Ming Da MD-75 Integrated Tube Amplifier
PRICE:$1,949 Base (Electro Harmonix tubes)
Option: $230 pair of Shuguang CV-1811 Black Bottles
Customers these days demand value. But value is an inherently vague term, people from different backgrounds will define value differently. But products with lower input costs will naturally result in lower cost to the customer. If that product also gives equal or better performance than the product at higher cost, then naturally the lower cost is a relative value.
That has been the situation with Chinese audio gear for some time now, ability to manufacture with lower labor costs gives customers relative value. The crux has been though, the interface between American customers and Chinese retailers. Communication has been difficult if not impossible, and the slow boat shipping is a sleepless night experience. But what happens when a trusted American retailer represents and supports the Chinese product that offers relative value?
Pacific Value, located in Chicago has been not only representing but supporting solidly engineered Chinese brands such as Ming Da since 2003. Stereomojo was the first major publication to review products imported by Pacific Valve several years ago. We have received several ‘thank you” feedback emails from our readers after they purchased products we reviewed. We have received no emails reporting problems with either a product or product service.
After reviewing a stream of impressive Asian tube integrateds such as the Ekco EV55SE and Eastern Electric M88, I was offered the opportunity to give the Ming Da MD-75 a run and naturally I accepted. The MD-75, however, differs primarily from the Ekco and Eastern Electric in that it has a quad of power tubes per channel. Twice the tubes, twice the power. Power rating is a solid 40 wpc in Triode, 75 wpc ultralinear and 55wpc/90wpc with the KT120’s. Sounds good to me.
The MD-75’s full feature list includes Triode/Ultralinear switch, 4 inputs, 4 ohm and 8 ohm speaker taps, remote for volume (not input switching), and ability to bypass the integrated section and run it as a power amplifier. But the feature that sets the MD-75 apart from the herd is the dual mono outboard power supply that at least on paper, promises higher signal to noise ratio and better channel separation. To my knowledge, an outboard power supply is a unique feature in it’s price range.
Tube options in the MD-75 are another compelling feature. Power tubes possible are EL34, 6CA7, KT88, 6550, and even the big KT120. Finding the sonic traits of each of those should keep you busy for awhile.
The amp does come with a metal remote that only controls volume and standby.
My MD-75 sample was provided with Electro Harmonix 6CA7 power tubes, Shooing CV 1811’s, and Gold Lion 12AT7’s. I was also provided a pair of RCA NOS 6SN7 to use in place of the CV 1811, for comparison sake.
The entire package of amp and power supply is a hunk, if buying by the pound, the MD-75 would give you your moneys worth. Once all tubes were inserted in their proper positions, and the power supply umbilicals were connected, I plugged in the unit and powered it up with a satisfying short hum. Joe Kline from Pacific Valve told me that all tubes were biased properly before shipping, so I simply give it about 5 minutes of warm up time before feeding it a signal.
Yes, break in is a real thing, but the MD-75 was entirely satisfying right out of the box. My initial usage was as an integrated, with my music server feeding the Eastern Electic DAC Plus, then into input 1 of the MD-75. Feeding the Vapor Audio Arcus resulted in a balanced and extended sound. Even though I was impressed by the initial overall sound, I gave it 2 full days of run time before sitting down to critically evaluate what I was hearing. Once I did sit for an extended listening session, I was greeted by the same lush, tonally dense and refined sound I had become accustomed to with the Ecko EV55SE, just more of it. My listening with the Ekco is primarily done in Triode mode in which it’s rated at 25wpc. And the extra current delivering capability of the Ming Da was noticeable. Stand up bass presented with more weight and scale, kick drum with more impact, and cello more fleshed out and complete sounding. All while maintaining the fantastic soundstage 3-dimensionality and silky smooth refinement of the Ekco through the midrange and upper registers. Day 1 ended with high optimism, I was hoping the MD-75 would sound like the Ekco, but with more oomph, and that is what I was hearing.
For the next few days I conducted direct A/B comparisons, switching between the Ming Da and Ekco while still using the same Arcus speakers and EE Dac Plus. Myself not being a hardened tube aficionado, wasn’t exactly sure what sonic character the 6CA7 would bring to the table compared to the Gold Lion KT88’s found in the Ekco. But what I heard was a bit more midrange-centrism in the Ming Da, and slightly more sparkle and air with the Ekco. After forming those conclusions, a quick Googling revealed that to be the common consensus of 6CA7 vs KT88, I felt vindicated.
My initial signal tube setup was with the RCA NOS 6SN7, but the shiny new Black Beauty CV 1811's were too pretty to resist for long and their insertion brought a very nice addition of refinement to the table. Somewhat like the use of silver/gold cabling in a system, the Shuyuang CV 1811 gave a more rich and full sound with even more realism to vocals. The simplest way to boil it down in a word is refinement. With no downsides that I could discern, once I heard what the Black Beauties added, I never went back to the 6SN7’s.
To this point, I had been operating the MD-75 as an integrated, using it’s pre-amp section for volume control, but with the ability to bypass the pre-amp and use it as a dedicated power amp, I sought out a couple of suitable stand alone pre’s to use for evaluation. Currently the only pre-amp I own is a Placette passive pre, but Bill from Morningstar sent me an Eastern Electric Avant pre, and a good friend brought over his Aesthetic Calypso Signature.
With the Placette I immediately noticed a totally new overall character. The sound was incredibly fleshed out, with a substantial increase in stereo separation and resulting pinpoint image placement. The Placette is one of the more refined pre-amps I’ve heard, but it’s downside is a less dynamic sound. Paired with the dynamics of the Arcus however, the resulting synergy made for edge of your seat fun that also gave a squeaky clean window view into the recording. This setup proved just how nimble and fast the MD-75 can be as a stand alone amplifier, and at least in my mind proved out the on paper advantage of the dual mono outboard power supply concept.
The sonic difference between the MD-75 as an integrated and when used with the EE Avant and Aesthetix Callisto was less stark, but equally rewarding. With those pre’s inserted into the chain, the dominating characteristics were similar, just better. The Aesthetix is a true Reference pre-amp, and showed itself with a noticeable increase in tonal density, especially in the bass and mid-bass. The Eastern Electric was less full on bottom, but up to the task across the midrange and higher. Both the EE and Aesthetix made the MD-75’s sound cleaner, sharper, more focused. What I was hearing is what I’d not hesitate to call a Reference setup, and as good as any I’ve had in house thus far. For the rest of my evaluation I kept the Eastern Electric Avant in place, with their pricings and pedigrees being most compatible.
I continued to greatly enjoy this setup for weeks, often for hours at a time with never a hint of fatigue. The synergistic pairing between these components was excellent. Towards the middle of my evaluation I realized however that I had only been listening to the MD-75 in Triode mode, time to try Ultralinear.
With the Ekco EV55SE, differences between Triode and Ultralinear were small but still apparent. Triode giving a deeper resolving look into the recording, with a more overall refined sound, albeit less impactful. The Ming Da switch to Ultralinear revealed similar differences, however the loss of refinement in Ultralinear was more apparent than with the Ekco. In Triode the MD-75 was never edgy, always smooth and supple. In Ultralinear however I often noticed a bit of hash creeping into the sound. And since both Triode and Ultralinear offered ample bass drive and control, it was back to Triode mode where it stayed for the remainder.
By this time I felt like the MD-75 setup was totally dialed in with my room and speakers, and it really was glorious. A true sign that your listening experience is special is when you start dragging out 10 year old favorites that you’ve heard millions of time, just to see how they sound on the new gear. One of my go-to’s in situations like that is Something I Can Never Have from the Nine Inch Nails album And All That Could Have Been. The emotion in Reznor’s voice is undeniable, and powerful. It’s a clean focused recording that puts Trent in the room with you when done well, when done incredibly it brings along with it an upwelling of emotion. That’s what happened to me. Times like that remind me why we pursue perfection in our setup.
A new to me artist is Niño Josele, a Spanish guitarist who brings a lively New Flamenco style. From his self titled 2009 album there are many fantastic cuts, one in particular Estirpe is incredibly lively and room filling. The hand clapping has real jump, just as it should. And vocals come from all across the soundstage, both in depth and width. The MD-75 had no problem conveying the dynamic snap of this recording. Josele doesn’t pluck the strings, he whacks them, and you could feel the impact. It is also a very complex track with many ‘real life’ sounds that can be difficult to reproduce, but the Ming Da had no issues … in fact it was almost spooky real.
A difficult test for any tube amp, or for that matter ANY amp, is Yim Hok-Man’s Master of Chinese Percussion on K2HD from FIM Recordings. Dynamics are off the chart, with cavernous and authoritative bass drum hits that will test the current supply capability of any amplifier. It’s easy for an amp to lose it’s grip resulting in a complex bass turning into one-note bass. With the MD-75 at what anybody would call high volume, I never felt any sign of loss of control. Chinese have many many drums, and I don’t claim to be able identify them by sound, but all were reproduced with an eye-popping reality and dynamicism. A very tough test, but yet another at which the Ming Da pass with honors.
At $1949 (add $230 for the pair of Shuguang CV-1811 Black Bottles) it’s hard to imagine anything that could better what I heard in my room. It’s no stretch to say that I fell in love with the MD-75. It consistently delivers a romantic and musical performance that is also extremely resolute and fleshed out. And it’s ability to deliver loads of current should pair it well with large floorstanders that might otherwise be considered a difficult load for valve amplifiers. Add to those attributes the ability to endlessly tube roll until just the right seasoning is added to the mix, and you have a stone cold winner.
The only nits I could find to pick would be it’s not the prettiest face in the crowd, but that warm glow of 12 tubes in a dimly lit room makes the girl a lot prettier. I would like to see some balanced inputs, and the Ultralinear mode could stand a touch more smoothness … although a higher end power tube over the Electro Harmonix my unit had could very well be the cure.
Who and why I would recommend the MD-75 is easy. If you’re looking for value in a powerful tube amp, save yourself weeks of research and just pick up the phone. It’s Chinese made, but supported by American folk who have been in the business a long time and aren’t going anywhere. And a look inside will tell you that this is a Chinese amp made by artisans, proud of their creations. The only tough decision should be which tube compliment with which to outfit your MD-75.
Buyers who can pair it with a quality pre-amp will get the most out of the MD-75. But the ability to do both means you can use it’s volume control for now, and add the pre-amp later. And once you do add the pre, rest easy knowing you just built yourself a true reference front end for far less cash that you might have thought possible.
One downside is the size, so beware if you have limited space. The Main unit is18" X 14 1/2" X 10" (L x W x H) and the outboard power supply is 11 1/2" x 5" x 6". We'll let you do the math.
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