McIntosh is considered by many to be one of if not the best in the realm of amplifiers. While there are plenty of boutique amp builders out there that may offer something better, it is hard to find a better off the shelf solution. One other thing McIntosh is know for is their price. There is certainly a barrier to entry into this game. The McIntosh MA252 is somewhat an exception to this rule. It comes in at a MSRP of $3499. Don’t get me wrong, 3500 bucks is a lot of cash for a Hybrid amp, but not a lot for a McIntosh one. Is it worth it? That is what we plan to get into.
McIntosh MA252 Features
This is strictly a 2 channel integrated amplifier, if you are looking for multi channel, you will want to look elsewhere. I for one am a huge two channel fan. I personally have three, two channel setups of different levels. That is to say, this is for music, at least by design. I know there are people that have two channel theater setups and enjoy them, if that is you, this may be a good product for both situations.
The amp is a hybrid, meaning it uses tubes and solid state amplification. The implementation is the preamp is tube powered, 12Ax7a and 12At7 tubes to be exact. While I did not spend a ton of time looking, there does seem to be some options out there for tube rolling this unit. The power amplifier is done through solid state. The solid state amp puts out 100 watts into 8 ohms and 160 watts into 4 ohms. That is plenty of power for many speaker options out there. Ours was paired to Bowers & Wilkins 805 D3, you can see that review here. I will say the amp has some tube tone to it, but not nearly like you will find in a tube only amp. If that is important to you, you may look at some other options.
The front panel is basic, there is a small screen, two knobs and a headphone jack. The right knob is your power and volume and the left is your input selector, navigator. The headphone out is a nice addition as well. I personally love the clean look. I am not a fan of systems with 100 buttons and knobs. When in design courses, I always used minimalist approaches to appearance myself.
MA252 Inputs & Outputs
The inputs are limited on the back, you have a phono stage with ground. Two unbalanced RCA style jacks for sources. There are also balanced XLR inputs, though one set. There are no pre amp outputs to run say a full tube amplifier. If you need more inputs you can upgrade to the MA352 which as 3 RCA and 2 set of XLR inputs. There is however a subwoofer out line level if you want to add a powered sub and have a 2.1 set up. The speaker binding posts are actually much nicer than you find on many integrated amps, they are full metal and appear gold plated. The speaker posts will accept bananas, bare wire or spades.
McIntosh MA252 Sound
The sound is clean and refined. The amp sounds almost to clean for a tube amp even if it is a hybrid. I almost want a little more warm tone. However it has plenty of power so you should not have to suffer from hard cut solid state distortion at higher volumes. This is especially true when paired with higher sensitivity speakers. So I can accept it as is. Like I said earlier this is for a special buyer, it’s not for everyone. Though that can be said about every product in any market. So is it for you? You really have to listen and figure that out for yourself. This is a simple amp, you set it on the table, connect your speakers and sources and enjoy. There is no need to get caught up in the million menu settings, just relax and listen.
Is the MA252 worth the price?
in my opinion yes. That is partly because I have dreamed of owning a McIntosh amp and a pair of Focal Utopias for a good 10-11 years. Both to this day are mostly out of my and many people price range. The MA252 brings the realm of McIntosh much closer to those of us that truly want in the club. Features to price, most will say it is not worth the 3500 dollar price tag. That is if you are primarily concerned with inputs and outputs. There are many high quality products out there that offer more of both for less. Will they sound as good or be as reliable, maybe, maybe not. As the consumer, always try out products when you can. Read as many reviews as you can. Make sure it works for you in the end. Ultimately if you want into the world of McIntosh and are a two channel fan like me the McIntosh MA252 is an amazingly refined option, and you should check it out.