The answers will be different, depending on who you ask. I know, for example, there are many people who claim that the most important component in a system is the speakers. Hi-fi agnostics argue that the room itself is all-important, and then there are those who believe that the sound source – where it all starts, is most important.
How else to get good sound if not everything is in order at the source of the sound? No matter what truth one swears by, there is little doubt that everything is connected to everything. Few people would dream of setting up a Technics SL-1000R for GBP 20,000, with a handmade pickup, in a system with a simple NAD amplifier and a pair of cheap speakers from an online store no one has heard of.
Then it is better to think about balance, that the system will never be better than the weakest link, and if the mentioned Technics player is the starting point, this preamplifier can be the next link in the system.
The large C2700 is McIntosh’s most expensive preamp with valves – in one cabinet – and is a very useful control center, which will fit into any high-end system.
The preamplifier is as big as many integrated amplifiers, but far more advanced than most integrated amplifiers, which very rarely have an equally expensive preamplifier part like this.
It is made up of four 12AX7A valves, a pair each for the MM and MC inputs on the amplifier, and combines a 12AX7A and a 12AT7 tube for the line stage. The small valves can be seen under a glass plate at the top, where McIntosh has also drawn the circuit from the inputs to the outputs of the C2700.
Phono stage with valves
It also has three balanced and four unbalanced line inputs, in addition to the two separate turntable inputs, for MM and MC pickups. The input selector on the left is also used to set the load for MM and MC pickups, where you can select impedance load in six steps from 25 to 1000 ohms for MC, and capacitance for MM from 50 to 800 pF, and impedance of 47 kOhm.
The input sensitivity, and the input name, can be changed from a menu displayed on the screen, when you hold down the input selector for a few seconds.
The C2700 is also equipped with three balanced and unbalanced outputs, and connections for power and remote control of other McIntosh components.
From the front you can also adjust the bass and treble in a range of ± 12 dB, and there you will also find a headphone output with Headphone Crossfeed Director (HXD), which will create the feeling of listening to speakers in a room, and not the cramped effect headphones can create.
In addition to the headphone outputs, and the nine analog inputs, the C2700 also has seven digital inputs.
The predecessor C2600 had a built-in digital converter, which is relatively rare on a valve amplifier. The C2700 also has a DAC module – DA2 – an upgraded version of the 32-bit converter, DA1, that was in the C2600, with support for DSD512 and HDMI input with audio return. So you can connect the TV to the system and control the TV sound with the TV’s remote control.
The DA2 module also has two coaxial and two optical inputs that support 24-bit/192kHz files, and a USB input with support for 32-bit/384kHz, but also MCT-in, which is a DIN connector for digital transfer of the SACD stream from the SACD players to McIntosh.
By the way, the DAC has Roon support, so that you can control the music flow easily from a Roon app.
A coup among preamplifiers
The previous version, the C2600, was – and is – one of the best preamps we have tested, and the new C2700 fits into the same range. With the new DAC module, and a super quiet phono input, you get the best of both worlds here. Together with, among other things, the valve amplifier MC1502, and the even more powerful MC312 with transistor and autoformers, the C2700 forms a potent and usable core in every system.
The sound has enormous amounts of depth, details flow effortlessly out of the speakers, and it delivers a large, three-dimensional sound stage, with beautiful warm sound balance, and massive bass dynamics. At the same time, it is quiet, even with MC cartridges, and if you connect the Mac to the DA2 module to stream music in high resolution via the USB input, you notice how much better the sound from wired digital streaming is, than when you stream from the tablet via wifi.
However, McIntosh has a solution for those who prefer the convenience of wireless streaming. Like the compact MB50. It connects wirelessly to the network, and then to one of the inputs on the preamplifier. It also has analog and digital inputs.
The McIntosh C2700 is our new favorite among high-end class preamps. This is both because it is so useful and flexible, but also because it delivers the music on a silver platter. The practical DAC module with HDMI input, and the quiet and crystal clear sound from the phono stage, is a rare combination that works impeccably here. There is really nothing to put your finger on. The C2700 is one of the best buys in the class, in our opinion, especially if you are looking for digital inputs combined with analog, and a serious RIAA stage.