McIntosh MC2102 power amplifier

"Larry—if I'd told you 10 years ago that McIntosh would be heavily into tubes in the 21st century, what would you have said?"

"I'd have said you were crazy."

I was talking with Larry Fish, McIntosh Laboratory's vice president of product planning. Larry's a solid-state man himself: more watts for the dollar, lower measured distortion. It's been fun watching him warm to tubes.

McIntosh Lab's first foray back into tube-amp production was the reissue of the MC275 power amplifier, in 1995. (The original version was produced from 1961 to 1973.) The reissue was Sidney A. Corderman's homage to the late Gordon Gow, company co-founder and president of McIntosh from 1977 to 1989. Also in 1995, McIntosh revived the C22, last of the company's tube preamplifiers.

A couple of years into the MC275's revival, I asked Fish if the company might come out with some new tube gear. Only, he told me, if they found a source of output tubes—6550s or KT88s—whose measurements were as good as those used 30 and 40 years ago.

"I've got Svetlana 6550s in my own Mac 275 reissue. Got them straight from one of the Russkies—Vladimir somebody-or-other. They look well-made and they sound good."

McIntosh got in some of the Svetlana tubes and found they were among the best they had ever measured. Naturally, they started using them in the MC275 reissue. They then asked Svetlana if they could produce KT88 output tubes. The answer from St. Petersburg was "Da, kanyechna." Yes, of course.

That clinched it. In 1999, to mark the company's 50th anniversary, McIntosh gave Corderman the go-ahead to design an entirely new tube amp—not a reissue. That amp was the MC2000 Commemorative Edition, and if you want one, you can't have one.

Not from McIntosh, anyway. McIntosh took orders for 559 MC2000s before the announced cutoff date for orders, and made exactly that number—not one more. More than half of them went overseas, the vast majority of these being snapped up by collectors in Asia. At $15,000 each.

The MC2000 was a huge amp: 135 lbs, with a massive power supply and two power-supply transformers. The titanium-clad chassis was a "killer," according to Larry. Titanium has the look of gold but is more durable as well as being very much lighter in weight. More expensive, too.

But by December 2000, when Stereophile named the MC2000 its "Amplification Component of the Year," any units that had been on dealers' shelves were long gone.

"We were amazed at how many we sold," Larry told me.

I wasn't. Nor, I suspect, was Sidney A. Corderman, who hadn't come out of retirement to design new solid-state stuff. He must be a tube guy at heart.

"No one around here knows tubes like Sidney," said Larry.

It's amazing when you think about it. Corderman joined the company in 1949, when Frank McIntosh and Gordon Gow founded it. His 52-year career with McIntosh is probably the longest association of any individual with any one company in the industry—except for Paul Klipsch's nearly six decades with the company that bears his name.

Sidney Corderman is a living link to McIntosh's origins. He was there when Frank McIntosh and Gordon Gow invented the unity-coupled output circuit—the famous circuit that put the company on the map.

Now Corderman has designed yet another new tube amp—a Son of Big Mac. The MC2102 stereo power amp is the first in a new series that will stay in production for as long as enough people continue to buy them. It will be followed later this year by the C2200, McIntosh's first tubed preamp since the C2, which was in production from 1965 to 1968.

Exciting news—especially when you consider that this new Mac tube gear will be keenly priced, to compete against anything else on the high-end market. The MC2102 retails for $6000, less than half the price of the MC2000.

"Sidney built this amp himself," said Larry when he delivered me the first MC2102. "It's the first one."

I treated it with kid gloves.

Cloth gloves, actually—the white ones that McIntosh provides for handling the amp's tubes. You don't want to get fingerprints on the tubes, or on the stainless-steel chassis. As I inserted each tube in its socket, I felt myself in the presence of history, just as I had with the MC2000 Millennium: 50 years of tube-amp tradition.

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