How do you follow up a review of a $6499 flagship receiver with 15 channels of amplification and nearly every feature under the sun? If you’re a publication that focuses mostly on affordable hi-fi with the occasional foray into home theater, you might go to the other extreme and review one of the most affordable AVRs on the market. That was the plan, anyway. But as the great Rabbie Burns once pointed out, the best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Wookiees gang aft agley, so here I am reviewing an AVR that makes the Denon A1H look like a budget alterative: the $8000 McIntosh MHT300 (all prices USD).
What’s noteworthy is how these two ultra-premium flagship receivers justify their price tags. The MHT300 isn’t trying to be the all-singing, all-dancing Swiss Army Knife of AVRs. It doesn’t boast 15 channels of amplification. It doesn’t even support 15 channels of processing. It doesn’t stream this. It doesn’t connect wirelessly with that. Hell, the only wireless connection it has is an FM tuner with McIntosh’s own special-sauce circuitry.
What it does have is that McIntosh styling, build quality, and user experience, combined with the sort of 800-pound-gorilla-esque performance you don’t necessarily expect in a receiver boasting only seven amplified channels of output.
Let’s unpack that before moving on. The norm in the receiver market is for lower-priced and lower-performance AVRs to have fewer channels. Step up in terms of power, connectivity, and room correction, and you expect to see a bump in channel count, as well. But the MHT300 has top-shelf Dirac Live room correction, HDMI 2.1 connectivity (with a few missing features we’ll get into in a sec), and a staggering 150Wpc into 4 ohms or 120Wpc into 8 ohms with (get this) all seven channels driven—not the two- or even one-channel load most AVR makers use for their power ratings.
What’s more, that amplification is class-D with what I believe to be Hypex modules, but McIntosh doesn’t specify that in its literature. In my opinion, one of the only noteworthy problems with the Denon A1H was its class-AB amplification, which turned the thing into a space heater during even relatively tame movie-watching sessions. With class-D’s efficiency, the MHT300 is much cooler running and won’t hit your power bill nearly as hard, which is a huge plus. And these days, some of my favorite amps rely on Hypex modules, so needless to say there’s not a downside in terms of performance. Granted, relying on modules of this sort does add to the expense of the receiver, but I’m guessing not by a whole lot at this price point.
Perhaps surprisingly, the MHT300 doesn’t feature any analog inputs. Its four HDMI ins and one HDMI eARC in/out all support resolutions and refresh rates up to 8K/60Hz or 4K/120Hz, all the meaningful HDR formats, 4:4:4 Color, and the BT.2020 color space, but not all of the features of the updated HDMI 2.1 spec. It doesn’t feature Dynamic Lip-Sync, for example, no QMS or QFT, no ALLM or VRR. So it might not be your first pick if you’re a hardcore gamer. But most people will likely be well-served by its HDMI connectivity. There are also a pair of coaxial digital and a pair of optical digital audio ins, the aforementioned FM antenna connection, and a handful of control inputs.
In addition to the seven speaker-level outputs and independent subwoofer outs (which can be configured as 5.2, 5.2.2, or 7.2), there are also pre-outs for four height channels. So if you’re willing to bring four channels of external amplification to the party, the receiver can handle up to a 7.2.4-channel setup.
Installing and configuring the McIntosh MHT300
From the moment I pulled the MHT300 out of the box and hooked it up in my secondary media room, the receiver seemed determined to let me know just how much power it wields. I have a SurgeX SX-AX15E in that room for surge elimination, and the instant I plugged the McIntosh into it and powered it on, the SurgeX’s inrush current protection circuitry kicked on and shut down the entire system. That has only happened to me once in the past, and I think it was with a massive multi-room matrix amp, but I can’t remember which one.
Long story short, I ended up having to run an extension cord from the MTT300 to a circuit with no electronics on it down the hall for the duration of this review. Normally, I wouldn’t dream of running such sensitive and expensive electronics in Alabama without some robust form of series-mode surge elimination, but it hasn’t rained in 20 days as I write this, and there is no inclement weather in the forecast, so I calculate the risk of lightning running in on my house was relatively low compared with the norm. So I just risked it.
Once I had that sorted, I decided to set up a simple 7.2-channel system comprising two RSL CG3 bookshelf speakers, an RSL CG23 center, two GoldenEar SuperSat 3s, and a pair of RSL Speedwoofer 10S subs. Speaker wire was Monoprice Choice Series 12AWG.
The first thing worth noting about the speaker setup is that McIntosh has gone with a side-by-side orientation for the five-way binding posts, making physical connectivity quite a bit easier. But the company sullied that somewhat by putting the in/out jumpers right above the speaker-level connections, so there’s no way you’re going to be able to read the labels without getting your head beneath the receiver. As I said in my unboxing, I simply used a photo of the back of the receiver to remember which channel was which.
As I also mentioned in my unboxing, the MHT300 comes with a for-real microphone stand and a pretty beefy hockey-puck mike for Dirac Live setup. I’ll admit, I did fuss with that mike a bit, but in the end, we became fast friends. The problem, if you want to call it that, is that the mike is so sensitive that getting the volume calibration correct in the Dirac software was a rage-inducing screamfest. I went back and forth at least 12 times trying to get the exact right balance between master output (it ended up nearly maxed), mike gain (in the end, turned down as low as it would go), and individual channel levels (which felt like ice skating on a power line).
I would get all of the above dialed in perfectly for the main listening position, only to go into clipping with measurement positions closer to one or another speaker and end up with low signal-to-noise on measurement positions a little farther away. Once I got it all tweaked to literal perfection and was able to take all 13 measurements without having an error or warning pop up, I legitimately danced a jig and giggled like a toddler up to no good.
Oddly enough, all the fuss ended up being worth it. I feel like I got better results with this setup than I normally get from Dirac in this room. I almost always end up throwing away one or two sets of measurements in this space but didn’t need to with this setup. My correction curves were also a good bit subtler than I’m used to seeing above the Schroeder frequency of this room, and I felt like I could set my max filter frequency higher than normal because nothing funky was going on in the upper frequencies. I’ll get into a few more observations about McIntosh’s implementation of Dirac in the listening section below, but overall, I felt like the extra effort caused by the super-sensitive mike was worth it. Or to be fair, it could just be that I didn’t want all that effort to be for naught.
For sources in this system, I connected my Roku Ultra media adapter along with an Oppo UDP-205 universal disc player borrowed from my main media room. That player did move back to the big room when I temporarily dragged the MHT300 in there for some additional stress testing in a much larger space. I also connected a Control4 EA-1 automation controller, but in the end, I decided not to operate the receiver via Control4 for a couple of reasons. Firstly, there aren’t IP drivers for the receiver yet, and I didn’t want to futz around with writing IR drivers given my short affair with the MHT300. Secondly, I found McIntosh’s pack-in remote control to be an absolute delight, which I was more than happy to use for a month or so. It’s elegant, sexy, and comfortable in the hand. And while the layout takes a few days to get used to, once you get the hang of it, it’s quite intuitive.
Overall setup of the MHT300 is equally intuitive, if a little odd. The only onscsreen display for the receiver is a volume/metadata popup. To dig through the setup menus for input naming, channel configuration, network setup, etc., you can either use the front-panel display (plenty big enough to see from across the room) or just dial into the receiver from a web browser, using its IP address. I opted for the latter for initial setup but did use the remote for things like switching between EQ modes.
How does the McIntosh MHT300 perform?
Right off the bat, the first thing I noticed when I started listening to the MHT300 is that Dirac’s default target curve is as bass-light as it always is in this room, which I would normally have resolved by tweaking the curves and uploading a new filter after listening to a few reference tracks. But the MHT300 has a neat feature that allows you to swap between six different EQ presets on the fly. Turns out, the Action Movie preset, which features a +6dB low shelf filter, resulted in a sound that very much follows the natural response curve of my room, just without the erratic peaks and valleys.
I also liked the sound of the Relaxed mode with two-channel music, since it introduces a slight bass boost but also a bit of a BBC dip. So I set the input assigned to my Oppo to Relaxed and left my Roku on the Action Movie preset for most of my testing.
With the first season of Ahsoka now wrapped up, I’ve been getting my Star Wars fix by rewatching the amazing second season of The Bad Batch, and I was up to the season finale, “Plan 99,” when I finished installing the MHT300. Two things stood out almost immediately: the receiver’s handling of transients is absolutely smashing, and its dialog intelligibility is unimpeachable.
On the latter point, this episode features a good bit of muffled dialog, especially when the speech of the V-wing pilots is filtered through not only their masks but also wireless comms. Any appreciable distortion or any significant tonal colorations—especially when one proto-Stormtrooper is communicating with Governor Tarkin early in the episode—and I start to lose the ability to understand their voices really quick. But via the MHT300, even with the volume cranked to idiotic levels, vocals were spot on.
The big action set piece early in the episode also involves a lot of percussive sound effects—cables snapping, supports groaning, blaster fire slamming into metal plating—that are highly directional. Through the MHT300, they all felt perfectly placed, not only in the front soundstage but also in the surrounds, and the dynamics of each little percussive rat-a-tat felt palpable, tangible, visceral in a way that caught my attention and held it.
Admittedly, as great as David W. Collins’s sound design is when it comes to exploring subtleties, nuance, and detail, it’s not the most punishing of mixes, and not the sort of bass torture test that is the meat and potatoes of the home-theater world. To that end, I fired up Scott Pilgrim vs. the World and skipped to Sex Bob-omb’s band-battle against the Katayanagi Twins. Of all the test material in my collection, only the IMAX: Super Speedway Blu-ray disc has come close to sending as many amps into clipping (or at least fault protection) as has this scene. It’s an unrelenting onslaught of deep bass and pedal-to-the-metal cacophony coming from every speaker simultaneously. A receiver just doesn’t have an opportunity to catch its breath once Scott plugs his bass back in and the electrical manifestations of each band’s energy start slugging it out in the form of a giant gorilla and two dragons. (If you haven’t seen the film, I know that makes almost no sense, but just roll with it. It’s a comic-book movie.)
I pushed the volume of the MHT300 way past my comfort zone, past the point when most AVRs would start to reveal the sonic signs of stress that point to the need to turn the volume down a little, and the system maintained its full composure. What’s more, after running the scene through a few times, I put my hand atop the chassis of the receiver and found it to be pleasantly warm at most.
How could the MHT300 handle more delicate music, though? To answer that question, I cued up “Special Girl” from dodie’s Live at NPR’s Tiny Desk (16-bit/44.1kHz FLAC, doddleoddle / Qobuz), which I had to stream to my Roku via AirPlay since the MHT300 doesn’t do streaming and Roku doesn’t have a native Qobuz app.
This song—specifically this performance—is a textural wonderland, what with the distinctive combination of clapping hands, plucked cello, bowed fiddles and violas, acoustic percussion, noodly clarinet, dodie’s inimitable voice, and of course the natural ambience of the room itself. Via the McIntosh, tonal balance was spot on, but what really drew my attention was the way the mix expanded outward into the room. I assumed at first that I’d engaged Dolby Surround processing for two-channel material, but nay—it was pure stereo. (OK, fine, it was technically 2.1-channel audio with bass management, but you know what I mean.)
The soundstage was incredibly expansive, image specificity was utter perfection, and the little transients that pepper this mix were delivered with the sort of precision you’d hope for from the very best hi-fi gear.
What other AVRs in this price class should you consider?
So, about that . . . There really aren’t any mainstream home-theater receivers at this price. There are some that are close enough to warrant discussion, though. The aforementioned Denon A1H at $6499 is competing for the same customers, I’d say. But the Denon is more for the home-theater enthusiast who wants ultra-connectivity, wireless everything, all of the amplified channels (all of them!), and a choice between Audyssey and Dirac room correction, whereas the McIntosh is a better fit for someone who doesn’t really care about Atmos for now but might be willing to try it out at some point down the road.
There’s no denying that the McIntosh is sexier, better built, and runs way cooler while sounding every bit as good, if not better. It’s also appealing for the homeowner who wants McIntosh in every room. Its priorities are simply in a different place.
The Arcam AVR31 ($6900) is another one worth a look. It’s not as sexy as the McIntosh, and its remote isn’t near as swanky, but it has a similar philosophy overall, in that it provides seven amplified channels out of the box (class-G in this case, not class-D) and can be expanded beyond that, in this case to 9.1.6. It’s similarly specified in terms of HDMI, although it features three additional HDMI inputs and two additional outputs. It also has a lot more analog connectivity and even more in the way of coaxial digital inputs.
TL;DR: Should you buy the McIntosh MHT300?
I’m often accused of not appreciating the value proposition of high-end audio, an accusation I vehemently dispute. If anything, I simply disagree with a lot of my colleagues about the actual value of high-end audio. Personally, I think if you’re going to make and sell an $8000 AVR in a market dominated by $1500-to-$2000 offerings that absolutely kick ass, this is the way you justify that price tag: with exceptional fit and finish, beautiful design, simplicity of operation, and a willingness to embrace technologies that have a legitimate advantage even if it does drive up costs.
Of course, not every AVR needs to take this approach. And I’m not sure McIntosh is going to have a lot of copycats. But if there’s anything I think the rest of the industry can learn from the MHT300, it’s that at the upper end, there’s absolutely no reason to not use the incredible class-D amp modules available these days from Hypex and Purifi and the like, even if they do raise the price tag a little.
Mind you, none of that answers the question posed in the subhead above, does it? It really boils down to this: what are your priorities? In terms of sheer performance, there are AVRs that can hold their own with the MHT300, even if they can’t do it while running nearly as cool. And there are AVRs that outpace it in terms of connectivity and features. But I’ve never auditioned a receiver exactly like it. So if what you’re looking for is a home-theater receiver that does what the MHT300 claims to do, I can reassure that it does, indeed, do what it says on the tin. If you like nice things, this one’s easy to recommend. If you’re just looking for pure bang-for-the-buck, on the other hand, I don’t even think McIntosh is trying to appeal to you here.
. . . Dennis Burger
- Loudpeakers: GoldenEar Triton One.R; GoldenEar SuperCenter Reference center; GoldenEar SuperSat 3; RSL CG3 and CG23.
- Subwoofers: SVS PB-4000; RSL Speedwoofer 10S.
- Speaker cables: Monoprice Choice Series 12AWG.
- Interconnects: Monoprice 8K Ultra High-Speed HDMI cables .
- Sources: Roku Ultra 4802R; Roku Ultra 4800R; Oppo UDP-205 4K Ultra HD Audiophile Blu-ray Disc player.
- Power protection: SurgeX SX-AX15E Axess Elite Power Management System; SurgeX XC18 Space Saver Surge Eliminator.
McIntosh Laboratory MHT300 Audio/Video receiver
Warranty: Three years, parts and labor.
McIntosh Laboratory, Inc.
2 Chambers Street
Binghamton, NY 13903-2699
Phone: (800) 538-6576