MK Sound M Series Home Theatre Speaker Package

AVForums looks at a Phoenix rising from the ashes - M&K are back!

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18

Recommended
MK Sound M Series Home Theatre Speaker Package
SRP: £2,200.00

Introduction

Call it poor marketing, poor financial management, an impenetrable range structure, being undermined by a far eastern subcontractor, a combination of the above, it doesn't matter; M&K closed the doors of their American facility and that, was the end of that.

At a stroke, an important player was removed from the market and with them went a very focused range of designs. True, you either loved what they did, or wondered what the fuss was about, but in this day and age of 'me too' two way stand-mounts or two-and-a-half-way floor-standers, they offered a genuine alternative which was important and if it was your kind of alternative, no one else could compete. Their difference was a complete range of distinctively voiced sub/satellite speakers. Not sub/sats in the modern style focused “Where'd the speakers go?” sense, but where the speakers are still full sized, but designed to have a subwoofer to cope with the bottom two octaves because it should, not because of a size/style based compromise meaning it has to.

Now, whilst the Ken Kreisel story continues off in a direction of its own, an enterprising consortium in Denmark bought the rights to the existing range and set about reproducing key models in a heavily rationalised range under the new name ‘MK Sound’. So it's important to note that this a completely new company on a different continent and is indeed making use of the far eastern assembly that was in part responsible for the demise of M&K. It's also important to note that whilst existing stocks of drivers were included in the deal, a number of the Vifa sourced custom units have been made obsolete and indeed a careful look at the new range shows some subtle tweaks and changes to the drivers of the legacy models to accommodate this. Nothing remains the same forever and whilst it could be argued that M&K gave up some of their hard won ground by resting on the achievements of their much lauded range, MK Sound are clearly willing to take the fight back to the opposition and are doing so from the ground up.

The first example from the new stable and the subject of this review is the all new M Series, which replaces the old K Series at the foot of the domestic range. It is very much a visual evolution of a tried and tested formula, but it is apparently an all new product. The system as reviewed is the M7 System which comprises three identical M7 satellites (£269/ea), a pair of M4-T tripole surrounds (£495/pair) and the SB-12 subwoofer (£895) which, if bought together as the M7 System attracts a modest discount and retails at £2150. There is also a smaller M5 Satellite (£229/ea) available for smaller listening spaces. If your room topology precludes the M4-T wall mounted tripole surrounds, the M5 could be used as the surrounds instead, plus a pair could also be added to the rear to complete a 7.1 setup. Throw in the different subwoofer options and a system can be arrived at to suit most rooms, if not all pockets; MKs are not to be found at the bottom end of the market.

Nuts & Bolts

MK Sound M Series

Starting with the three M7s, the cabinet is unfashionably tall relative to its width and depth standing in at 12.5cm wide, 16cm deep and yet 33cm tall. It is precisely as wide as is required to accommodate the vertical pair of treated paper cone 100mm mid/bass drivers and only slightly taller than is required to fit a 25mm soft dome tweeter above them. The very tidy sealed cabinet (no ports to be found here) with it's softly rounded edges, sports a single pair of binding posts at the rear plus a handful of wall mounting holes. At the front, the drivers are protected by a curved perforated mesh grill that fixes to the cabinet by magnets although I'm not sure why. As the grill is metal, it can damage the cabinet, hence the magnets are covered by very visible rubber pads, which kind of defeats the usual point of magnetic fixing i.e., invisible fixings. Further more, grill is designed to aid the dispersion pattern of the tweeter, so you shouldn't actually take the grills off. Either way, it makes them very easy to remove should you wish to. Should you require that the centre speaker fit beneath your screen, you simply lay it on its side. All in all, a tidy discrete set of speakers and if they had come in the satin white, as opposed to satin black you would scarcely note their presence if all other AV components were hidden away.

The M4-T surrounds are the least costly example of the MK trademark tripole surround. To explain, the tripole is basically a M5 satellite but with a pair of additional 75mm full range drivers in the sides of the cabinet, which is slightly trapezoidal in section. The M4-Ts are handed, so you have to pay attention to which side of the room you place them on as one of the side mounted drivers is wired in phase with the front two drivers and is meant to point toward the front of the room. This leaves the other out-of-phase driver pointing toward the rear of the room.

MK Sound M Series

The SB-12 subwoofer supplied measures in at 380x380x440mm and sports a 300mm treated paper cone driver (still labelled “Miller & Kreisel Superfast Deep Bass”) in a sealed cabinet with a 250w amplifier. This example came in gloss black which MK don't actually list as an option in their brochure (satin black only), but a quick Google of stockists showed gloss black to be the only option. This is odd, because it would appear on the evidence of this example that you can't buy an SB-12 to match the M7 or M5 satellites which are satin, whatever colour you choose. No matter; the previous recipient of this example had done their level best to render the gloss into satin finish anyway and had they thought to return the grill too, I would have found it to be a curved metal affair that would match the style of the satellites. The amplifier has high and low level inputs and outputs although I'm not entirely sure if the output is low passed, but the input is equipped with a continuously variable (40-200Hz) crossover that can be defeated to allow your amp to take the bass management strain. There is only the one crossover control, so dual simultaneous operation of the high and low level inputs isn't intended. The power switch has an 'Auto' setting as well as the usual 'Off' and 'On' options although on this abused sample, 'On' appeared to behave exactly the same as 'Auto'. There are no 12v triggers for discrete installs, so the 'Auto' option has to suffice.

Set Up

As indicated by the presence of wall mounting holes, the M7s (and 5s for that matter) are designed to work very close to, or on a wall. Without the aid of boundary reinforcement, the bass rolls off way short of the 80Hz crossover the Ms are supposed to reach. Positioned thus in my room, I still suffered a slight gap between the satellite and sub, achieving a smoother transition with a 100Hz crossover set in the processor.

To my great relief, the M4-Ts employ exactly the same interlocking metal plate wall mount arrangement as my legacy M&K Xenon tripoles and thus I was able simply to hang the M4Ts exactly where they should be; either side of the listening position and about a foot down from the ceiling. M&K quote a slightly higher 100Hz crossover for the M4-Ts (as indeed they do for the M5) than the 80Hz quoted for the M7. Given that the M7 is double the size of an M5 or M4-T with twice as many drivers, I would expect them all to have the same crossover in practice; the extra driver simply contributes to SPL capability, not depth of response. I therefore feel the 80Hz crossover quoted for the M7s to be a bit optimistic, but in the context of this system, it's a non issue as I shall explain and anyway, your system/room may throw up something different, so I suggest a bit of experimentation just to be sure.

The SB-12 was positioned between the centre and front right speakers approximately where every sub has worked best in this room, but a bit closer to the wall. With distances/delays set correctly in the processor, the sealed M7s proved to integrate perfectly with no phase adjustment required on the sub. External EQ was used and was variously my Velodyne SMS-1, a DSpeaker Anti-mode 8033 (reviewed) and an SVS AS-EQ1 (to be reviewed soon).

Listening

Firing up the M7s immediately showed themselves to have quite a distinctive voice, but once you settle into the M7s groove, their strengths become apparent and they are considerable. Their narrow baffle with rounded corners give them exceptional imaging capabilities and the fact that three identical examples are used across the front, enables effects to pan across the front with seamless precision. They actually image very well in the depth plane too, especially for a speaker that sits so close to a wall, but this is only really apparent when used in stereo. In dynamic terms they punch above their apparent size which has always been a historical strength of the brand. The chopstick duel in Kung-fu Panda and in particular the ceramic clatter of the dumpling bowl had a reach out and touch tangibility to it, whilst the crack of bullets hitting the car in the opening scene of Iron Man sounded like real metal being snapped.

The efficiency and dynamics are no accident, but a result of several design choices that mark all MK speakers out from the herd. The efficiency and dynamism come from not only the twin mid/bass drivers which have the equivalent radiating area of a single 125-150mm unit and therefore move more air than the slim cabinet suggests possible, but also the fact that the speakers are only asked to operate over a limited frequency range. By freeing the satellites from deep bass and propping up the response of what remains with boundary loading, the speakers’ electrical sensitivity does not have to be compromised to produce a significant bass response. In a normal ‘full range’ two way, the mid range and treble are effectively turned down in order to bring up the relative level of bass. But here, there is much less of a need. The result is a pair of speakers that can not only be driven very loud for a speaker of their size, but one that delivers remarkable dynamic punch and doesn’t need an enormous amount of power to do it. This latter quality is also a result of fine attention to the passive crossover of the tweeter to mid/bass units. Whatever marketing techno-babble MK use to describe it, the phase coherence of the divers is good, because when asked, they all kick at the same time.

MK Sound M Series

Now, no sub £300 speaker is perfect and the M7s are no exception to this. There is a slight colouration from a peak in their frequency response that if I had to guess, would say is about the 3kHz mark and is possibly a cabinet colouration. It does impart a very slightly nasal or wooden quality to voices, but on the other hand the M7s offer a projection and clarity of voices that keeps dialogue intelligible even in the most frenetic of scenes. This is altogether more important than the last once of neutrality and extended listening means your ear tends to ‘tune out’ such emphasis anyway.

If I had to pick one fault that extended listening doesn’t diminish, then it would be in the treble which isn't the most refined for the price. It's not elevated or bright in balance and there is plenty of real detail on offer, but on all but the cleanest of recordings, there is an emphasis to sibilant sounds. S's tended to sustain into S'zzzs and cymbals tended to sound a touch splashy. I found this surprising as the tweeter is one of the main changes in the transition from K to M Series and this is the now the same unit as found in the more costly Xenons which are considered to be a more refined design. The nett result is less a lot less noticeable with movies than with music which tends to be more closely mic’d. Kari Bremnes superbly produced ‘Live’ album was an example that suffered. I like this recording because most of it is sung in Norwegian, so you tend to focus on the sounds and their reproduction; overtly sibilant S’s tend stand out and in this case they did. By contrast Gandalf’s mutterings the Mines of Moria (‘Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring) have seldom sounded so defined and legible against the deep echoes, so it’s clearly about the focus of the design.

Moving to the surround channels and a lot of what applies to the M7s applies here, albeit with the addition of the side mounted dipolar full range drivers, the effectiveness of which cannot be underestimated. The result is a blend of monopole imaging, with dipole diffuseness that is unique as far as I am aware. I have still yet to hear a surround speaker that can pull and direct sounds from the front soundstage outward and upward with the precision that a MK tripole can whilst filling the sides of a room with an enveloping diffuse sound field. It is a clever trick indeed and one that if you have the space I would highly recommend; these surrounds need a flat wall with space to either side, although I should also add that they can work very well on a rear wall above a sofa too. The tonal match with the front M7s is exemplary which contributes further to maintaining that illusion of an unbroken sphere of surround sound we’re all chasing.

As a surround music speaker, they are bettered by traditional pair of monopole direct radiating speakers at closer to ear level, but as the raison d’etre of MK speakers is movie reproduction, this isn’t a problem in my book.

The SB-12 subwoofer was more of a mixed bag. I must add the caveat that all comments that follow are with respect to this units health as clearly it has been about a bit, but never-the-less it was the one that was sent out for comment. The good stuff is that if the Ms demand a slightly higher crossover than advertised or the norm, then the upper reaches of the SB-12s frequency range are super clean and well matched to the task. Once I admitted defeat and settled for the 100Hz crossover, the blend twixt sub and sats was inaudible and the required trick of making small speakers sound mystifyingly larger was accomplished with panache. My favourite demo version of Paul Simon's 'Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes' (Graceland 25th Anniversary edition) has a really rough vocal track that is best ignored and the only other instrument present is an electric bass guitar. The SB-12 tracked every pluck, strum and struck string as the bassist rattled up and down the musical scale back and forth through the crossover region and never once was I aware of where the speakers stopped or sub started. The rhythm and drive of the system (as a whole) was excellent and again bears out the attention MK claim to have made in phase correctness from top to bottom of the frequency range; There was no sense of feet being dragged here.

Fine stuff indeed.

The irony is that compared to the excellent music performance, the movie performance was a bit underwhelming. General low level performance was good, with the throb of street scenes nicely rendered and subtle bass effects that rely more on texture than SPL convincingly portrayed. As Clive Owen walks out of the shop onto the London street in 'Children Of Men' the roar fills the room in a pleasing fashion, but the impact of the terrorist bomb that follows seconds later was almost absent. There was big mid bass hit, but no real sense of air being shifted to deliver the scale of the explosion. Similarly the escape of Tai Lung from the underground prison in Kung-fu Panda had that pleasing mid bass punch, but the big hits from the rocks falling simply lacked scale. It would have been labouring the point to try out the DTSHD-MA soundtrack of Master And Commander, so I didn’t.

It's not a big subwoofer by any means, but it's not exactly small either. It’s an inch or two bigger in all directions than most competitors and boasts a 12” driver. The 250 “conservative” Watts MK quote may be less conservative than the literature suggests, because it was quite easy to get the sub to complain on the sustained low 20Hz effects that are becoming increasingly common in today’s HD soundtrack reality. I had just expected that in a room where external EQ delivers at least 6dB(SPL) of free headroom below 30Hz, I might feel a bit more movement for £849. This left me a bit non-plussed, but the clues are in the design and not all subwoofers are designed to do the same job.

The driver, with only a single small magnet and a relatively narrow roll surround which limits its throw, isn’t really designed to meet the demands of a moderately sized sealed single driver box being asked to sustain high SPL deep bass. Those limiting factors for thunderous deep bass are, on the other hand, exactly what you want to control linearity and therefore distortion at higher frequencies and this is borne out in the superbly clean integration with the M7 satellites. To deliver clean, deep and loud bass from such a driver would require a doubling up of drivers which, surprise, surprise is what the bigger MK subs do.

Verdict

8
AVForumsSCORE
OUT OF
10

The Good

  • Improved build quality
  • Easy to position & set up
  • Excellent imaging across seating area
  • Class leading surround effects and steering
  • Easy to drive
  • Big dynamics from a small speaker
  • Excellent detail without shouting it at you
  • Very good bass quality with music
  • Superb movie performance

The Bad

  • Not the most neutral
  • Treble refinement could be better
  • Subwoofer limits overall SPL
  • Music performance average
  • Mismatched speaker/sub finish options
  • Subwoofer price

MK Sound M Series Home Theatre Speaker Package

Maybe I should start a review with the minus points and finish with the plusses, because that would leave in the mind a more accurate picture of the fun I had with this package in general. My reservations (and the related scoring) regarding the sub evaporate if reference level listening isn’t a practical or regular reality. If your neighbours are of the attached or flat variety, then it produces a melodic and deep response of fine texture and in 90% of my listening, it was genuinely pleasurable to live with. It’s just that as the volume heads north, the SB-12s limitations become audibly apparent before the speakers do. As this is a package and one that can’t really operate without a sub, I must judge the performance as an integrated whole. The sub costs the package a “Highly” to go with it’s “Recommended”, drops its Power Handling by a mark and prevents an overall score of ‘Excellent’. I’ll leave it to you to work out where your type of usage would place the dividing line.

I am pleased to say that the individual strengths of the speakers still warrant the package a minimum of a “Recommend” sticker. The M7 satellites and especially the M4-T surrounds are the stars of this bundle, never offering less than a truly homogenous surround experience of great precision and clarity, which is exceptional at the price. I should also add that they do so at all volume levels; quiet late night listening being more rewarding than normal. They will work well with most AV receivers upward of £500 in all but the largest of rooms and will do so taking up less floor space than anything near the price.

As such, I must clause the scoring below.

The M Series is a welcome addition (back) to the market place and based on this outing, the legions faithful can rest easy. The key strengths of the old M&K are being adhered to and the signs are that changes are being made to keep the designs fresh and current. It takes time to overhaul a complete range, even a rationalized one. With the new 950 Series and a revamped MX-350 subwoofer soon to follow, the signs are that MK Sound aren’t wasting any time in getting on with the job.

Recommended

Scores

Sound Quality

.
.
8

Build Quality

.
9

Verdict

.
.
8

Value For Money

.
.
.
7
8
AVForumsSCORE
OUT OF
10

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