McIntosh is commemorating its 60th anniversary with 120 sets of its legendary C22 stereo preamplifier and MC75 monoblock power amplifiers for the U.S. market. Like the re-born, retro-styled, Mustang, Camaro, and Challenger, these components look the part and seduce the eye with classic styling, but inside, they feature modern design touches.
Produced from 1963 to 1972, the original McIntosh C22 preamplifier set the standard for features and flexibility for preamplifier designs. The 60th Anniversary Limited Edition C22 Tube Preamplifier has the look and feel of the original, but adds a number of circuit enhancements to bring the design up to modern specification. For example, the new C22’s rear panel has two sets of XLR inputs and eight RCA inputs. RCA and XLR outputs are provided, along with trigger and data ports to communicate with other McIntosh components.
The new C22 is a bona-fide stereo preamplifier. Back in the days before CD, LP was the format of choice, so preamplifiers always included built-in phono amplifying stages. By the late 1980s the high-end preamp faded away, replaced with the “linestage” preamp (meaning sans phono stage). Somewhere along the way the linestage moniker disappeared and manufacturers started calling them preamps again, but they no longer included phono sections.
The C22 does and it’s a doozy. It can accommodate one or two turntables. The C22 even has front panel controls to adjust “loading” for moving-magnet and moving-coil cartridges, so it’s especially easy to fine-tune LP sound. I can’t think of another preamp that offers that feature.
The C22 is the rare stereo preamp sporting bass and treble tone controls. There’s also a Loudness control that boosts bass and treble to enhance sound for late-night listening.
Another feature you just don’t see on today’s stereo preamps is headphone jacks. The C22’s, especially with my Grado RS-1 headphones, sounded big and bold.
Rather than use the sort of mechanical switches found on the original C22, switching is now handled by magnetically activated devices inside vacuum sealed glass tubes, to ensure ultra-low contact resistance and consistent operation over decades of use.
Though there was some debate among McIntosh engineers, they went ahead and included something no 1960s audiophile would ever dream of: an IR remote control. It’s a big, chunky thing, with thick extruded metal sides and glossy black face. The look is pure Mac.
In 1961 McIntosh introduced two of its most famous amplifiers of all time: the MC275 stereo 75 watt per channel amplifier and its 75 watt monaural counterpart, the MC75. The new Limited Edition MC75 amplifier incorporates many circuit updates to improve reliability while retaining the original’s sonic allures.
The MC75’s power supply is now identical to the one used in the stereo MC275, which effectively doubles the size of the power supply of the MC75. Balanced inputs and outputs have been added that weren’t on the original versions. The MC75 delivers 75 watts into 2-, 4- or 8-ohm rated speakers. Trigger switches allow the C22 to remotely turn the MC75 on and off. The original’s chrome-plated chassis has been replaced with a gold color, titanium-stainless steel chassis.
Oh, I almost forgot to mention that the C22 and MC75 are both vacuum tube designs! The C22 uses six small 12AX7A tubes; each MC75 has one 12AX7A, two 12AT7 tubes and two large KT88 tubes. So in that sense they’re much like the originals, but built with much higher quality and closer tolerance parts than the 1960s era Macs were.
The tubes come pre-installed so tube novices won’t have to touch the tubes. The MC75 looks like a million bucks with the tubes out in the open, but the amp comes with a protective tube “cage” for those buyers who would prefer to keep the tubes out of the reach of small children.
McIntosh can service almost every preamp and power amplifier they ever made at the Binghamton, New York, factory, which is where the C22 and MC75 are hand-built. And in case you’re wondering, yes, Mac sells replacement tube sets for all of the tube components they’ve ever made.
What do these re-born designs sound like? Rich and warm, yet the midrange detail is fabulous! Macs sound more laid-back than modern solid-state or tubed gear.
Tube power amplifiers can be fussy about speakers, so I wasn’t all that surprised that the MC75 didn’t click with my Magnepan MG 3.6R panel speakers. Not that the sound wasn’t perfectly pleasant, just lacking in verisimilitude. My Dynaudio C-1 speakers were another story; there the MC75s’ 775 watts sounded considerably more powerful, so bass oomph and definition were superb.
Perhaps the most striking thing about the new Macs was how wide the gulf between the sound of analog and digital still is. That’s not to take away the strides digital has made over the years, but turntables, tonearms and cartridges are much, much better as well. So analog was even groovier, juicier and more engaging than digital.
I bought one of the Rolling Stones newly remastered CDs, Sticky Fingers, and wasn’t all that impressed by the sound, so I started going back and listening to my old Stones LPs. It’s been ages since I played “Emotional Rescue,” but the music rocked harder through the C22 on vinyl—a lot harder.
The Mac faithful aren’t part of the high-end mainstream, which tends to jump from brand to brand, swapping equipment on a regular basis. Mac buyers hang in for the long term—many still own and use gear they bought decades ago. No other consumer electronics brand has that sort of devout loyalty. I fully expect the 60th Anniversary Limited Edition C22 Tube Preamplifier and MC75 Tube Monoblock Power Amplifier to be making great sounds when Mac celebrates its 120th anniversary in 2069.
C22 and MC75s (pair): $15,000
CONTACT: 800.538.6576, mcintoshlabs.com