Review: McIntosh MC312

Massive power

When you need both more power and better sound, you can definitely rely on a McIntosh amplifier.

Published 2021-05-23 - 8:00 am
McIntosh MC312
Lasse Svendsen

Few others stock as many amplifiers as McIntosh. Among the power amplifiers alone, we find seven multi-channel amplifiers, four valve amplifiers, eight transistor amplifiers, and a hybrid valve/transistor amplifier.

Then it is perhaps not so strange that one of them, MC312, easily disappears in the crowd. The 2 x 300 W powerful transistor amplifier may have been a bit overshadowed by the fantastic MC462 that we tested not too long ago, and the well-known and legendary tube amplifier MC275 that we have also tested.

One can look at the 312 as a less expensive version of the huge 462, but that makes it no weakling. Massive 300 W power per channel regardless of load, is a remakable amount of power, and our experience is that there are small differences between the two power amplifiers,

The larger 462 has a slightly better grip on particularly heavy-duty speakers, and is able to drive them to deafening volume without mumbling. Much thanks to the McIntosh Quad Balanced circuit with autoformers – transformers on the outputs, which makes the 462 enormously stable under demanding loads.

The smaller 312 does not have the same Quad Balanced circuit, and a slightly lower dynamic headroom of 2.3 dB rather than 3 dB, but also uses autoformers, and sounds for all practical purposes, pretty much like an MC462.

McIntosh prints the block schematics on the top cover, also how the autoforms are connected.

Balanced circuit with transformers

The amplifier is more powerful and more stable than its predecessor MC302 and two MC301 (which we have also tested), and costs 25 percent less than MC462. This makes it a far more attractive purchase for the wallet, but without the need to compromise on sound quality.

Like most McIntosh amplifiers, it is fully balanced with the autoforms on the outputs. With separate windings for the outputs of 2, 4 and 8 ohm speakers. It should make the amplifier ‘insensitive’ to varying speaker load, and is something you usually only see on tube amplifiers. The McIntosh Sentry Monitor that disconnects the outputs is also integrated, along with Power Guard, which monitors the signal in real time to avoid clipping that could damage the speakers.

Speaker outputs for 2, 4 and 8 ohm speakers.

Stable and refined powerhouse

The large power meters on the front wave freshly as Al Jarreau’s Cold Duck thunders out through the huge 15-inch on JBL 4367, and settles nicely at the other end of the scale, when I put on the Dire Straits’ Telegraph Road. But it’s only until the end of the song, when the amplifier comes to life, and you feel physically what so much power can achieve with a pair of 15-inch woofers.

McIntosh itself says that the 312 has 27 percent better dynamic headroom than its predecessor 302, but at least as important is that the 312 belongs to the newer generation of McIntosh amplifiers, which have a new circuit design, with twice the capacitor capacity (compared to the 302), and better components.

It has not only given the amplifier better control and dynamics, but also better sound. You hear the sound of the fingers being dragged along the strings of a double bass much better, there is greater richness of detail and better focus in the soundscape, and there is no audible distortion.

I especially like how strings sound more nuanced than I experienced on the previous generation from McIntosh, and how a piano is rendered with more depth and greater dynamic contrast. Maybe especially in the bass, which is tighter and better defined here.

It does not have the same warm sound as an MC275 or MC1502, but it sounds fuller and warmer than an Ayre VX-5, and more dynamic and potent than a Yamaha M-5000.


The McIntosh MC312 deserves at least as much attention as the more expensive MC462. It plays so close to big brother – for less money, that it will be a better buy for many, who need a powerhouse for a pair of heavy-duty speakers. If you have the space and the need or rather the desire is there, the 300 W powerful McIntosh amplifier is one of the power amplifiers we definitely recommend in this class. It will breathe life into even the most obscure speakers, and make the hairs on your whole body stand up on really good speakers.

McIntosh MC312
High End

We think

Immensely powerful and dynamic. Plays with exquisite finesse and empathy. Very solidly built. The weight.

Just press the start button

Hegel never ceases to surprise

Modern nostalgia

The can opener

Affordable entry ticket

Exceptionally good network player

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