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Lexicon MC-12 and MC-12B
MC-12 & MC-12B New Product Q&A ~ Part One

On May 14th 2001, Lexicon announced two new flagship multi-channel pre-amplifier processors, the MC-12 and MC-12B. They are not designed as replacements for the DC-2 and MC-1, but will challenge the upper echelons of the home theatre market and allow the introduction of many previously requested features.

Andrew Clark, Lexicon's Marketing Manager, agreed to participate in the following questions and answers session, exclusively available here at SMR Home Theatre.

Andrew Clark

SMR: Lexicon has recently confirmed the existence of two new processors, can you begin by explaining the differences between them?
Andy Clark: Sure. They are the MC-12 ($8995 US MSRP) and the MC-12 Balanced ($9995 US MSRP). They share the same features, except for the balanced XLR connectors for all of the Main and Zone 2 audio outputs provided on the MC-12 Balanced. Physically, The MC-12 Balanced is ~1.4" taller than the MC-12 to accommodate the row of XLR connectors. Check out the front and rear panel shots.
SMR: How did you arrive at the names, the MC-12 and MC-12B?
Andy Clark: We wanted a name that had immediate recognition in the market and implied significant advancement from the existing products. Music and Cinema is where the MC part is derived from and 12 represents the number of channels and inputs.
SMR: Interesting... I guess that means the MC-1 is mono! But seriously, what would happen if one were to purchase the standard model and then decide at a later date, perhaps when funds allow, that they would really like the balanced version. Would they be able to upgrade in some way?
Andy Clark: There will be a factory only upgrade available for US and Canadian customers (US MSRP $1,250). Customers outside the US and Canada will be able to upgrade through the distributor.
SMR: When the MC-1 and DC-2 were released, they bore striking similarities to the DC-1, albeit with an updated architecture and a greater number of I/O options. Is the MC-12 based upon an existing platform or an entirely new design?
Andy Clark: The MC-12 platform is an entirely new design. Although the MC-1 and DC-2 were based on the DC-1, we made the decision to design a new platform from the ground up. The two main benefits were to take advantage of newer technology such as more powerful DSP engines, and to have an architecture that is more scalable than the current one. The MC-1 design took that architecture as far as it would allow.
SMR: So what, in your opinion, are the MC-12's key features?
Andy Clark: The key features are: Logic 7, dts-ES, Dolby Pro Logic II, 5.1-channel analog input, component video switching, 12-channels, 3 zones, and the new industrial design. Other notable features are: analog pass through for the 5.1-channel or stereo inputs, 3 subwoofer outputs, and several additional crossover points. There's a complete list of features in the Press Release.
SMR: The MC-12 certainly looks different; its aesthetic appearance is a departure from previous drab black boxes. Is Lexicon's motivation for the change in part due to the 'bimbo' cosmetics (pretty enclosure, receiver performance) of other supposedly high-end manufacturers?
Andy Clark: There is a pride of ownership that comes with owning something extraordinary like a high performance watch, automobile, or piece of A/V gear. People enjoy showing these things off to their friends and family. They expect it to look extraordinary regardless of how it performs. Some manufacturers stop there, and have existed solely on selling products based primarily on their cosmetics and status. Lexicon has always meant great performance and now we have the looks to match. The MC-12 and MC-12 Balanced are for consumers who value performance and cosmetics equally, and don't want to compromise one for the other.
SMR: And has build-quality improved too?
Andy Clark: Yes. The MC-12 chassis uses far fewer parts than the MC-1 chassis resulting in dramatically improved fit and finish. The front panel is machined from a single block of aluminum and the top cover/side panels are also created from a single piece of aluminum. Flush mounted, flat-head, machined screws are used to retain the clean exterior look. It's quite a substantial and elegant looking chassis.
SMR: What about the remote control? Back when the MC-1 was introduced I commented in a similar Q&A that the unit supplied was "cheesy-looking". The MC-12 doesn't appear to be supplied with anything more appropriate (see images), do you think that the controller is worthy of a $10,000 processor?
Andy Clark:

The new remote control is larger than the MC-1/DC-2 remote control allowing for easier viewing and button pressing, especially for those with large hands. It was designed with function as a top priority. It has four IR banks providing discrete IR commands for learning remote systems such as our 700t or the Philips Pronto. We explored several other options including an all aluminium design, but they did not provide the functionality we needed for the MC-12. In discussions with our customers, it became evident that everyone using this type of component in a home theater system was going to be using some sort of system remote. The problem is that people already have preferences as to what system they want to use. We could have added an additional learning remote, but users will still choose the remote they prefer. Including a touch-screen may have been popular for some, but would have driven the price up considerably. It made more sense to make the MC-12 as compatible as possible with existing control systems.

Similar to the MC-1/DC-2 the MC-12 includes an RS-232 port for serial control and a back-panel IR input so you don't have to stick a repeater on the front panel. It still surprises me when I see MC-1's, DC-2's, or DC-1's installed with an IR repeater stuck to the front panel. The back-panel IR input retains the clean look of the front panel, and doesn't fall off after a few years like most IR repeaters.

SMR: On paper the MC-12 appears to have no less than twelve channels in the main room, three of which are dedicated to subwoofers. What are all those channels for (height information perhaps?) and how are the subwoofer outputs configured? Will it be possible to configure two subwoofer outputs for Bass Enhance duties using crossovers within the MC-12 while retaining the third for LFE output, maybe with a separate crossover point?
Andy Clark: The Main zone does indeed have 12-channels, 10 of which are currently active. There are: Left, Center, Right, Side L/R, Rear L/R, and Subwoofer L/R and LFE outputs. The Subwoofer L/R outputs can be used for Bass Enhance duties, while the LFE output is dedicated to the LFE channel. There is no crossover on the LFE output since the LFE is limited to 120Hz anyway. The Subwoofer L/R outputs have crossover settings of: Off, 30, 40, 50, 60, 70, 80, THX 80, 90, 100, 110, and 120Hz. The THX 80Hz setting uses a 12dB/octave slope per the THX specification and all of the other crossover points utilize a 24dB/octave slope. There are also Auxiliary L/R outputs for future expansion. These extra channels are reserved for future use, as our research progresses.
SMR: With the added complexity all those channels bring, is there provision for an automated set-up routine with the aid of a calibrated microphone, in the same vein as the systems provided by Parasound and Onkyo Integra Research?
Andy Clark: There are 4 microphone inputs provided on the back panel for future expansion. Automated calibration is one of the possible uses for these connectors.
SMR: Lexicon owners are familiar with the outstanding performance afforded by Logic 7, clearly the most popular of all the available processing modes. I believe it has been updated and refined yet further, is that correct?
Andy Clark: Yes. The MC-12 uses four 32-bit Analog Devices SHARC® DSP engines, which provide enormous processing power. We have taken full advantage of this and have re-written the Logic 7 algorithms for 96kHz internal processing.
SMR: And what of Pro Logic II? It's interesting to see that Lexicon owners will be afforded the unique opportunity compare the two. Will Dolby's new processing mode be offered in a seven-channel configuration, perhaps by using simple rear channel delays as is the case with Meridian's implementation and will the full range of controls be available?
Andy Clark:

Over the years, we have received many requests to add Fosgate's 6-Axis technology to our products. It didn't make sense to us at the time because Logic 7 was such a strong technology. Now that Dolby has adopted Fosgate's latest technology as Pro Logic II, it has become one of the formats users are looking for.

Dolby Pro Logic II will exist in two listening modes: Pro Logic II and Pro Logic II Music. Both support 7-channel configurations and Pro Logic II Music includes several adjustment controls.

SMR: DTS ES 6.1 Discrete is another addition to the processing mode family. Why does Lexicon now feel it is worthwhile supporting DTS ES 6.1 Discrete when so few titles are available?
Andy Clark: Overwhelming market demand and comparison purposes. How else are people going to discover that Logic 7 really is the best listening mode available?

We included a dts-ES L7 FILM listening mode in the unit that derives stereo rear channels from the sixth channel. Why settle for 6.1, when you can have 7.1?

SMR: If minority formats such as DTS ES 6.1 Discrete are to be supported, then why not MPEG-Audio too? There are vastly more region 2 MPEG-Audio titles than DTS ES 6.1 Discrete titles.
Andy Clark: Other than a handful of requests a few years ago, market demand for MPEG has been non-existent. I imagine this is due to the widespread adoption of Dolby Digital encoding for region 2 DVD's.
SMR: And how about MP3, now supported by certain Meridian products and mainstream receivers? And AAC?
Andy Clark: No plans currently, but market demand will dictate whether or not we pursue MP3 and AAC.
SMR: Is the MC-12 HDCD compatible?
Andy Clark: No. Including this feature would have reduced the signal-to-noise and dynamic range performance of the unit without any obvious benefits.
SMR: Can you tell us about the resolution of the analogue to digital converters and the digital to analogue converters? If the MC-12 supports 96kHz sample rates, is the bass management, time alignment and all post-processing bypassed, as is the case with the MC-1?
Andy Clark: We use 24-bit/192kHz Digital-to-Analog Converters (DACs) in dual differential mode for all of the main channels. In other words, two DACs per main channel. Using them in this manner yields ~3dB better performance than using a single DAC per channel. With such lofty performance goals, every dB counts. We use separate 24/192 DAC's in regular mode for the Zone-2 and Record outputs. We have built in enough DSP power to utilize all of the processing features in the unit with 96kHz inputs.

The three analog to digital converters are 24-bit 96kHz.

SMR: Do we still require an external demodulator for our library collections of Dolby Digital AC-3 RF Laserdisc titles?
Andy Clark: Yes. To retain top performance, RF interference is best kept outside the unit.
SMR: Along similar lines, can you tell us a little about the MC-12's available processing power? Much has been written lately about the constraints imparted on the MC-1 and DC-2 by the LexiChip (where post-processing such as Logic 7 takes place) and the Motorola DSP56009 (which handles DTS decoding). Does the new platform have increased processing power and if so, by how much?
Andy Clark: In addition to the Cirrus Logic Crystal® CS49326 decoding DSP engine, the MC-12 has four 32-bit Analog Devices SHARC® DSPs. The MC-1 has a Zoran Dolby Digital decoder, a LexiChip II DSP (20-bit), and three Motorola 56K series DSP (24-bit). This represents a dramatic increase in processing power.
SMR: The MC-12 has two S/P-DIF digital outputs; do they remain active when an analogue source is selected and what is their output resolution? Regardless of the sample rate of the A/D converters, if the digital outputs transmit anything other then 16-bit 44.1 or 48kHz that might not be compatible with the majority of MiniDisc, DAT and CD-R recorders.
Andy Clark: The output resolution is 24-bit and the sampling frequency is user adjustable up to 96kHz. As long as the sampling frequency of the output matches the input on the digital recorder, the word length shouldn't matter. In other words, a 24-bit/44.1kHz output from the MC-12 will be truncated to 16-bit/44.1kHz automatically when input into a CD-R. If you have a recorder that can accommodate 20- or 24-bit signals, more power to you.
SMR: Dolby's AC-3 encoders have now been revised to enable the addition of a bitstream syntax EX-encoded instruction, will the MC-12 recognise the flag and engage a pre-selected processing mode (THX Surround EX for example)?
Andy Clark: Yes. However, as of this writing, there still isn't any Surround EX software that includes the flag. Not to mention that several EX encoded DVD's do not state so on their package. It's quite a confusing situation. (See the SMR list of Dolby Digital Surround EX software here).
Go To Part Two

If you have comments, questions or suggestions for Lexicon about the new MC-12 and MC-12B visit the SMR Lexicon Discussion & Support Forum!

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