The MA252 Integrated Amplifier is the first hybrid integrated amplifier from McIntosh. Taking retro design cues from the legendary McIntosh MC275 Vacuum Tube Amplifier, the MA252 combines the best of vacuum tube and solid-state circuit design to create an amplifier that’s both visually and sonically stunning.
Best of Both Worlds
The MA252 combines the warmth of tubes in the preamp section with the control of their amazing solid-state power for the amplifier. This combination is just so musical you may never leave your listening room.
McIntosh made the sides of the chassis look a lot like their classic MC275 power amp but added some modem flair with their glass-plated OLED front panel display. But the green glowing tubes are the touch we really love. Not many pieces of audio gear both look and sound great and the MA252 is in that rare territory.
Long Term Value
When you buy a piece of McIntosh you know your investment will be solid. With features like Power Guard and Sentry Monitor, the likelihood of any damage is almost zero and the factory in Binghamton NY builds gear that lasts for decades.
Company History & Product Overview
This article is on the incredible McIntosh Hybrid Drive MA252 integrated amp that combines the best of both worlds with tube and solid state technology.
There is probably no audio company in the world with a brand name as iconic as McIntosh. From their early days when they powered the Grateful Dead’s Wall of Sound, to current times, their gear has been coveted by audio lovers for its great sound, incredibly good looks, and extreme longevity. Their factory in Binghamton, NY has been turning out equipment anyone would dream of owning for over 70 years.
When we visited the McIntosh factory in late 2018, we were amazed at how many parts they actually created themselves in-house. From their output transformers we watched being assembled from scratch to their custom glass faceplates, they are just fanatical about quality.
If you have ever experienced the sound of McIntosh, you know for yourself why musicians, music lovers, and audiophiles alike are drawn to its musical natural sound.
During this same factory tour, the McIntosh team took us over to their engineering lab where they lifted a little bit of the curtain on some upcoming products. The concept behind the McIntosh MA252 was one of the things we saw and immediately loved the idea of marrying tubes on the preamp side and their great solid-state power amp technology to drive the speakers. For decades, the audiophiles on our staff have recommended going with a tube preamp and solid-state power amp for the best choice when you want both musicality and long-term reliability.
Design & Build Quality
McIntosh components have always had a fantastic look and feel in our experience, but the MA252 just takes that McIntosh cool factor to another level. Their engineers combined some of the looks of their 70+ year old tube power amps with their more modern preamps to come up with an integrated amplifier you will certainly want to have on display. From the side it looks very similar to the classic MC275 power amp with the McIntosh logo and model number on the side. The front glass panel is all modern McIntosh with those green LED’s we all love giving you a full view of how you are controlling it. A neat touch on the heatsinks is something you may not see at first glance, but there is an “Mc” monogrammed into their design.
The four tubes used in the input stage are on full display on top of the beautifully polished stainless steel chassis with some super cool-looking covers for them. And get this, when you power it on, they glow orange until the MA252 comes out of standby where they change to green. The two controls on the front are multipurpose for inputs, volume, and trim.
There is not much to add on the build quality other than it is just like we expect to see from McIntosh in the price range, simply about as good as it gets. This is one reason the MA252 will likely be passed down to the next generation, McIntosh is built to last for decades.
Features & Technology
The MA252 is a pure analog integrated amplifier. You’ll get a balanced audio input, two RCA line inputs, and a moving magnet phono input. You will be able to give each input a custom name should you wish and some very slick bass and treble controls are easily accessed from the front panel or included handheld remote. You can actually assign a different setting to each input with these controls, including bypass. There is also a mono full-range RCA output for a subwoofer, but no crossover can be engaged on the main speakers if you add a sub. For most music lovers, simply adding a streamer and or a turntable will be all they need to create some great sound.
But the real magic behind the MA 252 is their Hybrid Drive technology combined with some classic tech McIntosh uses in their more expensive gear that produces just stunning sound.
Musicians and many music lovers appreciate the warm sound of vacuum tubes. Ever since the very early days of audio, tube sound has been bringing its warmth to audio systems. Tube amplifiers can sound amazing, but they do have a couple of drawbacks. First, the output tubes used in a power amp are very large and can generate a substantial amount of heat. Second, output tubes are not inexpensive and need to be replaced more often than the smaller tubes found in preamps. Now McIntosh does make some of the most reliable and long-lasting all-tube amplifiers on the market, but there is still the heat and tube replacement cost to consider. But many hard-core music lovers go that way as we have to say, the sound is fantastic.
But if you take the advantage of warm tube sound and put it in the preamp stage, then combine it with solid-state amplifier technology from one of the most famous solid-state amp makers ever, you have the McIntosh Hybrid Drive™. The preamplifier stage of the MA252 uses vacuum tubes which give it that warm tube sound, while your speakers are coupled to a solid-state power amp that can deliver 100 watts per channel into 8-ohm speakers or 160 watts per channel into 4-ohm speakers.
The great part about the MA252 is McIntosh did not have to start from scratch for either the preamp or power amp section. With several tube only preamps and over a dozen solid-state power amps in their lineup, the engineers were able to use the tech and circuit designs developed for these more expensive products in the MA252.
The preamp stage uses two 12AX7a and two 12AT7 vacuum tubes. These types of tubes have been the mainstay of McIntosh tube preamps for decades giving them years of experience in perfecting their circuit design. McIntosh has a special soft start circuit that brings up the tubes slowly which greatly extends their life.
McIntosh power amplifiers have always been known for their ability to control the speakers very well giving you great dynamics and punch to your music.
They also have incorporated some pretty neat output transistors. Most solid-state power amplifiers sound better after they have warmed up, but McIntosh uses their advanced high current output transistors that sound great from the first minute you turn them on. They have another advantage in the way they control the bias which all transistors need that reduces distortion on passages where you have lots of dynamic changes.
Another neat tech used in almost all McIntosh solid-state power amps is their patented Power Guard system. We have all probably witnessed a time when there was too much fun being had and someone cranked up the system far louder than was called for. This would normally cause the amp to go into clipping. With other brands, this might result in blown tweeters or an amp with smoke coming out of it, but this will never happen with Power Guard. It constantly monitors the signal and will kick in to prevent any clipping. You’ll know when this happens on the MA252 as the tubes will flash orange, then return to green when the clipping disappears.
Some of us have also made the mistake of moving or connecting speakers with the unit turned on. If the positive and negative speaker leads touch each other you could damage your amplifier. McIntosh Sentry Monitor™ will shut down the MA252 if it sees a short, preventing any possible damage. A side benefit of this tech is there is no need for bad-sounding fuses in the signal path like most amplifiers have.
And for those times when you want to listen and not disturb anyone, there is a powerful and outstanding sounding High Drive headphone amp built into the MA252 which should be able to drive almost any pair of headphones with ease.
All of these great features make the MA252 one heck of an amazing product. It combines decades of McIntosh tube and solid-state technology into one beautiful box that sounds as good or even better than it looks.
We put the MA252 through a couple of tests using some JBL 4309 bookshelf speakers and some of the new MartinLogan XTF200 towers. The MA252 is just a joy to use, press the power button and the tubes glow orange while the display says the tubes are warming up, then soon they glow green and you are ready to listen. There is no question, the MA252 has that classic McIntosh sound. It's detailed yet warm with great bass control. The separation of instruments and three-dimensionality were spot on.
We were using a Chord DAC fed by a Bluesound Node for the streaming digital side. The Chord DAC has extremely good rhythm and pacing characteristics and we were curious to see if it will all come through using the MA252. The way it did was a big surprise. It had that sense of engagement you get with much more expensive gear really drawing us into the music with our toes tapping.
When we pushed the towers really hard, you could tell the MA252 was starting to run out of gas, but they were in a large room and we had it very loud. Had this been a McIntosh C22 preamp with a MC312 at 3 times the power, we are sure there would be no strain, but the MA252 is far less expensive than that combo, yet has very similar tonal quality until you run out of juice.
Our synopsis is, the MA252 is one heck of a great way to get into the wonderful sound of McIntosh to hear the best of both worlds, tube warmth with the control of their solid-state power.
The MA252 is a piece of gear made for music lovers. It probably is not for the person who only plays 4 or 5 tracks all the time and tries to hear every little detail, changing components all the time, chasing something they never achieve. You’ll connect it up, and be immersed in the sound that people have loved about McIntosh for decades. It's warm, rich yet detailed allowing you to enjoy all of the music in your library.
We do think you want to use medium high to high sensitivity speakers with it if you are the type who likes to crank things up. But know it can drive low-sensitivity speakers very well in modest-sized rooms at reasonable levels. Are the McIntosh separates better, yes, no question, but the value and cool factor of the MA252 is hard to beat.
And one final note, when you purchase your MA252 from Audio Advice, you get our team of highly technical music lovers behind you. Should you have any issues with setting up your MA252, we are here to help you get the most from your purchase.
The preamplifier stage uses two 12AX7a and two 12AT7 vacuum tubes housed inside stylish protective cages; the output stage is a direct coupled solid-state amplifier that delivers 100 Watts per channel into 8 Ohm speakers or 160 Watts per channel into 4 Ohm speakers. An all-analog design, it comes with 2 unbalanced, 1 balanced, and 1 Moving Magnet phono input for turntables. All 4 inputs can be given user-friendly names in order to simplify user control. Bass and treble tone controls help fine-tune your music to your personal preferences. A full-range subwoofer output is included for use with a powered subwoofer to further enhance low frequencies.
The MA252 features our McIntosh Monogrammed Heatsinks™ which are connected to advanced high-current output transistors. These transistors eliminate the typical amplifier warm-up time so that the MA252 is in peak operating condition from the moment it’s turned on. A powerful control microprocessor is used for smooth system operation, along with some of the latest audio-grade circuit components that deliver the best possible sound.
Thanks to its solid-state output, the MA252 is our first product containing vacuum tubes to include our patented Power Guard® technology. Power Guard monitors the output signal for signs of overdriving and makes real-time micro-adjustments to the input signal to prevent harsh-sounding clipping that could potentially damage your speakers. If Power Guard is activated, the 2 vacuum tubes connected to the affected audio channel(s) will flash an amber color; they will return to their normal green color when the clipping has stopped.
Other McIntosh technologies found in the MA252 include Sentry Monitor™, High Drive headphone amplifier, and gold-plated speaker binding posts. Input selection, bass, treble, tone bypass, balance, and input offset levels can be adjusted using the front panel knobs or the included remote control; all settings and input selection will be shown on the OLED display. The entire unit sits atop a beautiful polished stainless steel chassis with a classic McIntosh-styled die-cast aluminum name badge attached to each side.
|Preamplifier Stage||Two 12AX7a and two 12AT7 vacuum tubes|
|Output Stage||Direct-coupled solid-state amplifier|
|Power Per Channel||100 Watts into 8 Ohms / 160 Watts into 4 Ohms|
|Number of Channels||2|
|Total Harmonic Distortion||0.03% maximum from 20Hz to 20kHz|
|Signal To Noise Ratio||Signal To Noise Ratio (Moving Magnet): 80dB
Signal To Noise Ratio (High Level): 97dB
|Frequency Response||Frequency Response +0,-0.5dB: 20Hz to 20kHz
Frequency Response, +0, -3dB: 10Hz to 100kHz
|Impedance||4 or 8 Ohms|
|Inputs||2 Unbalanced, 1 Balanced, 1 Moving Magnet|
|Outputs||1 Subwoofer (mono)|
|Headphone Outputs||1/4" High Drive|
|Headphone Amplifier||1/4” High Drive; powers all headphones from 20 to 600 Ohms|
|Tone Controls||Bass and Treble|
|Power Requirements||120V 50/60Hz, 3.7A|
|Weight||28 lbs (12.7kg) net, 37 lbs (16.8kg) in shipping carton|
|Dimensions (W x H x D)||12” (30.5cm) x 7-5/8” (19.4cm) x 18” (45.7cm)|