A note on objectivity: I chose to identify where I purchased some items in my setup in this article. I do not get kickbacks of any kind for my articles (I don’t even get ad revenue – WordPress does for the free use of the website.) I mention specific products and websites because as a home theater enthusiast I know how difficult it can be to solve certain problems and when I discover solutions I post them here just to be helpful to my fellow enthusiasts.
Mrs. Mindcrime was generous this holiday season…she bought yours truly a very nice multi-channel amp! (How did she know? It helps if you just email your spouse the Amazon Link!)
This is my brief review of the OSD MX-1260 Multi-Zone Amp. Currently selling for around $615.
The amp has 12 channels (6 stereo zones) at 40 Watts Per Channel and in short, it does exactly what it is designed to do. Hit the power button and six pairs of speakers get 40-watts per channel. This solves two big problems for people like me who enjoy having music pumped throughout the entire house.
The Problems I Needed to Solve:
Every time I open up some drywall in our home I pause to ask, “How can this allow me to have more speakers?”. As a result, we now have six separate speaker zones wired to a central location in our house. Each zone has a local volume dial that allows a person in a room with speakers to increase or decrease the volume in that location without affecting the other zones in the home. The problem was that the amplifier (An Onkyo TX-NR626 pushing 95 Watts per channel from Zone 2) was connected to a Series Resistor Type Speaker Switch. Obviously, connecting too many speakers to a single amplifier channel can cause problems with impedance which are damaging to both the amp and the speakers. The speaker switch with “protection” solves the impedance problem – but at a cost. Watts per channel diminish precipitously and speaker performance does too. Not to mention when using the local volume controls there was not much discretion in the volume levels – most of the time it would be hard to turn the volume down or up just a “little bit” and the volume controls would feel like they were all-or-nothing.
(There is a great website which explains the science behind this much better than I can and includes fantastic calculators for different multi-speaker wiring configurations – go check out this guy’s work at: Geoff the Grey Geek! I borrowed heavily from his explanation of the Series Resistor Type Speaker Switch in my analysis and used his calculator to get the results below.)
Using Geoff’s calculator you can see how an example 100 watts per channel becomes 11.6 when driving three pairs of speakers and 3.5 watts per channel when driving six pairs!
There was one other problem too: the speaker selector switch requires you to know which zone is which speaker number and the buttons to turn on Zone 2 on the Onkyo amp are tiny! On other amps the receiver’s remote is the only way to activate a second zone. This made it so my setup was not “Wife Proof”. Mrs. Mindcrime found it frustrating to locate the instruction sheet for the setup and as a result was not using the system at all (or was using me an “organic universal remote”!) Side note: There are people starving and fleeing war zones in the world – home audio issues are nice problems to have in comparison.
The OSD MX-1260 (and it’s kin):
A multi-channel amp seemed a logical solution to our distributed audio problems. Multi-channel amps can get incredibly expensive and while over $600 is nothing to sneeze at, the OSD MX-1260 seemed a reasonable way to solve the above problems. The amp cranks out 6 zones of sound at 40 watts per channel simultaneously. So far as I can tell there are two other amps that have nearly identical specs to the OSD MX-1260. They are the AudioSource AMP1200VS and the Dayton Audio MA1240a. The differences between these amplifiers seem to be almost exclusively cosmetic (I would not be surprised if they are all produced by a common manufacturer). I chose mine based upon what was on sale at Amazon Prime on the day of purchase. All of these models seem to offer the ability to adjust volume on the back panel by zone, select one of three input options by zone, and have block-style speaker connectors.
Making all of the audio connections took some patience, but was not inherently complicated. I can tell you that when you go to work with the tiny block connectors, it is super helpful to have a 1/8″ precision screwdriver. I started the job without one and it was worth my time to run to the corner hardware store and have the right tool for the job! The block connectors are fantastic for simplifying wiring and beat the heck out of the clip connectors you find on the back of most speaker switches.
The lights on the front panel are a bright blue and the unit is the standard width of audio equipment. The owners manual indicated not to block the top vents, but did not offer any specifics regarding ventilation requirements. As you can see from the picture below, I stacked my Onkyo receiver on top of the multi-channel amp which left approximately 1/2″ of ventilation space. I ran the amp for 10 hours straight running all six channels simultaneously and it did not appear to overheat.
My one complaint is about the brushed metal on the front panel. It is a dirt/dust/fingerprint magnet and I can tell that it is going to be a pain to keep clean. I wish they’d used an easier to maintain surface. They also need to include more specific details on maintenance in the owner’s manual. See the smears on the MX-1260 amp in the picture above? That was AFTER I tried to clean it! UGH! Untidy!
The “Wife Proof” Whole Home Audio Setup
In our case music is provided through an Apple TV 4 which outputs to an HDMI audio extractor ( I use this one: AGPTEK HDMI Audio Extractor) and connects the extractor’s RCA outputs to the BUS 1 input on the back of the amp. All zones have been set to get input from BUS 1. I started with most zones set to 50% volume, but then increased the power to approximately 75% volume for two of my zones which have larger speakers.
Here is a schematic that looks like a stoned kindergartner was set loose on MS Paint. It should however help if the above explanation was unclear.
Another tip: Use a “Smart Strip” to cut power to the multi-channel amp when your receiver is switched off ! I haven’t tested the auto-on feature of the MX-1260, but I prefer the smart strips because they turn off any controlled equipment cold. You can find them for around $35 online. I used the Smart Strip LCG-3M to kill power to my Xbox, multi-channel amp, xbox controller charger, and subwoofer every time the Onkyo receiver is turned off. The Apple TV and the HDMI audio extractor get power all the time (for Apple Homekit and it seems to mess with the audio extractor – not to mention CEC functionality – if the extractor is turned on and off.)
Another advantage of this setup is that if you are using a CEC compatible receiver, you can control the entire setup with the Apple TV 4’s remote. (I’m sure that this setup will work fine with any other kind of modern music streamer or source that you would prefer, I just happen to use the ATV4.) That means the whole home audio setup can be activated just by pressing the TV (or Home) button on the Apple TV 4’s remote. Additionally since the ATV4’s remote is Bluetooth based, the ATV does not need to stick out of the cabinet and the controller works regardless of where it is pointed. I have the ATV unit tucked into the cabinet pictured above behind the subwoofer.
The sound quality difference was noticeable when compared with the old setup. I do not claim to have a golden ear, but I did sell stereos for a number of years to pay for college and I think I know descent sound when I hear it. Nor, do I have the means to scientifically test for sound quality, but I can tell you that not only I noticed – but Mrs. Mindcrime did too! (That says something – she doesn’t share the same level of passion for home audio as I do.) Clearly pushing 40 watts per channel to speakers sounds clearer than pushing 3 to 12 watts per channel! If it passes the wife-test, you know you have a winner.
The OSD MX-1260 solved my two problems, poor sound from low wattage reaching my speakers and local volume control is now much more discreet. It also resulted in a much more user friendly home audio setup. I will update this post in the coming months if I have any difficulties with the equipment.