MCINTOSH MC501

MJ11.05.2011

Power amplifiers

I felt like a heretic always when I was switching off the MC501's meters. As if the amplifier was saying „What! Are you sane? Look, I am a McIntosh, I have to cast the blue light. If you switch it off I will lose a part of of my charm!" I resist this lament and deactivated the meters during critical listening. Still, green logotypes continue shining into the dark...

 

Function and form

95%
Ease of use
70%
Sound
96%
Appearance

The MC-501 is a solid-state amplifier that delivers 1x500W, irrespective of the load. The MC-501, alike other McIntosh's amplifiers, uses their proprietary Output Autoformer, which matches speaker impedance levels to the amplifier circuits; thus the amp always operates into optimum load. The MC-501's fully balanced quad-differential circuits boast of eliminating most harmonic and intermodulation distortion that is specified as 0.005 percent at rated power.

The MC-501s have the iconic look of McIntosh, with black, chrome, blue-green illumination and oversized VU meters. The amp looks very high-end and very identifiable - one of the reasons why the brand has so many devotees. There are 3 sets of speaker terminals (they differ by load) and an IEC socket firing upwards, which is quite unusual. The connectivity includes RCA and XLR standards.

Bass management

Weight
88
Slam
89
Articulation
82

Bass of the MC501 is muscular and favours its weight to its articulation. However, it provides springy transient attack which improves the articulation deficit - some other power amplifiers sound lazy in comparison. The weighty presentation enhances especially listening in home theater applications - no wonder I liked the MC501 the most with soundtracks and classical music.

Clarity & delicacy

Detail
86
Air
86
Transparency
80

As mentioned, the transients - including those percussive - were fast and controlled, with good timing.  Though I had a feeling that they are rounded a bit, it presented no issue with any music. The rolling canvas in Hector Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique, that imitates the wind sweeping the scaffolds, is quite a delicate and complicated sound and not easy to reproduce if its texture should be preserved. Through the pair of the MC501s I could savour every little detail of it.

Tonal accuracy

Timbre
78
Dynamics
78
Temporal resolution
76

The late 90's were in the sign of combinations. There were excellent preamplifiers of one brand and excellent power amplfiers of other brand that, combined, gave better result than a one-brand combination. Perhaps this was due to specialization of manufacturers. Only later the audio brands extended their engineering capabilities and started to apply a system approach when the system was optimally voiced to synergy. In McIntosh they unfortunately follow the former path. For this review I had the partnering set of hybrid C500 control center available plus the McIntosh's MVP871 multiplayer. Whatever mode I tried I always got the best results when the MC501s were connected to non-McIntosh preamp or fed directly by a non-McIntosh source component. One of the best combinations I came across was when the MC501s were partnered with BMC Audio's BD CD1 and DAC1 front ends - the music was just pouring out of speakers.

Spatial resolution

Holography
90
Soundstage width
90
Soundstage depth
88

In my opinion the MC501s are a good buy. The amplifiers provide mature sound, solid bass, natural mids and clean highs. However, I recommend auditioning before the buy: the presentation of the McIntosh is spectacular in its own way and may not be a good fit for your taste or for your speakers.

Price as reviewed:300 000,- Kč

Recommended resellers

PP HiFi Studio, Otrokovice, tel. +420 603 581 305

Associated components

  • Sources: McIntosh MVP871, BMC BD CD1 a DAC1
  • Amplifiers: McIntosh C500C Controller and C500P & C500T preamplifiers
  • Interconnects and speaker cables: Rapport, Luxman
  • Loudspeakers: Cabasse Karissima, Usher CP-8571 Diamond DMD
  • Power conditioning: Audioquest NRG-2, WSS N2 Power G

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