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Product Review
 

Lexicon MC-12B Surround Sound Processor

April, 2003

Chris Montreuil

 

Click on the photo above to see a larger version.

Specifications:

 

LOGIC7®

Dolby® Digital

Dolby® Pro Logic II

Dolby® Pro Logic

THX Surround EX™

DTS® ES Discrete

DTS® Neo:6

3 Independent Zones (Main, Zone2, Record)

THX® Ultra Certified

Broadcast Quality video switching

4 Analog Devices SHARC® 32-bit DSP engines

24-bit/96kHz internal processing

24-bit/192kHz D/A converters

Cirrus Logic's Crystal® CS49326 DSP decoder

Analog pass-through

RS-232 upgradeable software

3 internal slots and rear panel options plate

3 trigger outputs (2 programmable triggers)

rack-mount option

Dimensions: 17.3"W x 5.2"H (6.65" balanced version) x 14.85"D

Weight: approx. 36 lbs. (approx. 42 lbs. balanced version) lbs.

MSRP: $8,999 ($9,999 Balanced Version)

 

Lexicon, Inc.


www.lexicon.com


Introduction

The surround sound processor (SSP) has quickly evolved into the most complex component in the home theater market. It is required to fulfill a multitude of functions, such as source switching, multi-channel digital to analog conversion, surround processing, DSP, video switching, etc. All of these elements must then be controlled by an increasingly sophisticated user interface.

Throw in the ability to stay current in both hardware and surround formats, and it becomes obvious why the market is saturated with products that fail to deliver on all levels. This saturation has made it exceedingly difficult for many to choose a processor that makes them feel secure about the money they spent.

Thankfully there are a select few companies out there who have proven over the years that they are quite capable when it comes to the delicate balancing act of price, performance, features, ease of use, and upgradeability. Lexicon is certainly one of that rarified breed. Having been an observer from afar, I have always admired their products, and upon learning of the arrival of a new flagship processor, I made a point of meeting with Jeremy Frost and Andrew Clark to acquire one for review.

Lexicon's foray into the home theater market began back in 1988 with the introduction of the CP-1, which in addition to featuring the then new Dolby Pro Logic, possessed what has become Lexicon's staple - proprietary surround modes. Through the years the CP line evolved up to the MC-1 that, prior to the MC-12, was Lexicon's flagship. While the MC-1 was, and is, an incredible success, its architecture could not handle all that Lexicon wished to implement with its newest design. With all the knowledge gained from their past efforts, Lexicon decided to create a processor from the ground up that could not only handle the needs of today, but had the flexibility/scalability to maintain relevance with any format update that was developed later on.

The MC-12B is fully balanced, with dual differential 24/192 DACs in each channel.

Features Abound

Upon unpacking this massive beast, it became immediately clear that the exterior of the MC-12B bore little resemblance to its forefathers. When Lexicon states this thing was built from the ground up, they do so literally. Gone is the pro audio look of the MC-1's facade in favor of a sexy slab of aluminum. A single sheet of aluminum serves as the unit's casing, while the rear panel features high quality inputs able to withstand the most vice-like gripping cables. Some may think, "Who cares what it looks like?" but at this price point, I feel fit and finish should be superb, and with the Lexicon it is class all the way. Care even went into the attractive blue display, whose readable glow can be lowered or even turned off for those seeking total darkness in their theater room. Show that off to any neighbor or relative and watch their eyes turn from mild interest to all encompassing envy!

Another departure from previous models is the total accessibility of inputs from the front panel. I know some may prefer a more minimalist approach, but I did find it a welcome addition for those rare moments when I have misplaced the remote. The elegant rotary knob has a smooth reassuring operation that had me altering volume manually even when the remote was handy. A bevy of supported surround formats grace the front panel along with a bold deeply engraved Lexicon logo. To make it fully upgradable, Lexicon should have included a portable silk screener to accommodate new surround formats ;->

The MC-12B features eight pairs of analog audio inputs, three of which may be used as a 5.1 analog input (they can be set to be used as a pass-through or converted to digital for internal processing and bass management). The video side is also well represented with four component video (3 RCA 1 BNC - A special thanks to Brad Marcus from Better Cables for the loan of a BNC-RCA component cable), eight S-Video and five composite video inputs. The inclusion of a BNC component input is a nice touch, as it is rarely seen on processors, and is a preferred method of connection.

Click on the photo below to see a larger version.

On the digital side, the Lex includes six coaxial, six Toslink (5 standard, 1 mini) and an AES/EBU input. Four microphone inputs are provided for future expansion that, I can only hope, could be used for an automated calibration routine via microphone(s). While the MC-12B has two RS-232 ports, only one is currently active and is used for connection to a PC (my poor Macintosh gets no respect) for software downloads. The second is provided for future expansion. An IR input is also there, for connection to external control boxes.

In the Main Zone there are ten pairs of analog audio outputs, available in single ended, and on the B version (reviewed here), balanced as well, labeled Front L/R, Center, LFE, Sub L/R, Side L/R, Rear L/R. A balanced L/R auxiliary out is, once again, available for future expansion. Video outputs consist of a component via BNC, two composite (1 for the on-screen display) and two S-Video (1 for the on-screen display).

There is no transcoding across the video signal types (i.e. composite is not converted to component), It should also be noted that when using the component output, the user must choose either the on-screen display or the standard output, because the OSD circuit is disengaged during normal use. This can easily be remedied by having either the composite or S-Video output as an OSD source, but I did find that having to switch between sources was a bit annoying. When I inquired about this, Lexicon's Andrew Clark explained that in order to maintain the highest level of video performance, the OSD circuit needed the ability to be cut out of the loop.

Zone 2 outputs are available in both single ended (variable and fixed) and balanced operation (variable only). The Record Zone features two video and audio outputs. Video is handled via S-Video or composite, while audio is available in either fixed or variable mode via RCA. A coaxial and optical digital output of up to 24/96 resolution is offered with no altering of the digital signal.

For those who enjoy automation, the MC-12B features three trigger outputs (1 on/off 2 programmable). Of all these wonderful goodies, what caught my eye the most was the unnamed vertical panel above the IR input. Once again, Lexicon is thinking forward, as this slot allows for additional inputs. While this slot could be used for any application, its immediate purpose would be for a high-resolution digital connection to DVD-A and/or SACD players. As it stands now, the Lexicon's architecture is capable of handling 12 channels at 24/96, so a DSD stream would have to be converted to PCM, while a 24/192 signal would be truncated to 96 kHz resolution. While this may seem less than future proof keep in mind that the MC-12B has three internal daughter cards capable of improving processing power by a factor of four, as well as the ability to upgrade its DACs. Having spoken with Andrew Clark at length regarding these matters, I had the distinct impression that whatever/whenever a definitive strategy is established by the content providers, Lexicon will be their to support its customer base.

Software

As fully featured as the MC-12's hardware is, its forte lies in multi-channel processing. With the first software release, version 1.1 (Version 2 has since been released which includes a new version of LOGIC7, four new surround modes based on modes that were available in the MC-1, and some new front panel and remote control functionality), the Lexicon features no less than 35 listening modes, including its own proprietary format Logic 7 with three flavors (Film, TV, and Music). All of the major formats are supported, including Dolby Digital, Dolby Pro Logic II, Dolby Pro Logic, DTS ES Discrete and Matrix , DTS Neo:6 (new to Version 1.1 software), THX Surround EX, as well as THX and Logic 7 variants of said formats. As staggering as this list may seem, with its upgradeable processing power via internal daughter cards and flash based software upgrades, the Lexicon is capable of handling even more.

Logic 7,  or How Matrix has Taken Over the Industry

While the amount of supported surround formats is impressive, Lexicon's trump card lies in its proprietary Logic 7 mode. Logic 7 is a sophisticated matrix format that an entire technical article could be devoted to, and I would encourage those interested in its complexities to visit Dr. David Griesinger's website (http://www.world.std.com/~griesngr/). Put simply, Logic 7 analyzes an incoming signal to determine if it is surround encoded or not. If surround information is present, it enhances the existing information through channel steering. For example, in a 5.1 Dolby Digital  or DTS soundtrack, Logic 7 is able to create side channel information (not merely a duplication of rear channel information) for seamless pans from front to rear, and rear to front. In a two-channel context, when no surround content is present, Logic 7 extracts ambient information within the recording and presents it in up to seven channels (plus subwoofers) depending upon your system configuration.

You might ask, "How would they know how to extract ambiance from a recording they had no part in?" As it turns out, Lexicon has been in the pro audio business for quite some time and are well known for their professional reverb products. In fact, many studio recordings actually employ Lexicon reverb, so that with their background in ambiance insertion, they are able to determine how to extract it. In addition, Lexicon offers an impressive array of settings to customize Logic 7 to the user's needs. This flexibility without complexity became a happily recurring theme in my dealings with the MC-12B.

As good as Logic 7 is - more on that later - it has only been featured in its complete form with Lexicon's processors. As of late, the big two, Dolby and DTS, have thrown their hat into the ring with Dolby Pro Logic II (DPL-II) and DTS Neo:6. Again a treatise could be devoted to each codec, but I would prefer to maintain the readers who have stayed around this far. My ever so technical constituents Stacey Spears and Brian Florian have done the work for me in their article on matrix decoders such as Dolby Pro Logic II as well as Logic 7, DTS Neo:6 and Circle Surround. For those interested it can be found at http://www.hometheaterhifi.com/volume_8_1/dolby-prologic2-3-2001.html.

Companies like Dolby and DTS do not get involved with a new processing technique (DPL-II has its roots in Pro Logic but you know what I mean) for just any reason, though these last few years have produced some head scratchers. I was curious until I spoke with a few local dealers regarding this issue. Now more than ever it seems customers are asking for a multi-channel experience with all of their source material, stereo CDs included. Of all the Lexicon's strengths, it is in this area they have a  unique standing amongst the competition.

Setup

If there is an area manufacturers are likely to drop the ball it is in the critical user interface department. As good as any of the top processors can sound, it counts for less if the end user is unable to configure the device properly. This is another area where the Lexicon proved to be very successful.

The MC-12's software is based on three main areas of operation:

1. Mode Adjust - Provides quick access to all listening modes and their operating parameters. With the amount of available modes the Lexicon offers, I feel this was a very sensible addition to the main menu. I could write an entire review dedicated to the level of control the Lexicon offers over its surround formats, proprietary or otherwise, but for the sake of keeping the review under 20 pages I would recommend downloading the User Manual from the Lexicon website for more detail. Put simply, the MC-12 offers the most control over its listening modes than any other processor I have ever used. While most of the default settings will suit your needs, I would recommend experimentation, especially with the Logic 7 modes, to achieve the best results. For example, I found selecting 5 Channel Enhance with a slight roll off and reduction in output from the rear channels to provide far better performance than the default settings for all Logic 7 modes, before adding the side speakers. This all changed when I added side speakers, so your results will vary depending upon room and system setup.

2. Audio Controls - Your typical adjustments (balance, bass, treble) with a few interesting additions such as Loudness to compensate for Dolby Digital tracks and Tilt EQ that inversely affect every frequency above and below 1 kHz. You may never use them, but they are there to play with, and their default values have no negative sonic impact.

3. Setup - This is where you will be spending most of your time initially. The setup menu does go several layers deep, but not so far as to be confusing. All the important elements are there, so I will give you the highlights.

A/V Sync Delay - For those of you who have experienced lip sync issues with your display, this is a practical godsend.

Bass Management - Lexicon improved this area as well. The MC-12 provides bass management from 30 Hz - 120 Hz in steps of 10 Hz (Full Range and No Speaker are also options) over Front L/R, Center, Side L/R and Rear L/R. For those who own a full blown THX system, your beloved 80 Hz fixed is available as well. While some may argue otherwise, I think it is a critical feature to have bass management for each speaker available, as the majority of today's systems have speakers of differing bass response, mine included. Our Canadian Editor, Brian Florian, and Senior Editor, Colin Miller, have jointly written an interesting evaluation of Bass Management that illustrates the compromises endemic to such a setup. Their article raises some very interesting points and I would encourage you to read it here (http://www.hometheaterhifi.com/volume_9_3/feature-article-multiple-crossovers-9-2002.html).

Input - The main principle behind Lexicon's operating system is to categorize according to input type. Each input has its own layer that is completely editable:

  • Input name - Can be changed so that is accurate to the source.
  • Digital In - Selects which digital input you are using, if any.
  • Analog In - Selects which analog input you are using, if any.
  • Analog In LVL - Can be set to automatically govern incoming analog signals or adjust them manually.
  • Video In - Selects only composite and S-Video feeds.
  • Component In - Selects only from component inputs.
  • 2CH - Selects listening mode to use when a two-channel signal is detected.
  • Dolby Digital - Selects listening mode to use when a Dolby Digital signal is detected.
  • DTS - Selects listening mode to use when a DTS signal is detected.
  • Main Advanced - Goes to another layer that allows for preference selection of incoming signals (digital, analog, auto) as well as the option to bypass all digital stages for analog sources. OSD and S-Video selections are also made here.
  • Zone 2 Advanced - Selects type of signal to be used for Zone 2 operation (Analog, Digital. Auto). Unless you will only be using analog or digital inputs, Auto should be your choice, as it will not lock out either signal.
  • Record Advanced - Controls inputs/outputs and levels for recording to an external source such as a CD-R. Of particular note is the Digital Bypass that will pass a digital signal unaltered so as to maintain its original sample rate. The MC-12 is capable of passing signals up to 24/96 for sources that are capable of such high resolution.
Speaker Distances - Nice and easy just the way I like it. There is no need to determine delays in ms or any other such rubbish. All you need is a tape measure to determine (from where your ear is during listening) the distance to each speaker in increments of 0.5 feet from 0 to 30 feet. European customers have no fear, as the Lexicon is metric system friendly. Other than having a microphone based self-calibration program, this is how it should be done.

What impressed me the most about the Lexicon's interface was that despite the tremendous amount of control the user has over all functions, I never felt as if I was lost in a sea of arcane menus. The byproduct of feeling comfortable with Lexicon's interface is that it encourages you to play with settings to determine which ones suit your taste. As a web designer by trade, I have seen my fair share of clunky, unnecessarily complex interfaces, so it was refreshing to have my system up and running with a minimum of head scratching. In this regard, the Lexicon was clearly superior to my departed Theta Casanova whose software was daunting to say the least. It could be said that in a typical consumer purchase the dealer will handle configuration, but I feel it is important for the end user to be able to easily reconfigure a processor as their needs/system change. I doubt anyone would want to ask their local dealer to make a house call just because they purchased a new DVD player.

Yes, this is all very interesting, but how does it sound?

There are plenty of rumors and innuendo when it comes to the sonics of surround processors. I have heard so many regarding nearly all manufacturers, that at times, it is difficult to go into a review without some preconceived notions. That said, when I fired up the Lex, all such notions washed away as I listened to my favorite music and movie tracks. The MC-12 provided me with the best performance in stereo and multi-channel applications that I have had in house to date.

The sonic attribute that struck me the most while listening to the MC-12 was its even-tempered tonal balance. On my favorite cuts from Bjork and Portishead, female vocals came through with excellent clarity and openness without sounding overly bright or analytical. Bjork's sizzling performance on "It's oh so quiet", Post, can sometimes sound confused or overly brash through some processors, but the MC-12 absolutely nailed the performance with just the right amount of pomp and circumstance. Beth Gibbons can equally test a system's merits and her vocals on Portishead's "Live in New York" will give you an excellent indication of tonal balance. Recorded in the venerable Roseland Ballroom, the site of many concerts I attended as a youth, Live in New York is a hot mix that can sound positively nasty on electronics that favor that part of the spectrum. Once again the Lexicon showed its resolve with an honest portrayal that did not sweeten the sound, while still coming across as totally enjoyable, despite the hot nature of the source material.

Male vocals were handled equally well, as the MC-12 ripped through Dead can Dance's "Into the Labyrinth", which is quickly becoming my favorite reference disc. Brendan Perry's eerie vocals on "The Ubiquitous Mr. Lovegrove" (A title that could serve as an ode to our Editor-in-Chief) were well rendered and set perfectly within the soundstage with the multitude of instruments that are played throughout the track. On the MC-12, it was a pure sonic feast that, granted, was surely aided by my love of the music. Still, the Lexicon's ability to get out of the way and present the music in an open unabashed manner had something to do with the experience.

Whether it is due to its fully balanced topology or the execution of its design, the Lexicon was the quietest processor I have reviewed or owned, including my previous reference, a Theta Casanova. This lowered noise floor resulted in an increased sense of detail, without coming across as exaggerated or aggressive, and had a more realistic portrayal of the music. When music emanates from a noisy background, the illusion a good recording can create is snapped. With a near silent background (I say near due to my inferior electrical system that prevents total silence), sounds have a much better chance of coming across as the actual event. Unfortunately, this quality, which should be applauded and expected, does have its drawbacks when material of a lower quality is played. Upon listening to my "Otis Redding Greatest Hits", I became keenly aware of just how poor the mastering of this CD really is. Of course, this is not the fault of the MC-12, as it is merely telling it like it is, besides we are talking about Otis Redding here. I would listen to him through my dilapidated car stereo if that were my only choice.

While the majority of my listening was via the MC-12's digital inputs - my notes above relate to this method - I also experimented with the Lexicon's analog bypass and A/D-D/A stage. Feeding the MC-12 with the analog outputs of a Toshiba SD-9000 and Camelot Uther Mk.4 yielded very satisfactory results that would be sure to please those who have high-resolution analog sources such as DVD-A and SACD. However, due to my system's configuration, I was unable to directly (A/B) compare the Uther, which features an excellent internal analog volume control, with the Lexicon, so I was forced to swap the units in and out of the chain. Rest assured though, that after multiple swaps of the two, I was convinced the end user will be quite satisfied with the MC-12's analog stage with only the slightest softening of the presentation (granted this observation was done under subjective means).

As good as the analog bypass was, I was even more surprised with the MC-12's analog to digital conversion. It seems that A/Ds, or at least those used in the Lexicon, have taken some impressive leaps over the years, as in the past I had thought them to be quite mediocre. Now some may say that with an analog bypass, why would you want to bother converting the signal back to the digital domain. Well in the case of the Lexicon, you can reap a number of benefits of such conversion, not necessarily in order of importance, namely:

1. Time alignment
2. Bass management
3. Surround Processing (Logic 7, Pro Logic II, etc.)
4. Tone controls

Having done direct comparisons in this mode, I can safely say the A/D stage in the Lexicon is superb. In both the case of the Toshiba and the Uther, the drop off in sound quality was much slimmer than I have ever experienced in an A/D stage prior to using the MC-12. After repeated comparison, I did prefer the direct bypass stage, but the differences were slim, to say the least. That minor difference, which, when weighed against the huge benefits one gains through having a signal in the digital domain, leads me to think that unless you have a high quality analog source, you may want to use the MC-12's A/D stage. The best thing about this dilemma is that no matter what method chosen, you will be rewarded with excellent performance.

Ah, yes, but how does it sound in surround?

I know the growing trend is towards multi-channel, so I apologize to those of you who fell asleep during my examination of the MC-12's two-channel performance. Thankfully, the Lexicon is not a one-trick pony, in fact it is the polar opposite, and its performance on surround material was as impressive, if not more so, as it was in two-channel.

For quite some time I have been under the impression that processors had reached such a high level of fidelity that the differences between them on surround material (e.g., Dolby Digital, DTS, etc.) was minimal at best. Once again, I have been proven wrong. "Planet of the Apes" (the recent one) features a few scenes that I use as a reference, in particular Chapter 5 - Crash Landing. In DTS via my previous reference, the Casanova, as Mark Wahlberg's, Marky as his friends call him, ship hurtles through the sky into the dense forest, the treble began to take on a brittle tone that could get fatiguing after a while. I had always attributed it to the source material until I played the sequence through the MC-12. After repeated attempts at various volume levels, I did not detect the slightest trace of harshness as I had with the Theta. The treble information was still there as the ship ripped through the foliage; it simply came through without any sense of fatigue. Disc after disc, the Lexicon impressed me with its superior performance whether it was in Dolby Digital or DTS. In fact, the same noteworthy qualities found in the MC-12's two-channel mode carried directly over to its multi-channel performance.

A Different Look at Stereo

If there is one are where Lexicon has few peers, it is with its proprietary matrix mode, Logic 7, for stereo and multi-channel sources. As many options as Lexicon provides for Logic 7 (TV, Film, and Music flavors are provided), they are not so selfish as to deprive their customers of the other takes on matrix, Dolby Pro Logic II and DTS Neo:6 (available for free with v1.1 software).

I began my Logic 7 experience by feeding the MC-12 the analog outputs of my satellite cable box. Through this method the two-channel analog feed goes through an A/D stage where the processors and Logic 7 are able to go to work deriving a five-channel signal, or seven, depending upon your setup, from the original two-channel feed. While watching the film "The Power of One", a rather forced look at Apartheid and race relations in South Africa, I was impressed with the level of immersion Logic 7  created during a sequence when the main character stands in the middle of a torrential downpour (In this case I was using L7 music which to me seemed more effective than the L7 TV, though my reactions varied depending upon the source material). The sense of space and immersion within the soundstage as the rain fell heightened the experience.

Another scene illustrated this effect as a van traveled across a dirt flat. Logic 7 managed to accurately portray the van as it drove away from the center of the flat to the left and faded into the distance. I was taken aback at how effective it was at this with a mere two-channels of original information. With my previous processors, the Casanova included, I had always stuck with straight two-channel for all my TV watching. The MC-12 has changed this forever.

Next up was a selection of Bjork live DVDs recorded in two-channel Dolby Digital. In this scenario the MC-12 was receiving a digital feed, thereby removing an A/D stage. Bjork's "Live at Cambridge" is one of those performances that, for me, I am very thankful for having been captured. Bjork's otherworldly vocals intertwined with Marc Bell's hypnotic beats all the while being accompanied by the Icelandic String Octet. This may sound like an inappropriate mixing of styles, but the results are astonishing. I had listened to that DVD somewhere on the order of 30 times before playing it through Logic 7, and while the sonics were decent, I had hoped for a bit more presence, a sense of venue, that two channels could not muster. Listening to the DVD via Logic 7 got me more involved in the performance, with a better sense of space. Save for having a discrete multi-channel version of the DVD, this was the way to hear it.

My general reaction to Dolby Pro Logic II was quite similar to that of Logic 7 when in a five-channel configuration. The one aspect that did reveal itself over time was that DPL II was slightly less easily tripped up than its Logic 7 counterpart. When I isolated the rear channels, I was able to detect improper pans or the spurious sounds that can at times be the unnatural byproduct of matrix. Now it is important to state that these occurrences were infrequent with both algorithms, but it was noticeable with certain material. The winner of the easily deceived matrix format contest goes to DTS Neo whose processing of any material resulted in less than stellar results. Pans were often misplaced, and some of the sounds that emanated from my rear channels were out of place, to say the least.

It may have been hard to pick a favorite when in five channels, but throughout the evaluation I knew the Logic 7 had its hand restrained as Pro Logic II does not present seven channels of unique information. My reference system consists of five channels due to space limitations, but in order to hear Logic 7 at its best, I contacted the good folks over at Definitive Technology for the kind loan of the unpowered version of my rear channel speaker. My new seven-channel system maintained rear channel placement with the side channel placed directly along the listening axis approximately 4' away from my position. I would have preferred to provide the side speakers a little more breathing room, but circumstances would not allow it. A simple reduction of output in the Lex's setup menu alleviated the directionality to some degree.

Now with Logic 7 free and unfettered, I began to enjoy some of the advantages the additional channel allows. I had always felt that I could achieve nearly seamless pans with my reference system, and believe me I still do, but the cohesive effect that a properly implemented side channel provided via Logic 7 made me realize that my system still has room to improve. With the added sense of a seamless presentation, I found myself more involved in the experience. The additional speakers also managed to open up the soundstage vertically, and horizontally to a lesser extent. Placement of overhead effects seemed more believable and less obscure. My only caveat would be that if you have the available room to place the side speakers at a greater distance from the listening position, you should do so. While a reduction in output and a precise time delay reduced the sense of forced directionality, it was not completely removed.

What impressed me most about Logic 7 and DPL-II were their subtlety and resistance to sound placement errors. This is not to say either was perfect, especially while listening to TV, but considering the circumstances, I came away convinced of their potential. It seems as multi-channel grows, there is an opposing faction that is loyal toward two-channel. I am not going to say who is right or wrong, as each side has legitimate claims, but I would encourage all those who are opposed to matrix to hear a properly set up demonstration. You may be surprised with the outcome.

Software Addendum

My initial experiences with the MC-12 were based on its original version 1.0 software. While v1.0 had a minimum of bugs, there were a few things I had noticed that I would have preferred not be there, chief of which was a delay of several seconds when first playing material or switching between sources. While listening to material and making adjustments to listening modes, as well as a few other areas of setup, I noticed a distortion of the sound as I made adjustments through the remote. At about this time during the review, Lexicon's Marketing Manager, Andrew Clark, mentioned that a new version of the software, v1.1, would be available that should address my concerns.

The process of upgrading was relatively painless, though I wished that my new laptop had an RS-232 port instead of a USB. Have no fear though as there are USB to RS-232 adapters, but they are costly. It seems there have been a few compatibility issues between some machines and USB - RS-232 adapters so you should download the easy to follow install instructions off Lexicon's website to determine if you will run into any problems (http://lexicon.com/mc12/downloads.asp).

Before the new software is installed, all current user settings from your original software are saved, very smart. Once the current settings are saved, the new software is installed at a very slow rate; I cannot wait for USB to become the new standard. After the new software is installed, the unit will restart, and you are ready to go. Should the connection between your computer and the MC-12 be lost during the upgrade, the upgrade manual deals with this contingency. The entire process, under a successful connection, took less than an hour.

Upon restarting, the MC-12 I was greeted by a new display of v1.1 and went on to see what changes had been made. First to check was the most irksome of previous quirks, the 3 second delay. Gone. How about the distortion while editing surround modes? Gone. I cannot say enough about Lexicon's commitment to listening to its customers, or pesky reviewers, and ironing out any flaws in the operating system. It should be also noted that the 1.1 software upgrade was free of charge.

As if the MC-12 did not have enough surround modes, the v1.1 software release also added DTS Neo:6, DTS' take on matrix, as well as a host of digital treatments to incoming 5.1 analog signals. Two modes of interest are a 5.1 A/D stage to allow bass management, time alignment, tone controls, etc. of an incoming 5.1 signal and 5.1 to two-channel conversion. Either mode deserves experimenting with the multitude of SACD and DVD Audio players that have either limited to no control over the output signal.

Nits

Up until this point you are probably thinking it had been a veritable love affair gone wild with the MC-12. And while I found it the least lacking of any processor I have used to date, it was not completely without its faults, minor as they may be. For starters, I would like to see more subwoofer outputs at this price point. Two plus an LFE is excellent, but more and more people are experimenting with additional subs, our esteemed Editor-in-Chief included. There are two additional outputs that are provided for expansion, so it is possible they may be used for such a purpose, but it would be nice to see more sub-outs from the get-go.

I was not completely thrilled with the remote either. I found it a bit too large and would have preferred an additional smaller remote for day-to-day operation. I would also have enjoyed a direct digital-analog button for sources (I have been informed this feature is available in Version 2 software). Granted this could be a reviewer's conceit, but it would have been nice to switch directly from analog to digital on the same source. This was easily circumvented by using multiple inputs from the same source, but for those who have a plethora of devices, that may not be an option. Click on the photo of the remote on the right, to see a larger version.

While the MC-12 was easily set up, I would still like to see an automated calibration procedure via a microphone, a la Parasound's processor, for those who are easily confused by a GUI or are looking for a painless setup procedure. Again, this may be something Lexicon provides in the future through the MC-12's microphone inputs.

While I am putting together a wish list, you could also throw in the ability for digitally-based room correction, balanced inputs, and Mac compatible software (yes I am a disgruntled Macintosh user). That plus the kitchen sink should do nicely.

My final nit, though I hate to call it one, is the MC-12's price. I am not looking to start a holy war and dictate what I think a product should or should not be sold for, as I am sure Lexicon's price structure is justified relative to the industry. However, $10k - $9k for the unbalanced version - for a surround processor is a princely sum indeed. This is not to single Lexicon out in this matter, as its main competitors Theta and Meridian have products on the market that dwarf the price of an MC-12, and in some respects do not perform nearly as well. In addition, there are other processors sold for only slightly less that do not even approach the level of performance that the MC-12 achieves. In the end, my point is I believe Lexicon's next challenge should be getting as close to this level of performance at a closer to real world price point. In that vein, Lexicon has recently introduced a new pre/pro, the MC-8. Maybe we should take a look at that one and see what it can do.

Conclusions

The perfect surround processor still does not exist. But, the Lexicon MC-12, in my experience, comes the closest to the golden apple. Its excellent sonic performance in both stereo and multi-channel applications, sensibly designed ergonomics, and impressive host of features set a very high standard for what a surround processor can and should be. There are many uncertainties when it comes to shopping for a new surround processor, but the Lexicon MC-12 certainly removes most of the doubt.

 

- Chris Montreuil -

Reference equipment:

AAD Q30 speakers 
Definitive Technology BP2000tl speakers 
Definitive Technology CLR3000 speaker 
Definitive Technology BPVX/p speakers 
Vandersteen Signature 3a speakers 
Vandersteen Signature VCC-5 speaker 
Vandersteen Signature VSM-1 speakers 
Vandersteen 2wq powered subwoofers 
Theta Dreadnaught amplifier 
Krell Theater Amplifier Standard amplifier 
Camelot Technology Uther mk.3 v4 Digital to Analog Converter
Toshiba sd9000 DVD player 
Nordost SPM Reference interconnects/speaker cables 
Better Cables interconnects/speaker cables 
Toshiba TW40x81 RPTV 

Related to the article above, we recommend the following:

 

IEEE 1394

Nature of Equipment Reviews

The Digital Link

What we Hear

High Fidelity

Accuracy, Distortion, and the Audiophile

 

Copyright 2003 Secrets of Home Theater & High Fidelity
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