|Morel Vario On-wall 5.1 Speaker System|
|Home Theater Loudspeakers On-wall Loudspeakers|
|Written by Andrew Robinson|
|Tuesday, 01 August 2006|
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Music and Movies
I kicked things off with two-channel music, starting with Coldplay’s latest album X&Y (Capital). Beginning with the track “What If,” it was immediately apparent that regardless of their on-wall pedigree, the Morel Vario speakers were something special. Chris Martin’s vocals were immediate with excellent presence and weight, which gave the entire vocal track a more in-room than on-wall feel. The midrange was rich and a touch thick, but in my highly reflective room, this was a welcome addition. The high frequencies were a bit of a departure for Morel, at least when compared to their previous speaker designs. Through the Varios, the treble was airy, nimble and simply breathtaking. It was still incredibly refined and a touch polite. However, its extension and decay was unlike anything I’ve heard from Morel before. The bass was immense and, even though I calibrated the entire system to fit my room via my Denon’s EQ settings, I found I had to turn the subwoofer down a notch or two. It was tight, deep and could pack quite a punch while remaining incredibly detailed and nimble. I’m a bit shocked to say this, given the specs of my reference JBL L Series sub, but the Vario subwoofer mopped the floor with the JBL. Not to say that the JBL is a slouch, no sir. The Morel is just that good. Across the frequency spectrum, the sound from the Varios was simply effortless. It’s a seductive sound that draws the listener in without being overly bombastic. However, when it comes time to rock, these once-gentle giants can really throw down. The soundstage was surprising, extending well beyond my sidewalls and seemingly breaking through my front wall, where they were mounted. The center image was rock-solid, despite having a huge plasma screen between the main speakers. The soundstage overall was clearly defined and all of the instruments were able to shine in their respective spaces within the sonic landscape.
Moving onto the track “Fix You,” I was able to see, or should I say experience, the Varios’ dynamic capabilities. Towards the end of the track, when the entire band ramps up for the finale, the Varios’ presentation literally shook my room. The seamless wall of sound was deceptive, given the Varios’ size and positioning in my room. The Varios are explosive without giving up a hint of their musicality. In fact, the harder I pushed ‘em, the better they seemed to sound. I have never played music back in my home at the levels I was able to obtain comfortably with the Varios. Another thing to point out is the Varios’ off-axis response. My plasma rests rather high, higher than what is recommended by most professionals, yet although the Varios were mounted parallel to either side of my plasma’s edges, I was able to get a convincing musical experience that was more in line with my eye/ear level than with the plasma itself. Also, these babies disappear sonically and often guests would comment or guess as to which speakers were actually playing. I’m happy to say that more often than not, they had to physically approach the speakers to determine whether or not we were listening in stereo, surround sound or some sort of surround sound derivative, such as DTS Neo 6.
Moving onto multi-channel music, I opted for the Monster Music release of Peter Cincotti’s album Live in New York (Monster Music). I prefer the Dolby Digital mix to the DTS one for its greater dynamic swings and impact, so I set the disc accordingly. On the track “St. Louis Blues,” I instantly noticed the Varios’ ability to convincingly recreate the ever-finicky double bass. I could hear every pluck of the strings and it resonated nicely from the mid-bass all the way down into the lowest octaves the Vario sub could muster. It took on a lifelike presentation in both size and impact and showed zero signs of bloat or excess overhang. The piano simply sparkled and shimmered, remaining full-bodied and natural. Often, loudspeakers betray the piano’s signature sound, making a Steinway sound more like a Yamaha, or worse, a Casio. Well, the Vario doesn’t fall into this camp at all; instead it acts, more or less, as a window to the actual event, albeit a slightly romanticized one. My living room is a bit odd in its shape, as my kitchen cuts into the space between my right front speaker and my right surround speaker. More often than not, this results in a bit of a sonic gap when listening to multi-channel music. Well, when the tenor sax solo kicked in, it seemed as if the artist was playing just in front of my sink with all the weight and presence I found in Cincotti’s own recorded vocals. When listening with the lights off with only a few candles lit, the effect was rather spooky.
Switching to the track “Sway,” I made note of the Varios’ improved dynamics both macro and micro, due to the format’s higher resolution. Also, the surround sound performance was absolutely seamless between the five identical Vario speakers. While I heard this track demonstrated at Monster’s own headquarters with the main Monster, Noel Lee, I must admit I liked the Varios’ reproduction across the board in my own home just a little better. It was at this point that I stopped writing in my review journal and scribbled the line “to hell with descriptions, the sound is simply sexy.”
After finishing all of the Peter Cincotti DVD and the subsequent Three Doors Down DVD, also from Monster Music, I moved onto movies. I was going to utilize my Denon 3910 but, upon listening to the Varios for hours on end, I decided to scrap the idea and go for the gusto. I swapped out the Denon and in its place put my new Toshiba XA1 HD DVD player. Running a full complement of Monster M series cable through the Toshiba’s 5.1 analog outputs, I was able to take advantage of HD DVD’s uncompressed DTS soundtrack capabilities. Once I was reset and ready to go, I cued up the Tom Cruise epic “The Last Samurai” (Warner Bros). Skipping ahead to Chapter 13, where Cruise fights one of the samurai leaders in the pouring rain, the resulting surround sound experience gave me goosebumps. The Varios reproduced the hollow knocking of the warrior’s wooden swords faithfully with all the snap and reverberation you could expect to hear if it were live in my living room. The rain was richly detailed and, for the first time ever in my experience sounded, well, “wet.” To make the effect even more chilling, the thunder rolled across the farthest reaches of my room, which includes ceilings as high as 20 feet in some areas. The musical score during the scene was such that I felt I was listening to a well-recorded two-channel or pure SACD mix of the film’s soundtrack. That’s not to say it was distracting in any way: it was simply clear and so beautifully balanced that it stopped being simply the score and became more or less another character and/or emotion within the scene itself. Moving onto Chapter 18, Cruise’s voice over a montage of images was clear and true as if Cruise were speaking directly to me on my sofa (not that I want him anywhere near me or my living room). The whole scene was simply serene and inviting, making me want to trade places with some of the villagers and take up sword-fighting. As cool as Chapter 18 was, I couldn’t resist skipping ahead to the climatic battle between the samurai and the Japanese army. Before the real carnage begins, the army’s cannon shots were such that I clamored for the remote to turn the whole film down a notch, for I was sure the cops were on their way. Even at this excessive volume, the Varios and the Vario sub never showed signs of strain or break-up. The bass was simply deep and the Varios added the appropriate amount of impact to the cannon’s upper midrange performance. As the battle raged on, the Varios had no problem presenting me with a huge three-dimensional sonic landscape that allowed me to actually hear the melee in a way I had not yet experienced in my home. The dynamic swings were enough to jolt me back into my sofa time and time again and, just as with two-channel music, it seemed the harder I pushed, the easier it was for the Varios to work their magic. My only regret was that I wished the Varios could have been set up in my projection room to complete the overall larger-than-life presentation they seemed so accustomed to recreating.
Overall, the Varios exceeded my wildest expectations, given the fact that they are on-wall speakers. All of the Morel “sound” was present, but this time, there was a greater sense of immediacy and air to the entire presentation, regardless of the frequency. Make no mistake, the Varios are not just good on-wall standards, these are incredible speakers, period. The fact that they take up zero floor space (minus the subwoofer, of course) is simply the icing on the cake.