McIntosh Laboratories C-220 Stereo Preamplifier Reviewed

Published On: October 12, 2008
Last Updated on: October 31, 2020
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McIntosh Laboratories C-220 Stereo Preamplifier Reviewed

With its smooth and accurate midrange this $4000 tube preamp features both balanced and single-ended inputs and outputs. Although its top end is slightly rolled off in comparison with other McIntosh preamps, its flexibility and superb build quality make it a winner.

McIntosh Laboratories C-220 Stereo Preamplifier Reviewed

By Author: Brian Kahn

Brian Kahn is the longest tenured writer on staff at 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_C220.gifMcIntosh 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.

Additional Resources
• Read more stereo preamplifier reviews from the staff at

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


High Points
• There will be pride of ownership with this product, as it is very well constructed while being simple and elegant in appearance.
• The C-220 was able to accommodate a large number of sources, including balanced linestage and moving-magnet level turntable. 
• Audio performance is very good and is competitive with products in this price range.

Low Points
• The C-220 does not have a home theater input for integration into a multi-channel system.
• The higher frequencies were slightly relaxed in comparison to similarly priced solid state units and more expensive tube units.

McIntosh Laboratories did an admirable job in designing the C-220 for this price point. The unit is within reach of so many people who could not otherwise afford a McIntosh preamplifier yet it doesn't forego the essentials that make a McIntosh a McIntosh. The unit's build quality and design are pure McIntosh, the C-220 is solidly built and visually it is immediately recognizable as a McIntosh. Sonically, the C-220 performs extremely well and its sins are those of omission which are much less intrusive to the listening session. The C-220's flexibility and performance allows it to work with a large variety of sources without sonic compromise. Anyone who appreciates a high performance tube preamplifier or who has always wanted to own a McIntosh should give the C-220 a close listen as it is a worthy performer.

Additional Resources
• Read more stereo preamplifier reviews from the staff at

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