McIntosh C2200 preamplifier Page 4

In the C2200, a delay circuit mutes the preamp for about 30 seconds, during which "Tube Warmup" appears reassuringly in the digital display.

Larry Fish: "Electromagnetic switching has a good deal to do with the fact there are no clicks and pops. All switching capabilities of the preamplifier are electromagnetic. This is far more reliable than the usual mechanical switching because the switches themselves are in an inert atmosphere."

"Almost like a vacuum tube?"

"Not quite. The switches are in a glass chamber filled with nitrogen. Wires are suspended in the chamber, and the electromagnetic field brings the two wires together for contact."

"Electromagnetic switching is super-reliable," Roger added, noting that if a switch is going to fail, it usually does so right away—on the bench, at the factory, before it gets out into the field. McIntosh pioneered the use of electromagnetic switching nearly 20 years ago, Larry told me.

The C2200's line-stage performance was superb. I couldn't ask for more. But what of the phono stage?

Less than stellar.

Though it's nice to know it's there, many C2200 owners will have no need of a phono stage; it probably made no sense for McIntosh to pull out all the stops and provide exceptional phono performance. As it was, I thought the C2200's phono performance was very good—quite acceptable, in fact. Just not stellar.

I'll put things in perspective: You could pay $4500 for a line-level preamp, not get any phono stage at all, and have nowhere near the convenience features offered by the McIntosh C2200. You could pay $4500 or more for a phono stage alone. What the C2200 offers for "free" is not at all bad.

But, using my Shure Ultra 500 in the SME 309 arm on an AR ES-1 turntable, I preferred the sound of my long-term reference, the AcousTech PH-1 phono stage, available for $1200 directly from Acoustic Sounds. I heard tighter, better-defined bass. The C2200's phono stage sounded slightly muddy by comparison. I heard better definition and detail overall, a more natural, more spacious presentation of, er, space. More "there" there, in other words.

A lot might depend on your phono needs. If LPs are a secondary, occasional source, then the C2200's phono stage might be all you need. The sound was full-bodied and dynamic. But compared with the AcousTech, the C2200's onboard phono stage seemed to accentuate surface noise. The grooves seemed quieter with the AcousTech.

Remember, if you don't use the C2200's phono stage, the four tubes in the phono section won't turn on. And if you reconfigure the phono section as an additional line-level input, they'll never turn on. You could easily add an outboard phono preamp and let the onboard phono section lie dormant.

The C2200's phono stage provides 40dB of gain. The phono sensitivity is given as 4.4mV for 2.5V output at 1kHz. In addition to moving-magnet cartridges, you can probably use most medium- to high-output moving-coils. Using the additional gain available from the line stage, you might even get by with a low-output (maybe below 1mV) MC. But you'd probably have to put up with some noise. Of course, you could always use a step-up transformer.

Meanwhile, I'm not sure I ever heard the outboard AcousTech phono stage sound better, which is a tribute to the C2200's line-stage quality.

I found using this preamplifier a pure pleasure. I welcomed the Bass and Treble controls, which offer 12dB of boost or cut at 30Hz and 10kHz, respectively. The tone controls are effectively out of the circuit at the center detente position. There's also a Tone Bypass button. There's a practical reason for this switch, says Larry. "You can put in some bass boost, for instance, and A/B back and forth between Tone Bypass to see if the boost is what you want."

There's also a feature that, as far as I know, is unique to McIntosh: A programmable feature called Autotone can memorize whether you want the tone controls on or off for each output. Autotone even remembers the bass and treble settings for the particular output. Need some treble cut with CDs or DVDs? Some bass cut with LPs? No problem. I'm not sure I'd ever use Autotone, but who knows?

I probably wouldn't use Pass Through, either, but I can imagine some audiophiles doing so—especially those who want to enjoy their audiophile two-channel purity and their surround-sound home theater, too. You engage Pass Through by programming this mode as one of your inputs. The C2200 then passes the left and right channels to your left and right front speakers. In other words, your surround-sound processor will control volume, source selection, etc.

Other features include the ability to drive multiple power amplifiers. You can have the C2200 control the main power amp in your listening room, for instance, and a separate amp in a room nearby, as explained in the owner's manual (downloadable as a pdf file from the McIntosh website). Better yet, have your dealer demonstrate.

I loved many of the C2200's convenience features. When you run a power-control cable from the C2200 to your Mac power amp, you can have the preamp turn the power amp on and off. Nice for lazy folks like me. You can also have your preamp turn on your Mac CD player and/or tuner. The same remote control that controls your C2200 can control your Mac CD player and tuner. McIntosh customers do like their comforts.

Don't let this panoply of features put you off. I found that they never intruded—they were there if I needed them, but weren't in my way if I didn't. A preamp, especially, should be about convenience, no? It's a control center, after all. Once I had everything hooked up, I found the C2200 easy and intuitive to use.

The McIntosh C2200 was one of the finest line-stage preamps I have ever used, and far and away the most user-friendly in terms of features. I don't think you'll find a better tubed line-stage for $4500—the C2200 merits a Class A recommendation for this reason alone. As for LPs, the C2200's onboard phono section may be all you need. It wouldn't be fair to deny the unit as a whole a Class A rating because McIntosh has included this more-than-acceptable phono stage for "free."

"I'd put this preamp in my own system," said Roger Stockholm with pride.

So would I. In fact, I plan on keeping the review sample to use with my MC2102 tube amp. This new McIntosh tube preamp was well worth the wait of nearly 40 years.

And yes, I had been waiting all that time.

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Binghamton, NY 13903
(607) 723-3515