McIntosh MC207 Multi-channel Power Amplifier 
Home Theater Power Amplifiers Multi-Channel Amplifiers
Written by Andrew Robinson   
Tuesday, 01 January 2008

There are some products and/or brands that seemingly need no introduction. McIntosh is at the top of the list. Throughout the 1970s, McIntosh was the iconic symbol of all things good and high-end when it came to two-channel music. Today, little has changed with the brand and their loyal customers. Well, at least on the surface, as no other brand has deviated less from its original appearance than McIntosh, with their signature watt meters glowing pale blue, and large, almost aircraft-style control knobs. It’s enough to make a man want to don a smoking jacket and pipe, yet even in today’s iPod world, McIntosh is supremely retro-cool. While McIntosh is still dedicated to the two-channel enthusiast, they have ventured into the multi-channel audio and home theater markets as well, hence my interest in the MC207 seven-channel amplifier reviewed here.

Clad in a polished stainless steel chassis, the MC207 has the famous McIntosh traditional glass-covered black façade. Throw in not one but three analog watt meters and two large and rather chunky power and control knobs and there’s no mistaking the MC207 for anything other than a McIntosh product. In fact, the only “modern” things you’ll find on the face of the MC207 are four small LEDs that glow red when the MC207’s internal power guard protection circuits are activated. The left control knob turns the MC207’s watt meter lights on and off, while the right knob simply turns the MC207 itself on and off. Another giveaway sign that the MC207 is classic McIntosh is its size, measuring in at almost 10 inches tall by 17-and-a-half inches wide and 18-and-three-quarters inches deep. The MC207 tips the scales at a hefty 83 pounds and retails for a surprising $6,000. I say “surprising,” because if there is one thing that McIntosh hasn’t been shy about, it’s price. While $6,000 is a fair amount of money, I honestly was expecting the MC207 to cost much more.

As I turned my attention to the rear of the MC207, I noticed that, looking at the unit from the back of the faceplate, it appears as if the outside casing has been removed. Where most amps clad their innards in a bland box of sorts, McIntosh essentially lets it all hang out, neatly packaging the large transformers in individual battery-like housing, trailed by some pretty substantial heat sinks. On the rear of the MC207, there are seven pairs of five-way binding posts, three pairs on either side, with a single pair for the center channel speaker resting in the center. Below, along the stainless steel edge, are matching analog audio inputs in both composite and balanced varieties. Also on the back of the MC207 is an impedance switch, which can be set to either four or eight ohms, as well as a detachable power cord and remote power trigger. Lastly, there is a multi-channel input, which is a 25-conductor DB25 computer-style cable input that you can use when connecting the MC207 to a McIntosh pre-amp or processor.

Behind the scenes, the MC207 boasts 200 watts into either a four- or eight-ohm load across all seven channels, with a rated power band of 20Hz to 20kHz. The MC207 is the first McIntosh product to utilize McIntosh’s own Dynamic Power Manager circuit, which ensures that the full power needed to drive your speakers is always optimized, regardless of the impedance curves that might occur at the speakers. Also, the MC207 features Power Guard technology, which prevents the amp from clipping by turning the volume down before an overload can happen, but don’t worry – the MC207 will return the volume to normal once out of danger, and it will do all of this in as little as one one-thousandth of a second, so you’re not really going to notice should catastrophe strike.

I unboxed the MC207 and placed it in my Middle Atlantic rack, where my Mark Levinson No. 433 and Outlaw Audio 7200 amps once sat. I connected it to my Meridian G Series processor for a spell, as well as the recently reviewed Onkyo 805 receiver via its preamp outputs through a combination of Ultralink and XLO Reference interconnects and speaker cable. I went ahead and let the MC207 power both my Meridian in-wall speakers and my Paradigm Signature S8s for two-channel listening, since I had seven channels to play with. For two-channel listening, I simply set the Paradigms up in a second zone configuration and let the processors tell the MC207 what was what. I left all the units alone to get to know one another for a few days before beginning my evaluation.

Music And Movies
I started my evaluation with some two-channel music, opting for Amos Lee’s self-titled album (Blue Note Records). Starting with the track “Keep it Loose, Keep it Tight,” the opening melody, consisting of a single acoustic guitar and piano, was delicate and sweet. The notes flowed smoothly from my Paradigm Signature S8s and hung effortlessly in the air with just the subtlest hint of warmth and glow, giving the instruments a slightly fuller, rounder sound. Lee’s vocals were crisp and precise, again with just a hint of warmth, which helped anchor them firmly in the center of the soundstage. Speaking of the soundstage, the McIntosh MC207 dishes out quite an impressive one, stretching as far front to back as it does side to side, with wonderful fill and detail throughout. There is a tremendous sense of air to all of the musical elements as well, giving the music an in room sort of palpability. Skipping ahead to the track “Dreamin’,” the acoustic bass was the first thing I noticed, with its rich detail and impressive weight. The McIntosh MC207 had a firm grip over my Paradigm’s bass drivers and effortlessly pushed them to plunge deeper than most amps I’ve had in recent memory. The simple drum kit was rendered faithfully in both scale and weight. The subtle snare hits were rife with air and the decay the McIntosh MC207 exhibited was second to none. Once again, the McIntosh MC207’s party piece was its way with vocals, which was absolutely sublime and eerily natural.

In an attempt to stress the McIntosh MC207 a bit, I cued up The Crystal Method’s Community Service II (Ultra Records) and their remix of the Doors’ “Roadhouse Blues.” The opening bass line was deep and very articulate, but it was just a touch fat, which seemed to slow the overall pace of the track down a bit. It was driving, but not as nimble on its feet as my reference Bel Canto amps. Some of the more synthesized elements were presented with fervor, and the added warmth of the McIntosh MC207 made them sound a bit more natural then their digital origins would have had me believe. The treble was crystal clear and, even when pushed to the limits, failed to become offensive. Jim Morrison’s vocals were equally impressive and stood out nicely in stark contrast to the rest of the numerous musical elements. The soundstage was lively, allowing the music to move freely between my two speakers. Some of the effects extended well into my listening room, creating a somewhat surround sound performance, which was quite invigorating and cool. Honestly, despite the slight sluggishness in the bass, I couldn’t help but rock out again and again. Given that McIntosh is a company firmly rooted in audiophilia, it was quite a shock to hear that the McIntosh MC207 could let its hair down and get a bit funky if need be. It seems that, despite its old-fashioned look and heritage, the McIntosh MC207 is very much a modern-sounding amp good for a wide range of musical tastes.

Next, I moved onto multi-channel music and the SACD of Keane’s debut album Hopes and Fears (Interscope Records). On the track “Bedshaped,” the McIntosh MC207 proved that it was equally adept with multi-channel fare as it was with traditional two-channel music. The McIntosh MC207 musicality was seamless across all five of my Meridian in-walls and exhibited tremendous control and poise over all of the drivers, including the somewhat difficult ribbon tweeters. The McIntosh MC207’s high-frequency reproduction was light and airy, allowing the notes to hang effortlessly in space, enveloping me completely in my listening chair. The midrange was to die for and among the best I’ve heard from a solid-state amplifier. Vocals sounded natural and exhibited awesome dynamics, especially on the macro scale, allowing for the slightest inflections in lead singer Tom Chaplin’s vocals to be heard. The bass firmed up a bit, but remained ever so slightly full in the lowest regions. Dynamically, the McIntosh MC207 proved to be quite a tour de force, effortlessly allowing my Meridian in-walls to paint wild, broad strokes when needed, yet remain composed and delicate enough to shine light on even the subtlest musical cues. The McIntosh MC207 wasn’t quite as explosive during the song’s climax the way my reference amps are, though the MC207 did sound a touch fuller throughout the musical spectrum during dynamic swings.

I moved off of music and onto movies with the HD DVD release of the summer’s biggest blockbuster, Transformers (Paramount Home Entertainment). Right off the bat, the McIntosh MC207 didn’t disappoint. Skipping ahead to the climatic battle between the Autobots and the Decepticons, the chaotic action and rapid cutting was only enhanced by the McIntosh MC207’s massive power and resolving prowess. Through the McIntosh MC207, the transformations between the Autobots and Decepticons were rendered in all of their techno glory, allowing me to hear nearly every transition and mechanical gizmo at work. The McIntosh MC207 was resolute enough to allow me to sonically distinguish between the good guys and the bad guys. As the battle raged on, the dynamic prowess and added weight in the bottom end through the McIntosh MC207 aided the larger than life action and epic quality of the sequence, transporting my listening position to the heart of the front lines. The sounds of shattering glass, ricocheting bullets and metal-on-metal contact were quite impressive and had a sort of naturalness to them that drew me into the action, as opposed to beating me over the head with it. While other amps may dive a bit deeper into the sonic canvas than the McIntosh MC207 does, in doing so, they can often become fatiguing and vague, favoring one aspect of the sound over another. The MC207 remained very balanced and even-handed with even the most complex scenes. The dialogue was crystal clear and natural, despite the flying cars and carnage unfolding on screen. In terms of the soundstage, the McIntosh MC207 was very good and seamless across my entire listening room.

While I never doubted the McIntosh MC207’s abilities with large action sequences, it was the quieter moments in Transformers that I appreciated most. There are an awful lot of comedic moments in the film, which are aided by subtle musical cues, all of which were wonderfully punctuated by the McIntosh MC207’s incredible musicality. For such a large, high-powered amp, the McIntosh MC207 proved time and time again that it could be quite nimble when need be.

My only slight against the McIntosh MC207 for both music and movies is that there was no escaping the McIntosh sound; throughout all my listening, I was always aware of its presence. While the McIntosh MC207’s signature sound didn’t bother me or truly distract me from my enjoyment, there were times I wished I could have just dialed it back a bit. The McIntosh MC207 is a very smooth operator, one that is more likely to seduce you than grab hold and shake you. No doubt this is why, when you see McIntosh amps in someone’s system, it’s usually surrounded by other McIntosh products or similarly-voiced products, as the smooth, warm sound is usually why people turn to McIntosh in the first place. As always, system matching is crucial for any system and listening tastes.

The Downside
While I enjoyed my time with the McIntosh MC207, there were a few issues I took note of during my evaluations. First, the MC207’s protection circuits are a bit to finicky for my tastes. Every once in a while, I found the center channel dropping out for brief moments of time, then coming back on, even when I was listening at moderate volumes. This didn’t happen too often, but it did happen, and the transitions were not as lightning-quick as McIntosh would have you believe. I’m pretty sure that my experience was unique to my review unit and not indicative of MC207s in general, but it’s still worth mentioning.

While the McIntosh MC207 glass faceplate is supremely elegant, keeping it clean was quite a chore. Also, when moving the amp, I was constantly wary of possibly cracking the glass, as it was not some sort of glossy Plexiglas or plastic. If you’re one to set an amp and forget it, then this will be less of an issue for you, but it is still one that you should take into account.

Again, system matching is key to any well thought-out and balanced system. Your ears will judge whether or not the McIntosh MC207 is right for you and your sonic tastes. With a little effort, even the McIntosh MC207’s smooth demeanor can be tailored to fit a variety of needs.

With a retail price of $6,000, the McIntosh MC207 is something of a bargain, compared to other McIntosh products, as well as super cost-no-object amplifiers everywhere. Its sophisticated sound and smooth top end and midrange, coupled with a robust bottom end, makes it a rarity for solid state amps, as it doesn’t really sound like one. While incredibly musical and no slouch when it comes to movies, the McIntosh MC207 may require a bit of finessing when it comes to system matching to deliver all of the goods should you require it. However, if you’re the type to simply pour a glass of wine and sit back and bask in the glory of good old-fashioned musicality, than the McIntosh MC207 is the amp for you. Don’t be afraid to balk at the old audiophile aristocracy every once in awhile, for the McIntosh MC207 is up to the challenge.
Manufacturer McIntosh
Model MC207 Multi-channel Power Amplifier
Reviewer Andrew Robinson

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