This week we reviewed the McIntosh RS200 active speaker, an ultra-versatile model that serves as a wireless speaker, a multi-room speaker, a USB DAC and a soundbar. The McIntosh RS200 is compatible with the DTS Play-Fi and AirPlay 2 multi-room technologies, features WiFi (DLNA) and Bluetooth connectivity, an HDMI ARC input, an optical input and a USB port so that it can be used as a DAC with a computer. All of this with McIntosh’s iconic design and famous VU meters. Sold for €3 800, will this all-in-one speaker prove to be worthy of the American manufacturer’s legendary electronics?
McIntosh RS200: the brand
Is there really any need to introduce McIntosh? Since its creation in Maryland in 1949 by Frank McIntosh, the brand, whose full appellation is McIntosh Laboratory, has been a frontrunner in the hi-fi domain. Its very first device, the McIntosh 50W-1 power amplifier was a great success, characterized by its ability to deliver an extensive amount of power whilst retaining an extremely low distortion rate. Very quickly, the company branched out and commercialized its first preamplifiers, the EA1 and C8. It was only in the sixties that the brand first integrated its large, blue backlit VU meters housed behind a polished glass front panel. To this day, this distinctive look remains a trademark of McIntosh. 70 years after its creation, McIntosh features an extensive catalog. Its power amplifiers, vacuum tube preamplifiers, DAC amplifiers, stereo amps, A/V preamps, turntables and, more recently, wireless speakers all provide extraordinary performance. No matter the model, musical enjoyment has been at the forefront for over 70 years. The manufacturer already impressed us during our reviews of the McIntosh MA-252 vacuum tube amp and the McIntosh MHA100 headphone amplifier and DAC.
McIntosh RS200: packaging & accessories
Covered by a white fabric pouch, the McIntosh RS200 wireless speaker comes in a cardboard box and is protected by large blocks of polystyrene. It comes with a user manual, a warranty card, a remote control identical to that included with the McIntosh MTI100 turntable (which we will be reviewing soon), two AAA batteries and foam feet.
McIntosh RS200: presentation
As soon as your take it out of its box, there’s no doubt about the lineage of the McIntosh RS200 wireless speaker. This imposing speaker is 63cm wide and 14cm high, weighing 13.3kg. Its glass chassis follows the brand’s esthetic code and features the famous McIntosh VU meters at its center, along with two dials on either side. The first dial is dedicated to volume control and the second is used to select the source. Very conveniently, the name of the selected source is displayed beside the dial and is illuminated by an elegant green light, identical to the one that lights up the name of the brand. This dial can also be used to adjust the backlight of the VU meter so that it isn’t too bright when it is being used at night. It can also be turned off completely. Lastly, the top of the McIntosh RS200 features touch controls allowing you to activate the WiFi connection and select one of the four presets that can be configured in the DTS Play-Fi app for iOS and Android. These presets can also be assigned to different online music services that are compatible with the RS200.
When it comes to connections, the McIntosh RS200 is very generous and is fitted with an auxiliary input (3.5mm mini jack), a type B USB port so that the device may be used as a DAC with a computer, an optical digital audio input, and an HDMI ARC input to retrieve sound tracks from a TV (Dolby and DTS) so the RS200 can serve as a soundbar. This HDMI input is compatible with CEC, meaning that the soundbar, TV, Blu-ray player and any device connected to the TV can be controlled using only one remote control. Lastly, the McIntosh RS200 wireless speaker also has a subwoofer output (RCA mono).
The American brand’s DNA can be seen throughout this connected speaker which boasts no less than 8 drivers. Its front panel accommodates two tweeters at the left and right which are oriented towards the listener. These tweeters are 1” titanium dome fluid-filled models and are paired with four 2” midrange drivers featuring inverted titanium domes.
The lows are handled by two elliptical drivers that are 4” wide and 6” long and feature a long throw suspension. They are situated underneath the speaker, hidden behind fabric covers and loaded in a bass-reflex enclosure. A polymer component evenly distributes the air at the front and the back of the speaker.
The McIntosh RS200 speaker features considerable amplification, delivering a total power output of 650 watts. From this total power, 400 watts are assigned to the tweeters and midrange drivers. The remaining 250 watts are assigned to the woofers. This configuration ensures a frequency response between 40Hz and 20kHz, as well as excellent dynamics.
McIntosh RS200: WiFi, DLNA, AirPlay, DTS Play-Fi, Bluetooth aptX HD
The McIntosh RS200 wireless speaker is an all-in-one-solution to get the most out of your music, regardless of the source. Once the speaker is connected to the internet via WiFi, it can play HD tracks up to 24-bit/192kHz shared via the local network thanks to its compatibility with DTS Play-Fi and DLNA. The RS200 also provides access to multiple online music services such as Spotify, Tidal, Qobuz, Napster and Amazon Music. These services can be quickly accessed using the 4 preset buttons on top of the speaker or directly via the remote control.
The McIntosh RS200 also supports the AirPlay 2 and Bluetooth protocols to stream music from a smartphone, tablet or computer with ease. Compatibility with the aptX HD codec ensures high-quality transmission, while aptX Low Latency reduces the latency in the transmission, eliminating any delay between the picture of videos played on a smartphone or tablet and the sound streamed to the speaker via Bluetooth. It goes without saying that the source must also be compatible with aptX Low Latency in order to use this function. If this isn’t the case, the McIntosh RS200 may be manually synchronized by the user (Lip sync function). This function is accessible via the remote control.
McIntosh RS200: multi-room, wireless surround sound
When connected via WiFi, the McIntosh RS200 can be added to a group of multi-room speakers compatible with the DTS Play-Fi or AirPlay 2 protocols. Therefore, it is possible to stream the same track in every room of the house or listen to a different track in each room. But the true advantage of the multi-room function is that you can create a wireless home theater system by pairing the McIntosh RS200 soundbar with two surround speakers or any Play-Fi compatible receiver. When associated with a UHD 4K television via its HDMI ARC or optical input, the RS200 allows you to fully enjoy your TV programs.
McIntosh RS200: configuration
The McIntosh RS200’s initial setup begins by connecting the speaker to the WiFi network. To do this, you must press and hold the WiFi button situated on the top of the speaker for 8 seconds. After 8 seconds, an audio signal is emitted and the “Net” indicator above the left dial blinks slowly, indicating that the speaker is emitting its own WiFi signal and that it is possible to connect to it with a mobile device. Theoretically at least… In reality, the indicator was flashing rapidly and we had to repeat the process multiple times so that it would blink correctly and we could carry out the pairing. The rest of the setup, however, is very simple. First you must go into the WiFi settings on your smartphone or tablet to connect to the speaker’s WiFi. Once the latter is selected, the speaker automatically connects to the home WiFi network (a Netgear Orbi Satellite in our case). The rest of the procedure is performed in a matter of seconds via the DTS Play-Fi app. The app lets you associate your different online music service accounts, assign the 4 quick access buttons on the top of the speaker and pair the RS200 with other DTS-compatible speakers. This app also lets you play music shared over the local network.
McIntosh RS200: listening impressions
We started our review of the McIntosh RS200 speaker by listening to 24-bit/96kHz and 24-bit/192kHz files streamed from Qobuz (Sublime Plus subscription). The McIntosh RS200 displayed exceptional balance with Michael Jackson’s Beat It. The first notes of the percussions and electric guitar were very naturally restituted. The drums and bass were lively and very dynamic. The RS200 also surprised us with its ability to produce abyssal and powerful lows. Spatialization-wise, the soundstage was deep and each instrument was perfectly delineated. Naturally, the width of the soundstage wasn’t extensive as that of a stereo system comprised of several speakers placed around the room, but it was airy and seemed a lot broader than that of a mono speaker. However, the McIntosh RS200 is very authoritative and it needs to be centered and placed at ear height in order to fully enjoy this spatialization.
The RS200 surprised us with its ability to produce abyssal and powerful lows.
Next, we tested the performance of the McIntosh RS200’s optical digital input. For this we connected it to the Pioneer UDP-LX500 UHD 4K Blu-ray player using a Norstone Jura Optic optical cable. After we inserted the jazz album The Famous Sound of the Three Blind Mice Vol.2 and selected a piano piece with substantial dynamic shifts, the McIntosh RS200 revealed its full potential. The highs and mids were reproduced with finesse, while the lows filled the room so that we could almost imagine that the pianist was right in front of us. On a more groovy track, the brass instruments were exhilarating and superbly spatialized. However, to avoid a bass-saturated restitution it is important not to turn the volume all the way up.
The highs and mids were reproduced with finesse, while the lows filled the room.
Finally, we connected the McIntosh RS200 to an OLED 4K TV using an Audioquest Cinnamon HDMI cable in order to receive sound from the Pioneer UDP-LX500, itself connected to the television via HDMI. We were able to analyze the RS200’s performance when used as a soundbar. With the blu-ray version of Mad Max Fury Road, the McIntosh RS200 soundbar was very impressive. It delivered dynamic sound with a soundstage that was much more extensive than it was when we had previously listened to music. During the car chase scene through the desert, the spatialization of sound effects was excellent, with machine gun fire that seemed to come from different areas in the room, as well as tangible, believable explosions. Even though we didn’t get the opportunity to test it with surround speakers, the RS200 had no trouble plunging us right into the heart of the action. For nightime sessions, the VU meter’s backlighting can be reduced or even turned off to eliminate any distractions.
McIntosh RS200: compared to…
KEF LSX Wireless: this is a pair of true speakers capable of producing a much wider soundstage. That said, the LSX are slightly more analytical and aren’t as deep. The RS200 is more balanced, has more powerful lows and is overall more pleasant to listen to. The RS200 also has the advantage of being more versatile, in particular thanks to its HDMI ARC input which makes it possible to use the speaker as a soundbar or add surround speakers.
Naim Mu-so 2: here, Naim provides a very similar solution in terms of connectivity and network functionality. It offers a little more detail in the highs, but isn’t as impressive in the lows, which are deeper and more present with the RS200. The RS200 also has the advantage of integrating the DTS Play-Fi protocol and can be used as a USB DAC.
McIntosh RS200: conclusion
The McIntosh RS200 is a complete success, both in sound and appearance. Featuring a wide range of connections, DLNA and multi-room compatibility with support for diverse online services, it is a versatile and effective solution to fully enjoy all of your sources. Its numerous drivers provide a highly balanced and dynamic sound. It is important, however, to not turn the volume all the way up in order to avoid the lows saturating the restitution. The McIntosh RS200 is a true pleasure to listen to and use. We were rapidly captivated by the iconic blue light of the VU meters on the front panel which invited us to enter a world of rich sound. The regular succession of tracks was the only thing to remind us of the passing time… The McIntosh RS200 also revealed itself to be an excellent soundbar for enjoying movies, providing superior immersion and a more extensive soundstage than the TV’s speakers. Sold for €3 800, the McIntosh RS200 is currently the most “affordable” solution if you wish to discover and enter the iconic American brand’s universe.
What we liked:
- The build quality
- The integration of DTS Play-Fi and AirPlay 2 technologies
- The vitality
- The tonal balance
- The magical VU meters
What we would have liked:
- A wider stereo effect when listening to music
- A virtual surround sound mode for movies