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Product Review
 

Lexicon MC-4 Digital Controller (SSP)

July, 2005

Yongki Go

 

Specifications:


● Codecs: DD, DD-EX, DPL-II, DTS, DTS-ES, DTS
    Neo:6, DTS 96/24, Logic 7
● A/D Conversion: 24/96
● D/A Conversion: 24/192
● MFR: 10 Hz - 20 kHz +0.05dB/-0.1dB
● THD + Noise: < 0.008%
● S/N: 108dB
● Input Sensitivity: 200 mV
● Input Impedance: 100 kOhms
● Output Level: 6 V Maximum
● Output Impedance: 100 kOhms
● Video Inputs: 5 Composite (RCA), 5 S-Video,
    and 3 Component Video (RCA)
● Video Outputs: 1 Composite (RCA), 1 S-Video,
    and 1 Component Video (RCA)
● Dimensions: 3.8Ē H x 17.3Ē W x 14.85Ē D
● Weight: 17 Pounds
● MSRP: $4,495

 

Lexicon

www.lexicon.com

 

Also read reviews of this product written by consumers, at AudioReview.com.

Introduction

Lexicon is definitely not a new name in the home-theater world. The company has had a long successful history in making various wonderful products, most notably digital surround controllers.

Even its legacy product, the DC-1, which Iíve owned for many years, still can compete and beat many of todayís surround controllers in terms of surround performance. The product reviewed here, the MC-4, is the latest digital surround controller (Surround Sound Processor, SSP) in Lexiconís lineup. It is the little brother of the highly regarded MC-12 and MC-8, and the most affordable at $4,495. It shares a similar look and also carries some of the design elements of the MC-12 and MC-8.

Features

As with most of todayís digital surround controllers, the Lexicon MC-4 packs an extensive set of features.

The MC-4 is a THX Ultra2 certified eight-channel surround processor, which means it can handle the current state-of-the-art 7.1 surround formats. The MC-4 is also software-upgradeable. It has 8 configurable inputs, each of which can be assigned to its 8 digital audio (4 coaxial and 4 optical), 8 analog audio, 5 composite video, 5 S-Video, or 3 component video input connectors. In default configuration, the MC-4 has a set of 5.1-channel analog inputs, for connection to a DVD-A or multi-channel SACD player. Its other analog connectors, however, can be configured to provide an additional set of 5.1-channel analog inputs.

Pretty much most popular surround encoding formats for home-theater applications today can be handled by the MC-4. It is capable of decoding Dolby Digital (DD), DD-EX, Dolby Pro Logic (DPL), DPL II, DTS, DTS-ES, DTS 96/24, and DTS Neo:6. In addition, the MC-4 offers THX enhancement (Ultra2 and Surround EX) and the latest version of Logic 7, which creates a 7.1 channel output signal from stereo, 5.1, and 6.1-channel sources. The 7.1 version of the DPL II (called DPL IIx), however, is not included. I donít know if Lexicon plans to add this as an upgrade in the future, but even if there is no such plan, I donít consider it as a serious omission. The Logic 7 is a capable substitute and will give you comparable performance to DPL IIx.

The signals from 5.1 channel analog inputs are sent directly to the volume control and audio output connectors. These signals do not go through MC-4 internal processing. Therefore no tone control or bass management can be applied to these signals. Also, these signals cannot be redirected. This is somewhat short of my expectation. If you are planning to use the MC-4 for channeling the signals from DVD-A or multi-channel SACD and donít have a full-range set of speakers as these formats require, you should be aware of this limitation, and should get a DVD-A or SACD player that provides bass management.

The processing power of the MC-4 is quite impressive and can rival the best out there. Four Analog Devices SHARC DSP engines are utilized to perform high resolution processing with sample rates up to 24 bit/96 kHz including custom Lexicon processing, such as Logic 7 decoding, bass enhancement, dialog enhancement, bass management, and digital crossovers. A Cirrus Logic DSP engine is added to handle the decoding of multi-channel compressed audio sources, such as DD, DD-EX, DTS, and DTS-ES. 24 bit/192 kHz digital-to-analog (D/A) converters are utilized for all audio channels.

To convert the analog signal to digital domain for further internal processing, 24 bit/96 kHz analog-to-digital (A/D) converters are used. To satisfy purists, a direct signal path from the input to the output connectors that bypass the A/D conversion and internal processing is also provided.

On the video side, the MC-4 features two video switchers: a wide-bandwidth (>150 MHz) component-video switcher that can pass analog component or RGB video signals as well as HDTV signals, and a composite and S-Video switcher for NTSC, PAL, or SECAM video signals. In terms of number, the MC-4 has sufficient video connectors to perform switching in most situations. No digital video switching (DVI or HDMI), however, is provided on the MC-4, which makes it a step behind in terms of video switching features compared to some other high-end processors currently out there.

Besides the audio and video connectors, the MC-4 rear panel also sports an IR input connector, two trigger outputs, and two RS-232 connectors. According to the manual, one of these RS-232 connectors is for performing configuration downloads and flash memory software upgrades, while the other is for supporting future developments. Lexiconís excellent history in maintaining updatability of its products ensures that the MC-4 wonít be obsolete soon.

In terms of appearance, the MC-4 looks elegant and contemporary. Its brushed silver front panel is complemented nicely by black top, side, and rear panels. Overall, build quality is excellent. Only essential operational buttons, e.g., inputs, power, mute, mode, and volume, are present on the front panel. Hence, the front panel looks clean and non-cluttered. Its display has blue lettering with good enough size to read up to about 15 ft or so. In normal operation, the display shows the status of the input, mode, and the volume level of the processor. In setup mode, the display shows the setup parameters. The displayís brightness is adjustable and can be turned off if desired.

The remote control of the MC-4 is similar to the remotes that comes with the Lexiconís legacy products, like the DC-2 and MC-1. In the MC-4ís price range, most processors come with a universal remote control, and thus the supplied remote was short of my expectation. However, the remote is good ergonomically and quite easy to use. It features buttons with various size and shapes, and also it has a back-light, hence it is useable in the dark.

Set-up

First of all, the MC-4 comes with a very extensive user guide. It explains set-up, mode adjustments, and operation of the MC-4 in good details, and it goes miles in providing technical description on what some of the adjustments do. Not only that, it is printed on a good quality heavy paper. This is a good example of how a user guide should be. I understand if some users would be deterred initially by the amount of information given in there, but Iím sure they would appreciate it once they walk through the set-up process.

Speaking about se-tup, the Lexicon MC-4 offers the level of flexibility that is rarely found in surround processors from other brands. In fact, the flexibility offered by Lexicon in its products is legendary, going back to its early models.

But flexibility can be analogous to complexity if not properly designed. Fortunately, Lexicon has an extensive experience in this very aspect, and it shows. The MC-4 menu tree is logical and simple. Thus, even though it carries layers of controls deeper than most processors now available, setting up the MC-4 for basic operation is relatively easy. Of course, advanced adjustments need some effort, but even then, the clarity of the user manual helps in smoothing out the process. I didnít encounter any glitch or difficulty in setting up the MC-4 for my evaluation. The MC-4 doesnít offer auto-calibration like its big brother, the MC-12, but this is not a big deal, since manual calibration can easily be done using the internal test tones and an SPL meter. In terms of set-up and flexibility, the MC-4 definitely scores very high in my book.

Once everything is configured to your needs, the MC-4 is a breeze to operate. Its input auto-detection worked flawlessly during the evaluation, locking correctly to the right digital formats quickly. In operating the MC-4, novice users need only to know which input to choose and then adjust the volume. Therefore, the MC-4 will satisfy not only the tweakers, but also the minimalist users. If you worry that someone might accidentally change your carefully adjusted setup, you can lock the settings.

Performance

Awesome seems to be the right word to describe the MC-4 performance. I found no obvious weaknesses in any settings. No matter what I threw at it, the results were always satisfying.

As a video switcher, the MC-4 was very competent. It passed video signals, be it interlaced or progressive, with no obvious degradation, even when observed on my 75" diagonal projected picture. Hence, Lexiconís claim of broadcast quality video switching was substantiated.

For music applications, the MC-4 delivered a very respectable performance, whether in stereo or multi-channel mode. The difference between stereo (with digital processing) and stereo bypass mode was very subtle when played through a set of full range stereo speakers. The bypass mode painted a darker background and sharper focus compared to the non-bypass one, but I noticed this only through critical comparison of certain music. It was not a big deal if you ask me, and I could easily live with the non-bypass mode for stereo.

In my system with the default tone control settings (neutral position for all controls), the MC-4 produced sound with excellent tonal balance and neutrality. But even if you donít get the desired result with neutral controls in your system, you can always try to tailor the controls to produce the desired sound for your room acoustics. Thatís the kind of flexibility that the MC-4 offers. Lexicon does a very good job in eliminating the coldness in sound due to digital processing that has plagued many digital surround processors in the past.

Where the MC-4 really shined, though, was in delivering surround sound. I have always considered Lexicon to be high up there in terms of surround performance. And after listening to the surround performance of the MC-4, I could say without hesitation that Lexicon is still one of the very best in this regard. The MC-4 surround steering is accurate, and the conveyance of the sound transition (either from side to side or from front to rear) is very smooth. All these translated into convincing surround envelopment which elevated my movie-watching experience.

I tried the MC-4 in both 5.1 and 7.1 speaker setups, and the MC-4 handled both setups with equally impressive aplomb. Even in a 5.1 setup, its Logic 7 mode brought in a noticeable improvement. It expanded the surround envelopment without smearing the image. In fact, with any type of inputs (digital or analog), I preferred to have the Logic 7 enhancement engaged in surround mode. Lexicon includes several kinds of Logic 7 enhancements with the MC-4, customized for various program materials. For example, Logic 7 Music is customized for music listening, Logic 7 TV is customized for TV programs, etc. In my opinion, all these Logic 7 enhancements alone are worth the price of admission.

Conclusions

The Lexicon MC-4 is a wonderful product that is elegantly designed and solidly built. A few features are noticeably missing (as is the case with any product), but even without them, the MC-4 is still very feature-laden and offers adjustment flexibility that rivals anything out there. Most importantly, the MC-4 delivers high quality performance that justifies its price. That proves once again that when it comes to surround processor, Lexicon is still on top of the game.



- Yongki Go -

Associated Equipment:

CD playback: Shanling CD-S100
DVD playback: Toshiba SD-4700
Other pre/pro: Meridian 565, Lexicon DC-1
Amplifier: Sherbourn 7/2100A
Speakers: NHT Evolution T6, Rocket home theater system (RS-750, RS-250, RSC-200, UFW-10), Hsu Research VTF-3R
Cables: MIT Terminator 4 interconnects, MIT Terminator 2 speaker cables, Cardas Crosslink speaker cables, Audioquest GR8 speaker cables.

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