Same animal-different face plate and lighting. 352 more watts with bulbs. 252 less watts with LEDs. LED light kit is available for the 352.
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If your room isnt too large I wouldnt bother with either, Ive tried the 390s direct and it sounded lean with the Mcintosh. The new silk tweeters on the Duette would sing with tubes and I think the Mcintosh MA2275 integrated would be a better choice. Others may disagree but for my taste tubes just cant be beat. If you have the budget swap out the stock kt88's for gold lions, and the 2 12at7 with a pair of telefunken ecc801s. Good luck!
I have heard both a few times but never side-by-side... I feel that the 252 is a little faster and a little more detailed in the top end. The 352 is quite smooth and sounds more effortless but the 252 is more "hifi" overall without being cold and analytical. Same applies to the 402 versus the 352 IMO. If it were me, I would get a 252 for sure but it will depend on personal taste and system synergy. I have read that the Duettes are less ruthless than previous Wilsons so the 252 sounds like the better choice there too.
The 352 is a fully balanced circuit ("quad balanced"), like Mac's current higher end amps - the 252 has a more conventional (but still very good) circuit. The 252 is a current model, while the 352 was replaced by the 402 (basically the same circuit but 50 more watts) a couple of years ago.
I bought the 352 and am very happy with it, even though I don't think I've ever used more than 50 watts into my Martin Logans.
As Klipschfan and Bob point out the major difference it the quad balancing on the 352 actually Mcintosh called it double balanced at that time but the same circuitry. I have had a 352 for about 3 or 4 years now and love mine.
Sometimes I think about buying an Ayre or BAT to get a little quicker bass response but I think that I would miss that McIntosh warmth. And I would have withdrawels from the blue meters. I would say if you can find the 352 and like the price you'll love the amp.
I've heard both the 252 and the 402 going directly into the Mac 201 CD player--never heard the 352 but have read many comments on the similarities between it and the 402.
The 402 had a lusher sound and I heard more music. I was going to do the amp to cd to speaker combo until I heard the pre-amp--it was the cheapest mac pre--maybe the c20 or c22?--hooked up. The listening experience became much more enjoyable, not as lean as the direct combo.
Then I decided that I didn't want all the wires and chassis and expense, so I was back in the integrated camp and in the process became a tube guy, something I had no interest in initially.
I'm heeding your advice. I too have fallen for the 300b, and other SET's, sound. I almost sold my MC1000's last week to pave the way for a higher powered SET for my Maggies. Luckily, I think, the guy who was interested in them has all but disappeared. I would have missed those big blue eyes and I do feel good having them around.
Not to totally butt into your thread, I owned the 352 and loved it. Haven't heard a 252 but my gut feeling is that I think you would like the 352 best. Good luck.
I am the owner of an MC252. I have heard both, and besides a little more horsepower from the MC352, I could not heard much difference. If you have a large room or speakers that need the 100 watts over the MC252, get the MC352.
My room is 15x12, so 250 watts was more than enough for me. Another thing that swayed me toward the MC252 vs. 352 was styling. MC252 has the newer design with 3-D faceplate and fiber-optic lighting.
You can't lose with either amp. Both sound incredible.