Then, the MX119's classic tube sound for the mid and upper frequencies makes for a relaxing, enjoyable listening experience. This is especially valuable for the many film soundtracks that have less than optimal sonic fidelity, and typically sound too hard, usually because they were too closely miked and because the signal traveled through many IC chips in the film studio electronics. As we discussed extensively in our review of the Plinius Odeon amplifier, it's euphonically beneficial to apply the sonic transformation of classic tube sound to such film soundtracks, thereby offsetting their artificiality (which is fatiguing to listen to, for a whole film or concert), and making them sound more natural and enjoyable (plus easier to listen to for a long time).
A fully accurate surround processor would not execute this euphonic transformation, and would fully reproduce the artificial midrange glare and hard or sizzly trebles encoded on the soundtrack, so its final result from many film soundtracks would be uglier, less enjoyable, and more fatiguing. Thus, the MX119, by applying this euphonic transformation to the mid and upper frequencies, makes many film soundtracks sound more natural and enjoyable, with more naturally liquid midranges and trebles that are sweeter, less sharp and hard (i.e. softened and defocused), and indirect (as if naturally heard from a realistic distance, instead of in your face).
The MX119 then does a great job of marrying its excellent solid state bass to its tubelike midranges and trebles (from its best sounding modes), to present an integrated, seamless sonic portrait that brings recordings of all kinds to you in a richly enjoyable fashion.
The MX119 is good in transparency and resolution, i.e. revealing all the information contained in recordings. It is not as superb as reference quality processors (e.g. the Arcams), which reveal noticeably more information. But, to its credit, when you listen to the MX119 you don't get a sense that anything is missing, since the complete sonic portrayal is so well integrated. Only by direct comparison with more transparent processors can one tell that the MX119 is veiling some information. This veiling is an expected consequence of the hard clogging we heard from some IC chip stages, compounded by the softening defocus we heard introduced by other stages (or by Dolby processing). These two sonic effects magically offset each other in many sonic ways, but in terms of information loss they inevitably compound each other (information lost by one stage's errors cannot be regained by another stage's errors).
Further helping the believability and enjoyment you experience from the MX119 is its superb lateral localization, which accurately portrays a convincing full surround circle of sound all around you using Dolby Pro Logic IIx (or portrays a wide stage in front of you with two channel playback using the Pure Stereo mode). This superb lateral localization in the MX119 (in our designated best sounding modes) features an even spread of sound between loudspeaker locations, with no hot spots at the loudspeaker locations, and pinpoint localization of each and every direct sound source, all around the circle, which makes these direct sound sources very believable.
This capability to accurately localize direct sound sources, all around the full circle (or all across a wide frontal stage in two channel mode), is the most important aspect of spatial imaging, and is the aspect that most people notice first, so it's an important plus that the MX119 does this so superbly. There are also further aspects of spatial imaging which are more subtle and secondary, such as depth, ambience, and the portrayal of the venue space itself. These aspects comprise indirect sounds from the venue (e.g. the hall space and walls), as opposed to being direct sounds from the musical instruments, voices, or sound effects localized within that space. In these subtler, secondary aspects of spatial imaging the MX119 does only moderately well. It does not, for example, do as well as a reference quality processor (e.g. the Arcams) in reproducing the space itself of the venue surrounding the listener, so the listener does not believe as fully that he has been aurally transported out of his own room and to the alternative venue the recording is trying to portray. The sonic cues for these indirect sounds, the sounds of space itself, are very subtle in recordings, and therefore require the utmost system transparency to fully and accurately reveal. Thus, the MX119's veiling noted above is doubtless responsible for obscuring these subtle sonic cues, and for thereby reducing the MX119's ability to portray these subtler aspects of spatial imaging. Fortunately for the MX119, it is so superb at the important lateral localization aspect of spatial imaging, the most obvious aspect that people pay the most attention to, that many buyers of the MX119 will be very happy with what they hear from its spatial imaging, and they won't miss its shortcomings in the subtler aspects of spatial imaging.
McIntosh has created a TM1 tuner module, which you can optionally add to the MX119 (or MX135), either pre-installed at the factory or installed later by your dealer.
You simply must get this tuner option. This tuner's performance can be summed up in a single word: spectacular.
McIntosh has a proud history of stand-alone tuners, whose performance has led the state of the art in many ways over the years, the zenith being the fabled MR78, whose supreme selectivity made it a DXer's dream, for both urban and rural environments. McIntosh's latest stand-alone tuner is the MR85, which in a few aspects actually surpasses that legendary MR78. Well, guess what. The complete circuitry of the MR85 tuner is included in the TM1 module! By adding the TM1 module, you get the full performance of McIntosh's latest stand-alone tuner, but for a fraction of the price. You save by not having to pay for a separate chassis and power supply, and you get the convenience of having the tuner built into your control center.
Getting the ultimate fidelity from local stations depends on two key achievements in the RF and IF sections of a tuner: low distortion and high quieting. The McIntosh TM1 achieves the cleanest, most distortion free sound we have ever heard from a built-in tuner, and also achieves the quietest background we have ever heard from a built-in tuner. Thus, its sound in these aspects comes closer to listening directly to a CD than any other built-in tuner we have heard, and rivals the very best stand-alone tuners (including the legendary REL Precedent, which achieved this only in mono, and which just happens to sit alongside the McIntosh C4 preamplifier in our audio museum).
Most tuners built into audio receivers are of course throwaway junk, consisting of cheap chipsets. A notable exception is the FM tuner built into the T+A receiver, which we praised for its excellence, including its quieting (although, as we noted, it does evince some modulated background noise on stations with SCA storecasting modulation). Well, this McIntosh tuner beats the pants off even the excellent T+A tuner, especially in quieting, where the McIntosh provides an even quieter background (particularly on stations with SCA storecasting modulation, for which the McIntosh tuner has a dead quiet background, instead of the T+A tuner's modulated background noise).
The McIntosh TM1 also includes an AM tuner, and it too is spectacular for an AM tuner, far above the cheap, noisy, distorted sound you get from the chipset AM tuners built into other products. We have never heard such a quiet background and such clean sound from an AM tuner. Of course, the limited bandwidth, inherent to most AM stations in the USA, limits reproduction of any upper frequencies, so the sound is still spectrally truncated, but at least within its spectral constraints it is superbly quiet and clean.
We couldn't directly judge the sonic quality of the TM1 tuner, since its output necessarily passes through the IC chip stages of the MX119, with their imposition of solid state sonic artifices. But we do know that, when we listen to the TM1 via the MX119's best sounding modes (Pure Stereo for two channel, and Cinema 1 for surround enhancement), the overall sound was very good, from stations broadcasting in good fidelity. The AM reproduction of the TM1 also merits special praise for the rich warmth of its tonal balance, which counteracts the scrawny, lean tonal balance put out by many AM stations.
This McIntosh tuner includes many automatic features, which make the tuner easy to use by everyone. On the other hand, this automation limits choices for technically savvy tuner users. This McIntosh tuner is ideal for urban and suburban environments, for those users who only want to listen to moderately strong or strong stations. But it is not ideal for those who want to receive distant weak stations, because the automatic muting is not adjustable in threshold, nor can it be turned off, so weak stations are simply totally muted and can't be heard at all (also, the auto-blend circuit is automatic, and cannot be adjusted nor turned off).
We developed a workaround by adding an external antenna amplifier, which boosts the strength of weak, distant stations until they pass the non-adjustable threshold of the tuner's muting. Incidentally, if you do this too, we should pass along a tip we discovered. You have to set the gain of your external antenna amplifier very critically. This gain has to be set high enough to boost the weakest station past the McIntosh's muting threshold, but not too high, because then strong local stations evidently overload some stage in the FM tuner's RF or IF circuitry, causing the tuner to suddenly change from a dead quiet background with clean sound to a background of very bad modulated noise and distortion (possibly cross modulation) on these strong local stations. If you encounter this sonic problem, simply reduce the external amplifier's gain on the strong station, until you hear this problem suddenly vanish, and you'll hear the tuner get back to its spectacularly quiet, clean self again.
The McIntosh MX119 (as well as the MX135) provides a richly enjoyable experience, for both surround and stereo applications, when operated in our recommended best sounding modes. In these best sounding modes the MX119 achieves a magical blend of the best sonic qualities of solid state bass, combined with classic tube sound in the midranges and trebles. This sonic portrait gives you full impactive excitement for bass, while at the same time being very relaxing in the rest of the spectrum, for non-fatiguing long term listening. The MX119's spatial imaging is superb in the most important aspect, lateral localization of direct sound sources, all around the surround circle. And its optional built-in tuner is spectacular, providing the cleanest and quietest sound we have ever heard from a built-in tuner, in AM as well as FM.
The MX119 incorporates good flexibility and many automatic features, to make this unit easily operable by customers who want to pay more attention to simply enjoying the sound, and less attention to the technical details of operating the equipment. Some of the MX119's operating modes sound much better than others, and, since we have researched these for you, your operation of the MX119 is thereby simplified even further. The MX119 is not ideal for DTS fans, but its best sounding modes include the capability to handle virtually everything else, including pure stereo, surround enhancement of two channel sources, and surround playback of multichannel digital sources.
McIntosh has a proud history of reliably serving their audience with comfortably enjoyable sound, and, in its best sounding modes, the MX119 upholds this McIntosh tradition with full honors.
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