McIntosh - For The Love Of Music - Book by Ken Kessler 2006


BOB’s Review Series - No 69 – McIntosh Book “for the love of music” by Ken Kessler 2006


Reviewing a book – sems like a daft idea, right? It’s just that this book contains such a wealth of information by those that were there when it all happened that I couldn’t resist the opportunity. The last time I reviewed a book was when I was still a Practising Architect and it was written for the Architects Journal, probably well over 25 years ago so I might be a bit rusty, but bear with me. Not so much a review it’s more like a look back at the dawn of McIntosh with some interesting facts about McIntosh Laboratories taken from this fascinating book compiled in 2006 by Ken Kessler. It’s a big book, both in terms of physical size and content and Ken must be congratulated for the getting to the actual people that made McIntosh what it is today, or well, what it was up to 2006. Much has changed since then at McIntosh and right across the audio world that is not covered here.

The book takes us on a McIntosh journey of almost 6 decades from 1947 to 2006 when it was published. Don’t therefore buy this book expecting to see pictures of their latest MA12000 integrated amplifier, MC2KW monoblocs or their MT10 turntable for example, they just didn’t exist back then.

I believe the book may now be out of print, but it can still be purchased if you look hard enough, but it’s not cheap, I’ve seen it on Amazon for £460 and on eBay for $199 USD plus postage from the States. But whether you are at the start of your McIntosh ownership or, like me and many others you are, or have been deep into the McIntosh rabbit hole then seeking out a copy should be high on your Christmas list to Santa this year.

My McIntosh venture all started when on holiday in the Maldives in November 2005. What better place to start down the McIntosh rabbit hole. The very small island resort I was on had no internet connection, no newspapers and no TV or radio yet somehow, standing on the end the small landing jetty for boats, looking out over the Indian ocean I was able to get a clear mobile phone connection. How was that even possible? Before leaving the UK I had a chance to call into KJ West One in New Cavendish Street where, in the window, they had a pair of trade in Mcintosh MA1201 monoblocs amps, the ones with the giant big blue meters. If you’ve read any of my previous reviews you will know I’m a sucker for monoblocs and so there I was standing on the end of the jetty a few days later, thousands of miles from London and on the phone to KJ West One ordering those very monoblocs. Not long after that memorable event my trip through the Mcintosh catalogue began and before long I had a matching preamp, SACD player, Tuner and DAC in my home system which I maintained for many years, well many for me anyway, probably no more than 5 or 6 years. It all worked perfectly except the MCD 201 SACD player which proved incapable of playing gapless CD’s. The dealer eventually changed it for another one, but it still wasn’t perfect, apparently something to do with the doner DVD transport they were using. Happily, todays McIntosh SACD players have overcome those early difficulties and work just fine. I don’t have many regrets selling used HI-Fi equipment but I do miss and regret selling that MR85 Tuner.

In writing and compiling this book Ken has used his knowledge of the industry and all those that support it, as well as his American roots to great effect and the book effectively tells its own story by letting those involved tell their own stories. Here are some of the interesting facts I found in the book.


McIntosh Labs was founded by Frank H Mcintosh and Gordon Gow in the late 1940’s, around 1947 when it was known as Scientific Laboratory and was located in Silver Spring MD. The business later changed names to McIntosh Engineering Laboratory and then to the simpler McIntosh Laboratory when it was incorporated in 1949. In 1951 they relocated to Binghampton NY where they remain today. Frank was always known affectionally by his staff as Mr. McIntosh, or just Mr. Mc and he remained the owner until retiring in 1977 when Gordon Gow became President. During the time that Gordon Gow and Mr Mc were in control the company they had to overcome many obstacles to become one of, if not the most well-known audio brand history has ever known. But because it all started so long ago there is a long story to tell that only a book like this can do in the detail that it deserves. Yet even today, in fact just this weekend customers came into our shop who have never heard of McIntosh and if they have then they have never actually seen any of their products in the flesh. That may seem remarkable to many of us audiophiles but until recently McIntosh remained a niche company, especially outside the USA. Today their products are widely, some would say too widely, available in the UK and are seen much more often in High Street shops, I’ll come back to this a bit later. Their independent success continued until Gordon Gow died in June 1989 at the age of 70 and Frank McIntosh just seven months later in January 1990 at the age of 84, after which the company was sold to Clarion of Japan.


The book describes the process of McIntosh being sold to Clarion in some detail and tells how Ron Fone became President from 1991 to 1995. Interestingly before being interviewed by McIntosh Ron attended an interview with Nakamichi who after too much expansion apparently believed they had lost their way and wanted to be more like McIntosh, smaller and more elitist. Then at his interview with McIntosh they told him they wanted to be more like Nakamichi, bigger and with a lot more dealers. Fortunately, Clarion had other ideas and wanted McIntosh to remain exactly as it was, smaller and more elitist but that didn’t last. Clarion is best known and remembered for its in-car entertainment business, and they really purchased McIntosh to be a brand leading ICE company with a leading audio brand as their flagship. Soon they pushed McIntosh in that direction. However, McIntosh didn’t find it that easy to develop in car entertainment and after many years of trying Clarion gave up and sold McIntosh. Eventually of course McIntosh were successful in developing their ICE business but not until after Clarion had moved on.

It was sold again in 2003 to D&M Holdings, also of Japan (Including Denon and Marantz) and long after this book was published it was sold again in 2012 to Fine Sounds SpA of Milan who purchased the McIntosh Group. In 2014 a management buyout from the Italian investment firm, Quadrivio Investment Group, the owners of Fine Sounds, led by their CEO and the President of McIntosh Labs purchased the Group. Since then, Fine Sounds Group from Italy was renamed McIntosh Group and relocated to New York. McIntosh Group was a holding company for the brands McIntosh and Sonus Faber together with Sumiko cartridges and various other Fine Sounds companies. In 2022 a Dallas based investment company; Highlander Partners acquired McIntosh Group.


There is so much of interest in this book for the audiophile, not just about McIntosh. Did you know for instance that back in the day frequency was referred to in cycles because the reference to Hz wasn’t yet common. Frequency range was therefore usually quoted as 20 cycles to 20,000 cycles. Those of you old enough to remember the 70’s and 80’s will know just how much audio equipment was purchased solely based on its specification and technical achievements rather than on its sound. You might think this is no longer relevant in these more enlightened days but just this weekend I had a customer listening to speakers who discounted one brand entirely on its published specification. He was particularly concerned about its published frequency performance which apparently showed a dip in the mid/upper frequency band which he had convinced himself he could hear. He probably thought I was daft when I said I never purchased or discounted any audio equipment based solely on specification but back in the day perhaps, like everyone else, I did.

In the 60’s and 70’s McIntosh and their competition prided themselves on having the best specified amplifiers out there meeting specs for output power, distortion and frequency response etc. Such was their confidence in their product that set about proving it to the American audiophiles by organising regular countrywide “Clinics” a in dealer showrooms. These regular Clinics would test any McIntosh equipment brought in by owners who wanted to know they were still performing to specification, but they would also test other manufacturers equipment that often showed just how much others didn’t meet their own specifications, especially for distortion and power output ratings. These Clinics run from February 1962 until December 1991 and were run by Dave O’Brian a McIntosh member of staff. All of this is explained in greater detail in this amazing book.

In the early days McIntosh, like many brands, experienced their fair share of failures, often due to valves (tubes) failing to meet specification and it was not uncommon for McIntosh to only sell newly released components locally to their hometown for the first few months making it much easier to organise returns and repairs until the bugs were ironed out. Not sure if you’d get away with that in today’s global marketplace.


Today McIntosh are as well known for their valve amplifiers as they are for their solid-state amps, and they extensively use valves in their preamps and SACD players but not so often in their power amps. But this was not always the case. McIntosh predate the invention of transistors available for commercial use by several decades and all their early amplifiers were entirely valve based. Due to reduced demand of valve-based amplifiers and the increasingly poor quality of mass-produced valves Mcintosh stopped making valve-based preamps because they found them to be too noisy compared to what could be achieved using the new transistors at the time. They continued making valve-based power amps until 1971 when they switched production entirely to solid-state. Their last valve-based power amp was the renowned and still sort after MC275. By 1978 RCA who was a leading valve manufacturer in America were reporting an 80% reduction in the sale of valves and decided to cease production. McIntosh then continued solely with solid state amplifiers, which they found could be made with less distortion, less noise and better reliability until, largely at the request of their Japanese dealers, they decided to venture back into valve-based amplifiers in late 1992 with the release of a modified limited edition MC275 power amp. In late 1999 they released the MC2000 all valve power amp, shortly followed by the C2200 valve preamp.


Almost anyone with any interest in audio equipment will know that McIntosh amplifiers powered the sound stage at Woodstock in 1969 but they also provided amps and speakers for many other events over the years starting with The Beatles at Shea Stadium in August 1965 playing to an audience of 56,000. Woodstock used 17 McIntosh MC3500 amps, an all-valve system generating 10,000 Watts but all in mono. Probably their most renowned stadium event was the so called “Wall of Sound” concert with Grateful Dead in 1974 at Cow Palace in San Francisco. The wall erected on stage behind the band comprised 28,000 Watts of McIntosh MC2300 amps and speakers by JBL. This massive “wall” comprised 11 Channels, 48 amplifiers and 641 drivers. Some event, how did the band survive the aural onslaught of all that power? McIntosh also provided amplification for Joan Baez in 1969 and The Rolling Stones the same year, both at Madison Square Gardens.


Long after this book was written and again under new management, this time since 2022, the Investment Company owners are doing exactly what Clarion refused to do initially and what Nakamichi did to their everlasting regret, they took McIntosh into new territory with many more dealers and a vastly expanded portfolio, saturating the audio world with products and many more high street dealers. Only time will tell whether this proves to be a good thing for McIntosh. In any event it will be interesting to see how McIntosh develop going forward and where the new age of streaming music takes them. With all their 75 years of history I can’t see them being anything other than a dominant force in the audio world for a long time to come but hopefully not spread too thin.

This fine book could be regarded as a coffee table book but it’s so much more than that, but only if you take the time to read it as I have, page by page and word by word and don’t just look at the pictures. I thoroughly recommend it for all audio enthusiasts, not just the McIntosh ‘Tifosi’.

March 2024

Bob – Team Reference Audio