MC-10 Home Theater Processor Review
Lexicon's first home theater processor in over 10 years.
THE HIGH NOTES
- World class DACs
- Gotta love Dirac
- Best we've heard under $15,000
Company & Product Overview
If you were a friend of Audio Advice back in the days when home theater was just getting started, you are likely to be very familiar with the Lexicon brand. For those of you who are not, a bit of history is in order. Lexicon was founded in 1971 when digital signal processing was just starting to be dreamed up for the medical industry. In 1978, Lexicon entered the commercial studio market. They continue to have huge success in the music industry. Did you know that over 80% of currently produced music passes through a Lexicon product of some sort?
In the late 1980’s when home theater was just beginning, Lexicon introduced their CP series of products, and Audio Advice became a dealer. The 90’s saw their DC home theater processors, followed up with their MC processors in the late 90’s and early 2000’s. These were by far and away, the most popular home theater processors at Audio Advice. About 10 years ago, the company decided to focus more on commercial theaters and the studio market. This was a great disappointment to us, as we had loved their processors.
When we attended CES last year, we were delighted to see Lexicon back in the game with an AV processor, the MC-10! For serious home theater enthusiasts, having separates is a must to get the ultimate in performance. The MC-10 is a full control center designed to be paired up with one or more power amps to drive your home theater speakers. The MC-10 also includes our favorite type of room EQ, Dirac.
Design & Build Quality
Lexicon is part of Harman International who owns many high performance brands in both the professional and consumer market. JBL, Revel, Mark Levinson, and Arcam are some of the luxury brands they oversee. What is really great about Harman’s philosophy is that they let the brands be totally independent, yet encourage sharing of engineering across the brands.
Lexicon processors had one very unique feature most of our customers loved called Logic 7. This took a two channel source and digitally manipulated it to be in 7 channels to recreate the effect of a live music event. It changed the music listening experience if you had 7 channels of good speakers to something really special. Arcam introduced a separate processor called the AV860 in early 2018. The Lexicon MC-10 has leveraged all of the electronics of the new Arcam processor plus added its famous Logic 7 software and processing, and packaged it into a beautiful and super well designed Lexicon control housing. The visual aesthetic of the MC-10 makes it one of the few processors on the market that you’d almost want out in the open from its industrial design.
The MC-10 is obviously designed to be part of a serious home theater system and there are some great reasons for heading down this road of separate components for your home theater. Most home theater systems will consist of an all -in-one home theater receiver. The receiver contains all of the amplifiers, the video and audio switching, and all of the signal processing. This is the more economical way to go because everything is all in one box, plus you also share power supplies across different parts of the receiver. With something like the MC-10, the amplifiers are not included. It processes the audio and video signals then sends them along to amplifiers. This means its power supply can be designed for just that type of work and does not have to care about driving a large speaker, which also means, if done right, it will have zero noise. Another benefit is you do not have the big demands of an amp inside the receiver drawing down the power supplying the critical low signal level components in the processing side of things.
Another huge advantage of going with separates is that you can pick out the best possible amps to drive your speakers. Separate power amps are made to just drive a speaker and nothing else. They are the choice of enthusiasts for the best sound. You could go from single mono power amps for every speaker, to a multichannel amp that might have all the necessary channels needed. One way we like to go at Audio Advice, especially if music is also important in your theater (and trust us, once you get a great theater, it will be!), is to go with higher quality amps for the front three main speakers, and go with less expensive ones for the surround channels. This lets you put your money into some great amps for the primary speakers in your theater and get amazing sound.
Finally, separates buys you a system that is easier to change. We all know that the world of video is constantly changing. If you buy an expensive, all-in-one receiver, if tech changes 5-7 years into its life, then the whole thing may be out of date. However, with separates, you can just upgrade the processor piece and keep your great amps. We have many customers who have used their high performance power amps across many different systems for 30+ years because a good power amp typically lasts a very long time and does not go out of date. We hope this gives you an idea of why we love the idea of separate components for home theater (and home audio too).
The build quality on the Lexicon is just great. You’d of course expect this for $6000. The rear panel is very well laid out with 7 HDMI inputs and a full set of both balanced and RCA outputs. Its large volume knob in the center of the half-inch thick hairline brushed anodized aluminum fascia faceplate just looks very cool to us audio geeks too!
Features & Technology
Where do we begin! We’ll first go over all the ways you can use the MC-10, then get into a few things that make it really special.
You’ll probably never have a shortage of input options with the MC-10. 7 HDMI inputs, 6 analog inputs, 4 Coax digital, 2 Toslink digital, USB for computer audio, and even an FM tuner! The front panel adds a headphone jack and a convenient mini plug audio input. For outputs, you’ve got 11 channels plus two subwoofer outputs. There are 12 balanced outputs and 13 RCA outputs as you need to use the RCA out for the second sub. We don’t understand why Lexicon did not just make all the outputs both balanced and RCA, but that is a minor issue as not all subs have balanced inputs anyway. You’ll even get a zone 2 output and 3 HDMI outs. One goes to Zone 2 while the others track the main zone with audio return channel on one of them. This also means you could feed two video sources; think a wall mount 65” TV for the news and a drop down 133” screen with projector for the real deal. Add in Spotify and Internet radio and you have one great input set.
In terms of input flexibility, the Lexicon has several features we especially like. First, it does not limit you to the number of inputs you can assign an HDMI feed to. This is getting pretty rare these days so we were happy to see it. If you like to listen to music while watching sports, you can assign the video in from your cable box to both the cable box input AND say the CD input and/or any others! Very cool. Each input also has the ability to have a different set of tone controls and EQ applied to it for fine tuning. Finally, you have input offset, which lets you vary the levels of inputs. If you’ve ever switched between components, you may have noticed some are louder than others. The Lexicon lets you balance this out.
Another output feature we are happy to see is a second subwoofer out that has its own independent volume level. Some receivers have 2 sub outs, but they track together. This is something Lexicon has had for years and we are glad to see it continue on the MC-10. Having the independent volume levels makes it far easier for you to balance your subs, especially if they are two different models.
As you might have guessed with all the channels available, the MC-10 does both Dolby Atmos and DTS:X. It also handles the latest in HDR HDMI and is even Dolby Vision compatible. Obviously the MC-10 checks off all the boxes on everything you should expect to see in a surround sound processor of this caliber. However, that is now why we like it so much! A truly great home theater is all about making the sound and picture as good as it can possibly be. The MC-10 has just totally blown us away on how good it sounds compared to anything else even remotely close to it’s price.
First, it has some of the best DACs you can buy as it uses 24bit /192k Cirrus CS42528 DACs. Just for grins, we decided to look up the manufacturer cost of these DACs and compare their cost to the DACs other processor vendors brag about. What we found were these particular DAC’s costs 3-6 times as much as the DAC’s some Lexicon competitors use. No wonder it sounds so good! For those of you unsure why this is so important, DAC is short for digital to analog convertor. It is the part that takes all those ones and zeros in a digital recording and converts them to analog for our ears. As a general rule, the better the DAC and its supporting circuitry, the better the sound.
Another great technology for music lovers is Lexicon’s Logic7 Immersion upmixer. This tech takes a two channel music recording and converts it into multichannel using Lexicon’s decades of recording studio expertise. The result is pretty amazing, especially on a live performance.
The part of the MC-10 that we really love is its Dirac Live room correction system. If you know much about acoustics, you are fully aware of how the room interacts with your speakers to drastically change their sound. It is actually pretty incredible how large an impact on the sound your room has. The room causes certain parts of the audio band to be much louder than they should be, and others to be much more diminished. To make things worse the frequencies that are affected change as you move to different parts of the room. Every since the birth of home audio, engineers have tried to figure out ways to correct for these audio issues without messing up the actual sound through all the processing needed for correction. As computer processing power crept into home audio, several methods have come out that help out a lot with correcting the room. However, all of them just deal with the frequencies and not timing issues; yes, your room can screw this up too! Dirac was founded about 15 years ago by a group of PhD students attending Uppsala University in Sweden. These were a group of music lovers who decided to apply computer science to make their music systems sound better. They honored the British physicist Paul Dirac by naming their invention after him as one of his mathematical functions is at the heart their Dirac process. It is by far and away the most complex and creative process ever invented to attack room issues as it not only looks at frequency response, but also impulse response.
The first home audio component to use Dirac came out around 2013 in the Datasat RS20i surround sound processor. The first time we heard one of these, we were just totally amazed at how much it improved our sound and we became a dealer that day. We can fully attest that using Dirac will transform the sound of your room. It impressed our founder so much, he replaced his very high end two channel preamp with a Datasat. You can not imagine how thrilled we were when we found out the MC-10, with its Lexicon heritage of amazing sound, was going to include Dirac!
Another cool part about the new Dirac Live included with the MC-10 is its lack of complexity in setup compared to the Datasat. The menu will walk you through some steps to determine your theater layout, then tell you exactly where to put the microphone (included) for each of the steps in the process. There are a few tricks and tips we have learned by using the Datasat Dirac system to making it sound even better. We will implement those ourselves if we install your system; or if you purchase from us and install yourself, we will give you the key things to know to maximize your final calibration performance.
Our testing system was a pretty high performance one already with an all Bowers CT800 series surround setup and separate Classe amplifiers. We had just finished comparing a couple of slightly less expensive surround sound processors when we dropped in the MC-10. Being the impatient music and film lovers we are, we could not wait to hear the MC-10 so we tried it in the beginning without Dirac. All we did was set distances and levels. We were not prepared for the difference in sound!
Compared to what we had just tested (and these were no slouch products, and multi-thousand dollar units too), the MC-10 just blew them away. There was much more audio information, yet it was warmer and more effortless. Hmm, that sounds like what much better DACs can do to us! Bass was deeper and more impactful. The tracking of Atmos effects had us just grinning from ear to ear. It was like the system had a veil lifted while at the same time some tube goodness was poured in. Again, this is because the MC-10 uses great audio DACs and has superior circuitry supporting them.
And then we set up Dirac. The room transformed! Everything across the board was cleaner and clearer. Bass lines and explosive effects became much better defined. The all important dialog track was the clearest we had ever experienced. This part is really cool--since what draws us into a movie (besides all the great special effects) is hearing that emotion in the voices of the people on the screen. When you get that right, you are just totally sucked into the film and the combination of Dirac and the MC-10 did it better than anything we had heard outside of the Datasat. Let’s restate that, everything we heard is only bettered by the 2.5 to 4 times more expensive Datasat. The MC-10 is by far and away the best processor we have ever heard under $15,000 and its audio improvements are not subtle!
Granted, at $6,000, the MC-10 is not going to wind up in every home theater. However, if you are serious about the sound in your home theater and have the wherewithal, you will absolutely love the sound of the MC-10. We’d also like to suggest if you are thinking of a processor anywhere near its price, either save a bit more or maybe spend less than you were thinking, and just get the MC-10. We know if you do, you will become as big a fan of Lexicon as hundreds of Audio Advice customers have over the years. If you are a previous or current Lexicon owner you will just be thrilled to be able to bring Lexicon into your home again with all of the latest and greatest processing power for both audio and video
HIGH NOTES UNPACKED
World Class DACs
One reason the MC10 sounds so good is its use of the Cirrus CS42528 audiophile DACs. These give it sound that puts it head and shoulders above the competition.
Gotta Love Dirac
Dirac is by far and away our favorite room correction system and we were so happy to see it in the MC10. It will truly transform your sound!
Best We've Heard Under $15,000
There is no question in our minds, you will not find a better surround sound processor until you get to the Datasat LS10. Period, no debate. The MC10 is just stellar!