McIntosh Labs MA352 Hybrid Integrated Stereo Amplifier Review

Over the years I have had many great names and brands come in to The Speaker Shack for review, Krell, Audio Research, Dan D’Agostino to name a few but McIntosh Labs have graced my living room on a number of occasions and each time they never fail to impress me with their beautiful looks and great sound. It’s not all about looks though but it certainly helps when purchasing items at these sort of price points and the MA352 certainly has the looks. With those big blue VU meters and brightly lit tubes you’d be hard pressed not to like what you see and this big McIntosh is truly beautiful to look at.

As usual when these sort of high end amplifiers arrive you are never really quite ready for the size and weight as I actually struggled to get the box into my property, but with the added excitement of what was in the box it gave me the strength to succeed and a sense of relief that I had made it once in my room. With the amplifier boxed the weight comes in at a hefty 34Kg and once unpacked the unit weighs in at 29.9Kg with this sort of weight you just know that this amp means business

Build Quality and Features

The build quality is superb with a stainless steel chassis polished to a mirror finish on the front which gives the tube section an even better look, the amplifier section is in a matt black finish with large cooling fins on each side, rotary input dials and volume control plus a 5 channel EQ tone control also situated on the front of the unit and a 1/4” headphone input. This is an all analogue integrated stereo amplifier with a purist tube preamplifier stage and solid state power amplifier, hence the hybrid terminology in the title, McIntosh has taken the best of both of their technologies and mated the two together to bring this stunning design to life. The vacuum tube preamp is powered by a pair of 12AX7A and a pair of 12AT7 vacuum tubes  Power is 200watts into 8 ohms and 320watts into 4 ohms which is a huge amount of power to have on tap and knowing McIntosh amps this is pure and unadulterated power, meaning it is more than capable of driving any speakers you can imagine owning and it will power them with ease.

On the rear of the unit it has 2 balanced inputs and 3 unbalanced with 2 subwoofer outputs should you feel the need for more bass, a MM phono stage input is also on the rear, like I said this is a pure analogue design and as such the design has been maximised to make the best of your 2 channel audio by keeping it all in the analogue domain. A pair of left and right speaker terminals, power input and a USB service port, that is it nice and clean. A nice thin universal remote control is also supplied just like the one I had with my MA8000.

For this review I am using my beautiful and very highly regarded ProAc D2R Speakers all wired out with Chord Company speaker cables, for the DAC I am using the brilliant Chord Electronics Hugo 2 and for Vinyl playback I am using the excellent Denon DP-400 turntable, again using Chord Cables interconnects connected to the big McIntosh. I am also using the outstanding Melco Audio N10 digital music library to stream music to the Hugo 2 via the MA352 with music stored on my NAS / internal drives and streaming from my favourite music service Quobuz.

Performance and Sound Quality

Listening to music with new kit is always fun and exciting and like a kid with a new toy I get straight down to business and start off with music that I am familiar with to give me an idea of what improvements I am hearing in my music. This is a no nonsense amplifier which projects music with superb clarity and definition, the tube preamplifier section gives the sound a wonderful smoothness and rich tone that can only be had with tubes and then with the amplifier section you get the immediacy and presence that a good solid state design provides, McIntosh, Krell and D’Agostino all do these designs extremely well. This is hybrid though and combining the two has given the best of both worlds.

My first album is one of my 2021’s favourite from the Late Night Tales stable of music, Jordan Rakei this is a fabulous album with which I own both digital and vinyl versions. Spinning the digital copy via the Melco Audio N10 on one of my NAS drives, Track 2 - Alfa Mist has an impressive sound with such visceral bass and drumming, the snap of the drums hitting you in the chest with real attack, with a huge grin on my face I move on to Track 7 He Came from The Sun which sounds simply sublime and I’m in love with what I am hearing, the sound is again powerful and dynamic with beautiful vocals and pin point imaging. There is multiple layers within the soundstage which seem to unfold as the track progresses with the music, the lower bass notes have a wonderful texture to their sound and warmth which just sounds so right, I am just running my ProAc D2R’s with NO sub but the bass is immense from these incredible stand mounts but it is the grip and power of the MA352 which has total command over these speakers and makes them sound so good. Track 9 - Idiom then shows the subtle and delicate side which this amp also possesses, with shimmering cymbals and delicate piano notes hanging in the air all around me managing to portray perfectly every detail from this great track. The Same can be said for Track 11 - Forever & Always but with such haunting and powerful vocals, there is so many good tracks on this album that I enjoy all of them but with the MA352 it takes that enjoyment to new heights.

On to my next album and by a legendary artist who’s album What’s Going On has to be one of the most beautifully written by the wonderful Marvin Gaye the Prince of Soul, his voice and sound is like an angel, agin I own both the digital and vinyl versions of this masterpiece, with the vinyl version being my favourite as it is recorded so well and has such a beautiful sound. Track 1 - What’s Going On needs no introduction as the title says it all and it is such a wonderful track, this pressing of the album sounds sublime and is probably my favourite, this and Santana Abraxas which is also another beautifully recorded album on vinyl. The percussion has such a tactile sound with even the clicking of fingers on the track being picked up but with such rhythm and excellent timing, the soundstage is full of chatter in time with the music but with space and seperation all perfectly arranged, every nuance on the track is picked up and Marvin Gayes voice sounds as beautiful and delicate as ever. The emotion and meaning of this album unfolds with each track and shows what the music was supposed to project to its listeners which is captured perfectly in this LP as each track blends seamlessly with the next, and as the music plays you soon forget about the kit and just listen to the music, the final track on Side 1 Mercy Mercy Me has a wonderful intro with bass that comes in on the opening of the track, the way the McIntosh delivers the music is as pure as it gets from vinyl to the speakers with real energy and clarity with such a clean sound. Track 3 Inner City Blues on Side 2 is a song that takes me back and one of my favourites on this album, it takes me back to some of my old clubs and bars I used to frequent with real nostalgic filled memories, from the simple piano keys and percussion in the opening of the track it immediately gets you hooked to the rhythm of the music, this song resonates so well with the times we are living in, it has so much meaning to the words just as it did back when he originally wrote it, the McIntosh manages to capture this vinyl recording perfectly and project the beautiful sound to the listener with excellent clarity and a rich tonal balance across the frequencies.

Moving on to some new music that I have found in 2021 and an artist that I had never even heard of until I found her great album Terra Firma on Quobuz and subsequently have been listening to her other releases, Tash Sultana is an Australian who’s talent is enormous and her multi-instrumentalist skills amaze, knowing only one other artist who possessed such talent, Prince one of my all time favourites, but this rising star is young and new to the scene with her own vision of music and sound. Track 5 - Pretty Lady sounds incredible with a powerful and beautifully layered sound presented by the McIntosh, great harmonies and percussion with excellent separation with instruments and vocals placed perfectly in the soundstage, bass has real texture and impact in the lower octaves, seriously impressive. Track 6 - Dream My Life Away is a wonderfully written piece of music with some beautiful acoustic and electric guitar sounds with an echoey reverb which defines the sound of this track in such a clever way, again the MA352 handles the sound perfectly with such a clean and powerful sound but not once sounding too edgy or bright instead clarity and musical fidelity to the highest order. Track 13 - Let the Light In leaves me speechless with how this song is presented, holographic comes to mind as the sound is projected in front of me with such visceral power and intensity the sound is simply stunning with some great guitar and vocals dominating the track but with a precision that could only be described as perfection in how it sounds as the soundstage is filled with a full pallet of colour with real texture to the way the guitar sounds and the vocals from this beautiful piece of music.

Another new artist that I have found courtesy of Quobuz and it is from a brilliant Norwegian progressive rock band by the name of Kosmodome and with the same title name for their debut album Kosmodome, it is a hard hitting and tuneful album which has some great music. Track 1 Enter the Dome has a sound which reminds of music I heard from the soundtrack of Bruce Lees, Enter the Dragon which is a good thing as I always liked it, and the movie too. The piano strikes are clear and precise and so is the hard hitting drumming, the MA352 manages to give the music real energy with stunning dynamics and visceral impact that you can’t help but get drawn in to. Track 6 - Waver II is a fast paced rock anthem and the MA352 puts you in the front row as it hammers out this brilliant rock music, the clarity and power that this amp posses is quite breathtaking as my room is filled with a large rock band and it has well and truly taken over with a vast soundstage but with pin point accuracy to each of the instruments and the vocals being sung. Track 8 - Orbit is the last track and again doesn’t hold back with a relentless pace to the music, excellent guitar and drumming with shimmering cymbals placed perfectly in the soundstage, I absolutely love the drumming too which is so powerful, it’s as if this amp relishes the music put through it, it is so complex but the amp just throws it out with lightning speed to give a stunning performance. 

It’s clear from every type of music I introduce to this amplifier that the tube pre amplifier section offers extra body and an organic more natural sound, I wouldn’t call it warmth but it gives the sound more emotion and feeling to the sheer power that this brute of an amplifier section can release, bass has real visceral impact but with textures that shape the sound with multiple layers, clarity and impact, it is clean sounding but not to the point with which some solid states can sound too clinical in their presentation. The MA352 has a sweetness to the sound which is captured perfectly by both the 12AX7A and 12AT7 tubes and then fed into the enormous power amplifier section which manages not to subtract from the sound but instead power your speakers with a virtually unlimited power on tap, my ProAc’s D2R’s lapped it up.

Conclusion and final thoughts

As you can tell I like this amplifier a lot and for good reason, it is a no nonsense pure analogue amplifier design that does exactly what it should do and that is power your speakers to very high levels without any kind of distortion but with exceptional accuracy and clarity to the music, the fusion of tube and solid state is seamless and I love what McIntosh Labs have managed to do, and that is take the best of both of their technologies and blend them into one that works flawlessly and offer the best of both worlds in this hybrid design, add to this a stunning MM phono stage and this is one very tidy package and pure reference in its sounds quality, it also happens to look very beautiful too.

The Speaker Shack awards the McIntosh Labs MA352 Hybrid Stereo Integrated Amplifier with a Reference badge award for its sound which is simply sublime.

Price at time of review £8,495

UK distributor:

No comments