Sometimes it’s just so much fun to test new products, that you blow completely in all the shortcomings they may have. Then it is not important with specifications, it is mostly about just enjoying the moment.
That’s the way it is with the McIntosh MA352. Just watch it heat up. Where the LEDs change from orange to green, and the turquoise lights light up in the power meters. It is 15 seconds of expectant joy, and so delicious that you just have to stay in a good mood.
Turn on music, turn up the volume, and enjoy. For this is really useful on another level.
The amplifier’s four vacuum tubes shine on the chrome-plated cabinet, and in a way it reflects well how it sounds. Clear as a freshly plastered window, with a pleasantly soft, warm sound, and some dynamic kicks you feel in the diaphragm.
The hybrid McIntosh amplifier is powerful enough to power your favorite speakers, and refined enough to make the experience memorable, no matter what kind of music you play.
There are not many amplifiers similar to the McIntosh MA352. It is always MA252, a more compact version with 100 w power per channel, it is built over the same load as MA352, but the latter is in a different league. Feel free to compare with going from a Porsche Boxster, to a Porsche 911 Turbo.
Tube and transistor
Here, the four vacuum tubes in the preamplifier section of the amplifier are used. Two 12AX7A and two 12AT7 pipes, nicely protected by four metal grilles. The output stage uses transistors, more and more powerful than on the MA252, which move the power up to 200 w per channel. Or 320 w if the resistance is halved to four ohms.
It has no digital inputs, or streaming, but it has a turntable input for MM pickups. Only MM of 47 kOhm adjustable between 50 and 800 pF. The other inputs are, two balanced, and three unbalanced. In addition, the MA352 has mini-jack connectors for connecting multiple McIntosh devices, so that they all light up at the same time when you turn on one of them, and all of them can be controlled from one remote control.
You can also connect the MA352 to a home theater system, by activating the Home Theater pass-through in the menu.
McIntosh protects amplifiers from clipping and potential short circuits with a Power Guard circuit and a Sentry Monitor, which disconnects the outputs before the amplifier kneels.
The MA352 has a very good headphone output, and a five-band equalizer as well. You can adjust 30, 125, 500 Hz, and 2 and 10 kHz, ± 12 dB, and eq can be switched on and off from the remote control.
The light in the display and the LEDs that illuminate the pipes can be dimmed or switched off. And you can rename the inputs, turn off the inputs and adjust the balance between the speakers.
All this is of course of complete subordinate importance, when you sink into the easy chair and let the music spread out into the room.
The amplifier is not equipped with the same autoformers (transformer) as the MA7200 has. They are supposed to make the amplifier ‘immune’ to impedance variations, but I did not miss them on MA352. Which is far more potent than the smaller MA252. I experienced the MA7200 as a little better controlled when the amplifier was pressed, otherwise there was no noticeable difference in power at normal listening levels.
It did not matter what kind of speakers I used. The exceptionally good tripod speakers R1 Arreté from Audiovector, the larger SR3 Raw Surface, or Martin Logan’s hybrid electrostat Electromotion ESL X. The McIntosh amplifier cost everyone, and it would eventually turn out that it thrived just as well no matter what kind of music I threw on.
The sound balance is warm with rich bass and midrange, and a silky soft treble. The dynamic contrast is excellent, and the amplifier creates a large and airy sound image. A Devialet Expert 220 Pro, sounds tighter, and details are a little better focused, but it does not have the charming sound of the McIntosh amplifier.
It gave, for example, the live recordings on Up For It, with the Keith Jarrett trio, a presence in the test room, which is more reminiscent of actually being at a concert. The rich sound of the double bass, the weight of the beats on the drums, and the deep piano sound, all moved well forward in the soundscape. Pat Metheny’s soft guitar sound fills the room in front of the speakers, and it sounds so close that you can almost touch the guitar.
It loves to play loud. I had to jack down Bob Dylan a few notches, when the harmonica suddenly sounded too sharp, but then it was so loud that I could not hear the sound of the foot stepping on the beat.
The beautiful recording with Sondre Bratlands and Iver Kleive from the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, almost grew out of the room, and with the Martin Logan speakers, I got an enormous depth in the soundscape. Vocals, or midrange in general, have long been something the McIntosh amps shine a little extra on. Also here. It does not matter if it is Bob Dylan or Kari Bremnes. The vocal sound is warm and full, with a beautiful sound base, and the focus is good over the entire midrange range.
The turntable input should not be forgotten. It is far from thrown in the butt, and on our test copy of the Pro-Ject Xpression, the Orthophon-made MM pickup sounded as sonorous as we know it can. The Carla Bley Big Band sounded just the way it sounds. Powerful, dynamic and full-bodied. The headphone output powered our Sennheiser HD660S without any problems, and the amplifier’s potent bass dynamics shone through here as well.
The McIntosh MA352 is not for everyone. There are other amplifiers in the same class that have several inputs, DAC, input for MC pickup, and much more. But not many people sound so tough and engaging, and at the same time have enough finesse to bring out both nuances and details. Those who primarily use a CD, turntable and perhaps have a separate network streams, do not need more inputs, and can instead enjoy a rare satisfaction of playing from an amplifier that does not look like much else.