Boutique audio gear like the mighty MA9000 and the gorgeous MC275 from New York's McIntosh Labs is generally big, blocky and booming. Even its headphone amp tips the scales at over 25 pounds. But now this monstrous personal listening enhancer is about to get a smartphone-sized sibling designed for on-the-move music lovers – the MHA50 Portable Decoding Amplifier.

Though the pocket-friendly dimensions (2.7 x 6.1 x 0.6 in/7 x 15.5 x 1.4 cm) of the MHA50 mean that the trademark McIntosh blue backlit power meters are obviously not included, the so-called Portable Decoding Amplifier does sport the familiar mix of pale blue, jet black and blackletter logo. It's mostly aluminum housing is topped with a glass front panel that includes a touch-enabled circular volume control dial.

Inside, there's a 32-bit digital-to-analog converter (DAC) for high resolution digital audio formats up to 32-bit/192 kHz (PCM) resolution, as well as native support for DSD256 and DXD384 files and asynchronous USB audio. And the input interface at the bottom rocks both Type A and micro B USB inputs for music source devices compatible with USB OTG (On-The-Go) technology.

At the output end of the MHA50 sits a gold-plated 3.5 mm jack for connection to headphone while out and about or powered speakers when on the desktop. There's a high/low gain switch and a button to enable Bluetooth 4.1 (with aptX) wireless audio streaming.

The amp/DAC is reported capable of driving headphones running from the 8 ohm consumer end right up to money-no-object 600 ohm audiophile cans, with a power output of 200 mW, total harmonic distortion of 0.005 percent, signal to noise ratio of 105 dB and 20 Hz to 50 kHz frequency response.

McIntosh has also included something called the HXD mode, which is said to offer a more natural listening experience for the user, though it can be disabled if preferred. Finally, the MHA50's integrated battery is said to be good for up to 6 hours of Bluetooth-enabled continuous use before needing a top up, more when cabled.

The MHA50 Portable Decoding Amplifier is available in October for a suggested retail price of US$700.

Product page: McIntosh MHA50

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