Lexicon MC-1 preamplifier/surround processor Page 2

The rear panel has two special outputs (one 5-pin DIN connector, one 4-pin removable screw terminal) to trigger power for other units and for specific input selections. Just above are two RS-232 serial ports for future automation and control functions. The MC-1's main output panel has three pairs of standard stereo amplifier outputs for the front, surround, and rear speakers, as well as single jacks for the center and subwoofer channels. Just above that is the S/PDIF input subpanel, which has five coaxial RCA connectors and three optical connectors for digital input signals. Three stereo audio outputs and two video outputs supply signals to Zone 2, and can be controlled independently for use with amplifiers and speakers in another room.

The largest subpanel, that for audio inputs, dominates the left part of the rear panel. It features the eight stereo analog inputs noted on the front panel and on the remote, all switched with corresponding video inputs and fed to the monitor outputs.

Digital connections include five coaxial RCA connectors and three optical connectors. Three additional coaxial digital audio inputs are capable of accepting PCM signals of up to 24-bits/96kHz. These inputs completely bypass the digital processing path, including crossovers and effects, and pass the audio signal directly to the following channels: A to the L/R front channels, B to the Center and Subwoofer channels, and C to the L/R surround channels.

Lexicon's high-performance approach is continued on the inside—this digital controller apparently has no significant compromises in its overall layout or construction. Lexicon's internal component layout was planned to reduce or eliminate conflicts between the digital and analog stages, with improving the signal/noise ratio the No.1 design criterion. This was accomplished by giving the internal stages their own power supply. Bart Lo Piccolo noted that the MC-1's DACs typically offer noise levels of below –110dB through the use of separate power supplies for each of the four modules: digital computer, line-level preamplifier, DACs, and composite and S-video video with eight inputs.

Setup was greatly eased by Lexicon's lucid 60-page manual. A third of this spiral-bound booklet is devoted to well-illustrated instructions in readable type—I didn't even need my 8x Loupe magnifier to read the diagrams, as I have with other home-theater manuals. I input settings for more than two hours one afternoon—a clear and simple procedure, albeit tedious. I followed the step-by-step procedures for equalization, adjusting the brightness of the front-panel display, setting the onscreen display format (NTSC, PAL, or SECAM), establishing the configuration of the eight inputs (name, gain of audio input, an onscreen horizontal bar meter, assignment of special effect to specific input, PCM only, AC-3 only, DTS only), programmable trigger status, speaker configuration (Large or Small, subwoofer output, THX configuration, Surround EX, output levels, external vs internal noise test, subwoofer peak limiter, speaker distance), power on level, mute level, Zone 2 power on volume, A/V sync delay, and calibrate panorama. I was tempted to program the MC-1 to scroll my name across its front panel on startup, but figured that John Atkinson, who would be testing the unit after I'd finished with it, would not be amused.

I decided that no further adjustments were necessary, other than locking the settings and tweaking any of the MC-1's 15 environmental effects. And if I were to move and have to reinstall the MC-1 in a new house, there is a simple procedure for restoring all of the factory defaults.

The Lexicon Performs
After all the tweaking, the Lexicon MC-1 did not disappoint. It delivered a clean, punchy audio signal across the frequency spectrum while remaining dynamic at both moderate and high volumes. Background noise was completely absent, even during quiet passages. Listening to the rear surrounds by themselves (by removing one lead on each of the other speakers and turning the subwoofer off) proved that this processor produced very low levels of background noise.

I put on Patricia Barber's live CD, Companion (Premonition/Blue Note S 22963 2) and cued up my favorite track, an instrumental titled "Like JT" (for Jacky Terrasson, the tune's inspiration). The rhythmic drive, bass tightness, and pitch definition of Michael Annope's standup bass, Ruben Alvarez's bongos, and Eric Montzka's drum kit were stunning. The overall sound was close to—but not exactly—the spellbinding sonics I've heard over my reference two-channel system.

A DTS 5.1 CD of Gustav Holst's The Planets (Telarc CD-80466) allowed me to assess the MC-1's audio-only DTS decoding. First, I listened in two-channel stereo, trying Lexicon's Music Logic effect, which I liked. Then I switched to DTS 5.1 surround and experimented with such environmental effects as Concert Hall and Cathedral. I preferred Concert Hall because it produced most of the qualities—transparency, soundstaging, and sonic imagery—I admire so much in my two-channel reference system. Wide dynamic range, good instrumental timbre, and freedom from grain were also evident. There was no sign of sonic distortion, and no "pumping" during loud passages.

Don Henley's The End of Innocence (DTS Entertainment/Geffen 01062-2) is encoded in DTS 6.1-channel Extended Surround. Through the Lexicon MC-1, the recording's DTS ES simulation overemphasized the orchestral backup, burying Henley's soft voice.

Turning to DVDs, I put a Digital DTS 5.1 sampler (Demonstration DVD #4, DTS-DVD-99121) into the Theta Carmen's tray. "Pretty Woman," from Roy Orbison's Black and White Night concert DVD, came up first, and played with an intensity, presence, and building rhythmic frenzy that was totally involving. Similarly, Sheryl Crow's "Am I Getting Through?" filled the room with shuddering, thunderous bass-and-guitar chords that contrasted with her frail, raw singing voice.

The DTS sampler also contains a scene from The Haunting, which switched the MC-1 over to THX-6.1. The special effects were incredible! The imploding glass and the ghost children's cries came from behind me. My Velodyne HGS-18 subwoofer shook the air and the objects in my listening room with the subterranean sounds of huge wooden beams twisting and massive doors thundering shut. It was far more immediate, captivating, and intense than I recall from when I saw the film in my local cinema. "So this is what the whole fuss about surround sound is about!" I wrote in my notes.

When I turned to my DVD collection, I noticed two things right away. First, the quality of the video signal seemed better, sharper, with more brilliant colors than when played through another A/V receiver used as a controller-converter. Second, the sound was the most realistic I've ever heard using video DVDs as source material. Take the recent release of Mission: Impossible 2 (Paramount 33487). At the beginning of "I See You Found It," the scene in which Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) meets Nyah Hall (Thandie Newton), the stunningly realistic, thunderous foot-stomping of the flamenco dancers in Seville revealed great bass and transient response.

Next I put on Fight Club (20th Century Fox 2000035). This opens with pumping, driving rock music as the camera pulls back from the electron-microscope level to the microscopic, then to the macroscopic, revealing Jack (Edward Norton), a "ticking time-bomb insomniac," sweating profusely because his friend, slippery soap salesman Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt), has jammed a loaded gun in Jack's mouth.

When I'd had enough of Pitt's jagged energy, I switched to Run Lola Run (Sony Pictures Classics 04014). As always, I couldn't take my eyes off the svelte Franke Potente racing through the Munich streets to save her boyfriend as the throbbing techno score keeps pace with her every step. The explosive car crash at the end of the second ending (this movie has three endings) woke my wife from a deep sleep. Tearing out of our bedroom, she announced that there had been a terrible accident outside our house...only to realize that it had been the damn DVD. Luckily for this review, she was angry with me, not with the Lexicon MC-1.

But I was convinced—surround sound is here to stay.

The Lexicon MC-1 brought out the very best from DVD-Video and DTS 5.1 surround musical sources. It decoded all of my test DVDs, CDs, and HDCDs with no sign of distress or compression. Its dynamic range, raw punch, and low-frequency power—abetted by the gutsy Velodyne HGS-18 subwoofer—provided cinematic effects I've experienced only in the best movie theaters. Its digital processing, memory, computing, and control functions were the most sophisticated I have encountered. More than any other piece of audio equipment, the Lexicon MC-1 has convinced me of the importance of surround sound.

Sure, you say, the MC-1 re-creates sonic reality, but is it really worth $5995?

Well, each of us has to decide what to buy, but I haven't heard anything better in a digital controller—the A/V receivers I've auditioned don't hold a candle to the MC-1. While some offer more bells and whistles—seven internal audio channels, discrete EX rear channels, and FireWire-ready DSP section interface panels—the Lexicon MC-1 beats them upside the head in sonic quality and realism.

Furthermore, the MC-1's installation went smoothly, unlike my previous experiences with A/V receivers. Perhaps I've become more experienced, or the Lexicon is just more logical, straightforward, and intuitive. [That's my guess.—Ed.] Whatever—it created the best audio and video effects I've experienced in my listening room, and that garners it a Class A rating in "Recommended Components." Just as the Boxster S connected me with the road, the Lexicon MC-1 put me in the driver's seat for surround sound.

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