McIntosh MX-120 AV Preamp Reviewed

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While most of us run full 7.1 home theater systems, I know few who forget the fact that all good home theater systems are built on the basics of two-channel audio. McIntosh is a company who began in the two-channel world and is well known and respected in both arenas. For those who want the utility of a home theater but will accept no sacrifice in two-channel performance, McIntosh has released their MX-120 AV preamplifier. Designed to be the hub of a home theater and two-channel rig, the MX-120 is the lesser-priced unit from McIntosh. It offers two zone control, HDMI video switching and balanced stereo operation all for $8,000. The MX-120 offers the legendary look of McIntosh with the green lights and the simple, retro styling their fans know and love.

The MX-120 is an unusual piece in that, at first glance, it's designed as a two-channel preamp with home theater added in as a bonus. I say this as the MX-120 has single ended 7.1 channel preamp outputs while offering balanced outputs for the front three speakers. One balanced stereo input is there as well as six analog inputs, including a MM phono input. There are three coaxial and optical inputs and one each for output. Six composite and S-Video inputs, three component and four HDMI (video only) inputs are there with three S-Video and composite, one component and HDMI output, and all signals are transcoded up to HDMI. A tape recorder loop completes the inputs. RS-232 and IR control ports as well as McIntosh's proprietary amplifier connection finish off the connectivity. The MX-120 is capable of handling eight inputs, and all inputs are assignable and re-nameable. The user can preset surround formats and bass and treble levels for each input and for Zone A these will be remembered until they are changed.
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Sonically the MX-120 will keep die-hard McIntosh fans happy with a smooth and comfortable sound they will love. The unusual inclusion of balanced outputs for the front three channels allows for use of high quality amplifiers for the front two or three speakers, or for longer runs of interconnects to these speakers without signal interference, and allows the MX-120 to maximize two-channel performance while offering home theater as well.

Read more about the MX-120 on Page 2.

HTR Product Rating for McIntosh MX-120 AV Preamp

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High Points
� The MX-120 offers solid two-channel performance and home theater at a lower price point than McIntosh's reference level piece.
� The second zone will allow users to enjoy this piece throughout their home.
� Two-channel users will love the inclusion of a balanced input and outputs for the front speakers.
� The Moving Magnet phono input will allow simplified integration of a turntable with such a cartridge.

Low Points
� Since the MX-120 doesn't accept digital over HDMI it cannot decode any of the new uncompressed codecs of Blu-ray or SACD or DVD-Audio over HDMI. This necessitates use of the multichannel analog input and will require a higher end source, increasing the cost of the system.
� The MX-120 only offers balanced outputs for the front three channels.
� There is no room correction unlike AV preamps in its class.
� Tone controls are limited to bass, treble, and loudness control.

The McIntosh MX-120 is an unusual piece. It is clearly marketed towards those with the utmost regard for two-channel performance who need a home theater. The absent balanced outputs for the surround channels seems to indicate this and may be problematic for those who want the ultimate performance from all speakers in a home theater. The fact that is doesn't decode any of the current uncompressed codecs of Blu-ray and can't accept SACD or DVD-Audio over HDMI means you will have to make wise use of the lone 7.1 channel analog input, requiring a true universal player to enjoy the latest and greatest sound from multi-channel music and home theater.

For those who want a McIntosh system, and really are more focused on two-channel sound this might be the piece that allows them entry into the McIntosh world while enabling multi-zone control and home theater as well. For the die hard home theater shopper looking for all the bells and whistles you'll need to look elsewhere to satisfy your needs.
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