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August 2012
Superior Audio Equipment Review

McIntosh MC452 Stereo Power Amplifier
Legendary performance from a legendary company!
Review By Anthony Nicosia

 

First A Little History
McIntosh MC452 Stereo Power AmplifierMcIntosh Labs was originally founded in 1949 by the late Frank McIntosh. After spending seven years in Silver Springs Maryland they moved to a newly built facility in Binghamton, New York where they remain to this very day. Let it be known that I am no stranger to McIntosh Audio gear. Various McIntosh products throughout the years have entered and unfortunately left this humble abode yet there are still two pieces with me today. Guests are amazed when shown my original McIntosh MC275 tube power amplifier (they were built from 1961-1970) and a near museum quality tube MR-67 FM tuner with the optional slant leg wooden cabinet (produced from 1963-1968). "Do they still work and can I hear them" is a familiar cry often heard from my guest. Of course they do and it is always my pleasure to let people experience just how good they still sound.

The high prices McIntosh products bring on the used market are a direct reflection of their ability to last throughout the years. Quality and reliability are two words synonymous with McIntosh audio equipment. McIntosh Labs still produces many high quality products with designs that are eye candy for audiophiles and with sonic capabilities to match. It would take too long to go into all the various legendary products McIntosh has sold throughout the years or are currently offering today. If you look at their web-site you will see they manufacturer power amplifiers, preamplifiers, integrated amplifiers, loudspeakers, a high performance lifestyle audio system, multi-channel processors, CD players, DACs, a room sound correction system, power conditioner, AM/FM tuner, a McIntosh App (available for purchase at the Apple store) as well as various audio cables. For your car they offer loudspeakers, amplifiers and an FM/CD player. Gee did I forget to mention they also design a belt-driven turntable complete with tone -arm and cartridge. As you can see an entire system from beginning to end could be purchased with just one visit to your local McIntosh dealer. Spend some time reading over product details on their web-site then head on down to your local dealer and treat yourself to a day of fun and excitement as you experience these products first hand.

 

A Look At The MC452: Physically & Technically
To say this is a large amplifier is indeed an understatement. It weighs in at 110 pounds sans shipping carton and 143 pounds with. Therefore it is best to have a strong friend or two to help carry it into your house for placement within your audio system. Luckily my twenty-one year old son was there to assist me in lifting it on top of my audio rack. This amplifier was definitely meant to be displayed with its beautiful front faceplate featuring two large easy to read watt meters and two equally attractive aluminum side handles. The meters have blue lights (you know itís a McIntosh when you see those two blue meters light up) and green lettering for labeling on the faceplate. One round knob on the left is for meter display functions while the right side knob powers the unit on/off.  Two small LED lights located in-between these meters tell when the Power Guard circuit is activated for either or both channels (more on that later).

Moving around towards the rear of the unit are inputs/outputs for XLR or RCA cables, a connection for a remote power control, fuse holder and various loudspeaker cable connections. Of course there is also an IEC outlet to the delight of those with high performance power cables. The back of the unit is as attractive to see as is the front with the RCA output/input connectors and custom output taps of 2, 4, or 8 Ohms for loudspeaker cables all with very attractive gold-plating. It would seem that the designers at McIntosh Labs rightly assumed most owners would want their MC452 openly displayed front and rear rather than left behind closed audio cabinet doors. Located directly behind that beautiful front panel are two Autoformers and in between them one very large thirty pound output transformer. You also have ample cooling fins which McIntosh lists at being more than 2800 square inches worth. These fins are to help keep your 452 from overheating without using large fans and that familiar accompanying fan noise found on some amplifiers. Close by and hidden from view are four rather large main filter capacitors rated for storing over 200 Joules of energy.

As for internal designs this one has plenty. Taking a quote from the MC452ís ownerís manual is the following description of its Quad Balanced Design. "Double Balanced Push-Pull design is used from input to output. Each half of the amplifier contains complimentary balanced circuitry. The resulting Quad Balanced configuration cancels even order distortion." The 452 also sports the Exclusive McIntosh Power Assurance System which is a collection of technologies used to protect loudspeakers and amplifier as well as enhancing audio performance.  There is the McIntoshís Power Guard system which continually monitors both input and output signals to adjust input levels to avoid clipping and assure a clean clear signal being sent to your loudspeakers. Its Sentry Monitor system is a short-circuit protection device, no fuses needed, to disengage the output stage before damage can be done. This system continually monitors both voltage and current at the output stage keeping it within safe limits and will afterward automatically resets itself. The McIntoshís Output Autoformer system allows you to use the MC452ís full rated power into loudspeaker impedances of 2, 4 or 8 Ohms while still retaining its lowest distortion rating. Enough of this though for all we really need to know is how does it sound? So let us move forward now and experience all the MC452 has to offer in a real world environment.

 

Time to Sit Back and Enjoy the Music
It was my pleasure to welcome the McIntosh MC452 to my reference loudspeakers the Von Schweikert VR-35's. These loudspeakers are great at revealing the voice of any associated equipment that has been my privilege to put in front of them, whether CD players, turntables, cables, preamplifiers or amplifiers. Owning an older MC275 tube amplifier my curiosity made me wonder if this new solid-state design would somehow retain some of the 275ís tube characteristics and charm I have grown to love. It is my pleasure to inform you the answer is both yes and no. Yes in that it sounded clear and holographic with good detail but no in that it had a more solid lower bass foundation enhanced by all that extra power (factory stated at 450-watts minimum).  As for dynamics (the life of music) in a word YES! Bass impact on "Man in the Mirror" from Michael Jackson's Bad [Epic BK 66072] Special Edition CD was "righteous"! The snapping of fingers in the beginning had a realistic quality about it as did all vocals. Never did music feel restrained but rather open and forceful with plenty of power behind each note. The feeling that you could tap into an almost limitless supply of clean clear musical energy prevailed throughout this review tempting me to turn up the volume more than was normal for my listening pleasure. The star quality of Michael Jackson's voice with all its intonations and range shone through song after song in glorious detail much to the delight of my wife and me (she is a big Michael Jackson fan).

Speaking of being fans we also love Whitney Houston. Her first album simply entitled Whitney Houston was just spectacular. Not only did the 452 provide me with the needed power to project her voice in a manner commensurate with all that energy she brings to a song but also retained its magical tonal qualities as well. Here the 452 threw out a very large deep and wide soundscape enveloping me with music as it filled all corners of my room. Playing music for hours on end did nothing to make me think I was taxing this amplifier as it barely got warm to the touch even when driven hard for extended periods of time. Even with all that power music was never a forward in your face sound but rather one that let you enjoy each performance from a more natural setting just slightly back of seventh row center. Ah but could the 452 produce quality music during those late night sessions when one must keep it relatively quiet for your sleeping loved ones as you listen to music throughout the wee hours of the night and into the next morning?

Well yes it could but the temptation to turn it up got me in trouble more than once, my fault not the amplifiers, it just sounded so good it was hard not to keep sneaking that volume knob to the right just a little bit more each time. Where other amplifiers might reach their limits causing the soundscape to collapse and sound congested the 452 kept pushing through to levels I dared not go beyond within my particular room and with associated gear. "Corcovado (Quiet Nights of Quiet Stars)" from The Oscar Peterson Trio We Get Requests [LIM Records B002HTWYZ6] CD showed off this amplifiers speed with very quick attack transients from Oscar Petersons piano keys while displaying an equally formidable layering of musicians on a nice wide spacious soundscape. While able to produce a solid base foundation the 452 never threw this bass in your face but was rather more laid back in its approach. If called upon like in James Taylors "Gaia" from the SACD Hourglass [Columbia CS 67912] would produce tight thunderous bass from my VR-35ís that rocked my room to my great delight. Otherwise bass response was kept at a distance so as not to distract from the music without any overbearing unnatural presence. It was like a sleeping giant, formidable if awakened otherwise lying peacefully in the background waiting for the time it was needed.

While my Von Schweikert VR-35's fared well with but did not require a 450-watt amplifier to drive them, my Martin Logan Sequel II's are an entirely different matter. These Electrostatic loudspeakers love pure brute power and the McIntosh MC452 brought them to life. Hearing String Quartets [2L71] a beautiful SACD recorded at the Sofienberg Church in Norway April 2009, was a pure delight. The string instruments sounded as if actually being performed in the open spacious environment of that church. Four hundred-fifty watts of power gives one the ability play back recordings thru the Sequels at high sound levels while making that music sound effortless.  Bows dancing across strings, details of the timbre of musical instruments all added up to a fine performance in which to lose myself after a hard dayís work. It was quite easy to just sit back engrossed in this musical environment and momentarily forget ones troubles. This of course being one reason we seek out high quality recordings and playback systems. The McIntosh 452 did not disappoint as performance after performance sprang to life stirring emotions within me as it revealed subtle nuances of music heard at realistic levels mimicking the large room it was originally recorded in.

To change things up a bit out came the Stevie Ray Vaughan & Double Trouble CD The Real Deal: Greatest Hits Volume 2 [Epic/Legacy 88697 22629 2]. Like with Rolling Stones recordings this CD should be played back loud, no wimpy amplifiers need apply here. Some amplifiers are slow and plodding not the 452 it had the ability to keep pace with the lightning fast blues riffs of Stevie Ray Vaughan. On "Love Struck Baby" it was easy to forget about reviewing and to just listen to the music. Lacking any discernible flaws it struck me just how good of an amplifier this was. When a piece of equipment does not call attention to itself but rather gets out of musicís way to let it express its very nature you know it is on to something good. Song after song that was how it was with the McIntosh MC452.

 

Vinyl And The McIntosh MC452
Please tell me what a review of a McIntosh amplifier would be if we did not get at least a little retro by pairing it with my 1970 Oracle Delphi Mark 1 turntable. Aside from the basic turntable is a Grace 707 Tone arm with custom made interconnects, an Audio-Technica Prestige AT33PTG Moving Coil Cartridge, Whest PhonoStage & .20+MsU.20 Power Supply and of course a VPI 16.5 Record Cleaning Machine to ensure a clear clean vinyl playback source. Back in came my reference Von Schweikert VR-35 loudspeakers. Having a little over one thousand records the choice at first seemed daunting but then it hit me, letís start with something from my Beatles collection. By now you can guess where this review is headed what with the 452ís ability to tone down digital glare from CDís.  Not surprisingly the 452 took to vinyl like a dog does to running through the woods, quite naturally and with great enthusiasm.  Vinyl is a wonderful medium for those long late night listening session designed to bring peace and harmony back into our lives after a stressful day in this modern rush-rush world of ours.

The Beatles Abbey Road [Capitol Records reprint C1 0777 7 46446 1 7] was the first LP chosen. Here with "Come Together", ironically the last song all four members of the Beatles cut together as a group, the 452 did a great job of isolating the musical and vocal talents of each of those four young lads. The LP sounded somewhat better than I had remembered as musicís flow was more natural, organic if you will, almost as if one was much closer to the sound at the original recording studio. "I Want You (She's So Heavy)" from the same LP was a good test of the ability of this amplifiers to recreate a sense of weight. This could be heard listening to Ringo's drums and George Harrisonís guitar work. This song is all about raw emotion (a love song from John Lennon to Yoko Ono) and the 452 takes you there with full force. My recommendation with this one is to crank up the volume and use the amplifiers four hundred-fifty watts of power as this song almost demands it. Doing so allows for a spectacular and moving conclusion as the song goes from featuring three minutes of the guitar works of John Lennon and George Harrison to a moving very abrupt dead silence ending.

Trying something a little different we now turn to The Best of Peter, Paul and Mary Ten Years Together [BSK 3105]. Those of my generation (born in 1951) has got to remember and to love their songs for their simple musical purity, vocal talent and universal messages that touched the hearts of us all. "Lemon Tree" is one such song as it showcases the vocal talent of each of the three members of the band separately and then together. Each is heard in their proper space within the soundscape enhanced by a clarity that was stunning. When one took a turn center stage the other two could still be clearly heard performing in the background.  On "Leaving on a Jet Plane'" both guitar and vocals were showcased precisely within the soundscape. Displaying the emotional content of a performance is important to me and here the 452 again showed its true colors. It was a combination of a proper balance of detail and spaciousness that gave the 452 its natural sound which impressed me the most, not just its power although there was plenty of that. For power alone does not a high quality amplifier make.

 

A Summation of Events
You have got to love this amplifier with its gorgeous faceplate, four hundred-fifty watts of power, modern day safeguards designed to protect your system and the ability to provide its owner with a realistic presentation of whatever music asked of it. As the Beatles once sang "It's only love and that is all why do I feel the way I do", well probably because itís a McIntosh product packed with plenty of modern day technology that still manages to retain all that old nostalgic charm from a long ago era. Yes it has that classic McIntosh look but this is no old classic, rather a modern day product on the verge of becoming a classic. Beauty, power, detail, large open soundscapes, McIntosh reliability, you really cannot ask for more than that at least not for seven thousand-five hundred dollars in a world where amplifiers costing twenty-thousand or more fail to shock us. It really was hard to knock this amplifier as it did nothing wrong and so much right. If you love a big open soundscape full of wonderful music this amplifier should definitely be put on your short list. To give you a better understanding of just how much the 452 impressed me you should know it is not going back as I bought the review piece. A big thumb up for the McIntosh MC452!

 

The Listening Environment
The review room is eighteen feet eight inches long by thirteen feet wide with loudspeakers and equipment kept on the short wall. The cathedral ceiling starts at eight feet from the short wall slopping upwards to reach a height of thirteen feet in the middle than returning to eight feet at the opposite end. The hardwood floor is partially covered by a nine by six foot oriental rug lying down the long ways facing toward the loudspeakers, placed dead center between but not under the listener or the audio system. The room has no doors but there are two openings. One opening is in front of the right loudspeaker giving access to the hallway while the other is behind the listenerís position opening to a formal dining area. There are three floor standing acoustical panels one in each corner behind the loudspeakers and another in front of the fireplace with numerous Auralex Studiofoam panels placed around the room. All the audio equipment is located in a Synergy Twin S30 Salamander audio rack placed about a foot away from and in the middle of the short wall opposite the listening position. Power conditioners are all located on the hardwood floor behind and to the left of the audio rack with the exception of the Audience Ar2p-T0 which is plugged directly into the socket behind the rack.

 

Review Equipment
Von Schweikert VR-35 Export Deluxe Loudspeakers
Martin Logan Sequel II Loudspeakers
Pass Labs XP-10 Preamplifier (On Loan)
OPPO Digital BDP-95 Universal player
Oracle Delphi MK 1 Turntable
Grace 707 Tone arm with custom made interconnects
Audio-Technica Prestige AT33PTG Moving Coil Cartridge
Whest PhonoStage & .20+MsU.20 Power Supply
VPI 16.5 Record Cleaning Machine
Acoustic Revive RPT-4 Ultimate Power Supply Box
Blue Circle Audio Mk III Power Line Conditioners (2)
Loudspeaker Cables: Canare 4S11
Interconnects: Acoustic Revive XLR Balanced cables from preamplifier to amplifier, Monarchy Audio XLR DAB-1 Balanced cables from CD player to preamplifier
Power Cords: Cardas Cross (2) (On Loan) ,

 

Specifications
Type: Stereo solid-state power amplifier
Power Output: 450 watts per channel with both channels operating.
Output Load Impedance: Terminals for 8, 4 and 2 Ohms
Frequency Response: 20 Hz to 20 kHz (+0, -3.0dB from 10 Hz to 100 kHz)
Total Harmonic Distortion: 0.005% maximum harmonic distortion
Dynamic Headroom: 1.8dB
Input Sensitivity: 4.2V Balanced, 2.1V Unbalanced
Signal To Noise Ratio: 95dB Balanced (122dB below rated output), 93dB Unbalanced
Intermodulation Distortion: 0.005% maximum
Wide Band Damping Factor: Greater than 40
Input Impedance: 22,000 ohms
Voltage Gain: 29dB @ 8 Ohms, 26dB @ 4 Ohms and 23dB @ 2 Ohms
Power Guard: Less than 2% THD with up to 14dB overdrive
Power Control Input: 5-15VDC, <1mA
Power Control Output: 12VDC, 50mA maximum total, delayed 0.2 seconds
Dimensions: 17.5 x 20.18 x 9.55 (WxDxH)
Weight: 110 lbs. (49.9kg) net, 
Warranty: three years limited warranty, parts and labor
Price: $7500

 

Company Information
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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