“Let our rigorous testing and reviews be your guidelines to A/V equipment – not marketing slogans”
Facebook Youtube Twitter instagram pinterest

McIntosh MHA50 Portable Decoding Amplifier Preview



  • Product Name: MHA50
  • Manufacturer: McIntosh
  • Review Date: October 25, 2017 00:00
  • MSRP: $700
  • First Impression: Pretty Cool

Headphone Power Output


Headphone Output Impedance

8-600 Ohms

Rated Power Band

20Hz to 20kHz

Total Harmonic Distortion


Frequency Response

+0, -0.5dB from 20Hz to 50kHz

Signal To Noise Ratio


Preamplifier Output


Headphone Output

3.5mm with Headphone Crossfeed Director (HXD®)

Digital USB Input

2 (1 Type A, 1 micro B)

Wireless Input

Bluetooth 4.1 A2DP with aptX

Source Support

Apple iOS devices; Android devices (must be compatible with USB On-The-Go technology to use a wired connection); MacOS & Windows OS computers

Digital USB Input Sample Rate
PCM 16-bit, 24-bit, 32-bit to 192kHz, DSD64, DSD128, DSD256, DXD352.8, DXD384

Power Requirement

5V DC, 0.7A

Battery Playback Life

Up to 6 hours with Bluetooth connection; playback can last even longer when using the wired connections

Included In The Box

  • 1 leather carrying case
  • 1 Lightning to USB-A cable
  • 1 USB micro-B to USB-A cable
  • 1 USB micro-B to USB micro-B cable
  • 1 wall mount charger with USA plug and adapter for Europe and Japan
  • All cables are 8"/200mm long

Dimensions (W x H x D)

2.7" (7cm) x 6.1" (15.5cm) x 0.6" (1.4cm)


0.5 lbs (0.2 kg)

Shipping Weight

1 lbs (0.5 kg)

Have you ever felt like the audio quality of music played through your headphones when connected to a portable device, such as a smartphone or iPod, just wasn't good enough? Then consider yourself in the market for a portable DAC/Amp. These battery powered devices pack their own digital-to-analogue converter processor and a digital amplifier and fit into the palm of your hand. The technology has come a long way since the days us cool-kids used to solder our own Cmoy mint-tin amps back in the days when getting your hands on the new iPod was a big deal. Today you can find DAC/Amps that range in price and prestige anywhere from the reasonably priced Fiio brand for around $100 all the way up to the unreasonably high-end Woo Audio WA8 portable tube headphone amp/DAC that sells for close to $2000.

Now the legendary high-end hi-fi company, McIntosh is adding their flavor via a new product to the portable headphone amp market. Introducing the new MHA50 Portable Decoding Amplifier from McIntosh, one of the most coveted names in home audio.

Put simply, decoding amplifiers like the MHA50 are designed to help you get the best possible sound out of your headphones. They do this using digital-to-analog conversion (or DAC) technology, which decodes sound from virtually any digital source in order to output music that's of significantly better quality than you're going to receive by simply plugging your headphones into a device capable of digital music playback such as a smartphone or tablet.

McIntosh MHA50 - Big sound, bigger price

For the vast majority of headphones, a good match for your headphones in decoding amplifiers retail for a couple hundred bucks or less. But don’t expect to find a McIntosh near that price. The McIntosh MHA50 will retail for a rather whopping $700 USD when it goes on sale later this year.

Why the substantially higher price? Well, it has a lot to do with the variety of features available with the MHA50. For one, this particular decoding amplifier comes equipped with Bluetooth 4.1 support, making it easier to connect with your iOS- or Android-based device.

Second, the MHA50 uses a high-performance 32-bit DAC that supports a wide range of audio formats and promises to make no concessions in providing the best audio possible. The MHA50 also comes with a 3,000 mAh rechargeable battery that McIntosh says will allow for roughly 6 hours of playback on a single charge (in fact, the battery may last even longer if you avoid using Bluetooth in favor of a wired connection).

Third, the MHA50 benefits from McIntosh’s own Headphone Crossfeed Director (or HXD) technology, which until now could only be found in the company’s own high-end amplifiers. What difference will this make? We’ll have to wait and see.

Okay, we’re not sure why you’d bother spending the extra money on a high-end DAC/Amp if you’re only planning to use it to Bluetooth-enable your headphones. But hey, there’s nothing wrong with extra options - just in case.

Aluminum, Glass and McIntosh Blue

McIntosh headphones and ampAt this point you may be wondering if it’s worth carrying around yet another device in order to improve the audio quality of your smartphone, tablet, PC, etc. The good news is that the MHA50 is small and light, it's substantially smaller and lighter than most smartphones. That's primarily because it's made from lightweight aluminum and uses a glass screen with touch-based controls instead of buttons and knobs.

As for customization, the MHA50 provides audiophiles with lots of options in their search for perfect music playback. The most important of these options may be the ability to match audio output to the type of headphones you're using (such as in-ear vs. over-ear). In addition to the device itself, the MHA50 comes packed with a nice leather carrying case and cables for Windows, Apple and Android devices. Buyers will also receive a wall mount charger with adapters.

So, now McIntosh fans that have sprung for the brand’s recent MHP1000 headphones have even more reason to get excited about taking that McIntosh sound on the go. What could be better than listening to McIntosh MHP1000 headphones? Really listening to your McIntosh MHP1000 headphones because they’re plugged into a MHA50 headphone amplifier. Now you’re rocking complete with matching blue-accented gear.

Although it's hard not to get excited about a decoding amplifier from McIntosh, it's tough to ignore that sky-high price tag, which will keep it in the hands of only the most dedicated McIntosh fans.  Are you one of them? Share your Mcintosh experiences in our related forum thread below.

Unless otherwise indicated, this is a preview article for the featured product. A formal review may or may not follow in the future.

About the author:
author portrait

Wayde is a tech-writer and content marketing consultant in Canada s tech hub Waterloo, Ontario and Editorialist for Audioholics.com. He's a big hockey fan as you'd expect from a Canadian. Wayde is also US Army veteran, but his favorite title is just "Dad".

View full profile