Lexicon MC-12B Music and Cinema Processor 
Home Theater Preamplifiers AV Preamps
Written by Thomas Garcia   
Sunday, 01 June 2003

As a music and home theater enthusiast, I frequently find myself upgrading or modifying my system, either through improvements to the acoustics of the listening environment, or the replacement and/or augmentation of various pieces of equipment. Most of the time, these changes result in small to moderate levels of improvement that are not always monumental, generally more evolutionary rather than revolutionary. But every now and then, a rare piece of equipment crosses my path, making me reevaluate my overall approach to my system configuration and setup. One such recent addition has been the Lexicon MC-12B Music and Cinema Controller. Lexicon, a member of the Harman International conglomerate, has been a highly respected producer of both professional and consumer electronics over the past few decades. The MC-12B represents the current pinnacle achievement in music and cinema controllers offered by Lexicon. The MC-12B’s pedigree can be traced back to the original CP-1, which was in introduced in the late 1980s, up to and including the MC-1, the previous flagship processor in the Lexicon fleet. It is an extremely powerful and highly adjustable component, with broadcast-quality video switching and all the current multi-channel processing algorithms, including some extremely effective proprietary modes as well. Lexicon offers the Music and Cinema Controller in two configurations, the standard MC-12 ($8995), and the MC-12B ($9995), which features both single-ended and balanced outputs.

The Lexicon MC-12B’s cosmetics are a vast departure from the somewhat utilitarian packaging of the MC-1. With its classy brushed aluminum front plate and sexy cobalt blue lighted display window, the MC-12B exudes a sense of elegance and distinction. There are three main switching sections positioned on the front panel, one controlling the main inputs, another used for a second zone system, and finally an area for various record functions. The unit’s processing modes can also be accessed from the front panel via dual selector buttons, which are positioned next to an oversized, silky-smooth main volume control. The case has a matte black finish, measures 17.3 inches wide by 5.2 inches high by 14.85 inches deep, and weighs 45 pounds. The back panel is incredibly loaded, with a wide variety of input and output connectors. The outputs offer the option of both balanced and unbalanced connection. Analog audio source bypass is available on the 5.1 multi-channel inputs and the five stereo input pairs. Digital audio connections include 13 inputs (six coaxial, six optical, and one AES/EBU) and two S/PDIF outputs: one coaxial and one optical. The 17 video inputs consist of four full HDTV-compatible component connections, eight S-video and five composite inputs. The user can associate each of the available 12 inputs with any of the audio and video input connectors as they see fit. Video outputs include one BNC component video output with full HDTV compatibility, two main video outputs, each with composite and S-video, and two record video outputs, each with composite and S-video. Three independent zones (Main, Zone2 and Record), three programmable trigger outputs, and one IR input round out the active connectors on the MC-12B. Future expansion is covered by four unused microphone inputs, three open internal slots, one removable rear panel access plate and two RS232 inputs for software upgrades.

The THX Ultra Certified Lexicon MC-12B utilizes some very significant digital processing power, incorporating four Analog Devices SHARC 32-bit DSP engines for processing power, Cirrus Logic's Crystal CS49326 DSP decoder for decoding multi-channel audio-data sources, 24-bit/192kHz D/A converters for audio playback, and 24-bit/96kHz dual bit delta-sigma architecture A/D converters to handle the analog inputs. The MC-12B is able to decode a full array of current processing modes, including DTS, DTS-ES, Dolby Digital, Dolby Digital EX, Dolby Pro Logic, Dolby Pro Logic II, and THX Surround EX. In addition, it features the proprietary LOGIC7 decoding algorithm, which can either be used with two-channel sources or as an overlay on top of existing surround modes to create and enhance multi-channel playback.

The Lexicon MC-12B offers such a vast array of adjustability that it is difficult to describe how to best set up this surround sound processor for all environments. Its flexibility will allow end users to fine-tune their systems to their listening environments much more accurately than most other processors. Though the MC-12B is basically ready to play right out of the box, optimal performance will truly be reached by thorough exploration of the multitude of menus that address everything from bass management to the high frequency roll-off options available for the surround speakers, as well a host of other setup parameters. These menus are viewable through the MC-12B front panel display or via the onscreen display, a nice, convenient option. My initial system setup only touched the surface of the available flexibility that is provided by the MC-12B. It is challenging to describe all of the potential features of the Lexicon, as the manual itself is extremely comprehensive and substantial in its content. A prospective owner should be prepared to spend some time studying the manual in great depth in order to obtain a greater understanding of all of the adjustable parameters that are available within the MC-12B.

For my audition of the Lexicon MC-12B Music and Cinema Controller, I set up my reference system in a 7.1 configuration, utilizing the Revel Studios for the main speakers, a Revel Voice for the center channel, four Revel S30s for the surrounds, and two Paradigm Servo 15s providing low-frequency support. The Lexicon features one of the most flexible bass management systems available, allowing for independent channel crossover points, adjustable from 30 to 120 hertz in 10-Hertz increments. The crossover point utilized for the subwoofers was 70 Hertz for most of the audition, and I deployed a 15 kHz high-frequency roll-off setting for the surrounds. This is one of a series of frequency points available to adjust the surround speaker’s roll-off characteristics. Implementing a 120-hertz crossover point for the center channel proved to be very helpful, creating a relaxed and airy center fill to the image. The MC-12B offered many options facilitating my setup and, though I obtained a terrific end result, I have no doubt that this processor has much more to offer with additional time spent fine-tuning all the possible configurations and settings. Additionally, there is a synchronization delay available for those times when your audio signal is not matched to your video playback, a feature that is unfortunately missing in many processors.

To assess the DVD Dolby Digital surround performance of the MC-12B, I chose the already classic war epic, “Saving Private Ryan” (DreamWorks Home Entertainment). I had heard a great deal about the film and how it accurately recreates the events occurring during D-Day, but amazingly, this was my first viewing of the Steven Spielberg production. To say I was shell-shocked by this movie is an understatement. “Saving Private Ryan” is action-packed and extremely gruesome, definitely not for the faint-hearted. The scenes depicting the landing on Omaha Beach are truly graphic, yet so masterfully recreated when played back through the Lexicon controller that I find myself at a loss to describe them. The cinematography was captivating, the soundtrack and special effects were riveting, and the combat sequences were startling and extremely realistically recreated through the MC-12B. With John Williams' powerful score overlaying the film, the Lexicon processor showed its true dynamic quality, capturing the sorrowful sonata of battle, leaving the viewer with the rumblings of powerful emotion.

One interesting thing I experienced was that, despite how exciting and captivating the video images were, at times the sonics through the Lexicon were so stunning and realistic that they become the dominant stimulus, with the images merely validating what I was hearing. The MC-12B showed its prowess as a world-class processor, displaying great articulation, excelling during certain scenes, such as an interlude after the Omaha battle sequence when a momentary blanking of the screen is followed by the layered sounds of typewriters clicking like machine guns as Army typists write next of kin letters, melding into a backdrop of raindrops falling, further recalling the sound of gunfire. While viewing this film, I got a sense that the MC-12B had a true lock on the soundtrack, allowing the minutest of details to be articulated, yet keeping complete composure during the most complex and dynamic sequences. The refinement of the multi-channel processing was extremely apparent, capturing the essence of the ultimate home theater experience. I found myself unaware of the rest of the world, leaving only me and the event I was experiencing to exist in that space and time.

After viewing “Saving Private Ryan,” I decided to do a 180-degree switch and cued up Cameron Crowe's "Almost Famous" (Universal Studios Home Video). This film takes place during early ‘70s, capturing the youth, innocence, and sometimes confusion of this rock ‘n’ roll era. The film concerns a young teenage journalist who gets sucked into the rock world, much like what happened to Crowe in his youth. The DVD is a beautiful transfer and there was no noticeable degradation when viewing the movie through the MC-12B processor video switcher, compared to feeding my monitor directly. This fantastic film is put together in an exceptional way, demonstrated by the brilliant layout of both the dialogue and music of the soundtrack, and the way the selected songs complement the film flawlessly. Throughout the film, there are countless performances from great artists of the time, featuring Simon and Garfunkel, The Who, Rod Stewart and Lynyrd Skynyrd, to name just a few. Once again, the MC -12B showed its incredible ability to create that "you were there” sensation, placing the viewer directly at each venue or setting, whether behind the scenes or mixed into the crowd. One of the more memorable scenes takes place during an impromptu tour bus singalong of Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer,” The Lexicon convincingly placed me on the bus longing to join in. As with “Saving Private Ryan,” the MC-12B displayed grace and ease following the soundtrack, providing a high level of dynamic contrast throughout this film. Interestingly, I found that once I optimized the Lexicon controller for my listening environment, it performed equally well on both films, though their content and soundtracks were extremely different. I feel this is attributable to the MC-12B’s flexibility and adjustability, allowing it to achieve a higher degree of integration into my listening environment than a less flexible processor would have.

Focusing more on the musical attributes of the MC-12B, I enlisted the DVD concert disc Diana Krall Live in Paris. This DVD features Krall's own jazz group, including acoustic bassist John Clayton, drummer Jeff Hamilton, electric jazz guitarist Anthony Wilson, recording legends John Pisano on acoustic guitar and Paulinho Da Costa on percussion, with the European Symphony Orchestra sitting off to the side of the stage in semi-darkness. Krall tastefully offers her unique yet elegant renditions of several tried and true tunes that have been around for many years, previously made famous by singers ranging from Nat King Cole, Ella Fitzgerald and Frank Sinatra to Jon Bon Jovi and Bono.

Listening to this DVD on DTS, especially Krall’s version of the famous Burt Bacharach tune "The Look of Love," brings you right into the auditorium, straight to front row center stage. Throughout the concert, the MC-12B positioned the audience nicely around my listening position, recreating the appropriate venue ambience while keeping the main performance up front and focused. Occasionally, some of the front stage information spills over to the surround channels, but for the most part, it is very minimal. All instruments are recorded with lifelike accuracy and the MC-12B remained true to the source, providing appropriate weight to each instrument while remaining light on its feet. While other concert and movie sources effectively demonstrate the MC-12B’s dynamic and transient capabilities, this DVD showcases its tuneful, melodic qualities, creating an extremely non-fatiguing yet detailed presentation, regardless of the volume level. With Krall’s sultry voice and matching looks, this is a great concert to both watch and hear straight through from beginning to end, especially with the MC-12B in the system.

I explored the MC-12B’s multi-channel analog pass-through capabilities with Graham Nash’ DVD-Audio disc, Songs For Survivors (DTS Entertainment). Throughout this extremely well-recorded disc, the Lexicon sounded very clean, the music emanating from a totally black background. The fun, energetic and complex opening cut, “Dirty Little Secret,” was effortlessly reproduced, with none of the instruments or detail lost in the mix. The drums were very lifelike, and the cowbell floating up from the depths of the song was extremely realistic, delineated and delicate through the Lexicon processor. Songs For Survivors was recorded with multi-channel in mind, placing the listener more in the middle of the band during the performance rather than in the audience. Some may not like that perspective, which does not mimic a realistic concert experience, but it was enjoyable, different, and transfixing as presented by the MC-12B.

To test the attributes of LOGIC7 with a two-channel 16-bit/44.1 kHz source, I reached for one of my favorite older romantic recordings, Roxy Music’s Avalon (Warner Brothers). Listening to the smoldering title track through the Lexicon MC-12B makes you realize how graceful and alluring this disc is from start to finish. Engaging the LOGIC7 processing mode created a vivid and transparent portrayal of the cut’s haunting textures and gorgeous melodies. Listening to other favorites such as "More Than This," "To Turn You On" and "Take A Chance With Me,” the Lexicon MC-12B easily created a multi-dimensional sound experience that far exceeded any two-channel playback of this disc that I had listened to previously. When properly calibrated, the Lexicon processor consistently transformed older two-channel CD sources from flat two-dimensional soundstages to much broader three-dimensional presentations. I've not been able to spend a lot of time with other music-focused processing algorithms, such as the Meridian Trifield music processing mode, but I feel confident that more often than not, Lexicon Logic 7, when properly calibrated, will enhance the playback of most two-channel sources.

The Downside
As is the case with most processors available today, bass management is absent when analog bypass is chosen for the multi-channel DVD-Audio and SACD inputs. Additionally, the supplied remote control does not quite match the overall superior quality of the Lexicon MC-12B. First of all, it does not provide the highest level of legibility in either a dimly lit or fully illuminated environment. This is due in part to the function identifiers residing on the buttons themselves, making for a small viewing area. The backlighting does not create enough distinctive lighting for the user to decipher the active function. Secondly, although the MC-12B allows user-changeable input names, those names may not match the fixed labels on the remote. For the potential casual user or the non-audiophile neophyte, the MC-12B requires a bit more calibration, setup and exploration in order to get it optimized and functioning to its greatest potential. The manual is quite clear and comprehensive, but with all the available setup options provided, the end user will most likely experience an extended learning period before exploiting the full power the MC-12B. On the flipside, this flexibility can lead to a far greater level of reproduction than a plug-and-play system that may initially be more user-friendly. However, after living with the Lexicon controller for a period of time, I became very comfortable with its operation, functions and capabilities.

Lexicon’s many years of research and development in both the professional and consumer arenas has culminated in the creation of the exceptional MC-12B Music and Cinema Controller. With its all-encompassing surround sound processing modes, extreme flexibility and proprietary LOGIC7 algorithm, this unit is undeniably among the best options for anchoring a truly reference-quality home theater and music system. The MC-12B is a world-class performer sonically, but the real payoff just might be its incredible flexibility and capacity to tailor the sound as required, meeting the needs of different environments and systems. Add in the extensive upgrade capabilities allowing incorporation of future looming multi-channel processing innovations, and potentially system and room calibration software, and this unit should reign as one of the world’s finest home theater controllers for many years to come. In short, the Lexicon MC-12B is both a reference-quality audio and video controller and the best cure I've yet seen for the format wars and threat of technical obsolescence. At just under $10,000, the MC-12B can hardly be considered inexpensive, but for those seeking the ultimate in home theater and music playback experience, the cost is justified by the end result. The Lexicon MC-12B Music and Cinema Controller is state of the art in virtually every respect, and finds itself in a class with very few peers.
Manufacturer Lexicon
Model MC-12B Music and Cinema Processor
Reviewer Tom Garcia

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