Are Mcintosh Tube Amps really all that?

May I ask what makes McIntosh tube amps so enviable to own. Is it novelty? Is it a cult following? or is their reputation merited? If so, then why? I would like to hear the forum's opinion. I don't trust "published" reviews.
I think it is taste. You can ask the same of any brand. Each listener has his/her own set of priorities that they desire in a product. Much as car buyer that buys for economy may not agree with on the buys for appearance. I think the McIntosh buyer is drawn to the product for a number of reasons. One can be appearance which can be novelty or cult(although they don't sacrifice live chickens anymore), another sound, another build quality, and yet another investment as they tend to hold a larger percentage of their sale price.
So I guess the same can be said of Audio Research, Conrad-Johnson or Krell to name a few.
McIntosh long ago mastered the black art of transformer design and winding. They build everything to one very high standard. Some of their designs, e.g., the MC275 tube amp, are still competitive 50 years later. I'm sure there are some here who had all Mac gear and then moved onto something else--Krell, ARC, C-J, etc., but (although I don't own any) I've found McIntosh in general to fully flesh out the music and provide dynamics and tonal balance that are easy to live with over the long haul.
In the early days of tube stereo products, McIntosh was 'it' in terms of reliability, low distortion specs., the Mac clinics, as well as visually with their characteristic glass face plates. They were second to none until Marantz showed up and gave Mac a run for their money. McIntosh has a following just like any high end audio manufacturer. Their products, generally speaking, are built to last a lifetime. Just like other manufacturers they have hits and misses. In their day they were considered the Cadillac of audio gear and many still feel that way.
They measure good, sound good, and have been reliable for years, building both ss and many other companies are accomplished historically as mac?
MAC, Conrad Johnson, ARC. The big three of classic tube amps.
Then also Marantz and Dynaco
Now add in BAT and a bunch of other 'new' quality builders..

McIntosh has spanned the generations though. So I would allow it it the 'number one' in that it has been around, and successful, longer than any others still in production.
As Theo said, it depends on taste and what a listener wants. To some, they are "it." To others, there is better stuff. The build quality is excellent, as well. But this is true of a lot of high-end equipment. It has stood the test of time.

It's also worth noting that sometimes, things become desirable because they are desirable.

It's also worth noting that you are correct not to trust printed reviews. They are amalgamations of opinion from which someone doing research might glean bits of information that can be useful. But you shouldn't trust forums completely, either. They have the same purpose. In a world in which so many people with so many different rooms, likes and systems hold forth, again it's best to take what will help you gather the information with which to go out and make your own decisions.
I have used all the old classic McIntosh amplifiers in several systems and I consider them to be THE classic american sound. Look at Japan for example and you will see that many audiophiles there are real lovers of McIntosh....maybe we can say, that without these guys, we would not have any McIntosh amps (older tube and SS) around.....not mention old JBL speakers or and Ortofon(SPU) will be forgotten .....
I used to have an all Mac system incl C1000 tube pre and Mc2102. I have listened at length to the Mc275 and 2301 monos. The sound on all Mac amps is rich and smooth and relatively neutral. The products are built to last a lifetime. Customer service is very strong. In my experience the Mac amps are not the very last word in transparency. Instead the slightest hint of dark traditional tube sound is there. Can be very alluring. The great rep is IMHO very well deserved.
I won't respect McIntosh until they move to China.
I think a fair response is that McIntosh makes decent stuff, some of which is quite good sounding. I do not know what current production build quality is like. It's important to point out that the company has gone through a number of ownership changes over the years, but manufacturing has always remained in Binghamton, which, unless the ownership changes featured large work-force reductions, suggests that experienced techs (and new techs overseen by experienced techs) have always been used to manufacture the gear, a very important thing.

It's also fair to point out that there are a number of newer manufacturers that make better gear, and in some cases, much better gear, than McIntosh (in order to avoid controversy, I won't name any brands). But it's also true that such gear tends to be more expensive. Because the quality of the output transformers and size of the power supplies are critical factors in the sound of a tube amp (the other most important element being the choice of tubes), and because quality output transformers and power supplies add both expense and weight to the amp, the quality of a tube amp can generally be determined from its price and weight, i.e., the heavier and more costly a tube amp is, the better it sounds, generally speaking.

Like B&W speakers, McIntosh is one of the few high-end audio brands that non-audiophiles have heard of, and as a consequence, new audiophiles who lack knowledge of other manufacturers often buy McIntosh (and B&W). This increases resale value and is another good reason to buy McIntosh. Many experienced audiophiles have had the experience of buying really expensive high-end gear that is little known in the broader audiophile market and therefore quite difficult to resell.