from Date Reviewed:
January 26, 2005Bottom Line:
I previously wrote about this unit under "MX-132," before audioreview.com included this listing. This is an updated review.
The MX-135 is not a product for those who want the very latest in every feature (no HDMI/DVI or firewire ins), nor for DIY-ers who like to tinker with upgrades. Rather, it offers simplicity, reliability, a fantastic user interface, and top sound quality. All the basics are elegantly covered, such as the ability to see the display clearly from the other side of a large room, a well-thought-out and powerful remote (it comes with a harmony remote, which has an excellent range and is one of the best universal remotes currently available), and buttons for every often-used feature on the front panel. Set-up was a breeze, and even a novice will be up and running on this in under 30 minutes. Even my wife, who had little previous interest in such things, quickly fell in love with the sound, looks, and easy operability of the MX-135.
You either love or hate the look of Mac's gear. I admit I had a difficult time getting used to it in the store, and its sheer monstrosity took a few days' further adjustment once the MX-135/MC-207 combo arrived. I've now grown to love the elegance and attention-to-detail of the design (and especially the well-lit meters)... but no matter how you feel, something can be said for a product with a look that never changes (and thus never goes out of style).
Having lived with this unit for 6 months now, I continue to be most impressed with its clean, detailed and natural sound. People toss around all sorts of adjectives when describing this area, but overall, this unit provides one of the best music listening experiences on a platform that is also multi-channel capable. Aside from perhaps Meridian's all-digital systems, you would be hard pressed to find a quieter surround-sound pre-amp anywhere.
All of the inputs are customizable, and the MX135 remembers every tweak you make in every mode, allowing your surround experience to flow easily and naturally. You simply don't have to think -- you just listen. And your whole family can operate the unit with only a few words of instruction. The video signal is also up-converted each to S-video and component, allowing one connection to your TV to suffice.
On the negative side, there is no firewire input for SACD/DVD Audio, and no DVI or HDMI ins/outs. You will not find these yet on most high end gear, however, until the formats shake out in the coming year. The unit is also not hardware upgradable, so what you see is what you get. The firmware, however, is.
Other negatives: my unit blew a fuse while I upgraded the firmware, and a video input IC also went bad. This shouldn't happen on such an expensive device, but perhaps it was just my bad luck. McIntosh's service was absolutely impeccable -- they bent over backwards to have everything fixed, and immediately offered a new unit if I preferred. Mcintosh is famous for their quality service, and they clearly continue to deserve this reputation.
Bass management is sufficient for the majority of situations, but not the most flexible available. The MX135 bass management is designed for one sub, with a cross-over user-definable down to 60 Hz on the digital signal path. The analog path is set to 80 Hz. The external 8-channel inputs bypass bass management altogether.
I gather that McIntosh went to great lengths to make the MX135 the quietest and cleanest surround processor on the market, including separating signal paths. One of the downsides of separating the analog and digital paths is that the digital record out (for recording to a DAT for example) does not carry signal from the analog ins, and vice versa (although you can use the analog monitor out for digital ins). I have noticed this limitation on some competitors to the MX135 in similar price categories, so it may be a similar design issue, but that's beyond me.
Overall, the MX135 offers one of the most pleasureful, beautiful and fulfilling surround sound experiences currently available. It is not an upgradable, built-for-the-future device that you will tinker with for ages; rather, it is built for today, with a well-thought out interface and no-compromise quality audio and video design.
Used product for: 3 Months to 1 year
Duration Product Used: AudioPhile
Product model year: 2004