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Stereophile: McIntosh C12000 review

GXAlan

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Direct link to measurements page:

This is probably the best measuring tube pre-amp I've seen. At 5V output, it's better than 0.0004% THD+N (108 dB SINAD) - see figure 5. Looking at the Figure 8, their 50 Hz measurement shows the 2nd order harmonic below 110 dB. @amirm, am I reading those charts correctly?
 

StyxRogan

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Beauty and The Beast
 

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anmpr1

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... the price for a flagship McIntosh dual-mode preamplifier has fallen by a lot, to $16,000.

Well, it's certainly got that going for it. The cheapness factor. My god, the price is in literal free fall!

I can just imagine how the engineering product planning for this thing went down at the Labs:

Well, Frank [names changed to protect the innocent, who would never approve of this as a real McIntosh product], our last twenty-six thousand dollar preamp didn't sell like the hotcakes over at IHOP. And our new owners are getting nervous. They want a home run. What do you think we can do to knock one out of the park?

Look, Gordon. Mac has never been about 'stack 'em high/watch 'em fly...stack 'em deep/sell 'em cheap'! What do the suits expect from us? This is Binghamton NY. Not Syracuse NY. Our name's not Benchmark, for crying out loud. On the other hand, at these margins, we could offer a ten thousand dollar discount. Reviewers would flip over that. Call it a genuine bargain. And let's face it, our dealers need something 'competitive' to sell. To compete with all that stuff from the Far East.

That's what I'm looking for, Frank. But it has to feel the part. I know that we're only talking preamp, but what about making it two chassis? Customers will think they are getting twice the goodness for almost half the money! Plus, we've got a room full of empty Mac Light Boxes that we can't sell. We can mod those with a power supply. Those empty boxes have already been written off. And let's face it, fifty pounds of black box preamp will certainly look impressive in those Manhattan apartments. But will it be impressive enough?

How about we add blue meters? Even if it's a pre, you can't have enough 'bounce to the ounce' in a Mac!

Great idea, Frank. And green LEDs. Our customers like green tube sockets. I have no idea why, but they do.

Hey Gordon... what about glass on the top panel instead of the front? With a block diagram silkscreened, like on those old '70s Sansui electronics. A bit of nostalgia for the old folks, as that other Frank said on his Lumpy Gravy record? And I always liked those monster Sansuis..., wish they still made 'em.

By golly, Gordon, let's run it by corporate. I think we've got a sure winner in the Daily Double. How soon do you think they can get a demo over to our advertising department at Stereophile?
 

Snoopy

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I don't see any beauty.. :p
Looks a bit like car hifi... Or something in that direction at least. There are beautiful tube amps out there for sure and beautiful McIntosh amps as well but that are a lot of blue and green lights with the light bulbs
 
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GXAlan

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I don't see any beauty.. :p

The good thing about McIntosh is that they have kept their design language for a half century or more. While it may not be to your preference, I like the fact that they have been consistent to a degree that doesn’t exist in hifi elsewhere.
 

muslhead

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The good thing about McIntosh is that they have kept their design language for a half century or more. While it may not be to your preference, I like the fact that they have been consistent to a degree that doesn’t exist in hifi elsewhere.
Huh?
Both topping and SMSL have kept their same fit, form and look for .... at least 2-3 weeks. I might be a little optimistic in my number but we cannot push aside their consistency.
 

anmpr1

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The good thing about McIntosh is that they have kept their design language for a half century or more.

That's just not the case at all. Blue meters, yes... but on a preamp? Green LEDs (or before that different colored lights) as a strictly cosmetic nod to fashion? And weird handles... even on a preamplifier for crying out loud? I mean, other than their amps, they always hid the tubes. In any case, none of those things were part of any Mac tradition I remember.

Thing is, McIntosh is two companies. Big iron power (you can say that aspect is part of their trad), and today's goofy trendiness--both aspects combined. Mac tradition flows from Frank McIntosh and Gordon Gow. I can't speak for the dead, but my guess is that neither would have allowed the company's current haute couture style to manifest. I mean, what they offer now is a parody of what McIntosh was always about-- at least from a design standpoint.
 
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The good thing about McIntosh is that they have kept their design language for a half century or more. While it may not be to your preference, I like the fact that they have been consistent to a degree that doesn’t exist in hifi elsewhere.
Nah. They have mostly looked liked a design identity crisis to me. One thing is that you can always tell which brand it is from afar.
 
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GXAlan

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That's just not the case at all.
Fair question: how many McIntosh products have you owned? If you think about food, we can talk objectively about nutritional content but the subjective element is variable. While I don’t own McIntosh products presently, I have owned multiple generations of McIntosh products from the original, Clarion, and modern day. Some stuff like water jet glass fronts are a Clarion-era change while other things like LED meters is a reflection of modern designs.

The goofy part are things like the beach blanket, LED lit box.

The window showcasing the tubes probably goes back to the MC2000 era from 1999 which is the first modern tube product from McIntosh. Remember that they just pulled the MC275 back into production 4 years earlier, so they were all solid state for a while.

The C1000 was the first 2005 product to allow people to swap between solid state and tubes. This was when they had to have a window to showcase the idea that you could run both options.

This had the 3D face which isn’t present today, but the C12000 feels like a continuation of the same.

By way of context, when the C1000 was showcased at CES2005

George Bush had not yet started his second term.

YouTube had not been started yet.

King Charles was Prince Charles and had not re-married.

1697906919479.jpeg
 

anmpr1

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Nah. They have mostly looked liked a design identity crisis to me. One thing is that you can always tell which brand it is from afar.

Mac, at least up through the early digital age, was a straightforward, no nonsense company that was laser focused. Correct me if I'm wrong, but Mac never made a record player. They never made a cassette or open reel deck. They made a few amplifiers, an integrated amplifier, a tuner and tuner/preamp combo, and a preamp. A couple of models of each type. Also, loudspeakers dealers could sell, but no one really cared much about.

They had a kind of 'sub-brand' that sold an outsourced receiver, called Stereotech, I think. And a bonafied McIntosh receiver that was not really branded as a McIntosh, but everyone knew what it was.

Also, what they made stayed in the catalog for longer than most other company's products. Oh...and one year, late '50s I think, they offered an amplifier kit.

McIntosh was really the high-end, before it became 'tweaky', care of Bill Johnson and, later, Mark Levinson. Back in the early days, Mac's price competition was whatever Saul Marantz built, prior to the Superscope buyout.

You didn't find many 'mainstream' Mac reviews in the hi-fi press, because the company really saw no upside in sending in review samples. Julian Hirsch would measure THD and watts; Len Feldman would measure selectivity, capture ratio and stereo separation. At their price point, McIntosh couldn't compete with the Japanese on watts, and by the late '70s sophisticated Japanese tuners were as good as an MR-78 (unless you lived nextdoor to Richard Modafferi, with his unusual reception problems).

Mac gear was more expensive than most anything else-- never sold via mail-order or offered with a MSRP discount. What Mac sold was dealer support. A McIntosh dealer would set you straight, hold your hand, do the installation if needed, repair your unit if it broke and offer you a loaner if you needed one. Then, once a year your dealer would conduct a 'clinic' in order to measure your gear, assuring you that your item met its published specs. And offer you a snack while you waited. At any time, your dealer would inspect your diamond stylus with an expensive stereo microscope that Mac made their dealers buy, in order to offer an additional level of service.

So that was what you got for your extra dollars. Hirsch or Feldman couldn't quantify the Mac total package experience in their respective magazine's pages. Today all (or most) of that is gone.

As far as the 'underground' went? Those guys never said a good word about McIntosh. The brand was viewed as a stodgy hold-over from the past. I remember Gordon Holt writing (paraphrasing) that Mac was never going to be on Stereophile's radar. An early iteration of Peter Aczel wrote that he didn't even know anyone who owned McIntosh, and he wasn't going to buy one for review because no one he knew would then want to buy it, even at a discount... and what the hell was he going to do with it, then? How things change.

I guess McIntosh thinks they have to sell bling in today's marketplace. They know their market and customers better than I. But I do know from observation that today's Mac is has little to do with legacy Mac. That much is certain. Do they still offer a 'special' kind of value? I suppose you can say that compared to something like Boulder, McIntosh is dirt cheap. And you don't even get bling with a Boulder preamp.
 

anmpr1

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1) Fair question: how many McIntosh products have you owned?

2) The window showcasing the tubes probably goes back to the MC2000 era from 1999...
1) You know. I've owned a lot of gear, but strangely enough I never owned a Mac of any sort. I think I would remember it if I had. That's an interesting thing for me personally. I mean as a gearhead. I don't know why. Just turned out that way. If I ever had wanted a McIntosh, it would have probably been the 2105. But I never wanted a Mac.

I knew a guy who owned a Mac receiver. He told me what it cost, and I couldn't believe it. That seemed crazy. But have you looked at the used prices for those old Mac receivers, today?

2) 1999 is whippersnapper era to a guy like me, in the twilight of his autumn. Hell, I might even be in my winter.

I'll tell you an anecdote. It was 1974. Maybe 1973. A hi-fi showcase featuring many different brands. Mac was there, all their gear looking like it always had looked over the past twenty years. Exactly like their preamp/tuner they always showcased in their monthly quarter of a page ad (for their free FM Directory) in Audio magazine. Anyhow, it was the first time I saw Accuphase gear. Simple in price compared to the super over the top machines they sell, today. But I could tell that it represented a sea change in the hi-fi industry. I mean, next to Mac gear, here was kit that had the 'Japanese' feng shui, but a build and feel level comparable to what McIntosh was offering, and miles ahead of whatever Pioneer was importing at the time. For the first time I felt that McIntosh was going to have some serious competition in the upper end. You could also see it in the higher end Sansui gear, like the AU 20000.

Back then I (and probably no one else) had any idea that expensive gear was moving quickly to the point where McIntosh was just average, or even low-end, in the MSRP department.

I do wish McIntosh dealers still had their microscopes.
 
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GXAlan

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1) You know. I've owned a lot of gear, but strangely enough I never owned a Mac of any sort. I think I would remember it if I had. That's an interesting thing for me personally. I mean as a gearhead. I don't know why. Just turned out that way. If I ever had wanted a McIntosh, it would have probably been the 2105. But I never wanted a Mac.

+1 -- and I think that's perfectly fair. McIntosh is very polarizing -- but at least you can tell it's a McIntosh, and you can tell when someone is trying to copy the look. This actually tells you that you didn’t love the look of the vintage ones which is why you don’t love the look of the modern ones…

I knew a guy who owned a Mac receiver. He told me what it cost, and I couldn't believe it. That seemed crazy. But have you looked at the used prices for those old Mac receivers, today?
Yup, I had the MC2105, MI-3, MX113 that I sold post-pandemic for a nice value. :)

2) 1999 is whippersnapper era to a guy like me, in the twilight of his autumn. Hell, I might even be in my winter.
Lol, it's both a whippersnapper era to many of us -- but still fair to see how far time flies by. The late 90’s were a great time, filled with hope and optimism.

Back then I (and probably no one else) had any idea that expensive gear was moving quickly to the point where McIntosh was just average, or even low-end, in the MSRP department.

I do wish McIntosh dealers still had their microscopes.
+1 for Accuphase gear. I had the P-266 and maybe if I won the lottery, I'd also go for Accuphase just as much as I like McIntosh. I think Accuphase has been true to its visual identity as well, and they serve distinct aesthetic preferences. Both value reliability, repairability, and are measurement focused.
 

fpitas

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I won't argue about the performance. Obviously, no one will hear those levels of distortion. But then, and I'm honestly curious, what is the point of tubes? Even ignoring the price premium.
 

mhardy6647

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Looks a bit like car hifi... Or something in that direction at least. There are beautiful tube amps out there for sure and beautiful McIntosh amps as well but that are a lot of blue and green lights with the light bulbs
Well... I mean... umm... yeah.
1697919209745.png


Heck, who knows?
Maybe next year, the Grand Wagoneer will feature space charge tube preamplification for an extra $10k or so...


1697919286869.png


:cool:

I won't argue about the performance. Obviously, no one will hear those levels of distortion. But then, and I'm honestly curious, what is the point of tubes? Even ignoring the price premium.
Do people ask those snooty Swiss mechanical watch companies the analogous (no analog pun intended) question? ;)

1697919463795.jpeg

1697919486861.jpeg


I mean, nobody's gonna mug someone to get their $29 Casio...
 

PatentLawyer

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I know you said Swiss but I would have guessed Glashutte / Saxony by the looks. Who’s the maker of that movement? (Sorry to go OT but inner watch nerd can’t help it)

@mhardy6647
 
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