McIntosh Labs was founded in the 1940's by Frank McIntosh and incorporated in 1949. Since then, the company has gone through its ups and downs, but it is still here today producing incredibly built amplifiers, preamplifiers, source components, speakers, and even high end car audio. Through out the years, McInstosh has been responsible for many innovations in high end audio, and even owns numerous patents.
McIntosh tube amplifiers produced in the 1950's and 1960's are legendary. They also produced state of the art tuners that collectors still salivate over. To this day, the company enjoys a devoted following. McIntosh has been known for so many things over the years, including high prices, stunning aesthetics, and an air of exclusivity. But one thing above all could never be denied, and that is McIntosh products always sounded outstanding, as underneath it all, they have been and still are an engineering driven company.
The company eventually moved away from tube designs in the 1970's into solid state. In 1990, they were sold to the Japanese car audio company Clarion. In 2003, D&M Holdings purchased the company, adding it to its stable brands that include Marantz and Denon. Since that purchase, McIntosh has enjoyed a high profile, and has added Home Theater, Music Servers, DAC's, and commemorative tube products to its lineup. The products are built to a standard that is unmatched, in my opinion. And the best news of all is that many McIntosh products in the lineup are very competitively priced. As a matter of fact, when compared head to head with similar products from other high profile audio manufacturers, McIntosh gear may actually be a better value.
Years ago I used to enjoy going to hifi shops with my father and we would see McIntosh equipment in the stores on display, and they were things of beauty, but ultimately unattainable price wise. I don't know if the rest of the field has just caught up, or if modern production logistics and economies of scale have allowed McIntosh to offer products that most audiophiles can afford. A case in point is the product under review here, the MA6600 integrated amplifier, with an optional HD tuner module installed, priced at $6000.
The MA6600 is among five integrated amps that Mcintosh offers. There are four solid state and one tube model. The entry level MA6300, rated at 100 wpc, goes for $4000, hardly the most expensive integrated amplifier in its category.Thus my feeling that the notion that McIntosh is overpriced is really outdated and does not reflect the current reality.
McIntosh claims the units are engineered with no compromises and approach the performance of their best separates. I certainly can't verify that, but I can tell you that the MA6600, rated at 200 wpc, is superbly built, luxurious to use, and is filled with proprietary technology, plus it is absolutely beautiful to look at. It has a chic, retro, industrial art, 1960's feel.
Under the hood, the MA6600 features several McIntosh special technologies to help reduce distortion, protect loudspeakers, and to help the user monitor peaks in program material. The McIntosh web site has plenty of information on these features, as well as manual downloads for the extra curious. The MA660 features McIntosh Autoformers that optimize power output for 2, 4 and 8 ohm speaker loads. McIntosh claims they are ultra low in distortion.
The MA660 offers the owner the ability to send the preamplifier signal out to a separate power amplifier, and the ability to use a separate, outboard preamplifier with the power amp section. Pretty unique. Also featured are tone and EQ controls, balance controls, and highly programmable volume settings. This is not a purist, featureless amp that forces you to purchase multiple outboard processors and components. It is all right here. That includes a phono stage for a Moving Magnet phono cartridge, a high quality headphone jack, data ports for connection to other McIntosh components, and of course, a system remote control. There are also such useful functions such as a Mute switch, and a Home Theater Bypass.Set up and Listening:
Installing the MA6600 was a snap, not including lifting the 75lb beast on to the top of my Salamander rack. I used a Kimber KCTG interconnect cable to connect my CD player in to the CD2 input, as CD1 accepts only XLR connections. I plugged in my Acoustic Zen Tsunami II AC cord, ran a coaxial cable from my Cat5 jack into the tuner module, and powered on, and that was it. The famous blue power meters lit up, along with the display, and I readied a stack of discs to spin. I used both the ultra refined and accurate Thiel CS2.4 floor standers and my reference Harbeth Compact 7ES3 monitors for the review.
What was obvious from the get go was how distortion free, transparent, linear, and dynamic the presentation was. And this only improved in the coming weeks as the unit settled in. I noted to myself that it was going to be problematic to try to find any major or even minor flaws in the sound, operation, or features. Playing CD after CD was such a pleasure, especially since there was zero high end grain, lower bass and upper midrange bloat, which by the way, I have recently become sensitive to since having the Thiel CS2.4's in my system for several months.