Add Streaming Capabilities to Vintage McIntosh Gear

Vintage audio lovers rejoice!

If you have a vintage audio system of any capacity, and want to add streaming from your bluetooth device, McIntosh has the answer with their new MB20 Transceiver. This $500 device is exquisitely built and finished to match the rest of your vintage MAC gear, (or even slightly vintage MAC gear that lacks streaming) perfectly.

In addition to it’s Bluetooth antenna, you could even use a pair of these devices, to stream from a remote master system (Bluetooth carries for about 150 feet) via the RCA and analog inputs to extend the capability of your main audio system. Thanks to balanced XLR as well as the standard RCA and digital inputs, there are a myriad of options for placement. And connectivity.

This small box has a black anodized finish and similar gold lettering to perfectly compliment your Mac system. Even if you aren’t a vintage McIntosh owner, this is still a fantastic way to add streaming capability to your system. With the recent resurgence of vintage receivers from the 60s – 80s, I can’t think of a better box to add.

I’ve already got my order in for one, for the vintage system over at I’ll be spending the next year or so restoring a 1975 BMW 2002, and having full access to my music library will make those long nights wrenching a lot better. Who knows, maybe that Marantz 2270 sitting on top of my toolbox will get replaced with a McIntosh 1900?

It could happen.

McIntosh Announces MA252 Integrated…

Today McIntosh announced the release of their new MC252 integrated amplifier, to a wide range of polarizing comments around the world.

With an MSRP of $3,500, this is a pretty kick ass little package. The approximately 12 x 18 inch footprint makes it about the size of a PrimaLuna amplifier, so it’s not going to take up a ton of space wherever you end up placing it, and at only 28 pounds, nearly anyone can lift it into place – pretty cool for McIntosh.

A hybrid design, the MA252 uses four tubes in the input/driver segments and a solid state output stage, delivering 100 watts per channel into 8 ohms and 160 per channel into 4 ohms, so you’ll have enough juice to drive most any speakers. A headphone amplifier is included and an MM phono section as well.

You can see by the rear view, that there is one balanced XLR input, two unbalanced RCA inputs and the phono, along with a single, mono output for a powered subwoofer. This should make it easy to make the MA252 the anchor for a great compact system.

Visually, the 252 pays homage to past classic McIntosh tube amplifiers, adding the current aesthetic of LED’s underneath the tubes and a digital display to indicate function and volume level. You’ll love it or hate it, but it’s pure Mac, and built on the same assembly line in Binghamton, New York with all current day McIntosh components.

We look forward to a full review as soon as samples start shipping!

Please click here for more tech bits!

New Mac Receiver – Single Chassis Cool

McIntosh is proud to announce the MAC7200 Receiver.

MAC7200 Receiver (available worldwide)

The MAC7200 Receiver builds upon the MA7200 Integrated Amplifier by adding a built-in AM/FM Tuner. McIntosh has been making tuners since the 1950s and they are one of our hallmarks, with the groundbreaking MR78 model from 1972 considered an all-time classic in the audio industry. The built-in AM/FM tuner in the MAC7200 Receiver comes from that same illustrious line of McIntosh tuners and will pick up radio stations with unparalleled clarity and a realism that is free from noise and distortion. Its advanced signal quality monitor can display the multipath and noise levels of the incoming RF signal to help fine tune antenna placement for optimal reception. Dedicated PRESET and TUNING knobs enable easy radio operation. The FM tuner includes Radio Data System (RDS) support, allowing it to display optional information sent by radio stations such as the station’s name and call letters as well as the name of the artist and song being played. It features 20 presets for each radio band as well as a remote AM antenna. The MAC7200 is available worldwide.

Suggested retail price MAC7200 (VAT, shipping and any customs duties related to current standards of individual countries are excluded): $7,000 USD.

We Visit McIntosh’s Charlie Randall…Part One

Earlier this summer, I had a chance to chat with Charlie Randall, CEO of the McIntosh Group and head of McIntosh Labs.

He’s a very busy guy, keeping track of everything that all of their brands are involved in, from manufacturing to trade shows and everything else in-between. We’re breaking this up into a few segments so you can tune in as you have time.

Here’s part one!

Issue 82


Old School:

Conrad-Johnson MV 60SE Power Amplifier
By Jeff Dorgay


Gold Note’s Vasari Gold Phono Cartridge
By Jeff Dorgay

Journeyman Audiophile:

G-Lab Block Amplifier
By Jeff Dorgay

TONE Style

WINO: Malbec

Panono 360 degree camera

Epson Home Projector

ChargeTech Classic Laptop Charger

Dyson V6 Vacuum

Art Of Jay Ward

Anker Lighting Cable

New Wave Ornaments

John Varvatos Morrison Sharpe Boots


Spin the Black Circle: Reviews of New Pop/Rock and Country Albums
By Bob Gendron, Todd Martens, and Chrissie Dickinson

Jazz & Blues: John Abercrombie, Tania Chen and More!
By Kevin Whitehead and Jim Macnie

Audiophile Pressings: Kruder & Dorfmeister, Run DMC and more!

Gear Previews

Sonus faber Venere S Speakers

Esoteric F-07 Integrated Amplifier

Conrad – Johnson TEA1S2 Phonostage


Viola Labs Sonata Preamp
By Greg Petan

Focal Sopra no.3 Speakers
By Jeff Dorgay

McIntosh MB50 Streamer
By Greg Petan

Technics SL-1200G Turntable
By Jeff Dorgay

Audio Physic Tempo plus Speakers
By Rob Johnson

MartinLogan Expression ESL13A Speakers
By Jeff Dorgay

McIntosh C500 Control Center

McIntosh has always built preamplifiers that define the term “input flexibility,” which is why I always refer to them as control centers.  With nine inputs and six variable outputs (two XLR and four RCA) in addition to a processor loop, it’s safe to say this preamplifier should be able to accommodate every source in your system.  It also features a MC and MM phono stage that can be configured from the front panel or your remote control, so no stone is left unturned.  MSRP for the C500 is $12,000 in either the solid-state or tube version.  You can buy all three boxes for $18,000, but the C500 controller can only access one preamplifier at a time.

A two-box design, the C500 has an interesting twist for those having the age-old debate about the validity of solid state versus vacuum tubes; you can configure your C500 either way.  It’s actually two preamplifiers, the C500P (solid state) or C500T (tube).  The flagship C1000 controller offers the same choices and allows you to drive both preamplifier modules simultaneously, but with the C500, you have to draw a line in the sand and pick one.  For those on the fence, your McIntosh dealer should be able to audition both.

While McIntosh does an excellent job at voicing their gear similarly, there is still an elusive magic to the tube sound that is tough to ignore, and while a vacuum-tube preamplifier means that you will have to change tubes from time to time, it’s nice to have the option.  The end user is the winner thanks to this unprecedented ability to fine-tune your system, even to the all-McIntosh customer.  And both two-box designs feature a set of big, blue output-level meters.

A fully balanced design from input to output, the C500 uses eight 12AX7 tubes: four in the high level circuit and four more in the phono preamplifier.  The phono preamplifier circuit is all tube if you are using the moving magnet (MM) stage. If you have a lower-output moving-coil (MC) phono cartridge, the MC stage uses McIntosh’s own solid-state phono step-up modules instead of an input transformer.   Four of the 12AX7’s are visible from the front panel, back lit in green, while the other four are beneath the top cover.


The controller section of the C500 has no tubes inside and generates almost no heat, but the preamplifier section does get a little bit warm with eight tubes inside, so make sure to give it some ventilation room.  Once both boxes are unpacked, you will notice a pair of umbilical cords that look like parallel-interface printer cables from the earlier days of PC-based computing.  According to Ron Cornelius, McIntosh’s Sales Manager, there are only control voltages running through these cables; “There are no audio signals here.”  So for the tweekophiles in the audience, put your fears aside.

The single IEC power socket is located on the controller chassis, which also houses the dual power supplies for each channel, making the C500 a true dual-mono design.  For those new to the McIntosh fold, these power transformers are wound in-house, as they always have been.

Once power is attached, the C500 stays in standby mode and on power up, displays a “tube warmup” message on the LCD front panel, with the outputs muted.  Worth noting is that the C500 does not produce a harsh transient, should you forget and shut the preamplifier off before your power amp.  A nice touch, especially should you be using an amplifier with significant power output.

If you are incorporating the C500 into an all-McIntosh system, there are seven individual data ports so you can link your other components to the C500 and control them all from the one remote – very cool if you have come to the point where you are considering hiring a feng shui consultant to keep your remotes in order!  The C500 also features 12V trigger ports, so you can turn everything on with the single power switch.  A great feature with other amplifiers but very impressive on a large McIntosh system when you see all of those blue and green faceplates light up at once.

Most of my listening for the review period was conducted with the MC275 vacuum-tube power amplifier and the MC1.2 KW solid-state monoblocks, and with a variety of speakers.  The system was cabled entirely with Cardas Clear and utilized the balanced connections on all but one input (The dCS Paganini).  After the initial listening was complete, I swapped the standard-issue power cord for a Python CX from Shunyata, as I use on my reference Burmester preamplifier.

How about that input flexibility?

It doesn’t stop with the number of inputs.  The C500 allows you to trim the outputs of each program source +/- 6db and you can do it from the comfort of your listening chair, making it easy to fine tune the system so there are no surprises when going from CD to tuner, etc.  Seeing that McIntosh has put so much effort into the display programming, it would be nice to see this taken a step further to let the user fully customize the input readout (a-la BAT or Simaudio). It would be great for those with multiple turntables and digital players to be able to have the display say “Rega P9” instead of “Phono MM.”

However, you can rename the inputs to the preset CD 2, Aux 2, etc. and you can shut off the display on the inputs that are not in use. So if you have only three inputs, you will only be switching between the active ones to avoid confusion.  The display has seven steps of brightness from which to choose, and the meters can be switched off for those who like to listen in total darkness. But the question begs to be asked: why would you ever want to switch off the meters on a McIntosh?

The MM phono stage has adjustments for capacitive loading from 50pf to 750pf in 50pf increments.  As there are a number of high-quality MM cartridges on the market, this allows to perfectly optimize your MM cartridge playback.    The MC phono stage allows the input resistive loading to be set at 25, 50, 100, 200, 500 and 1,000 ohms.  This should cover the bulk of MM cartridges that are available, but for the hard-core turntable enthusiast, it would be nice to see a “custom” setting that can be set by a competent technician.

Should you still own a high-performance tape deck or other recording device, the record and listen processor loops will come in handy.  I found this to be indispensable using the Manley Massive Passive studio EQ, when capturing digital files from my favorite LP’s for music-server use.  Thanks to the C500’s playback loop, I could sneak the Manley into the system to use with troublesome CD’s for playback as well.  While this is a feature that few will use, those with multiple sources will appreciate it.

Definitely sounds like a McIntosh

Almost all McIntosh gear has a full-bodied sound that leans slightly to the warm side of neutral, but I can’t ever think of an instance where it isn’t welcome.  I’ve heard other preamplifiers with more resolution, but the C500 offers a great balance between the lush, overly tubey sound of the ’60s and a modern high-resolution sound.  While a few of your most pristine, perfectly recorded discs (analog or digital) may not have the last bit of slam and dynamics as they might on a more resolving preamplifier, I’ll bet that at least half of the records in your record collection will benefit from that extra tonal richness that the C500 offers.  This is one of the main reasons for the fierce loyalty of McIntosh owners.

But don’t think the C500 doesn’t hold its own against the competition.  When listening to the GamuT S9, the YG Acoustics Anat Studio II, the MartinLogan CLX and recently the Estelon XA (all very high-resolution speakers in the $30,000 – $140,000 range), I never felt the preamplifier was holding the system back.

When comparing to my reference Burmester amp and preamp, the tubes had a definite warmth, but it was always inviting.  Male and female vocals came alive in a way that they only seem to do with tubes – there was just more of a third dimension available.  Listening to Neil Young’s voice on the 24/96 version of Harvest was easily discernable from the standard 16/44 copies.

The soundstage of the C500 was always BIG.  This seems to be so much easier to accomplish with vacuum tubes, and if you listen to a lot of rock and contemporary jazz that is created in a studio with a somewhat artificial soundstage to begin with, the C500 will win you over on this aspect alone.  Listening to “Woman in Chains” from the Tears For Fears album, The Seeds of Love, the triangle played during the opening of the song appears to float about 10 feet beyond the speaker boundary.  It’s not real, of course, but it is cool.  If you love classic rock, you will be in heaven with the C500.

Solid-State or Tubes?

By far, the most intriguing feature of the C500 is it’s ability to work with a vacuum-tube output stage or a solid-state one.  As I suspected, the solid-state version had a bit more punch and the tube stage was slightly mellower.  The solid-state preamp section also had slightly more weight in the lower registers.  When listening to some bass-heavy tracks from Tosca, utilizing the JL Audio Gotham subwoofer, the tube section had a slightly looser feel, whereas the solid-state version offered a bass perspective that would more punch you in the chest.  If you have a system capable of going down deep (the Gotham is only down -3db at 16hz) and perhaps listen to a lot of electronica, the solid-state version might be for you.

While I could happily live with either configuration, I did gravitate more towards the all-tube preamplifier with the MC 1.2KW solid-state monoblocks and the Octave MRE tube monoblocks (which are somewhat “un-tubey” sounding), while the solid-state output stage was more to my liking with the MC275 vacuum-tube power amplifier and my Conrad Johnson MV-50C1, which each have a fairly warm overall tonal balance.
Though definitely a great subject for a month-long internet forum argument, deciding which one of these two is right for you is immaterial.  The good news is that you have the option.  Should your needs change, you can go to your McIntosh dealer and purchase the alternative.  Upon reconnecting all of your other components and the umbilical cord, a simple reset on the front panel and the C500 will make the necessary change.

Spinning records

C500 owners who have just one turntable and perhaps don’t swap cartridges often won’t be able to take advantage of one of this preamplifier’s best features: the ability to set loading from your listening position.  Cartridge swaps are a weekly occurrence here, and many audiophiles will have removable headshells or tonearm wands that use a specific cartridge for different purposes or as the mood strikes.  The more-involved vinyl junkie will be right at home with the C500.

I managed to try almost a dozen different phono cartridges from the Shure M97xe all the way to the Clearaudio DaVinci, all with excellent luck.  The only cartridge for which I could not get the perfect match was the SoundSmith Sussaro, which is a moving-iron cartridge that sounds its best at about 2,500 ohms.  There are a few moving-magnet cartridges that also perform a bit better slightly above or below the standard 47k loading, but these are the exception rather than the rule for 99.9 percent of analog users.  Most MC cartridges should easily work between 100 and 1,000 ohms (though the 25 ohm setting is a fantastic match for the Rega Apheta MC).

Thanks to the solid-state modules in the MC section, the C500 is quieter than an all-tube phono stage and has a healthy dose of dynamic punch as well.  A tiny bit of background noise creeps in to the C500’s phono stage, but you have to put your ear right up to the tweeter to hear it.  The solid-state modules in the MC section aren’t just switched into the MM signal path.  According to the engineers at McIntosh, there are two separate phono stages under the hood of the C500.

While listening to Joni Mitchell’s Wild Things Run Fast, (the recent ORG pressing), I found there was a wonderful midrange bloom to the presentation that made Mitchell’s voice take over the soundstage in a very enjoyable manner.  I had similar results with any other strong vocalists in my record collection.  Playing Marquise Knox’ Man Child on LP was a chilling experience, revealing enough of his vocal character that you just might be fooled into thinking that you are back at Chad Kassem’s Crossroads Blues Festival.

Comparing the phono stage in the C500 with some of the outboard phono stages we’ve had the opportunity to live with during the past few years, it offers a level of performance that would cost you $2,000 – $3,000 in an outboard phono stage. A separate MM and MC stage is pretty much non-existent at this price, plus you probably would want to buy an upgraded power cord along with a pair of decent interconnects going from phono stage to linestage.

Don’t forget the phones

McIntosh doesn’t ignore the headphone users on any of their preamplifiers, and the C500 is no exception.  While not the last word in headphone performance, you would have to spend somewhere between $500- $1,000 to get an outboard headphone amp (and remember, more cables….) to put this one in the weeds.  Running the gamut of the AKG 701’s, Grado GS-1’s, Sennheiser 650’s and my new favorites, the Audeze LCD-2’s, I came away impressed with the C500’s performance.

The headphone stage sounded identical on both output sections, leading me to believe that the phono board is identical in each. Though it would only benefit a small number of customers, it would be cool to run the tube output stage direct through the phones.  If you are like me and enjoy headphone use from time to time but don’t feel the need to invest in a multi-thousand-dollar headphone setup, the C500 should serve your needs just fine.

Looks great, sounds great

McIntosh has stayed true to its look and feel, so the big, backlit glass front panel and blue meters will either speak to you or they won’t.  The C500 is rock solid.  It’s been playing here for about the past six months, 12 hours a day without so much as a burp, and I suspect that it will continue to do so just as so many McIntosh preamplifiers do out there in the world.

The best reason for buying this preamplifier is its combination of performance and flexibility. Whether you ultimately make one the cornerstone of your system depends on whether you can make use of what it offers.  There are a few $12,000 linestages out there that will extract more music from your recordings, but none of them have a built-in MM and MC phono stage, or a built-in headphone amp. So the C500 ends up being a little spendy if you don’t need the phono stage and a killer bargain if you do.  It’s also nice to know that should your amplification needs change, you can fine tune the C500 with some tube rolling or even change the output stage to solid state.  -Jeff Dorgay

McIntosh C500 Control Preamplifier

MSRP:  $12,000 – $18,000


Analog Sources Rega P9/RB 1000 and Shelter 501II cartridge    Oracle Delphi V/SME 309    Grado Statement cartridge
Digital Sources dCS Paganini stack    Sooloos Music Server    Naim HDX
Power Amplifiers McIntosh MC275    McIntosh MC1.2kw monoblocks    Octave MRE 130 monoblocks    Burmester 911 mk.3    Pass Labs First watt F2    Conrad Johnson MV-50C1
Cable Cardas Clear speaker cable and interconnects
Power Running Springs Dmitri and Maxim power conditioners    RSA and Shuynata power cords
Speakers GamuT S9    MartinLogan CLX    YG Acoustics Anat II Professional   Estelon XA     B&W 805D w/JL Audio Gotham subwoofer

McIntosh McAire

As I unbox the new McAire wireless music system, from that other apple of my eye—the one in Binghamton, N.Y.—the similarities between it and something from the Apple of Cupertino, Calif., are uncanny.  Mixing old styles with new styles, the McAire’s outer packaging and quick-start guide look suspiciously West Coast, but I’ve opened enough McIntosh hi-fi gear to recognize the owner’s manual instantly—and this one is pure McIntosh Labs.

A few years ago, with its F80, British manufacturer Meridian broke the price barrier for a high-performance compact audio system.  Now a serious American brand offers an alternative to the Bose Wave radio, and the McAire is equally as intriguing as the F80, both in terms of performance and aesthetics.

McIntosh’s Ron Cornelius says, “It’s expensive for a dock, but it’s a really affordable McIntosh system. The McAire retails for $3,000

It’s Heavy and It Rocks

While the McAire is an amazing wireless player for your iPhone, iPod or iPad, it’s so much more than that.  This 31-pound one-piece system features the same titanium tweeters and inverted-dome midrange drivers with NRT magnet structures found in the brand’s flagship XRT speakers.  In the McAire, McIntosh couples these to a pair of 5-inch slot-loaded woofers that produce formidable bass.  The system features Class-D amplification, but McIntosh doesn’t list a specification for power output.  Suffice it to say the McAire really rocks.

I begin the audition with “Who,” the lead track from the new David Byrne & St. Vincent album Love This Giant, which instantly establishes the bass response of the McAire.  The tabletop quakes, as the big, blue McIntosh meters swing merrily to the beat.  This thing fills the room with sound!

Next up: “Hail Bop,” from the self-titled Django Django album.  With so much spacey, synthesizer sounds, twangy guitars and ethereal harmonies, this track shows the McAire’s ability to set a gigantic soundfield—doing so on our art director’s desktop.  The sound is so big that she takes control of the remote to slow the pace down a bit, switching to some classic Michael Hedges.  The McAire proves equally adept with acoustic guitar, before we take a walk on the wild side with Marc Ribot’s Silent Movies, a record full of empty space, feedback and distortion.  I end the first of many listening duals with AC/DC’s “Rock ‘n’ Roll Damnation,” leaving everyone in the office impressed with the McAire.

Well Connected

The McAire is Apple-certified, so you can connect any iDevice via USB cable or wirelessly via AirPlay.  The initial setup is straightforward, requiring just your device and the small supplied remote.  The Ikea-like quick-start guide walks you through the process in a few minutes.  Those not wanting to have their device floating around on the tabletop, or in their pocket, can take advantage of the McIntosh ST-1 stand (sold separately; $50), which fits any of Apple’s portable devices.

You can stream music to the McAire using your home’s Wi-Fi network and iTunes on your Mac or PC—but why bother when you can utilize the McIntosh app for your iPhone or iPad?  Using the app gives you similar functionality to iTunes, but turns the screen of your device into yet another McIntosh blue meter!  What could be cooler than that?

An auxiliary audio input on the back panel lets you get really wacky if you want, by connecting a turntable or other source unit to your McAire system.  We didn’t take things that far, but we did plug in a vintage McIntosh MR-71 FM tuner.  This requires a bit more shelf space, but the tube tuner is a nice addition to the system, if you’re listening to FM radio.

For seasoned McIntosh aficionados, or those discovering the brand for the first time, the McAire compact system is an excellent idea for adding high-performance audio to any room in the house.

McIntosh McAire


McIntosh MEN 220

Moving speakers around your listening room to get the best possible sound can be both frustrating and fruitless.  Depending on the size and type of the speakers, you could spend countless hours getting them in just the right position and, even then, the sound still might not be perfect, because the listening environment itself plays a huge role in defining that sweet spot and achieving auditory bliss.

Room treatments are another headache.  You tell yourself that your speakers will sound way better with those gigantic bass traps you’ve been lusting after, but you can only fit so much stuff into a room before friends and loved ones either intervene or nominate you to star in one of those reality shows about people who hoard things.  Indeed, this process of generating the desired audio orbs down to the millimeter can quickly drive you mad.  And don’t even get us started on the tape marks on the floor. As a good audiophile buddy reminds us: “The amount of blue masking tape on your listening-room floor is directly proportional to how close to a nervous breakdown you might be.”

Meet Mac’s Magic Box

Of course, a room that’s been properly treated with the speakers optimally placed is still the Holy Grail.  Unfortunately, most of us don’t ever quite achieve this, so our rack of expensive gear never reaches its full potential.  This is why the engineers at McIntosh Labs created the MEN220.  It doesn’t use magic exactly; just a serious amount of heavy-duty science, to produce magical results, which seem all the more supernatural considering how easy it is to set up.

For the MEN220, McIntosh licensed RoomPerfect technology from Danish audio wizard Peter Lyngdorf, whose Steinway Lyngdorf music systems, which cost upwards of a couple hundred grand, utilize this proprietary room-correction software to optimize the system for any listening environment. TONE gear editor Bailey S. Barnard has written about Steinway Lyngdorf more than once in these pages and has always come away impressed. Whereas the Lyngdorf systems require a certified technician to implement the optimization software, the MEN220 allows you, the end user, to place the box between your amplifier and preamplifier, or within a processor loop if your preamplifier has one.  The MEN220 works with balanced or single-ended components, so it will integrate into any system where a break between the preamplifier and power amplifier exists.  Then, with a few simple measurements (okay, maybe more like 10), you’ll be on your way.  But, we promise, it’s easier than it sounds—and it’s certainly less maddening than inching your speakers into the exact right spot and festooning your room with foam sound traps.  Plus, it’s kind of a fun process that will make you feel like the acoustic engineer you’ve always told yourself you had the ability to be.

Once you fully install the MEN220, break out the calibrated microphone and long cord that McIntosh includes in the box.  The 220’s onboard processor is equipped with internal microprocessors, which measure the reflections in your room and make corrections for the peaks and dips in frequency response.  The included literature instructs you to take the first reading as close as possible to where your head is when listening to music.  This will return a reading, or “room-knowledge” score, of about 75% and will substantially improve how your system interacts with your room—but the MEN220 is capable of much more.

Additional measurements, each taken from a different spot, increase the room-knowledge score.  The higher the score, the more you will realize how much you were missing.  Using the 220 with McIntosh’s C50 preamplifier improves things even further, thanks to the C50’s built-in graphic equalizer, which allows you to fine-tune the MEN220’s audio achievements.  After a few different setups, we realized that bumping the room knowledge index above 92% eliminates the need for the onboard EQ in the C50.

Room Challenges

We put the MEN220 through its paces in a few different environments to judge its effectiveness in a treated room, a relatively inert, non-treated room and our publisher Jeff Dorgay’s living room, which has to be one of the worst-sounding rooms anyone on our staff has experienced, with major anomalies in the bass and midrange regions.  The MEN220 made a minimal difference in Jeff’s treated room with full range speakers, but in the other two environments, the 220 achieved significant gains in terms of clarity and coherence.


When using the 220, more inner detail becomes instantly apparent.  The 24-bit remaster of the Beatles’ “She Came in Through the Bathroom Window” from the Abbey Road album, startles with the level of clarity now present in this recording.  The corrections made Paul’s bass line much easier to follow, gave Ringo’s percussion its own space and elevated the backup vocals that were buried in the mix.  After the first of many test tracks, everyone was stunned at how much of a difference the 220 makes.

The piano hidden deep in the background of “Bang and Blame” (from the HDtracks download of the R.E.M. album Monster) now has much more airiness lingering well behind the right speaker, again exhibiting more clarity throughout the frequency range, with the bonus of additional dynamic information.

The wood block in the tune “Rich Woman,” which Robert Plant and Alison Krauss released in 2007 on their Raising Sand collaborative album, jumps out of the speakers.  With an almost surreal effect, it now sounds like someone is whacking the wood block about a foot in front of the listening chair.  Where was this thing in the 1970s when we all got really high listening to music?

Any thoughts of altered reality wouldn’t be complete without listening to some Doors.  “Riders on the Storm” was beyond psychedelic.  Again, the amount of bass resolution now on tap thanks to the 220 is stunning.  The piano floats wistfully in the air, instead of just being locked in between the speakers as it was before engaging the 220.

Like an eight-year-old boy, Jeff determined not to eat what’s on his plate.  He didn’t want to like the MEN220—because it’s sooo un-purist, sooo un-audiophile.  (Perhaps non-20th-century audiophile is more accurate.)  But with enough computer power under the hood to launch a spaceship, the 220 quickly converts the non-believers.  Then staff member Jerold O’Brien’s girlfriend asked the fateful question: “We can get rid of all that stuff hanging on the walls if you have this box, right?”  Like watching Wile E. Coyote scheming on how to catch the Road Runner, you could see O’Brien’s gears turning.  He looked nervous and made a quick exit.

Vintage O-rama

Sure, the MEN220 did a great job with the $8,500-per-pair Dynaudio Confidence C1s, and it was spectacular with the $23,000 Sonus faber Elipsa SEs, but it was time to try something way off base.  So we hauled out the circa-1970s JBL L-100 speakers.  And, as crazy and as “un-audiophile” as this seems, the JBLs underwent the most miraculous transformation of all.

The L-100s are fun speakers, but their sound is decidedly vintage, even with world-class electronics powering them.  After a quick set of measurements, they sounded like a pair of speakers that you’d expect to cost a lot more.  The JBLs still had their limitations—the upper register is still slightly grainy and there is a touch of bass bloat that even the EQ can’t fix—but they now have natural midrange and throw a huge soundstage with some serious pinpoint imaging.  Don’t believe us?  Stop by our room at the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest this October ( and have a listen.  We’ll be showcasing the MEN220 with the JBL-L100s in the TONEAudio “Chill Out” room.

Of course, running the 220 with the JBLs triggered a major classic-rock listening session.  Christine McVie’s voice on “Songbird” from Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours floated whimsically in the air between the speakers.  As easily as with any pair of audiophile-approved loudspeakers, the massive increase in system resolution enabled us to readily discern between high-resolution and standard digital files playing through the JBLs.  The 220 transformed the title track of Bowie’s Young Americans (again in 24/96) into an eerily immersive experience.  We could not believe this was the same pair of speakers purchased on eBay a few years ago for relatively little money.  Listening to the DVD-Audio rip of the Grateful Dead’s American Beauty was much trippier, thanks to the MEN220—not an acid flashback or all the Dead karma coming back from the days when the band used McIntosh amplification for their live show. Either way, it really enhanced the listening experience.

Truth or Dare

So how close does the MEN220 bring a modest setup, with randomly placed speakers, to the megabuck systems, carefully tuned and tweaked in a room full of treatments?  Much closer than any of us expected.  Of course, there still is no substitute for cleaning up the acoustics with the proper treatments, but the only place the 220 comes up a little short is when playing a super high-performance analog recording.  The digital processing does take that last 5% of sparkle out of the equation, but this is on a system worth a garage full of Porsches.  In every other system we placed the MEN220, it delivered a stunning level of improvement.

While the magic box will not turn a $400 pair of white van speakers into a pair of $160,000 Wilson Alexandrias—even magic has its limitations—the more resolving your speakers, the more accurate of a measurement the MEN220 will be able to make.  We were constantly flabbergasted by how much better an average room sounds with the MEN220 in the loop.  The biggest gains are in the mid-bass range, with upper-range smoothness a close second.  Cleaning up the mid-bass mess allows your speakers to deliver much cleaner midrange response with better imaging.

Reclaim Your Life

If you’re part of the lunatic (and we mean that in the best possible way) fringe of audiophelia that has a purpose-built listening room, you don’t need the MEN220.  But if you are a music lover who has spent a fair amount on a system that still leaves you feeling a bit short-changed, or your speakers are still in the wrong place, nirvana is only $4,500 away.  You could spend this on a few marginal tweaks that won’t change much of anything but your bank balance, but the MEN220 will definitely get your system where you’ve always wanted it to be—and it’s a hell of a lot simpler and less-maddening than moving speakers and dampening your room.  So grab an MEN220 for your system and plan a vacation with all the time and stress you’re going to save.

McIntosh MEN220

MSRP:  $4,500


Digital Source dCS Paganini    Sooloos Control 15    Aurender S10
Analog Source AVID Volvere SP turntable with SME 309 tonearm and Lyra Kleos cartridge
Preamplifier ARC REF 5SE    Burmester 011    McIntosh C50
Amplifier ARC REF 150    Burmester 911    Pass Labs XA200.5
Phonostage ARC REF Phono 2SE
Cable Cardas Clear     AudioQuest Sky

McIntosh MR88

Sometimes, one longs for the hi-fi simplicity of the 1970s. Back then, FM radio functioned as the prime source of listening for many a music lover. AOR FM was in high gear, and people just tuned into any number of stations to get a music fix. Those with audiophile leanings often invested in a separate tuner to optimize the FM sound quality. Often, a manufacturer’s top-of-the-line tuner represented the best and most highly engineered product in its whole line. Companies such as Yamaha, Pioneer, SAE, Kenwood, Sansui, Marantz, Technics, Sony, and McIntosh waged a high-stakes tech war to see who could develop the king of the airwaves: A tuner with clean, clear reception coupled with good sound.

MR65B, MR71, MR74, MR78…MR88?

At first glance, I mistook the MR88 for a classic McIntosh model, with the stellar MR65B and MR74 coming to mind. The $4,000 unit’s cosmetics are distinctly retro. A tuning knob connected to a flywheel, a glass tuning dial, and an illuminated dial pointer reinforce the traditional McIntosh appearance. But any analog suggestions are instantly dispelled upon power up: A window displays station frequency, shows station call letters, and scrolls RBDS text when the unit is switched on.

The MR88 is basically an all-digital DSP device that uses every manner of technological wizardry to deliver terrestrial or satellite signals in crystal clear, noise-free fashion. It even has an spdif digital out that can be sent to your favorite DAC, via a coax or Toslink cable. Various other provisions make the MR88 a thoroughly modern, future-proof component. An RS232 port is at the ready for communicating with an external control device; a service port allows for firmware upgrades; an IR input, power control input, and output for receiving and sending trigger signals to and from other McIntosh components round out the prudent touches.

Master of the Frequency Domains

Once installed and warmed up, the MR88 was put through its paces as an analog-only tuner. A default receiving mode will automatically select the HD feed from many stations, but setting it to receive the non-HD signal is easy. I connected the unit to my preamp using the greatly appreciated balanced outputs; an outdoor antenna was connected via an F-connector located on the back of the tuner.

While my standby Kenwood KT-8005 grabs about 15 stations with a strong low-noise and low-distortion signal, the MR88 claimed 18. A local jazz station, KMHD, came in strong and clear, as did KQAC, the local classical station. Both provided many hours of pleasurable listening through the MR88. Its ability to throw a convincingly deep and wide soundstage fooled more than a few listeners into thinking a CD was playing. However, the tuner’s greatest strength lies elsewhere.

Switching to back the default Auto receiving mode, the listener will hear a blending of the analog and digital signals that provides the best sound quality. Stations with HD broadcasting capability come in with noise-free clarity. The user also gets a much wider bandwidth with HD. Compared to the analog signals, bass extension goes lower and high frequencies extend further. iBiquity Digital Corp., the purveyor of HD technology, touts the sound as CD quality. A slight exaggeration, as the signal is basically an audio compression codec combined with an enhancer called SBR (spectral band replication). The latter replicates higher frequency content by transposing harmonics up from the lower and mid-frequencies at the decoder. Theoretically, SBR is based on the principle that the psychoacoustic part of the human brain tends to analyze higher frequencies with less accuracy, thus any harmonic phenomena associated with the spectral band replication process needs only be accurate in a perceptual sense, and not technically or mathematically exact.

Such myriad handling of the signal yields a slightly artificial aspect to the sound that owes to the nature of the format, not the MR88. Purist audiophiles might not fully endorse the sound, but average listeners should be quite pleased, especially considering the added content currently available on HD. As you move up and down the dial with the handy remote, you can hear the tuner first grab the analog signal and then switch over to the HD broadcast. Once the transfer occurs, one instantly perceives the increase in clarity and bandwidth. Moreover, there’s a dramatic reduction of noise on marginal signals. Employing this mode, the number of listenable stations in my area rose to 35 due to the HD2 and HD3 broadcasts.

AM, XM: The MR88 Does It All

Fans of Howard Stern and Major League Baseball broadcasts, rejoice. The MR88 is also XM Satellite Radio enabled, further increasing the content options and variety. As with AM and FM, the MR88 allows users to program up to 20 preset XM channels.

Want more? The MR88 also does wonders with the AM band. News, weather, talk, and sports are here for the taking. And AM reception quality is no afterthought. An innovative AM antenna deemed the RAA2 connects to the tuner via 20 feet of network cable, enabling optimum antenna positioning and mounting. Aficionados will recognize the approach as a far cry from foldout ferrite rods, ubiquitous on the back panels of most old-school tuners.
Speaking of the old school, adding more digital to the mix often yielded poorer sonics. While I experimented by using the digital out to my DAC, and comparing the sound quality with the balanced analog out signal, results were mixed. The most satisfying overall sound was obtained through the analog output stage.

Can streaming audio on the Internet replicate what the MR88 accomplishes? Some might be tempted to think so. But the MR88 is a different animal. From the comfort of a sofa, you can enjoy favorite FM broadcasts, listen to HD Radio content, dive into XM Radio, and get the weather report without moving so much as the remote control.
Indeed, the MR88 is a substantial audio component that’s steeped in McIntosh tradition. Sturdily built with a giant power supply, great fit and finish, wonderful looks, and excellent performance, it offers a thoroughly modern and forward-looking take on the traditional AM/FM tuner.

MSRP: $4,000

McIntosh Laboratory, Inc.
2 Chambers St.
Binghamton, NY 13903-2699
(800) 538-6576