Resigned to having to use a soundbar? This budget marvel might be the answer
What is the Morel Primo?Four hundred pounds is a curiously inbetween sum of money. I’m not going to suggest for a second that it is a small sum- I’d be delighted if I was suddenly given £400- but neither is it the sort of amount you would do on credit or extended purchase. It is also a ‘brake point’ of pricing for many items. At the time of writing, £400 will get you an X Plate Ford Mondeo estate on eBay, a week (flights included) in a Berlin Hotel or the tasting menu for two at the Fat Duck restaurant depending on whether you have it to spare or if it is a serious investment.
In terms of Home Cinema, £400 is a bit of a hinterland between ‘Home Cinema in a box’ style systems and separate amp and speaker package based setups. Price rises over the last few years have ensured that your choice of speaker packages at £400 has shrunk as the cost of materials, shipping and half a hundred other fees have conspired to raise pricing. As such, products such as the aforementioned all-in-one systems have largely taken up the slack.
Anyone looking for five separate speakers might think that Israel is a strange place to start looking but the Primo system you see here is the most affordable of a wide range of satellite and full size speakers from the concern based in Ness Ziona on the outskirts of Tel Aviv. Morel is perhaps best known for their car audio- a category in which they are major players but they apply the same design approaches- oversize voice coils, unbraced cabinets and drivers largely made in house to their specifications to their domestic speakers too. Obviously some of these features have to give a little ground at £400 but can the Primo deliver a slice of AV goodness for the price of ten courses of Heston’s finest?
Morel Primo DesignThe Primo system is actually a combination of two separate ranges of Morel equipment. The satellites are the smallest of the SoundSpot models, the SP1. These can be partnered with a variety of Morel subwoofers (or indeed anyone elses) to form 2.1 or 5.1 systems but the Primo system you see here puts them with the smallest sub in the Morel range which imaginatively enough is called the Primo.
The SP1 is a truly tiny speaker. The enclosure is only 110mm across and only fractionally deeper as that as the SP1 is not a sphere like the ‘larger’ Soundspots are. In this space, each satellite mounts a 3.5in midbass driver and a 12mm soft dome tweeter. The driver in the SP1 looks like it has been repurposed from another role for the task- it has a square mounting for starters which means it looks decidedly unhappy if you take the grille off the speaker- but like all Morel drivers it uses a proportionally large voice coil to move the driver. In this instance the coil is 20mm in size which doesn’t sound that large but represents 25% of the radiating area of the driver. Larger Morel speakers have real whoppers adhering to the same principle.
The SP-1 is a clever piece of industrial design. The housing is steel and is effectively unbraced, relying on the strength of the metal and the specific resonance that results to try and quell any unwanted vibrations or standing waves. As you might expect, the enclosure is sealed- you couldn’t fit a bass port of any relevance without effectively making the speaker open baffle- which means that the SP-1 bottoms out at a fairly high 180Hz which places some stern demands on the sub, more of which later.
Each SP1 is fitted with a rotating foot on the end of a hinged metal leg that allows for them to be mounted on a horizontal or vertical surface and then adjust the angle of the speaker from there. No dedicated floorstand is available but the Morel is so small, it is going to find itself mainly used on furniture and the speaker itself seems to be inert enough (and put bluntly, bass light enough) not to be a problem. This mount is actually a nicer design than the more expensive satellites and the SP1 has a proper pair of speaker terminals on the rear which while they won’t accept banana plugs are a great deal easier to use than the holes on the SP-2.
The SP1 is a truly tiny speaker
The Primo sub is a ported forward firing design built around an eight inch driver and a 100w amplifier. The Primo really is the simplest sub I’ve seen in a while with fixed feet, line and high level inputs and the basic set of subwoofer controls. The most immediately noticeable feature of the specifications is that Morel only quotes a frequency response up to 150Hz. This notionally leaves a 30Hz hole in the lower midrange that this system is delivering- at best- with a substantial roll off. Putting this to the back of your mind, the Primo is a reasonably substantial device for the asking price and while it lacks the bold styling and glass fibre chassis of the more expensive subs it doesn’t feel cheap.
In fact none of the system feels anything other than usefully solid. The cost savings have clearly been achieved by making the speakers very small and the sub more conventional than its swoopy bigger brothers rather than paring back the materials that are actually used. The result is simple but feels solid and well assembled. Both speaker and satellite are available in black and white (gold is also available for the satellites in some markets) and while the sub is gloss and the satellites are matt, the effect isn’t too jarring as the sub is normally out of sight. The grilles on the SP1s are removable although as what lurks behind them isn’t especially pretty and they don’t seem to have any effect on performance, I wouldn’t bother. Most importantly, the Morel feels a bit more solid than the one box systems it goes head to head with.
Morel Primo SetupThe Morels were connected to a Cambridge Audio 751R and placed on Soundstyle Z2 stands. Source equipment included a Cambridge Audio 752BD, Sky HD, Arcam irDAC and Netflix and iPlayer via Audio Return from a Panasonic GT60 Plasma. Material used included Blu Ray, DVD, broadcast and on demand material from Sky as well as material streamed via the Panasonic. Audio was tested with lossless and high res FLAC and compressed material such as Spotify and Grooveshark as well as some internet radio stations as well.
Morel Primo Sound QualitySub sat systems live or die on their relationship to their subwoofers. What sets apart really capable examples like the KEF E305 and Q Acoustics Q7000i is that the crossover is low enough and the sub controlled enough to make sure that the placement of the sub is not too important in a room to get a smooth and controlled result. This does not apply to the Morels. No matter how good the sub is, a 150Hz crossover is going to render some of the noises the sub has to make directional. This means that the sub has to be at the front of the room and on axis with the left and right speakers. If you can’t do this, the Morels really aren’t going to work well.
If you can meet this relatively simple requirement though, there is a lot to like about this dinky system. The most important thing about the Morel is that away from the numbers, this worrying gap in the frequency response really doesn’t seem to register in day to day use. The Primo is instead a smooth and extremely pleasant performer. The SP1 might be a small speaker but the concentric drivers and that hefty voice coil combine to produce a sound that is believable and bigger than you might expect. To be absolutely clear, the SP1 doesn’t generate the sort of enormous soundfield that will have the Tannoy Precisions worrying but with a two metre spread between left and right speaker and the centre equidistant between the two, the resulting performance is consistent and convincing.
One of the more counter intuitive aspects to the performance is that the relatively restrained output of the Primo subwoofer actually helps the overall consistency of the performance. Small speakers can often be overmatched by the greater output of the powered sub but here the high crossover is smoothly handled and the relatively soft bass of the Primo complements the speakers well. To be absolutely clear, if you want Pacific Rim to sound life sized, you are going to need something bigger than the Primo. Morel might claim an output down to 26Hz but this doesn’t happen in reality. This being said, the presentation is usually enjoyable once you have slightly readjusted your perceptions of scale. On the comparatively powerful and smooth Cambridge Audio 751R, the Primos can be called up to provide reasonable sound pressure levels but I can imagine that on a more price appropriate AV receiver, they might not be the loudest things going.
Where this is less important and the Morels really shine is when you use them for day to day TV viewing. We’ve been running various features on cost effective systems for World Cup viewing and the Morel is one of the most cost effective ways going of providing an encompassing and room filling sound. While I’d rather gouge my own eyes out than watch football, the way that the Morels handled the Monaco Grand Prix was simply more convincing that any similarly priced soundbar or virtual surround speaker. Broadcast TV manages to be easy to listen for long periods and even a Pro Logic II signal is enough to give the Morel something to work with.
there is a lot to like about this dinky system
A final useful bonus of going for dedicated speakers is that the handling of music in 2.1 is more than reasonable. With the centre speaker out of the picture, the slightly directional nature of the SP1 is more apparent but a little toe- in in a sensible UK sized lounge is more than convincing. To be clear, the performance is not going to be the equal of a decent pair of stereo speakers but considering the compact dimensions and value added of 5.1, this is not the end of the world and once again, the performance is a step forward over any soundbar or fixed point system.
The biggest weakness of the Morel is not any aspect of the performance itself but the stark fact that not a great deal more money buys you more speaker with more performance. A quick peruse on the internet suggests that the Q Acoustics Q7000 (the older pre i prefix model) is available for £100 more. This might be an older design but it is still a fine performer and that little bigger and more confident than the Primo. This is a fact of life at any price point though- more money buys more speaker. We all have a budget though and the Morel is an excellent proposition at the price.
- Refined and entertaining sound
- Flexible placement
- Decent build
- Notional hole in freqency response
- Some limitations to absolute output
- More money buys mpre speaker
Morel Primo 5.1 System ReviewAs I’ve said at various points in this review, the Morel has to be taken and judged at the price it is sold at. If you double your money for a KEF E305 (or even find an extra £300 for a bigger Morel pack) you will get a big boost to your performance and break the £1,000 barrier and Dali’s excellent Zensors have to be considered. This is irrelevant however if you are only looking to spend £400. If you are looking for a cost effective speaker package, this is a fine place to start the search. What is most impressive about the way the Morel performs is that the limitations of its small size are very carefully worked out to be as unobtrusive as possible and they are rarely anything other than very satisfying to listen to. At the moment, AV Receivers start from a whisker over £120 and combining these speakers with one those budget superstars is going to give you a system that offers great sonics, useful flexibility and some worthwhile upgrade potential for a whisker over £500. That’s got to be worth choosing over a city break any day of the week.
Value For Money8
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