Enough power to destroy an entire planet...
What is the MK S150mkII 5.2 system?If there is one speaker that most AV enthusiasts would recognise straight away, it's the MK S150. The original appeared around 15 years ago and was an instant hit with the professional and consumer markets. The unique looking design using two woofers and three tweeters in a small cabinet immediately made them stand out, and the company will also tell you they didn’t sound too bad either. In terms of their history, with frequent use in a professional environment, the S150 has quite a CV. It was the speaker used to first demonstrate Blu-ray audio at CES, it was chosen to be the speaker for the first Dolby Digital EX 6.1 channel sound mix, it is used to produce the home sound mixes for Blu-ray and DVDs by Fox, MGM, Columbia and others, and it was used in the production of the Star Wars prequels. And that's just the tip of the iceberg according to MK Sound.
Of course there has also been some pain along the way with the folding of the original company and the changing of ownership, before a successful re-launch the following year. The brand has continued to develop and move forward, with the introduction of the mkII variants of the original S150 design. We have the passive stand mounts for review in this system, but there is also the MPS2510P version which is an active professional version, the MP150 which is the on-wall version along with the IW150 in-wall edition. The MP150s will feature in another review here at AVForums.
While remaining a popular choice with professionals and enthusiasts since the rebirth of the company and the mkII speaker launch, MK Sound don’t have the same market all to themselves this time around. There's a strong rival in the XTZ Cinema Series at a much lower price point, while their natural rival in the form of the Quattro range from Ken Kreisel (who was the original designer of the MK150) seems at the time of this review to be unavailable due to having no stock, which is shame. And then you have the traditional speaker market and manufacturers who now also provide competition for professional and high-end cinema use. So can the MK S150mkII retain or even improve on the sound quality of the originals while competing with the rest of the modern market? Let’s find out.
The system tested here comprises of 3 x S150mkII LCR speakers, 2 x S150T surrounds and 2 x V12 Active subwoofers.
MK S150mkII LCR SpeakerThere is no doubt that the small cube shaped cabinet with 3 tweeters and two drivers is instantly recognisable to most AV enthusiasts. It is also not a large stretch to state that not many people could love those looks in a domestic environment. The professional studio heritage of the S150mkII is certainly present in its design. It is a black box with black components and an optional black grille. If, like us, you have a dedicated bat cave of a cinema room then the design is probably not a concern and given the lights are switched off for 90% of the time the room is used, you don’t see them. However, if the cinema room is also a shared living room or living space, then looks become important, as does a finish other than black. If you can’t hide them behind a screen or similar, then the MP150 is probably the speaker you should seek out instead of this full size model.
If you can get past the looks then the S150mkII is certainly a well-built speaker. The cabinet is made from high density board which makes sure that there is very little resonance and with specifically designed internal bracing the cabinet is rigid and strong. The outside finish is also very well done and the build quality feels solid and functional. Even though these are small stand mount satellite speakers there is a good weight to them which gives the feeling of quality and hints at the lack of resonance from the cabinets. Each S150mkII measures in at 12.5 x 10 x 12.5 inches (H x W x D) and weighs 11Kg.
The two 5.25 drivers in each S150mkII speaker represent decades of in-house design by full time MK engineers, incorporating extensive experimentation and research to arrive at a driver which fits the exact standards that the company required – says the PR brochure. To be fair it is well known that the MK brand does take research and development seriously and if you want the full run down of what goes into the design and manufacture of the S150 family of speakers, there is a very well put together brochure in PDF form on their website.
With the triple tweeter array in the S150MkII the high frequencies are covered by all three meaning they can handle more power, they crossover at 1.5kHz instead of the normally accepted 2.5kHz, and this gives the sound a smoother and undetectable transition between woofers and tweeters, or so MK claim anyway. While the design looks odd there is no doubt that a lot of thought has gone into the design of the tweeters, the crossover points with the woofers and the way in which the speaker uses maximum power at the lowest distortion and with the best dispersion pattern for a wide listening position. MK’s own Phase Focussed crossover technology ensures that there is a consistent sound pressure throughout the entire listening area. This ensures that there is a wide horizontal dispersion of sound making the usual sweet spot much larger and wider than normal. Added to this is the carefully controlled vertical radiation pattern that reduces interaction of sound waves with ceilings and floors further improving the horizontal focus and imaging between the front speakers of the system.
The S150mkII is the perfect example of home cinema speakers designed to fulfil the role properly. By that we mean that all three front channels of the system are identical, which helps with the tonality and cohesion of the front soundstage. With identical speakers across the front panning effects keep their weight and realism. Voices sound accurate no matter where they are placed within the front channels and there is a natural balance to how the system performs. Try this with some home cinema systems where the centre speaker is a different cabinet shape and volume – usually a horizontally stretched design compared to the left and right channel speakers – and the sound stage loses integrity when it comes to realism and dynamics, even if they are using the same drivers and tweeters. If you want to achieve the best in home cinema surround sound, the front three channels are the most important and should be three identical speakers. The last interesting point when it comes to the S150 is that the left and right speakers should have the tweeters and woofers on opposite sides of the cabinets with the centre usually mirroring the right. This ensures the horizontal dispersion and imaging is correct.
In the system tested here we used three S150mkII as the left, centre and right (LCR) front speakers.
The MK S150 speaker is instantly recognisable to most AV enthusiasts.
MK S150T Tripole Surround SpeakerMatching the timbre, voicing and dynamic characteristics of the front of the sound stage is very important in a surround system as we explained about matching the sound with identical speakers. We break the rule slightly when it comes to the surround channels. You could use more S150mkII’s at the side and back of the room to keep the system identical, but you would close down the size of the sound field and the cohesion required in a multichannel soundstage. As the listener is likely to be sitting much closer to the side and rear speakers than the fronts, using a traditional monopole speaker would draw too much attention to itself (unless installed in a commercial sized cinema room).
Over the years we have seen surround speakers using a variety of solutions to make the surrounds disappear into the room and sound field, some more successful than others. In the early days of THX and surround in the home, dipole speakers with drivers pointing backwards and forwards (in and out of phase) down the side walls, not at the listening position, were favoured because of the diffuse effect. This allowed effects positioning roughly to the side and rear of the surround field while not drawing attention to the actual speaker location. As technology moved on and we gained stereo and discrete rear channels, the dipole became less useful.
The Tripole is a neat solution which allows direct placement of effects within the multichannel soundstage, while also achieving the ability to blend into the room and not draw attention to its position. Instead it becomes part of the cohesive 360 degree sound scape.
The S150T uses one of the 5.25” drivers and a single Tweeter from the S150mkII for the front firing part of the speaker, with two further drivers either side of the cabinet pointing forward and rearward. It is also a compact solution measuring 10.5 x 8 x 6.5 inches (H x W x D) and weighing 4.5Kg.
We used a pair of S150T Tripoles in the system reviewed here.
MK V12 SubwooferFor the bottom end in this system we were sent two new V12 THX Select2 subwoofers. These are the top model in a new line of compact powered active subwoofers ranging from the V8, V10 and V12. Unlike the other speakers in this system, the V-series subwoofers do think about their surroundings and come in friendly white as well as the satin black finish.
1-inch thick MDF makes up the outer enclosure of the V12 with ¾” MDF used for internal bracing of the sealed cabinet. The rigid structure eliminates as much resonance as possible from the enclosure and as it is sealed there should be less distortion and what MK describe as a fast response. Added to this the drive unit is capable of long controlled excursion for extended deep bass. The Class D power amplifier offers 300W RMS which is powerful enough in normal use along with 500w of headroom where required. There is also MK Sound’s propriety Headroom Maximizer which adds in protection against overload and makes sure that the dynamics remain within the capabilities of the unit. The V12 measures in at 18.3 x 14.1 x 15.7 inches (H x W x D) and weighs in at 22Kg.
Around the back we have the amplifier unit and the inputs. Here we have RCA line level stereo inputs and outputs, a knob for the variable crossover selection along with a THX mode that is fixed at 80Hz, plus there is a 0-180 degree phase control knob and a volume control. There is also a dip switch for auto power up or on and off. At the bottom of the rear panel is the power input and another master power switch.
We used two V12 subwoofers in the review system.
How was the MK system tested?We had the system on test over four weeks and in that time we used an Onkyo TX-NR5007 high-end receiver, a Denon AVR3100W, a Yamaha A1040 receiver and the NAD M17 AV Processor and M27 Power Amplifier. The rest of the system consists of a Panasonic Blu-ray player and a JVC X700 projector in a fully treated bat cave cinema room. We used a wide variety of testing materials including streaming services for both video and audio (including Tidal lossless), Blu-ray discs including audio concert footage and CDs.
We did run some room EQ tests with the various receivers and processor at our disposal, but for the majority of our testing (in a room we know very well) we didn't use any EQ. Although we have multiple subwoofers in this system, we also tested with a single sub running and also experimented with crossover points and sub placement given this is a sub/sat system.
MK S150mkII system Sound QualityJust like the XTZ Cinema Series that left the room the same day that the MK S150mkII’s arrived, the first thing to hit you is how well the system blends together and provides a seamless cohesion. If you have never experienced a superbly matched sub/sat system of this quality you really are missing out on what can be achieved in the home.
The other thing to stand out on the first listen is the fact that the MK’s are very clinical and neutral sounding. Obviously they are studio grade speakers and this is exactly the type of sound you would expect. When it comes to movie soundtracks that is also the exact sound to bring sound fields to life as intended. Compared to the XTZ M6 LCR the MK S150mkII is clearer and more transparent, where the M6 has a warmer tone no matter what you use to drive them. In terms of dynamics the MK is also more commanding and in your face during action scenes, but never at the cost of listening comfort. Fed a decent amount of power and the MK system will wrap you in a sound mix that is dynamic, chest pounding and breath taking, without hurting your ears in the process. It’s clean and distortion free without being sibilant.
The XTZ M6 was a little more laid back and safe in comparison. I am used to the studio sound given that my editing rig is made up with Genelec near fields and a Velodyne subwoofer and the cinema testing room has in the past had Genelec’s, MK’s and Mackies. The neutral and transparent sound is well thought of here, but that might not be the case for everyone’s taste. If it is transparent, accurate and powerful sound you desire you are sorted with the S150mkII and in terms of stereo, they are also a star turn, which may surprise a few readers out there.
Clean, crisp and extremely dynamic and detailed. What else do you need?
A current favourite when it comes to Blu-ray soundtracks is Dawn of the Planet of the Apes in DTS Master Audio. The scene starts with the camera looking directly into Caesar’s eyes in an extreme close up. As it pans back the audio has a muffled thunder storm in the background with rain falling all around us. The centre is filled with Caesar’s relaxed breathing as he is clearly building himself up to something. As the camera moves further back the breathing disappears into the louder rain and thunder claps and is replaced with a human voiced choir heard faintly at first in the widest part of the sound mix. As the camera continues its reverse pull we see more apes and the sound mix starts to open up even more as the choir gets a little louder as the apes start to move through the trees and come to a stop when they find their prey. The action takes off even further, from quiet expectation to full on dynamic chase with the choir front and centre in full pelt with added sound effects of deer hoofs and falling bodies. It really is a test of the quiet, well thought out transitions of sound to build a mood - to full on, full range effects placement and deep bass extension. The MK S150mkII’s didn’t even break into a sweat with this scene, even when driven by the lower end Yamaha RX-A1040 and Denon AVR-X3100 Receivers.
But, add in some serious separate amplification with NAD’s £3,500 M27 Amp and the £4,500 M17 Processor and the system feels like it has just been filled up with nitrous. The MK’s just love power and the more you feed them the better they get. Don’t get me wrong, even with the lower end receivers they sound superb, but in terms of dynamics and transitions they just lap up the extra power available. The other plus point is the integration of the subwoofers with the satellites from 80Hz to even higher crossover points (we experimented up to 110Hz given the two subs and their capabilities without localisation of their placement). It was one of the major plus points when we tested the XTZ Cinemas and the 1 x 12 sub and again, with the MK system they just blend seamlessly to create a full range experience with a superbly detailed mid-range, especially with voices. The V12 is also a very musical sounding sub and can handle most styles of music very well indeed.
If there is going to be any real downside with the MK S150mkII stand mounts then it comes down to the neutral uncoloured sound they produce. They are not very forgiving with badly recorded sound mixes or music. The old adage put crap in get crap out is so very true here. Where a speaker that has some warmth and colouration can hide some of the nastier elements most of the time, the MK sound brings it all out into the open. This is fantastic if you want to hear everything present in the mix and you want that spent ammo shell to tingle and tinkle with a metallic ping as it hits the concrete floor. Or you want the world to be destroyed with a full gut wrenching, chest pounding, in your face explosion, but still be able to hear the hero’s dialogue against everything else going on – the S150mkII is probably the speaker for you. If you want a warm and less in your face presentation you need to look elsewhere.
Which brings us on to the stereo performance of the MK S150mkII. Sadly we didn’t have any original S150 models to compare with the new mkII we have here, but I have been fortunate to have heard them on many occasions over the years, enough to have a vague recollection of what I thought about them. Remembering exactly what they sounded like is obviously impossible. The one thing that does stick in my mind is how they didn’t set the world alight with their stereo imaging, separation or soundstage. In this regard the new MK S150mkII is a revelation with an excellent stereo sound stage and the ability to place vocals and instruments where they should be. Vocals, especially high frequency female voices carry a nice weight to the mid-tones while presenting the top end without any sibilance, a tough task for even the best hifi speaker designs out there. You can tell that the MK’s have a studio background as they again present what is there in the recording with an ability to bring out every detail and highlight of the track.
Again, this might actually be a negative for some listeners, but I found the experience to be very good. Perhaps it is one area where a little warmth to the sound might engage more people and I have to say that the XTZ M6 had that in its performance. However, when connected to the NAD’s I was able to catch the processors tendency to slightly roll off the extreme top end, even in stereo mode, which wouldn’t have been caught without such a neutral performer as the S150.
Overall the new S150mkII keeps the MK sound alive and adds in some nice new touches in terms of stereo imaging and musicality. However, it is with movie soundtracks that this system rules the roost and with seamless integration between subs/sats along with excellent cohesion and balance with multi-channel mixes, the whole package performs to the high levels expected and then some. It might sound like a cliché but the speakers do just melt away thanks to their ability to create such a cohesive soundscape.
Sometimes sound and performances can be emotional and create emotional responses and the MK’s have that ability as a cohesive system. They go loud; they react to the ultimate dynamics of a sound mix instantly and with great power. But, they can also do quiet. They can impart the slightest breath of a character on screen or even the ambiance of a large room before the orchestra strikes up. They can be subtle and yet ultimately powerful within a few milliseconds of time and without any stress or distortion. They might be a decades old design, but the S150 is still a home cinema hero.
- Excellent sound quality
- Superb system cohesion
- Great subwoofers with excellent extension
- No colouration or added sound charactistics
- Highly detailed and dynamic performance
- Excellent build quality
- Flexible system choice
- Design is very 'industrial' and won't suit most living rooms
- Sound might be too clinical and transparent for some users
MK S150mkII 5.2 Speaker System ReviewFrom the superb build quality and finish to the sublime performance on offer this MK S150mkII system is still a very special thing, especially in this mkII guise. But before we possibly get carried away with the platitudes, we should cover a few ‘issues’ that might not work for everyone.
First of all in the system we have here the overall cost would set you back just over £6,700. Yes we have two subwoofers in this set up, but even so, that only reduces the price by just under a grand. So, they are not cheap when compared to the other forum favourites like the XTZ Cinema Series. However, the performance on offer, the build quality and the pedigree are compelling and for many, a system built around the S150mkII will be aspirational.
Then you have the design to contend with. Unless you have a bat cave cinema room, or you are hiding these behind a projection screen, then the ‘professional studio black satin look’ may not be very agreeable. There is a possible solution with the MP150 as they are more ‘lifestyle’ friendly.
Then you have the actual sound quality. If you own B&W, KEF, Focal or similar traditional brands of speakers then you really need to demo the MK sound. There is no manufacturer induced warmth or colouration to the sound performance. I’m not saying that warmth is a bad thing, so please don’t take that the wrong way. What I am getting at is a neutral, accurate, transparent and distortion free sound might take some getting used to, or be alien to end users coming from certain systems or used to a certain sound. Their reactions might initially be negative. You can’t take away how the MK S150mkII just gives you what is in the recorded material, warts and all.
And to me that, along with the cohesive nature of the system are its strongest points. It brings extremely well produced and well mixed music and movies to life, with incredibly good dynamics, excellent cohesion and, when fed decent amounts of watts, a powerful performance to genuinely make the hairs stand up on the back of your neck. If you want every last drop to be wrung out of a sound mix, there are not many who do it as well as MK, without entering the professional monitoring market. Highly recommended.
Value For Money8
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