Mark Levinson No.40 surround preamplifier-processor Page 2

Features and Setup
Most buyers will probably rely on their dealers to set up and install the No.40. But we assume that anyone reading this review is a hands-on home-theater fan who will want to personally set up or easily reconfigure his or her surround processor. The owner's manual and setup menus (which make up much of the processor's graphic user interface, or GUI) provide ample information for the ambitious owner to do his or her own setup—or at least to tweak the unit without having to call for help.

Setting up the No.40 isn't rocket science, but it's no casual affair, either. The manual is thorough, but it could be improved by more diagrams, including representative depictions of the setup menus, and, more important, an index. Fortunately, operating the processor is simpler than setting it up, which is as it should be. Nevertheless, anyone contemplating the purchase of a complicated and/or expensive surround processor such as this should seriously consider studying the manual first (it's available for download from Madrigal's website), then spending some serious pre-purchase time operating a sample in a dealer's showroom to make certain the love affair will last. In the case of the No.40—a very serious and possibly lifetime purchase—such preparation will be time well spent.

The manual runs 146 pages, all of them packed with detail; I can touch on only the highlights here. All major movie-surround formats are supported: conventional Dolby Digital and DTS, Dolby Digital EX and DTS-ES (the latter in both matrix and discrete), and Dolby Pro Logic II (Movie and Music). With each of these, THX processing can be engaged or not. Music can be played in straight 2-channel stereo without center or surrounds, in Madrigal's Stereo Surround mode (which engages the center and surrounds in a subtle, musical way), or in Pro Logic II, which, unlike the original Pro Logic, has been designed to complement not just films but music as well.

The number of setup options is mind-boggling. In addition to the 5.1 main channel outputs, two auxiliary outputs can be configured either for rear surrounds (as with DD-EX or DTS-ES), extra subwoofers, or some combination of the two (such as a single rear channel and a second sub). The high- and lowpass filters can be set for full-range operation or for any frequency between 30Hz and 100Hz, in 10Hz steps. The crossover slopes can be set for 12dB or 18dB/octave on the main channels and 18dB or 24dB/octave on the subwoofers—or the latter can be bypassed to let the subwoofer's own crossover do the work. The frequency and slope adjustments can be set separately for the main front channels, the center, and the side and rear surrounds. The only thing missing is the ability to select a different crossover frequency for the filters' high- and lowpass sides—an option that can sometimes be useful.

Setting up the No.40 centers on the concept of the "sound profile": a specific setup with a certain array of speakers, a certain sound balance, specific defaults for multichannel, 2-channel, or mono sources, and perhaps even a designation to engage an output trigger to, say, lower the screen and close the curtains.

You can specify names for each profile, such as Action Movie or Romantic Comedy. For example, a Movie profile might be set to default to THX mode for multichannel sources and Dolby Pro Logic II Movie for 2-channel sources, with 7.1 speakers engaged and the subwoofer on. A separate Action Movie profile could be set up with the subwoofer cranked up by 3dB but everything else the same. A Music profile might configure the system for front left and right only, with the subwoofer on or off. The possibilities for these profiles are almost limitless—they can even include setup and level/delay calibration for several different listening positions, if you like! There is enough memory to set up and store 20 of them, but chances are three or four will be enough for all but the terminally obsessed.

After you set up the sound profiles you want, each input must be individually set up and named. By "input" I don't mean a physical input, but an input designation, such as "DVD." You could name an input "DVD," then assign to it any of the No.40's available audio and video jacks. You can also assign a default sound profile to "DVD," though you can also change profiles on the fly as you listen to an input. A number of other parameters can be set, including a full complement of video controls: Black and White Level, Color, Tint, Sharpness, and Video Filter.

The No.40's 100dB range of volume control is adjustable (globally and for each channel) in steps of 0.1dB. It's the only surround processor I know of that offers such a precise degree of control. Even the on-the-fly adjustments for temporarily fine-tuning each channel without changing the calibration settings are in 0.1dB steps.

The video processor will transcode interlaced signals—composite, S-video, or component—up or down as needed to provide all of these formats simultaneously in all output zones. For now, the No.40's video processor will switch video signals, including high definition, only in conventional analog form.

But the No.40 is ready for input modules that Madrigal will offer when the dust surrounding the consumer-routing formats for digital video—DVI/HDCP, HDMI, and/or IEEE1394—finally settles.

The illuminated remote is small but hefty. The controls require you to go "around the horn" rather than providing direct access to such settings as surround format, input, and profile, but this minor inconvenience is offset by the smaller number of buttons. Three unassigned keys can be programmed to provide direct access to a specific input or profile, to turn THX mode on or off, or to perform a number of other functions.

My review sample of the No.40 was set up by Madrigal's Kevin Voecks. We decided on profiles covering the standard movie surround modes with 80Hz crossovers all around, Stereo surround, plus two 2-channel modes: one with 80Hz crossovers and the subwoofer on, the other with the main L/R speakers driven full-range and the sub off. Setup can be performed using the internal menus or via PC using a Windows Setup Utility program that can be obtained from Madrigal. The program doesn't do anything that can't be done manually, but it speeds the process for the experienced installer and can also provide a complete backup of the final settings.

Finally, with its two PHASTLink ports, two fully bidirectional RS-232 ports, three programmable DC triggers, and a hardwired IR input on the rear panel, the No.40 can control such external devices as motorized screens and drapes, and it is fully compatible with external control systems such as those from AMX or Crestron. And just before we went to press, Madrigal announced a major software revision (not tested) that will add, among other refinements, a number of additional sound modes, including DTS Neo:6 (Cinema and Music) and DTS 96/24.