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July 2019
Enjoy the Music.com Review Magazine
NOVO High End Magazine

McIntosh Labs MC312 Power Amplifier
One of the best amplifiers of 2019!
Review By Andre Marc Of NOVO High-End Magazine

 

McIntosh Labs MC312 Power Amplifier Review

 

  McIntosh Labs is a longstanding entity that defines the term 'legendary' when high-end audio hobbyists discuss companies that helped create the market for top shelf home playback equipment. In fact, McIntosh celebrated its 70th anniversary recently. Clearly, they set standards, and continue to offer new and interesting products to this day. The upstate New York based company has had its trials and tribulations, but it has never been in better standing, and its products continue to be desirable globally. McIntosh is currently owned by McIntosh Group, a company that also own several other highly regarded brands including Audio Research and Sonus Faber.

McIntosh became well known for their tube amps early on, and lust inducing industrial design that to this day is unmatched. Their tuners and preamplifiers are truly legendary. In fact there is an entire cottage industry built around collecting and restoring these components, and vintage aficionados pay high prices for well-preserved units. Of course the McIntosh name became synonymous with classic tube amplification. Interestingly, they later moved into solid state designs as times changed. In keeping contemporary, the company currently has an impressive suite of digital front ends, turntables, and even speakers.

In late 2018, McIntosh introduced the MC312 power amplifier, the subject of this review, a model that is an update of their MC302 amp. It retails for $7000, and offers some notable upgrades over the previous model. The power output is the same, at 300 Watts per channel stereo, but the higher filter capacity increases the dynamic headroom by some 27%. Other changes include improved internal components and wiring.

The MC312, like all the high powered solid-state amps in their lineup, uses their proprietary Autoformer technology. It is designed to deliver the amp's full 300 Wpc regardless of speaker load. In fact, unusually, the MC312 has 2, 4, and 8 Ohm taps at the back of the chassis. I am quite familiar with the McIntosh solid state sound, and with the Autoformer technology, as I owned their MA6600 integrated amp for a number of years. That amp had no trouble driving any speaker I had on hand, and was rated at 200 Watts per channel.

 

McIntosh Labs MC312 Power Amplifier Review

 

The MC312 also has balanced XLR and unbalanced RCA outputs, as this enables bi-amp'ing or use of a powered subwoofer. There is also onboard circuit and speaker protection to protect your speakers and to prevent clipping. In addition to this you'll find a link to allow for the automatic powering on or off of other McIntosh components. When the MC312 arrived, it was clear that this was a two man job to unpack and install it. At over 100 pounds, and with a glass front panel, it took both muscle and finesse to get it into my audio rack safely. Once that was done, it was hard not to marvel at the build quality, which is off the charts, and the distinctive appearance. It had all the hallmarks of classic McIntosh, including the blue lit meters, the beautifully machined round power and selector knobs, and superb quality connectors around back. The amp was connected in balanced mode with XLR cables and the 4 Ohm tap was used.

 

McIntosh Labs MC312 Power Amplifier Review

 

Listening
After giving the MC312 ample break-in time, what followed was an extended period of uninterrupted musical joy. The amplifier drove my Magnepan 1.7i speakers with ridiculous ease. The stereo spread was wide, spacious, and deeper than I have heard with any amplifier with these speakers. Over the course of several months, I used all music formats to evaluate the MC312, including CD, high resolution digital, and LP. I even snuck in some reel to reel tape. An album that was extremely enjoyable with the MC312 was the self-titled offering from Dicky Betts & Great Southern. The twin guitar interplay and Southern rock vibe from one of the key architects of The Allman Brothers Band, sounded earthy and soulful, and made me think I had previously underrated this fine recording. The MC312 made the tone of Betts's guitar immediately identifiable, and his vocals were also presented very nicely, in the center of the mix.

Bouncing to the excellent Mobile Fidelity SACD mastering of The Byrds 1968 opus, The Notorious Byrd Brothers, was equally rewarding. The trippy, spaced out folk rock swirled around the speakers, with little nuances in the mix I had not previously noticed on this album. The MC312 yet again reminded me of how Mobile Fidelity continues to produce excellent archival releases. The MC312 made it easy to distinguish each band member's contribution, from David Crosby's rhythm guitar and harmony vocals, to Roger McGuinn's 12 string guitar. The seamlessness of the presentation made for a very engaging listen.

A related release I spun, an original pressing of The Byrds' mastermind Roger McGuinn's 1973 self-titled solo album, was so nicely textured, it warranted several plays through. McGuinn, free of The Byrds moniker, threw in everything from traditional folk, Caribbean, and even some jazzy touches on to this album. The rock solid center image the MC312 produced was really spotlighted here. The timbre of McGuinn's voice was superbly rendered, and the richness of the acoustic guitar parts was on target. The MC312 also showed me here, it had an exceptionally clean, open, and accurate midrange.

Changing gears, I cued up a fantastic new release by New York based jazz saxophonist, Jerome Sabbagh co-billed with guitarist Greg Tuohey, on No Filter. This unique release was recorded and mixed to analog tape, and cut to vinyl by the legendary Bernie Grundman with an all analog mastering chain. The LP comes with a 24 bit download card as well. The music is sublime, very much reflective of the urban environment it was recorded in, with dark and light themes percolating throughout each side. The timely track titled "Chaos Reigns" was a tour de force via the MC312, with all the syncopation and interesting accents remarkably cohesive. The MC312 proved without a doubt it excelled at pace and timing here. The amp also was exceptional at articulating bass lines, which captured the propulsions of the music wonderfully.

The MC312 also put the 24-bit/48kHz download of Memphis roots singer Valerie June's Pushin' Against A Stone in a new light for me. This 2013 release is beautifully recorded and put June on the map as a distinctive stylist who blends Americana, for lack of a better term, with bits of psychedelic, and ethereal, bluesy rock. The songs have deep emotional resonance, and the mix is just modern enough to balance things out. The MC312 easily let me hear a large amount of space between the instruments and the pure bell-like tone of June's voice, highlighting its transparency. As a side note, I highly recommend the follow up to this album called The Order Of Time.

 

McIntosh Labs MC312 Power Amplifier Review

 

The final album I played with the MC312 in the system is a little known progressive rock masterpiece Go, by Stomu Yamashta, who is joined by Steve Winwood, and legendary drummer Michael Shrieve, a key member of the original Santana. The music is expansive, with epic string arrangements and beautiful song structures. Hearing this with the McIntosh providing solid imaging and excellent depth was really the climax of my time with the MC312, as it allowed me to discover this hidden gem in a brand new light, goosebumps in tow. The MC312 was perfect for presenting the wide screen, symphonic qualities of this recording due to its wide sound staging.

In fact, throughout the time the MC312 was in my system, I had an irresistible urge to "crate dig" through my own music collection and pull out lesser known music, and the pleasures revealed that came from these buried treasures was most welcomed. A component that makes you want to listen to as much music as possible, such as the MC312, is what it is all about. The MC312 was able to shine new light on well-worn favorites.

I tried hard to find fault with the MC312's tonal balance, but to no avail. It was simply ideal for my system and my room. I felt the perspective was not quite in the front row, and definitely not in the back row, but actually somewhere perfectly in the middle. Dynamic contrasts were really natural when present in the recordings. This may be all or partly due to McIntosh's Autoformer technology with its constant power delivery, and the low noise floor. To this listener, these are hugely important factors, especially with relatively power hungry speakers like the Magnepans or even somewhat efficient speakers in a larger listening space.

To me Magnepan speakers are among the most seamless, coherent transducers on the market, and that could be a reason the MC312 was so enjoyable in my system. The two products share many of the same characteristics, including transparency, musicality, and perspective. Another huge factor they have in common is very low distortion, which accounts for the superb imaging, midrange transparency, and smooth treble performance.

 

Summary
I can summarize the sonic performance of the McIntosh performance rather easily. The descriptors that come to mind are effortless, spacious, transparent, and utterly grain free. I could not hope for more from a high class, well-engineered solid state amplifier. The sense of effortlessness really does make a difference in musical enjoyment. It ties into dynamics, which were reproduced naturally. Tonally, the MC312 was spot on; the whole spectrum of sonic colors was wonderfully presented, like a perfectly balanced photograph taken in natural light.

Ergonomically, the MC312 was mechanically dead quiet, ran cool, and provided trouble free performance over the course of the review period. One would expect nothing less than this for an amplifier in this price range, and considering its pedigree. Also, for those not enamored by the blue meter lights, they can be turned off. For me they are a mark of distinction, and added to the ambiance.

 

Final Analysis
If a prospective buyer is shopping for a transparent, accurate, and sweet sounding solid state amp that can drive virtually any speaker with little or no effort, the McIntosh MC312 should be at the top of the list. It is perhaps the finest, most sophisticated amplifier I have heard in its price range in my system. The McIntosh MC312 power amplifier has quite a bit going for it aside from excellent sonics. It also offers a build quality that inspires confidence, and it offers a pride of ownership connected with the McIntosh legacy. Very much recommended!

 

Associated Gear
Preamplifier: Rogue RP-7
Digital: Bryston BDP-2 / Bryston BDA-3 DAC / Intona USB cables
Analog: Rega Planar 6 / Rega Fono MC
Tape Deck: Revox A77
Speakers: Magnepan 1.7i
Cables: Black Rhodium

 

 

 

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Specifications
Type: Solid-state stereo amplifier
Power Output Per Channel: 300 Watts @ 2, 4 or 8 Ohms
Number Of Channels: Two
Total Harmonic Distortion: 0.005%
SNR: Balanced XLR 120dB, unbalanced RCA 118dB
Dynamic Headroom: 2.3dB
Damping Factor: >40 Wideband
Frequency Response: 10Hz to 100kHz (+0/-3dB)
Remote Power Control: Yes
Multi-Channel DB25 Cable
Speaker Binding Post: Solid Cinch
Meter Light Switch: Yes
Chassis Style: Polished stainless steel & black painted steel
Weight: 105 lbs.
Dimensions: 17.5" x 9.765 x 22" (WxHxD)
Price: $7000

 

 

Manufacturer
McIntosh Laboratory, Inc. 
2 Chambers Street
Binghamton, NY 13903

Voice:(607) 723-3512
Fax: (607) 724-0549
Website: www.McintoshLabs.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     
 

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