McIntosh MA6600 Integrated Amplifier Review 
Home Theater Power Amplifiers Integrated Amplifiers
Written by Andre Marc   
Monday, 20 September 2010

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.

Front Dials


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.

LCD Readout

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.

Along with my usual reference recordings, I also had a fresh Amazon stack on hand, including Ray Lagmontagne’s new one, God Willin’ and the Creek Don't Rise. The album has a gothic, psychedelic folk rock feel that had me mesmerized for the better part of a month as I  tried in vain to get the song "Beg Steal or Borrow" out of my head. No luck. Lagmontagne’s vocals were beautifully recorded, dryly mixed, and supported by bass, drums, guitars, pedal steel, and other interesting touches. The MA6600 rendered the album in such a natural, unforced, and engaging way, I was hooked. Coming to the MA6600 never having had a McIntosh amp in my home set up, my ears were open to forming an unbiased opinion. Well, I was fast becoming a convert.

Free's classic album, Fire and Water, is a touchstone for testosterone fueled, bluesy rock, chock full of Les Paul guitar, Marshall stacks, and throaty, lust soaked vocals from Paul Rodgers, one of rock's greatest singers. The MA6600 revealed the age of the recording, as well as various tape flaws, distortion, and other problems. I point this out to illustrate the neutrality of the amp; it will reveal all, warts and all. But that being said, the bass drum on the title track absolutely thumped, and the crunchy power cords in "Alright Now" were so full of texture, it was quite awe inspiring.

Back Panel

Staying on a Paul Rodgers kick, I recently purchased remasters of his one album with Kenny Jones of the Faces and the Who, The Law, and his first solo album after leaving Bad Company, in 1983, called Cut Loose. Both albums are pretty much forgotten, but unjustly so. Great songs, great singing, if not a bit dated production wise. Nonetheless, the MA6600 got right to heart of the music, with superb dynamics, a clean, accurate midrange, and powerful, articulate, and extended bass, the kind that hits you in the chest. Did I say I was hooked?

I also decided to explore some John Coltrane remasters to see how the MA6600 did with complex, textured acoustic music.  Soultrane, and My Favorite Things, both from 1958, are some of the most cherished albums among Coltrane aficionados. Both were recorded in Hackensack, NJ, by the legendary Rudy Van Gelder, and he also thankfully oversaw the meticulous digital transfers and remastering in 2006. Well, the MA6600 passed with flying colors. Coltrane's mind blowing horn work seemed to pour out of the speakers like a winding snake on the up tempo tracks, and ease out with liquid, velvety ease on the ballads. Wow.

I then spent some time listening to the tuner. I must admit up front, I am not a radio person, but I was looking forward to exploring what a tuner from McIntosh could do to win me over. When I first ran the coaxial cable from the cable jack into the MA6600 and tuned in a couple of local stations, I was quite surprised at great the reception and how generally high end the sound was. I have not had great luck with tuners in the past due to being in the vicinity of an small airport and mountain range. None of this was a factor with the MA6600 HD tuner module. As a matter of fact, it was a bit of an eye opener for me. The supplied outboard AM antenna worked great too, and is connected to the MA6600 via an ethernet cable. The ethernet jack on the back of the amp can also be used for firmware updates.

Mac Front

I was having a blast with the tuner, enjoying tremendously crystal clear FM sound in a high end system. It has been years since I got down with FM, and most of my listening is done in the car, or via the internet.  I used to make loads of recordings as well. And the MA6600 does offer a recording output, as a note of interest.  I also enjoyed tuning stations with an old fashioned knob, just like the old days.

My final notes concerning set up and use are minor. The MA6600 ran moderately warm when used for several hours. It was utterly noiseless. I mean deathly quiet when no music was playing. The remote was well laid out, although some might complain about its plastic construction. But if you want a metal remote as heavy as a hand grenade, mind you, that will add to the cost.  I’d rather take the chinzty remote, with more invested into the unit itself.



Conclusion:

I liked everything about the McIntosh MA6600. The famous McIntosh glass face plate, blue lit power meters, general and build quality were an absolute treat. The luxurious, ridged volume and input knobs were very precise, and gave the unit a classic, golden era feel. But nostalgia aside, the MA6600 is beautifully engineered, with tons of features, flexibility and superb sound quality. At 200 wpc and the MA6600 will have no trouble driving any speaker. It will do so without breaking a sweat, and will even protect loudspeakers from damage with proprietary technology, if you should have any doubts. McIntosh also provides a three year warranty, about average for a high end integrated amp.

For about a month I was very happy to walk into my listening room to find the McIntosh MA6600 on my stereo rack, waiting to please me with its excellent sonic performance, and flawless operation. As I have written before, the benefits of a high quality integrated amp over separates are plentiful. One less interconnect, shorter signal paths, ease of operation, and one less power supply all simplify the experience and allow you to concentrate on the music. With an integrated amp this good, that is an easy task.

While not cheap at $6000, MA6600 easily competed with much more expensive units, and even higher priced separates. A solid pre and power combination from a multitude of well know high end manufacturers will cost you as much or more, and will be have very few or any of the features of the MA6600. When McIntosh says they did not compromise on the design of their integrated amps, I believe them and the proof was in the pudding; highly recommended for those searching for a top notch integrated amp in the $5000-$7000 range. I hope McIntosh is not in a hurry to get the review sample back, as I will be incredibly sad to see it go.

MA6600 Integrated Amplifier Specifications
  • Price: $6000
  • POWER OUTPUT: 200 watts is the minimum sine wave continuous average power output per channel, both channels operating
  • OUTPUT LOAD IMPEDANCE: 2, 4 or 8 ohms
  • RATED POWER BAND: 20Hz to 20,000Hz
  • SENSITIVITY (FOR RATED OUTPUT)
  • PREAMPLIFIER OUTPUT IMPEDANCE: 220 ohms
  • TONE CONTROLS   Bass Control ±12dB (1dB steps) @ 30Hz /   Treble Control ±12dB (1dB steps) @ 10,000Hz
  • OVERALL DIMENSIONS (H x W x D including front panel, knobs, feet and cables): 7-5/8” (19.37cm) x 17-1/2” (44.45cm) x  22” (55.88cm)
  • WEIGHT: 75 pounds (34.1 kg) net, 93 pounds (42.3 kg) in shipping carton

McIntosh Laboratory, Inc.
2 Chambers Street, Binghamton, NY 13903-2699
Phone: 607-723-3512 / 800-538-6576
www.mcintoshlabs.com

Reviewers Associated Equipment System 1:

  • CD Player: Naim CD5 XS with Flatcap 2X,
  • Preamp: Audio Research SP16
  • Amplifier: Audio Research VS55
  • Speaker: Harbeth Compact 7ES3, THIEL CS2.4
  • Cables: DH Labs, RS Cables, Kimber/QED/Acoustic Zen (AC)/Transparent (AC)/Element Cable, Shunyata, Pangea
  • Accessories: Symposium Rollerblocks, Shakti Stone, Sound Anchors stands, Timbernation platform, CablePro Noisetrapper

Reviewers Associated Equipment 2:

  • CD Player: Marantz 5003
  • Music Server: Squeezebox 3DAC:CIA VDA-2 with XPS
  • Tape Deck: Revox A77, HHB CD Recorder
  • Preamp: Belles Soloist 3
  • Amplifier: Revox A722, Belles Soloist 5
  • Speaker: Spendor S5e
  • Cables: Kimber/QED/Transparant/Shunyata(AC)/PS Audio(AC), Pangea Audio, RS Cables, Element Cables.





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