|McIntosh C220 Stereo Preamplifier|
|Home Theater Preamplifiers Stereo Preamps|
|Written by Brian Kahn|
|Friday, 01 June 2007|
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Ask someone who was into audio in the early days of high end for the names of their favorite high-end audio brands and McIntosh is bound to be mentioned in their first breath. McIntosh has been an icon in the high-end audio world for over 50 years. McIntosh components have long been recognizable by their elegant black glass faceplates, silver trimmed knobs and blue back-lighting. McIntosh’s newest and least expensive preamplifier, the C220, combines the Old World luxury McIntosh is so well known for with modern performance features, all without breaking the bank.
The C220 is a full-featured, tube-based stereo preamplifier that retails for a reasonable $3,300. Some may categorize the C220 as a purist design, as it makes no accommodations for multi-channel or home theater integration as most $3,000 preamps do. However, to consider the C220 a simple stereo preamplifier would be to severely underestimate it. As you will see below, the C220 is full of high-tech features to help it obtain its straightforward and lofty goal.
Upon receiving and unpacking the C220, I immediately noticed that it was a substantial component, weighing 21 pounds, measuring 17-and-a-half inches wide, six inches high and 18 inches deep. The C220 chassis felt solid, and it was obvious that the bottom plate was extremely solid, with good vibration-dampening qualities above the four substantial rubber feet. The sides and top of the preamplifier are made out of perforated steel. The back panel is surprisingly full, with seven pairs of line level and single-ended inputs, one moving magnet phono input, two pairs of balanced inputs, four pairs of single-ended outputs, including one tape output, and a pair of balanced outputs. In addition to all of the signal connections, the rear panel features numerous data and control connections, including 12-volt triggers and an IR receiver. Build quality is extremely good, befitting a luxury item.
I saved the best for last. The C220’s front panel is black glass in the tradition of classic McIntosh products. The backlit glass has all of the writing etched on the backside to prevent any visible wear. The glass front panel is flanked by brushed silver vertical corner trim, with the center of the panel dominated by a large window with blue LCD readout. The LCD window is flanked by four silver trimmed knobs, with treble and bass on the left and input and volume to the right, with a row of black rocker switches below. In line with the switches, to the left is a headphone jack and to the right a red power switch. The front panel has a simple, classic look, yet provides easy access to the C220’s many features.
The C220 is a tube-based preamplifier with four 12 AX7A tubes, two each for the line and phono stages. Despite the balanced connectors found on the back panel of the C220, the circuitry inside is not balanced. McIntosh claims that the majority of the benefit of a balanced system in the intended price range of the C220 is obtained by the use of balanced connections and notes that the C220 has 40 dB of noise rejection.
A variety of performance and convenience features provide the welcome combination of ease of use and exceptional sound quality. Variable Rate Volume minimizes wear, keeps the channels matched within 1/10 of a dB and makes both large and small volume adjustments simple with dual speeds. The volume control interfaces with the audio circuit at two points, the tube output and at the source input. This arrangement keeps the tubes operating in their sweet spot through a much wider volume range than is possible with a traditional volume control. Each of the inputs are customizable and can be named. In addition to the naming of each input, one can set trim, tone and trigger choices as well. The power supplies are fully regulated and the transformer utilizes McIntosh’s special R-Core technology, which is said to reduce both mechanical and signal noise; the latter is assisted by the R-Core transformer’s low heat design, which minimizes thermal noise. All switching is performed within sealed, glass-filled cylinders, which are located adjacent to the rear panel jacks, thus both minimizing the signal path length and the need to clean contacts.
The C220 was placed on the top shelf of my rack and connected to Classe’s CDP-202 CD player and Krell’s Theater Amplifier Standard by Cardas’ Golden Presence balanced interconnects. Monster Cable’s 5100 MKII power conditioner provided all the necessary power filtration. I used both Krell LAT-2000s and Martin Logan Summits, connected by Monster Cable’s Sigma speaker cables and Cardas’ Golden Presence speaker cables, respectively. Shortly after I began my critical listening of the C220, the Krell speakers went back to Krell to be replaced by newer models, so the majority of my critical listening was done with the Martin Logan Summits.
I appreciated the flexibility of the customizable inputs. Being able to change the input names made it easier for my wife to select the proper input. The tone and trigger controls were set the same for each input, but there was a significant variation in trim levels. I changed the title of the phono input to “off,” which activates the McIntosh’s tube-saver circuit. This prevents wear of the phono tubes when the phono stage is not being utilized. Whenever one wants to use the phono stage, simply retitle the input, activating the circuit, and your fresh tubes will be ready to go.
The C220 was placed on the top shelf of my equipment stand to ensure proper ventilation. The perforated steel chassis of the C220 never got hot to the touch – warm, but never hot. I would be careful not to place the C220 in a tight, unventilated spot, but it should be fine in most reasonably ventilated cabinets.