What's Old Is New

True Detective's Rust Cohle put it best; "Time is a flat circle."  We're revisited by our pasts in ways both subtle and overt, be it through past acquaintances or even just hearing a favourite song on the radio.  It's inescapable.  When it's incidental, it feels like it has real meaning.  When it's used as a marketing tool... hmm.

McIntosh Labs have just released a new, retro-styled pairing of high end vacuum tube mono block amplifiers and stereo preamp.  This kind of event is normally noteworthy enough to offer more than a few column inches in the monthly industry and enthusiast magazines.  This time around, I'm putting in my two cents, too.

You can read about the new C22 here.

McIntosh's "new" C22 Preamp

So there it is.  The future, according to McIntosh.  It looks like a more impressive version of all of those wonderful stereos of yesteryear from such now-diminished champions as Akai, Teac, even Harman/Kardon (they still make cool stuff, but not like before...).  You know from looking at it that the buttons will feel heavy and clunk into place in a satisfying way. Input switching is electromagnetic, so noiseless and responsive.  Hell, even the phono cartridge configuration is done with those meaty dials.

The C22 is a purely analogue machine in a digital age.  It will take up an inconvenient amount of space in most cabinets (nevermind how much room the big, hot vacuum tube mono blocks require) and weighs, near enough as makes no difference, 20kg.  It doesn't really fit in aesthetically with any other modern gear, such as DACs, CD or universal players and would look totally out of place with a MacBook sitting next to it.  Basically, it would stick out with almost any gear other than a reel-to-reel tape player.

Its only saving grace is that it is, after all, a McIntosh.  That name comes with a guarantee of obscene levels of quality, brilliant fit and finish and performance which makes comparison almost pointless.  The wisdom of the purely analogue design ensures that it won't ever really be useless - you just change your digital-to-analogue interface when needed.

So it looks odd, old even, doesn't offer much new or interesting, would sound similar enough to the other McIntosh stereo preamps which look a lot more modern and is, to a certain extent, already out of date.  But it appeals to the part of me that remembers my childhood flicking switches and spinning dials on our old Akai.  So would I buy it?  In a heartbeat.


12 May, 2015 by Angus Perry
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