McGary Audio and Nola with Dr. Vinyl | On the Road

mcgary audio and nola

I hadn’t planned on visiting Dr. Vinyl on the way to Europe, but I had an open day after I attended the Alma Audio East event just 40 miles away in Virginia. The Doc had already asked me to make another stop, the second this year, in order to hear the new McGary Audio and Nola equipment he had in his sound room. That first visit was extraordinary, just three whole days listening to an amazing system that included some of my favorite brands–JMF, Pear Audio Blue, J. Sikora, Tru-Glider, DS Audio, Heretic, ampsandsound, Backert Audio Labs, CAD, ArgentPur, Ideon Audio and, of course, the $150,000/pr Nola Baby Grand Reference Gold 3 speakers.

Words and Photos by Marc Phillips

I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to squeeze in another visit to Baltimore this year. When I visited Carl and Marilyn Marchisotto in the Nola room at the Pacific Audio Fest in June, Kevin Hayes’ new VAC Essence amplification was powering the Baby Grands and the sound was exquisite–very easy to listen to and consistently musical with all sorts of musical genres. When I told Carl that I was talking to Kevin about reviewing the Essence amps, he immediately told me they’d be a perfect match with his $60,000/pr Nola Metro Grand Reference Gold 3 loudspeakers. He told me that he’d send them to me once the VACs arrived.

dr. vinyl

When I first met Carl a few years ago, pre-Covid, we talked about the Metros for my first Nola review. Some time passed, and eventually that review turned into the $12,500/pr Champ S3 loudspeakers–which were still excellent transducers that earned my recommendation. Dr. Vinyl knew I’d be in nearby Sterling VA for the Alma event, and I was able to squeeze in an appointment and get a preview of the McGary Audio and Nola Metro system featured in Dr. Vinyl’s showroom.

mcgary audio and nola

McGary Audio, you say? What’s going on with Mike McGary and his wonderful tube amplifiers? First of all, McGary Audio has just introduced their first preamplifier, the $12,000 SPA1. The McGary Audio SPA1 is, of course, a tube preamp that accommodates a wide variety of valves–6N1P, 6N5P, 6CG7, 6FQ7 or 6BQ7A. It’s a pure class A circuit, with no feedback, and the quality of the parts is staggering–Mundorf and Nichicon caps, Vishay/Dale resistors, Cardas solder and an ELMA attenuator. The overall look of the McGary Audio SPA-1 preamp is bright and exciting, with plenty of lighting against the midnight blue faceplate. In addition, Mike McGary offers a lifetime warranty on everything but the tubes.

The next surprise visitor to the McGary Audio and Nola system was the new McGary Audio monoblock amplifiers, the $25,000/pair MA1s. The MA1s are also flexible when it comes to output tubes–KT88, KT90, KT120, KT150, and KT170. Dr. Vinyl preferred KT88s, while I’d want to hear the MA1s with KT150s. The MA1s are class AB ultralinear amps with up to 70 wpc, depending on the output tube, with low feedback (6dB). They feature Lundahl power transformers, caps from Solen, Mundorf and Wima, Vishay/Dale resistors and gold-plated binding posts made by Mike McGary himself.

dr. vinyl system

The final change to the McGary Audio and Nola system involved the DS Audio optical cartridge–Dr. Vinyl is now using the new flagship Grandmaster EX ($22,500) on his J. Sikora Reference turntable. He’s been raving about it for the last few weeks, and I was instantly intrigued because I’ve heard a number of DS Audio cartridges in the last couple of years and they’re ground-breaking in terms of sheer innovation. Dr. Vinyl has been quite effusive with his praise for the EX.


I didn’t spend three whole days with the McGary Audio and Nola system with Dr. Vinyl, but I did spend one very full day sitting in front of this impressive array of high-end audio gear. The McGary preamp and monoblocks had this warm and wonderful glow to them, that magic combination of glorious tube sound with a modern sense of detail and dynamics.

The hours passed by, and soon Carl Marchisotto was texting Dr. Vinyl to ask if I’d been listening to the system. Dr. Vinyl confirmed, and Carl asked him, “What did he say?”

That question was forwarded to me, and I had to think about it for a few moments. For the entire day I’d been submerged in the music, and after a while I noticed that I had the same impression with the larger Baby Grand Reference Gold 3s, that these were relaxed and open tower speakers that let the music flow into the room, seemingly without effort. The Nolas don’t pound you over the head with their strengths, but rather they are slowly revealed to you as you jump from one musical genre to the next.

mcgary audio and nola

With the McGary Audio and Nola Metros, I felt exactly the same way, which is remarkable since the Baby Grands cost more than twice as much as the Metros. Side by side, the Baby Grands probably sound more extended, with deeper bass and a larger soundstage. The Metros, however, still energized the room and hit all their marks with a stunning sense of poise. These are still large towers with multiple drivers, including an open baffle design for the mid and the tweeter, but the sound is very coherent.

metro grand reference gold 3

Unfortunately, I had to leave the next day for London to begin the European leg of my road trip. I wanted to stay like I did earlier in the year, drinking single-malt and listening to LP after LP on the incredible J. Sikora rig. My 2023 World Tour was just beginning, but between the Alma Audio East event and my unscheduled visit with Dr. Vinyl, I felt like I already had so much to talk about, so much to share. Thanks go to Dr. Vinyl, his wife and business partner Mariem, and his son Joey for another outstanding visit.

mcgary audio and nola

dr. vinyl

cad and puritan

mcgary audio and nola

ideon audio


ds audio

mcgary audio and nola

mcgary audio and nola

j. sikora


mcgary audio and nola

1 Comment

  1. Hi

    “Cardas solder” qtd Marc Phillips

    Cardas LEAD solder used in the $12,000 McGary Audio SPA1 preamp !
    Why? Lead is toxic to health!!!

    FYI, as a hobby audio handyman, I only use one brandname lead-free HoHS listed silver solder for All my design/built/upgraded audio electronics, e.g. all-triode phono-preamps, all-triode SET & ultra-linear power amps, loudspeakers (x-over networks+all internal wiring), 99.99+% pure silver audio interconnects & power cords. etc etc. Health comes first !!

    “The MA1s are class AB ultralinear amps with up to 70 wpc” qtd M Phillips.

    I never like the sound of any power amp using tetrodes/pentodes as output power tubes, e.g.KT-88 etc. They can never match the musical sound of TRIODES !
    So for my vintage Dynaco ST-70 class AB 35W+35W ultra-linear power amp, I’ve converted the EL-34s to triode/pentode switchable hybrid mode. I always play it in triode mode which sounds sooo much more musical than its original pentode ultra-linear mode.

    Why? Only triodes are truly linear active devices with full set of linear signal transfer curves VS tetrods/pentodes which all got non-linear signal transfer curves with kinks or “knees” on the curves !! This is physics.

    Listening is believing

    JACK L

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