|Morel Stream MK II 5.1 Speaker System|
|Home Theater Loudspeakers Speaker Systems|
|Written by Andrew Robinson|
|Thursday, 01 June 2006|
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Music and Movies
I kicked off my musical evaluation with Audioslave’s self-titled debut (Interscope/Epic). The opening track, “Cochise,” isn’t for the weak of heart or system, but the Morels proved up to the task. The song begins with what I can only describe as a helicopter take-off, which can punish most subwoofers into submission. While I’ve felt greater impact from other subs in the past, the Soundsub 9 didn’t shy away from the challenge. The bass track through the Soundsub 9 was extremely taut, weighty and relatively quick, though not as deep or impactful as its more powerful siblings. This wasn’t so much of a problem in my girlfriend’s smaller room, but if you were thinking of putting the Stream system into a larger room, I’d have to recommend a more powerful sub or maybe a second Soundsub 9. Moving beyond the Steam system’s bass performance, I noticed another rarity for speakers in this class. The treble was exceptionally smooth and very refined. The Soundspots’ treble isn’t going to win any awards when it comes to ultimate extension and air, but this didn’t bother me as much as I thought it would. The treble was a bit dry, but it had incredible focus and lightning-quick reflexes that I found reminiscent of another great speaker manufacturer, B&W. There was a decidedly British tonal quality to the Soundspots’ higher and middle frequencies that was simply refreshing and rather inviting, despite my choice of source material. Chris Cornell’s vocals had excellent weight and pitch and were held firmly in place by the Soundspots’ excellent sound staging capabilities, despite being wall-mounted and off-axis from most of my listening positions. Moving on to the second track, “Show Me How to Live,” I was treated to the Morel’s inherent ability to recreate a convincing musical event within the room without overpowering it. Again, the bass was tight and weighty (in its own right) and blended seamlessly with its smaller siblings. The Soundspots’ agile nature helped to bring a bit of snap and punch to the song’s opening drum line. Once the track kicked into high gear, the Morels were firing on all cylinders and never showed signs of strain or glare, even at above average levels. On the flip side, I found that I had to turn them up just a little more than most small-sized speakers before they truly came alive. Overall, with two-channel fare, the Steam system acted unlike any satellite/sub combo I’ve come across thus far, in the sense that I never felt like I was listening to small speakers. I ran out of room before the speakers ran out of ability. The midrange was simply a delight, while the treble added a bit of refinement and sophistication not often heard from speakers in the Stream’s class. I guess you could say the Morels are in a class all their own.
Satisfied with two-channel music, I moved onto multi-channel fare with the DualDisc version of the British band Keane and their debut album, Hopes and Fears (Interscope). During the track “Bend and Break,” the Steam system’s treble gained a bit of breath and sparkle at the extremes. The bass followed suit, seemingly reaching down another half-octave. All the while, the midrange remained pure and almost completely unchanged, which I somewhat expected, due to the Soundspots’ design. The soundstage gained in width. The depth changed little compared to two-channel music, but this most assuredly had more to do with my placement than with the speakers themselves. The system’s ability to surround me in music was exemplary and completely seamless from front to back in true 360-degree form. Dynamically, the Morels gained a bit of punch and acceleration, which meant I didn’t need to push them too hard to make them to come alive. Moving on to the track “Bed Shaped,” my opinion of the Morels changed little. One thing that I did note was, for the first time, a sense of the Morels’ macro dynamics. The song quietly builds for several minutes before finally letting loose in the last chorus. Throughout the build-up, the Morel’s shone light on all of subtle details and textures without distracting from Tom Chaplin’s haunting vocals. When the time finally comes to let loose, the Morels’ ability to go from pedal to the floor was rather shocking. Up or down, the dynamic scale of the Morels was simply captivating.
Moving on to movies, I opted for “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire” (Warner Home Video). While not my favorite of the series, the latest in the children’s book-to-film franchise proved to have a few captivating moments. Skipping ahead to the scene when Harry must face the terrifying dragon, the Morels nearly made me fall out of my seat. “My God,” I thought. My girlfriend chose a few more creative adjectives to describe the Morels’ transformation from musical to muscle. From the first flap of the dragon’s wings, I felt surrounded and a little afraid. The room literally shook when the dragon rained fire down upon Harry. I could hardly believe I was still listening to the same subwoofer. Not that the sub’s abilities were sub-par with music, not at all – it merely dug a little deeper with the film’s superior sound mixing. Not to be outdone, the scenes higher frequencies kept their cool, while the midrange and vocal delineation, albeit not that much, was crystal clear and very well defined within the space. I noticed the Morels’ refined pallet lent a sense of ease to the whole presentation. While the dragon sequence proved exhilarating, I enjoyed the film’s quieter moments even more. During the scene when Harry tries his hardest to ask his would-be girlfriend to the school dance, the Morels subtly proved as compelling as the film’s many action scenes. The Morels’ ability to strike a balance between the scene’s atmospheric elements and playful musical score was downright charming.
Keeping with the emotional theme, I popped in Peter Jackson’s latest, “King Kong” (Universal Studios Home Video). I could easily write an entire review about the film’s exciting dinosaur chase sequence. However, it was the sentimental moments between Kong and Naomi Watts that sent me over the edge. When Kong takes Watts to his hideaway to enjoy the sunset the sonic landscape was enormous. Every gust of wind and rustle of the trees was rendered faithfully and transformed my girlfriend’s meager room into the lush jungle of Skull Island. During the film’s climactic battle atop the Empire State building, the Morels’ high frequencies sweetened just a little as the flying shards of glass and debris took on an added bit of sparkle. With so much going on in the scene, it’s easy for a loudspeaker to lose track of some of the more subtle elements, like the score. Yes, the score. I’ve seen a great many speakers that, when pushed to their limits with some of today’s action sequences, often have to sacrifice, which often means the dialogue and/or musical score begins to resemble pea soup. I was pleased to find the Morels didn’t fall into this category; in fact, it seemed the harder I pushed/punished them, the stronger they came back. Still, at the extremes, the sub did run out of steam, but again, I was pushing the system more than I would expect the average user to do. The surround sound performance of the Morels was, again, simply staggering. The rear speakers seemed to find the furthest reaches of the room and fill them believably with sound. When the planes circled overhead, I swore, on more than three occasions, that they were actually outside my house. They weren’t, I checked … three times. As Kong clings to life before taking his final and famous fall back to earth, the Soundsub cooked up something really neat, which made me scratch my head a little. Kong’s breathing is a low rumble more than anything else and, while I thought this would prove difficult for the tiny sub, it wasn’t. Instead, the walls of my room seemed to be breathing in time with Kong. The bass was extremely low, controlled and heartbreaking, as I could physically feel Kong’s life slipping away. Which brought me to this conclusion: the Soundsub can go plenty deep, deeper than one would think with only a single driver and 100 watts at its disposal. However, it seems that when the tough get going, be it a severe action sequence or musical explosion, it does back off things a bit. It isn’t altogether apparent or distracting, but when you give it something to focus on, like Kong’s heavy breaths, you get a true sense of its output capabilities.
Throughout my evaluation of the Morel Stream system, I was more often shocked at what they were capable of than disappointed.