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McIntosh MC501 Monoblock Power Amplifier Print E-mail
Wednesday, 18 February 2009
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McIntosh MC501 Monoblock Power Amplifier
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ImageAs World War II was just ending, Frank McIntosh was starting up an audio company that would emerge as the benchmark audio manufacturer setting the bar for high-end audio components over the next 70 years. The performance level of Frank’s audio components was at such a high standard, even from its initial start-up, that television stations all over America sought out his mono tube power amplifier called the 50W-1 to be fully integrated into their television production facilities starting in 1949. The technology that powers that amp, the Unity Coupled Circuit, is still being used today.

The McIntosh line of high-end audio components only achieved further greatness when they started branching out into the consumer field in 1967 when their engineers designed their first solid-state product, the C24 preamplifier, which the early audiophiles of the 1960’s cleaned out their bank accounts to purchase. McIntosh was also the first audio manufacturer to implement the front-panel illumination that makes every power amplifier and integrated amplifier in the McIntosh line distinguish themselves from the also-rans in the audio world. The MC501 Power Amplifier is no exception to this rule. From the first time I set my eyes on this beauty, I was transfixed. I spent a good degree of time with the MC501 while visiting the “McIntosh Showroom” at my favorite home theater stores in the Las Vegas area, Premiere Home Entertainment .


The vice-president and co-owner of the store, Jim Wicklund, set up a demo in his main showroom and let me feast my eyes and ears on the ultimate audio-visual experience for any real audiophile/videophile worth his salt. The stainless steel chassis of this unit gleams at you while the watt meters lighting display shimmers with that pale blue light that McIntosh equipment seems able to integrate seamlessly into their entire line of power amplifiers and integrated amplifiers. There are two enormous knobs situated on either side of the amplifier, one for the meter control and the other for the power control which will let you use the remote to turn the unit on or off, based on your preference.

The MC501 is not small by any means. The height of this powerful beast is 10 inches high, by almost 18 inches deep and it weighs in at a plump 91.5 pounds. The price for just one unit will run you at least $4,100, $8,200/pair at most retail stores.  The back of the unit, which contains six transformers out in the open and with just minimal casing around them, looks like a work of sheer craftsmanship. The rest of the back of this unit contains nothing but stainless steel and a few connectors, nothing substantial. This adds to the overall design of the power amplifier, which seems to be going for a minimal design look, and when I say minimal I mean absolutely “bare bones.”  I find this kind of no frills design perfectly compliments a solid power amplifier.  The three sets of WBT binding posts complete the look of this power amplifier, and they are conformed for the Autoformer’s 2, 4 and 8 ohm outputs.

The RMS power output is rated at 500W minimum sine wave output from 20 Hz to 20 kHz, allowing for an unbalanced input impedance of 10,000 ohms, and balanced input impedance rated at around 20,000 ohms. This type of low impedance will of course insure that there will be no power line hum interfering with your audio system. McIntosh’s Power Guard has also been integrated into this unit so that clipping is prevented from destroying any high-end speakers in your configuration.

To go into a little bit more detail about the kind of technical precision McIntosh’s designers put into every one of their main circuit boards in their power amplifiers, I should mention that the MC501 is rated to deliver at well over 100 amperes of output current.  It also uses transformers (the Autoformer mentioned above) that load-match the amp in the output stage.  This allows the transistors to run cool and extend the life on the equipment.  The downside to this approach is that hot amps typically sound better from the consumer’s perspective.  There’s a definite trade-off of reduced audio fidelity for the sake of increased dependability.


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