McIntosh C2200 Amp Reviewed

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Thrice before, McIntosh has tormented us with limited edition all-valve goodies. The production runs of the MC275 power amp, C22 pre-amp and the high-priced 50th anniversary power amp, the MC2000, were limited enough not to allow time for us (of restricted income) to save up for them. Such agony! All three were truly fabulous: the reissues equalled the originals closely enough to serve as surrogates, while the MC2000 just may be one of the finest high-end power amps EVER.

McIntosh, fortunately, is not a cruel company.

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As if to make up for the paucity of their late 20th Century valve amps (and being fully aware of the eye-watering prices that their earliest tube products now command), McIntosh has decided to re-enter valve amplifier manufacturer on a 'non-limited edition' basis. So successful and so critically adored were the reissues and the MC2000 that it took little to convince the bean-counters that McIntosh, like modern-day Quad, could sustain a series of all-tube electronics with high nostalgia content, while treating them as regular catalogue items. They've even dubbed the series, 'Heritage Products' in their literature. Thus, the all-new MC2102 power amplifier and the C2200 pre-amplifier are 'normal' production items which will remain available until they either stop selling in worthwhile quantities, or the company decides to supersede them.

What's crucial for understanding these products is being aware of how McIntosh - a company steeped in tradition - managed to balance the products' intrinsic retro elements with modern-day requirements. Quite blatantly, the look and feel hark back to classic McIntosh hardware, all black glass and gilt knobs and blue-lit meters. Then again, McIntosh never abandoned the look, so it's as much 'current' as it is 'historical'. As a result, neither unit could be mistaken for anything other McIntosh products, and only the amp's modern speaker terminals and the digital display on the C2200 let you know through visual clues that these are 21st Century toys.

Retro elements - styling aside - include all-tube circuitry, the inclusion of a superb phono stage and (though I hope he doesn't think I'm calling him a relic) the design skills of McIntosh's co-founder and former President, the legendary Sidney Corderman. Coaxed out of retirement, Corderman has rejoined the company with a series of designs which should shock the sheisse out of every snotty, wet-behind-the-ears, cocky little pisher in the industry. Quite clearly, there's no substitute for experience, and 'ageists' had better watch out.

If, as with the Lexicon MC12, dense owner's manuals impress you, note that the C2200 pre-amp needs a 30-page tome to tell you of its capabilities. It may be an-all tube design appealing mainly to hard-core analogue fetishists, but it addresses the modern era with the sort of user-adjustable fine-tuning which smacks of arch. And yet the signal path is all analogue, all-tube. Flagrantly and shamelessly, McIntosh is using the benefits of digital technology in an analogue product, without compromising analogue purity one bit. Psycho-purists who would condemn the C2200 on the grounds of it being a joy to use thanks to digital addenda need their heads examined. Or another hair shirt.

As far removed from the on-off/source select/volume pot school of minimalism as you can get, the C2200 is spec'd up to the gunwales with goodies galore. The most important knob of all is a variable-rate volume control on the right of the front panel, with high-precision tracking accuracy of 0.1dB over its 214 0.5dB steps. At the far left is a rotary source control with electromagnetic switching, the two knobs flanking a pair of meters which indicate the relative output of the left and right channels. Below these are, left to right, bass and treble controls, a bright digital read-out indicating source, volume and balance levels, and mode data for operation function during set-up, followed by a rotary to switch the meters' lighting on or off, and a rotary balance control. Lastly, the bottom row includes the IR sensor for the remote, buttons for tone control bypass, mono selector, record monitor select and set-up mode, a centrally-positioned headphone socket, a push button for muting, a pair of buttons to choose between the two sets of outputs (for controlling two separate stereo amplifiers), a standby on/off button and finally an on/off button which completely switches off the amp from the mains.

Although the C2200 is 'just' a stereo pre-amp, its back panel is as crowded as a multi-channel AV controller. A run-through will tell you just how flexible the unit is, and how McIntosh in no way would allow it to be precluded from incorporation into multi-channel A/V or multi-zone custom install set-ups. In the upper left hand corner (seen from the back) are six XLR sockets for three pairs of balanced outputs - one main, and two 'subsidiaries' which can be switched on and off from the front panel. These are duplicated directly below with unbalanced phono outputs, plus a pair for tape record out. Underneath these are an IEC mains input and fuse holder; to the right of these are control triggers for powering up other components.

Inputs fill the right hand side, with the unit accommodating four balanced sources via XLRs, and eight unbalanced sources (including m-m phono) through RCA phono sockets. Arrayed below these are data ports which send control signals to compatible components, e.g. other McIntosh hardware. Also fitted is an earthing post for a tonearm cable, and a connection for an external sensor for remote operation; think 'multi-room' and 'custom install'.

Remove the lid, and you will probably drool. McIntosh doesn't understand the concept of NOT finishing even the parts invisible to the casual owner. Componentry is no-compromise, including low-noise 1% metal film resistors, a hefty, shielded power transformer, superbly-made PCBs, ultra-short wiring runs, nifty X-shaped valve 'clamps' to keep each quartet of tubes locked in place and non-vibrating, user-accessible fuses, lots of heat-sinkage - I can't imagine a higher standard of construction. Naturally, this requires a large-ish housing: the C2200 occupies a space of 7.125x17.5x20in (HWD) including clearances, and weighs 27lbs. And that's just the pre...

Derived from - and looking a whole helluvalot like - the MC2000, the MC2102 produces less power at 100W/ch versus 130W/ch but it will seem almost a bargain in comparison. Although 4in shorter at 7in tall, it has a bigger footprint at 17.5x20in (WD), compared to the MC2000's 11x17.75x18.75 (HWD), and weighs a still butch 88 lbs versus the '2000's 135lb. Moreover, the valve complement is the same, at eight tubes per channel: one 12AX7 tube is used for the balanced input, a second is assigned as a voltage amplifier and phase inverter, one 12AT7 is a push-pull bootstrapped voltage amplifier, and the other is a cathode follower driver feeding four 6550/KT88 outputs tubes in push-pull parallel configuration. In stereo, the MC2102 is designed to drive 2, 4, or 8-ohm loads, while parallel mono configuration allows use with 1,2,or 4-ohm loads; acting in bridged mono form it copes with 4, 8, or 16-ohm loads.

Also like the MC2000, the newbie has a stainless steel chassis and a black glass front panel in classic Mac configuration: two gilded-edged knobs for power on/off and setting the watt-reading meters for peak or hold, with or without illumination, flanking two meters showing power output and tube biasing points. Above the meters is a window through which you can view the valves; the review sample came with superb, Russian-made KT88s. The valves fill the front half of the unit; as with the predecessor, they fit into ceramic valve bases with gold-plated contacts. As the unit arrives with the valves packed separately, you will be removing the cage to fit the tubes.

Behind the valves are three potted transformers, then a row of vertically-facing socketry mounted on a back 'shelf'. These include gold-plated 5-way WBT speaker terminals, with separate terminals for 2, 4, and 8 ohm speakers, a pair of sockets for remote on/off operation, two switches selecting mono or stereo operation and balanced or unbalanced inputs. Lastly, the shelf contains a pair of phono sockets and a pair of XLRs for single-ended or balanced input.

Read more about the C2200 on Page 2.

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