Dreaming the Not-Impossible Dream Page 2

The digital and analog audio boards, layout, power supply, and, of course, robust chassis construction—including machined aluminum side panels and the distinctive industrial design are pure McIntosh. Most Home Theater readers already know that, regardless of brand, everyone throughout the industry buys from a short list of audio and video-chip manufacturers. The key is in how the chips are implemented.

The three-zone MX121 includes all of the basics you’d expect in a modern, surround-sound processor, such as a phono preamplifier (sorry, I couldn’t help myself); six HDMI 1.4a inputs (with 3D passthrough, Deep Color, etc.) and two outputs, as well as multiple component- and composite-video inputs; 192/24 DACs, Audyssey MultEQ XT room correction and DSX surround processing, and the full suite of Dolby and DTS decoding; and Internet radio (here named radiomcintosh.com), Flickr online photo gallery, Pandora (free), Last.fm (paid subscription), and streaming from a Windows-based media server. The McIntosh also incorporates the same USB-based iPod control system and adapter Marantz uses in the AV7005, along with Apple’s AirPlay that allows you to wirelessly stream from your the iTunes library on your computer or iOS device.

However, the MX121 features neither an AM/FM or HD radio tuner nor SiriusXM ports. In addition (or should I say in subtraction), there’s no headphone jack or any front-panel connectivity. Even the USB port is in the rear. Still, in a cluttered-panel world, the MX121’s fascia is a model of operational and aesthetic clarity (as are the well-produced manual and accompanying large, fold-out graphics. They prove that it is possible to explain the setup and workings of a complex piece of gear in straightforward, easy-to-understand terms).

The rear panel includes nine balanced preamp outputs (including two sub outs), a pair of balanced inputs, 12 single-ended outputs that include height and width channels, and a 7.1-channel analog input, as well as eight stereo-analog inputs.

Audio Performance
Video Performance
MVP891 Audio/Video Player
Like the MX121, the $5,500 MVP891 universal A/V player is, I suspect, very loosely based on components sourced from within the D&M Holdings family, perhaps using Denon’s transport—but that’s just a guess.

It handles Blu-ray and DVD as well as CD, DVD-Audio, and SACD, along with an alphabet soup of subsidiary formats. Purists take note: For SACD playback, the DSD signal on the disc is converted to PCM for HDMI output; decoding for the analog outputs is handled on board.

Like the MX121, the MVP891 is not a repackaged anything. Rather, it uses the transport and other control components from the sourced player, with McIntosh implementing its own engineering both for the software-based functionality and digital- and analog-audio engineering.

The MVP891 uses Anchor Bay Technologies VRS ABT-2015 video processing, Analog Devices 12-bit/297MHz video D/A conversion with noise-shaped video processing, and digital noise reduction. The player includes five two-channel, 192khz/32-bit audio D/A converters. Multichannel audio information can be output digitally via HDMI or as analog audio via either the multichannel analog outputs, or mixed down to two channels and output through the balanced stereo outputs.

A front-panel USB port can accept WMA, MP3, and AAC files, and can also be used for BD-Live and Bonus View modes when the player’s internal memory proves insufficient. (The internal memory capacity is specified as 1 GB). There is no onboard Internet streaming platforms. Like the MX121’s remote, the plastic one supplied for the MVP891 is functional but nothing special or luxurious.

MC8207 Seven-Channel Power Amplifier
McIntosh began as an amplifier company and built its reputation from its innovation and expertise in this field. Weighing in at 81 pounds, the $6,000 MC8207 is a hefty, high-powered amplifier that’s claimed to output 200 watts RMS per channel with all channels driven; no fudging, no asterisks. With its large, dramatic, triple LED-based front-panel meters, it’s easily the most impressive looking of the three pieces of electronics.

The MC8207 appears outwardly to be very similar to the $8,500 MC207 except for the LED-based digital meters substituting for McIntosh’s trademarked analog ones. In addition, the MC207’s polished stainless steel chassis gives way here to a black, anodized one. These minor changes result in a not insignificant, $2,500 savings. The generous back-panel real estate makes speaker connection to the chunky binding posts convenient and easy.

Build Quality
XR100 Loudspeaker System
McIntosh’s reputation was built on electronics, not loudspeakers, although the company has been building them for decades with varying degrees of commercial and critical success.

The sleek-looking, $10,000/pair XR100’s are nearly full-range (claimed 30Hz-45kHz) floorstanders. Rather than using the classic configuration of one or two large woofers, one 4- or 5-inch midrange speaker, and a tweeter, this four-way design utilizes four 6-inch woofers, ten 2-inch midrange drivers split into two groups, and a single tweeter.

Smaller, lower-mass drivers may have advantages when properly implemented in a speaker, including the ability to move more quickly than a larger, higher-mass driver. However, unless the multiple drivers are perfectly matched, always on the same page (so to speak), and the radiation patterns carefully controlled to prevent interference, the sound can be fast, but discontinuous.

Centering the tweeter within the symmetrical midrange array produces a quasi-coaxial, mid/high-frequency drive system, but the design goes one step further. Two clusters of four drivers located above and below the tweeter handle the midrange’s lower two octaves, while a pair located just above and below the tweeter handle the upper two octaves. The result of this MTM (midrange-tweeter-midrange) arrangement, McIntosh claims, is wide horizontal dispersion and stable imaging throughout the upper mids.

The custom-built drivers feature sophisticated engineering. The die-cast- basket, polypropylene-coned, rubber surround woofers feature McIntosh’s patented distortion-reducing LD/HP technology. This uses a pair of aluminum shorting rings in the voice-coil construction to produce more linear magnetic flux in the magnetic gap in which the four-layer copper voice coil moves, and thus a claimed 10 times lower distortion compared to previous designs.

Both the tweeter and midrange diaphragms are made of light, stiff titanium and use neodymium-alloy magnets that are said to have the highest flux density per unit of volume. The drivers are protected with an automatically resetting protection circuit should you get carried away.

The second-order crossover network utilizes high-quality, carefully matched components, while the slim, rear-ported, heavily braced enclosure construction features non- parallel, internal sides to reduce standing waves.

Dual pairs of McIntosh’s chunky, nonslip binding posts allow for biwiring or biamping. This truly superior binding-post design deserves full coverage that this space won’t allow.

The sleek, attractive, high-gloss cabinets are finished in a choice of Piano Black, Pear Maple, or Red Walnut. The supplied grille frames provide a front cover if you don’t like the multiple midrange driver “spider-eyes” look.

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.

cheat coc's picture

Not only is UHD on the horizon, which I feel only matters because of HDR, but for a mere $1400 less you can get an OPPO 103D. The OPPO at least duplicates or possibly surpasses this player's performance.
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