Lexicon MC-1 AV Preamp Reviewed

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LEXICON A LA MODE...REDUX
As in the review of the original DC-1, it's worth noting what all of the nonsense/fantasy modes are, just in case you're the sort of money's-worth who feels that If It's There, Then I Must Use It. The MC-1 controller has the same user-applicable surround modes of the DC-1, each one with its own set-up menu with user-adjustable parameters:
1) Panorama: adds spaciousness by extracting the recording's natural ambience 
2) Nightclub: generates the appropriate early reflections to suggest intimate spaces
3) Concert Hall: as above, but suggesting a large hall
4) Church: uses a reverb algorithm to make you feel holy
5) Cathedral: as above, but holier
6) Music Logic: provides steering to exploit the extra speakers for surround usage for stereo music material, also steering signals at the front
7) Music Surround (THX): as above, but the front left and right channels receive unprocessed L/R signals
8) TV Matrix: provides surround effects for mono, stereo and stereo synthesised TV programmes, helpful for cleaning up dialogue
9) Logic 7 (THX): provides "maximum separation" and "uses intelligent steering to extract wide bandwidth stereo surround channels", can be applied to all modes
10) Mono Logic: and I quote, "takes a monaural soundtrack and sends music and sound effects to the sides and rear through a room simulator mode while keeping the dialog (sic) in the center (sic). Don't laugh: it 
11) Pro Logic: your proper, familiar Dolby Pro Logic Surround decoding
12) THX Cinema: Dolby Pro Logic with icing
13) Party: provides unprocessed stereo signals to all speakers
14) Two Channel: good, ol' stereo...
What's changed from before is that I now leave it in Logic 7 mode at all times, including DTS and Dolby Digital, having discovered that Lexicon's own refined logic-steering technology improves side-fill in non-7.1 systems. So what you must also add to the above, although their application is determined by using the correct 5.1 channel software, are:
5.1 2-channel: down-mixes 5.1 for two-channel playback
5.1 Music: enhances music program
5.1 Logic 7: adds Logic 7 to Dolby Digital
Dolby Digital: straight AC-3
THX 5.1: applies THX side-channel enhancements
DTS 2-channel: down-mixes DTS 5.1 for two-channel playback
DTS Music: enhances music program
DTS Logic 7: adds Logic 7 to DTS
DTS Film: straight DTS
DTS THX 5.1: applies THX side-channel enhancements

In an unrelated conversation with one of the industry's more outspoken pundits, I mentioned that I was looking forward one day to setting up the MC-1 in 7.1 channel mode. You know the drill: I was waiting for seven identical speakers and seven identical amplifiers, having dealt with the first (I own four pairs of LS3/5As) but not the latter. He said, "Why bother? All 7.1 is bogus until we get discrete 7.1 channel source material. Until then, what you'll be hearing is true 5.1, plus a couple of channels of glorified Pro-Logic filling in the sides." I couldn't argue with that one. But I still use Logic 7.

Lexicon's MC-1, like its predecessors, is a wholly digital A/V product and sold as such. I therefore doubt that anyone would buy it with the intention of using it exclusively as an analogue two-channel pre-amp, even though it is likely that MC-1s will see occasional service in two-channel mode; just about everyone with a 'home entertainment room' also employs CD players, tuners and the like. But there's a snag for purists: unlike the DC-1, which had direct analogue inputs, the MC-1 takes every source inserted into its analogue socketry and runs it through the on-board A/D converter.

I have to admit that sources I used during the listening sessions with digital outputs were used in all-digital mode. And why not? The MC-1's DACs are fabulous, and I had no way of checking MC-1 DAC vs a component's onboard DAC because of the lack of analogue inputs which bypass the MC-1's digital circuitry. But I had to try the assorted sources using their analogue outputs, as well as a turntable (Basis/Rega/Grado cartridge/EAR phono stage), in an attempt at deciphering what the conversion did to otherwise analogue signals.

All of the sources with digital outputs benefited from the MC-1's DACs as far as I could tell, but I may have been hearing double the processing when using the analogue outputs. My advice, therefore, is to use the MC-1's digital inputs when possible for the most direct connection. But the results with the Trio L-O1T tuner and the Basis/Rega/Grado package were unusual to say the least. None could argue that the sound of both acquired a veneer of 'processing', if not quite a complete makeover in digitisation. The surprise was that the artefacts weren't wholly detrimental. While neither the tuner nor the turntable were made softer - a slight edge crept in - both were categorically cleaner. This isn't necessarily a good thing, because the whitewash might have taken with it some minor detail and a hint of ambience; conversely, the sound could prove more appealing to ears raised on CD.

We are not talking about anything so offensive as to preclude ownership of the otherwise miraculous MC-1 in an all-manner-of-source-components system. It's just that it would have been nice if Lexicon had included one or two pure-analogue, bypassed inputs for us purists.

Additional Resources
• Read high end AV preamp reviews from Lexicon, Meridian, Krell, Mark Levinson...

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HTR Product Rating for Lexicon MC-1 AV Preamp

Criteria Rating

Performance

4

Value

3.5

Overall

4

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