the 80 wpc, stereo mode, or switched into mono operation (monoblock) amp for power up to 160 watts (if you want to have more zip with two amps).

  In light of all the new Class D and hybrid designs in Hi-Fi amplification, its nice to see companies like McGary carrying forth the classic tube amp design that sounds so sweet. It definitely deserves an Everything Audio Stellar Sound Award.

  Connections include unbalanced (single-ended) gold sputtered RCA inputs located in front (with a diamond shaped mini-cover to conceal the connections) and Neutrik balanced XLR inputs in the rear
  There are Magic Eye vacuum tube displays for left and right output, level meters with intensity display control (high-off-low). Spec wise, the signal-to-noise ratio is greater than 85 dB (unweighted/unfiltered); referenced to full-rated output power at 1 kHz). There are speaker taps for 4, 8, and 16 ohm speaker output, via gold-plated binding posts. 


 Adjustable feedback is novel. (photo by Paul Elliott)

  The SA-2 structure is one solid piece with American-made, 13-Gauge steel enclosure, powder coated throughout (red lollypop color base with satin black top plate), ceramic tube sockets (attached directly to the chassis), point-to-point, hand-soldered with 16-gauge, Teflon insulated, silver-plated copper wire. All electrical connections feature Cardas silver solder — with star grounding.
  According to Mike McGary, the color options for the SA 2 amplifier enclosure, top cover plate and the transformers can be customized for an additional cost just in case Red is not your thing.
  McGary recommends premium tubes for the SA-2. Tubes that McGary recommends and installed as standard include, (NOS) GE (Joint Army Navy or ‘JAN’) 6BQ7A input tubes, (NOS) GE 6SN7GTB driver tubes, and (New) Russian Genalex (Gold Lion) KT88 output tubes. 

Set up
  The biggest effort required by the McGary SA-2 was lifting the 60 pound brute onto a floor-placed, rack shelf. Oh my arms and hips love the heft of all those tube transformers and heavy build chassis! I used the McGary SA-2 in various configurations. MartinLogan Expression speakers, MartinLogan Motion 20i small tower speakers, Pass Labs SR-2 three-way’s, a pair of Westlake Tower 5s, and Amphion Argon 1 mini-monitors. Preamps included a Rogue Audio RP-7/RP-9, the ultra-transparent Benchmark LA4, and a vintage Coda High-Current bipolar output preamp.

Taps For 4, and 8 Ohms speakers; XLR input jacks are on the rear.

 Sources included Oppo BDP-205, Benchmark DAC3 HGC D/A Converter, Mytek Brooklyn Plus D/A and Mytek Manhattan II D/A converters. Turntables included Clear Audio Emotion with Benz MC cartridge and an outboard solid state preamp. All analog and digital connections connections were made via WireWorld cables and Essential Sound Products Essence II power cords and power strip.
  The biggest set up adjustment for the SA-2 is setting the user-adjustable feedback. The amount of gain is variable; feedback gain can lower distortion and improve power band response. Almost all amps have some mount of negative feedback, but the general consensus among audiophiles is less is better, especially for sold-state amplifiers.

Mike McGary, testing audio tubes. (photo by Paul Elliott)
 
  In my set up and initial listening sessions with the McGary, I found the feedback control adjustment at about 3 o’clock made the amp sound its best, but it was not always audible on different kinds of music. Solo classical guitar sounded great with moderate feedback, or no feedback at all. The audibility also is complicated by whether you are in triode or ultra linear. The ultralinear mode sounds better, up to a point, with more feedback, and I think the bass is better defined on heavily processed Pop music than the triode mode. So audibility is in the ear of the beholder and variables of operation mode (ultralinear/triode) speakers, room, type of music and preference all figure in to it. The variable feedback and triode/ultra linear mode make it infinitely tweakable in its sound. It's up to the user to decide what is best for him.

The audition
  First up were the MartinLogan Expressions electrostatic speakers. As I expected, the McGary amp delivered Hi-Res audio was glorious with this set up. The Tom Jung-recorded Warren Bernhardt DSD tracks, via the Apple Macbook Pro, Audirvana Plus player software and the ultra revealing Benchmark DAC-3 HGC DAC and LA4 solid state preamp, were expansive, smooth, yet with a transient energy that was tight and quick. Cymbal splashes on the title cut had a very realistic sheen and wonderful presence, while the directional cues of the drum stick moving on the snare was nailed perfectly. That cut always impresses in the demos.
  On the Hi-Res DSD/SACD reissue of Tsuyoshi Yamamoto Trio - Midnight Sugar, the McGary SA-2 really cast the spotlight on this Japanese ode-to-American Jazz. The title cut, with its slow, simmering bass line and brilliant, transient-infused piano and drum kit, revealed an open, dynamic, sonic smoothness dressed up in an easy-to-listen vibe.

  Of course, the Benchmark PA4 preamp delivers the Benchmark DAC3’s decoding of this wonderful-sounding album to the McGary amp so it could do its job. As previously mentioned, I liked the 3 o’clock position on the SA-2 feedback and the ultralinear mode; triode mode on this recording seemed less dynamic to me. The studio liveness of the this album’s tracks is more obvious, to me in the ultralinear mode.
  On the Hi-Res DSD/SACD reissue of Tsuyoshi Yamamoto Trio - Midnight Sugar (mid-1974 Three Blind Mice label-, the McGary SA-2 really cast the spotlight on this Japanese ode-to=American Jazz. The title cut, with its slow, simmering bass line and brilliant, transient-infused piano and drum kit, revealed an open, dynamic, sonic smoothness dressed up in an easy-to-listen-to vibe. The amp’s delivery of this album, as delivered by the upstream components — the always-willing Oppo BDP-205 and the revealing Benchmark LA4 pre — never wandered into harsh territory that I have heard through other amplifiers. 
  The 2019 24-bit remix/remaster of The Beatles — Abbey Road LP also sounded aces. The increased openness of the remixed/remastered “Hear Comes The Sun” — with an increased breadth of the acoustic guitar and the luscious chorus – was absolutely gorgeous through the McGary SA-2.

  On Classical, I played the DSD remaster of The Beethoven OverturesGeorge Szell and The Cleveland Orchestra. On the three Beethoven Lenore Overtures and The Fidelio Overture (Op. 72), the Beethoven signature is paced perfectly and the SA-2 delivers the rich string textures of the CO, always brilliantly handled by the legendary Mr. Szell. Stereo imaging is spacious, yet the up-close nature of the recording reveals quite a bit of nuance, which the the SA-2 relays oh so well. Szell’s recordings of the 1950s and 1960s seemed to capture more detail than many other analog orchestral recordings of the day.
  I played numerous Pop tracks,  including a recent DSD release of Dire Straits 1978 self-titled debut and and Communiqué, my favorite DS albums. Using the Rogue Audio RP-9 and the McGary amp, along with the Mytek Manhattan II DAC and Westlake Tower 5 speakers. the remaster’s energetic, well-engineered tracks were reference in their presentation.

Premium parts throughout this impressive sounding amp. (photo by Paul Elliott)

  Fewer tracks in the mix process allows the individual dynamics to shine, and shine they do. Six-Blade Knife and Sultan of Swing crackle with energy with Mr. Knophler’s Fender Stratocatser, fingerpicked-riffs, blazing rhythm, as well as the ace drumming from Pick Withers and others in the Dire Strait supporting cast. I love the drum cymbals through the McGary.
  The 2019 24-bit remix/remaster of The Beatles — Abbey Road LP also sounded aces through the McGary, via the Clear Audio Emotion and Benz MC cartridge , the Westlake Tower 5's and a pair of Amphion Argon 1 a made in Europe, 5-inch/1-inch speaker. Both Westlake Tower 5’s an the bookshelf-sized Argons kicked out lots of sonic detail from SA-2. The increased openness of the remixed/remastered “Hear Comes The Sun” — with an increased breadth of the acoustic guitar and the luscious chorus – was absolutely gorgeous through the McGary SA-2.
  I switched over to a set of 2012 Pass Labs SR-2 three ways, which sound great in rooms that are bright, such as hardwood floors or other reflective surfaces, such as windows, counters, etc. I placed the system in my upstairs hardwood floor living room (Whew! Had to lug the 70-pound SA-2 and Pass speakers up the stairs from my typical dungeon basement listening room).
  Playing music from Frank SinatraThe Reprise Years, the synergy between the SA-2 and Pass speakers was well synchronized. Mr. Sinatra’s later-year vocal resonance, pitch and phrasing, combined with the incredible Big Band horn and percussion dynamics, was ear candy through the Rogue RP9 and McGary amp. The brass section bite was dynamic, but oh so smooth!
  BTW, for those who thought the 30-watt SA-1 didn’t have enough oomph with harder-to-drive speakers and big rooms, the SA-2 takes care of that. Through all the various speakers that I tried — loud Classical orchestral music, Rock, Big Band — I could not strain these amps. The 95 dB plus was all I could stand, but no audible clipping. Just clean as the proverbial sonic whistle.

It’s a keeper!
  I had zero issues with the McGary SA-2. A tube protection cage might be nice. And I prefer all my cable connections on the rear, but those are little niggles that have nothing to with how good the amp sounds. The feedback control can make an audible difference — if you crank it up, but my tastes tended to be of the more conservative approach — a little feedback goes along way in the listening. I did not turn it off or overly crank it up.

  I did swap in a set of original Svetlana 6550s from the 1990s, that I have been hoarding, just to compare the tubes. I then tried some J and J KT88’s as well as the stock tubes. The sound was similar among all the sampled tubes, and the bass stayed tight and the noise low. Shows you that a good design goes a long way; even with different tubes, the SA-2 always shines.

The verdict
  The nearly $8,000 price tag for an audio amplifier is not small change to spend, but the McGary SA-2 is a hand-made, USA-engineered and built, using premium parts and tubes. I think its price is not out of line for a premium, high-power, USA-made tube amp. With a top notch preamp (the Rogue RP Series is highly recommended if you are into tube pre’s), speakers, good source player and well-recorded music, the McGary SA-2 is aces. In light of all the new Class D and hybrid designs in Hi-Fi amplification, its nice to see companies like McGary carrying forth the classic tube amp design that sounds so sweet. It definitely deserves an Everything Audio Stellar Sound Award.
  Thanks to audiophile-extraordinaire Paul Elliott for his feedback and photo skills.

  EAN Founder John Gatski has been evaluating consumer, audiophile, home cinema and professional audio gear since 1988. In 1995, he created Pro Audio Review, and he has written for SoundOnSound, Audio, Laserviews, Enjoy The Music, The Audiophile Voice, High Performance Review, Radio World and TV Technology. Everything Audio Network is based in Kensington, Md. Articles on this site are the copyright of the ©Everything Audio Network. Any unauthorized use, via print or Internet, without written permission is prohibited. John Gatski can be reached via email: everything.audio@verizon.net