written by:
photos by:
June 10, 2015
Originally published in Today's Smart House
as
High Fidelity
McIntosh Laboratory, long revered by audiophiles, maintains a dedication to American manufacturing.
McIntosh Laboratory factory screenprint face plates

The majority of consumer electronics manufacturing has moved overseas, but McIntosh Lab has kept its production stateside. Every step of making its wares—like screen printing glass faceplates—takes place in its Binghamton, New York, factory.

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McIntosh Laboratory factory transformers

The company is best known for its amplifiers. They receive power via transformers, which are shown in various stages of assembly.

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McIntosh Laboratory factory hand operated machine wire bobbin

First, an elaborate hand-operated machine wraps wire around a bobbin. Layers of steel are affixed around the coil. The transformer is set into metal housing, which is then filled with tar. 

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McIntosh Laboratory factory water jet cutter glass faceplates

A water-jet cutter applies 60,000 PSI to precisely carve out apertures for glass faceplates. 

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McIntosh Laboratory factory waterjet

Garnet dust is added to the water to yield finer results. 

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McIntosh Laboratory factory circuit boards

Circuit boards await the quality control department’s eagle eye. Every component undergoes rigorous testing before placement into a product.

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McIntosh Laboratory factory computer controlled machine making circuit boards

Over the years, McIntosh has added computer-controlled machines to its assembly line, like this one, which churns out about 5,000 circuit boards per month.

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McIntosh Laboratory factory final soldering

Machines have streamlined some aspects of circuit board production, but the final soldering happens by hand.

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McIntosh Laboratory factory cut and folds their metal

McIntosh cuts and folds all of the metal used to house is products. 

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McIntosh Laboratory factory silk screens in speed racks

Silk screens are stored in speed racks and labeled by model and ink color.

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McIntosh Laboratory factory completed units

Completed units await boxing. Incandescent bulbs once produced the iconic blue glow. Now it comes courtesy of LEDs calibrated to the original hue. McIntosh will service any of its machines, no matter how old. Lightbulb replacement, of all things, is the most common repair. 

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McIntosh Laboratory factory hand operated machine wire bobbin

“I have two systems with McIntosh gear, and the blue lights have become part of the room and part of the music. It’s like being hungry late at night and driving the streets looking for anything that’s open. Then you see the Open neon sign in a window, and it’s suddenly the best place on earth.” —Henry Rollins, former Black Flag front man 

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McIntosh Laboratory factory anechoic chamber

Products can be tested in the anechoic chamber, made of sound-absorbing fiberglass panels.

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McIntosh Laboratory factory screenprint face plates

The majority of consumer electronics manufacturing has moved overseas, but McIntosh Lab has kept its production stateside. Every step of making its wares—like screen printing glass faceplates—takes place in its Binghamton, New York, factory.

In an age where electronics are often viewed as disposable commodities and planned obsolescence is rote, McIntosh is an aberration—a business that believes in building devices that last, that are worth fixing, and that are intended to be passed down from generation to generation. This ethos has fueled the company since Frank McIntosh and Gordon Gow created the pioneering brand in 1949.

Originally based in Silver Spring, Maryland, McIntosh Laboratory relocated to Binghamton, New York, in 1956. Design, manufacturing, and testing take place under one roof, where more than 150 employees create hi-fi amplifiers, speakers, and tuners, among other electronics, that have earned the outfit a cult following—and command price tags to match. (The recently launched MHA100 headphone amplifier runs about $4,500, and the headphones will set you back $2,000.) While McIntosh may not be a household name, you might recognize the Wall of Sound it created for the Grateful Dead’s 1974 tour or the unmistakable blue glow of the amplifiers—its signature product—from your audiophile uncle’s stereo setup.  

Today, McIntosh is one of the few electronics companies that still manufacture in the United States. The median tenure of employees is about 17 years, and while computer-operated machines have taken over some of the circuit board building and glass cutting, much takes place by hand: delicate soldering, metal stamping and folding, screen printing, painting, winding transformers, assembly, and testing. Here, we share images from a recent factory visit. 

Watch the video below to hear from McIntosh president Charlie Randall and see the products come to life at the factory.

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