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McIntosh Laboratory MX-136 AV Preamplifier Print E-mail
Thursday, 01 May 2008
Article Index
McIntosh Laboratory MX-136 AV Preamplifier
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The Downside
I was disappointed with McIntosh’s decision to make the HDMI video-only. While I understand that the digital signals that are transmitted via HDMI are allegedly more prone to jitter problems than the same signals transmitted via coaxial cable, it would be nice to have the option. The new high-resolution audio codecs are only transmitted via HDMI. Being unable to accept audio via HDMI precludes the MX-136 being able to be upgraded to decode these codecs. 

Assuming that the new audio codecs are of no interest to you, not being able to use HDMI to accept incoming digital signals leaves the user with only six digital audio inputs. Many of today’s high-end home theaters are going to have more than six sources that could benefit from the MX-136’s DACs and/or decoding.

While most people who will buy the MX-136 will have it professionally set up, there are those of us who like to do it ourselves or may simply want to tweak the settings on occasion. I would like to be able to enter the set-up menu via the remote control. With the MX-136, you must press and hold the set-up button on the unit’s front panel. This can be quite inconvenient when the unit is remotely situated, such as it is in my system.

Lastly, at this price range, many people will expect the latest bells and whistles, such as automated set-up and equalization, HDMI 1.3 support, etc.  Those who need these features will have to look elsewhere. For the majority of us, those features or the lack thereof should not be an impediment to enjoying what the MX-136 has to offer.

The MX-136 is competing with the upper echelon of home theater processors. The McIntosh can accept numerous sources and use them to produce superior sound quality with the currently available audio codecs. A concern with the MX-136 and most other high-end AV preamps is that they cannot accommodate the new audio codecs, except through their 7.1 analog inputs. Some of the processors attempt to circumvent this problem through modular construction and firmware upgradeability, but it remains to be seen if these upgrades will work.

The McIntosh processor lives up to the company reputation of providing excellent audio performance. Video performance is quite good, but not up to the quality of the better standalone processors. The MX-136 is an elegant processor that foregoes having the very latest cutting-edge bells and whistles for solid, easy-to-use performance in both the theater and music arenas.

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