McIntosh Labs C49 Preamplifier Announced: Modular Digital jumps from Integrated Amp Line

With the latest news from McIntosh Labs seeming to be a nod to future-proofing, it turns out this company has been going back to the future since 2017. The newly announced Swiss Army knife of a preamplifier in the C49 ($5,000 USD) is using modular daughterboard tech first seen back in 2017 on the likes of the MA9000 two-channel integrated amplifier (among others).

The C49’s DA1 (eight-channel, 32-bit Digital-to-Analog Converter in Quad Balanced mode, supports up to DSD256 and DXD 384kHz) Digital Audio Module can be “replaced by newer McIntosh digital audio modules that accommodate new digital technologies. This will allow the C49 to be kept up to date with digital music formats and viable well into the future.” Great news, but still no MQA hardware decoding at this time.

Sporting a total of 13 inputs the C49 bristles with connections for gear heads. For analog, it has two balanced, three unbalanced, one Moving Coil and one Moving Magnet. For the binary lovers it has six inputs housed in the DA1 module, they are; two coaxial, two optical, one USB and one proprietary MCT (for use with the McIntosh MCT series of SACD/CD Transports). On the output side of things the C49 sports two balanced variable outputs, two unbalanced variable outputs and one unbalanced fixed output.

Speaking with Mark Christensen of McIntosh Labs, I asked if this modular approach to the DA1 board (borrowed from the solid-state integrated amplifier line starting in 2017 – MA9000, MA8900, MA7200, MA5300 and MAC7200) would be something we’re going to see migrating to the rest of the preamplifier line in the likes of the C2600, C52, D1100, etc. to which he answered “I cannot comment on any potential new products at this time.” Christensen also said that the digital board module upgrade is not something that any existing McIntosh preamplifier could be eligible for, which is a real shame.

I also asked if this modular approach signals a similar path for the MM/MC stages, or an Ethernet/computer module for full streaming capabilities/Roon compatibility in the near future. Christensen said, “This is not being planned at this time but we’d never say never.”

Of note is his response regarding the question of whether Ethernet inclusion to proprietary McIntosh digital I/O is just a matter of time for the digital board/daughterboard, Christensen said, “We’re always looking at ways to enhance our products, but there is nothing to announce regarding this feature at this time.”

To me it’s a no-brainer for McIntosh to look at a built-in streamer for their digital side of offerings – especially on their integrated and preamplifier models – the chassis cetainly has room for it. And what about Roon offering a built-in module of its own (internal Nucleus anyone?) for those manufacturers looking to source out a purpose-built module constructed to audiophile standards from the start? Time will tell, and the first manufacturers to adopt such a solution should reap significant buy-in from consumers I’d imagine. I can tell you that if I could get a Roon-certified Nucleus USB/SPDIF/Ethernet daughterboard with full MQA decoding for an updated C2600 tubed preamplifier I’d be all over it.

For more information on the C49, check out the McIntosh website.

McIntosh Laboratory Inc.
2 Chambers Street - Binghamton, NY 13903-2699
(800) 538-6576

Everclear's picture

It would be interesting to see if these new technologies are implemented into the C-52 pre-amp ....... In addition to all the other features, C52 also has bypass-able 8 band parametric EQ :-) ..........