McIntosh MC 275 Commemorative power amplifier

The McIntosh MC 275 power amplifier has been born yet again. It's the Count Dracula of power amps. It refuses to stay dead. Introduced in 1961, the Mac 275, in its original hardwired edition, was produced until 1970. This was the amp I desired while in college but couldn't afford. I remember the Mac 275 fondly—rather like girlfriends from my college years.

The MC 275 sold for $444—"Fair Trade minimum retail price," according to a Mac price list effective December 15, 1963. (Thank you, Ron Cornelius, product manager and field training manager of McIntosh Laboratory.) That was real dough back then. A new Chevy, stripped, could be had for $2000—a loaded Impala went for $2600.

The local McIntosh dealer was a heck of a guy. He knew that, as a penniless student, I couldn't afford to buy, but he invited me to listen anyway—with the unspoken rule that I didn't get in the way of paying customers. After all, I was local. After graduation, I might stay in the area and buy something. I attended a McIntosh clinic and met the "boys from Binghamton," one of whom might have been Sidney Corderman, designer of the MC 275.

Sidney is still very much around, although he's no longer daily active with the company. I heard a Sidney Corderman story recently. Many years ago, he had an architect design a house to be built in the Binghamton area. A while ago, when Sidney retired full-time to Maine, he had the same house built again—with a few changes to meet current codes. This strikes me as an excellent idea for someone approaching the age of 80. He'll never have to worry where something is. If I liked my house more, I'd clone it, too.

Ten years after graduation, I was able to scrape up the change for some hi-fi. By then, the Mac 275 had receded into history, rather like one of those old girlfriends whose marriages I followed in the newspapers. Lost possibilities.

Anyway, audio gurus told me I didn't want an MC 275. Don't even buy one used. At that time, before the collecting craze hit, used Mac tube amps went for a song. Tubes were obsolete. Tube factories were closing down in the US, Canada, Britain, and Western Europe. McIntosh was said to be running out of spares. It was true.

The 1970s were dark days for tubes, and for hi-fi generally. Don't forget: the possibility of buying tubes from Russia or China didn't exist. Maybe tubes could be had from Hungary, Czechoslovakia, or Yugoslavia.

Besides, who was I to question the wisdom of Julian Hirsch, Len Feldman, or our own J. Gordon Holt, all of whom embraced solid-state? Who was I to disagree with manufacturers like Quad, Marantz, and—yes—McIntosh?

I finally arrived at decent sound, in the form of an Advent 300 receiver and a Thorens TD-160C turntable. Unfortunately, the Advent receiver, with 15Wpc, really couldn't drive the large Advent speakers. (The Advent 300 was superb with original Quad speakers. And fabulous with Klipschorns.) What I should have done is use the Advent as a tuner-preamp and look for a used MC 275.

The original MC 275 was a "stereo power house," according to a Mac brochure of the time—a copy of which I have, thanks to Mac's Ron Cornelius. "Here are two 75 watt amplifiers on one compact chassis," the literature enthused. "The MC 275 is for the person who wants the finest in sound reproduction. Every listening situation is handled with ease. Never is the amplifier straining."

This is how the MC 275 got its name: 2 times 75Wpc. In 1961, when the MC 275 was introduced, Mac was still producing mono amps, such as the MC 75. Other Mac tube amps had the magic too; but clearly, the frontrunner was the MC 275.

If 75Wpc wasn't enough, you could buy two MC 275s, throw a switch, and instantly convert each amp to mono for an almost unheard-of 150Wpc into 2, 4, 8, 16, or 32 ohms. Imagine! 32 ohms. Input sensitivity varied, via a pair of level controls, from 0.5V to 30V. Preamps then varied, too.

In 1963—two years into the MC 275—McIntosh affirmed that even a mere 40Wpc, as output by the MC 240, was enough "to drive all but the most inefficient loudspeakers."

Tube power was pricey, and still is. Solid-state power became so cheap that some manufacturers did an Antony Michaelson—they produced 200W and 300W behemoth receivers. Powerful amps begat insensitive speakers and vice versa. It was like building freeways, which simply encourage more cars.

The MC 275 had/has an array of useful features, including some that now seem quirky or at least quaint. You could reconfigure from stereo to mono with a flick of a switch. (Better turn the amp(s) off!) The amp had those level controls, as mentioned, to vary the input sensitivity. The MC 275 used solid-state bridge rectification, McIntosh being one of the first manufacturers to do so.

Sonically, the MC 275 had its own signature—although, to this day, McIntosh swears up and down that its amplifiers don't. The original MC 275 sounded powerful, authoritative in the bass, and ever so alive—without seeming bright. The MC 275 had a way of making most other amplifiers of the time sound lifeless, dull, and sluggish—not to mention wrong. This is why the amplifier is still around, and not much changed, after 43 years.

McIntosh is still located at 2 Chambers Street, Binghamton, New York. Tooling and machinery for the original MC 275 are being used to produce the latest version. I don't want to call this latest version a "replica." It's real.

Ron Cornelius suggested that I review it.

"The MC 275 again?" I inquired.

"You'll love it," he said. "After all, it was you, among others, who badgered McIntosh to get back into tubes."

It's a new new MC 275, Ron assured me.

The MC 275 Commemorative came out in 1993 in a "limited edition" in honor of the late Gordon Gow, longtime president of McIntosh Laboratory. You can tell the MC 275 Commemorative by the plaque on the front. Frank McIntosh may have developed the McIntosh circuit, with a very young Sidney Corderman looking on. Gordon Gow looked on, too, and he, more than anyone, built the company.

McIntosh Laboratory
2 Chambers Street
Binghamton, NY 13903-2699
(800) 538-6576