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McIntosh MA252 Integrated Hybrid Drive Amplifier

Today, I am delighted to discuss with you the McIntosh MA252 Hybrid Integrated stereo amplifier, which is now available for purchase on our website.  

This article will discuss the design, build quality, and my sound impressions of the MA252 paired up with a few speakers I have in-house, including my reference Sonus faber Olympica Nova V towers, my Klipsch Heresy IV, and a pair of ATC SCM19 bookshelf speakers, I have in for review!

Design & Build Quality

Taking some design cues from the legendary MC275 tube amplifier, the MA252 utilizes both tubes and a stolid state for its circuit design.  Using what McIntosh calls Hybrid Drive Technology to produce the best of both worlds regarding sound performance, the MA252 preamplifier stage uses two 12AX7A tubes and two 12AT7 tubes enclosed in cool-looking McIntosh protective cages.

The output stage of the MA252 is a direct coupled solid-state amplifier that delivers 100 watts per channel into 8-ohm speakers and 160 Watts per channel into 4 Ohm speakers.  This design allows you the speed, current, and dynamics of a solid-state amplifier with the warmth, three-dimensionality, and harmonics from the tubes and the preamplifier stage.  The design of the MA252 is all analog and includes some other significant technologies only from McIntosh. 

The first of these technologies is Power Guard, which monitors the output signal for signs of overdriving and will make real-time adjustments to the input signal to prevent harsh-sounding clipping that could damage your speakers.  If, when listening, Power Guard senses an issue and activates, the two tubes connected to the affected audio channels will flash an amber color and return to normal green when the clipping has stopped.

The second technology is Sentry Monitor, designed to activate in case of accidental shorts in speaker wires. A fuse-less short-circuit protection circuit disengages the output stage before the current exceeds the safe operating level and resets automatically.  

Next, the MA252 features killer-looking McIntosh Monogrammed Heatsinks connected to advanced high current output transistors eliminating typical amplifier warm-up time so that the MA252 is operating in peak condition from the moment it’s turned on. The preamplifier tubes of the MA252 will glow orange as the amplifier is powering up and turn green once they are at the proper temperature.  

On the front of the polished stainless-steel chassis of the MA252, you will find the input selector followed by a ¼” headphone output or what McIntosh calls their High Drive headphone amplifier, which I found sounded best with the Sennheiser High Impedance headphones I had in-house and not as accurate sounding with the lower impedance planar magnetic headphones I have.  

For serious headphone listeners, the MA252 will not replace dedicated headphone tube amplifiers like the McIntosh MHA200.   When plugging in headphones, the MA252 will automatically mute the speakers, and when unplugging the headphones, the speaker terminals will unmute the speakers.

Behind the sexy green glowing tubes, you will find the legendary McIntosh name lit up green along with the amplifier's name and an OLED display that, when tapping on the left knob, allows you to access several key features of the amplifier.

One of these features that makes the amplifier even more versatile is bass and treble tone controls allowing you to tailor the sound from the amplifier for your speakers. You also have an input trim adjustment feature which can be very important depending on your source components, including your turntable.  

If you wish, you can bypass the tone controls via the input trim section by turning the volume knob on the far right of the amplifier’s front chassis after selecting the input trim. The volume knob also acts as the power button by pressing it in.

If you don’t want the display to be on at all times, you can adjust these settings to have it turn off automatically or constantly stay on. You can also have the amplifier auto shut off when a signal is not detected or continuously stay on after some time. You can access all these features and more from the included easy-to-use remote. 

On the rear end of the polished stainless steel chassis of the MA252, you will find the power cord inlet, the power control output for use with other McIntosh components, gold plated speaker binding posts,  a powered subwoofer output, a set of 3-pin balanced XLR inputs, two unbalanced RCA inputs and a moving magnet phono input with ground for your turntable.

According to McIntosh, the FR of the MA252 is 10Hz to 100kHz, with a THD of .03%.  The dimensions of the integrated amplifier are 12” wide by 7-5/8” high and 16-1/2” deep, weighing 28 lbs making the MA252 pretty spectacular if space is limited but you still want excellent power output.  

What’s Included?

So, let’s discuss briefly what is not included with the MA252 before we get into my sound impressions.  You won’t find the infamous blue meters on the MA252; however, they are on their bigger brother, the MA352.  You also will not find a Moving Coil phono. Lastly, the other main component you need besides your source components, such as a CD player or Turntable, is your digital music streamer and a digital-to-analog converter for streaming high-res audio.  

The MA252 is made in the USA and includes a 3-year limited warranty.

Sound Impressions

For this article, I utilized a couple of different streaming devices and DACS to formulate my impressions.  The first is my reference DAC the Chord Hugo TT2 with Chord 2yu/2go module for streaming and the more affordable, easy-to-use Bluesound Node 2i streamer and DAC.

So, let’s get to my favorite part of the article; how does the MA252 sound?  I own one integrated tube amplifier and two solid-state integrated amplifiers in my house. Each one has a bit of a different flavor with its unique signature for sound and design.

The MA252 is the only Hybrid Amplifier currently in my house for review, making its sound truly the best of both worlds. When played with my Nova V towers with electronica, metal, or bass-heavy pop music, my pure tube integrated amplifier sounds better with my stereo REL subwoofers in the mix. In comparison, the McIntosh MA252 and the Novas require no subwoofers to express fully fleshed-out bass and hard-hitting dynamics for these genres.

The lower-end grunt of the solid-state amplifier from the output stage of the MA252 sounds slamtastic, while the sweet, three-dimensional, and lovely harmonics of the tubes on the preamplifier stage pull you in deeper into the music like only tubes can.

It didn’t matter what genre of music I listened to with the MA252 and my reference Olympica Nova V tower speakers; the Hybrid Drive MA252 was an absolute pleasure to listen to with deep bass impact, a midrange that is well-defined, detailed, with just the right amount of warmth for strings and vocals and an unfatiguing treble presentation.  Generally, my Chord Hugo TT2 DAC on filter two can sound a bit analytical, especially for longer listening sessions with some amps that already lean in that direction.

This was not the case with the MA252; the synergy between the two components is shockingly good.  I felt no need to alter the sound by utilizing the treble or bass tone controls with my Nova V towers.  

The electric guitar shreds while listening to Dire Straits Money for Nothing, with Mark’s vocals sounding huge and appearing far behind my speakers.  The soundstage of this amplifier paired with the Chord Hugo TT2 is extremely impressive.  This amplifier is a toe-tapping good time.  It’s like McIntosh packaged Rock in Roll and placed it into the design and build of the MA252.  I shouldn’t expect anything less from the legends who powered the Grateful Dead’s infamous wall of sound.

Listening to Pink Floyd’s Dogs and the imaging, soundstage width, and depth are superb, with vast images of Waters' vocals.  The amplifier is transparent enough to resolve great detail in the music without sounding analytical.  Something I genuinely appreciate when all I want to do is get lost in the music while not missing out on details in the music I know are there, with proper instrument definition and vocal layering.  

The guitar strings on Private Investigations from Dire Straits leap out in the air as they are being played with body and fantastic bite! The drums hit with authority and slam with grand-sized images on the soundstage. This is an amplifier that begs to be played and one that I enjoyed listening to for many longer than normal listening sessions.  

Oh, and by the way, it is the first Hybrid amplifier McIntosh made, which is pretty impressive if you ask me for a first. At $4500, I am already contemplating what integrated amplifier I want to sell in my house. This amplifier is spectacular, and moving up to the MA352 is even more impressive. 

Listening to Chris Rea on the Road to Hell and how the MA252 presents vocals as if the artist is in the room with you large and present on the soundstage is very special.  There is also no delay in the speed at which instruments and vocals are rendered, which can be found with some pure tube designs. 

 Don’t get me wrong; I love the sound of pure tube designs as well, so there isn’t a right or wrong, just that the hybrid design gives you more flexibility, especially when it comes to more types of speakers, as you have more power output.

Listening to bubbles & Wandering from Yosi Horikawa was magnificent, with the MA252, Chord Hugo TT2 DAC, and the Nova V towers easily presenting all the micro and macro detail in both songs with deep and satisfying bass and plenty of sparkle on the top end.

 Snarky Puppy’s Shofukan and Lingus was a blast to listen to. The brass instruments' timbre sounded accurate and enjoyable for my preferences without crossing the line and sounding harsh or fatiguing.  

Listening to Time from Pink Floyd further confirms that the MA252 has just the right amount of treble for my tastes, with the bells and chimes not sounding harsh or overbearing.  Again, bass and treble can be adjusted with the MA252, so if your speakers need a little more treble or a little less, you can always tweak it to your tastes.  The tone control can also be helpful when listening to some vinyl pressings.

On that note, my Marantz table with Clear Audio Virtuoso cartridge sounded excellent with the MA252.  I spun records from Nils Frahm, The Weekend, Eric Clapton, Michael Jackson, Miles Davis, Melody Gardot, Faithless, and The Thievery Corporation, and I was pretty impressed. 

Paired with the Chord Hugo TT2 as the DAC, it’s clear that the MA252 isn’t a neutral-sounding amplifier.  It does have a bit of color in the bass and the mids, which I thoroughly enjoy.  The air and sparkle on the top end don’t extend as much as my reference integrated tube amplifier, which is more expensive than the MA252; however, when paired with the Chord TT2 as its DAC, that doesn’t bother me.  It is all about system matching to get the desired sound you enjoy most. 

The MA252 sounds very fast when paired with the neutral-sounding ATC SCM19 Bookshelf speakers, which are highly detailed-sounding speakers with superb soundstage reproduction and very tonally accurate timbre for instruments that fall in the mid-range and treble region.  

The ATC’s soundstage travels far outside the speakers with superb imaging and layering, which can be heard on All Along the Watchtower, performed by Jimi Hendrix and Bubbles from Yosi Horikawa.  

With the SCM19’s not being full-range speakers and rolling off around 54hz, the low-end power and authority I was experiencing from the MA252 and Nova V towers were missing; however, after making some subtle adjustments to the bass with the MA252’s tone control, I found the sound to be more enjoyable. 

Although the sound of these incredible bookshelf speakers will not reach what is possible with a full-range speaker, they are still highly enjoyable for most genres of music when utilizing McIntosh’s bass tone control.

Lastly, I paired up the more affordable Bluesound Node2i streamer-DAC with the McIntosh MA252, Sonus faber Nova V towers, ATC SCM19, and Klipsch Heresy IV speakers.  I didn’t mind the sound of the Node2i with all the speakers and MA252, although I found it to be a bit lackluster sounding compared to the Chord Hugo TT2, as one should expect with such a significant gap in the price between the two units.  

So, while the Node2i is a great starter DAC and streamer, and I love using it in my bedroom, the McIntosh MA252 and all the speakers I have in my house can benefit from a higher-performing DAC for more critical listening.

The McIntosh MA252 is transparent enough to benefit from high-end source components. All too often, we, listeners, prioritize the Amplifier and Speakers first, which we should but then put little to no investment into the DAC compared to our speakers and amplifier. I encourage you to try out a DAC from Chord; you may hear a difference from your off-the-shelf DACs, especially if you have an amplifier or set of speakers that can benefit from them.

Final Thoughts

In conclusion, I am a massive fan of the MA252, and now I want to hear at home the MA352, MC275, C22, and other amplifiers, preamplifiers, CD transports, and DACS from McIntosh!  Suppose you are looking to be a part of the McIntosh family while spending less than some of their larger, more expensive amps cost. 

In that case, the MA252 is a versatile fantastic, sounding Hybrid Integrated Amplifier that gives you the best sound qualities from both tubes and solid-state amplification and is now available for purchase online with several other McIntosh components.

If you are in SoCal, we would love to see you; stop by our 10,000 sqft showroom, hang out with us, and listen to the entire line of McIntosh products.  If you are interested in trading up your old headphones, amplifiers, or other gently used audio gear for a new set of speakers or a new amplifier, check out our trade-up program, and don’t forget we will price match, other authorized dealers!  

We have some cool videos coming this year with new product announcements, so please consider subscribing to our YouTube channel today!  

From $150 earphones to multi-million-dollar home audio, cinema, and automation systems, TSAV is a HiFi enthusiast's paradise for building the system of your dreams.

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