Comparing DACs through the MCP-18 was enlightening in several ways. First I quickly learned to love the calibrated .5 dB step increments on the MCP-18. Using test tones I was able to accurately match the output levels on multiple DACs so that when I switched from one to the other I could make sure that differences in their different output levels were not affecting what I heard.
Although I could not do instant A/B switching from one USB DAC to another because the switchover required first changing the MIDI Out setting in my Mac computer, then changing the input selector on the MCP-18, and finally adjusting the output levels to match, I did get to a point where the switchover took under seven seconds. During these A/B tests it became obvious that the MCP-18 was sufficiently transparent for the subtle differences between DACs to be discernable.
During my DAC comparisons I discovered that it was very difficult for me to uncover the MCP-18’s intrinsic sound. When I changed DAC sources what I heard was the new DAC, not any colorations that I could attribute to the MCP-18. While I would never be so brash as to call any component completely transparent and neutral, in all my listening time with the MCP-18 I could not come up with any negative sonic characteristic that I could say was part of the MCP-18’s fundamental sound.
While I would not dispute that different preamps in different systems can sound better or worse than in others, in both of my room-based systems I was hard-pressed to find any noticeable differences between the sound of the MCP-18 and the Parasound P7 on multichannel sources. On two-channel sources I did hear some differences at first, but after readjusting my subwoofer settings so output levels were identical, the differences vanished. Both preamps produced equally large soundstages with the same amount of detail, dynamic range, and depth information.
If you are in the market for a multichannel analog preamp, you should consider the MCP-18, regardless of how much more money you were prepared to spend. It looks good, sounds virtually invisible, and even has a remote, all for under $1000. The MCP-18’s only drawback is that it has no built-in crossover for two-channel sources, but if you have full-range front left and right speakers this may not be an issue for you.
While I still subscribe to the opinion that no active preamp can be as transparent as no preamp at all, the MCP-18 is one of the most transparent preamps I’ve heard. It is also the least expensive preamp I’ve reviewed that has such a high degree of transparency. According to NuForce’s head honcho, Jason Lim, “Basically, the MCP-18 is a hidden gem in our products and on hindsight we grossly mispriced it.” NuForce’s “loss” could be your gain.
SPECS & PRICING
Inputs: Two RCA, one XLR, two 8-channel RCA
Outputs: RCA and XLR (XLR output is balanced)
Connectivity: RS232 Com Port: X 1;Trigger out: X 1
THD+N: 0.002% at 1kHz
S/N Ratio: 105dB
Frequency response: 10Hz–100kHz -0.06dB; 20Hz-20kHz-0.04dB
Dimensions: 17" x 3.1" x 13.4"
Power Consumption: 1W standby, 10W operating
Weight: 15 lbs.
47865 Fremont Blvd
Fremont CA, 94538