McIntosh Laboratories MC275 power amplifier Page 2

"It must have been this model," I offered, showing him my recently arrived McIntosh 275 Commemorative Edition, named in honor of Gordon Gow, the late president of McIntosh Laboratories.

"That's the one."

"Best amp you ever owned," I said. "Thirty years of hi-fi, Larsik, and I'm afraid it's all been downhill since your Mac 275."

Lars erupted with one of his strange Scandinavian snorts.

"I didn't know you spoke Danish, Lars," I continued innocently. "Well, here it is—a new Mac 275, with updated components and a few changes in circuitry. Balanced as well as single-ended inputs. But basically the same design. Same transformers."

Lars looked at the amp.

"The chickens have come home to roast," he mumbled.

"What?"

"The chickens have come home to roast."

"I think you mean, 'The chickens have come home to roost,' but I'm not sure we'll have the chance to find out (footnote 3). The Mac 275 is probably not up to driving your WATTs/Puppies. Besides, I'm not moving it. It stays here. Forever."

"Forever? You own it?"

"Absolutely. I bought it, sound unheard, when I heard they were going to make them again. So now I have to like it. Actually, I like it very much. I ordered a second one for The Child."

"Amy?"

"Yes, when she returns home from diplomatic service in Prague, she will have her own McIntosh 275. You should have kept yours."

But, as usual, I'm getting ahead of myself. There are some other tube amps in the mix this month—the Cary CAD 300B stereo amp and 300SE Monoblocks.

For starters, I want to commend Cary for not producing a raft of "me-too" ho-hummers. One reason that some audiophiles appear bummed and/or burned out with the hobby these days is the sheer number of ho-hum products. Nothing ho-hum about the Cary products I've auditioned.

Dennis Had of Cary is crazy about the 300B triode output tube, first developed as the 300A in 1931 by Western Electric (footnote 4). The 300B tube may be yust the thing for yaded ears—oops! I mean, of course, just the thing for jaded ears. (Gad—so much time spent with Lars. Did I tell you about the days when he used to own a pair of Yadis amps?)

Remember when I told you about the McIntosh MC275 amp a moment ago? (I'll go into more detail later.) That was a case of not much progress having been made since 1961. Well, listen to one of the Cary amps using the 300B tube and you might think there's been precious little progress since 1931.

No, I am not going to tell you that a Cary amp is for everyone. But I urge you to audition one—or, better yet, several. Make an appointment with a Cary dealer, preferably at an off-hour where you won't be whisked out of the listening room.

I think you'll find it a very interesting experience.

Of course, you have to find a speaker that these amplifiers will drive. Unfortunately, that's not so easy. Most speaker manufacturers insist on building insensitive, low-impedance speakers which are devils to drive.

First up was the stereo Cary CAD 300B, listing for $2995, using two 300B output tubes per side, and rated at 30Wpc. It's a triode amp, push-pull. I used it with a pair of ProAc Response 1s speakers. (The Martin-Logan Aerius speakers needed more power.)

Obviously, some magic was going on here—smooth, sweet, liquid, with a wonderful sense of spaciousness, and especially of air around the instruments. Here was a glimpse of hi-fi heaven. True, the CAD 300B is not the most dynamic amp around, and the bass is not quite as powerful as it is with most solid-state amps—30Wpc is, after all, 30Wpc. But the bass isn't bad. At least it's not soggy, the way it is with some tube amps rated at much higher power. Bass was tight, tuneful, well-defined.

The amp itself, built on a chrome-plated chassis, is an object of beauty. No wonder they love this equipment in the Orient. You can turn off the lights and venerate it. If you have a pair of reasonably sensitive speakers—say, a pair of Epos ES14s or Mo Iqbal's Monitor Audio Studio 20s—this may be your ticket to hi-fi paradise.

The best, however, was yet to come.

Most manufacturers would quit while they were ahead—Adcom, for instance, never sent me another product after I favorably reviewed the original GFA-535. Dennis Had, on the other hand, seemed eager to send me more. He shipped me a pair of single-ended 300SE mono amps, rated at a powerhouse 9Wpc or 12Wpc, depending on when you talk with Dennis.

That's right—30W not enough? All right, says Dennis...try 9Wpc! Okay, 12Wpc. I think it's officially 12. Suggested retail is $3495/pair. We're getting up there.

I am not the one to take you through a technical discussion, but with a push-pull amp, the current is pushed and pulled through the speakers by a pair of output devices. More power, less distortion. With a single-ended amp, there's just one device to do the pushing and the pulling. Single-ended is supposed to be a wildly impractical way to do things because you can't get much power from the output tubes this way, and the 300Bs are not the most powerful tubes to begin with. Incidentally, all amps using the 300B tube are direct-heated triode. That's the way the 300B tube works.

Forget the 9W or 12W for a moment. (I know that's hanging you up. Doesn't sound very macho.) What do the 300SE amps sound like?

In a word...glorious. Palpable presence in spades.

These amps are not up to driving Lars's WATTs/Puppies or, say, a pair of Martin-Logan CLS IIs. For that matter, they're not up to driving a pair of Martin-Logan Aeriuses. Even the ProAc Response 1s loudspeaker could have used a little more dynamic drive—more get-up-and-go. More oomph. But get these amps on the right speakers—maybe a horn-loaded speaker or one of Mohammed Iqbal's more efficient babies—and watch out. The sound can be devastatingly good. (I mean that literally—devastating to other amplifiers, tube or solid-state.)

First of all, there's truth of timbre. This is the first amplifier I've had in my system with which I can actually enjoy listening to string quartets on CDs for more than a half hour—or 15 minutes. I experienced no listener fatigue. No digititis. Quite the contrary—the only problem I had with the 300SE amps is that I didn't want to turn them off and go to bed. Marina was not pleased.

When I tell you that the 300SE amps were sweet, I don't mean sticky-sweet—I mean musically sweet, naturally sweet. Instrumental and vocal timbres seemed exactly and startlingly right. What's more, the amps were extended on top without going over the top. The 300SEs never sounded hard or strident.

Resolution was extraordinary, which only enhanced the sense of palpable presence—the illusion of "live" in my listening room. My daughter's boyfriend sat transfixed as I raised Willie Dixon, Billie Holiday, and Louis Armstrong from the dead. (Yes, that's the kind of amp it is—miraculous!)

Downside? Not much in the way of dynamic drive, as I said. However, once again, as with the CAD 300B, the bass with the 300SEs is reasonably tight and never soggy. So while there was nothing about the bass to stand up and applaud, there was also nothing to actively irritate. What I missed, not surprisingly, was balls. But truth of timbre, palpable presence, and extraordinary resolution of fine detail more than compensated.

I should also tell you that in the two months or so I had the CAD 300B and the CAD 300SEs I had not a moment's problem. No noises, no buzzes, no excessive transformer hum, no tube problems. Nothing but glorious music.

Then Dennis had (small "h") something else for me: a CAD 300SEE stereo amp, another single-ended job, this time a stereo unit putting out 20Wpc. Give or take, I suppose. It supplies a little more yuice than the 300SEs, as Larsik would say. Not that I'm complaining about the sound of the 12Wpc 300SEs. I have also yust received another pair of Quad ESL-63s, which might be the perfect match with the CAD 300SEE. Stay tuned.

Which Cary is to be Had, assuming you get Caryed away? (Heh-heh.) Fine as the push-pull CAD 300B was, the single-ended 300SE monoblocks were even better. More sweetness. More liquidity. More freedom from listening fatigue. Don't get the idea that the CAD 300B isn't liquid or that it produces fatigue. It's just that the single-ended amps give you a little more magic. Who knows—maybe you should hold out for the more expensive CAD 300SEE.

Meanwhile, you must go hear these 300B amps. The sound might make even Larsik think about trading in his WATTs/Puppies, or Mario might think about selling his B&W 801s.



Footnote 3: Perhaps Lars has been watching too many Wendy's commercials.

Footnote 4: The tube became the 300B in 1935. The number of the tube in Europe was the ST-4300.

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torturegarden's picture
My dream amp

I've lusted after one of these for many years. My lifelong goal is to one day have enough money to buy a McIntosh system.

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