Since we're all audio nuts, I thought that perhaps I'd share my recent experience...
Back in January I purchased the Emotiva LPA-1 to power my M80’s. It has been a fantastic amp that made a real difference in my system. It was a good purchase. My Pioneer Elite AVR has been my pre-amp since then. About a week ago I decided to purchase the matching preprocessor, the LMC-1, to see if it would offer any improvements over the Pioneer. I knew the LMC-1 would be a little bit down on features compared to the Pioneer, but the 40% off upgrade plan meant that in a year or so I’d trade it in on something even better.
The Hardware. The build quality is solid. None of the rear connectors jiggle and the internal wiring that I can see looks nicely wrapped and routed. All of the connectors were consistent and all of them worked well with my cables. No mis-shaped toslink connectors to be found here! I am not overly fond of the ‘plasticy’ knobs on the front, but they do track nicely and I would rarely touch them anyway. It looks nice sitting next to the LPA-1. It also has a heck of a decent FM tuner. This thing was pulling in stations that I hadn’t ever heard of, and popular, slightly-fuzzy ones were crystal clear. I rarely listen to FM anymore, but I might more often with the LMC-1. While I couldn’t test it, and have no current use for it, the included HDMI switcher looks nice. Very nice that it’s included and not a separate $49.99 add-on. The remote is simple, but extremely effective. Many of the functions of the LMC have their own discrete button (sub level, center level, etc). This is very handy, compared to the 5-6 button clicks that it requires to adjust a speaker level on my Pioneer.
The Software. The LMC-1 is a model of simplicity. There are no fancy ‘Midnight’ modes, or auto calibration, nor ways of tweaking the surround sound modes. Bass, treble and speaker levels are all you get. It is pleasantly refreshing in many ways, but somewhat disappointing in others. The speaker calibration levels are set globally and apply to all sources, including the EXT7.1 analog inputs. The built in pink noise test is fine for speakers, but it lacks low-end tones to properly calibrate a sub. It’s basically the same signal sent to all speakers, and not a dedicated LFE-test signal to the sub. You need a test DVD to calibrate the system properly. There also isn’t a ‘Pure Analog’ mode, as all signals are converted by its processor.
It does have a video 'up'-conversion (in the sense that a component video input is 'up'-converted to s-video or composite) of all video inputs (component, S-vid, composite) to whatever output you use, which makes it very handy as a ‘one-cable’ connection to the TV. Of curious note, my DVR’s best output is S-Video (I lack HDTV), and I ran that to the LMC-, then the output from the LMC via Composite cables to the TV. It gave everything a slightly too-pink hue. Not terrible, but everyone looked like they’d been in the sun too long and grass lost its green snap. I was not able to correct it enough via the TV’s tint controls (which was weird, and not the LMC-1’s fault…). S-Video looked fine, and the Composite-to-Composite connection of my DVD player also looked fine. I’ve not heard anyone else complain of this. I could work around it by simply connecting an S-Video cable from LMC-1 to TV, and choosing that output on the TV. I like the fact that all of the LMC’s video outputs are active at the same time. Very handy.
From AVS and AV123, I knew that the LMC had a few software quirks. I can confirm that it is quirky, but only under certain conditions. Those conditions involve pure Dolby Digital 2.0 and 5.1 streams from my Dish Network DVR and sometimes from by DVD player. The LMC sometimes becomes ‘confused’ as to which sound processing mode it can apply and will default to ‘Bypass’ or ‘Dolby PLIIx: Music’ when it should remember the previous setting. It also restricts you in some ways by only being able to apply processing in certain ways (ie, no DTS:Neo allowed from a Dolby Digtal source). This is annoying to me. Also, the ‘DOLBY’ and ‘DTS’ buttons on the remote don’t work to change modes 100% of the time when you’re listening to a DD2.0 or DD5.1 stream. I would need to change channels (or stop playback), then switch modes via button or the menu, and then resume playback. That would fix the problem. There are no bugs like this when listening to analog sources, although the ‘DTS’ button is still just an on/off toggle, unlike the ‘DOLBY’ button that actually switches modes. All of the bugs are easily worked-around, but the fact remains that they are there and in my case led to a severe decrease in WAF. I have spoken to Lonnie at Emotiva and they are aware of the problems and are working on it. Hopefully they will work these bugs out, although they've had almost a year to do so. The simulated DSP modes (hall, theater, live, etc...) are ok, though I never use them. The effects are somewhat convincing, but very STRONG. I've never heard a 'hall' mode put in so much reverb and ECHO, echo, echo.... ;-) Again, rarely - if ever- use the DSP effects, but they are there.
Sound Quality. Excellent, though not quite what I expected. Truthfully, I didn’t know what to expect from the LMC-1. This is my first ever ‘real’ Pre-pro. How much better could it sound from my Pioneer Elite receiver? I just don’t have a frame-of-reference. The truth? Better, but not by a large amount. The LMC-1 seems to be more transparent than the Pioneer, and I think that’s a good thing. Maxing out the volume on the LMC-1 with no source playing, I could detect only the very faintest hiss with my ear 1 inch from the cones. There is definitely a bit more hiss from the Pioneer at such ‘stupid’ levels.
Sound Qualty:Music.Denon DVD-1920 DVD/CD/SACD Player used. Excellent!! The biggest improvement seemed to be in channel separation. At least, that’s what I think it is. In music that had sharp L/R placement of instruments, the LMC-1 seemed to lock those instruments down just a bit harder than the Pioneer. I have a couple of tracks where a ‘dueling’ instrument setup happens in the far left and right, and the LMC-1 locked those down to precise positions very tightly. It felt like the soundstage was more seamless as well – not only left-to-right but also front-to-back. Listening to several reference CD’s; via digital I preferred the Pioneer, but when using analog connections, the LMC-1 shined (which is odd, considering that the Pioneer is supposed to be a direct analog connection and the LMC-1 isn’t). For whatever reason, I was getting a bit more bass out of my M80’s with the LMC-1 (yes, full-range on both). In playing some 2-channel music, it really felt like my sub was still on (even though it wasn’t). This LMC/LPA combo can really pound it out! On quieter, more detailed listening, the LMC did not disappoint. Very crisp detail in both highs and lows. Never harsh. SACD’s sounded lovely on the LMC, perhaps just a bit more open and spacious. Not a drastic improvement over the Pioneer, but preferable none-the-less. When it comes to music, I was very impressed by the LMC.
Sound Quality:Movies. Denon DVD-1920 and Dish DVR. Average results. I prefer the Pioneer – it just works better for AV work. I had a heck of a hard time keeping the LMC calibrated. I would calibrate everything as perfectly as I could, and then watch a DVD only to find that the sub was too high. Then music would be too low and it didn’t seem like the sub settings through the LMC-1 were really effective enough. Having to manually switch between -10 and +10 db on the subwoofer output grew tiresome. On my Pioneer, calibration would stay true and all of the sources would sound good. It was strange, and frustrating. For non-digital sources, the LMC-1 has too aggressive DPLII and DTS decoding for my taste. What I mean is that it was pulling in more rear surround than I’m used to. On the Pioneer, I could dial in the level of panorama and surround effects to my liking. The MMC-1 has these adjustments, but the LMC-1 does not. Perhaps with Q series speakers, instead of my M22’s, the effect would be a bit less ‘sharp’ and more enveloping. The LMC-1 did track L/C/R movement very well indeed, but often I would get brief bursts of sound from the rears, instead of a smooth effect. This is dependent on the source, of course, but I’ve never heard such abrupt effects from the Pioneer before, from the same sources.
Other: I did experience some speaker pops. On every system shutdown, both mains would be sent a quiet ‘snap’ of a speaker pop. It was pretty quiet, but definitely there and loud enough for my wife to give me a dirty look. The LMC-1 would occasionally output a loud split second of ‘SCHHH’ noise when switching to a DD5.1 signal, which is startling and annoying.
The Verdict. It’s a *very* close call, but the LMC-1 is going back. It was not an easy decision, as I will miss the sweetness and openness of the LMC-1 when it comes to pure, raw music playback, especially SACDs. I will not miss the software quirks. I’m going to stick with my Pioneer until either Emotiva works the bugs out (or releases the LMC-2), or I can convince the wife that we need an MMC-1. I have no doubt that the MMC-1, based on an entirely different chipset with its rich set of customizations and even better sound quality, is a beast of a preamp.
If anyone has any questions about my experience, I’d be happy to answer them.
M80v2 | VP150v2 | QS8v2
SVS Pci+ 20-39
Emotiva UMC-1 & LPA-1
M22ti + T-Amp, in the Office