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McIntosh MA352 Integrated Hybrid Drive Amplifier with comparisons to the MA252; exceptional value and sound quality!

We are thrilled to discuss the McIntosh MA352 Hybrid Integrated Stereo Amplifier with you. We recently created a video on the McIntosh MA252 Hybrid Integrated Amplifier, similar to the MA352 but in a smaller package with fewer features and power. If you haven't watched that video, you can check out that video Here: McIntosh MA252 Integrated Amplifier if you are trying to decide which is a better fit for you.

McIntosh MA252 Review

This article will discuss the design, build quality, and my sound impressions of the MA352 paired up with my reference Sonus faber Olympica Nova V towers fed by my reference Digital Analog Converter, the Chord Hugo TT2, as well as my Marantz TT-15S1 turntable, with Clear Audio Virtuoso cartridge.

Like the smaller MA252, the MA352 integrated amplifier is a hybrid design combining tubes on the input side of things and a solid state on the output stage, giving a listener the best of both worlds in one beautiful-looking and well-designed package.

Using what McIntosh calls Hybrid Drive technology, the tube preamplifier section is powered by a pair of 12AX7A and a pair of 12AT7 vacuum tubes. The output stage is a direct coupled solid-state amplifier that delivers 200 watts per channel into 8-ohm speakers and 320 Watts per channel into 4-ohm speakers. This amount of power will easily drive most speakers and is double the power output of the smaller MA252.

One of my favorite things about the MA352 vs. the smaller MA252 is the infamous dual-scale blue Watt meters that provide an accurate readout of power input for 8 and 4 Ohm speakers. These meters are lovely to look at when listening and create an ambiance in your listening room, along with the glowing green tubes of the amplifier that are world-class visually.

McIntosh MA352

Some of the other McIntosh technologies included with the MA352 are McIntosh's Power Guard technology, which monitors the output signal for overdriving, making real-time micro-adjustments to the input signal to prevent harsh sounding clipping that could potentially damage your speakers.

McIntosh also includes their fuse-less short circuit protection circuit Sentry Monitor, which will disengage the output stage before the current exceeds safe operating levels and reset automatically when operating conditions return to normal.

One of the sexier-looking design technologies is McIntosh's Monogrammed Heatsinks, which are connected to advanced high current output transistors that minimize thermal equilibrium lag or warm-up time.

For you Home Theater lovers, the MA352 includes a Pass-Through, allowing it to be seamlessly integrated into a home theater system. The Dual-layer polished stainless-steel mirror finish chassis is classic McIntosh with a 17 1/2" width, 9 7/8" height, and 17 7/16" depth, weighing a substantial 66lbs around double the weight and size of the smaller MA252.

One of my favorite additions to the MA352 that you won't find on the MA252 is a 5-band analog tone control allowing for manual adjustment to the 30 Hz, 125 Hz, 500 Hz, 2000 Hz, and 10,000 Hz regions plus or minus 12 dB. This fantastic feature can help with speaker system matching, vinyl pressings, and other source components based on your preferences and room acoustics.

The MA352 boasts a THD of 0.03% and an FR of 10Hz to 100kHz. When you first turn on the MA352, the tubes will go through a warm-up process like the MA252, glow orange, and turn green when ready.
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 input knob, allows you to access several key features of the amplifier.

Some of these features of the integrated amplifier that can be accessed from the input control wheel on the front of the chassis or the included remote is the ability to choose between Mono or Stereo; you can turn your outputs on or off, adjust input trim to volume match different source components, turn the meters and tube lights on or off, change display brightness and whether it's always on or auto shuts off after some time, you have a left and right balance adjustment, the ability to turn on or off the equalizer as well as the ability to adjust the load of the Moving Magnet Phono Input to match your table and cartridge best.

Also, on the front of the MA352, next to the input control, is McIntosh's High Drive headphone amplifier with Headphone Crossfeed Director for use with headphones from 100ohms-600ohms.

In my use, I enjoyed the Sennheiser headphones I had in-house with the MA352, finding they performed the best with the MA352. For serious headphone listeners, the MA352 will not replace a dedicated headphone tube amplifier like the McIntosh MHA200.

When plugging in headphones, the MA352 will automatically mute the speakers, and when unplugging the headphones, the speaker terminals will unmute the speakers.


McIntosh MA352

On the rear of the amplifier, you will find the AC inlet for the included power cord, a USB service port, EXT control for use with compatible IR room sensors, and Data Ports which are assignable to send signals to source components to allow control with the MA352 remote of other McIntosh source components.

Next, the Power Control Output sends a turn-off or on signal to other McIntosh components when the MA352 is turned off or on. Underneath the Power Control output is the Pass-through input for use with an A/V control center.

Another benefit to the MA352 over the MA252 is the inclusion of two subwoofer outputs for use with powered subwoofers. You also have more inputs on the back of the MA352 with three sets of unbalanced RCA inputs.

Next, on the rear, you have the MM Phono input and ground followed by two sets of balanced XLR inputs, and of course, up top, you have Right and Left gold-plated speaker binding posts for quality signal transfer and corrosion resistance.

The MA352 is made in the USA and includes a 3-year limited warranty, vacuum tubes, an HR085 Remote, a power cord, and a user manual. For more technical specs and design information, please visit the links in the article to our website.

So, let's discuss briefly what is not included with the MA352 before we get into my sound impressions. There is no Moving Coil phono input, internal DAC, or streaming module, so you will need a digital-analog converter and streamer for streaming your favorite music.

McIntosh MA352

Let's get to my favorite part of the article: how does the MA352 sound? I own one integrated stereo tube amplifier and two solid-state integrated stereo amplifiers in my house. Each has a different flavor with its unique signature for sound and design.

Being a Hybrid amplifier and having the 5-band tone control makes the MA352 one of the more versatile integrated amplifiers I have enjoyed listening to at home. My pure tube integrated amplifier sounds better with my stereo REL subwoofers when played with my Nova V towers with electronica, metal, or bass-heavy pop music.

In comparison, the McIntosh MA352 requires no subwoofers for my preferences to express fully fleshed-out bass with tight and hard-hitting dynamics for these genres of music with the Nova V towers.

The MA352 in my room does not sound like a neutral amplifier but has a bit of a bass lift around the 100Hz region. So, for speakers that may sound a bit light in this region, the MA352 will likely complement them well.
For speakers with some emphasis around this region already, the MA352's tone control for 125Hz will allow you to bring that region back some if you want a bit less emphasis. Of course, it will significantly depend on your room, speakers, and source components.

The key is that the McIntosh MA352 is so customizable, allowing you to tailor the sound to your room and system with the 5-band tone control vs. the MA252's bass and treble tone control only.

The sub-bass presentation of the MA352 is less emphasized, and I enjoyed utilizing the 3O Hz tone control for my room to bring up the sub-bass a bit with the Nova V towers, allowing me to feel the music a bit more.

However, this depended on the recording I was listening to and how it was produced, as some tracks from some artists, such as Billy Eilish or The Weekend, did not need an increase with the sub-bass 30Hz tone control of the MA352.

Without tone control on either amp, the MA352 has less emphasis in the sub-bass region than the MA252. The MA352 has a bit more emphasis in the upper midrange and lower treble regions, giving it a more refined, tight, and resolving sound quality.

McIntosh MA352

In comparison, the MA252 sounds a bit richer, less defined, and a bit more forgiving when paired with the Chord Hugo TT2 as the DAC on filter two or when paired with my Marantz turntable.

Speaking of turntables, the MA352 has an excellent phono input and sounded terrific with my table. I hear more similarities between the overall sound presentation of my reference ARC I/50 integrated tube amplifier in the upper midrange and treble region and the MA352.

However, the I/50 presents more sparkle and air in the treble region, and the I/50 is less emphasized in the bass region or as punchy sounding as the MA352, thanks to McIntosh's solid-state output stage and significantly more power.

The midrange of the MA352 possesses good clarity sounding very open, with plenty of attack for percussive and rhythm instruments that Jazz listeners will appreciate. There is a bit of emphasis in the upper midrange and presence region, creating a defined and present quality to vocals and some stringed instruments.

I find the MA352 to sound more accurate in the midrange for instrument timbre and vocals than its little brother, the MA252's more colored presentation in the mid-range. Again, the sound signature can be adjusted on the MA352 if you want more emphasis with the 500 Hz and 2,000 Hz tone control for the midrange to dial in for your preferences and room.

The treble also has a more HiFi sound than the smaller MA252, which, depending on your speakers, room, and source components, will be something many listeners who compare in-store can pick up on immediately. The 10,000 Hz region tone control of the MA352 will allow the listener to dial in the air and sparkle of their system up or down 12 dB.
However, I found that with the tone control for any of the 5-bands, taking a less-is-more approach is optimal as the amplifier's voicing is already superb. Marginal adjustments of 1 or 2 decibels are likely more than enough to get things right for your system, but it's fun to experiment.

The sound stage presentation of the MA352 is exciting in character, with a forward-of-the-speakers-in-your-face production style with superb imaging and localization of instruments and vocals when paired with the Nova V towers. I don't hear as much depth to the soundstage as my pure tube integrated design; however, the width and center image are superb.
The MA352 sounds a bit faster than the MA252, and my pure tube integrated, which is excellent for complex music passages and fast-moving transients. The MA352 is very effortless in playing with the Nova V towers, and I am highly impressed with the Sonus faber McIntosh pairing.

If you are considering a Hybrid amplifier from McIntosh and are trying to decide between the smaller MA252 and the larger MA352, let's summarize some of the critical things to keep in mind that might better help you make a decision.

Let's start with the basics. How big is your room?
If you don't have a large room and are sitting 8-10 feet away and your speakers do not require 200 watts for 8 ohms or 320 watts for 4 ohms, then the smaller MA252 is a great option.

Alternatively, the MA352 for larger rooms and less efficient speakers is the obvious choice. Although it is a visual design feature, the Blue Meters are nonetheless one of the most remarkable and recognizable parts of many McIntosh amplifiers. The MA352 has them, and the MA252 does not.

McIntosh MA352

My next question is: How much space do you have?
The larger MA352 is significant in size and weight and will require more space on your rack, whereas the MA252 is much easier to incorporate into smaller spaces.

From a sound perspective, will you prefer the richer sound of the MA252 or the more effortless, refined, and defined sound of the MA352 in your room paired with your speakers and their sound signature?
Regarding sound presentation, the MA252 only offers tone control via the remote plus or minus 10dB for the 70 Hz bass region and the 10,000 Hz treble region. In contrast, the MA352 allows you to control 5-bands plus or minus 12 dB. So, is that extra control vital to you, allowing you more flexibility?

How many outputs and inputs do you need? The MA352 offers dual subwoofer outs, two balanced inputs, three sets of single-ended inputs, a load adjustable phono input, a Home Theater pass-through, and more external control and integration options than the MA252. The MA252 only offers one subwoofer out, one balanced input, and two sets of single-ended inputs.

Last but not least, there is a significant price difference between the two integrated amplifiers, with the MA252 being $4,500 and the MA352 $7,000 when publishing this article. Also, at the time of posting this article, you can only purchase the MA352 new in-store at a local authorized McIntosh dealer, whereas you can easily purchase the MA252 online from an authorized dealer like us from the links in the video description.

They are both fantastic hybrid integrated amplifiers; I would be proud to own either one. If you own an MA352 or MA252, let us know in the comments which one you decided on, for what speakers, and why you chose that amplifier; your comments could help others trying to decide.

If you are in the greater Los Angeles region as a premiere Southern California McIntosh Dealer, 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!

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McIntosh MA352 Review video

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