The folks at McIntosh were kind enough to ship me their new MX150 surround sound processor awhile back. I had some help getting it into my garage where it sat because every time I looked at the 63 lb. shipping weight, I resisted taking it upstairs to my theater. A couple of weeks ago, I got the itch to try it out and rolled the box up the stairs.
Upon unpacking it (and boy, is it ever packed well) the thing that strikes you instantly is the sheer number of connections on the back. Today a lot of makers of surround sound processors have cut down on inputs because many people use just a few HDMI based components. However, people who have been playing with A/V for a while might have a large collection of all kinds of gear. Just for grins, I counted the connections up. You have 5 RCA analog audio inputs, two balanced audio inputs, a MM phono stage, 4 Toslink digital inputs, 4 SPDIF digital inputs, one AES/EBU digital input, 5 HDMI inputs, 5 component video inputs, and even 2 composite and 2 S-Video inputs. Doing the math, you can potentially connect up to 23 components to the MX-150! Also included is decoding for all current audio formats, bringing the MX-150 (compared to its predecessor) fully up to speed!
Another thing grabbing your attention is the microphone stand and microphone included in the carton. McIntosh has developed a new method to optimize your room, called Room Perfect. So, I moved my Classé SSP-800 processor from my system and proceeded to connect the MX150. The set up is menu driven and very easy to use. The only things disappointing me were the large steps when changing crossover frequency of the channels. With the MX150, you move from 40, to 80, 100, and 120hz. I’m used to my Classé where you can make changes in 10hz steps, but the jumps here are much larger. That was my only nitpick though. In terms of speaker distance, you can adjust to the inch, which is a level of fine tuning I have not seen on any unit to date. You also have the flexibility of all kinds of multiple subwoofer set ups with four additional auxiliary outputs.
The Room Perfect system is pretty neat. The concept is similar to Audyssey, used by Integra and others. However, there is a big difference that I just loved! With the MX150, when you begin the set up, you place the microphone at your favorite listening position and tell it: “that’s my spot.” It runs a series of test tones and evaluates the room. These test tones sound different than any I have ever heard a unit with auto EQ use. You get two different types of tones from each speaker that sound like someone pressing a large number of electric organ keys all at once. You are then asked to move the microphone to all other listening positions in the room until the unit has a 90 percent confidence it has properly analyzed the entire room. You get visual feedback after each EQ run of the confidence level. Then it sits and calculates for a while. You can even do this again and set up a second or third favorite spot, and it will store those settings too. McIntosh calls it the Focus Position and you can have up to 9 of them. The super cool part is how you are able to control this. If you want to listen or watch by yourself, you can turn on Room Perfect and tell it to only EQ for your spot. If you have a larger group over, you can change it to EQ more for the entire room! That is just so slick! And unlike a lot of EQ systems I have tested, this one works really well. I have to say that in the “my spot” position, the bass out of my current speakers (PSB Synch 1’s) was the best I have ever heard. The definition took a big leap over what I had with the Classé. I must add, the Classé SSP-800 does have a system for manually applying EQ to each and every speaker. I’ve been so busy with other things around the house, I keep putting off doing the Classé set-up with my system, but now I am really motivated after hearing what Room Perfect did to the bottom end. If I really analyze it, when comparing Room Perfect on versus off on some very well recorded two channel material, there was a very slight reduction of inner detail, which I suspect is due to running through all the processing. However, the improvement in bass definition is staggering, not subtle at all. My Mac Mini playing iTunes with Pure Music is also quite satisfying. If I had to analyze the difference in sound between the Classé SSP and the MX-150, I would characterize the McIntosh as warmer, with ultimately less definition and spaciousness. Each is actually great in its own right. I never get listening fatigue with either one, which is a wonderful thing!
McIntosh was clever enough to make accessing the various modes easy, especially with a smart remote. You also get the classic McIntosh look and feel. The front panel is very simple to walk up to and operate easily, which is a big plus in this day and age of tiny little black buttons. I like the big knobs! It’s somewhat like a professional cook top or oven. Simple and to the point!
To sum things up, if you are in the market for a new surround sound processor and have a lot of legacy gear to connect up, you should give the MX150 serious consideration. Or, if you just want a product that brings together 60 years of McIntosh craftsmanship, the MX-150 is the ticket. I thoroughly enjoyed my time with the McIntosh MX150. It’s a pleasure to use and will make a great centerpiece for any serious home theater system.