Is McIntosh a stepping stone into HI/FI?

I’m a McIntosh fan/owner and still own some Mc gear. This is not a knock on Mc sound; rather it be tube, autoformers, or straight SS, the sound is unlike any other. I was wondering why so many move to Krell, Levinson, Conrad Johnson, Ayre, and BAT. Is it associated gear, or a food chain thing? I understand that ears are like eyes and all fault to different desires. I’d like to know if/when you went back and if you feel McIntosh is a stepping-stone into hi-fi.
If you look through the for sale ads here on the 'Gon, you'll quickly discover that ALL brands are being offered for sale, so I've come to the conclusion that most folks are never happy with what they own, and are constantly searching for something different. Whose to say that the other brands you mention are the right sound? Read the audio mags, and you'll feel like you need to constantly upgrade to have better sound. Once on this merry-go-round, it never ends. Personally, I like the Mac "sound", and whose to say that it isn't right? Although I can't answer your question about coming back, because I've never left, I find the Mac sound quite pleasing. And after all, that's what really matters, not what brand you own.
If its just a stepping stone, its a pretty expensive one.

Mac gear is a reasonable choice for many hifi systems. Looks nice too! Nothing wrong with that.

I'll go out on a limb and say mac gear is generally not the best bang for the buck sound wise, especially in the internet age, but most gear is not that.
I like the Mac sound for me nothing beat the Mac
I would say Cambridge Audio is a stepping stone into hiFi as we know it today.
Like Adcom was for a long time. And NAD before them.
Low priced but decent sound as a starter stereo rig.
Many lower priced products with various brands.. All contribute to the starter audiophile.
I doubt many start with MAC gear unless they inherit it.
If you've got MAC you are there!
Among my circle of audiophile friends all of whom have had Macintosh gear in the past, it is not a stepping stone to improved sound, just pretty and expensive.
I think Mac gear is there indeed. It may not be the top pick of all, but that makes it a horse race. Value wise, compared to other top flight brands, it even fairs well in the bang for the buck department. It sounds great, is well constructed and is a joy to use and behold.
I think it is a two way street. I have seen people move from the brands mentioned to McIntosh and some that have had McIntosh and continued on to other brands. McIntosh offers a good sound to my ears and also a very good quality build for the money. I will someday when money permit try other amps, but the one thing I like is that I will not take it in the shorts on re-sale. McIntosh seems to have a good foothold inthe used marketplace. I am sure there are many brands that sound better, but in a bang for buck on sound, quality and service, I am in no hurry to change horses mid-stream.
All of the above comments are correct. I would not say that McIntosh products are a stepping stone into audio. Their products are expensive, look great and many people love their sound (and the high resale value). I owned the McIntosh MA6900 Integrated amplifier for a while (and their matching CD player). The problem was I borrowed an Ayre AX-7e Integrated amplifier and felt it sounded much better in my system than the McIntosh did. I sold all the McIntosh equipment and purchased the Ayre CX-7eMP CD Player to match my Ayre amplifier. I am using the Sonus Faber Auditor M speaker. As was stated above, this hobby has people switching gear all the time. People go from McIntosh to other brands and other brands back to McIntosh.

The better question to ask is what combination of audio products sound the best to you in your listening room. If the answer is McIntosh, you have your answer. If it is another brand(like the one mentioned above), that is also okay. This is your decision to make based on your ears listening to your music in your living room. I suggest you select several recordings you like and go listen to the equipment that is within your budget. Of course, the many comments on this web site may help you narrow the list but you still have to decide for your situation. I hope this helps.
I think the new 452 and 601s are quite a big step up from prior versions. And build quality is just unmatched that price.
It may not be everyones choice, but it is great gear and definitely high end. I think even thier entry level stuff is expensive and other than the modular unit, probably prohibitively expensive to use as a strating point, unless you have the means and don't want to start at the beginning.
MAC is good stuff! My dad's MAC system (in my profile but now mostly sold) was damn seductive. Cut through the audiophile BS and made engaging music.

Once we're talking higher end brands, we;re really getting down to preference. Most of us wont see any piece of gears potential in our rooms (me included--I'm only just beginning room treatment voyage).
Replacing gear often has nothing to do with improving things a point that everything is sounding great in your system it's time to change stuff because YOU CAN, and you're an audio hobby junkie...I've replaced things merely because of appearance and compulsive curiosity, for which there is no cure (except to replace things). As for McIntosh stuff...its allure is clear to me: it looks cool. I know from experience it sounds cool also, but man...the glass faces and meters! I put my Squeezebox Touch in the "meter needle" setting to emulate the Mc meter's ability to indicate something is alive in there. I think all gear should have meters...even tiny ones on cables (now THAT'S an idea...I'm calling my investment banker..."Garcia Meter Cables" for $4,625 each!).
I interpret the post to read, is Mac gear a stepping stone into High End audio, not Hi Fi. There is low end, mid fi and High end equipment out there, just as there is for computers, automobiles, watches, etc. In most cases, (note I wrote "most cases"), you get what you pay for. One article I read recently said it correctly. If you listen to the system and it totally disapears from the room and you are left with the artist, sound stage, depth, etc. then you are there. If I close my eyes and listen and can tell that I am listening to speakers, then something is wrong. I don't believe that audio reproduction will ever get there 100%, due to the audio recording chain and playback/reproduction chain. There are just too may items that can add distortion, or negatively impact the recording or reproduction. Such as cables, connectors, speakers, amps, pre-amps, etc. All add their distortions and colorations to some degree. However, Mac Gear has lower level equipment and High end equipment based on design and price points and compromises that must be made to meet such design and price points and to compete with similar priced gear. All that said, in my opinion, there is some Mac Gear that is definitely High End quality. The rest may be low high end or mid high end and some may be upper high end.

I have auditioned many times over the years Mac Gear and combined with other wonderful equipment, it can sound great. But this depends on system interaction and which Mac equipment you are using. This is true for any equipment. But the test is to select a price point. Look in magazines and they should you what the manufacturers offer within specific price points. So, pick a price point for a piece of equipment and compare Mac Gear with similarly priced equipment from other Manufacturers. Then, you will see that within the price limitations, Mac Gear is okay. I am a firm believer in comparing apples to apples.

How gear sounds and how much gear costs are not mutually exclusive.
Having traversed about 25 audio shows in my life and found that cost and sound don't always travel in a paralel universe. Really liked a $600 a pair speakers at the Newport SHOW.
Really expensive audio and BS do uaually seem to travel together. Verbal justification always seems to trump poor sound quality.
Still wish I had my pair of Mac 240s and Marantz 7C and Chartwell LS3/5as. Still difficult to replicate that musical enjoyment. High end is what sounds good to you!
Absolutely not. Just another flavor in the ice cream shop. And a good one at that.
When the straight wire/minimalist designs--spearheaded by the original Mark Levinson preamps and meterless amps--came into fashion, McIntosh with its old school face of knobs for bass, treble, mono, stereo reverse, and balance, and SS power amps with big blue meters and output transformers, quickly fell out of fashion, and for a long time took on an old school, "this is your dad's stereo" reputation. But I've gotta say, I've never heard a bad-sounding McIntosh and some of their amps are some of the best I've ever heard. I have had a pair of Mirage M5si floorstanding speakers I bought in late 1996. In the audition I found a Sunfire amp wanting so then tried a big-ass McIntosh. I never could come up with the scratch for an amp like that, but 15 years later, the way that that Mac pushed Holly Cole's "Temptation" album through those speakers haunts me still.
Great stuff. I own one MC275 and I just keep putting record after record on, and before you know it half the day has gone. I have never listened to my records and music so much.
07-01-11: Tzh21y
Great stuff. I own one MC275 and I just keep putting record after record on, and before you know it half the day has gone. I have never listened to my records and music so much.
To quote Napoleon Dynamite, "Luck-eee!"

How long have you been spinning vinyl through this rig? I read the test report on the current reissue MC275 and I"m amazed at how competitive that amp still is, even by the measured numbers, such as a power bandwidth that doesn't hit -3dB until nearly 100 KHz. And it has the square wave (rise time) response to go with it. Clean, fast, *and* tubular midrange--what more could one want?
I think MAC gear is first rate, and especially so regarding intangibles, like
service, pride-of-ownership, and owning a piece of an american audio icon -
like owning a Harley. As previously mentioned "old school"
styling may have hurt for a while among the audiophile crowd, and maybe
the fact that while excellent gear, it was also owned by many folks that were
not necessarily audiophiles at the core - they have some money, want a
good system, and they know the brand - where as that simply does not
happen with other hi-end brands to the same extent. That says something
about MAC demographic reach, but very little about the quality of the gear,
which is IMHO, very good gear indeed in terms of build and sound.
Mac makes some very nice equipment. Like everything else, the end result is how happy are you with what's coming out of your speakers. I own all Ayre equipment with Vandersteen 5A's, but just recently heard Vandersteen 5A's driven with Mac, and it was very pleasant indeed.
Stringreen please do elaborate on the Mac gear compared to the Ayre. I've found Ayre to be a little more focused and clear while retaining the musicality if that makes sense.

FWIW I haven't heard Mac beyond the 352 and similar pre.

I listened to Mac gear all through childhood and love it but find Joule, Ayre, and many more terribly expensive brands to be great as well.
Bj...what I heard with the mac was that the highs particularly were more rounded off...seductive... It was like sitting in back of the hall rather than the mid hall presentation of the Ayre. I guess I hear more music with Ayre, the Mac seemed slower...Ayre had more rosin on the bow, however, I could live with the Mac very well.
The mc275 is slower, but I love it. Heck it is a tube amp! I could probably say that it is slow, rounded, yes, midrange beauty, yess, colored, maybe a little, and I think I am going to put another record on right now. An audiophile friend said that I am listening to more music than anyone else he knows.

It is a great amp for the money. That is very hard to argue.

It is a steal for the money, if you love music.
Speaker synergy and personal taste generally guides one with electronics decisions these days. Historically, McIntosh was of great consideration in the world of Hi-Fi as there were few other choices. One can easily appreciate McIntosh for their continued level of quality and reliability right through the companies repurchase.

Nothing to do with their sound but I find their now timeless appearance and sensible visual and physical ergonomics something that simply ain't broke. Things even todays most exotic componentry fails miserably at. Lets face it, we're an older mans hobby. We don't see very well, so we can't text any more than five words a minute. Did McIntosh designers see this coming all this time?
About a year ago I dipped my toe into the McIntosh pool with a used C220 preamp. This replaced a C-J PV10 preamp that I liked a lot, but lacked some of the control flexibility (especially the range of the balance control) to work in my rig. I could not be happier with the C220, or with the service from Audio Classics where I bought it. A tube upgrade has really made this preamp sing, as well as made it very quiet. It is super reliable, and functions without a glitch. I lucked out on system synergy with my Odyssey Stratos amp and Ohm Walsh 2000 speakers. The only preamp I would consider moving to now would be the C2300, which has even more flexibility. I know Sam Tellig gave the C220 a lukewarm review, but in my system, my room and with my music, even mediocre-sounding LPs and CDs sound absolutely wonderful, with better sounding source material (especially SACDs) sounding sublime. You know you're getting there when you sit listening with that you-know-what eating grin on your face, like I often do. I know many consider Mc gear expensive audio jewelry, but, all things considered, I think Mc gear is a fair value at retail, and a killer value when buying mint or near-mint used.

Several posters have referred to the "McIntosh sound". Would someone describe this?

I've heard McIntosh gear at a couple Magnolia dealers on quite a few occasions. I have never come away with the feeling that the McIntosh gear was doing anything special. But this may have been do to the large listening space or the Audioquest cabling.

No doubt, that McIntosh sure is pretty. Especially a full rack of just McIntosh gear.
"I have never come away with the feeling that the McIntosh gear was doing anything special. "

I think part of the perception of a Mc sound is psychological, associated with the distinctive more vintage oriented aesthetics than many competing brands.

When I hear Mc gear, I am more aware of the sound of the particular speakers used than I am of the Mac gear itself. For example, B&Ws sound like B&Ws, Totems like Totems, PSB like PSB, etc. I am quite aware of the mac aesthetics, and as a result find it hard to say there is a definite unique sound to the gear, though I do tend to associate it with a smoother more vintage type sound rather than a highly resolved and detailed one.
I have owned equipment from McIntosh and a few other manufacturers (Audio Research, Conrad Johnson, McCormack, Bryston, Cary, Manley, to name a few). I found the McIntosh gear to be very reliable, good sounding, and had a great re-sale value. If it was a stepping stone, then I would sometimes like to take a step back, and have the Mac gear I sold back again. One can always find fault with anything, but I definitely don't think it is a stepping stone. In fact I respect McIntosh for being one of the few companies that has stood by their values and has continued to make quality gear here in the US.
I've found that MAC electronics match up with any speaker you can throw at them. Other amps having higher resolution?...that's what everyone seems to say but the many A/B comparisons I have witnessed hasn't proven that. You can spend more for sure but it's way past the law of diminishing returns.
07-05-11: Tzh21y
The mc275 is slower, but I love it. Heck it is a tube amp! I could probably say that it is slow, rounded, yes, midrange beauty, yess, colored, maybe a little, and I think I am going to put another record on right now. An audiophile friend said that I am listening to more music than anyone else he knows.
I don't know which generation MC275 you have, but the current v3 has good bandwidth and risetime even by today's standards. The Stereophile review and measurements indicate that its -3dB bandwidth point is 91Khz, and the rise times of its square wave responses correspond to that and are very precise and square. Given that, the treble rolloff you perceive may simply be its uncommon smoothness, and the reason you play so much music through it is because it conveys more of the sonic and emotional cues of live music including that transparent, seamless tube midrange combined with commendable speed, clarity, and frequency extension with no ringing, harshness, or overshoot.

It is a great amp for the money. That is very hard to argue.

It is a steal for the money, if you love music.
At about $4.5K new, indeed, what's not to like? If I had the coin I'd have one in a heartbeat.

07-15-11: Es347
I've found that MAC electronics match up with any speaker you can throw at them. Other amps having higher resolution?...that's what everyone seems to say but the many A/B comparisons I have witnessed hasn't proven that.
I think Mac equipment in general is deceptively resolving because it is so uncommonly smooth. Real music doesn't have a harsh or electronic edge, or a rising treble to beat you over the head with detail. If you listen to a treble-hyped stereo all the time, you'll be shocked at how "rolled off" the treble sounds at a live symphony concert, even if you're in the first few rows. Macintosh's waveforms and tonal balance are more in keeping with live acoustic music.

If you have resolution plus smoothness, you have refinement.
I am on my second real system and just like 15yrs ago I looked into the other brands and ended up with MC. With the MC 3-4 hrs. nightly w/out fatigue, if I could stay up later it would be more. Even my dog likes it as he sits in the chair next to me. Not switching to brand "x" any time soon.
Many people genreally perceive tubes amps as slower than solid state.

To me, the mc275 is the most satisfying amplifier I've ever owned. It is also one of the nicest amplifiers I have ever heard at any price, period.

It will probably be with me for a long time
My dog listens with me too!
A common misconception that a lot of people have IMO is that sound quality is directly related to price. While higher quality parts are more expensive and more often than not cost more, that's not the only thing that goes into the total cost. Mac does things without much regard to end cost...

They own their own factory in NY rather than contract out a design. That ain't cheap.
They pay their employees an honest wage for honest work. That ain't cheap.
They hand make everything they possibly can. That ain't cheap.
They stand behind their products by having an honest warranty that isn't full of loopholes. Ain't cheap either.
Their casing and front panels (along with everything else) are overbuilt to last a lifetime.
They can bring just about anything they've ever made back to at least factory specs, if not better.

None of that means anything if it doesn't sound great though. Mac isn't perfect, but it's no further from perfect than anything else in it's range IMO.
To my ears it's just as musical overall as anything else.
At one time McIntosh was highend. As the years go by you learn that more expensive doesn't necesarily mean better!
String, sorry been out fishing on a few canyon trips. Agreed that the Mac's I've heard have been less focused and more rounded.

Beautiful though but I prefer a slightly warmer speaker and the amp to be more neutral. I think many that go for McIntosh are trying to calm down the system, or just love the laid back sound true and true.


I used to have season tickets to the Philharmonic. I sat in Row 11 dead center. That is very close to the sound you get with the mc275. Very close.
Not sure about the comment re the Cambridge Audio gear. The 840E preamp I have sounds much better to my ears than a lot Mac gear I have heard.

To me, Mac is like Mercedes. Great engineering, build quality, CS etc. and a high price point. But a performance car its not (save for a few very limited examples, which are highly modded).