Processors

McIntosh MX150 7.1 A/V Surround Sound Processor (SSP)

ARTICLE INDEX

Design

While McIntosh refers to the MX150 as a control center, it is first and foremost an A/V processor. The look of the MX150 is classic McIntosh with a glass front panel and symmetric controls surrounding a bright blue fluorescent display. The MX150 is a great-looking piece of equipment and it is especially beautiful in a darkened room. The glass panel is illuminated by LEDs paired with fiber optic light diffusers. All of the controls on the front panel have a very precise feel and the volume knob is wonderfully smooth in operation. Under the display are a series of yellow indicators which show the channels received in the input audio stream and the channels that are output from the processor. The other four indicators under the display show whether the MX150 is receiving an analog signal, a digital signal, a high resolution audio signal, and whether the RoomPerfect system is engaged.

The rear panel of the MX150 supports an amazing array of components and connections. The processor supports two zones and references to "ZA" and "ZB" refer to Zone A and Zone B, respectively. The MX150 receiver supports five HDMI 1.3 inputs and one HDMI 1.3 output. This is enough to handle a satellite or cable receiver / DVR, a Blu-ray player and a gaming system with two inputs to spare. The MX150 supports a full complement of analog audio and video inputs with five component video inputs, two composite video inputs, two S-Video inputs, 9 sets of stereo analog RCA inputs including one with a precision phono preamplifier, and a 7.1 multi-channel input. The MX150 supports nine digital audio inputs (four coaxial, four optical and one balanced AES/EBU). For balanced analog audio, the MX150 includes two sets of XLR stereo inputs.

In terms of outputs, the MX150 supports a full complement of eight speakers with both XLR and RCA outputs for each channel and subwoofer. Two pairs of auxiliary outputs duplicate the front left and right channels. The auxiliary jacks offer configurable high-pass filters, which allows for bi-amplification of the front channel speakers if desired. The MX150 offers two component, two composite, and two S-Video outputs. The second component video output supports BNC connectors for the best possible component video connection. The MX150 component and analog video outputs are not active for Zone A when the HDMI output is active.

The MX150 includes a USB jack but its purpose is not for playing digital media. The USB jack is used to provide a backup destination for all the MX150 user configuration settings. This is useful in the unlikely event that the MX150 needs to be reset. The processor also includes an Ethernet jack; however, it is not used to access digital media sources. The Ethernet jack provides access to a browser-based application which can be used to configure and control the MX150. You may also notice a compact flash card just under the Ethernet jack. This card is used to store all of the firmware for the MX150 and is used by dealers and McIntosh service personnel to update the MX150.

The rest of the connections on the MX150 are all used to control the processor or the components connected to the MX150. These connections help give the MX150 its name of A/V Control Center. The MX150 includes two McIntosh proprietary IR sensor inputs in addition to two standard IR inputs. There are eight data outputs that allow for the control of McIntosh components from the MX150 remote. There are also two additional data outputs that can be used to control other compatible equipment. The MX150 offers two trigger inputs, four trigger outputs, and two power control jacks which can be used to send power control signals to compatible equipment. The MX150 also includes an RS-232 jack which can be used to control the MX150 with an external control system.

From a design and implementation perspective, the MX150 is different from other processors on the market in three areas. The first difference is room correction. Despite being part of D&M Holdings, the MX150 does not borrow any of the Audyssey room correction implementations from any of its Denon or Marantz cousins. The room correction system utilized in the MX150 is RoomPerfect which was developed by Lyngdorf Audio in Denmark. RoomPerfect is designed to compensate for problems in the listening room while maintaining the original tonal quality of the speakers. The system relies on measurements taken at the primary listening or focus position combined with measurements taken elsewhere in the listening room. When the system gathers enough information about the room, it calculates target curves and filters for the room and listening position. We'll discuss this in more detail in the next section.

The second major difference is that the MX150 does not provide any video processing. While the MX150 will convert analog video to HDMI, it does not alter the resolution. For HDMI video, the MX150 acts as an HDMI switching device and simply passes the HDMI signal to the display. While I was initially shocked at this implementation, given the price of the MX150, I quickly appreciated that this approach allows McIntosh to focus on what they do best, which is audio. This also allows McIntosh to not have to constantly chase the HDMI upgrade train every time a new version of HDMI comes to market.

The third major difference is that the MX150 does not provide a pure analog pass-through. While the MX150 supports a wide assortment of analog inputs, they are all converted into the digital domain within the processor. The primary reason for this is that McIntosh expects that RoomPerfect will be processing the signal. In case you were wondering, regardless of whether RoomPerfect is turned on or off for a particular input, the MX150 is always working with a digital signal.