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2014 Midwest Audiofest Tent Sale & Vintage Audio Swap
Ming Da MC34-A Integrated Valve Amplifier Review
Power output: 38W RMS per channel
Distortion: <0.8% at full power
Frequency response: 20-50kHz +/- 1db
Signal to noise ratio: >90db
Inputs: RCA 4 line level
Dimensions: W 380mm X D 290mm X H without cage 195mm, with cage 205mm.
Okay, the review sample is white, this may or may not be all white (sorry) with you, luckily it’s also available in black (like a Ford model T) and blue, specials are available at extra cost to match your chosen decor….
The white finish is charming and I can imagine it looking rather dappa in suitable contemporary surroundings but being an ‘old fashioned antique pine it’s cheap and out of fashion type’, I’ll have a black one please. The overall fit and finish leaves nothing wanting at this price point.
The unit is well packed and comes with a decent remote (volume), it also has a VU meter on the front which lights up. This bounces away (much like the amp) when making music, which is a good thing in my book.
Pick it up and you notice it’s heavy, this is only good in a valve amp and hopefully gives clues to the amount of iron etc. in the transformers, more on that later. One thing to remember is the mass is to the rear of the unit, just be careful it doesn’t roll out of your hands when you move it around.
Ming Da also rightly supply an attractive valve cage to keep cats, children and guinea pigs off the hot and delicate valves, this is easily removable if you’re a risk taker or don’t have guinea pigs. It does ring a bit when tapped so for peace of mind I removed it when writing this, to avoid any imagined effects it may or may not have.
Gold plated loudspeaker binding posts lurk to the rear, able to take plugs, spades or bare wire. 4 and 8 ohm taps are available as are 4 sets of good quality RCA inputs.
The power switch is located on the left side towards the rear, presumably to reduce hum pickup as well as an IEC mains socket, handy for those into mains cable upgrades….
Quite good, they have a workmanlike, solid feel.
Dropped into my normal everyday home system this amp replaced my usual Sony TA-FB940R QS solid state MOSFET amp that I use as I like it’s fast, open controlled sound and it works well with my JBL L1 speakers which need a tight rein.
The amp was aspirated mainly by a Technics SL1200mk2/Achromat/rewired RB301/Rega Exact and Rega Fono mk2 phono stage, a combination I know very well. CD duties were carried out by a Sony DVP-NS900V QS occasionally with an off board NOS DAC.
With valve gear I tend to give around 20 minutes warm up time before really starting to listen, one side of an LP playing while I popped off to make a cuppa and find a Toblerone to eat sorted that. Even from the kitchen I could tell I was going enjoy my time with the Ming Da MC34-A.
I sat down suitably armed with refreshments and started listening properly and making notes. My first note was ‘it’s clean, but where is the bass?’. The sound was rather thin, and lacking in body, vocals sounding light weight.
Time to try the 8 ohm tap…..ah, that’s better! The frequency range was now represented in it’s correct proportions, bass was present and firm and the midrange gathered weight down below. Do check this yourself before judging anything, in my case it made a substantial difference.
Happy that this was the correct tap for my loudspeakers I commenced spinning various LP’s.
I have come to the conclusion that EL34’s really like electric guitars, funny that isn’t it? Any guitar led music just sounded great. Listening to ZZ Top’s ‘Sharp Dressed Man’ the amp succeeded conveying every little subtle inflection from the plectrum, careful finger work on guitar fretboard and joyful interaction from the pickups.
Bass was full and tightly controlled yet expressive, allowing the string tone to show, more than just a drone here, a real bass guitar and kick drum with a skin, round and resonant.
Spinning up Placebos LP Sleeping With Ghosts reveals plenty of headroom. This LP has some complex passages within it and the amp does not wimp out at all, even at levels I would consider borderline. Bass remains deep and dynamic swings intact, showing the power supply and output transformers are doing a good job, I don’t have measurements to back this up but this is how it sounds to me.
A run through Jean-Michel Jarres ‘Ethnicolor’ from the 1984 album Zoolook only reinforced this fact, the Ming Da capturing the atmosphere of the first 2/3rds of the track, a voyage of new beginnings, coming of age and discovery, providing and exhilarating finale to the track where the bass slam and synthesizers soar making my hair stand up on end.
The laid back lazy opening track ‘Up On The Hill’ from Fun Lovin’ Criminals 100% Colombian just cruises along like an open top stretch Limo, bass chugging, Huey Morgans vocals stark and smooth…bells chiming in and fading away……lovely…
The EL34’s that push and pull the speakers in this amp are blue, so why not try some Blues? One of my favourite slabs of vinyl is Weepin’ Willies ‘At Last, On Time’. It’s just a gorgeous fully analogue production recorded live direct to 2 track tape and it takes a resolving system to show it’s natural beauty, this isn’t a pumped up commercial sounding performance.
The 3rd track on side 1 ‘Can’t Go Wrong Women’ is a terrific test of natural dynamics. Initially sounding unimpressive the track slowly grows in complexity, volume and dynamic light and shade, the MC34-A easily coping, creating a wide deep focused soundstage, maintaining the musical event whilst allowing you to follow individual performers if you wish. Another eyebrow lifter.
The point to point wiring, 12AX7 input and 12AU7 driver stages are obviously doing the job sonically.
The MC34-A is not a laid back warm valve amp from the ‘olden days’ when transformers were perhaps not as good as they could have been. In fact it sounds refreshed, open, powerful and purposeful. It still manages to drop a spotlight on the midrange and flows so well, like good valve amps do.
I would say that subtlety is perhaps not it’s strong point, but that’s comparing it to a good SET (single ended triode) it’s by no means weak in this area, and you have real world speaker driving capability here.
Is this amp totally truthful about your music? No I don’t think it is, is any amp? Do you think different amps of similar specification sound the same it to a given loudspeaker? The Ming Da does have a ‘sound’, you can hear it via CD too (on which it sounds great by the way), however it’s a sound I like a lot and I will be sorry to see this review sample return to the dealer who kindly entrusted it to me for several weeks.
Would I personally buy one if I had the cash? Yes I would, but it would need to be black…….
This amp will easily please someone who has succumbed to the lure of valve amplification for the first time. It will stay as a central part of a simple system for sometime, surviving both source and loudspeaker upgrades while providing something more interesting to look at, listen to and bore your non hifi mates about.
Clean dynamic sound.
Real world power output.
Remote control for volume.
Readily available valves.
No hum or noise in operation.
Power switch location.
Er….nothing else really at the price.
It’s a great, painless, affordable, real world introduction to valves that doesn’t require specialist sensitive loudspeakers for decent volume in an average listening room and is cheap to run.
Price: Yours for around £995.00.
Thank you for reading.
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