Dreaming the Not-Impossible Dream

Do you dream in surround sound? Since you’re reading this magazine, the answer is probably yes. Psychiatrists say dreaming is good for you. Thumb through any issue of Home Theater and you’re more likely than not to encounter components, systems, and lavish, dedicated rooms equipped with the latest 4K projectors and high-powered, surround-sound systems that most of us can only dream about.

It’s little different in the automobile-enthusiast magazines filled with pages of Ferraris, Maseratis, and Lamborghinis, except that somehow the un-affordables seem to generate greater reader resentment among A/V enthusiasts than among gearheads. I don’t know why, but the letters sections of both generally make that case.

Whether you can afford this $34,000 dream system, or even one of its individual components, isn’t the point. These all-new, entry-level models from Binghamton, New York–based McIntosh represent, by far, the lowest price ever for a full surround system from one of the most storied and respected brands in audiophile history. If we could’ve resisted the chance to bring them all together and report on the experience, we wouldn’t be Home Theater. Please enjoy the read, if just for the good dream. Sometimes dreams do come true, and they have to start somewhere.

Binghamton, New York–based McIntosh represent, by far, the lowest price ever for a full surround system from one of the most storied and respected brands in audiophile history. If we could’ve resisted the chance to bring them all together and report on the experience, we wouldn’t be Home Theater. Please enjoy the read, if just for the good dream. Sometimes dreams do come true, and they have to start somewhere.

Dream Components
The new McIntosh system consists of the MX121 preamp-processor ($6,000), the MC8207 seven-channel amplifier ($6,000), the MVP891 audio/video player ($5,500), a pair of floorstanding, XR100 loudspeakers ($10,000/pair), the LCR80 LCR speaker used here as a center channel ($2,500), and a pair of XR50 monitors ($4,000/pair) used here as surrounds.

McIntosh does not manufacture a subwoofer, so we’ve added a modestly priced, but high-performance, Adam Audio SW260 Mk3 subwoofer ($1,299) to fill in the blank without overly influencing the system’s overall performance.

While this package, with its attractively finished, modestly sized loudspeakers, has been designed to be living room friendly, it can just as easily be installed in a dedicated home theater space.

Audio Performance
Video Performance
MX121 7.1-Channel Preamp Processor
Without naming names, more than a few specialty audio companies’ attempts to develop multichannel surround-sound processors nearly put them out of business. Costs of development are high for this category, and by the time a product is brought to market in this fast-changing world, it can be close to, if not already, obsolete.

For the same reason, consumers, too, have to be cautious when investing in pricey preamp processors. Many an expensive state-of-the-art processor ends up on eBay or Audiogon at boat-anchor prices because they lack today’s now taken-for-granted functionality like HDMI and the high-resolution audio formats HDMI supports.

McIntosh has managed with the $6,000 MX121 to halve the price of its $12,000 MX150 flagship processor, putting it at a still expensive, but more manageable, price point.

How? Removing the MX121 from the box and seeing the remote control provided a clue: It’s essentially the same one Marantz uses for its AV 7005 preamp processor. But both visually and in build quality, the MX121 is every bit a McIntosh.

Both brands, as well as Denon and Boston Acoustics, are now part of D&M Holdings, a forward-thinking Japanese corporation that has managed to increase efficiencies within and among these brands without destroying or damaging their strong core identities.

(D&M’s new CEO, Jim Caudill, is a former Stanley Black & Decker executive, so when I met him at last winter’s International Consumer Electronics Show, I made sure to let him know that, in my opinion, Black & Decker made the best-sounding drills!)

Clearly, D&M understands that what the company has purchased are not just brands to be exploited for short-term gain, but rather companies with strong heritages and worldwide followings. As independent entities within the organization, they can thrive and grow while at the same time take advantage of D&M’s management and purchasing efficiencies.

In addition to the remote control, McIntosh was able to make use of the video-control and processing board Marantz developed for its AV7005 preamp processor, as well as the onscreen GUI. In fact, much of the MX121’s brains were sourced from Marantz and adopted with minor modifications. But despite the borrowed resources, in no way is the MX121 a repackaged AV7005.

McIntosh Laboratory, Inc
(800) 538-6576

Jarod's picture

Good lord I love this system! Love to demo it actually. I've always drooled over that beautifull green glow. Think ill use this space to comment on how badass the Hi-End issue was! A great issue that i read cover to cover twice, and this review was my favorite review. Only thing is how in the name of mutiple drivers could you not show a pic with the grills off? I wanna see all those drivers! You even had space to do it cause you showed the speaker set on two different pages. All is forgiven though. Let me fetch my drool rag.

willdao's picture

Hi, Michael,

Thanks for a compelling review (as ever).

Can you tell me whether the pre/pro can output 11.2, for simultaneous wides and heights in a "full" Audyssey DSX setup? D & M's Denon currently has the only piece of equipment I know that can output 11.x, as opposed to just 9.x.

Thanks, again for a great review...back in the early '90s, I saw/heard a demo with a Vidikron PJ (and Faroudja line-doubler) and a full McIntosh system, including speakers. I'll never forget it; it's what compelled me to dive more deeply into HT--albeit at a more modest investment level (although I did grab a Vidikron Crystal One back in the day).


P.S I agree with Jarod--let's see those "spider eyes!"

Nuz1's picture

I enjoyed the read and have been specifically waiting for reviews of the mx121 & mc8207. But I was really hoping for more description of the amplifier and how it compares to others in and around it's price range. Two paragraphs in how many pages?!?

Obviously it's a top pick so that gives it credibility--but compared to what? What equipment does the reviewer feel to be a direct competitor. Is it worth more 6 times the cost over an emotiva with a similar specs?

It makes me wonder if there there was just too much great equipment to be under review for one article?

michaelc's picture

I really enjoy reading your articles. McIntosh certainly produces some very good equipment. I have some questions about the MX121.

You mention the functional similarities between the MX121 and the Marantz AV7005. Would you please comment on the sonic differences between the two processors (especially wrt movie dialog/soundtracks)?

Does the increase in price reflect an equal increase in the sonic performance?

Does the MX121 processor have balanced circuitry throughout the signal path (or is the balanced input just a connector as I understand it is on the AV7005).


FlyhiG's picture

Well not quite for the masses perhaps. But one can dream. Great review are some fan static gear. Having a Mac integrated amp that I find to be awesome, would go with these Mac AV units in a heartbeat for home theater.
Always thought McIntosh could not really build great speakers just because their amps are so very great. When finally had a chance to audition a pair used for the back surround in this system. Incredible.

Expensive yes,but as is said, "The Quality Is Remembered Long After The Price Is Forgotten".

Really enjoyed the background history of Radio Days.

sfdoddsy's picture

I was reminded whilst reading this press release of the recent Lexicon/Oppo brouhaha.

Do you really expect us to believe that a prepro the same size as a Marantz Av7005, from the holding company of the AV7005, with a remote that is the same as the AV7005, with the same connections as an AV7005, and the same menu, and the same features, is not in fact an AV7005 with a cooler faceplate?

Since the 'reviewer' has an AV7005, could he resolve my cynicism and pop the lid on both and show us the innards?

Michael Fremer's picture
First of all, for the 'reader' to put quotes around the word reviewer is indicative of his attitude towards me. It's offensive but after all, this is the "Internets" and if you're not going to be offensive, why bother being on it?

If you'd spent any time reading my reviews here or in Stereophile you'd know that I'm hardly one of those all too common elsewhere "publicist/reviewers." So rather than calling you a cynic, I'll just say you're misinformed and move on.

It was easy to see just from looking into the top cover openings that these units did not look the same inside and I don't think you read all that carefully if you use the phrase "same connections".

Only the video connections were the same and in the same location and that's because it was the same video board, which McIntosh admitted to me upfront. And yes, the two units share the same basic operating system and it's a very good one, but the two were not identical in every way.

I drive a Saab 9-3 Turbo-X XWD automobile. It's a fantastic, fast car. It uses the same RADIO head unit that GM uses in Chevies, but otherwise there's no performance connection i can assure you. This is similar. So McIntosh uses a very good video board also used in the 7005. So what?

The Marantz 7005 is a better value for sure. I own one. But the McIntosh is a better sounding and more highly refined product. McIntosh maintained control of what it does best, which is in the analog signal processing and pre-amplification and the overall design of signal paths, layouts, etc. not to mention the overall construction quality that's certainly more important to some than it is to others.

mars2k's picture

McIntosh has always been over priced and frankly I have never been a fan of their equipment or clunky design vocabulary. And then there is the sound,…ehhh…eeesh does this junk come with earplugs?

Across the board if you took the same money and bought a collection of brands you could put together a far superior system. Look to Bryston (a 9BSST2) or Classe for amplification. Look to Oppo for a truly well respected universal player (how about a good comparison test BDP-95 with the Mac?)

Any number of speaker choices Dynaudio, Monitor, Focal, Revel , etc, etc., etc would offer better sound.

For me, McIntosh is an old retail brand that made its name when there was less competition. It’s an expensive choice for those who do not know any better but have heard the brand name mentioned by others of the unwashed.

Today there are so many other choices and for the same investment the selection is so much more exciting

For processors choose Anthem, Lexicon or even Onkyo would be better choices because you’re correct in saying the processor space is moving so fast. With Onkyo you could replace the proc every couple of years as formats evolve. By the way this will continue to happen with new disk and diplay technologies continue a’pace. The same goes for DACs, constant improvement, spend less, upgrade often.

On the other hand you can spend a fortune on this big old clunky bullet proof McIntosh gear and be stuck in the 50’s forever.

hyfynut's picture

Really ? A dream system article with GRILL ON speaker pics ? Really? Let's see some interior pics of the amp and pre-amp while we're at it. Those are the things that we'd all like to see in our dream system , build quality and design topology.

mikicasellas's picture

Hello Michael,

I am looking for a processor to upgrade my Anthem MRX 700,

This MX 121 is interesting in deed, and i dont know why but the D2V it has been always my goal to achieve...now i'm considering this unit, how do they compare?

Some dealers said to me that the MX 121 is better sound wise and better scalable. Some other said to me the D2V is clear the winner and better build...

Could you please give me a hint on this?

Miguel Casellas

ckrescho's picture

Nice. Marantz sourced parts. I may as well just buy Marantz and save thousands.

John_Werner's picture

Here's a different take. I love reading old Hi-Fi reviews and I just read this one late in 2020. This is the stuff I crave when I'm perusing old copies of audio rags. Mike made we "feel" something that I first remember when I was about 12-years old starting my audio discovery that has continued on (I'm 61 now). I love to read about great gear bringing great joy to the listener. I'd say this review does that for the reader. Fantastic review of something truly special and at a price for the whole some singular components actually cost in 2020.

positivewords's picture

Well, at least for me, it is possible to dream about surviving a car accident and not take it personally. Because it is just a dream.

katherinerose6's picture

Because their amps are so exceptional, I've always believed that McIntosh cannot actually produce excellent speakers said lawn service norman ok. When given the opportunity to finally try out a pair used for the system's rear surround. Incredible.

growthingly's picture

Taking the time and genuine work to make a staggering article… yet what may I have the decision to say… I misuse a ton and never figure out a methodology for directing oversee total anything. growthingly

katherinerose6's picture

Development costs are considerable in this category, and in this rapidly evolving water damage control environment, a product may be nearing, if not already obsolete, by the time it is introduced to the market.

katherinerose6's picture

What equipment does the reviewer feel to be a direct competitor. Is it worth more 6 times the cost over an emotiva with a similar specs? See: https://wellingtonretainingwall.co.nz/

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