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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.

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In this photo the MX-1260 is between the Onkyo TX-NR626 receiver and the old Monster Cable speaker switch. In this new setup the speaker switch is still fulfilling a very important function – it fills the hole in the custom cabinet I built a few years ago.

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.

Pretty Colors!

Pretty Colors!

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.

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Final Thoughts:

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.

UPDATES:

12/20/17 – System still works great!  However I would reccomend using a different auido extractor that the one mentioned above.  It works fine still, however if you have a newer TV and a 4k/HDR streamer, you will want to make sure that your audio extractor is HDMI 2.X and HDCP 2.2 complaint to take full advantage of HDR and 4K.  My setup is largely 1080p and upgrading to 4K will require replacing the audio extractor.

Here are a few tips on how to get Windows Media Center to work with the XBOX ONE.  It is well documented that you can use the HDMI pass-through to display a 360 or even a PS4.  It is the same trick that allows a cable box to pass through it’s picture.

First, set your XBOX 360 to boot to Media Center when it starts.

Inside the settings app on the XBONE go to “TV & One Guide”.

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Then choose “Devices”

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Then you will be able to choose devices from a list or to type in the manufacturer followed by model number.  In this case I used Microsoft Xbox 360.  I also checked to see if there was an entry for Ceton‘s Echo, there is not.  There is an option to type in Media Center and use remote commands for a media center remote.

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The Kinect 2 will then be able to use it’s IR blaster to turn on and off the XBOX 360 and hence Media Center.  However, in my experience it does not control the 360/WMC menus.  I had zero luck with changing channels without the remote for the 360 as well.  According to Microsoft even under the most ideal conditions (a cable box) the XBONE can only change channels, volume, and turn the device on and off.  It cannot manage recordings or access on-demand content.

I was pleasantly surprised when I said “XBOX Volume Down” and my Onkyo receiver dropped the volume three notches.

Much of the control issues could be overcome with some creative programming of a universal remoteLogitech Harmony remotes can be programmed to control the Xbox 360 and the XBONE.  I did not take this final step – hence the word “Hypothetical” in this article’s title.

If you own both devices, have room in your rack, and a good universal remote this might work for you.

Here are some images of Media Center running through the XBONE’s HDMI pass-through.

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Windows Media Center looks right at “Home” here.

I set this up temporarily due to the fact that I do not have room in my rack for both the 360 and the XBONE.  Silly me…I assumed the next XBOX would do more than it’s predecessor did.

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Want to drive Forza 5 while listening to Metallica?….this is what it would take.

Of course this seems a bit absurd to run essentially two computers just to watch TV – especially from a power consumption point of view.

UPDATE 11/23/2013:  I need to be super clear up front here.  The predictions I made in this article are WRONG, WRONG, WRONG!!!  My Xbox One arrived last night and it cannot even stream video or music from a PC without going to the PC and using PlayTo! 

I love my Windows Media Center setup.

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A few years ago my cable company was charging me $15-20/month per HD-DVR for what I felt was an expensive and pretty lackluster service.  The capacity of each DVR was pretty small and they were incapable (at the time) of  sharing content between my DVRs which forced me to have to delete documentaries that I was saving in smug self-satisfaction and to have to decide which TV I would watch a show on before I set it to record .

To deal with these issues I built a home theater PC with a Ceton Tuner that has 4 Terra-bytes of storage space and which paid for itself in 28 months, once I ditched the cable company’s DVRs.  (Not bad!)  The HTPC outputs content, both live and recorded to my XBOX 360s through using it as a Windows Media Extender.  It also pushes movies and music to the Xbox extenders which makes for a great whole home entertainment solution.

Unfortunately, Microsoft has been killing off my beloved Windows Media Center (WMC) and there are numerous discussion boards and articles which discuss and bemoan its demise.

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Causing even more consternation for those of us in the WMC crowd is the release of the new Xbox One and its emphasis upon home entertainment and TV…yet no mention of its working as a WMC extender.  The existence of HDMI pass-through also seemed to indicate an intention on the part of Microsoft that the new Xbox would only provide an overlay to cable companies’ set top boxes – thus shackling us to their fees and tiny storage capacity.

As fans of new technology what are we supposed to do?  Get a cable box? Not get the latest toy and be an outcast amongst our geeky friends?  Have two devices to do two different jobs? Seriously?  After all we’re not savages!

Then while reading through the “What It Does” page on the Xbox One website, I noticed a footnote leading to the following requirement for TV Functionality:

“1. Supported television tuner or cable/satellite set top box with HDMI output and HDMI cable required (all sold separately).”

What is the most important word in that little footnote?  I’d say it’s the humble little word “or”.

It’s so important that it burst out to me like a ray of sunlight through the clouds.

London to Brighton Veteran Car Run

If I am parsing the meaning of  that sentence properly, it seems to indicate that there will be an option to use a tuner that is not a set top box.  This opens up all kinds of possibilities.

My biggest wish for the previous big Xbox 360 Dashboard update (Metro) was that they would ditch the native music and video players and ‘bake’ the functionality of Windows Media Center straight into the metro-style dashboard.   Hypothetically using something like the Windows Media Player Network Sharing Service to serve up content stored on a PC hard drive (such as music and movies), and then add network tuner support for sending live TV across a home network.  Support for TV tuners MIGHT mean that they are taking a step in that direction.  Additionally, the fact that the new Xbox will have Windows 8 built-in seems to indicate that this kind of integration is at the very least possible.

This is the hope that I am clinging to – but of course, this is all just rampant speculation and wishful thinking on my part.

UPDATE:  As I was reading though some forum posts at “The Green Button” I came across a comment that pointed to the FAQ on the Official Xbox news thread, which read:

Q:    Do I need to have a specific cable or satellite TV provider to watch live TV on Xbox?
A:    Our goal is to enable live TV through Xbox One in every way that it is delivered throughout the world, whether that’s television service providers, over the air or over the Internet, or HDMI-in via a set top box (as is the case with many providers in the US). The delivery of TV is complex and we are working through the many technologies and policies around the world to make live TV available where Xbox One is available.

This seems to me to be further evidence of my aforementioned possibility of having WMC “baked right in” to the new dashboard.

I will continue to update this post as I learn more.