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Long before "macintosh" was a computer, the McIntosh brand was synonymous with top-notch home audio. The Reference System shown here is the company's showpiece, combining its best currently available components.

Caption by CNET Reviews staff / Photo by John P. Falcone, CNET Networks

The Reference System includes two XRT2K tower speakers (only the right one is visible here), plus a host of specialized amps, preamplifiers, a D/A converter--and a CD player. It's strictly a stereo audio system: no surround sound and no video.

Caption by CNET Reviews staff / Photo by John P. Falcone, CNET Networks

Each XRT2K speaker can handle as much as 2,000 watts of power. With the grille removed (as shown here), the 110 separate drivers are visible. That includes six 12-inch aluminum woofers (the black semicircles visible in the background) plus 62 two-inch titanium midrange drivers (along the outside of the central area) and 40 0.75-inch tweeters (straight down the middle). Oh--did we mention the speakers are 7 feet high?

Caption by CNET Reviews staff / Photo by McIntosh Labs

Flanking the center components are two sets of MC2KW Tri-Chassis 2,000-Watt Monoblock amplifiers. Each of the amps (the bottom two components) feed 1,000 watts of power into the Output Module, sitting on top.

Caption by CNET Reviews staff / Photo by John P. Falcone, CNET Networks

In addition to showing the resulting power on the large blue watt-meter (as high as 8,000 watt peaks), the Output Module adds noise cancellation to the signal, resulting in a sound that's essentially hiss-free on the quietest music--even at the highest volumes.

Caption by CNET Reviews staff / Photo by John P. Falcone, CNET Networks

True audiophiles insist on old-school vacuum tube preamplifiers. But the McIntosh Reference System has the best of both worlds: it also includes a more traditional solid-state preamp section, along with a controller that lets you switch between them on the fly.

Caption by CNET Reviews staff / Photo by John P. Falcone, CNET Networks

All of the components are hand-built in the company's Binghamton, New York facility. But that craftsmanship will cost you a king's ransom: with the cabling added in, this $180,000 system retails for closer to $200,000.

Caption by CNET Reviews staff / Photo by CNET Networks
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