Nov 142015

If you read The Vintage McIntosh Experience article in Issue 77 of Positive Feedback you know I’m a big fan of the vintage McIntosh MX110Z tuner-preamplifier.

11 MX110Z walnut burl cabinet

The MX110Z makes vinyl & FM sound astonishingly good, it even makes digital your friend. Performance-wise it can easily hold its own against contemporary preamplifiers, and feature-wise it outclasses any modern preamplifier on Planet Earth. The MX110Z ranks way up there among the best audio purchases I’ve ever made.

Yazaki-san has told me about some of the modifications he made to his vintage Marantz 7 preamplifier, and what a great improvement they brought about.  He then told me that he thought some of those modifications would make a similar ‘Real Sound’ improvement to my MX110Z, and the Real Sound Adventure with my vintage McIntosh MX110Z was born.

Yazaki-san suggested we start our MX110Z adventure with its phono stage by making two modifications.

Mod A for the MX110Z

The first modification (A) was to replace the stock 56KΩ phono stage input resistors for PH-1 and PH-2 with Tepro RA 47KΩ metal film resistors, which Yazaki-san considers to be the very best for use in this application.

Yazaki-san told me that the phono stage’s sound quality depends mainly on this resistor, and that “Gary-san (Tepro) said it was developed special for audio use. For about this resistor, Banno-san and I have never found the weakness of its sound. It is a very rare case for us.”

Mod B for the MX110Z

The second modification (B) was to change two key phono stage capacitors to the superb 0.22 uF Arizona Capacitors, either the Red Cactus (custom ‘Top Secret’ capacitor used in SPEC electronics, not available for purchase), the Blue Cactus (“gorgeous vintage American tone color, open and natural”), and the Green Cactus (“noble European timbre, smoother and more open air character”).

Inside the MX110Z

Inside the MX110Z.

We (Yazaki-san, Ron-san, and I) used the Blue Cactus & Green Cactus Arizona Capacitors in the vintage McIntosh MC30 adventure with superb results. We were really impressed with the way things came out (see Positive Feedback Issue 81).

AZ caps & audio mag closeup

Left are the 0.22 Blue Cactus capacitors, right top are the Red Cactus capacitors, and right bottom are the Green Cactus capacitors.

To look inside at the circuitry of the MX110Z is a bit intimidating, as there are many tightly packed discrete components, most of which are due to the FM tuner, and a rather smaller section that comprises the phono stage.

As Ron-san and I looked at the crowded interior of the vintage MX110Z, we decided we should go with the Red Cactus capacitors, first because their smaller size made them easier to fit in the limited space, but also because we wanted to hear what these proprietary, not available for sale, ‘Top Secret’ capacitors sounded like in the MX110Z.  You can see the phono section to the left (two photos above, and below) where the two 0.22mF Red Cactus Arizona Capacitors are.

Yazaki-san also told me, “One more point is, you might find the FM sound and AUX input sound would be improved with this Red Cactus modification too, because the modification is the first stage cathode follower of the high level input.”

Red Cactus in the MX110Z

Arizona Capacitors ‘Red Cactus’ capacitors in the phono stage of the MX110Z.

First Ron-san removed the old capacitors from the circuit, then soldered in the Red Cactus capacitors in their place.

Red Cactus in the MX110Z 2

At the bottom middle of the photo you can see the 0.22 ‘Red Cactus’ Arizona Capacitors.

Next Ron-san desoldered the stock 56KΩ phono stage input resistors for PH-1 and PH-2 and replaced them with Tepro RA 47KΩ metal film resistors.

Tepro RA resistors in the MX110Z

Those black resistors in the bottom left of the photo are the Tepro RA resistors.

Here’s a closer look.

Tepro RA resistors in the MX110Z - closeup

Four Tepro RA resistors dancing on the phono inputs of the MX110Z.

Leo-san and I watched over Ron-san’s shoulder as he made all the modifications, then as Ron-san finished up and buttoned up the MX110’s chassis, we reconvened at Jeff’s Place for a little listening session, both to the Real Sound modified MX110Z, and also the Maestro’s Custom VOTTs (more about this at a later time).

I’ll update you with listening impressions soon!


I got up this morning, and after a couple cups of coffee & answering correspondence while listening to the Maestro’s VOTTs stream Jazz24 out of Seattle, I was excited to get some vinyl out and listen to Yazaki-san’s ‘Real Sound’ modifications to the phono section of the MX110Z.

Maestro's VOTTs

Morning coffee with the Maestro’s VOTTs.

Last night, Ron, Leo, and I listened to a number of albums ranging from jazz, pop, and rock on the ‘Real Sound’ MX110Z, and we were really impressed with what we heard, particularly given the caps & resistors had zero run-in time on them.

Ron had a big smile on his face and was enjoying the result of his handiwork on the MX110Z, and Leo was wanting to make the same changes to his vintage Mac – that’s really all you probably need to know, right there!

My first impressions from last night: huge sense of room filling space; deep, punchy, and articulate bass response; very transparent with lots of resolution; extremely ‘real’ timbral textures; and a rich, warm, sensual, liquid, presentation of the music. A very gratifying outcome!

After a brief listening session Ron & Leo headed for home, and I sat down to write the preliminary blog post (above) about the ‘Real Sound’ modifications to the MX110Z.

Real Sound MX110 mods -system photo

‘Real Sound’ phono mod’s to the MX110 installed into the system, warmed up, and ready to go!

First up this morning, I decided I wanted to listen to Lucinda Williams’ World Without Tears, which is my favorite among Lucinda’s albums. Lucinda is the daughter of poet Miller Williams and the literary influence shows in her song writing, and Lucinda’s lyrics cut right to the bone on this hard hitting, dark, album.

Lucinda Williams World Without Tears

Lucinda Williams’ World Without Tears album.

Keep in mind these preliminary listening impressions are for capacitors & resistors that don’t have any time on them at all, so they’ll continue to ‘bloom’ and improve over the next 100 hours or so from what I’m reporting on here.

World Without Tears is a wonderful recording, with incredible musicianship, but it suffers from being a bit forward & edgy sounding in places. In other words, World Without Tears is a great candidate for remastering on 45RPM by Analogue Productions! (I hope Chad is reading this!)

Here’s what I heard: Huge space. The sense of room filling space from World Without Tears jumped off the scale with these mods to the MX110Z, and it’s a definite improvement to the MX110’s ability to reproduce a sense of billowing recorded space.

The sense of transparency & resolution also jumped way up, with lots of subtle musical details coming forth that I hadn’t noticed before, and more importantly, the timbral textures & tone color sounded incredibly ‘real’.

Another thing I noticed is that I can play music at live levels of loudness without my ears overloading, distorting, and shutting down, as they can do when things aren’t working quite right in a hi-fi rig. That’s a good sign.

The ‘Real Sound’s mods to the MX110Z didn’t completely banish the bit of forward & edgy sound that appear in places on World Without Tears, but it sounds way better than I’ve ever heard it sound before on anything, and it is a completely enjoyable listening experience.

Given the considerable increase in transparency & resolution that the ‘Real Sound’ phono mods also sound more rich, warm, sensual, and liquid. That’s a little bit of surprise for me, because that combination of traits rarely appear together. Very gratifying!

Santana Abraxas

Santana Abraxas on Mo-Fi.

Next I decided to get out my Mobile Fidelity version of Santana Abraxas. You’ve heard me grouse for years about Mobile Fidelity’s chosen balance for their albums, which I think are often more hi-fi than real-fi, but I think that’s their thing, they’re trying to appeal to audiophiles, so they tweak things up a bit over ‘real’.

Santana Abraxas 2

First thing I noticed was the transparency, resolution, and huge sense of space that completely filled my living room. The ‘Real-Fi’ mods don’t completely fix the ‘Mo-Fi’ balance, but much like with World Without Tears, they do make the wonderful music of Carlos Santana come alive, like it should.

Ok, so that’s it for now. I’ll let the caps & resistors run-in for a while and I’ll report back with some more impressions.

Thanks for stopping by!

 Posted by at 9:10 pm

  17 Responses to “A Real Sound Adventure With the Vintage McIntosh MX110Z”

  1. here we go again; when will it ever end? lol

    • Howdy George!

      We’re in one of those wonderful cycles where fun audio things are happening almost faster than I/we can keep up.

      Yazaki-san is a true audio artist. These two ‘Real Sound’ modifications of going to four Tepro RA phono input resistors, and two Arizona Capacitor Red Cactus 0.22 capacitors in the phono section, made a remarkably musical change, which I will attempt to describe in much more detail as things run in a bit more.

      Exciting times!

      I hope you’re doing great, George!



  2. Jeff, any idea when the Arizona caps will be available in the US? I’ve made three attempts to purchase directly from the manufacturer with no success.

    • Hi Sean,

      Daryl at Arizona Capacitors is keenly aware of the issue of availability for audio enthusiasts in North America, and he is working on a solution. It’s a bit of an irony that Arizona Capacitors are easier to buy in Tokyo than they are in the US, given they’re made in the USA.

      Much of Arizona Capacitor’s work has been providing large runs of capacitors for industrial and government contracts, but through Yazaki-san’s working with Daryl on custom audio applications, Daryl is getting excited about audio specific applications, and before long I hope to be able to share some really important news on that front.

      There is a light appearing in the distance, and I’ve heard that Parts Connexion is going to be selling Arizona Capacitors in North America. That’s good news! I don’t suppose it would hurt to pester PC!

      Kind regards,


      • Hi Jeff-san,

        PC now imports Amtrans AMCA copper foil pio, which are made for Amtrans Japan by Arizona Capacitors.. I’m not sure how they will compare with the Red, Blue, or Green Cactus line of caps made for SPEC.. But I’m sure there will be some differences in materials and in construction. Just a heads up for those who can’t wait I guess.. Thanks again for sharing Yazaki-san’s Real Sound recommendations, especially the Tepro line of resistors (I’m still trying to find the RA series in their catalog), and the Belden Power cord recipe Yazaki-san shared in his blog in your prior posting..

        • Hi Rick,

          I talked with the guys at Tepro & Arizona Capacitors about availability last week, and it was sounding imminent that that Parts Connexion folks will have them available. You might pester PC for an exact date.

          Thanks for the kind words – appreciated!



        • Hello Rick-san,

          How did you find Amtrans copper foil version !!
          I highly appreciate your eager efforts to be able to come across.

          Amtrans version is very close to our Green Cactus and only
          the material of electrode, copper or aluminium is diffrent.

          It has so rich or a liittle bit too rich timbre, I feel.

          Regards, Shirokazu Yazaki From Tokyo / Japan

          • Dear Yazaki-san,

            Thanks for chiming in.. I saw it at PartsConnexion by accident when I was browsing there based on Jeff-san’s hint that PC would carry Arizona Caps soon..

            I hope Jeff-san doesn’t mind if I post the link here:


            Anyway, I would rather try the Red, Blue, or Green Cactus that was made specifically for SPEC..

            Hopefully, I could emulate your own speakers too a year from now when I get to move to a new place and my health improves. My Altec 414z drivers have been in storage for far too long. I’m also contemplating if I should buy used Coral M100’s or just buy new GPA/Altec 802-16G II classic HF drivers..

            Best regards,

          • Hi Rick,

            My friend Harry is working on just such an Altec combination now. I am looking forward to hearing Harry’s Altec’s, and be sure to tell me how yours turn out!

            I am absolutely thrilled with my Stokowski Altec VOTTs, they’re incredibly musical. I suspect you’ll love yours! 🙂

            Kind regards,


  3. Hello Jeff,

    It is nice to read that you are still in ‘one of those wonderful cycles where fun audio things are happening almost faster than I/we can keep up’. I strongly believe that Jan (from the Netherlands) and Mr. Yazaki-san are soulmates. For example, my amp, The Chaos, is full of Carbon resistors and the finest other parts selected only by ear, to realize a sound that Mr. Yazaki-san, calls ‘Real Sound’. Most of the parts are from the past! He collected these parts during his life and saved them. His house is full of all very rare and seldom found parts! Some of them are in my Chaos MK2.

    You’re listening experience are exact the same as my own experience. Jan brought in a lot of Carbon in my Philips CD-104 and even for example also in the Loudspeaker cable. Everytime he brought more Carbon (resistors) in my system, the more my system is sounding more….holographic and more lifelike with very mellow tones and a really natural timbres.

    I strongly believe that in Carbon resistors is a ‘ real humanlike and organic touch’ that brings in a very transparant sound with a soundscape that is really lifelike (huge in space!) and very dynamic with no signs of stress.

    Thanks again Jeff, for sharing your experiences with us.

    With nice greetings!

    • Hi Siedy!

      Audio-wise, it has been a charmed time, for sure, and tonight I’m sitting here relaxing with a glass of wine, enjoying those charms, and listening to the Maestro’s VOTTs paired with Yazaki-san’s SPEC amplifier and am really enjoying the music.

      I’m even listening to a CD, Gillian Welch’s ‘Time The Revelator’, and it really sounds compelling. It defies my understanding of the digital realm. My source is a very inexpensive vintage Sony PlayStation 1 SCPH-1001. This evening I fashioned a pair of Belden 8402 microphone cable interconnects for it, and the resulting synergy is staggering.

      The Sony with a pair of Belden 8402 ICs would maybe cost $100 USD, and it sounds so good it is quite amazing. $100 USD! I actually like it better – a lot better – than many of the big-money hi-rez digital wonders I heard in Denver. Sometimes really good things cost a lot of money, but in this case the combo is less than a nice dinner and a bottle of wine.

      I’m glad that you and Jan are having the same sort of fun and Yazaki-san and I are. I hope these sort of examples will help music lovers that aren’t happy with what they’re hearing in their systems to pause and think about what’s going on with their music, and give some of these relatively inexpensive options a try. I suspect there are lots of music lovers out there that would be really pleased with the results.

      I have some really, really, exciting things to share with you in the near future. The audio & musical horizon is looking mighty fine from where I’m sitting, and that’s at the price of a coach ticket rather than first class!

      Thanks for your comment, Siedy, it is always a joy to hear from you!

      Kind regards,


  4. Hi Jeff! What a great read, thanks for sharing this! I just purchased a nice MX110Z and would like to make these modifications. How can I acquire the necessary Resistors and Capacitors? I appreciate the help!

    • Hi Sebastian,

      Over time my MX110Z project has evolved quite a lot. I ended up taking out the metal film resistors and going back to the NOS Allen Bradley carbon comp resistors, and removing the power supply upgrades.

      So I wouldn’t recommend you do those two mods, I’d just leave it in its stock configuration for resistors and power supply for the best overall tone, but what I would recommend doing is putting in a pair of 0.22uF Duelund CAST tinned-copper capacitors in the cathode follower, which provides more benefit to the overall sonic character of the MX110Z while maintaining its musicality.

      Be sure to order the special “Jeff” versions of the Duelund CAST tinned-copper capacitors from Frederik so they’ll fit inside the chassis, as the regular versions are too big around to fit in the MX110Z.

      That will give you the best overall performance from the MX110Z.

      Kind regards,


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