It’s a sign of the times in a way, but as a lad working in a hi-fi shop we used to sell speakers that came in boxes of a size that these days are seldom likely to contain anything other than a subwoofer. Even so, when a ‘full size’ subwoofer turns up it’s still a bit of a shock, such is the current trend for miniaturization. Mind you, not many subs are a full metre tall. Yup, the Teufel System 9 THX Ultra 2 (£3,574 SRP), to give the package it’s full title, is a fairly uncompromising set of speakers designed to fill the largest of listening spaces under the terms of the THX Ultra 2 specification.
So what is that specification? Well, where loudspeakers and subwoofers are concerned, THX have defined a range of domestic listening room sizes and what is required to fill that volume with a predetermined level and bandwidth of sound for both movies and music. The top of the pile Ultra 2 specification is for the largest spaces of 3500cu ft or more and requires the system to be capable of maintaining the nominal 85dB(SPL) reference volume level a listening seat 12ft away, cleanly deliver 105dB SPL peaks from the speakers and 115dB peaks from the subwoofer across a bandwidth of 20Hz to 20kHz within certain limits. For those interested, here's the list of metrics covered by the THX specification:
- Axial Frequency Response Analysis
- Directional Characteristics
- Harmonic Distortion
- Low Frequency Cut Off
- Phase Angle
- Stray Magnetic Flux
- Maximum Output Level
- Acoustic Noise Level
In the Box
The actual metrics will vary depending on whether the speaker in question is a front, surround or subwoofer, but the tight specifications on the horizontal and vertical dispersion pattern of the sound radiated by the front speakers, tends to result in speakers looking somewhat different to the more elegant hi-fi norm. The M 950 FCR front speakers (I refuse to call anything nearly two feet wide a mere satellite) are a classic example of the breed and yet unlike the breed in general, manage to look absolutely fantastic. THX speakers don’t have to be a squat dumpy box, but the requirements placed on the speaker's narrow vertical, but wide horizontal dispersion tend to make it so.
Here, an array of 80mm midrange drivers (some designs simply use more treble units) above and below the central tweeter (D'Appolito array) have been turned into the M950s most striking visual feature. Mounted from behind onto a billet alloy sub-baffle, the single soft dome tweeter shares the main cabinet volume with the woofers, whilst the midrange units enjoy isolation their own tubular sub-enclosures. Both the bass and midrange drivers are alloy basket affairs sporting composite honeycomb flat diaphragm drivers, the bass drivers differing slightly by having an inverted (concave) roll surround and obviously being a lot larger at 165mm. The eagle eyed will spot that this makes the M 950 FCRs a true three-way speaker. With the grills in place over the bass drivers, the front of the speaker is intentionally absolutely flush to the edges of the aluminium plates flanking the bass drivers. To the rear, is a simple recessed tray housing a pair of good quality binding posts that also provides a mounting for the sizeable crossover circuit board. The whole shebang is wrapped up in a sealed (no ports here) and flawless gloss black cabinet that is a mere 20cm deep front to back.
A quick note about packaging. The entire system came well secured to a pallet, but for the second time in as many Teufel systems, I received a damaged speaker. This time it looks like a pallet fork had clipped a box and to be fair, the box could be wood, but it may as well be cheese to industrial machinery. That said, I would expect that speakers at this level to be double boxed. The subwoofer was and needs it like no other, but the speakers are of the size that they can and will be thrown around by people or in transit, so Teufel, please have a look at this.
By comparison, the M 950 D surround speakers are comparatively mundane in execution, if not in size. Standing (or hanging) nearly two feet tall, the trapezoidal cabinets house two arrays of drivers pointing forward and rearward and at an angle approximately 45 degrees to each other. This time, a pair of tweeters are mounted above a 130mm midrange unit and apparently identical 130mm bass driver. The object here is not to focus the mid/treble energy in a constrained vertical pattern, but to spray the sound everywhere in a diffuse a manner as possible. Taking their styling cues from the M 950 FCR, the more traditionally coned drivers are simply surface mounted and hidden by grills. Two metal brackets fixed to the rear, allow the cabinets to be hung on sturdy screws (these weigh 17kg) and also provide clearance for a rear mounted mode switch. This chunky and positive acting switch allows you to switch between di-pole (each side out of phase) bi-pole (both sides in phase) and unusually, monopole where only one side of the speaker works. This final position is a nod to the multichannel music brigade who want a directional surround speaker.
Finally, we come to the mighty M 9500 SW subwoofer. I've played with some fairly large subs in my time, in fact I've built two that when stacked are larger, but no amount of tape measuring to work out where it would fit in the room prepared me for how big it looked once it was in here. Seriously, even my beer fridge is smaller. Styling, as before, is gloss black, although this time the aluminium is traded for gloss silver MDF. It is very smart looking, but owing to the size you're always aware of its presence, somewhat like a beautifully made coffin. On the bright side at 65kg and too large to lift, it's pretty much theft proof!
In between the silver side cheeks and above the grill is a display of three LEDs that depending on the combination lit, display the status of the subwoofer as affected by the neat remote control. As well as allowing control over On/Standby and the sub's volume and muting, it is possible to switch between the crossover frequency selected on the rear of the sub, or 'THX Bypass' which is the same as LFE bypass on any other sub. Additionally, the remote allows you invert phase, although this function is bypassed if you use the THX Bypass. Beyond the On/Standby and volume related controls, the rest of the settings are of a set once and forget nature, so their presence on a remote is of slightly dubious use. Equally, whilst setting the phase to zero degrees may suit a THX speaker set-up, it's not unusual to want to bypass the internal crossover and adjust phase which you can't actually do. Ho, hum.
Behind the grill a nestle pair of vertically stacked coated cellulose (doped paper) 300mm drivers sporting neodymium magnets on pressed steel frames. There are no figures published, but I would estimate driver travel at a approximately +/-10mm. The drivers share the entire internal volume of the cabinet which is vented to the rear near the base with DPU reflex technology. That'll be slot loading to the rest of us and is tuned to a modest 27Hz (according to my best measurements) to meet the THX requirement of a -3dB point at 25Hz. The rear of the cabinet also sports the quoted 700w RMS, 1200w Music Power plate amp which beyond the aforementioned low pass crossover frequency control, sports stereo high and low level inputs with pass through outputs. There is nothing in the instruction manual to indicate whether the high level speaker outputs are high passed, but I suspect not.
I will point out now that my room is closer to 2500 cu ft than the 3500cu ft the Ultra 2 spec is targeted at, but I do sit at about 10ft from the speakers. Measurements showed that the M 950 FCRs enjoyed mounting close to the wall, which their shallow profile tempts you to do anyway. I mounted all three on 600mm mass loaded four pillar stands that placed the tweeter bang on ear height and I pointed the front left and right speakers directly at the listening position and pulled them out a touch to account for the fact they were nearer the corners and therefore getting a touch more boundary gain. The surrounds were placed atop some stands made from 18mm MDF and spare 4x2 at a height of 1.5m to the bottom of the cabinet and directly to the sides of the listening position. The subwoofer was positioned in the only place it could go, which is happily where all of my subs have sat at the side of the room and forward of the left front speaker, give or take a few inches. Amplification was variously taken care of by my regular Audiolab 8000AP processor and Cinepro 2k6 power amp and an Onkyo TX-NR5007 THX Ultra 2 Plus (the amp equivalent to the speakers Ultra 2 cert) receiver kindly loaned by Onkyo. More on that amp at another time. The sub was run EQ'd using a BFD and/or the Onkyo's built in Audyssey Mult-EQ XT.
Listening turned out to be a slightly mixed bag of real highs and a slightly frustrating low (pun intended), so I shall progress through the speakers in their respective groupings. I could start by saying that the M 950 FCRs are reference grade speakers and leave it there, but I'm not allowed. As you would hope from a THX certified product, movies were handled with aplomb. Savage dynamic attack is mated with refinement that encourages long term, high level hooliganism and doesn't punish you with fatigue. The treble is very well behaved, helped in no small part by covering less of the frequency range than normal due to the true three way design. Detail is excellent, with no sense of treble levels being elevated to artificially enhance what you're hearing and no nasties in the sibilance range. The midrange, freed of a two way crossover point right where you want it least, is very natural and open with boxy colouration, or chesty bloom letting voices hang free of the box. Gandalf's mumblings in the Mines of Moria were uncommonly articulate as an example, with his guttural whisper and naturally echoey sibilance nicely balanced. All of this is underpinned by an upper to low bass balance that is just warm enough to prevent the speaker sounding clinical, but restrained enough to prevent you breaking out the pipe and slippers. Overall top to bottom integration is very smooth with no one area standing out and there's no sense of the character changing with the transition between drive units. I did try to poke holes in this particular area with a fair bit of stereo music listening containing the midrange spotlight of female vocals and piano.
I will therefore give quick nod to the stereo music performance, because it wasn't a permanent festival of Star Trek, Kung-fu Panda and Transformers 2. I do listen to a lot of music and the Teufels weren't going to get away without their share. It was more than a case of movie speakers that aren't bad with music too.
The attention that both the THX spec and Teufels attention to a smooth speaker face with the grills in place and flat diaphragms deliver an even off axis response that feeds an even range of energy into the room and is rewarded in a natural unforced nature to female vocal and an impressively tight focus to the stereo sound stage. Traditional thinking is that narrow speakers image and wide ones don't, but that's not strictly true. The truth is go wide, go narrow, avoid diffraction ripple effects by rebating drivers flush and rounding corners, but don't go half way house as the frequencies the diffraction effects happen at are related to baffle width and you want those affects either above or below the midrange, but certainly not in it. The Teufels certainly do image although the close to wall mounting may not help in the perceived depth of image, but that is nit picking; These are very capable loudspeakers whatever you're listening to with a refined presentation and a real rhythmic talent – They time very well and maintain music's natural drive a quality that is aided by the tight placed restrictions on phase angles by THX.
The surrounds do what is asked and I quickly settled on the dipole setting as my favourite. In so far as you can timbre match a speaker up against the ceiling with one low down on stands in front of you, Teufel have managed very well. Sounds and effects are pulled upward and outward from the front speakers with a minimal change in character as effects are passed to the surrounds and back again. It was also a salutary experience to have full sized speakers in the surround role again. My usual M&K tripoles may shade the accuracy of steering and pinpoint soundscape vote, but there's no substitute for cubes when it comes to creating a weighty, tactile surround experience. The opening space battle of Star Trek is a surround fanatics feast and the visceral nature of the battle was almost literally breathtaking and again, it was all accomplished without a hint of strain. Impressive.
This is a sub/satellite system in the truest sense of the phrase. It is designed, rather than coerced, to work in concert with a subwoofer to provide the bottom octaves of bass extension. Although I'm considering the performance separately, in reality the speakers stand upon the subwoofer's foundation and must be considered as an integrated whole and in this regard, the system bears up under close scrutiny. The twin drivers of the M9500 SW blend seamlessly with their matching speakers. The driver's design with a smaller, more controlled roll surround and smaller voice coil deliver the clean upper bass required to pull this trick off and under most circumstances you are simply not aware of the subs presence. It's nimble, tuneful and by dint of doubling up the number of drivers blessed with superb upper bass impact. Indeed, although it visually appears the antithesis of what is generally (and mistakenly) considered a musical sub, that turns out to be one of its most major attributes.
It's a bit of an edgy mix, but Gwen Stefani's 'If I were a Rich Girl' (Love. Angel. Music. Baby.) has a satisfying kick to it with some nice basso drops, but this time after the opening bars, I hit 'Stop', wound the wick up to 11 (okay, much louder than normal, but you get the drift) and hit 'Play' again. Absolutely savage slam and one of the few subs to genuinely deliver that upper-bass-in-the-chest feeling I (used to) go looking for in clubs. It plays a tune well too, with my old copy of Paul Simon's Graceland showing it up to be no slouch in texture or rhythmic drive. Bass guitar feels like bass guitar and propels the music along.
Turning to movies turned out to be a touch more of a mixed sub-bass bag though. Lacking nothing what-so-ever in the sheer power and impact stakes, the 9500 was clearly capable of bending the fabric of the house without thinking about it and just to acknowledge the fact that THX Ultra 2 systems are designed for larger spaces than mine, I was able to comfortably able to run System 9 well beyond THX/Dolby reference volume in my room without a hint of strain. Master and Commander was so much fun it should be illegal.
However, trotting out the usual range of sub and infra-bass subwoofer breakers, such as Flight of the Phoenix, Transformers, Kung-fu Panda, etc, the really deep, well known big bass moments just fell a bit flat. I spent a good hour remeasuring and checking system set-up and EQ after the first run through of the Transformers 'Autobot somersault', but the basso drop that descends into inaudible room pulsing had evaporated as an event just before that point was reached. The rest of the bass hits of the closing battle were superb, but that's the moment that gets you reaching for the rewind button with a silly grin on your face and it just wasn't there.
Teufel have nailed THX Ultra 2 subwoofer specification using remarkably modest excursion drivers, protected by port loading and a pretty steep high pass filter to eradicate any chance of over-excursion below the port tuning frequency. The result is a very impressive subwoofer for the most part, but as plenty of large subwoofer owners are now aware, it's entirely possible to deliver those 20Hz (and lower) room wobbles with subs that cost a similar amount and are also retailed direct over the internet.
- Massive output capability
- Easy to accommodate (Speakers)
- Size (Subwoofer)
- Ultimate Extension
- One colour fits all
Teufel System 9 THX Ultra Speakers Review
I do hate ending on a bum note (although it's becoming a habit) as it does tend to cloud the flavour of the rest of the review, but it's much the same when you buy speakers, subs or whatever, in the traditional fashion. You have a choice to make and you list all the positives and end with the 'but'. If the 'but' is sufficiently small then you pays yer money and here, Teufel have an additional ace up their sleeve. You can pay your money and listen to them for a full 8 weeks and then decide whether to keep them, or return for a full refund minus carriage. That takes a lot of guess work out of the equation and if you do keep them, the speakers are guaranteed for a huge 12 years, although only two for the sub's electronics. You would have to go some on a week long home demo to run a set of speakers in, never mind optimize all of the system twiddling that goes with such a system upheaval. 8 weeks should be enough to know everything there is to know and then some.
As for the system itself, well it achieves its design goals in an impressive manner for a very impressive price. The M 950 FCRs and M 950Ds are worth every penny of the system price by themselves (at £444 each) and individually worthy of being considered reference grade products that push the £/performance envelope. The sub is still worthy of recommendation, albeit a slightly more cautious one although I suspect for many, the massive form factor will rule it out regardless. For those who chase realism in natural sounds and music, as opposed to all out sci-fi artificially generated effects, will find much to like in the M 9500 SW; It does what it does very well, it's just that I feel those willing to accommodate a box like this will tend to lean toward the big effects movies and here, it can be bettered.
Recommended? With THX Ultra 2 speakers and all that means for less than £500 each, it would be hard not to. THX Ultra 2 guarantees a minimum level of performance that hasn't previously been available on these shores for much less than a grand. In this case, the speakers in particular and the sub on balance mean that in performance terms, you aren't suffering the minimum of anything.
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