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    Although vacuum tubes fell out of favor with most audio manufacturers decades ago, enthusiasts still praise them for their warm, natural sound. McIntosh Labs’ MC2301 amplifier is surely the most impressive tube amplifier ever crafted by this storied audio company—and it may be the most impressive tube amp ever period. The MC2301 is one of only a few tube amplifiers ever made with a fully balanced design, which essentially uses two amplifier circuits per channel: one for the positive half of the audio signal, the other for the negative half. The result is faster response and lower noise. Each MC2301 delivers 300 watts, a tremendous amount of power for any amplifier, much more so for a tube amplifier. The MC2301’s monophonic design means one amp is needed for each speaker, so a stereo system will require two, and a home theater system will require five or seven. Talk about a wall of sound. (800.538.6576, www.mcintoshlabs.com)

    —Brent Butterworth

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