Publisher Profile

Jeff Rowland Design Group MC-606 Amplifier Review

Doug Schroeder reins in the power of the 6 channels of the Jeff Rowland Design Group MC-606

By: |

Jeff Rowland MC606

Fun with preamps

One never knows precisely what will transpire when unfamiliar equipment is combined into a system. A general opinion may be formed based on use of similar gear, but the result is as a work of art – each one unique and (most of the time) beautiful. So it was that the lesser priced preamp performed better with a more expensive amp, and vice versa.

As well as the MC-606 I also had on hand the newer Cambridge Audio Azur 840E preamp, as well as its stable mates, a pair of Azur 840W amps, also being reviewed. Until then, they are being combined with other gear, I might say with surprising results! I also had available the Legacy Focus HD, which allowed me to use either the Azur amps or the MC-606 in either four-channel stereo or two-channel bridged mode. These are the kinds of things I love comparing! In other words, I could work with any of the following permutations for the Focus HDs:

Azur amps in Dual Mono mode (four channels)
Azur amps in Bridged Mono mode (two channels) single wired
Azur Amps in Bridged Mono mode (two channels) bi-wired
MC-606 four channels
MC-606 Two Channels single wired
MC-606 Two Channels bi-wired

Sometimes readers wonder why it takes so long for some reviews to be conducted. Imagine the set up time, listening sessions, note taking, and writing to compare these six arrangements! And that is working for insight on a review of one component! I’m not complaining, as I thrill to hearing new arrangements of systems – they always bring something new to the experience. It does, however, take time. I will not comment on all these variables, only on the use of the four-channel rigs and the effect of using different preamps. The concern of this review is the MC-606 and Jeff Rowland designs in general, so that will be the element of discussion regarding preamps.

I was not expecting that an economical preamp such as the 840E would provide much of the fire I was seeking in the presentation, but it did. The Cambridge is an ultra-clean preamp and I expected that it might push the MC-606 in the direction of clinical sound, too detailed and lacking in body. Instead, it added detail with body. It was less muffled sounding than the Capri and the Class D amplification. The sound was bumped into the direction of the best quality SS designs. While it lacked the warmth of traditional tube amps, it was not harsh.

Conversely, the Azur pre with its own partners, the 840W amps, was a bit on the bright side, the Capri brought some elegance to their power and precision. I daresay the Capri added warmth to the pairing. The end result was confirmation that one can achieve an affable sound from a one-system approach, but mixing brands can yield even more desirable results. I would not assume that in all cases merely swapping components will conclude in a better result constantly, but in this case it did.

Other Super-review Components

As to the other members of the “Super-review”, I felt they meshed marvelously with the MC-606. The source, the Ayon CD-3, was invaluable to add a good measure of richness to the amp’s performance. I cannot overstress the need for a clean, clear signal from the source. It is shocking how much the CD player can expand or diminish the final presentation, and the CD-3 is a player which vastly expands it. Rowland Class D amps are superb at detail and so is the Ayon player. If it were not for the ultra-smooth character tube powered CD-3 the combination would suffer from an overly technical sound. Instead, it walked a rare tightrope act between the extremes of analytical and boring sound.

Wireworld Cables could be considered a “tuning device” for Rowland equipment. Anyone with the means to assemble a formidable rig with Jeff’s designs should consider outfitting it with Wireworld. A single alteration in the configuration between a silver or copper cable can smooth rough edges in the treble, lift out detail, plump bass, etc. With these cables many sources and speakers can be made to cooperate with the ICEPower amplification Jeff uses. I find that I am continuously returning to the combination of the higher lines of Wireworld used on the equipment and speakers, but the addition of only one or two mid-line Electra power cables. These moderately priced power cables are marvelous at warming a system’s midrange and treble so as to take that last little sheen off the treble. In a fashion similar to Egg Shell paint versus Semi-gloss, they reduce the bit ever so slightly, making the high-end “finish” perfect to my ears. I highly recommend anyone using Wireworld Cables finding them a bit strident to place an Electra power cable or two in the mix.

The voluminous, two-format report on the Legacy Audio Helix speaker system, likely the most massive review I will ever undertake, was published earlier this year. It is testament to the overwhelming capabilities of the speaker. The MC-606 is an amp which can drive these monsters with authority! One thousand watts is proper for a speaker system which excavates a true 16Hz in the bass and launches the signal up to 25 kHz +/-2dB! World class speakers deserve world-class power, which the MC-606 provides effortlessly.

The Helix will reveal whether an amp is listless or lithe, rudimentary or erudite. If proper steps are taken to assure warmth is introduced via the source and preamp, the MC-606 is an ideal amp for the Helix. With power to play with, the speaker is a force of audio, worthy of the highest caliber systems. For all but the most ardent warm as syrup tube fans, the pairing of the MC-606 and Helix would be immensely satisfying.

A Nod to Jeff:

At CES 2009 I stopped into the JDRG room to visit briefly with Jeff and express my pleasure with his designs. Entering his show room, aside from the sight of the Thiel CS3.7 speakers being utilized, one thing caught my attention – the utter lack of loudness. There was no attention grabbing gambit to lure in hall walkers by jacking up the level, nor eclectic music to arouse curiosity. There was simply fine classical music playing at a comfortable level to allow quiet conversation. The components were laid out smartly, and Jeff ambled about meekly responding to guest’s questions. (note well: I do not consider a person who is meek to be weak. Meekness puts others first and is highly tuned to their interests.)

Classy, very classy – in matter of fact, world class. Jeff knows his designs are good, audiophiles know, and everyone who visited that room knows. I have had the pleasure of working with the 501 monos, and now the MC-606. They are, “Class D done right”, and audio done superbly.

I have had many a pleasure powering my home theater with the crushing power of the MC-606. You can’t imagine how the Rowland amp and the Helix speakers carried the tonnage of the bottom-end in the soundtrack of Transformers as those metallic colossuses strode the Earth! Tonight, however, after I have dotted the last “i” and crossed the last “t” I will retire quietly to the listening room. There I will salute Jeff even as I met him, by listening to an erudite recording. Even in the quiet atmosphere of the subdued performance the MC-606 will display its seeming omnipotence.

2 Responses to Jeff Rowland Design Group MC-606 Amplifier Review

  1. Jay Chung says:

    hi Doug

    Very nice review. I am considering Soundlab speakers. How would this amp go with SL speakers? I don’t really need the home theater capability. People seem to prefer tubey sounding amps with SL. I would love to hear your thoughts. God bless.


  2. Jay,
    God’s peace,

    I would have no concerns about using this amp with Sound Lab speakers. It is a refined amp and I do not believe it would be strident with the speakers. It would have adequate power to control completely the electrostatic. I tend to run SS amps with the Kingsound King III electrostatic speaker as well. I think that the Rowland and Sound Lab could be excellent. You would definitely want to try some different power/interconnect and speaker cables to tune the system.

    Douglas Schroeder

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Popups Powered By :