Originally Posted by jr_spyder
Well I had a MX121 at home for a week and gave it a very good shake down. Sadly I have returned it, but it is still nagging at me.
My real test with the unit was all about usability as I simply had total confidence that I'd love the sound when properly installed. So for this test my hook-up was simple and not idea for sound, but it let me use all the features. My goals were great ease of use as the everyday family stereo, easy playability of our large music library on our NAS, easy streaming of internet radio stations and services, and of course great sound.
I'm afraid that natively the 121 fails pretty badly at NAS file access/playback and isn't so great with internet radio. Once playing both of these sound great as expected - no issue there. More details:
NAS files: the 121 found my NAS and music folders pretty easily. However the unit gives you no way to search or look around your library. You have to start at "A" and scroll down one song at a time to find your target. This could hardly be worse. I never had the patience to even get to "B", and I sure as heck will never to ZZ Top. Also, the 121 will not play ALAC files off my NAS, which is what the large majority of my library is ripped into (I know I could convert the all easily).
The internet radio has potential but the set up of stations is tricky at first. It's best done online and I'm ok with that. Then there is a confusion of terminology between "favorites" and "presets." Once that is figured out it's not too hard to set the presets. I thought this would make it easy, like an FM radio, but the front panel two-line display is sort of dumb. The top line shows the preset number and the song being played - that's good. But the second line is a running timer counting up the seconds you have been tuned to that station (obviously music track style). Totally worthless for radio. One of these lines needs to show the station name otherwise (unless you have a great memory) you don't know what station your on. Very annoying.
I tried the deremote app and the native web page based control. Neither make the experience better for files or radio - but are helpful for setup, source selection, etc.
There is a way to do all this on the 121 beautifully and easily however, and that's by using AirPlay with iTunes, and the Apple Remote app on your iThing. In contrast to the direct use of the 121 as above, this is terrific. Music searching is iTunes, and through it you can play ALAC files off the NAS, but not FLAC (I think). Also, iTunes is quite rudimentary in how it does internet radio and not easy to use. The biggest downside, to me anyway, is the need to have a PC/mac on your network running 100% of the time with iTunes running on it. I simply don't want to have that as a necessary part of my system. Anyone who is happy with this need will likely be happy with AirPlay over the 121. I admit it's quite slick and probably a smart choice for McIntosh to have built it this way and look cool in reviews and with many consumers, but to me it's a bit of a cheat and doesn't match well with McIntosh's culture. But that's just my opinion. For comparison I think the McIntosh AP-1 iPad app is beautiful and works great controlling local music on your iThing. I was hoping this was the interlace I'd be using with the 121 - but sadly not so. In fact there is no McIntosh labeled app for the 121.
I spoke with Chuck in support at McIntosh about all this and he pretty much confirmed that this is just the way it is and they have no near term plan to invest better apps and better usability natively on the unit. AirPlay is the answer. I'd be surprised if this strategy can hold out. It seems every audio equipment maker is making apps these days and they keep getting better. Apps will become a competitive differentiation and McIntosh will fall way behind if they are not working on it now.
So I loved the idea of the 121 at first but now I have to wonder why they bothered to put in file streaming and internet services that are practically unusable from their interfaces. I like the idea of a processor half the price of the 151 and oddly for that alone it might be a great choice. And that's what's nagging at me - I might just buy it, hook up my Sonos, and ignore all the native internet stuff. What a shame! Or maybe I'll wait and hope they get it right someday with an MX125...
They are soooo close - it just needs better usability.
One comment on the Sonos. I was really unhappy with the sound at first (which led me to all this testing of alternatives) but after two weeks and a few different configurations and format testing/learning I have found it to pretty darn good. Connected to my home theater rig (MX135 and MC207) and comparing same files played from my NAS and on my SACD player I usually couldn't tell the difference. To my surprise it might just end up the winner.