McIntosh MA5200 integrated amplifier

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McIntosh Labs MA5200

It is, however, slightly smaller than most McIntosh amps. In this way, it perfectly matches the brand’s SACD/CD players and AM/FM tuners. By European standards, although our amplifiers are growing larger with each season, this one’s still an above average amp, but it’s manageable and doesn’t have the grabhandle, hernia-creation build of the really big McIntoshes. 

In use, once configured to the way you like it (or for that matter left in its factory default), the MA5200 is the perfect house guest. It has heatsinks along the back of the top of the amp, but doesn’t get that hot. It behaves flawlessly, in part thanks to the company’s Power Guard technology, which compares the input signal with the output to prevent clipping. This works dynamically and responds automatically if you get too outlandish with the volume control, although in fairness I didn’t feel the need to go animal enough to trigger the Power Guard. Maybe less efficient speakers in larger rooms played at clubby PA levels might elicit a response, but in normal domestic use, this may be a useful under-utilised system. Hopefully.

The MA5200 is a giant-slayer. Forget the 100W rating… it’s more conservative than the styling and I’d be surprised if it isn’t pumping out far more power than its on-paper specs suggest. It is also one of the most singularly lovely sounding amplifiers around. Not in a kind of warm and fuzzy way and certainly not trying to emulate a valve sound, but one of those rare amps – these days especially – that doesn’t go for brightness or brashness, just balance.

There’s a drive toward making audio sound brighter. It’s been going on for years, but is gradually taking over. It started because brighter and louder sell more products, and hasn’t been helped by cheap iPod earphones exposing people to an intrinsically bright sound from the start of their musical journey at one end, and cynical companies compensating for presbyacusis (age-related hearing loss) in an increasingly aging audiophile buying market at the other. As a consequence, a lot of what passes for ‘good audio’ is often ‘bright sounding audio’ today. 

This is not that kind of amplifier. It’s nicely poised, neither bright nor dull sounding, making the kind of sound that is at once capable of taming some of the excess brightness found in thin and loud modern casualties of the loudness war, and also capable of playing classic 1950s and 1960s recordings without making them sound excessively rolled off in the treble. That doesn’t sound important, but is a valuable commodity in today’s increasingly bright sounding world.

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