Introduction - what is the McIntosh MA7200?
The McIntosh MA7200 is a stereo integrated amplifier. It is neither the most affordable such model that McIntosh makes, nor the most expensive, in their complex, almost overlapping range of products. Given that, as some of you will have already noted, it weighs in at nearly ten thousand pounds, it’s also a reminder that McIntosh exists in a fairly rarefied world.
So why this particular model? Aside from the practical reality that at any given time, not every member of the range is available as a review sample, the MA7200 is an example of many of McIntosh’s most distinctive design practises. The late MP Tony Benn used to remark on the difference between weathervanes and signposts. The former were individuals (or in this case, companies) who altered their position to suit prevailing moods, turning this way and that to stay relevant. Signposts by contrast, point in one direction regardless of what might be going on around them. In the specific case of McIntosh, ‘signpost’ rather undersells the determination with which McIntosh does its own thing. In this analogy, McIntosh isn’t a signpost, it’s a granite marker.
This is admirable but what does it mean in 2020 in the context of Post AV and the existence of rivals that have might have weathervaned a bit but have done so in a way that nets them an Editor’s Choice award? Does the McIntosh recipe still work absolutely or is this an anachronism? It’s time to find out.
Specification and Design
As noted, the MA7200 is not the most affordable integrated amplifier in the range; there are both solid state and some new hybrid valve/solid state designs that can be purchased for less. What the MA7200 has though that these models don’t have is a piece of engineering that the company has used for decades and that is instrumental to how many of their most notable designs work. It’s called an autoformer and I’m very much looking forward to doing my best to explain it and having someone pop up in the comments going ‘well, akshewrley….’
An autoformer is a transformer with a single winding which means that portions of the same winding act as the primary and secondary rather than there being secondary windings for each. They have many uses in engineering terms but in audio, they can be used for impedance matching loads; presenting a consistent load from a speaker to an amplifier and ensuring that the speaker can be driven more effectively. In the early days of Hi-Fi, this was a vital feature to ensure that the power you had available (which was frequently on the limited side) was delivered as effectively as possible. As solid state technology developed and became more powerful and robust, most manufacturers moved away from them.
McIntosh didn’t though. The company's argument is that, by using a pair of autoformers, with specific impedance outputs, their amplifiers are able to run optimally instead of adapting dynamically to the speaker load. As the mechanics of making an autoformer involves more copper, more space, more weight and more production process, even McIntosh has had to phase it out of some of the more entry level (a relative term) designs. The MA7200 is about the most affordable model to retain them.
This means that the MA7200 disposes of 200 watts into eight ohms. It disposes of 200 watts into four ohms and - you’ve guessed it - 200 watts into two ohms. Each of these impedance settings has a specific set of positive terminals. It is a solid state amp that is laid out and feels more like a valve one in a number of respects but there isn’t a single valve anywhere in the design. Instead, what you’re looking at is an amplifier that is built to requirements that McIntosh feels matter. It has large heatsinks so it runs cool but high current output transistors to ensure that the warm up time is usefully short. There is both a protection circuit and monitoring software to keep an eye on things too.
This amplification is made available to no less than 14 inputs. Eight are analogue; five RCA inputs, one XLR and a moving magnet and moving coil phono stage with separate inputs for both. This is joined by a digital board with two coax and two optical connections, good to 24/192kHz, a USB connection able to handle 384kHz and DSD256. This is finished off by a proprietary connection for the company’s CD/SACD transport. There are also preouts and a dedicated power amp input. Around the front, you’ll find a headphone socket on a 6.35mm jack.
Neither is McIntosh done there. The MA7200 has the largest collection of 12V triggers and data bus connections I’ve ever seen on a product not specifically designed for custom install and you can now also order your MA7200 with a different digital board called the DA2. This is much the same as the one fitted to the review sample (imaginatively named the DA1) but it adds an HDMI ARC connection. This means that the McIntosh isn’t quite as flexible as the Krell K-300i but will still drop into a mixed role system without losing volume and sync functionality. Both boards are Roon certified so connecting the MA7200 to a Roon Core will see that the connectivity matches up correctly. Inputs can also be trimmed and levelled to ensure that whatever is connected across your 14 inputs will output at the same level. Nothing about the company ethos has ever been about minimalism and so it is the case here.
And so we come to the looks. The MA7200 is actually the second McIntosh product we’ve looked at on AVForums. The first was the D100 digital preamp - an early example of something that is now almost ubiquitous and at the time, I wrote;
It would be easy to describe McIntosh gear as ‘retro’ but this isn’t strictly accurate. True enough, the styling looked like this decades ago but it didn’t really ever look like what anyone else was doing even then. The gothic font for the logo which glows when powered up, the sizable control knobs and gloss front panel are something completely removed from the usual and will either be very cool or naff depending on where you stand.
The MA7200 is still all of these things and then, to up the ante a bit, there’s the VU meters too. The MA7200 could be stripped of absolutely every piece of visual branding and you’d still know exactly who makes it. When the aesthetics are this distinctive, there is going to be an obvious division of opinion on how you perceive it but, while I am sure that you won’t have your opinion swayed by anything I type, I think it is worth noting two things.
The first is that the build is sensational. Even judged at the asking price, the McIntosh is flawless. Controls feel solid and well weighted, the fitment of panels and the different sections is impeccable and everything feels like it has been designed and made with a view to lasting you as long as you want it to. Even the box it comes in is a minor work of engineering art. Those VU meters might well be a styling cue but a quick check with a meter (and some painfully slow calculations that I’ve no shame in admitting a more numerate friend assisted with) suggests that they are exceptionally accurate for an analogue gauge. This is a truly high end device in all senses of the word.
There’s something else too. The MA7200 might look fussy and in some respects archaic but the user experience is absolutely top notch. The display is clear and easy to read and shows you at a glance what is going on. The layout of controls is utterly logical and intuitive. The handset is slim and modern but its lack of directionality and logical layout make it a cinch to use. More than the D100 - which might be seen as a ‘non standard’ McIntosh device - the MA7200 makes it clear that the company does these things because they work genuinely well. Is everything perfect? No, but perfection is subjective. I’d have liked direct input selection on the remote at least and there’s no escaping the fact that the MA7200 is vast - actually taller than the herculean Musical Fidelity M8xi although, mercifully, not quite as dense with it.
The MA7200 might look fussy and in some respects archaic but the user experience is absolutely top notch
How was the MA7200 tested?
The McIntosh was connected to an IsoTek Evo3 Sigmas mains conditioner and placed on a Quadraspire QAVX rack. It has been used via XLR with a Chord Electronics Hugo Mscaler and TT2 taking a feed from a SOtM SMS-200 Neo running as a Roon Endpoint taking a feed from a Roon Nucleus. The phono stage has been tested via an AVID Ingenium Twin, with the MM side being tested with an SME M2-9 arm and Goldring 2500 iron cartridge and the MC side via Rega RB330 and Apheta Pro cartridge. The USB input has then been tested via the SOtM connected directly and an LG 55B7 OLED via Toslink. The speaker used in all situations was the Kudos Titan 505. Material used has included FLAC, AIFF, DSD, Qobuz and Tidal, on demand TV services and vinyl.
More: Audio Formats
Like a few products we’ve tested with distinctive and long standing design features, if you are expecting to be aurally assaulted with a full on ‘autoformer sound’ then I’m afraid that - in the same way that listening for the Beryllium on a Focal, the diamond on a Bowers and Wilkins or the FPGA in a Chord DAC - doing so is a largely fruitless undertaking. The design of the MA7200, however technically distinctive, is a means to an end.
What that end is though is rather impressive. In the recent review of the Musical Fidelity M8xi, I noted that the manner in which it harnessed its vast power output was to create a feeling of absolute effortlessness. In some regards, the McIntosh is very similar. The Titan 505 is not an impervious ‘concrete driver’ style device that only responds to having huge power stuffed up it but it does respond well to being driven and here the MA7200 starts to give a hint of what it can do. Listening to Global Communication’s 76:14 at perfectly sensible levels has a wonderful potency to it. Without ever sounding augmented or forced, the 505s are clearly not simply being powered, they are being driven.
This perception never changes no matter how hard you push or what you play. The MA7200 is utterly and completely unflappable. It simply continues to pile on this effortless drive, well past the point where any remote level of domestic acceptability still applies. Such is the absence of perceivable strain that it becomes clear that one of the reasons why those VU meters have survived as long as they have is that they provide at least some clue of how loud you are actually listening.
This is simply an underpinning to what the McIntosh does though. Without feeling embellished or inaccurate at any stage, the McIntosh is smoother and more refined than most of the big integrated models we’ve looked at over the years. This is an amp less concerned with immediate shock and awe style impact than it is the willingness to keep you listening for extended periods. The top end manages to be detailed and energetic but it is utterly free of any edge to it. This is actually a little different to my experiences of some high end, all McIntosh systems in the past, which thrived on quality recordings but revealed a definite edge when used with less well mastered material. The MA7200 by contrast simply takes what you give it and delivers it with a big, effortless and utterly all encompassing drive.
It does serve to reveal that the priorities of McIntosh are different from those of Krell. Where the K-300i underpins its performance with a propulsive urgency, the MA7200 is more about space, stereo image and the reality that comes from every element of scale and the performers and instruments involved being correct. This means that when you are asking for something on the ballistic side, the McIntosh doesn’t ‘let loose’ in quite the way that the Krell does but equally, despite being extremely powerful in its own right, the Krell cannot match the imperiousness of how the McIntosh delivers large scale material. To be honest, not much can.
No less importantly, the balance by which this ability is spread across 14 inputs is worthy of note too. I don’t believe there is any cutting edge wizardry at work in the digital board of the McIntosh but it delivers a presentation that gels nicely with the amplifier stage, perhaps adding the very slightest extra edge to the MA7200 that suits uptempo material a little more. Both the moving magnet and moving coil sections of the phono stage are hiss free and possessed of all the gain that anything bar the more gaspingly feeble cartridge will need. What your considerable outlay is getting here is a device where no aspect of its extensive spec feels like a weak spot. On Christmas Day, I called on the MA7200 to do everything from Christmas playlists, through to the Queen’s speech, to digging out my 1957 pressing of The Elvis Christmas Album in an attempt - largely unsuccessful it has to be to said - to feel in some way festive. Whatever the limitations of Christmas 2020, the McIntosh never wavered.
The MA7200 is utterly and completely unflappable
- Utterly imperious performance across the huge range of inputs
- Simply beautifully made
- Excellent user experience
- Very large
- No direct input selection
- Not inconsequentially expensive
McIntosh MA7200 Integrated Amplifier Review
There’s a temptation to look at the MA7200 and view it like a mechanical watch, a fountain pen or some other luxury good; that once you’ve stripped away the engineering and the theatre to it, the device that results is not actually as capable as something simpler but not beholden to the same traditions. Indisputably, part of what makes a McIntosh a McIntosh is the aesthetic and experience that comes from living with it, VU meters bouncing and logo aglow, and I cannot tell you what it is to lose them and judge the mechanicals solely as they sit. With one comes the other.
What I can tell you is that this amp makes more sense to me now than when I levered it out of the box. The MA7200 is priced in such a way that it has to be seen as a competitor to the Krell K-300i and in some regards it is. Having spent time with both now, I can’t see anyone sitting down in front of both and not being absolutely certain which one they want after about twenty minutes. Krell has delivered a device that perfectly meets what is required of it in the current climate; almost an all-in-one system, so comprehensive is the functionality. It wears and retains its Best In Class badge because, in the context of AVForums and post AV, it is a truly landmark product.
McIntosh by contrast, has built a McIntosh, changing only the smallest of details in their recipe to make it sit as happily in this decade as their products have in any other. In twenty years, I can’t tell you what Krell will be making but I’m reasonably sure I know what McIntosh will be. This timelessness, the confidence and quality with which it is offered and the sheer brilliance of the product that results is something that I’m won over by and, I suspect, many other people will be too. The MA7200 is a sensational amplifier and comes Highly Recommended as a result.
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