A Box of NOTHING from McIntosh: The LB200

The first hifi system I experienced was comprised of McIntosh components, so I’ve been a fan for about 50 years. I’ve owned my fair share of Mc gear over the years, and love my MC275.

I kept my mouth shut when the McIntosh people published press photos with turntables on the same shelves as speakers. “We’re just doing it to look photogenic,” they said. I kept my mouth shut earlier this year when they released $7,500 worth of wood slabs, passing them off as vibration control devices. “They are made by a very prestigious, environmentally conscious furniture manufacturer,” they said. I even kept my mouth shut when they released that rubbish $500 wifi thing – which I actually bought so we could get one in for review sooner than later. BTW, you can’t even read the logo on it – guess you have to pay four figures now at Mc to get a legible logo.

Today I got the press release for the new LB200 Light Box that retails for $1,500. And guess what’s inside? NOTHING. No really. NOTHING. This is fucked up. Really fucked up.  “Have you spent a lot of time creating a beautiful McIntosh system ONLY TO HAVE IT TARNISHED BY A NON PREMIUM COMPONENT?” Are you kidding me? Now if this were $199, or better yet a GIVE AWAY with Mc systems, hell yeah. I know how Mc lovers love big racks full of stuff with the logo and the meters. The more the merrier at that point.

But $1,500 for this thing, really? I could see if they brought back the neon McIntosh clock that used to hang in dealers for say, $300 – $500. That would have been cool. This thing doesn’t even tell the time. It just has the McIntosh logo on it. That’s it. “Handcrafted in the USA with US AND IMPORTED PARTS.” So basically, they are buying the front face plate with the LED assembly for three dollars in China, and taking the casework they already are building for standard sized Mc components.

I have never said anything overly negative about the industry I love, a brand I grew up with (and respected until today) and love but this is just too much. I can never own a piece of McIntosh gear again. I don’t care if it’s a mint pair of MC30s at a reasonable price. This is so wrong on so many levels. And it’s a major slap in the face to other companies that actually make decent (yet NON-PREMIUM) components that actually have something in the fucking box for $1,500.

I don’t EVER want to hear another comment about this product or that product “not being worth the money,” as long as the McIntosh LB200 exists. The good news is that the value of everything made in high end audio that actually has COMPONENTS inside is now worth double. Cables aren’t worth the money? Shut up.

This is the best that the new owners of McIntosh can come up with? Really?

As William Shatner and Henry Rollins once said: “I can’t get behind that.”

PS:  Really not pulling your legs here. NOTHING inside:

The LSA VT-70 Integrated Amplifier

There’s always something special about an EL-34 based tube amp, with a pair of output tubes per channel, and a pretty simple circuit.

Less to screw up, or as Nelson Pass likes to say, “simple circuits usually sound best.” Honestly, I’ve never heard a bad EL-34 amp, but like Baskin – Robbins, there are a lot of different flavors, from vintage, warm, and syrupy, like a Dynaco Stereo 70 or Marantz 8B to highly refined, like an Octave or VAC amplifier. And plenty of variations on the theme in-between.

For years, the budget yet high-quality entry-level tube amp has been the PrimaLuna ProLogue 1. I started my hifi writing career with this amp and still have the review sample. Nearly 20 years ago it was $1,095 and a killer value. The new EVO 100 is still a great value, and benchmark, but it’s $2,395 now. So, what the audiophile world needs now is a great budget tube amp.

Enter the VT70

Priced at $1,295, we are slightly going outside the parameters of this column, but it’s too good not to share. With 35 watts per channel on tap, it’s got more than enough juice to drive most comparably priced speakers to a reasonable level, and three single ended RCA inputs should be more than enough for a phonostage, DAC/Streamer and maybe even a tape deck.

The VT70 also sports a headphone output as well as a preamp out to drive a powered sub. The remote control is a nicely presented steel remote, not a plastic, kids meal remote, as many other products costing significantly more bring to the table. The VT70 brings a lot of juice to the game.

It’s a classic EL-34 design, with a 12AX7, two 12AU7s and four EL-34s (two per channel). The black chassis has a machined silver aluminum front faceplate sporting a pair of output meters that do double duty for biasing the tubes when needed. If you aren’t familiar with this procedure, just follow the manual. Turn the volume all the way down, switch to “bias” mode and adjust the trim pots on the top face of the amp until the meter reads 100%. Be careful not to go past 100%, or you can burn up the output tubes.

Check the bias when you get your amp out of the box, we had two tubes at 200%, so a quick adjustment had us right back on the money and eliminated a slight hum as well. Pro tip: set bias when you unbox your amp, then check again after a couple of weeks. Fresh tubes usually need re-biasing at about 100 hours, then they stay stable until almost expired. Again, those handy meters make it easy to double check.

The incredible lightness of being tubey

Most budget solid-state amplifiers sound flat and lifeless. While the world’s best tube amplifiers from the major manufacturers take advantage of massive power supplies and custom output transformers to work their magic, a basic EL-34 amplifier can work wonders with the basics, and that’s exactly what the VT70 delivers.

You won’t mistake this amplifier for something from ARC, BAT, or CJ, (and you won’t mistake the price tag either…) but this little amplifier musters good sound, and is miles more engaging, than nearly any comparably priced solid-state amplifier. It’s so much easier to build a good tube amp for this kind of money.

While you can tube roll, and swap tubes forever with the VT70, I submit that this takes away from the approachable ethos. I can’t get behind spending another $500-$800 on boutique tubes for a 1200-dollar amplifier. And the VT70 does arrive with a full complement of PSVANE tubes. Underwood’s Mark Schifter says that PSVANE is supplying them with matched output tubes – another one of those little touches you’ll pay extra for elsewhere.

The setup

We stuck to three speakers with the VT70, a pair of Harbeth Compact 7s, the Audio GE-Teddy speakers (also available from LSA) and our desktop pair of Jern EH-14s. That this amp plays fantastic with speakers 2-4 times its asking price tells you everything you need to know.

Bass is well defined, and the top end is nice and smooth, without rolloff. By comparison, our Dynaco ST-70 has fairly sloppy bass, and the highs roll off pretty quick. Power supply parts have come a long way in 50 years. The key to success with this amplifier is to not push it beyond what it is capable of. Playing at modest levels, not driving it to clipping (which ANY 35Wpc tube amp is going to do) is absolutely lovely.

Matched up with the Teddy’s, which have a sensitivity of 89dB/1-watt is a sweet spot, led me to borrowing staffer Jerold O’Brien’s older pair of Vandersteen 1s, which have a 90dB/1-watt sensitivity as well. I’m sure LSA wants to sell you a pair of Teddy’s, but if you are really on a budget, you can snag a nice used pair of Vandersteens or something similar for about 600 bucks, find a great DAC and you have a rocking system for barely over $2k. This amplifier is a great way to get into the tube experience. Trying to keep it all reasonable, I used my older Naim CD-5i, with fantastic results.

More on the sound

As with other favorite EL-34 amps, the midrange is the strength. This amplifier offers up such a natural midrange, with so much soundstage depth, you’ll forget what isn’t happening. You’ll be spoiled for solid-state. Going back to a recently re-capped Marantz 2270 receiver with the Teddy’s felt like I had asbestos insulation in my ears. And a nice 2270 easily fetches more on the used market than a new VT70. Impressive.

Again, playing to the strength of this amplifier, you’ll find yourself sifting through your favorite acoustic tracks and perhaps even some 60s and 70s classics should you feel so inclined. Cue up some Joni Mitchell, Crosby, Stills and Nash, or some Greatful Dead and you will freak out. A long playlist of Bowie tracks from Hunky Dory all the way through Blackstar were equally tasty.

The Jerns don’t have a ton of deep bass output, so pulling in our SVS 3000 Micro subwoofer, rounded out the package to provide an incredibly powerful desktop system, which is actually where the VT70 is staying. It’s too much fun to send back, so this one is #toneaudioapproved.

Running through a short list of headphones from the LSA HP3 Novas, a pair of Audeze LCD-2s, and our workhorse Sennheiser 650s (with Cardas cabling) all worked well. Headphone fanatics are probably still going to want an outboard amplifier for the best results, but we’re on the budget tip here. And, this is certainly an engaging enough headphone amp to make you want to grab a set, and see what the excitement in personal audio is all about.

You can’t lose

With internet pundits claiming high end audio is going under on nearly a daily basis, this is precisely the kind of product to get more people interested in a decent music system that might have thought they couldn’t afford it. Honestly, we need a few more benchmarks like this.

The LSA VT70 is the perfect amp at the perfect price, whether you’re investigating high performance audio for the first time, taking your first spin with a tube amplifier, or perhaps looking for a great second system. It’s musical satisfying, aesthetically pleasing, and gets the job done. Highly recommended.


LSA Signature 80 Reference Monitor

It just took the first bass riff in The Art of Noise’s “Moments in Love” to convince me that the new LSA 80s deliver some major bass. These dig deep. In a moderate sized room, you won’t need a subwoofer with these – that’s a plus. Especially for entry level audiophiles on a tight budget.

But bass isn’t everything. These speakers have done an incredible job of blending the tweeter and midrange for a seamless audio experience. They produce a big, big sound that is tough to beat for small monitors, especially at their introductory price o $1,299/pair. Much as we enjoyed the LSA 50s, like Spinal Tap says, “well, these are one better…”

The cabinets are well finished, and the execution is equally great. Not too fancy, but really good for what they are. Easy to drive, we’ve had excellent result with everything from our 10 Watt per channel LAB 12 Mighty to the Pass XA 200.8 monoblocks. By the way – these lovely little speakers are available direct from Underwood HiFi, and their VT-70 tube integrated at $1,195 makes a killer combination.

So, what’s not to love?

Just click here to go to the Underwood site.

Manley Labs Chinook Special Edition mk.II Phono

Many a vinyl enthusiast has envisioned owning a Manley Steelhead phono preamplifer.

It’s a killer phono stage, with tons of adjustments, and inputs for three turntables. How cool is that? It also features a volume control, and a single line input, so you could use it as your system’s front end. Just add your favorite DAC, power amp and roll.

Not everyone needs three inputs, or has close to $10k for the current Steelhead. EveAnna Manley and Kevin Deal of Upscale Audio are two of the coolest cats in hifi, and have they got a deal for you. $2,899 gets you an “Upscale Audio Edition” Chinook.

This single input, single chassis, MM/MC wonder has a lot (a lot, a lot) of Steelhead DNA inside. Most $3k phono preamps weigh about as much as an iPad these days, and are big on empty space when you open the case. The Steelhead is built just like all the other pro gear Manley is famous for (i.e. reliable…) and Mr. Deal hand picks the tubes. Just look at the inside of this beauty!

Should you be a PrimaLuna owner, you know that they don’t make a matching phono preamplifier, and cool as the regular Manley Chinook is, it only comes in Manley purple. (not that I don’t love purple, but if you’re trying to be all matchy-matchy, it doesn’t work) So, Kevin and EveAnna made a series of these in black or silver to match your PrimaLunas, or whatever gear you happen to have in black or silver, in case you can’t wrap your brain around purple.

We’ve got a full review in the works, but the short story is: Big, dynamic, quiet, and three-dimensional. It’s way beyond wow for the price asked.

You can go right here to purchase one. Tell them we sent you. Highly recommended.

New Focal Powered by Naim Spaces in Barrie and Winnipeg

The Vervent Group, that unites Naim and Focal has opened two more “Focal Powered by Naim” stores in Canada. Winnipeg and Barrie to be precise. This is an incredible way to experience the full depth of these brands, along with their personal audio products. It’s a big win for new and seasoned audio enthusiasts.

Focal Powered by Naim Barrie takes place in the EQ Audio Video store, led by Edward O’Herlihy, an expert in audio solutions for more than thirty years. Focal Powered by Naim Winnipeg moves to Creative Audio in St. Boniface’s French Quarter, a store run by audio enthusiast Jeff Kowerchuk.


Through their global network of stores and shop-in-shops, Focal and Naim put their customer at the center of their attention and offer them an authentic experience. Discovery of complete systems and high-end products, sound advice and listening experiences. They allow you to fully grasp the quality of Focal and Naim sound and to project yourself at home with a hi-fi or Home Cinema solution.


Close to the Barrie Molson Center, this shop-in-shop invites you to discover the World of Focal and Naim and test products via the four demonstration rooms of the luxurious EQ Audio Video store and a headphone bar with Focal’s headphones for a unique listening experience.

Highlighting the space will be the exclusive Focal Naim 10th Anniversary Edition system. It includes Focal Sopra N°2, Naim NDX 2 – NAC 282 – HICAP DR and NAPSC – NAP 250 DR for $48,000 USD and $62,400 CAD. The system includes all the connections you need, including a pair of Naim’s top-range Super Lumina speaker cables.

Focal Powered by Naim Barrie

130 Saunders Road, Units 5,6,7

Barrie, Ontario, L4N 9A8

Email: [email protected]

Website: https://www.focal.com/en/focal-powered-by-naim-barrie

Located in the Creative Audio store, Winnipeg’s Focal and Naim shop-in-shop offers immersive listening in its two demonstration rooms, as well as more intimate listening at its Focal headphone bar. Designed around sharing, the space presents hi-fi and home cinema products of excellence but also unique finishes, such as the Focal Sopra N°2 speaker available in its Electric Orange finish.

Focal Powered by Naim Winnipeg

7-353 Provencher Boulevard Winnipeg, Manitoba R2H 0G8

Email: [email protected]

Website: https://www.focal.com/en/focal-powered-by-naim-winnipeg-0

Lab 12 Mighty Power Amplifier

Don’t let the small footprint of this 10 Watt per channel fool you.

Even though it has a modest output, this single ended Class-A amplifier can be used in ultralinear or triode mode. It ships with a pair of EL34s, but can also be used with 6550 or KT88 output tubes. We tried them all and it’s more of a different, than better sound. (of course, our personal favorite is the EL34) A pair of 6NP1 dual-triodes round out the tube compliment. Simple.

From the coolio power output meters to the glowing tubes, this amplifier is a dream come true for anyone using efficient, high-sensitivity speakers. Thanks to The Heretic Speaker Company’s A614s, there’s an incredibly musical system playing in room 2 these days.

Though we did cheat a bit, using the Pass XS Pre and dCS Vivaldi ONE digital player to establish the Mighty’s performance envelope, moving to a more reasonably priced front end (the Naim Uniti Headphone Amplifier used as a DAC/PRE) is just as enjoyable. Even with less sensitive speakers (the Eggleston Nico EVOs, with an 87db/1Watt rating), the Mighty still delivers great, low volume listening.

With a single pair of RCA inputs, it’s easy to put in your system, and the sound is robust. The epitome of tubey-ness, the Mighty is a wonderful blend of new and old, providing a massive soundfield, well controlled bass, and a luscious top end. This is one you can listen to all day.


www.lab12.gr (factory)
www.fidelisdistribution (US Distributor)

The Sendy Audio Peacock Headphones

A few strums into Al DiMeola’s new live recording, Saturday Night in San Francisco is all it takes to reveal the delicacy these new phones from Sendy Audio possess. It wasn’t that long ago, there were a few mega-expensive electrostatic phones, and Audeze. Times have changed. While not having the last 5% of sheer speed and transparency that the best ESL phones have, the Peackocks are extremely musical and inviting overall. There’s a slightly warm tonality going on here that will keep them on your head for a long time.

Build quality is high, and the packaging lovely, but not overdone – and not overdone to the point where you might worry that too much effort went into the packaging. A quick look at the Sendy website shows how much thought and engineering prowess has gone into the drivers in these phones.

Switching from DiMeola to some classic Soul II Soul shows these phones can produce some major bass. If your musical taste leans towards house, hip hop, and electronica – the Peacocks might just be your new favorite musical tool.

But don’t think the Peacocks are Beats reincarnated. Regardless of genre, they deliver a high level of musical satisfaction. Their pleasing rendition and utter lack of distortion makes whatever music you love accessible. The midrange is clean, and the top end transparent.

They ship from the factory with a mini headphone plug, but Sendy includes ¼-inch and balanced adaptors. Putting these phones through their paces with everything from an older iPhone to our Manley reference headphone amplifier shows the Peacocks incredibly easy to drive. That’s great news no matter where you are on your personal listening journey.

Full review soon – highly recommended.