Perhaps the most iconic looking audio gear for as long as I can ever remember, McIntosh simply exudes class, quality, and that “it” factor that’s very hard to achieve. They are undoubtedly a prestige and luxury brand, and one that this writer has wanted to own since I first started getting into high-end audio. Made in Binghamton, New York, McIntosh has been designing and manufacturing some of the absolute best audio gear for 70 years now. Think about that number for a moment…that’s a long time for any company, let alone one in a premium, niche market.
The new MC312 2-channel solid-state amplifier has enough power, finesse, and flexibility to serve as the heart of any hi-fi system. But will it be the perfect match for everybody?
McIntosh MC312 2-Channel Solid State Amplifier
- Iconic McIntosh looks
- 300 watts into either 2, 4, or 8 Ohms
- Industrial design that will fit into any décor
- Perhaps the best speaker binding posts ever!
- Sound quality (and quantity) on par with amplifiers twice the price.
- Balanced and unbalanced outputs…perfect for adding subwoofers!
Before I get into some of the details of the MC312 amplifier, let me take you back in time to my first encounter with the McIntosh brand. I was always into music and audio gear but had to watch from the sidelines so to speak because in the early days I was on the proverbial beer budget with Champagne tastes. I knew what I liked, and I knew what was “good”, but making purchases of any of that elite-level gear was simply out of the equation. I spent a lot of time going into audio stores for the chance to listen to gear that I had only read about in magazines. I was even fortunate to make a couple of business trips to Japan and spend some quality time in the famous high-end stores in the Akihabara district of Tokyo to sample their amazing systems.
While I really enjoyed listening to all of this gear, nothing completely grabbed my attention and made a lasting impression like McIntosh. I still remember walking into a room at a dealer in Florida, and seeing the glowing and dancing meters of monstrous monoblock McIntosh amplifiers. I was mesmerized by the looks and the sound and knew that I was in the presence of greatness. That one moment in time stands out so clearly to me for some reason, and I can picture it with so much detail that it could have been yesterday. That’s what a successful iconic brand can do, and nobody in this business, in my opinion, does it better than McIntosh.
Power Output per Channel:
300 Watts @2, 4 or 8 Ohms
S/N below rated output:
Balanced: 120dB. Unbalanced: 118dB
Rated Power Band:
20Hz to 20kHz
Number of Channels:
+0, -0.25dB from 20Hz to 20,000Hz. +0, -3.0dB from 10Hz to 100,000Hz
Total Harmonic Distortion:
Dimensions (W x H x D):
17 1/2 “ x 9 7/16” x 22”
3-year limited warranty
McIntosh, MC312, Amplifier, Amplifier Reviews 2019
As for the McIntosh MC312 2-channel solid-state amplifier, it’s the successor to their MC302 300-watt model. One of the key significant differences between the two is the 27% increase in dynamic headroom that the MC312 has over the MC302 (1.8dB to 2.3dB) thanks to a doubling in filter capacity. What this means is that it is better suited to handle large dynamic swings, and distortion and bass response also benefit from this increased filter capacity.
In the looks department, the MC312 now features direct LED backlighting for improved color accuracy. If you’re like me and want to see all of the amazing looking gear, then you’ll definitely love the updated looks of the glowing meters!
Other areas of improvements over the previous model include upgraded internal wiring and circuit components, eco-friendly power management features, and they now have both balanced and unbalanced outputs. This last feature can be used for bi-amping or tri-amping, or for adding subwoofers for those who don’t have available outputs on their pre-amplifiers. I found these balanced outputs to be very beneficial in my setup as I used them to hook up my 2 SVS SB-16 Ultra subwoofers for playback in my 2-channel setup.
Another great feature of the MC312 is the choice of 2, 4, or 8 Ohm binding posts, with their patented Solid Cinch connectors (perhaps my favorite binding posts ever!). Thanks to their Autoformer™ technology, 300 watts per channel are delivered regardless of whether your speakers have 2, 4, or 8 Ohm impedance. This provides a lot of flexibility and allows the MC312 to be a great fit for a wide range of speakers.
During my review period with the McIntosh MC312, I had the fortune of having a variety of speakers in the house to help with the evaluation, along with my normal selection of gear. I have put a lot of effort into finding synergy in my system, which really helps during the review process.
For those who have read some of my previous articles, you’ll know that I have a bit of a hybrid system combining a high-quality 2-channel system with my Dolby Atmos theater setup. The main speakers and amplification are shared between both systems, but the 2-channel system uses a dedicated pre-amplifier, while the theater uses a dedicated Dolby Processor.
The main amplifier that I have been using for the past couple of years has been a Pass Labs X350.8, which is a stellar amp, to say the least. It’s twice the price of the $7,000 McIntosh amp, and 50 watts more per channel output. It was going to be interesting to see how the two compared both in 2-channel and multi-channel listening.
The other components that were used during this evaluation period were as follows:
- Amplifiers: Pass Labs X350.8, Line Magnetic LM 845 Premium integrated amp, PS Audio Stellar S300
- Pre-amplifier: PS Audio BHK Signature Preamp
- Turntable: VPI Prime Signature
- Phono pre-amplifiers: Pass Labs XP-17, Sutherland Engineering 20/20
- Speakers: GoldenEar Technology Triton Reference, DeVore Fidelity Super Nine, DeVore Fidelity O/93
- Subwoofers: SVS SB-16 Ultra (x2)
- Cables: Mostly Cardas Audio Clear
- Rack: Massif Audio Design custom rack
- Power Conditioning: Audioquest Niagara 1000 (x2)
- Acoustical room treatments: Vicoustics
Before I get into details, let me first talk a little bit about my listening habits, and what I like. Why? Because if I fail to describe that, I could potentially lead you, my reader, down a path that may not fall in line with your listening habits. When reading any review, you need to remember that this is what I personally like, what my room sounds like, and what gear I have paired together. Your results may vary!
I have said this in other articles, but I want to say it again. I like a big and bold presentation to music. Whether you’re going to a rock concert, or a small club featuring live blues, you get hit in the face (and gut) with guitars and drums. It’s not an intimate or quiet event. You feel the music and you’re involved in the performance. Bands typically don’t play “soft”, neither does my listening room. I listen for enjoyment, and to experience dynamics, clarity, and detail. It’s all personal preference. So please keep that in mind while reading through my review(s) to ensure that you’re keeping it in context.
Now that I told you about how I like my music big and bold, let me tell you a bit about how the MC312 performed…at low levels! Sometimes I may sit in my listening room with the sound down lower when I’m working on something else (emails, research, etc). During these times I’m not actively listening or being critical, but rather enjoying a little background music. What struck me one day was the details and imaging I was catching despite the fact that my focus was elsewhere. Since it caught my interest, and particularly since I’ve hardly ever been happy with lower-level listening, I put down the computer just to listen. Was it possible that I was actually enjoying the music, despite the fact that it was turned down low? Was I imagining this simply because it was a new amplifier sitting in front of me that also happened to be luring me in by its beautiful glowing meters (I’ve always been a sucker for meters!)?
So after a short period of time, I picked the computer back up and started to take notes starting with the line: “For the first time, I find myself listening at lower volume levels, and really liking the presentation. Jazz, in particular, has been very good.” The MC312 was able to break through a barrier that had never happened before, so that made a huge impression.
Now when I listened to music at my normal volume levels, I was even more impressed with the MC312. I bounced around a lot between the GoldenEar Triton Reference, DeVore Fidelity Super 9’s, and the DeVore Fidelity 0/93’s. They’re all fantastic speakers, and they have their own areas of expertise. The Triton Reference plays well, “big and bold”, and are great all-around speakers. The Super 9’s are tremendous imaging speakers, and play a little subtler than the big Tritons. And the O/93’s are a very sensitive pair of 2-ways with a high level of dynamics and play extremely well in a near-field setting.
Even when cranking at ear-splitting volumes for extended periods of time, the McIntosh MC312 barely broke a sweat or generated heat. I could literally put my hand on top of the amplifier, and find it warm at best. The Pass Labs X350.8, on the other hand, would generate enough heat to warm the entire room. Now granted, all 3 sets of these speakers present a relatively easy load on an amplifier, but even when playing at high volumes, the meters barely registered 60 watts. So needless to say, there are a lot of reserves for huge dynamic swings on even demanding speakers.
When playing Roger Waters Amused to Death album through the Super 9’s, it was literally a spooky 3-dimensional presentation. Now granted, imaging is a strong suit of the new DeVore’s, but without good source components and amplification, you simply can’t achieve this level of depth, dimension, and detail. I’ve listened to this album in every format as many times as you can imagine but never had I come close to the pinpoint positioning of sound effects as I did with the MC312 in charge. When the hairs on your arms rise during a listening session, and you get a huge grin on your face, you know that (a) you’re having a tremendous amount of fun, and (b) you’re listening to true reference-quality equipment.
And when inserting the MC312 into my Dolby Atmos system, it didn’t matter what material I was throwing at it. Impactful action movies, concerts, or even multi-channel mixed music, the MC312 provided me with every bit of detail and dynamic swing that I desired and was used to.
- Runs extremely cool
- Those beautiful glowing meters!
- Timeless industrial design
- Made in U.S.A.
- More power than you’ll ever need
- Balanced and unbalanced outputs
I’m not going to make such a bold claim as a $7,000 amp being affordable or value, because it’s simply out of most people’s price range. But when you make it relative to other high-end offerings out there, it’s an absolute steal!
My $14,200 Pass Labs X350.8 amplifier is reference quality and can be the centerpiece of any system outside of the true esoteric setups. When I compare the McIntosh MC312 to it, however, I find that it equals the mighty Pass Labs in some areas, and surpasses it in others. It’s not a knock against the Pass by any means…I absolutely love Pass Labs gear. But it really shows how good of a job that McIntosh has done to create a world-class stereo amplifier for just $7,000.
During the evaluation period of a couple of months, I tried to find fault in the MC312, but I simply couldn’t. McIntosh has succeeded in engineering one of the finest stereo amplifiers for under $10k that you can purchase today. It is literally as much or more of an amplifier that one could ever want or need, and it may even be the last one that you’ll ever wish to buy!