I opted for the tube setup; either configuration will set you back $12,000. Either configuration has McIntosh's instantly recognizable, retro-cool black glass face plates framed by aluminum sides. The Controller Chassis also has McIntosh's signature push buttons and silver knobs which surround an easy to read alphanumeric fluorescent display. The Preamplifier chassis has the signature blue meters on both versions and the tube version also has a window to backlit tubes. The attractive, well-built chassis houses a full featured, state of the art preamplifier with a dual mono, fully balanced design complete with a Moving Coil and Moving Magnet phono stage.
The technology incorporated within the C500 is fairly extensive, including a variable rate volume control, silent audio switching, and dual, fully regulated R-Core transformer based power supplies. The McIntosh website has much more information on these technologies and the descriptions thereof make for interesting reading.
I have been listening to the C500 preamplifier for several months and utilize it as my reference preamplifier in my two-channel audio reviews. The sound quality is superb and truly reference grade. Music was reproduced in a natural, unforced manner with superb presence and solidity. The noise floor was the lowest of any tube preamplifier I have ever had in my system; detail and dynamics were akin to what one would find in a top notch solid state unit. This combination of qualities led to a detailed, well formed soundstage with each source well identified without congestion or crowding even with busy orchestral pieces. My only sonic criticism is a slight bloom in the mid bass region. This was most noticeable on acoustic bass pieces but even then this bloom resulted in only a slight looseness that never detracted from my listening enjoyment. Other than replacing a tube that went bad, the preamplifier has been a low maintenance, easy to use unit without any weird operation quirks that plague so many of the high end audio products on the market.Read about the high points and the low points of the McIntosh C500 on Page 2.