A veteran of AVRev.com, Jim Swantko also wrote home theater and audiophile component reviews for HomeTheaterReview.com in the early days of the publication. His focus was on mid- to high-end audio brands like Mark Levinson, Classé, Noble Fidelity, Cary Audio, MartinLogan, and Paradigm.
Customer devotion, brand loyalty, cult following, whatever
term you choose to describe it - few companies can compare when it comes to the
passion exhibited by McIntosh clientele for the firm's products. Many customers simply will not even
consider a product without the trademark blue power meters and green McIntosh
label. This enviable following has
been earned by building great-sounding, no-nonsense equipment and taking care
of the customers who buy it.
As the name implies, the $4,100 ($8,200/pair) MC501 is a
mono amplifier that delivers a healthy 500 watts of power into two-, four- or
eight-ohm loads. The McIntosh
proprietary output autoformer technology allows for full power at a variety of
impedances and helps to reduce distortion by keeping output devices operating
in their optimal range. This means
that the MC501 is perfectly happy driving any loudspeaker you choose to connect
to it. The amplifier is also
designed to protect those valuable loudspeakers with its Power Guard circuitry,
which keeps the amp from clipping and damaging drivers, specifically the
tweeters. Lastly, McIntosh has
designed the MC501 to protect itself via the sentry monitor circuit, which
insures that the output devices never exceed their staggering 100-amp-current
After spending some time listening to the MC501, I began
to understand why McIntosh has so many devotees. From top to bottom, it did everything extremely well. The treble was detailed and airy,
presented in a relaxed manner that drew me in to the music rather than pushing
me away. The midrange was as
smooth and textured as anything this side of a single-ended triode, only not
quite as euphonic, erring on the side of accuracy. Bass grip and control were powerful and authoritative, but
also musical and capable of extracting detail in lower frequencies, which are
often missed by lesser amplifiers.
I can't imagine ever yearning for more power than the 501 is capable of
producing. Even when playing at what seemed like rock concert levels, there was
always plenty of room left on the power meter.
Aesthetically, the MC501 is pure unadulterated McIntosh,
which means you either love it or hate it. Personally, I love it. Styling aside, it is a beautifully
constructed amplifier that should last a lifetime and then some.
Read The High Points, the Low Points and the Conclusion on Page 2