Lexicon MC-1 preamplifier/surround processor

The roadster's throbbing rumble became a roar as the tachometer soared above 4 grand. Like a giant hand, its thrust jammed me back into the seat. Racing along low to the ground, feeling every curve and bump, I began to understand: the automotive virtues of smoothness and insulation had been swapped for firm road grip and the ability to transmit to the driver each jolt and curve in the surface below. Long before I'd climbed into the driver's seat of Porsche's Boxster S, I had known about its low-end snort and speed—the main reasons I was considering a lease—but I had not known about its ability to join sensation and purpose in such an intense bond.

Driving the Boxster S reminded me of high-end audio components: Enjoyment comes not only from their speed or power, but also from the direct and intense tactile connection to the music that occurs when one auditions the best. When I listen to high-performance components, this connection excites me—there's always the chance that, when the ride is over, I'll have a new perspective on music. So it was with great anticipation that I opened the carton of the Lexicon MC-1, a high-performance digital controller.

A High-Performance Product
"Like the Boxster S, the Lexicon MC-1 uses specially designed components rather than depend upon another manufacturer's OEM units, so we get enhanced performance from our digital/analog converters," said Bart Lo Piccolo, Lexicon's product manager. These components are brought together so that the MC-1 functions "as four units in one," states its manual.

The first of these is the MC-1's eight-channel music and film digital audio computer, which is used to create the special effects and reverberant environments. Second is an eight-channel, 24-bit, broadcast-quality D/A converter that Lexicon has designed from scratch and that runs on proprietary code. All eight channels offer the same level of performance—not just the front and center channels, as with many other DACs. This allows all the detail available to appear in the surrounds. Third, the MC-1 includes a built-in line-level preamplifier with eight analog and eight digital inputs. Fourth, the MC-1 includes a broadcast-quality composite and S-video switcher with eight inputs. The MC-1 additionally has one digital output, two RS-232 ports, and three digital audio expansion ports.

The MC-1 also includes a reference-quality eight-channel music and film digital audio computer for creating a wide variety of listening environments, including Nightclub, Concert Hall, Church, and Cathedral. Each effect has a set of parameters that can be customized by the owner, such as subwoofer level or vocal enhancement. Two other effects, Music Logic and Music Surround, offer ambience extraction.

The MC-1 can downmix 5.1-channel information into two channels or record 5.1-channel music or music videos on 2-channel devices. It can also expand 5.1- or 2-channel soundtracks for 6.1- and 7.1-channel playback. The MC-1 adheres to THX Ultra specification, which optimizes playback of matrix-encoded film soundtracks as well as Surround EX. This ensures that film soundtracks mixed for large commercial theaters sound as they were intended to in the home.

Even so, the MC-1 does not provide video switching for component video inputs. Why? Broadcast-quality video switches capable of handling the required bandwidth without degrading the component-video signal are prohibitively expensive. Second, you can't mix S-video and component video in the same monitor, so additional switching would have to be done at the monitor. Third, the MC-1 is configured with onscreen displays, which would further degrade the signal quality of component video. DVD is the only format capable of producing high-quality component video in the home, and many customers run their DVD component output directly into their monitors.

A Lovely Chassis
The MC-1's sleek, racy appearance belies its functional complexity. Take the front panel: Turned off, it presents a black, glossy faceplate. Switched on, a prominent fluorescent blue backlit LCD display appears and highlights eight square input buttons and green LED indicators (from left to right, VCR, DVD, V-Disc, TV, Aux, CD, Tuner, Tape) for the main zone. A button marked Rec/Zone 2 sits at panel center and switches controls for On/Off, Input Selector, Volume, and Mute buttons for another room in the house. There are two pushbuttons for selecting special effects, with a display with the emblems for Dolby, DTS, THX, Logic7, TV Matrix, Party, and 2-Channel. On the right sits a large volume control for the main outputs. Just below this are pushbuttons for 2-Channel and Mute, which attenuates the main outputs, lights a red LED, and displays a screen message letting you know that Mute is activated.

Accessible via the hefty remote control are volume up/down, effects selection, onscreen display, front-panel display, a joystick for toggling through the onscreen display menus and submenus, individual input and special effects buttons, and the power switch.

The rear panel provides a complete set of audio connections—a welcome change from the zillion-RCA-jack switchboard on the back panels of typical home-theater A/V receivers. There's a primary power rocker switch on the back panel just above the IEC 320 AC power socket. Once the MC-1 is set up, Lexicon recommends that it never be fully powered down, except from the front panel.

Company Info
Lexicon Inc.
3 Oak Park
Bedford, MA 01730-1441
(781) 280-0300
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