Dreaming the Not-Impossible Dream Page 3

The $2,500 LCR80 center-channel speaker is a relatively small three-way design utilizing similar drivers as the XR100 (only fewer). The installer rotatable MTM alignment, flanked by a pair of 6-inch woofers, allows the speaker to be used either horizontally or vertically. Despite the presence of the two woofers, low-frequency extension has purposely been limited to 80 hertz.

The $4,000/pair XR50 stand-mount monitors (used here as surrounds) feature similar drivers as used throughout the line, but in a vertical stack consisting of a single, rear-ported woofer and an MTM array.

I managed to unbox and hoist the MC8207 amplifier atop my Salamander A/V cabinet along with the other components, but waited for the regional McIntosh representative to arrive to help unbox the speakers and assist with the setup. The amplifier’s physical wow factor didn’t diminish during the entire review cycle.

Speaker placement didn’t prove to be as critical as with some systems reviewed in Home Theater. Nor was toe-in, thanks to what sounded to me to be the tweeters’ smooth and wide dispersive character and well-behaved, off-axis power response.

Configuring the MX121 was a snap because the interface was pretty much identical to that of my reference Marantz AV7005. I’m going to save space here and recommend you read that review (Home Theater, April 2011, or HomeTheater.com) if you want more set-up, functionality, and operational details because they are, for the most part, identical.

Let’s just say, I did not use any of the video adjustments, nor did I attempt to make use of the custom, multiband EQ settings. Most of the time this kind of play results in worse, not better, picture and sound quality. From within the MX121’s speaker configuration menu, the XR100s were set to Large and the others to Small. Initially, I ran the system as is without the Audyssey room-correction engaged. McIntosh supplies a nice microphone stand to use with the Audyssey microphone. A bit much? Perhaps (and cynics might say for $6,000, the company could also throw in another kind of Mac-Intosh), but if you don’t already have a tripod, it is handy.

McIntosh also supplied its own balanced interconnects for the processor-to-amp connections, and I made sure to run a set of balanced cables from the MVP891’s balanced stereo outputs to the MX121’s balanced inputs. Twelve-volt triggers turn on both the amp and the player at preamp startup, and just to add an additional bit of bling, you can run supplied low-voltage cables to the front and surround speakers, and upon preamp turn-on, the speakers’ McIntosh logo will glow a cool green.

Watch and Listen
The setup was all taking place in my living room. My wife is somewhat tolerant, but when she got home from work that evening and saw the “stuff” on top of the A/V cabinet, she was not happy!

“I thought you bought that so those things could go inside, not on top!” she exclaimed. “How long will those be…oh, those are nice!”

So before I describe the system’s sonic performance on movie soundtracks, let me just say that when I told her a month later that the McIntosh rep was coming the next day to help box everything up, her response was, “Can we buy this? Can we keep it?”

Why the flip-flop? She got used to the sound, pure and simple. I know some audiophiles who, when they think “McIntosh,” mistakenly think “Lincoln Town Car.” They think warm, soft, and squishy—not exactly what you want in a home theater system.

But this one was all Ferrari and no Town Car. It produced soundfields that were astonishingly transparent, tight, vibrant, focused, punchy, dynamic, and most of all, utterly effortless—at any volume I cared to listen at.

The first Blu-ray Disc we watched was Wes Anderson’s talky, adult, stop-action- animation feature Fantastic Mr. Fox, featuring the voices of George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Jason Schwartzman, and Bill Murray. It’s animated but not cartoonish, so the dialogue delivery is subtle, fast-paced, and almost under-the-breath matter of fact. Clooney voices a scheming, quick-witted fox—is there any other kind?—and that’s the movie’s underlying point. He’s behaving as only a fox can, no matter how much he tries to act otherwise.

The clarity, cleanliness, and tonal coherence with which the system delivered the dialogue was immediately obvious. Male voices were noticeably free of chesty overhang, yet still timbrally full-bodied, and the rapidity and completeness of the decay helped produce remarkable intelligibility.

The balance of chest, voice box, and mouth were perfectly balanced and integrated, much as they were with the much larger Adam Audio GTC77 center channel I reviewed in the February 2012 issue. This is the first relatively small, center-channel speaker I’ve heard that achieved a similar result.

I like to listen at relatively high, im- mersive SPLs. My wife prefers just the opposite, so you have to listen in rather than having the sound project toward you. I normally find that requires a kind of concentration in which I’d rather not involve myself when I’m watching a movie. More often than not, intelligibility suffers and sonic coherence breaks down at lower SPLs, as you either hear a muffled midbass protrusion or vocal sibilants predominate.

Yet, listening at my wife’s preferred low volume, there was little or no change in either intelligibility or vocal coherence—even though Clooney’s character maintained a low monotone throughout. I did turn it up a few times—once or twice way up—because our dog barked incessantly and quizzically at the suit-wearing fox and no speaker could cut through that at moderate SPLs. Even at these levels, though, dialogue remained equally clean, coherent, and intelligible, and never sounded strained or boxy. Big speakers can achieve this, but it’s rare that a smaller one can.

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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