MK 950 THX Select Speaker Package Review

AVForums delves into the latest THX speaker package from M&K

by AVForums
Home AV Review

8

Recommended
MK 950 THX Select Speaker Package Review
SRP: £4,000.00

Introduction

When I reviewed the then new MK Sound M Series package last year, the package I really wanted to lay my grubby mitts on was the 950 System. Sure, there was the range topping 150 system to hanker after, but the one aimed squarely at my size of room was the upcoming 950s. Furthermore, the 950s directly replaced the old M&K 850s which I had spent more hours with than any other M&K, so this was going to be the most revealing system to review - Both with respect to the new MK Sound's intentions going forward embodied in an all new model and to see if in an average sized room a THX Select2 (newly) certified speaker would give much away to the THX Ultra 2 system that had preceded it a couple of months earlier.

In the box

Packaging is first class and although couriers had done their best to round off the boxes, all of the speakers arrived pristine. The LCR950s come in their own individual single skin cartons, containing plenty of polystyrene and it's own fabric draw-string sock, which adds to the presentation. Packaged with the comprehensive instruction manual is a pair of white gloves intended to prevent marking of the gloss finish. As there are three speakers, plus a boxed pair of surrounds, I now have enough slightly too small white gloves to stage a Michael Jackson convention.

The memorably named SUR95T tripole surrounds have the additional extras of a pair of basic wall hanging plates which happily haven't changed in years and thus I was able to hang the surrounds exactly where my M&K Xenon surrounds normally go. Bonus.
Finally, it's much the same for MX-250 subwoofer except obviously somewhat larger. The only additional accessory is a three pin IEC mains lead.

Techie bits

I could get lazy here and just re-run the M Series review, but with larger dimensions because this is a superficially a scaled up version of the same. Initial inspection makes the 950s look like a millimetre perfect replacement for the defunct 850s, but every single major component is in fact new. It's a fairly plain design of slightly odd (in this day and age) proportions, but not without some nice details and significant changes to it forbearer.

MK 950 THX Select System

The Vifa 25mm treated fabric dome tweeter is still slightly unusual in having an extended rear compression chamber (although the likes of B&W and Mordaunt Short may challenge the MK use of the term unique) and is culled directly from the range topping S150. Combined with the shallow dished aluminium face plate to control directivity, it is none the less a driver you won't find anywhere else. Likewise the twin 5.25” mid/bass drivers are refugees from the range topper and sport new polypropylene cones in tidy, free flowing cast aluminium baskets.

A peek inside reveals a tidy crossover with no more or less components found in any other two way design and press tag connections on the drivers and speaker cable terminals. Slightly unusual is the sheer amount of hollow fibre stuffing in the cabinet. This serves the dual purpose of damping internal reflections and also lowering the tuning of the cabinet and mid/bass driver combination. The LCR950s as with all Mks are only designed to work down to the 80Hz crossover point required by the subwoofer, but that's quite a lot of driver in not a lot of cabinet, so the stuffing is clearly there to help aid the bass extension, such as it is required.

MK 950 THX Select System

Returning to the outside, the drivers are flush mounted in the very gloss black cabinet, which is constructed from 12mm MDF with no additional bracing. The cabinet is sealed with no ports required for bass reinforcement as that's what the subwoofer is for. It also brings along the happy benefit of side stepping phase issues created with a port. Finish is nice, although the driver rebates aren't the tightest I've seen as you can see in the pictures.

MK 950 THX Select System

Here we should note a change to the previous generation - The 850s had a tweeter that actually pointed outwards, but used the diffraction effect of the metal grill to refract the treble output back toward the listener. I never quite understood why, unless the idea was to 'point' the output at the listener even though the speakers fired at the straight ahead, but as a result the 850s were a 'grills on' speaker. This idea has been dumped for the 950, but unfortunately the very fine fabric backing to the metal grill has also been dropped. The result is that the drivers remain visible even with the grills on and also the grill is definitely more lively as a quick flick with a finger nail shows - a clear metallic 'tang' results. On the upside, the magnetic grill fixing first seen on the M Series is present again, but this time both the magnets and felt pads reside on the grill leaving a very clean appearance to the cabinets when the grills are off and they're obviously very easy to remove.

MK 950 THX Select System

The rear of the LCR950 cabinets have a fearsome array of mounting holes to suit a wide range of mounting possibilities, such as bolting to a wall or dedicated stand if such a beast exists. The instructions, which are generic to the range as a whole, make no specific references but the custom install boys will certainly be able to fill their boots with the options on offer.

Finally it's gripe time. Why-oh-why-oh-why are the speaker terminals at the top of the cabinet? The crossover is screwed to the rear of the cabinet opposite the two biggest magnets in the box, so the terminal tray isn't behind the tweeter to improve on this location. I can only assume MK are helping their cable making brethren in these straightened times by requiring the end user to buy an extra foot of cable per channel and it does nothing for a tidy front room. Second gripe the good looking, chunky and solid 4mm/spade/bare wire terminals are set in a plastic terminal tray at an angle that almost precludes the use of banana plugs, especially if you use the Michell type. I appreciate the angle has to be shallow to accommodate the close to wall mounting possibilities, but a 5mm deeper or wider tray would solve the problem. Then again, most people don't swap speakers as regularly as I do, so I would suggest bare wire direct to the terminals – they do up good and tight and the less joins in the signal path the better.

The SUR95T tripoles loose the bottom mid/bass driver of the LCR950s and the associated depth. They gain an extra grill on either side that hide a pair of opposed full range 3” drivers. These are handed so that the tweeter and mid/bass drivers and the side driver facing the front of the room are in phase, with just the lone side driver facing the rear of the room being out of phase. The idea is that the in phase drivers steer effects shared with the front sound stage helping to plug the potential hole between front and sides, whilst the out of phase side drivers bounce their own output off the front and rear walls to create a diffuse effects surround field. This sounds like a contradictory set of requirements, but in my room the two previous sets of tripoles have worked brilliantly and I don't mind saying up front that I was near dribbling at the prospect of the biggest pair I've tried to date adorning my walls.

Finally, the MX-250 subwoofer is again another speaker that is unique in execution, if not entirely remarkable or unique in the constituent parts used. The drivers are the same as the units used in the SB12 and SB1250 subs albeit 8 Ohm in the parallel driver incarnations (4 Ohm in the single), the amp is the same unit used in the MK SB1250 sub and the cabinet shared with the range topping MX-350.

MK 950 THX Select System

The 18mm thick cabinet was satin black in this instance showed evidence of the ham fisted treatment dealt out by previous reviewers, but was otherwise nicely finished. The 250 Watt plate amplifier has stereo line in and speaker level in and outputs, although there are no controls to allow dual high/low level operation as per REL or some BK subwoofers. Controls are a 40-160Hz and then a bit further to “Bypass” low pass filter, a gain control with a centre position marked “Reference” and a 0-180deg continuously sweep-able phase control. The last user selectable control is the On/Auto/Off power switch that didn't seem to “Auto” with normal volume TV, but equally never went to sleep during films at inappropriate points – In my experience, “Auto” power off does so just in time to loose the beginning of the next big effect, so I just opt for 'On'.

The amplifier itself is a BASH Pulse Width Modulation switching amp, usually incorrectly referred to as digital. The benefits of such switching amps are high efficiency and low operating temperature for a given power output which is good. Less mention is made of the fact that they are lot lighter than their traditional MOSFET counterparts and thus cost less to ship around the globe, but it's certainly not a hindrance to the reproduction of sub bass which is less fussy about amplifier type and more fussy about quantity of Watts on tap. Inside, the lower sub baffle braces the box and there is an additional stick brace between the cabinet sides, but beyond that, the only other feature worthy of note is again the sheer quantity of hollow fibre stuffing to tune the enclosure.

MK 950 THX Select System

The unique (I say unique, name another in the high street?) part of the sub is the dual driver push-pull configuration. The drivers themselves (which still say Miller & Kreisel 'Super Fast Deep Bass') are relatively unremarkable units. Moderate sized roll surrounds, magnets and voice coils in a pressed steel basket won't get the bass heads drooling, but as shown in the SB12 reviewed before, they are a very clean upper bass performer and there are two being used here. MKs departure with convention is to invert one of the drivers. As can be seen the front driver looks fairly normal, but the bottom driver wears it's undercarriage on the outside and the reason for this is quite simple. Both drivers are wired in parallel and so their cones travel in and out of the cabinet together effectively doubling the output available from a single driver. This is good and certainly a big help at reproducing lower frequencies at higher SPLs.

The clever bit is that as one cone travels away from it's magnet, the other is travelling toward it's magnet and as a result, harmonic distortion (specifically the nasty sounding odd order harmonics) generated through asymmetry in the drivers travel is cancelled out.

Clear? Basically as a speaker driver isn't a symmetrical object, it doesn't quite travel back and forth symmetrically and this is by definition a distortion of the signal. The greater the excursion, the greater this distortion and nowhere requires a cone to travel like a subwoofer. By inverting one driver physically, you cancel half of the distortions at a stroke. Low bass is made cleaner and an already clean upper bass becomes super clean. There is some debate as to whether one seriously good driver wouldn't do all of this anyway without the fancy inverted driver topology, but the design is not without merits and it's worth noting there is a lot of cone area operating in the upper bass.

Incidentally, the MX-250 is the only component in this system NOT to wear a THX badge.

I've had a fair few subs through my room, but somehow avoided any of the push-pull MK designs and so I was eager to hear what the fuss was all about. To the listening!

Set-up

Amplifiers used were my usual Audiolab and Cinepro processor and power amp, plus the Onkyo TX-NR5007 is gratifyingly still available.

Sources are mainly an Oppo BD-83 and Audiolab 8000CD plus regular Sky HD viewing. The sub worked well next to one of my regular pair which facilitated switching between them and the MK and all had their own (flat) EQ pre-set stored on a Behringer BFD1124 used for such duties. The speakers were mounted atop my modified 600mm Sound Organization Z1 stands. This placed the tweeter exactly at ear level as recommended with a total height of 1000mm. The measured flattest response was with the rear of the cabinets about 225mm out from the rear wall and once I realized I didn't like what the grills were adding and left them off, I ended up with the stereo pair toed in directly at the listening position.

Listening

I tried to avoid making any judgements in the first week use. I find that it pays to forget what the last speakers sounded like and simply let the current ones engage as the default 'normal', especially when the speakers have quite a distinctive character as these do.

Anything that then stands out after prolonged exposure can then be judged accurately as an endearing quality, or annoying trait rather than inaccurately as one or the other simply because it's different to what went immediately before. Never the less, some things jump out straight away and these impressions remain largely unchanged three weeks later.

I was completely bowled over by the tonal integration, not just between the front three (which as I run them all in the vertical orientation should be expected), but by the integration of the surrounds too. Fair enough, the same drivers in a similar box will sound well matched at ear level at the front of the room, but up high against a ceiling and firing overhead from the sides is a totally different aspect to listen from. You can normally hear this quite clearly as you run your test tones, but as I ran Audyssey on the Onkyo the first time, I noticed no discernible change in tone. I noticed it again a week later when checking levels with the Audiolab/Cinepro combo. In either case, listening to actual movies was an entirely seamless and engrossing experience.

Perhaps because of this integration, I was less drawn to, or should I say distracted by, stand-out surround effects. This may not be quite so demo room impressive, but in the long run it grates less, and when a big effect does arrive from the surround field it's superb. Old faves like the drum scene in House of Flying Daggers, the Rogue Bludger chase in the Potter Quidditch scene all received an outing as they make great use of the surround channels. In the case of Potter in particular, whilst looking for holes in the tonal integration, I was stunned by the Snitch twittering around behind my head, even though there was no rear channel. Five quality channels will always outstrip seven average channels and although the MK tri-poles look expensive on paper, they are proof positive that some old rules of thumb do stack up.

MK 950 THX Select System

Returning to initial impressions and the system as a whole, the reputation MK have earned for dynamic integrity, is well founded. Dynamic effects both micro and macro are delivered with crisp, clean leading edges that lends everything an almost hyper-realistic tangibility. Be it a lightly touched cymbal, bullet puncturing metal or a terrorist bomb in Iraq, anything with a definitive start point, starts very suddenly indeed. This is emphasized with a slightly forward upper mid/lower treble emphasis which pushes effects at you and indeed paints a deliciously vivid portrayal of anything metallic – bullet casings and glass shattering, etc sound hit-the-rewind-button good for instance. It also helps dialogue project out of a packed multichannel mix to the benefit of vocal intelligibility, but it does also make voices sound slightly wooden with a slightly 'cupped hand' quality.

Listening to simple acoustic music with vocals where such added emphasis isn't really needed, does result in voices sounding a touch nasal where they're open and a bit forced where they should be easy. Eva Cassidy never shouted a note in her tragically short life, but some parts of 'Over the Rainbow' started to hint that she was. Guitar also seemed to have it's individual tonal colour slightly squashed making it harder to tell two apart on the eponymous Rodrigo y Gabriella CD. To counter that, the staggering energy and rhythm with which the faster tracks are delivered left you fairly breathless, the MKs giving nothing away in the timing stakes.

Clearly, the use of sealed boxes for both speakers and sub, plus careful if not apparently revolutionary crossover design, all pay close attention to phase alignment. This ensures that sounds which are composed of many frequencies, and therefore can emanate from tweeter, mid/bass and subwoofer all at the same time, to arrive at your ears simultaneously. If they don't the leading edge is smeared, effects loose impact and music losses drive. It's therefore critical to ensure the speakers face you to deliver the crispness they're designed to – if they're to be mounted low, then they need to point up directly at you. Take the time to ensure channel delays/distances are set accurately – Check auto set-up routines are delivering consistent distances. If not, you'll be missing out on one of the strongest features of these speakers.

MK 950 THX Select System

I haven't mentioned the subwoofer. I like it. Quite a lot as it turns out. As with the SB12, the upper bass is super clean with superb kick and simply disappears up the bottom end of the 950s so seamlessly it's genuinely difficult to hear where one stops and the others starts. That quality alone is worth forgoing an extra 5Hz at the bottom end and one in which any number of well thought of subwoofers fall very short. Except you don't really have to do without that extension either, because the extra cone area and power (even if 250W doesn't sound much) goes surprisingly far into room shaking territory. Okay, it isn't going to flatten eyeballs like a huge ported job and it's sound does soften with the deepest and loudest effects, but I was genuinely surprised how well it “Skadooshed” in the final fight in Kung-Fu Panda and 'warped' in Star Trek. In the grand scheme of things, it's not really a very big sub, so that's a pretty respectable result.

So it's win-win all-round? Not quite. I alluded to the potential for a lazy review, but where I forgave the £270/each M7s a certain amount of colouration due to it's remarkable performance from such a small package, it's a different kettle of fish in a full sized speaker at more than double that per unit. The distinctive voicing I mentioned never really became normal and as I sit here now three weeks later, I think it's just a bit too much. Okay, it matters a lot less with movies, than music and it is a personal judgement, but I feel at this price neutrality should start to be a given. It's the one area where I feel the 950s haven't moved on a lot from the 850s. If I had to point a finger, I'd point a finger at the cabinets of the front three. Unbraced 12mm MDF with a near square section is going to make for a slightly lively box and you can hear it as a cabinet induced colouration. I also found the treble to be slightly prone to over emphasis of sibilance and whilst removing the grills went a long way toward ameliorating this, it always felt like the treble was teetering on the brink, whichever amplifier was in use. I suppose this is the price paid for the crystal etching of metallic effects.

Verdict

8
AVForumsSCORE
OUT OF
10

The Good

  • High volume capability
  • Dynamic attack from top to bottom of frequency range
  • Easy to accommodate in a real room
  • Superb system integration

The Bad

  • Colouration
  • Material value
  • Fit (if not finish) could be tighter
  • Music Reproduction

MK 950 THX Select Speaker Package Review

And that's the rub. If you are looking for more of a dual use stroke, do everything speakers that are going to get used for music and especially if you listen to the real variety as opposed to main-stream over-processed for radio airplay fayre, then these aren't quite where it's at. Beat driven and electronica stuff works well as it gives the sub in particular a workout it relishes, but the spotlight of simple acoustic recordings shines on the slight boxiness and sibilant emphasis, especially with female vocal.

However, most things (and it is most things) that the package does as a whole, it does brilliantly. It's easy to see why that if you hunt out these qualities above all else, then you are not going to be left wanting. Dynamic attack, comfortably sustained high volumes, clarity of reproduction of effects, deep bass allied with real clout and peerless surround steering are all present and deliciously correct. If that's your boxes ticked, then look no further. For those seeking these qualities, plus a bit of added neutrality, well that's where the S-150s come in, but that's another story for another time.

The fact is, I liked the package a lot and wouldn't hesitate to recommend it for dedicated movie use, but I'd advise a demo (as I would with any speaker) if you're going to mix it up a bit.

Recommended

Scores

Sound Quality

.
.
8

Build Quality

.
.
.
7

Value For Money

.
.
.
7

Verdict

.
.
8
8
AVForumsSCORE
OUT OF
10

Our Review Ethos

Read about our review ethos and the meaning of our review badges.

To comment on what you've read here, click the Discussion tab and post a reply.

Related Content

Klipsch Reference Premiere 5.1.2 Speaker Package Review
  • By Steve Withers
  • Published
Monitor Audio Monitor 5.1 Speaker Package Review
  • By Steve Withers
  • Published
Bowers & Wilkins 600 Series 5.1 Speaker Package Review
  • By Steve Withers
  • Published
Elipson Prestige Facet 7.2.4 Speaker Package Review
  • By Steve Withers
  • Published

Latest Headlines

Samsung applies for Q-Symphony trademark for TVs and soundbars
  • By Andy Bassett
  • Published
AVForums Podcast: 18th November 2019
  • By Phil Hinton
  • Published
ATC launches C1 Sub Mk2 active subwoofer
  • By Andy Bassett
  • Published
Best Home AV Products 2019 - Editor's Choice Awards
  • By Steve Withers
  • Published
AVForums Podcast: 11th November 2019
  • By Phil Hinton
  • Published
Top Bottom