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Sound Advice: There can be more to an amplifier than sound quality

Don Lindich, Tribune News Service on

Published in Entertainment News

Q. I am currently powering my B&W 702 S2 floorstanding speakers with an Outlaw Audio RR2160 receiver. Would an upgrade of the Outlaw Audio RR2160 to a McIntosh 5300 integrated amplifier provide a noticeably better sound experience? The McIntosh lists for $5,500, the Outlaw Audio RR2160 for $1,000. It would cost five times more for the McIntosh! I know of the law of diminishing returns, what do you think?

— J.W., Plymouth, Minnesota

A. My first thought is you absolutely nailed it when you first set up your system with the B&W 702 S2s and the RR2160. At the higher price ranges most of your budget should go to the speakers, and the B&W 702 S2 speakers list for $4,998 per pair. The RR2160 is a superb receiver-amplifier with tons of power, actually more rated power than the McIntosh 5300. You have an exceptional pairing and a perfect example of how to spend $6,000 on speakers with matching amplification.

I do not think the McIntosh 5300 would sound five times better than the RR2160 as differences in well-designed amplifiers (which both of these are) tend to be minimal. That does not mean the McIntosh should be removed from consideration. There is much more to owning a McIntosh amplifier than the sound quality, and that is what you should be focusing on here.

McIntosh is the most iconic of American amplifier brands, with their beautiful blue power meters and heritage and design aesthetic that has been consistent for decades. The ownership experience, jewel-like quality and overall solidity of the product makes your RR2160 pale in comparison. Think the difference between a Rolls-Royce or Ferrari to a Mercedes or BMW. The McIntosh is the exotic car, the Outlaw, the mainstream luxury car. McIntosh is also one of the few audio brands that appreciate in value over time. If you love the McIntosh and want to own it, it is a lifetime investment worth purchasing even if you do not perceive a five-fold improvement in sound quality. See them at mcintoshlabs.com.

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Q. I am comparing the Bose TV Speaker to the ZVOX 257 TV Speaker. Which is better for voice clarity? Also, I would like to use my Wharfedale-powered subwoofer with the new speaker. Which would be preferable to use with my subwoofer? I am replacing an older ZVOX SoundBase (from 2014) and want a smaller unit.

 

— A.K.

A. Voice clarity is what ZVOX is known for, so that is the one I would choose here. The ZVOX has a higher list price ($269 vs $249) and is currently on sale for $199, which makes it a better value in my eyes as well. It has a subwoofer connection that will work perfectly with your Wharfedale-powered subwoofer.

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