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  • Writer's pictureJim Cathey

What makes a unique setup?

Updated: Apr 16, 2021

Every setup whether it’s a studio or a home entertainment is unique. I am sharing what I have put together for my 2 channel stereo set-up at my San Diego home. A lot of this has come through trial and error and of course through my experiences with my earlier home studio set up in Japan and Taiwan.

A 2-channel stereo with a vintage heart and soul from the 1960s surrounded by current-day technologies. The vintage is McIntosh 1960s MC275 amps, 4 of them in total with 2 horizontally bi-amped and fed by a McIntosh 1960s C22 Preamp. These are historical products not only talked about today but also re-introduced in later years. These vintage MC275s and C22 products have no printed circuit boards or solid-state electronics. They are handcrafted and loaded with resistors and capacitors constructed with point-to-point wiring and fitted with 50 select vacuum tubes; of which 16 are power tubes and the balance of 34 signal tubes calibrated to within 3%.

The MC275 amps leverage the Gold Lion KT88 tubes manufactured in Russia which is a re-introduction of the original Genalex KT88’s made in the UK. Yet these newer KT88’s have faster push-pull performance and a higher roll-off frequency, making them the only re-issued non-vintage tube I use. The signal tubes are all 1950/60’s starting with the lead tube, 12AX7 from Amprex, which is the Bugle Boy long plate “D” getter from Haarlem, Netherlands. This tube is hard to find, however, they sit in the key 1st position of the MC275 amps and provide a warm rich tone that in my opinion is 2nd to none. Following that lead tube from Ulm Germany are the Telefunken ECC801S and ECC802S tubes originally binned for military and medical applications. These tubes have extremely low microphonics and sharp detail, making them a perfect match to support and follow the 12AX7 Bugle Boy. And the final tube is also from the 1960s from RCA, the 12BH7 black long plate.

The 4 MC275s have split duties. 2 units are in monoblock mode each dedicated and connected to the LF speakers of the left and right speakers. The 3rd amp is in Twin Amp mode dedicated to the mid-range of each speaker with the final amp is also in Twin Amp mode dedicated to the high range of each speaker and super-tweeter. This combination is strong enough to drive the ATC speakers, providing the performance one would expect from these studio monitors.

The McIntosh C22 Pre-amplifier has 6 tubes, all of them not the same, as one would expect. 3 tubes are the famed Telefunken ECC803S and 3 tubes are again the Amprex Bugle Boy 12AX7 long plate “D” getter. The sharper and detailed 803S is dedicated to the analog sources whereas the Bugle Boy 12AX7 is paired to the digital inputs. This combination provides for the typical hard and often-cold performance of digital to be warmed up with the Bugle Boy. The analog vinyl sources may need to be sharpened up and the ECC803S is the right tube for that. It does so without forcing the performance to be cold or harsh.

To put all this together has taken plenty of trial and error with countless tubes and vintages, but the real magic was created by a network of audiophiles around the world, that stretched from Australia through Taiwan, Japan, Korea, across western and eastern Europe and of course North America. I have had a unique enriching experience by meeting many of them in person and receiving opinions online and through calls with folks, I have never met. I thank them all for their knowledge and willingness to share their experience.


1) You can check-out detailed specifications of my home studio setup here

2) Also check out this blog for loads of other resources

3) You can download the manual for McIntosh MC275

Download PDF • 316KB

4) You can download the manual for McIntosh C22 Preamplifier

Download PDF • 826KB


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