Processors

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

ARTICLE INDEX

Setup

The MX150 comes in a very large shipping carton that weighs 55 pounds. After unpacking everything, the MX150 still weighs a substantial 31 pounds. Given all the connections on the MX150, I decided that I would actually read the entire owner's manual first before just diving into making connections. The documentation that McIntosh provides is an interesting blend of exceptional detail, custom installer instructions, product overview, and setup and operational material. For example, the documentation spends four pages listing the defaults for each item in the installer menus and also tells you how to make cutouts in a custom wood cabinet should you want to custom install the MX150. McIntosh includes eight separate 11"x17" diagrams with the manual, which provide color-coded connection diagrams, detailed descriptions of each connection, and an overview of the MX150 installer and user menu hierarchy. The challenge with the documentation is that there are lots of important details buried everywhere throughout the material and diagrams, so it's best to read everything very carefully.

Making connections to the MX150 is really simple. The main listening room is referenced as Zone A or "ZA" on the rear panel. I didn't worry about finding pre-configured inputs to match my equipment and instead just installed things starting at input number one for each connection type. The MX150 has 5 HDMI inputs to which I connected my DirecTV DVR, PS3, and an Oppo BDP-95. I ran an HDMI output cable from the MX150 to my HDTV. I also connected the stereo XLR and the multi-channel analog outputs of the Oppo BDP-95 to the MX150. I connected my Apple TV to the MX150 via component video and optical digital. The MX150 is able to convert the video signal from composite video and component video to HDMI, so this really simplifies system configuration and minimizes your video cables.

The second zone functionality on the MX150 is limited to analog connections only. Since my Oppo BDP-95 was connected via HDMI and analog, I only had to worry about my Apple TV. Fortunately, it's a first generation Apple TV so I ran an extra set of analog audio cables to the MX150. I was really disappointed that McIntosh did not include the ability to play a digital source in Zone B. Companies like Anthem have offered this capability for years. Devices like the latest generation Apple TV do not have analog connections, so processor and receiver manufacturers are going to have to provide this functionality eventually.

With the connections made, I was ready to start configuring the MX150. The "Installer Menu" provides access to all of the configuration options for the MX150. The menu system in the MX150 is pretty basic, but definitely gets the job done. The menus are very simple in design and do not offer any fancy graphics.

It is possible to get a bit lost in the menus at first as there are lots of options. McIntosh provides a full overview of the menu structure, so it's pretty easy to figure out where things are after a while.

A hidden gem within the MX150 is that it supports complete web-based configuration and control via an internal web application. I connected an Ethernet cable to the MX150 and the processor automatically configured itself onto my home network. I opened a browser, connected to the IP address of the MX150, and was rewarded with a beautiful application for configuring the MX150.

This web application provides complete access to both the user and installer menus and offers a much quicker interface for setting up the MX150. I will walk you through the highlights of the setup process using the web application.

The first place to start is with the "Speaker & Room" menu. This menu covers all the basics for configuring speakers and RoomPerfect. The MX150 offers six standard speaker size settings ranging from "XS" to "XXL". For example, a speaker setting of "M" indicates that the speaker has a response down to 80 Hz. A setting of "XS" indicates that the speaker has a response down to 120 Hz. A setting of "XL" means that the speaker plays down to 20 Hz and can handle LFE and bass output from other smaller speakers in the system when there is no subwoofer. If the default settings aren't enough to describe a particular speaker, the MX150 supports a custom mode for each speaker which allows for the configuration of bass cutoff frequency, cutoff order, roll-off, and gain offset. The four auxiliary speaker outputs (two XLR and two RCA) offer high-pass filtered output of the left and right channels. This is really suitable for bi-amplification but could also be used to drive two additional sets of front channel speakers if desired.

Once the speaker setup is complete, the "Verify speaker config" menu offers a really simple interface for testing whether each speaker is connected properly.

With the basic speaker configuration out of the way, the next thing to do is calibrate the room with the RoomPerfect system. The first step is to assemble the microphone stand and boom and connect the calibrated microphone to the MX150. McIntosh provides a 25 foot XLR cable which made it really convenient to position the microphone in my room. Since the microphone cable is a standard XLR cable, it is easy to extend should you need a longer cable. The "RoomPerfect" menu provides a "Guided Setup" option which walks through the process.

RoomPerfect relies on focus and room positions. A focus position is a primary listening spot in the room where critical viewing and listening takes place. A room position is another location in the room where casual viewing and listening takes place. I positioned the microphone at my favorite listening position. The microphone stand and boom allowed for easy positioning of the microphone over the back of my couch. I selected the "Guided Setup" option and just followed the directions.

The first thing that happens is a confirmation that you are about to delete all of the RoomPerfect data. After answering yes to this question and acknowledging that the microphone was connected to the MX150, the RoomPerfect system performs a volume calibration. The system lets you know whether the volume needs to be turned up or down before proceeding. In my case, the system requested a calibration volume of -13 dB and the MX150 was at -25 dB. I turned up the volume as requested and moved on to the next step which was distance measurements. The RoomPerfect system expects distance measurements to be entered in inches or centimeters. I double-checked my math and entered everything in inches. Then it was time for the measurement process.

RoomPerfect begins by measuring the focus position. The measurement tones produced from the system were quite unique and unbelievably loud. The tones sounded like large truck engine meets crazed organ player. The tones are so loud that my wife eagerly took the opportunity to escape outside and clean her car. The measurement process took about five minutes for the focus position. After the focus measurement, the RoomPerfect system reported a RoomKnowledge percentage of about 24% and prompted me to continue or abort. Room Knowledge is a reference to the acoustic properties of the room as measured by RoomPerfect. I chose to continue and the system prompted me to move the microphone to the first room position. The manual provides only general guidance on microphone placement and suggests moving the microphone around the room and to vary the height and direction. I avoided aiming the microphone directly toward any speaker and proceeded with the room position measurements.

After completing six room position measurements, I finally achieved a RoomKnowledge of 90%. Once that percentage is reached, RoomPerfect allows you the opportunity to stop measuring the room and complete the process. I wanted to see if I could improve on the 90%, so I continued adding more room positions. After two more positions, RoomKnowledge was 98%. I tried one more and I achieved 99%. I continued for an even ten room position measurements and decided to end the process with a respectable 99% for RoomKnowledge. I finished the process and RoomPerfect took a few minutes to calibrate the filters and correction parameters for the speakers and room. The system creates a target curve and two filters, one for the focus position and one for the global room itself. The entire process took just under an hour with each measurement series taking about 5 minutes.

The result was an overall RoomCorrection factor of 10% for my room. Unfortunately, I had nothing to gauge this against and the system provides no further insight into what was actually done. It would really be nice if the web interface would offer the ability to graph the target curve that was achieved using RoomPerfect. The documentation on the Lyngdorf Audio site indicates that a high RoomCorrection factor indicates larger corrections and vice versa. I was happy to be done with the process and was looking forward to listening to what RoomPerfect did with my room.

There are a couple of additional features with RoomPerfect that I should mention. The system supports multiple focus positions. This might come in handy if you have several favorite listening positions in the room. The focus positions can be renamed for clarity in the menus. RoomPerfect also allows you to add additional room position measurements. This might be useful if you wanted to try for a higher RoomKnowledge percentage at a later time.

I moved on to the "Source" menu to start working on the setup for my primary listening room. The MX150 comes preconfigured with a number of standard sources like CD, SAT, PHONO, DVR, etc. The system not only lets you rename these sources, it also lets you completely delete them from the MX150. While this might sound scary at first, the MX150 allows for 128 inputs with 118 being phantom inputs and the remaining 10 being directly accessible from the source buttons on the remote control. The phantom inputs can be accessed via the "Input" knob on the MX150 front panel or from the input scroll buttons on the remote. The beauty of this approach is that you can completely configure the inputs your way. In my case, I set up separate sources for each of the outputs on my Oppo BDP-95. For example, the "MultiCh Music" source automatically selected the multi-channel input and changed the surround mode to Dolby PLIIx Music processing. The "DVD Blu-ray" source automatically selected HDMI and applied Dolby PLIIx Movie processing. The "CD" source selected the XLR input and applied stereo processing.

In addition to assigning video and audio input for each source, the MX150 allows for the assignment of audio mode, volume and lip-sync offsets, as well as the IR data output for each source. Any source on the MX150 can also be assigned to any one of the default source buttons on the remote.

While most processors and receivers just offer the standard surround processing options, the MX150 is different in this regard and offers flexible configuration of its surround processing modes. The "Audio Mode Setup" menu offers the ability to configure the standard MX150 audio modes. Each audio mode supports a preferred voicing option. For example, the "Action" voicing provides a slight boost in low frequencies, while "Action + Movie" boosts low frequencies and applies a gentle roll off in the high frequencies. The "Neutral" setting offers a flat response.

In addition to the voicing options, each audio mode offers a "Stereo mode" menu option. This allows you to specify the preferred processing mode when the MX150 receives a stereo input signal. In this example, I've selected the default "Movie" audio mode, which offers Dolby PLIIx Movie and DTS Neo:6 Cinema processing among the options.

If I change the audio mode to "Music", the stereo mode menu now includes Dolby PLIIx Music and DTS Neo:6 Music processing in the options.

You may have noticed that not all of the processing options are listed in the menu. This is one area where I thought that McIntosh was trying to be just a little too helpful. What is happening is that the processing options are specifically tied to the default audio modes that McIntosh has included with the MX150. While many processors and receivers limit the processing selections based on the speaker configuration, the MX150 offers options based on the content type of the selected audio mode. While this is helpful for a more novice user, it can be confusing when you really want to customize. The McIntosh solution for this is to create your own custom audio mode.

The MX150 supports 16 user-defined audio modes. Each custom mode supports all of the functionality of the default audio modes such as "Music" and "Movie" plus a few extra options. I experimented with my own custom audio mode by creating one called "Pure 2CH" for unprocessed two channel music.

The first difference in the custom mode is that you can apply your own name. The next difference is that the complete list of processing modes is now available in the "Stereo Mode" menu.

For my custom audio mode, I selected the "Pure Stereo" processing selection which instructs the MX150 to turn off the RoomPerfect system.

The last configuration detail which applies to all of the audio mode types is the ability to arrange the processing modes for multichannel content. The first mode at the top of the list has priority for any given audio mode. Since the processing mode can be changed from the remote, arranging the list allows you to put your favorite selections in the order that best suits your tastes.

The rest of the configuration on the MX150 was pretty quick and straightforward. The "Zone B Setup" menu offers the basics of configuring sources and volume options.

Zone B supports 11 sources which can all be custom named and configured. The "System" menu allows for configuration of the triggers as well as setting the video system to NTSC or PAL. Each component video input and output can be configured to use YPbPr or RGB format. The trigger support includes two triggers at 12 volts and two which are configurable for 12 or 5 volts. Each trigger can have custom actions and each can be configured for duration and time. I connected 12 volt trigger cables to my two main zone amplifiers and my second zone amplifier. This allowed me to turn off my 5 channel amplifier when I was listening to stereo sources and it allowed me to easily control my second zone amplifier when listening to music elsewhere in my home.

To say that the MX150 is versatile in its configurability would be an understatement. While getting the system setup was pretty easy, it certainly took some thought to consider what might be the best approach for my theater. I was also amazed at all the thoughtful features that McIntosh has sprinkled throughout the MX150. In the Zone B Setup for example, the zone can be configured to automatically power on or off with the primary zone, or it could just operate independently which is the typical configuration. The system can be configured to turn on with a defined startup source and volume. All these little options help you configure the MX150 your way and they maximize usability.