McIntosh MC602 Stereo Power Amplifier 
Home Theater Power Amplifiers Stereo Amplifiers
Written by Brian Kahn   
Monday, 01 October 2001

Pride of ownership. That was the first thought that came to mind as I unboxed the first of the three McIntosh Laboratories MC602 power amplifiers. This massive amplifier, at $8,000 is not McIntosh’s most expensive amp, but it is the most powerful in this manufacturer’s long history. The MC602 is a solid-state stereo amplifier rated at 600 watts per channel. This large amplifier weighs 155 pounds and measures 17.75 inches wide, 11 inches high and 19.6 inches deep.

The front panel is dominated by two large, lighted blue meters, which are flanked by sturdy handles. Below the meters is an illuminated McIntosh logo and two knobs. The left knob controls the meters, and can be set to normal operation where the meter displays the current output in watts for that channel. The left knob also has a hold position in which the meter pauses to display peak output and a lights-off position. The right knob is also a three position knob controlling the power, with on, off and remote settings. In the remote setting, the power can be controlled with a compatible preamplifier.

The rear of the amplifier features two-, four- and eight-ohm taps for each channel, and both balanced and single-ended inputs and remote inputs for automatically powering the unit.

The MC602 has a fully balanced design, featuring a double-balanced, push-pull configuration. McIntosh uses their exclusive impedance matching output autotransformers. This powerful amplifier is full of features to ensure that the power is delivered safely, including clipping protection, current protection, thermal protection, DC failure protection and a turn-on delay with a soft start to protect against sudden surges and ensure a long product life.

Setup: Two-Channel
I listened to the MC602 in my two-channel music system, as well as in my 5.1-channel home theater system.

My two-channel system also includes a Krell 300iL integrated amplifier (used as a pre-amplifier), a Sunfire Subwoofer Jr., a Yamaha TX-950 tuner, a Theta Data Basic CD transport, Perpetual Technologies DAC, B&W CM4 and Final 0.3 speakers, and is connected with Audio Analysis interconnects. I also experimented with both Audioquest Gibraltar and Monster Cable Z2 Reference bi-wire speaker cables.

The Music (Two-Channel)
I found the MC602’s performance to be consistent throughout my listening sessions. The amplifier hints at its maker's love for tubes with a midrange warmth often missing from solid state power amps. I began my listening sessions with the B&W CM4 speakers. Needless to say, the McIntosh had no problems driving these speakers to any desired listening level.

My mother came by the house one day while I was listening to Nat King Cole’s album Love is the Thing (Capitol / DCC). I thought this might make for a good listening test as she was childhood friends with the Cole family and had heard Nat sing live many times. She took a seat and I started the album from the top. Less than halfway through the first track, "When I Fall In Love," my mother felt that it sounded like he was right there. She then proceeded to listen to the entire album from start to finish. She has been by my place many times, and has heard many systems at my home, but this is the first time she has said it sounded like the performer was in the room with her.

While I have never heard Nat King Cole live, I was impressed by the McIntosh’s ability to portray such a solid and real-sounding acoustic image before me in my room. The McIntosh was well-voiced, providing sonic accuracy, combined with a warm and liquid midrange.

I then moved on to more albums by several other male vocalists, Marc Cohn’s eponymously-titled album (Atlantic), Michael Penn’s March (BMG) and Doug MacLeod’s Come To Find (JVC-XRCD). The McIntosh amplifier, driven by the pre-amplifier section of the Krell 300iL, was consistently detailed, yet never overly analytical or sterile in its performance.

On Marc Cohn’s album, I was particularly drawn to the McIntosh’s performance on the "Walking in Memphis" and "Perfect Love" tracks. I found the voices and instruments to be reproduced with a great deal of tonal accuracy and solidity. The soundstages portrayed were consistently wide but a bit lacking in depth.

I transitioned from male to female vocalists with one of my favorite albums, a two-disc set by Ella Fitzgerald & Louis Armstrong (Mobile Fidelity), Ella & Louis Again. My listening impressions with regard to Louis remained consistent with prior notes with other male vocalists. He seemed to be solidly placed and accurately portrayed. While listening to Ella’s voice, I especially listened for sibilance that is often heard in her recordings. Ella’s voice came through loud and clear without the slightest hint of sibilance. The McIntosh amplifiers passed this difficult test with flying colors.

I continued listening to female vocalists with Enya’s Watermark (Reprise) and Celine Dion’s Falling Into You (Sony). Both of these albums feature female vocalists accompanied by powerful and complex instrumental tracks. In particular, both the "It’s All Coming Back to Me Now" track from the Celine Dion album and the hit track "Orinoco Flow" track from the Enya album were reproduced at more than reasonable listening levels without any hint of strain from the McIntosh. The McIntosh displayed finesse with the vocals and instruments, providing a solid image and sense of space around each and delivered plenty of power to provide unrestrained crescendos.

Towards the end of my listening session, I switched speakers, inserting the super-detailed Final 0.3 electrostatics. With these revealing speakers, I was able to hear some of the differences between the Krell and McIntosh amplification more clearly. The McIntosh had more warmth, especially in the midrange, and was ever so slightly less detailed. The Finals seemed a tad cold and sterile when driven by the Krell amplifier, but came to life with the McIntosh.

Setup: Multi-Channel
I also auditioned the MC602s in my theater system. I used three MC602s to drive the five main channels. The remainder of the system includes the following components: B&K Reference 30 processor, M&K MX-350 subwoofer, Martin Logan Ascents, Theaters and Scenarios, Sony DVP-CX850D DVD player, Pioneer Elite DV-38A DVD-Audio player, Pioneer CLD-704 Laserdisc player, Barco BarcoGraphics 808s, Silicon Graphics iScan Pro, Monster Cable power conditioning, video and line level cables and Audioquest speaker cables.

Multi-Channel Listening
The MC602s drove my Martin Logans through every explosion, crash and other crescendo at volumes well beyond reasonable without any hint of strain or compression. Unlike my experience with my two-channel listening sessions, I did not notice any loss of soundstage depth in my theater system with the McIntosh amplifiers.

While watching Gladiator (DVD, DTS ES, Dreamworks), I was impressed by the seamless integration among the speakers. I especially noticed this with the cranking of the catapults in the opening battle scene. I must note that I used one amplifier for the main right and left speakers and one channel of another for the center channel, with the remaining channel left unused. Throughout my listening, all three channels performed consistently, demonstrating the successful separation and impendence between the channels within the amplifier itself.

I then moved on to the next movie, U-571 (Universal). I paid especially close attention to the depth charge scene. The detail of the underwater sounds placed me and my viewing friends in an underwater world that soon blasted us out with explosions that, according to my neighbors, were very realistic.

I then moved on to some more challenging multi-channel integration with some DTS compact discs, The Eagles' When Hell Freezes Over (DTS / Geffen), Lyle Lovett’s Joshua Judges Ruth (DTS), and then a couple of DTS DVD-Audio discs for good measure, Toy Matinee’s self titled DVD (DTS) and David Alan’s self-titled album (DTS).

The McIntosh amplifiers, driving the Martin Logan speakers, provided an incredibly detailed and spacious soundstage that completely surrounded me. The McIntosh amplifiers had plenty of power to drive the sometimes power-hungry Martin Logans through everything. The amplifiers were also detailed enough to take advantage of the detail available in an electrostatic speaker. The McIntosh also was carefully balanced. While providing a great amount of detail and finesse, it did not become bright, harsh or analytical, and in fact remained warm and smooth, perhaps with a slight loss of extreme detail.

The Downside
I can not afford them and I want them. Sonically, the McIntosh is a stellar performer. My only criticism is the lack of soundstage depth that I recently experienced with the Krell 300iL. This may be a case of system interaction and should definitely not prevent anyone from auditioning the MC602.

The MC602 also produced a slight humming sound that could not be completely eliminated, but this was audible only between tracks and wasn’t noticeable during any actual listening. I later found that it was a grounding issue and not a fault of the amp.

The only real issue I have with the MC602 is with the speaker binding posts. They look nice but do not provide adequate room for thicker spades and therefore force you to change or modify your speaker cables.

These amplifiers are an investment. They are well built and should provide many years, if not a lifetime, of great sound. Visually, they make a strong impression. Visitors constantly made positive comments about the retro-looking McIntosh amplifiers flanking my center speaker stand with their blue, backlit meters. It is true that the speaker binding posts are somewhat of a nuisance and the hum is noticeable when there is no signal, but when the music flows, this is quickly forgotten.

The McIntoshes' neutral if slightly warm character and large amount of power ensure their compatibility with a wide array of systems. Sonically, the McIntosh MC602s provide the warm liquid midrange of a tube amplifier and the speed and power of a good solid state design. These new amplifiers from McIntosh signify great things ahead for this company by demonstrating what can happen when an Old World audio company takes advantage of 21st-century technology.
Manufacturer McIntosh
Model MC602 Stereo Power Amplifier
Reviewer Brian Kahn

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