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McIntosh Launches Next-Generation C55 and C2800 Preamps

McIntosh C55 & C2800 Preamps

McIntosh C55 & C2800 Preamps


  • Product Name: C55 Solid State Preamplifier and C2800 Vacuum Tube Preamplifier
  • Manufacturer: McIntosh
  • Review Date: May 23, 2024 14:00
  • MSRP: $9,000 - C55 Solid State Preamplifier, $9,000 - C2800 Vacuum Tube Preamplifier
  • First Impression: Pretty Cool

McIntosh C55 Solid State Preamplifier

  • Frequency Response: +0, -0.5dB from 20Hz to 20kHz; +0, -3dB from 15Hz to 100kHz
  • Total Harmonic Distortion: 0.005%
  • Maximum Volts Out (Balanced / Unbalanced): 16V RMS / 8V RMS
  • Dimensions (W x H x D): 17.5 x 7.625 x 16.5 inches
  • Weight: 28 lbs

McIntosh C2800 Vacuum Tube Preamplifier

  • Frequency Response: +0, -0.5dB from 20Hz to 20kHz; +0, -3dB from 20Hz to 20kHz
  • Total Harmonic Distortion: 0.08%
  • Maximum Volts Out (Balanced / Unbalanced): 16V RMS / 8V RMS
  • Dimensions (W x H x D): 17.5 x 7.625 x 16.5 inches
  • Weight: 28 lbs

Got $9k? McIntosh has Some Preamps For You!

McIntosh is celebrating its 75th anniversary, and has already introduced some mega-expensive gear to mark the occasion, most notably the $50K MC2.1KW Monoblock Power Amplifier, which looks awesome (yet ludicrously huge) and deserves its own writeup, coming soon. But the company hasn’t ignored the bread-and-butter of its electronics lineup, which consists of high-end 2-channel gear sitting somewhere between the affordable brands (like Emotiva and Cambridge Audio), and the astronomically expensive (such as Dan D’Agostino and darTZeel.) McIntosh’s two latest products are perfect examples of what the company is all about. The new C55 Solid State Preamplifier and C2800 Vacuum Tube Preamplifier both sell for $9,000 each, and combine “cutting-edge technology with timeless design, promising an unparalleled auditory journey,” according to McIntosh.

Naturally, both new models boast superb build quality inside and out, along with the Binghamton brand’s signature attention to aesthetic detail, from the black-glass faceplates to the illuminated logos and unmistakable blue VU meters. But the similarities between these two new preamps don’t end there. Both the C55 Solid State Preamplifier and C2800 Vacuum Tube Preamplifier feature an impressive 16 inputs, including 9 analog and 7 digital connections. Thanks to the inclusion of McIntosh’s DA2 digital module, either preamp can serve as the nerve center of a digital system, with accommodations for coaxial and optical connections (up to 24-bits/192 kHz), USB (up to DXD 384 kHz or DSD512), and HDMI ARC. All signals are processed by “audiophile-grade DAC technology for exquisite digital audio conversion.” McIntosh says that a “next-generation, Quad Balanced, 8-channel, 32-bit DAC” is used in its DA2 module, but doesn’t specify the make or model. (I’m pretty sure it’s an ESS Sabre DAC chip. Don’t quote me on that.) Meanwhile, analog fans have a plethora of analog inputs on the C55 and C2800, including an adjustable phono input. On the output side of things, both new preamps feature no fewer than three sets of stereo balanced and unbalanced outputs, offering excellent flexibility in connecting to power amps. These outputs feature an innovative design allowing for customizable bi-amping configurations — more on those later. One cool feature that you don’t always see these days is a processor loop. Missing from the last few generations of McIntosh preamplifiers, processor loops come in handy when you want to integrate an external signal processor, such as McIntosh’s own MQ112 Environmental Equalizer or MEN220 Room Correction System. You could also use something like a miniDSP processor to run Dirac Live without having to place it between the preamplifier and power amp(s), which can be inconvenient and potentially limit performance. All of the above features are shared by both the C55 and C2800 preamps. In fact, if you turn the preamps around, their back panels look exactly the same.

McIntosh C55 Solid State Preamplifier


Of course, there are some important differences between the solid state C55 and its tubed sibling. According to McIntosh, the C55 inherits the legacy of its award-winning predecessor, the C53, and “stands as the epitome of sonic excellence, designed to captivate audiophiles, music enthusiasts, and devoted McIntosh aficionados alike.” The C55’s claim to fame will likely be its 8-band analog equalizer, which allows the user to fine-tune music with crude precision, to create a personalized sound signature. (Of course, purists have the option to bypass the equalizer altogether.) The C55’s bi-amplification capabilities are also fascinating, and unusually flexible. The preamp’s Main output can be combined with Output 1 to bi-amp a single speaker system via the built-in adjustable High Pass and Low Pass filters. In such a setup, the user might connect the High Pass outputs to a vacuum tube power amplifier in order to achieve sweet and spacious highs. Meanwhile, the Low Pass outputs could be connected to a solid-state amplifier for punch, slam, and clarity in the low end. There is an adjustable crossover that allows the user to optimize the performance of both amplifiers to the individual speaker’s specifications, and according to listener preference. Output 1 features a trim level control, making it easy to volume-balance two different amplifiers when bi-amping. Output 2, on the other hand, can be configured as either mono or stereo, allowing it to send audio to another 2-channel system in a different room, to a single mono subwoofer, or to a stereo pair of subwoofers.

McIntosh C2800 Vacuum Tube Preamplifier


McIntosh says that the C2800 Vacuum Tube Preamplifier “embodies a fusion of audio passion and engineering precision, crafted to delight even the most discerning audiophiles.” While it lacks the C55’s 8-band analog equalizer, it does offer electronic bass and treble circuitry to allow for level adjustments of low and high frequencies in precise 1dB steps. The C2800 also remembers tone control circuitry bypass settings for each input. But the main sonic flavoring of the C2800 comes from its four vacuum tubes (three 12 AX7A tubes, and one 12AT7), which work together to “deliver a listening experience that transcends expectations,” according to McIntosh. 

C2800 rear

At the heart of the preamp lies what McIntosh describes as “methodically-designed vacuum tube circuitry… leveraging the latest designs to all but eliminate noise and distortion… (reducing) them to minuscule levels.” Like the C55, the C2800 offers impressive connection flexibility, including 3 stereo sets of variable balanced and unbalanced outputs that can all be active simultaneously. Each output can send the audio signal to a separate system, or the outputs can work together to power a complex bi-amplified speaker system with separate subs. The C2800 features the same built-in, adjustable High Pass and Low Pass filters and bi-amping capabilities as the C55.

New McIntosh Connect App

McIntosh Connect AppAlthough both preamps ship with nice physical remotes, they can also be controlled by the new McIntosh Connect App. Both the C55 and C2800 can connect to a home network to “unlock a world of control possibilities” via the app, which is available on both Android and Apple mobile operating systems. The app allows users to “seamlessly control key functions, receive firmware updates, and enhance the listening experience with added convenience,” according to McIntosh.

Other features shared by the C55 and C2800 include the following:

  • High Drive Headphone Amplifier with Headphone Crossfeed Director (HXD) technology
  • Home Theater PassThru for seamless integration into home theater systems
  • Roon Tested designation from Roon Labs
  • Power Control, to turn other connected McIntosh components on and off
  • Data Ports to send remote control commands to connected source components
  • Electromagnetic Input Switching for reliable, noiseless, and distortion-free switching
  • Level Trim Adjustment for matching analog input levels to prevent abrupt changes in volume levels
  • Precision balanced, digitally-controlled attenuator systems for accurate volume control with 0.1dB accuracy
  • Fully-regulated power supplies and a special R-core power transformer for stable, noise-free operation
  • Eco-friendly Power Management System that will turn the unit off after 30 minutes of inactivity (can be disabled)

The McIntosh C55 Solid State Preamplifier and C2800 Vacuum Tube Preamplifier are available now through authorized McIntosh dealers, like our friends at Audio Advice.

More information: 

McIntosh C55 Solid State Preamplifier 

McIntosh C2800 Vacuum Tube Preamplifier

Unless otherwise indicated, this is a preview article for the featured product. A formal review may or may not follow in the future.

About the author:
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Jacob is a music-lover and audiophile who enjoys convincing his friends to buy audio gear that they can't afford. He's also a freelance writer and editor based in Los Angeles.

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