Brian Kahn is the longest tenured writer on staff at HomeTheaterReview.com. His specialties include everything from speakers to whole-home audio systems to high-end audiophile and home theater gear, as well as room acoustics. By day, Brian is a partner at a West Los Angeles law firm.
McIntosh Laboratories newest stereo preamplifiers and at $4,000, one of their least expensive. McIntosh has long been known as a manufacturer of ultra-premium audio equipment that is priced accordingly. Unfortunately, this has priced new McIntosh equipment out of range of most people. McIntosh's best known gear consists of vintage tube gear, and the C-220 keeps that tradition of quality tube gear alive. At $4,000 the C-220 is priced within reach of many more people than a lot of McIntosh's vintage gear yet it is still a serious piece of quality gear and not just a piece of equipment manufactured to simply meet a price point. The C-220 competes with many new up and coming companies while providing the buyer with a commodity of a known name.
While the C-220 is a traditional tube preamplifier in functionality with lots of advanced technological features to maximize its performance. The C-220 has the traditional McIntosh look with the black glass faceplate, chrome trim and a blue display. The display is illuminated by fiber optics, the volume control knob is linked to McIntosh's advanced volume control system which keeps the channels volume matched within .1 dB. Electromagnetic switches in gas filled glass cylinders keep contacts clean and quiet. Other advanced features include customizable input names, remote control, control connections and R-core transformer, The tube complement consists of 4- 12AX7As, two each in the line and phono stages. All of this technology can connect to up to via seven line level inputs, two balanced inputs, a moving magnet input.
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Using the C-220 is extremely straightforward. There were plenty of inputs for all of my gear and the ability to re-name inputs meant that I never had to guess what source was connected to each input. Despite being at the bottom of the product line, the C-220 sounds like a true, high performance preamplifier. The linestage had a smooth, accurate midrange that did a realistic job reproducing both male an female vocals. The soundstage was particularly wide and with good depth as well. Background noise was kept to a minimum and was definitely more in line with a high end preamplifier than an entry level product. The low background noise lets the listener appreciate the C-220's ability to discern details which it did well through most of the frequency spectrum. The C-220 seemed to be slightly rolled off or soft a the upper portion of the frequency range in comparison to McIntosh's top of the line preamplifier.
Read The High Points, Low Points and Conclusion on Page 2