The 2004 Products of the Year Amplification Component

2004 Amplification Component
McIntosh MC501 monoblock power amplifier (review) ($8200/pair; reviewed by Paul Bolin, Vol.27 No.8, August 2004)
Runners-Up (in alphabetical order):
Balanced Audio Technology VK-51SE preamplifier (review) ($8500; reviewed by Paul Bolin, Vol.26 No.11 & Vol.27 No.4, November 2003 & April 2004)
Bel Canto Pre6 multichannel preamplifier (review) ($3990; reviewed by Kalman Rubinson, Vol.26 No.12, December 2003)
EAR 890 power amplifier (review) ($5495; reviewed by Art Dudley, Vol.27 No.4, April 2004)
Halcro dm38 power amplifier (review) ($18,790; reviewed by John Atkinson, Vol.27 No.10, October 2004)
Lamm ML2.1 monoblock power amplifier (review) ($29,290/pair; reviewed by Art Dudley, Vol.27 No.10, October 2004)
McIntosh MC275 power amplifier ($3500; reviewed by Sam Tellig, Vol.27 No.7, July 2004)
Musical Fidelity Tri-Vista kW power amplifier (review) ($27,995; reviewed by Michael Fremer, Vol.27 No.1, January 2004)
Pass Labs XA160 monoblock power amplifier (review) ($18,000/pair; reviewed by Michael Fremer, Vol.26 No.11, November 2003)

This splendid pack of contenders ran a very tight race, but in the end, the 500W (720W at actual clipping into 8 ohms) McIntosh MC501 won by a nose. With all that power, and rated to deliver more than 100 amperes of output current, the MC501 was completely relaxed without sacrificing dynamic nuance or retrieval of detail, and was always in control without getting in the way of the music.

Ease of use and the simplicity of a traditional, straightforward design won high grades from our writers. Though some might argue that the brawny Mac might not quite retrieve those minute degrees of resolution and palpability that the much more expensive Halcro and Lamm amps find, the MC501 had Paul Bolin falling in love all over again: "Not only was the beautiful girl I had the terrible crush on way back when more beautiful than ever, she was successful, available, and asked me out to dinner."

Our August cover hailed the MC501 as "Big Sound, Bigger Value," and PB agreed: "At their price of $8200/pair, they're untouchable, and only a few amps at any price offer such a rewarding combination of power, reputation, build quality, and overall sonic acumen."