The Connecticut Audio Society

Visits

Audio Classics and McIntosh


 

Visit us at http://www.ctaudio.org

 

On Friday, September 14th, 2007 members of the Connecticut Audio Society (CAS) visited both Audio Classics and McIntosh in central NY state.  As an added treat, Richard Modafferi, world famous (but very modest) audio engineer, invited to his home afterward for a tour and listening session.

Special thanks to Steve Rowell, President of Audio Classics, for generously offering to host as well as set up the McIntosh tour for our group.  We could not have imagined a more gracious host -  Steve allowed us to complete access to all his facilites and staff.  He also provided us a great lunch.  Thanks also to longtime CAS member Charlie King (who now lives in central NY) for organizing and setting up the meeting from the CAS side.

This note from Charlie King 9/21/07:

MacIntosh appears to be the second oldest (behind Klipsch), continuously operating, US, Hi Fi company.  It was first located in Silver Spring Md. and moved to Binghampton in 1951. The company relocated to its present Chambers St. location in 1957, so we visited it during its 60th birthday party!  

 

Links:

Audio Classics

McIntosh

Richard Modafferi

Disclaimer:  I took these photos and the descriptions are my recollection from our visits.  If you note any errors or omissions, please email me and I'll make any required corrections ASAP.  Click here to email me.

Mike.

Note:  By double clicking on any of these photos, you'll get the hi-rez verion to see more detail.

Audio Classics Tour

When we arrived at Audio Classics, we were greeted by Steve Rowell, who immediately started introducing us to his staff and giving us a look around.  The serious look here is an anomaly - except for this photo, he was smiling all day. He has a pretty good job!

 

Display case in the front entrance, with collectable equipment, including some rare Mac gear and a REL tuner (pre-Precedent).

One of the first people we met, and who spent the day with us, was renowned designer Richard Modafferi.

Richard, shown here with CAS member Don Scott.  Richard is an avid athlete at 70, including bicycling and running.  He showed up this morning in his running outfit.  As you may know, Richard designed the McIntosh MR77 and 78 tuners, the infinite slope crossover, the Joseph Audio speakers, and currently acts as an independant consultant to Audio Classics.  Don Scott, as you may recall, is a tuner guru as well, having been the Stereophile tuner reviewer for many years.

 

The Audio Classics facility is very large, with an open area near the front containing the retail/showroom area.  On the right is a large display of guitars, with another guitar showroom to the right.

 

Customer autographs adorn several of the doors at Audio Classics, this one to the guitar showroom.  This guitar section will make CAS member Andy Penella especially sorry he couldn't make this meeting.

 

To the left off the main entrance are rows of racks of refurbished equipment for sale - many McIntosh pieces, but many other brands as well.

 

Another shot of the same display area, to the left of the previous photo, showing more racks of equipment.

 

Located off the main display area are two sound rooms, loaded with equipment.  This room, as you can see, is mostly McIntosh, including the MC2KW 2,000 watt three chassis monoblock amplifiers, one visible in the far right, and a pair of Klipschorns in the far corners.

 

The second listening room, with part of a Wilson Audio WAMM speakers ($225,000 new), plus a complete home theater setup.

 

A closer look at the WAMM primary speaker.

 

Outside of that room was the rest of the WAMM system.  CAS member Werner Frohn next to one of the WAMM subwoofers.  For perspective, Werner is 6'3" tall.

Steve was also kind enough to give us a behind the scenes look at Audio Classics...

 

Test area for incoming equipment.  All incoming equipment is tested here, but repairs and upgrades are usually done off-site, including many by Richard Modafferi.

 

One of many storage areas, this one containing wooden cabinetry, mostly for McIntosh and Marantz gear.

 

Steve showing us their large collection of replacement drivers.

 

In one storage area, Steve pointed out a huge new, unopened crate of Klipshorn 60th anniversary editions, which they don't yet have room to display.  The inventory has expanded so there is now equipment everywhere.  The building once had an indoor loading dock, now used for more equipment storage.

 

The "Transformer Room" (actually a large closet, down a hall, around a corner...), filled with all types and sizes of transformers.

 

 Some of the Audio Classics tube inventory, photo thanks to CAS member Brad Oatley.

At around noon, the Audio Classics van pulled up to the building, nearly full of pizza and wings.  As a now hungry mob, we couldn't ask for anything better!

One of two buffet lunch areas set up for us!  Thanks again to Steve for all great the food.

Next it was off to McIntosh, just a few miles down the road.

McIntosh Factory Tour

View of the McIntosh building from the parking lot.  Note the front windows are tinted blue to carry over the color theme from their equipment.

 

Our tour started with parts sorting.  Once parts are pulled from inventory storage, they are checked and placed in round carousels, sorted by product.  When the assembly staff start on a specific product, they simply pull the carousels for that product off the racks and they're ready for assembly.

An automatic parts inserter machine, used to automatically populate printed circuit boards with parts.  There are two of these machines, one for radial (mostly resistors) and one for axial (mostly caps) parts.

Rear view of the auto inserter.  These parts bins feed the machine with the 100 most widely used parts on their products.  Larger and less frequently used parts are manually assembled onto the boards later.

 

One of our tour guides, Barb Fisher, next to the solder bath machine.  Barb is a production manager with 17 years experience at McIntosh, and was very gracious about answering our one billion questions during the tour.  The completed circuit boards flow from left to right thru this machine, where they are given a flux wash and then run thru a solder bath, effectively soldering all components to the board. 

After the solder bath, the boards are cleaned in a conventional commercial dishwasher.

 

Post solder bath inspection, where any imperfect connections are repaired, and any long leads trimmed short.

This work area shows larger parts being added to the circuit boards.  You can see the carousel of parts on the workbench.

 

One of many test stations.  This one is running a full set of tests on a completed amplifier, shown here upside down on the right.  These tests are all computer driven, with prompts for the operator to change leads, etc as needed.  Directly behind the amp is a resistive load box rated at 1,000 watts at 8 ohms.  We also saw (but I didn't get a good photo) test stations for individual circuit boards, were connections are made to the board via spring loaded "pogo" connectors, and various parameters are tested, including power supply voltages, etc.   There are custom testing jigs and automated test scripts for each circuit board they make, so they can test each board as a subassembly.  Each of the production staff we talked to were very well versed in what they were doing and quite happy to explain things to us.

 

Completed units awaiting one more test of lights and controls plus cosmetic inspection before packaging.

Note the small quantities of units being produced in each run, as seen in the photos.  The factory produces to order, and although they make approximately 1,000 units each month, that is spread over a couple dozen models.  Consequently, many models are only produced in small quantities in any given month.

More units, partially packed.  The large amplifiers are bolted to wooden frames before packaging to protect them in shipping, and all units are boxed in double boxes with thick foam cushioning between the boxes.

 

Next stop: the speaker production section.  This is also not a production line per se, but like the electronics, speakers are hand built in small batches.

Mid-Tweeter panel for the XRT2K speaker, partially assembled.  Thats 64 midranges and 40 tweeter in line arrays per side.  Woofer cabinets house six 12" woofers per channel. 

 

Some woofers being unboxed.

 

XRT2K woofer cabinet frames awaiting assembly.

 

The XRT2K woofer frames partially assembled with aluminum sides, with part of the extensive crossover just visible at the bottom.

 

Completed XRT2K woofer system - two base units (one facing away from us) and two upper units (with the curved tops) that mount atop the bases to create a six woofers per channel array.

We also saw several other areas (its a big facility) for which I have no photos.  There was a sophisticated front panel construction and assembly facility, including in-house silkscreening.  The Customer Service area has units in for repair and a huge supply of spare parts.  The Machine Shop is where the metalwork for the chassis are created in house.  The Paint Shop is where all the painting and powdercoating of parts takes place.  The transformer winding section does just what you'd expect, except thay have a huge heated tank of potting compound which is used to pot the transformers.  As yet another helpful employee was demonstrating the potting process for us, Charlie King quipped "I'd like chocolate".  The process did look a lot like a soft serve ice cream dispenser at work. 

Overall, we were amazed at at the extent of the work is done in-house, virtually nothing appeared to be subcontracted out. 

Last stop: the Demo Room

As our final stop, we got a chance to hear a number of impressive audio and video selections, including Blu-ray, via the McIntosh demo system.   The demo room is very large (I'm guessing 35 or 40 seats), with stadium seating and top of the line Mcintosh gear all around.

The rear wall consist of a huge bank of McIntosh electronics.

Overhead, a Mcintosh MDLP1 HD video projector, with special lens.

 

In each front corner, an XRT2K speaker system and MC2KW monoblock amplifier.

 

The CAS travelling contingent in the McIntosh demo room, with Steve Rowell standing at the rear.

Then it was off to visit Richard at his home.

NEW 9/16/07: Additional tour photos thanks to Brad Oatley:

Waterjet machine used to cut faceplates (and other parts?).

 

Display board showing the large number of steps to assemble a faceplate (6 for the example on the left, 10 steps for the faceplate on the right).

 

Transformer winding section.  Completed transformers in front, wire on reels to the rear.

9/20/07: Additional tour photos thanks to CAS member Mark Stoddard:

Potting a transformer - you can see the potting compound flowing into the transformer case.

The customer service area.  Hidden behind all the storage are the repair workbenches.

Our other tour guide, Chuck Hinton, in the Anechoic chamber (non-reverberant) for loudspeaker testing.

 

Richard Modafferi Home Visit 

Richard indicated he lived on high ground atop a mountain, and he wasn't kidding - right next to his property is a broadcast tower.  The distance from that tower to his antenna is only 140 feet, so he uses it to test adjacent channel selectivity.

Richard's FM antenna.  Who'd have guessed he's have a sophicated antenna setup?

 

Richard describing his listening system.  The primary speakers are Joseph Audio Pearls (which he designed), the amp is a custom tube amp on the lower right (with the open lid), the preamp is a custom two chassis tube unit (the white boxes to the right of Richard), his CD player is a Magnavox CDB-650, and his turntable is a Panasonic SP-10 with an SME arm.  He indicated only about 100 of these turntables made it to the United States.  The tuners include a couple of MR-78s and a Marantz 10b.

When listening to the MR-78 as a source, we had the pleasure of listening to a system where the entire signal chain was designed by Richard!

 

Richard's custom power amp, 50W per side, four EL34s per channel with custom output transformers.

 

Richards' custom tube preamp, control unit at the top and power supply at the bottom.  Magnavox CDB-650 CD player between.

 

A peek at part of Richard's workbench.  Behind this view is a battery of computers and more test equipment.  In fact, there is test equipment scattered throughout the listening area as well.

New Photos added 9/16/07:

This is the very first MR-78 tuner, assembled by Richard personally at McIntosh as the prototype.

 

This is the original RIMO tuner (first 2 letters of Richard's first and last names) that Richard designed and built for his Master's thesis.  It was the first to employ the RIMO Filter circuit designed by Richard and later used in the MR77/78.  Coincidentally, Richard had taken this tuner out of storage recently to listen to it, and found it still works fine.  This is a link to his thesis:

http://library1.njit.edu/etd/1960s/1965/njit-etd1965-001/njit-etd1965-001.html

Another photograph of this tuner, taken in 1965, is on page 49 of Richard's thesis.

Here is another link to an article Richard wrote for Audio Magazine in 1979 describing the RIMO filter:

http://fmtunerinfo.com/RimoFilter.pdf

It also contains a photo of this famous tuner!

-----------------------

Conclusion

We had a bit of a drive from Connecticut, but any of the three sites we visited would have made it worthwhile.  Again a special thanks to all our hosts and to Steve Rowell for setting it all up.

Mike.

__________________________________________________________________________

NEW, added 9/17/07:

Some additional recollections from the tour from CAS member Barry Berkiwitz:

Some tidbits:
 
1- When Mac units are repaired at Audio Classics very few tubes in tuners or preamps are replaced, even those 30 and 40 years old - most are within spec.
 
2- Most resistors and small capacitors are replaced.  Most poer supply electrolytics (especially those originally sourced from Philips) are left in because they are still good.  "Bumble Bee's (tubular Sprague capacitors) are all replaced because their performance measurably (and audibly) declines with increasing temperature (a problem with the electrolyte used).
 
3- Most other parts & components can be replaced with new ones if required.
 
4- Almost any transformer (McIintosh or non-Mac) can be repaired or replaced with a new one.  They have a U.S. source that can restore the original or manufacture a new one to original spec.
 
5- One of their employees, a delightful 84 year old retired IBMer, has one of the largest personal home inventories of OEM Mac parts in addition to serious.QC equipment.  He infused Charlie & me with explanations (not all readily accepted) of all things audio ... such as why tube and transistor sound different, the wire differences controversy, why "Bumble Bee's" are bad capacitors, one speaker lead vs.bi or tri wiring, etc.
 
6- You can have Richard Modafferi upgrade your Model 77 or 78 tuner for better performance based on knowledge gained since he originally designed them.
 
7- McIntosh does not use surface mount components for in house production - amps, preamps & tuners - which will make any future repair easily accomplished with a soldering iron.
 
8- Mac's production facitlity - with the exception of some use of auto-insertion, some use of flow solder baths, and, some use of powder coat (for aluminum chassis components) - is right out of the 1950's. Also, to meet the "no-lead" European standard, units for shipment to Europe use a non-lead based solder while U.S. units still use a lead based solder.
 
9- Three of four Richard Modafferi's 'Infinite slope" x-over patents have expired.  These were for a parallel x-over.  His newer fourth patent, for a series "infinite slope" x-over, is still paying him royalties and used in Jeff Joseph's two top line speakers ... the rest use parallel x-overs.
 
10- "Infinite slope" x-overs aren't quite infinite but are 120 db/octave, close enough to "infinite" for mortals.  The use of this x-over eliminates phase shift at the x-over points and enables any one frequency to eminate from only one speaker band. This enables a much wider and less height sensitive t listening position.  Listening to Richard's musical 50 watt/channel system with "series infinite slope" Jeff Joseph speakers, in a fairly busy room, was a pleasure no matter where I sat or stood.
 
Barry