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Product Review - Lexicon DC-1 Processor - July, 1996

By Daniel Long

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Lexicon DC-1

Introduction

The Lexicon DC-1 Digital Control Center: Inputs: Audio 8 stereo (RCA) pairs, Video 5 composite (RCA), 3 S-Video NTSC M, PAL standards, Digital 2 coaxial (RCA), 2 optical (TosLink) S/PDIF; Outputs: Audio Left, Center, Right, L&R Sides, L&R Rears, Subwoofer (RCA), Video 2 composite (RCA), 3 S-Video, NTSC M, PAL standards, all connectors gold plated; D/A Conversion: 20-bit Delta Sigma; THD+Noise: Less than 0.01%@1kHz, maximum output level; Dynamic Range: 90dB minimum, 22kHz bandwidth, Ref. 1kHz@-60dB below maximum output level; Signal to Noise Ratio: 90dB minimum, 22kHz bandwidth, Ref. 1kHz at maximum output level; Physical Specifications: Detachable IEC power cord, Size 17.3" W x 11.5" D x 3.6" H, Weight 10.5 lbs.; Remote Control: Hand-held, battery powered infra-red remote control unit, uses 2 AAA batteries.

I have, for review, a Lexicon (they who make the expensive yet wonderfully flexible 500T system remote controller) DC-1 Digital Controller (THX). Before I get into how well/badly (not hardly) the DC-1 does its thing, let me first tell you what it does.

The DC-1 is a digital control center. Digital, Control and Center are three words that aren't thrown around here; they really do represent the DC-1's functions. It is a line-level pre-amp with 4 analog-only and 4 analog/digital (2 coaxial, 2 optical) inputs. Along with these audio inputs, the DC-1 also carries 5 video (3 S-Video) inputs. It also comes with a secondary set of pre-outs for another-room use.

Modes/Effects The DC-1 is THX certified, meaning along with Panorama, Nightclub, Concert Hall, Church, Cathedral, Mono Logic, Pro Logic, Party, Two Channel, Logic 7, Music Logic, Music Surround, you also get THX Cinema, the last 4 modes with THX post-Dolby THX processing.

The premise behind the design of the DC-1 is that, although advancements in 2-speaker audio systems have brought relatively realistic re-creation of the original sonic event, often the pebble-in-the-shoe turns out to be nothing but the room in which the system is deployed. The DC-1, using technology that digitally increases this Spatial Impression, relocates your side walls through control of some relevant parameters and presents a more convincing picture. The source for this processing is a mix of what is extracted from the recording, or artificially generated, depending on the Effect chosen.

Inputs and Outputs

All inputs are processed in the digital domain, with the analog ones undergoing an extra conversion with A/D converters first. This means that when you drive the DC-1 with laserdisc players or CD players, you'd be better off using ones that come with digital outputs. This way, you put the signal through 2 less stages; these are the ones that first convert the signal to analog (D/A) in your LD/CD player and the ones in the DC-1 that convert the signal back to digital (A/D) for processing by the DC-1's engine. During any conversion process, something is lost, so . . . bypass it and go direct.. The outputs on the DC-1 are driven by 20-bit D/A converters, which are the way to go for better accuracy.

Good, Bad and Ugly

The Lexicon is not ugly, but rather . . . it looks like a . . . Lexicon. From afar, it can easily be mistaken for a CP-X brother. It is utilitarian and neatly laid-out. The front-panel has a small rotary volume knob on the right that isn't really seriously meant to be used, the remote having much better man-machine-interface characteristics.

Below the volume control are the buttons for BYPASS and MUTE, and from here on to the extreme left are EFFECT, REC/ZONE2, TAPE, TUNER, CD, AUX, TV, V-DISC, VCR2, VCR1 and the ON-OFF button; these are each accompanied by a pair of LED's (one red, one green) which indicate the particular on/off status. Immediately to the left of the volume knob is the IR Receiver/Standby-LED and a 2x20 character display which shows information about the Effect selected and other menu selections during use.

Setup

This is where the DC-1 is different from other processors. When you talk about audio/video equipment flexibility, there is configurable and there is CONFIGURABLE. You guess where the Lex-is (hint . . . the last word of the previous sentence). There are menus that allow configuration of almost everything (I use "almost" reservedly; it could very well be "everything"!). From must-haves like center channel distance, to great-but-not-absolutely-essentials like different gain settings for each analog input, the Lexicon will have you nuts (or having a ball) trying everything out. Heck, you can even place the on-screen display of volume/mode settings (when you change mode or adjust volume while watching) in four different locations.

Then there are really useful things like having you adjust for primary listening positions that are not spot-on center and still get perfectly usable front AND back left-center-right panning. Back? The DC-1 allows the use of SIDE AND REAR SPEAKERS. Your regular rear speakers (THX or otherwise) become the sides and you use either one or two more to the rear of your listening space and call them "rears". The signal that normally gets channeled to regular rears are channeled to what the DC-1 calls sides; the rears are a totally different signal that are extracted/generated by the Lexicon to "fill in" the back of a large listening room so as to produce a more seamless pan from front (LCR) to side, to rear. This is also why you can use one or two or even none, depending on how large your room is, in relation to how far apart the front and side speakers are from one another. The sides you MUST have, however.

Besides the above mentioned goodies, the DC-1 lets you adjust the roll-off frequencies of all the speakers you use, allowing for a very great deal of flexibility in speaker choices. I could go on and on and on, but you still wouldn't know how it sounds, so here goes.

How's it sound - Movies?

Vavavoom!! That's how. I played many discs using the DC-1, including some newly acquired old stuff (catch the contradiction in terms?) I recently took home from Austin, Texas where I spent 9 days visiting a friend. I played a remastered "The Running Man" . . . an Arnie movie based on a story by Richard Bachman (a.k.a. Stephen King), a "Richard Prior in Concert" (no, he doesn't sing!!) disc, some Jurassic Park, some Terminator (in Mono Logic, what else), some T2, and some other boom-boom stuff. I used THX Cinema all the time except when it was a mono movie because I found it really made crash, boom, kazamm stand out in comparison to the other Effects settings. Some of these "other" Effects are fun too; you'll just have to try them out.

THX Cinema on the DC-1 placed ambient info where it didn't intrude or announce; it was just there, all around. And when there was a boom, there was a BOOM. And dialog was intelligible, very natural (when it was so on the disc). Deep bass in THX mode was tight yet satisfying, though it didn't extend down as much compared to Bypass mode.

I also had the opportunity to listen to the Lexicon as part of an elaborate but wonderful sounding setup (which included Triad LCR, sides and rears driven by Madrigal electronics; there were also four Triad subs, all placed to minimize bass nodes) at Elpa Singapore. "The Abyss" was playing, and frankly, I have not heard it as good as I did there. No bass overhangs, dialog was firmly locked to the screen, but the ocean was all around. And during the "big-geek-bad-geek" cat-and-mouse scene, you can feel every gut-crunching steel on steel impact.

How's it sound - Music?

I listened to and concentrated on the Bypass, THX Cinema, Music Logic, Music Surround, and Panorama Effects. These are by far the best I've ever used in a product not designed exclusively for audio-only purposes. My preference? Bypass, when I didn't find a mode more enjoyable, and I normally did. Of course, this implies that you have to experiment with different kinds of music and find the Effect which involves you in the music. It may not be "accurate", but it is very, very enjoyable.

I found that on Bypass, the DC-1 presented a more laid-back perspective than my "regular" electronics. Well-recorded acoustic instruments were placed further behind my Mirages (which are polite) than I remember. Acoustic instruments were also more natural sounding and less fatiguing. Of particular note was the way the DC-1 presented (bass) drum strokes. I am not all that fluent in the language used to describe these (stroke, beat, thump!), but I did notice that on music where they feature (Doug McLeod's debut on Audioquest), I heard far more differentiation than I did with a different preamp.

On all the above mentioned Effects in general, because all channels (no rears; didn't need them) went into play, you feel you've been invited from way back in the auditorium to sit up close in a mid-sized and live room. More fun, more involving and ultimately enjoyable.

Pick & Choose?

On certain kinds of music (The Eagles, Hotel California, Hell Freezes Over live album) and played with either the Music Logic or Surround Effects, the guitar in the left channel (Glen Frey or Don Felder) was picked up by the DC-1 and steered to the correct channel, but processing left it sounding like a tom-tom. When I heard this track, I got up several times to check if someone was knocking on my door (which was to the left of my Mirages). Use these clues to help you decide if what you hear sounds natural or distracting. When this happened, I went back to Bypass.

Switching the Loudness feature on and off, I also noticed that it took a while (about 2 - 4 secs) to take effect. After setting it and pressing done on the remote, the music faded momentarily and came back after the delay with the selected toggle. Curious, but I suppose just an artifact of digital implementation.

Conclusion

I loved it. The DC-1 costs US$1,995 neat (The "neat" designation is just the Lexicon DC-1 Digital Control Center; The others are the THX and Dolby Digital models. These can be purchased in stages. Lexicon is not clear whether it is possible to have Dolby Digital without THX, but from the literature, it appears not.), US$2,995 with THX garnishings and US$4,495 for THX Dolby Digital model. Upgrades to the full THX Dolby Digital model are priced at US$1,500 for the THX model and US$2,500 for the neat model. OK, good stuff never comes cheap. And the DC-1? Good stuff.

Daniel Long


Copyright 1995, 1996, 1997 Secrets of Home Theater & High Fidelity
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