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McIntosh MC275 Stereo Power Amplifier Reviewed


* May 5, 2009



McIntosh Laboratories is one of those select companies that have achieved legendary status among audiophiles and discerning listeners. Established in 1949, McIntosh was one of the founders of the high-fidelity audio industry, along with companies like Marantz, Harman Kardon, Fisher, H. H. Scott, Quad, Garrard, Acoustic Research, Tannoy and others. From the beginning, McIntosh components were designed and built to extremely high standards.

The MC275 vacuum tube stereo power amplifier exemplifies the McIntosh design philosophy. It was originally introduced in 1961 and quickly established itself as one of the standard-setting amplifiers of the time. The original version was discontinued in 1970. In 1991, the Gordon Gow commemorative limited edition was introduced as a tribute to the late McIntosh president. After the first re-issue, the MC275 has come and gone over the years with various iterations in circuitry, control layout and appearance, and is now back in production.

The MC275 (suggested retail price: $4,500) is a vacuum tube amplifier that delivers 75 watts per channel into eight, four or two ohms, or 150 watts in bridged mono mode, via four KT-88 power tubes. The MC275 offers RCA and XLR balanced inputs, gold-plated screw-type speaker terminals, a stereo/mono mode switch and an on/off switch. A key element of the MC275's performance is its Unity Coupled Circuit transformer design. Without getting too technical, this topology uses three transformer windings (two primaries and a secondary) instead of the usual two (primary and secondary). The two primary windings are wound together closely, a design claimed to reduce distortion and noise across the entire frequency range. Made in the good old USA in Binghamton, New York, the MC275's build quality is extremely high, with a stainless steel chassis, ceramic tube sockets, gold-plated screw-type input jacks and heavy transformers that make up the bulk of the amplifier's hefty 67-pound weight. Its appearance is delightfully retro (although it must have been cutting-edge in 1961), thanks to its polished stainless steel-and-matte black styling, Old English McIntosh logo font and the soothing glow of its vacuum tubes visible from inside the perforated black tube cage.

The MC275's sound is richly detailed and inviting, with absolutely no trace of harshness or stridency. Although it does not deliver state-of-the-art resolution and detail, especially in the upper midrange and high frequencies, the amplifier offers an expansive soundstage with excellent imaging, and has a smooth tonal balance from bass to treble. The MC275 sounds powerful and dynamic, although it can be bested in low-frequency authority and articulation by other high-end solid state and other vacuum tube amplifiers.

High Points
• The MC275 combines classic and contemporary amplifier design attributes to remain a sonic benchmark after more than 45 years.
• The amplifier delivers superb sound quality - smooth, richly textured, natural and evenly balanced.
• The MC275 is built to extremely high standards and made in the United States, which is becoming more and more rare these days.
• The amplifier appearance is classic '60s retro hi-fi-cool. For those who love the McIntosh look, they will love the MC275.
• Standard, balanced RCA audio inputs are provided.

Low Points
• It's a tube amp, so you will have to deal with tube replacement at some point, which obviously isn't a consideration with solid state amplifiers. Solid state amps also don't sound like tubes, but you knew that already, didn't you?
• The bass isn't as controlled or tight as some other solid state and high-end tube amplifiers can deliver.
• 75 watts per channel may not be enough for inefficient or hard-to-drive loudspeakers, especially for listening at louder volumes.
• Earlier versions feature terminal strip-type speaker connectors, which don't accept larger spade lugs or banana plugs.

Conclusion
The McIntosh MC275 is a pleasure to listen to - sweet and involving, with a smooth, natural presentation that encourages listening to favorite music for hours on end. Although other amplifiers - for example, high-frequency resolution or the dynamic capability of an amplifier with higher power output - may best the MC275 in a particular sonic area, its overall presentation is unfailingly musical, natural and inviting.
 
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