|Lexicon MC-12 HD Music and Cinema Processor|
|Home Theater Preamplifiers AV Preamps|
|Written by Andrew Robinson|
|Thursday, 01 May 2008|
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Music and Movies
I started my evaluation of the MC-12 HD with Pearl Jam’s “Thumbing My Way to Heaven” from their album Riot Act (Sony). From the get-go, the MC-12 HD proved to be a smooth operator. The track was full-bodied, warm and just a touch laid-back, which I wasn’t expecting. Granted, this particular track is hardly the grunge rock Pearl Jam of old, but I wasn’t expecting such a composed, grain-free and sublime sound. The treble didn’t sparkle quite as brilliantly as my reference two-channel rig, but it never became offensive or shouty. It sounded slightly more analog than digital, which was surprising. The midrange was thick and the bass was solid but not quite as tight as I’ve come to expect from the Bel Cantos, which can be ruthlessly nimble on their feet. The MC-12 HD’s control of my subwoofer was good but, again, lacked that last ounce of dictator-like control. The soundstage was good, with a good sense of space and detail present, but it wasn’t quite as spacious and enveloping as I was expecting from a processor that costs as much as a small car. Vocals were natural and lifelike, exhibiting the proper proportions and weight amidst the rest of the musical elements. All too often, other processors give too much credence to the vocals, which are sometimes artificially called out in stark contrast to the rest of the music.
Switching gears, I cued up Peter Cincotti’s debut album and the track “Sway” (Concord Records). Again, the MC-12 HD was smooth as silk, with just a hint of darkness to the midrange and bass. All of the musical elements were present, with a good amount of inner detail and air, but the music just didn’t fully come to life until I coaxed the volume a bit. The MC-12 HD exhibited a type of control over the music and my Bel Cantos that I hadn’t previously experienced; it seemed to hold it all back until it was ready and willing to relinquish control. More often than not, I find that amplifiers are guilty of this feat when you can start to feel and hear the edge of their capabilities. This time, I got the sense that the Bel Cantos wanted to roam free and it was the MC-12 HD that was keeping them on a short leash. When you open the taps a bit on the MC-12 HD, it does spring to life, as does the music, but this is not a processor suited for low-level listening. Normally, that would bug me, but with a processor like the MC-12 HD, you know it’s not going into someone’s bedroom system or living room home theater. The Lexicon MC-12 HD is not a Ferrari for grocery store runs, it is a purpose-built processor designed for one thing: to bring the experience of a movie theater to your dedicated home theater. While I found its two-channel performance to be adequate, it was not on par with Meridian. However, the more I listened to two-channel fare, the more I wanted to switch gears and throw down with a big action film or, even better, a Blu-ray disc.
I decided to just go for broke and popped in Casino Royale on Blu-ray (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment). I went to the opening chase scene and set the volume to stun. And stun is exactly what I got. While the MC-12 HD cannot yet take advantage of the latest uncompressed audio formats like Dolby True HD and DTS Master Audio, it still can produce quite an experience from more standard multi-channel fare. The MC-12 HD didn’t disappoint with its dynamics. Every crash, every explosion and gun blast was reproduced with reckless abandon, with a lot of that big Harman sound I was looking for in my two-channel demo. The MC-12 HD’s dynamic envelope was immense and proved that when the going got rough, it could hang with the best of ‘em. This time around, I didn’t feel as if my Bel Cantos were being held back, nor did I feel as if my sub had been caught napping. Everything was working in perfect harmony as the MC-12 HD ordered the troops into battle. The treble was still a touch subdued, but far more impactful and blistering than with straight music, which injected a bit of immediacy to the entire sonic landscape. The midrange, especially dialogue, was crystal clean and natural. The bass was rock solid and was capable of shifting its weight rather effortlessly. The surround sound performance was seamless across all five of my Meridian in-walls and the size and scale of the soundstage defied the physical constraints of the room.
On the video side of things, the MC-12 HD simply passed the signal along faithfully, robbing the image of nothing in terms of black levels and color saturation, and leaving zero digital garbage in its wake. The motion tracked just as smoothly with the MC-12 HD in the chain as it did without. The color rendering and saturation remained 100 percent intact and, after watching most of the film, I concluded that the MC-12 HD is about as invisible a processor as you can find in terms of video quality. Again, the MC-12 HD is not a fix-all device, it is a purpose-built product that assumes you’ve done your homework and have built a system with sheer performance in mind. If you have that, the MC-12 HD will reward you in spades.
I ended my time with the Lexicon MC-12 HD with Peter Berg’s The Kingdom (Universal Studios Home Video) on HD DVD. I went ahead and chaptered to the freeway ambush and chase. The buildup to the inevitable was sonically tense and the MC-12 HD did an excellent job at not tipping its hand too soon. The score was kept in check against the dialogue and subtle engine noise, so much so that, like the characters on screen, I hardly noticed the sounds of the approaching cars in the background. They were present, but the Lexicon knew when best to bring them to my attention. When the explosion does hit and the subsequent cars full of terrorists do arrive on the scene, the effect and impact was as emotional as it was physical. The sound of shattering glass and twisting metal was visceral and at times made me cringe in my seat, which is a good thing. I can’t stand when any product or component takes a car wreck and turns into a symphony of sounds rather than present me with the honest truth that metal scraping against metal or pavement is supposed to sound terrible and frightening. The MC-12 HD not only does this but also does it in such a way that I began to justify the MC-12 HD hefty price tag. I also began to see the logic behind the Lexicon’s EQ, for I’ve never experienced this scene through my Meridians the way that I did with the MC-12 HD in my system. The firefight was equally impressive and the sound of the surrounding atmosphere enveloped my room. It was remarkable, but above all, it was enjoyable, so much so that I forgot that I was only hearing a Dolby Digital track.
The muted tones and rich blacks of the film’s look were intact and unchanged by the presence of the MC-12 HD. Once again, the MC-12 HD proved to be virtually invisible to the rest of my video components. Since I had more HDMI inputs then I knew what to do with, the question of whether I was I getting the absolute best my components had to offer never came into question.