McIntosh C2200 preamplifier Page 2

I first met Roger five or six years ago, when he and Larry delivered a McIntosh C42 preamp for me to audition with the MC2000. Poor Roger. He was so proud of his preamp, which was quite nice and remains in production, but all I had eyes for was the tube amp. (By the way, Roger and Larry are new hires compared to Sidney, who has been with McIntosh Laboratory since its founding, in 1948.)

The C2200 retails for $4500, and I find it hard to imagine that any McIntosh enthusiast wouldn't want to own one—even fans of Mac's solid-state amps.

Tubes aren't as troublesome as they're sometimes made out to be—especially the small ones typically used in preamps. (The C2200 uses four 12AX7 and four 12AT7 tubes.) Such tubes can last for a decade or more, and are easy and inexpensive to replace. They don't give off anywhere near the heat of, say, a KT88 or 6550 output tube.

The C2200's front panel measures 17" wide by 7 1/8" high, and the preamp is 14" deep and weighs 26.75 lbs. The high-level (or line-level) circuitry uses two 12AX7A tubes and two 12AT7A tubes. Ditto for the moving-magnet phono stage: two 12AX7As, two 12AT7As. The phono tubes come on only when you select the phono input. If you don't use the phono input, you won't be burning tubes for naught.

Because the C2200 is a Mac product, there's every user-friendly feature you could dream of, as well as features you couldn't dream of but might actually use. The MM phono stage is standard—you don't pay extra. There's a Mono switch. There are Bass and Treble tone controls.

I asked Roger and Larry who's buying the C2200.

Not just tube-amp customers, it turns out, but owners of Mac solid-state amps, too. Roger Stockholm, erstwhile solid-state stalwart, explained:

"You can get your tube sound in the preamp and then you can have bang for the buck with a solid-state power amp."

"Tube sound? So there is a tube sound?"

"Larry warned me I was in for a terrible ribbing."

Roger has come around...a little.

The C2200 has a busy rear panel. There are six pair of outputs—three balanced, three unbalanced. Mac knows many of its customers are into multiroom installations, so the C2200 can be configured to control a second power amp in a nearby room. The extra outputs might be useful for devices such as powered subwoofers, too. You won't go wanting.

There are four pairs of balanced (XLR) line-level inputs and six unbalanced (RCA) line-level inputs. And if you reconfigure the phono stage to be line-level, you've got seven available RCA line-level inputs.

The C2200 is not fully balanced from input to output. Not that this matters much, because the preamp is so quiet. Larry recommends using balanced connectors with long cable runs—say, from your preamp to power amp. Any noise the cables will pick up will be nixed by common-mode rejection.

The phono input can be reconfigured by the user to serve as an additional line-level input. There's a headphone jack, using an IC buffer lowers the high impedance of the line-stage tubes. There's full remote control. And you can trim the inputs so the line levels match in loudness.

At first glance, a visiting manufacturer of tube gear mistook the C2200 for a power amp. That's easy to do—there are twin McIntosh "blue-eye" power-level meters. The C2200 sports the familiar Mac glass faceplate. Labels for the various control functions are illuminated in white on black. A digital readout displays the input selected. Few preamps look so sexy in the dark.

But...power-level meters?

Customers want them, said Larry Fish. "We made them useful," he hastened to add. "The meters are calibrated so that '0' represents full output at 2.5V. If your power amp's input sensitivity is 2.5V, then a '0' reading on the preamp's meters will represent the amplifier's maximum rated power."

"But do you really need the meters?"

"Well, on some McIntosh amps you don't have meters. Your MC275, for instance."

I can see other uses for the meters—to check the channel separation and channel balance of your phono cartridge, for instance. You can dim the meter lights or turn them off completely, if you like. You can also dim the digital display.

I installed the C2200 in my main system, whose AR ES-1 turntable with SME309 tonearm and Shure Ultra 500 moving-magnet cartridge were perfect for the C2200's MM phono stage. For digital, I used a Rega Jupiter CD player as transport with the Musical Fidelity A324 upsampling DAC. Speakers throughout my listening were my reference Quad ESL-989 electrostatics.

2 Chambers Street
Binghamton, NY 13903
(607) 723-3515