Perhaps the big thing about the MA5200 is it just refuses to draw attention to itself, sonically at least. Everything about it seems like it is competent; in fact is a whole lot more than that, but it bestows an air of quiet confidence on every source, so you kind of forget it’s in the chain and get on with listening to music. It’s only at moments of reflection do you realise just how damn good the MA5200 sounds. And how consistent too; the line stages, the DAC inputs and the phono stage all behave equally well with a similar tonality and integrity.
Like all McIntosh products, it produces a ‘big’ sound, but not ‘big and brash’, just big. Images are not overlarge, but the soundstage the MA5200 presents is far larger than most. It has an grand sense of scale to the presentation, which manages to just get the right side of not enlarging everything fed to it. So you don’t get a 50ft wide piano played by an 18ft tall Alfred Brendel and neither do you get a 100ft tall Billy Gibbons (perish the thought… imagine the potential for beard entanglement). But what you get instead is Mozart’s Piano Sonatas played on a grand piano in a grand space and ZZ Top playing in a studio setting with great drama and a lot of energy. That’s the big thing of the ‘big’ sound – it gives the music space to breathe.
Whether it’s a function of that Power Guard module or just the way this amp sounds in general, but it gives a sense of effortless grace and energy, not as if it’s listlessly waiting to get out of first gear, but as if its happily cruising through music and nothing will get in the way of that enjoyment. It doesn’t matter if it’s the sturm und drang of the closing bars of Solti’s version of Mahler’s Eighth or the soft, silken tones of Sarah Vaughan singing ‘Willow Weep for Me’ at Mister Kelly’s, the MA5200 takes all in its stride.
It’s very ‘infra-dig’ in some audiophile circles to like McIntosh or to consider McIntosh a worthwhile partner for some of the better quality loudspeakers out there. This is brand bigotry, pure and simple. I’d be perfectly happy to see the MA5200 on the end of a good pair of Avalon or Magico or Wilson loudspeakers, and I think it would work perfectly, but we’d rather ignore the ‘Big Mc’ in favour of less established, sometimes more kitchen table brands because they are more ‘real’. This shouldn’t be considered ‘only’ a McIntosh, it’s an outstanding amplifier with a beguiling sound quality and a build quality that is off the scale next to many of its rivals.