McIntosh revives the amplifier that powered Woodstock

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McIntosh MC3500 MKII monoblock tube amplifier.

This year marks the 54th anniversary of the Woodstock Music and Art Fair — arguably the most famous (or perhaps, infamous) music festival ever held. With performances by now-legendary acts like Jimmy Hendrix, The Who, Grateful Dead, The Band, and Janis Joplin, its significance as a cultural touchstone is undeniable.

Astonishingly, the four-day event, which ended up attracting more than 400,000 attendees, was powered by just 20 MC3500 amplifiers made by McIntosh. Somehow, the MC3500, which produced 350 watts of single-channel power, became the backbone of this legendary concert.

The original MC3500 was discontinued after a brief production run spanning 1968-1971, but McIntosh has resurrected the tube-based monster for anyone who wants to recreate that moment in music history at full-scale power, or perhaps just in their own private listening space. As with the original, the new MC3500 MKII offers up 350 watts via eight EL509S high-power output vacuum tubes, which are easily seen from the rear of the amp, even through their protective metal mesh cage.

McIntosh MC3500 MKII monoblock tube amplifier, with vacuum tubes visible.

You get a choice of balanced or unbalanced inputs and outputs, and the rack-friendly chassis has a gold-anodized, machined aluminum front panel, complete with the iconic blue-backlit power meter that graces nearly every McIntosh product.

You’ll pay handsomely for this handsome amp — each one costs $15,000. Keep in mind, the MC3500 MKII only powers a single channel. If you want stereo sound, you’ll need two of them.

As fun as it might be (for those who can afford it) to own a modern-day version of such a famous piece of audio kit, it’s also amusing to learn that of the 400,000-plus attendees who showed up 54 years ago, only a small percentage likely heard the sound being generated by the 20 original MC3500 amps, according to Time.

It turned out that Bill Hanley, a respected audio pro who had worked on concerts for The Rolling Stones and The Beatles, was the one tasked with powering Woodstock. He chose to run two speaker towers with eight speakers apiece, using the MC3500s as the backbone. If that sounds like a ridiculously small rig for such a large gathering, you’d be right.

In an interview for Joel Makower’s Woodstock: The Oral History, the festival’s stage lighting and technical director described Hanley’s solution as “a really small, nice, cute little system that nobody in their right mind would have used for a gathering of that size.”

In fairness to Hanley and McIntosh, it’s likely that the event organizers had massively underestimated the audience size. The initial expectations were for no more than 50,000 people.

The lesson here is as vivid as a tie-dye T-shirt: If you’re planning to use the MC3500 MKII to power your own Woodstock anniversary show, plan your power needs accordingly.

McIntosh has been on something of a retro-inspired mission of late. In May, it revived one of its original speakers as the $6,000 ML1 MKII. It also created two special-edition wireless streaming audio systems to commemorate the final tour of the Grateful Dead.

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