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McIntosh C220 Stereo Preamplifier Print E-mail
Friday, 01 June 2007
Article Index
McIntosh C220 Stereo Preamplifier
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I listened to Dire Straits’ Brothers in Arms album (Warner Brothers) after the C220 had been playing in my system for a few weeks. When listening to the song “Your Latest Trick,” I noted that there was good spatial imaging in all three dimensions, especially in terms of width. Knopfler’s voice was solid and accurate. The vocals were palpable and well-balanced. The C220’s tubes did a great job on vocals, but their strength was not limited to vocals alone. The guitar notes were clear and detailed, with a smooth decay. The triangle maintained a solid presence in the upper left side of the soundstage. The triangle’s notes were clear and detailed without glare. The saxophone was also well-reproduced, with the right balance of body and energy; the saxophone notes were energetic and detailed, without any unnatural harshness. The song “The Man’s Too Strong” demonstrated the C220’s ability to reproduce deep and detailed natural bass notes. This very dynamic track features realistic guitars, the character of which remained consistent at a variety of volume levels (demonstrating the wide sweet spot afforded by McIntosh’s volume control system). The vocals on both tracks were reproduced with a palpable sense of presence, with detail that was smooth and full-bodied.

Knowing that tubes can have some difficulty controlling bass notes, I listened to Shaggy’s Hotshot album (MCA). The well-worn track “It Wasn’t Me” features repetitive deep synthesizer notes. I was pleased by the C220’s ability to reproduce the synthesizer notes with speed, precision and solid weight. The notes hit hard and fast without any smearing, reproducing the various low notes with aplomb. The C220 had no problems controlling the lower octaves.

I then moved on to something edgy, Guns and Roses’ album Appetite for Destruction (Geffen). The opening track “Welcome to the Jungle” starts with a complex guitar riff. The C220 easily made out the details between the instruments and even some of the edits were audible. I had not previously noticed the vocals “oh my god” in the opening riff. The electric guitars were sharp and energetic, putting to rest any concerns of whether a tube preamplifier and the C220 specifically could be quick and detailed enough to reproduce that edgy sound.

I switched back to something a bit mellower: Harry Belafonte’s highly-regarded Belafonte at Carnegie Hall (RCA) album. While listening to the track “When the Saints Come Marching In,” during the beginning, which asks, “What if this were done in the British Madrigal format,” there was a good large staging of orchestra, with back-up singers well-placed and distinct in location from Belafonte, who is solidly placed front and center. The track “Day O” is one of Belafonte’s calling cards, with good reason. This track is mostly vocals and percussion, as midrange vocals benefit from tube design. This track greatly benefited from the C220. Belafonte’s voice was strong and full without sacrificing any detail.

The vocals were lush and accurate, with the accompanying instruments also being accurately reproduced, each with their own distinct spatial identity. Music was reproduced with a good balance of accuracy and detail, without becoming overly analytical. The silent passages were indeed silent and, when silence was not appropriate, the sonics were full and smooth, yet detailed enough not to lose the character and details of the source recording. The C220 appears to have a greater signal to noise ratio than the published 90dB. I did not notice any distortion throughout my listening sessions.

Lastly, I wanted to see how the C220 would do on female vocals. Would there be any sibilance? Would female vocals be reproduced as accurately as their male counterparts? Peter Gabriel’s album So (Geffen) is well-recorded for the most part. The track “Don’t Give Up” features an amazing duet between Kate Bush and Peter Gabriel. Bush’s vocals were ethereal and the opening strings were portrayed strongly, with a good mix of detail, weight and body. With the C220, all was in balance and it was not hard to close my eyes and imagine the duet before me in my house.


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