|Bowers & Wilkins M-1 Mini Theater 20 Speaker System|
|Home Theater Loudspeakers Speaker Systems|
|Written by Tim Hart|
|Monday, 01 May 2006|
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Music and Movies
The M-1s are surprising in their ability to sound bigger than they are, not so much in how loud they play, but in the tonal accuracy and nearly full-range presentation. They lean towards the warm side and have a nice midrange that quickly seduces you. The M-1’s worked well with the AS2. I set the crossover a hair into the lower range of the M-1s and was pleased with the outcome. The AS2 gave a nice bottom-end accompaniment and didn’t sound bloomy or plodding.
The speed of the AS2 kept up well with the M-1s, which was readily apparent on Aerosmith’s classic album Rocks (Columbia Records). “Combination” has an ample supply of Joe Perry power chords that extend down into the AS2’s range, lending more body and resonance than any other small satellite systems that have passed through my room. The AS2 exhibited speed and agility in keeping pace with the music and was always in step with the M-1s. The M-1s’ soundstage was pleasantly focused and slightly laid back. Cymbals had a nice ring and shimmer that didn’t sound harsh or edgy in any way, a trait that plagues many mini-theater surround packages. Probably the most impressive attribute with this MT-20 system was the absence of spectral gap between lower frequencies of the sub and the satellites. It is often difficult for these systems to span the gap between a large driver and a smaller one. No such issues for the B&W MT-20 system. “Sick as a Dog” highlighted this ability in the MT-20 system, providing authority, tangible transients and notable body to the guitar riffs. The system did falter a slightly at higher volumes, becoming slightly congested. However, this occurred at volumes that few would even expect this speaker to achieve.
The MT-20 Theater System can render a detailed multi-channel experience that is engaging and enjoyable. If a speaker system is not providing this attribute, then everything else is just technical window dressing. This was quite apparent when I listened to the DVD-Audio of Buena Vista Social Club (World Circuit Records). This collection of Cuban songs was performed by a group of very talented musicians, who Ry Cooder played with and produced. I was captivated by the rich textures of the acoustic guitars and vocals when I first heard this on my ultra-high-priced reference system and was pleasantly surprised to hear a lot of the same characteristics with the MT-20 Mini Theater System. “El Cuarto de Tula” has a nice roomy sound to it that was believably conveyed, highlighting the ambience and vocal sibilance. Vocal harmonies also sounded agile and detailed on “Pueblo Huevo.” The guitar work by Ry Cooder was truly captivating. The MT-20 system brought out the body of the guitar and resonance of the plucked strings incredibly for their size.
Concert videos, in my opinion, should be played loud. Aren’t rock concerts themselves relatively loud? Rush certainly is, and their latest DVD R30 (Anthem), recorded on tour in Frankfurt, Germany, begs for volume and your listening attention. A boilerplate test if ever there was one, this is a must-own DVD for the clarity of both video and audio, the audio undoubtedly the best live recording captured of the band. The instruments are distinctive and detailed on “Earthshine,” which highlights Alex Lifeson’s atmospheric guitar riffs and Geddy Lees’ blistering bass runs, along with Neil Peart’s drumming virtuosity. The MT-20 system did a better job than I expected, sounding clear and resolute throughout. The MT-20 Mini Theater System seemed to find its legs better with this 5.1 material, playing a little louder before starting to sound overdriven. “Red Barchetta” took the M-1s and AS2 for a ride, musically twisting and turning through the myriad gyrations these accomplished musicians can create. Synth bass notes were carried well by the AS2, with fleshed-out lower guitar notes and a nice visceral slam on parts of the drums that belie the size of the speakers playing the music.
“Serenity” (Universal Studios Home Video) offered the MT-20 system a chance to display its finesse during the reentry of the title spaceship Serenity in an early sequence. The ship is groaning, popping and screeching from all channels. The detail was carried off well enough that you felt you could be in the cargo hold with the rest of the crew trying to get planet-side. The MT-20 stepped it up a notch on this movie by playing louder, yet without duress. It would appear that this is the best format for the set-up. Transients were more pronounced, and low-frequency hums, groans of twisted metal and explosions were definitely more enthralling. Speaker voicing worked well through all channels and deftly handed off information from speaker to speaker. The fight scene in the bar where River (Summer Glau) goes berserk allows the MT-20 to capture the sound of objects flying across the room, which travel from speaker to speaker, displaying the agility of the system.
“War of the Worlds” (Paramount Home Entertainment) offers some great low-frequency information when Tom Cruise’s character witnesses the emergence of one of the tripod machines in the center of town. The AS2 did a credible job of sorting the crumbling asphalt, the deep felt-more-than-heard rumble and the crashing of the buildings with more composure than expected. The transient cracks made by splitting wood and the sound of alarms made for a pleasant movie-watching experience. The M-1s displayed much better authority in this arena, as the earlier noted congestion either didn’t exhibit itself or the material itself masked some of this minor behavior.