The new McIntosh preamplifier is not really brand new. We’ve seen it before, but back then it was called C70, and came dressed in black to fit McIntosh’s 70th anniversary ball in 2019.
This version is called the C22 Mark V, and under the hood it is similar to the C70, but here the black glass plate covers only half of the front, giving the C22 an even clearer retro feel.
It shares the same construction with a 12AT7 and five 12AX7A valves that can be seen under the glass plate at the top, and it is only the appearance that separates them. The same analog structure is also found in another McIntosh preamplifier, the C2700, which also has a built-in 32-bit DAC.
However, the C22 is a pure analog construction, with a very good phono stage with inputs for both Moving Magnet and Moving Coil pickups. In total with the two balanced, the C22 has seven inputs.
It also has a headphone output with Headphone Crossfeed Director (HXD), which should create the feeling of listening to speakers in a room, and not the squeezed effect headphones can create.
There are also two pairs of outputs for more than one power amplifier, or a subwoofer, and the back is full of 3.5 mm minijack inputs for power and remote control of several McIntosh products.
From the front, the bass and treble can also be adjusted up to ± 10 dB, the input selector can also act as a mute button with a light push, and the volume control can also become a balance control, with a light push.
Below it you will find two potentiometers for adjusting the load for MM and MC pickups, and the impedance load can be adjusted in seven steps from 50 to 350ohm for MM, and from 25 ohms to 1 kOhm for MC.
There is no gain or capacitance adjustment. The input sensitivity for MM is stated to be 4.5 mV, and for MC to 0.45 mV.
If you need a DAC or streaming, it is easy to find and connect to the C22. The McIntosh D150 has a built-in DAC with five digital inputs, and the MB50 and MS500 act as streaming/network players.
Alternatively, you can take a closer look at the aforementioned C2700, which is technically a C22 with DAC and several inputs, but with an even more expensive phono step
Connected to the massive MC1502 valve amplifier, also from Binghamton a few miles outside of New York, it creates a soundscape reminiscent of live concerts with orchestral space.
It gives the music a glow and warmth, and moves you a few rows closer to the stage, so that you do not miss anything. The sound is not 100 percent neutral, but it is 100 percent engaging, and if you connect a turntable to the fine phono stage, it gives vinyl recordings depth, timbre and dynamics, in a way that mostly only expensive – separate – phono steps do.
The analog line inputs are as noise-free as the turntable inputs, and it is never a problem to turn up the volume, because you do not notice that anything happens to the noise level.
It may fit best in a clean valve setup, but I would not hesitate to use it with a transistor amplifier. Especially if you experience that the system sounds a bit slim, that you want more fullness and depth in the sound image, then the C22 can be a welcome solution.
The McIntosh C22 Mk V is not an amplifier for those who want everything conveniently placed in one cabinet. But for those who want a sound that is a bit in the style of the retro design, and may prefer to enjoy the music from vinyl, the C22 is a beautiful preamplifier that can be a perfect partner for both valve and transistor amplifiers.