mcintosh Mc501 amplifiers/ pair

Mcintosh

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MC501

1-Channel Amplifier

LEGACY PRODUCT
  • Manufactured 2003 - 2012
  • 500 Watt mono block power
  • Cool running long life LED faceplate illumination
  • Compact shallow design for ease of placement
  • Included Autoformer
  • Price: $75,00 pair

    Mc501

    Moving over to the Mc501s, tonal balance became quite a bit darker and much more full-bodied, especially in the treble, so that it better matched the quality of frequencies below it. The Mc501s have a midrange and treble character one associates with valves, in terms of frequency integration, body, overall sweetness of tone and the slightly short-changed treble. Don't get alarmed. Treble extension is satisfying; it just doesn't reach up as much, or as often, as many solid-state amps.

    Bass performance is another story: it may be warm and full, but you'll never get this kind of power and control from valves—or from most solid state for that matter. The bottom end is superb.

    At the tail end of the note, the Mc501s stop. Period. You hear it most noticeably in the bass where the low frequencies are now lined up with the rest. And at the start, the Mc501s arrive unheralded in a waveform approximating a right angle. The contrast between signal and silence registers. How the note starts and stops are two of the bigger differences between the amps.

    The mbl has a bit of a scoop in the leading edge and doesn't control the tail as well. Hence, the mbl imparts a soft, dreamy quality. The difference between signal and silence is played down; it is not filled by blackness. Focus is not as tight.

    In part because of this and because it is tonally lighter, the mbl has a buoyancy, the sound lofts, it breathes. The Mc501s doesn't have this buoyancy, despite its livelier dynamics. Maybe that's because there is always low-frequency energy present—this amp has extraordinary weight. The weightiness and the rigid control over the signal keep images rooted to terra firma.

    Neither amp has any grain or etch to speak of. In other regards, dynamics and soundstaging were on par with the 8011 given this small-scale material.

    The funny thing was, I was not getting the nuances that make the Leipzigers special through the Mc501s. When I compared them to the Talich, the Mc501s gave me an overall style difference, but the innermost detail and timbral differences were only hinted at. There wasn't as much grit, I wasn't hearing the bow or the vibrato, and I wasn't hearing their timbral synchronicity. The Mc501s low-level resolution is not only not at the level of the 8011s; it is a bit less than you would expect at this price point.

    The shocking news is the Mc501s dynamics are every bit as good as the mbl 9007s (MSRP $33,000). Amazing, at one third of the price! No doubt this is a reflection of their 500 watts into and incredible 100 amperes of current. Of one thing I'm sure: It's been a long time since the dynamic capability of my speakers has been realized—actually, three years ago, when the mbl 9007s departed. With my speakers, those watts/current numbers make a huge difference.

    An amp can overdo its control, becoming tight and uninvolving. While the Mc501s have a very strong will, it is embedded within a cluster of synergistic traits that skirt that description. I wouldn't call them analytical.

    Usually the assumption is power and finesse are inversely related; the higher the first, the coarser the sound. Well, not in this case. The Mc501 is one sweet sounding amp. Listen to the last track on the Mussorgsky CD, the Prelude to Khovanshchina. It contains some wonderfully romantic writing for woodwinds and orchestra. The Mc501s don't short change the beautiful tone of the wind section.

    Dynamic power

    The Mc501s are outstanding through a wide swath of performance attributes, but if I had to choose just one, I would go with dynamic power.

    Listen to Dizzy Gillespie's Big 4 (Analogue Productions APJ024, a heavy weight reissue of the Pablo LP from 1974). Track one, Tanga, goes on in a soft groove for a long intro. The upright, the bass drum and the guitar are doing their thing, all in the low register, and it sets your foot a-tapping.

    Setup and Design

    For serious listening, I moved the Mc501s onto a pair of CORE Designs Amp Stands. As for wires, the Mc501s have wide latitude—their strong signature minimizes differences. I used the TARA Labs The One power cords and Kubala-Sosna Emotion speaker cables and interconnects. That's it for tweaking. I didn't have to spend much time tinkering to get great sound from them.

    McIntosh put plenty of patented design goodies in the Mc501s, like the Power Guard circuit, which limits output harmonic distortion, and the Sentry Monitor protection circuit. The comprehensive manual details these and more.

    It's worth talking about their Autoformer circuit. There are numerous approaches to loudspeaker design. From one to the next, speakers place varying demands in front of the amplifier. The thing is, a given amp can be optimized for just one—unless it has an Autoformer. The Autoformer in the Mc501s optimizes impedance and other electrical characteristics for the 2, 4 and 8-ohm speaker taps. (I believe this is why the Mc501s spec 500 watts output into any impedance..) This keeps your speaker happy regardless of its nominal impedance and the Mc501s running cool while performing to the max. You might be surprised to learn that these megawatt, high current monoblocks never got more than warm to the touch, and only on the transformer casing. The Autoformer, a big, black box visually identical to the transformer box, sits next to it. Until you know about it, you'd think there were two transformers on each chassis.

    I used the gold-plated 4-ohm binding posts with my Kharma speakers.

    The only thing I would change is the orientation of the power receptacle. It looks up, so your power cord has to look down. Most components plug in from the side, which is easier when you're dealing with massive, audiophile-grade PCs.

    Conclusion

    McIntosh Labs has forged a reputation over many decades for reliability and good sound done straight up, if not competing at SOTA levels. The current house sound continues to evolve within that vein. Based on the solid-state Mc501s and brief exposure to the tubed Mc2301 monoblocks, I'd venture many people will be shocked at where its arrived—it's a knockout.

    I can say with a fair degree of assurance you will not find better dynamic performance at anywhere near the Mc501s price point. The Macs are authoritative in this important capacity. And the rest of the audio scorecard is also very impressive. Without question, the Mc501 deserves high ranking among the contenders in the Class A stratum. The Mc501s will make 99% of audiophiles delirious.

    Going into this review I thought I had a clear upgrade path from my mbl 8011 AMs, another top contender at this price point. (Actually, the mbls are now $14.3K, well above the Mc501s at $11K.) But I soon found myself in a quandary.

    While I would have to give the Mc501s the nod as far as overall grades on the scorecard, what complicated things was their resolution of low-level details came in below expectations.

    The choice is yours: it depends on what you like to listen to and what you value most. If your taste runs to extroverted fare, you won't find better than the Mc501s. Conversely, if you prefer intimacy and subtlety, you will want the mbl 8011 AMs. Marshal Nack

    Mc501 mono amplifier
    Retail: $11,000 pair

    McIntosh Laboratory, Inc.
    Binghamton, NY
    web address: www.mcintoshlabs.com

    in excellent condition.

    CONTACT FOR AVAILABILITY AND PRICING.

    DISCLAIMER: In the instance that you order a specific item that we do not in fact have in stock you will be contacted and a full refund will be issued.


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