McIntosh has not really been in my wheelhouse in the last few years of reviewing, but I have always admired the styling, the look, the blue output meters (of course) and the price of anything McIntosh (CD Transports seem to start near £4,000). So, it was with joy I was invited to take a look at the 200W per channel McIntosh MA 352 hybrid integrated amplifier. Hybrid, because it has tubes and transistors amplifying the incoming audio signal.
The McIntosh MA 352 is an integrated amplifier offering 200 watts per channel with an 8-ohm load or a huge 320 watts per channel with a 4-ohm load. The hybrid bit is that it has a tube preamplifier section. There are four vacuum tubes in the preamplifier section of the amplifier, two 12AX7A and two 12AT7 tubes, all of which are interchangeable or upgradable as needed. This allows you to replace the tubes and modify your preferred sound presentation. The tubes are nicely protected by four metal grilles, so I guess an upgrade would need to fit inside the grilles, or you don’t bother if you use the larger ones. The power output stage uses modern transistors for the power stage.
To the rear, the McIntosh MA 352 has 2 balanced XLR and 3 unbalanced RCA inputs plus a Moving Magnet phono input that has an adjustable loading for your turntable cartridge. There are also various trigger inputs and outputs as well as a subwoofer output if desired. The loudspeaker binding posts are to the rear, curiously halfway up the box where the main electronics are housed.
The whole package is sumptuous. It has a retro feel with the styling and you’ll either love it or hate it; I love it. The MA 352 weighs in at nearly 30kg! It is solid and beautiful. The industrial-style heatsinks have a beautiful McIntosh Monogrammed ‘Mc’ casting. The tube deck on the front is stainless steel and very pretty indeed. The grilles over the tubes add a touch of class, they too are monogrammed with a ‘Mc’.
At the front of the amplifier are the input controls and the volume controls, the ribbed knobs are very tactile but have no ‘click’ making them rather sensitive to a heavy touch, on the volume this is an issue as there is so much power here.
Between the control knobs is an equaliser section with five smaller ribbed knobs where you can adjust the tone of the amplifier by +- 12db at around 30Hz, 125Hz, 500Hz, 2kHz and 10kHz. This is fun but not something I care too much about; again, the control is very sensitive but there is a centre click so you know where you are.
There is a classy McIntosh remote for more careful volume and input control and everything is programmable in the amplifier, input names, trim and the like. You can even turn off the VU meters and tube lights, but why would you do that?
The dimensions are width 44.5cm (17-1/2 inches), height 25.1cm (9-7/8 inches) including feet and the MA352 is 52.1cm (20-1/2 inches) deep including the cables. The MA352 does not fit in a standard rack! It weighs in at 29.9 kg net (66 pounds).
Distribution in the UK is through Finesounds. Priced at £8,995.
I’m using the MA 352 mainly driving the perfect Kudos Titan 505 loudspeakers with Atlas Mavros loudspeaker cables (not GRUN). Sources have included my Rega RP3 turntable, my iFi Pro iDSD DAC with an Eversolo DMP-A6 as a streamer/network server and alternatively a Chord Electronics Hugo 2 with the 2Go streamer.
The MA352 is too heavy for me, I needed a hand lifting it onto the stand, not a big deal but it does possibly take away its flexibility in the long run. When you fire up the MA352, the tubes glow
orange as they warm up, it is a lovely, ‘wait-for-it’ moment and it eases you into listening at the right pace.
There is no harshness or angularity to the presentation.
Let’s get to it, this MA352 is super smooth. It has a delicate softness but with the presentation of a HiFi heavyweight boxer wearing kitten gloves. There is a ton of power here from the transistor side, with the delicacy of the tube preamplification. There is no harshness or angularity to the presentation.
This immense power translates to super deep bass with these isobaric Titan loudspeakers. I like this Titan bass extension, particularly with my Moor Amps but here with the tube preamplification stage, there is a nuance that I really like.
These are some of the best pianos I’ve heard, period. I absolutely adore Nils Frahm’s Solo album and the project in general. He recorded this piece of music with the side panels of the piano removed to pick up all the micro-dynamic sounds that can be lost with the sides on the piano. The tracks fizz with atmosphere, and in the quieter moments you can hear the pedals returning to their position, it is an exceptional recording. The 24-bit download I have is the full-fat recording. Listen to the second track Some, or Chant (track 5). All the lower octaves of the piano presented to these Titans beautifully, it’s perfect.
If I compare this amplification to the recently departed T+A PA 2000 R integrated amplifier which was a super clean and precise sound there is no comparison. These amplifiers are at different ends of the listening scale in my view. Indeed, being used to a slightly aggressive, though heavily musical Naim NAP 250 you could say the same about the differing ends of the scale. Maybe this is why I bought the Moor Amps Angel 6 after review, just effortless in presentation, and closer in tone to this MA352.
The Equaliser is fun, it is not really my thing if I’m honest about it, but the 30Hz, and 125Hz, dials do add weight to the low end. If you fiddle with the 10kHz knob you can hear the click of fingers on a piano key in more definition (Nils Frahm’s Solo). Ultimately it is fun but a little pointless. You can turn it off, which I did in the end, it doesn’t seem to affect the output with it off.
With a pair of Meze Audio 109 Pros, inserting the jack cuts the speaker output nicely and the meters fall silent, sadly. There are plenty of very good
detail in here and the headphone output is very acceptable. The 109 Pros come out well and that soft smooth soundstage translates nicely to the head.
MM Phono Stage
I’m using my old trusty Rega RP3 (not a Planar 3) for this. In the MA352 you can trim the input and capacitance to suit your cartridge; I’ve turned it down using the remote and the online manual on my iPad to 50pF for the Elys2 cartridge.
This Elys2 cartridge has a 7-millivolt output specification, the recommended gain is 45 Db, and the recommended capacitance is 47 pF, with the load at 47K Ohms. 50pF does it for me.
The presentation is lovely, this is the vinyl experience with tubes that we all love. Without wishing to turn this MA352 review into a Titan 505 love-in, the soundstage is soft, deep, detailed and long listening, this could be the sweet spot of this amplifier.
…all-around great package with headphones and MM phono stage support with a ton of power…
This has been a short but really fun period with the McIntosh and yes, in just a few days, I love the whole blue meters thing, at night especially. I also really like the no-compromise look of this MA352, it is so brazen. Looking at similarly overpowered McIntosh integrated amplifiers like the MA12000 (350W/ch) at £19,000 or the MA9500 (300W/ch) at £15,000, or the MA7200 (£9,995) with (200W/ch) this MA352 is looking like a ‘bargain’ at £8,995. This is not the point though. This is an all-around great package with headphones and MM phono stage support with a ton of power, there’s plenty here.
There is no compromise here in terms of sound and aesthetics but if you are looking to make a statement on both, this is the integrated amplifier for you.
My first exposure to McIntosh is wonderful with a powerful and super smooth presentation worthy of the price point. There is no compromise here in terms of sound and aesthetics but if you are looking to make a statement on both, this is the integrated amplifier for you.
MM phono stage
I want one!
Full details are on the company’s site.