Morel Stream MK II 5.1 Speaker System 
Home Theater Loudspeakers Speaker Systems
Written by Andrew Robinson   
Thursday, 01 June 2006

Introduction
There is a war going on, and it’s waged every day in living rooms across this country, where the casualties can often be found sleeping on the couch. I’m talking about a war between good and evil. Right and wrong. You vs. her. I’m talking about the war over the WAF, or Wife Acceptance Factor. For years, you’ve wanted those towering, monolithic speakers of yore, capable of shaking your house off its very foundations and coming in every color so long as it’s black. And she wants, well, Bose. Let the games begin. Time and time again, manufacturers have attempted to bridge the gap between the sexes, creating pocket-sized speakers in every shape and color, only to produce pocket-sized sound, which is great for the bedroom or office but not for your living room. Still manufacturers persist, and some succeed: my former reference Definitive Technology ProCinema 80 system is one such success story. However, all too often, these diminutive systems are more style than substance. So it seems the war must go on. Or must it? Morel and their latest satellite/subwoofer system, the Stream MK II, may just call for the cease-fire we’ve been praying for.

Since 1975, Morel founder Meir Mordechai has been designing and hand-building loudspeakers for discriminating audiophiles the world over. An avid music listener, Mordechai set out to push the boundaries of design and technology and now, over 30 years later, his passion has paid off. Morel loudspeakers are now sold in over 55 countries worldwide, as well as providing technology and drivers to various other manufacturers. There are manufacturers who have been in business for twice as long and can’t claim the sort of success Morel can. Well, it seems Mordechai has all his ducks lined up for yet another nail in the coffin for the competition.

The Morel Stream MK II system is a complete 5.1 surround sound package that claims to provide the sort of full-range sound usually reserved for those larger floor-standers your significant other has nightmares about. Before your spouse goes running for the courthouse, tell her the entire system costs a manageable $2,000.00 and comes in three décor-friendly finishes: white, black and silver. That should get her attention. Now tell her the Stream system takes up no more room than placing five softballs and a large Frisbee in your room. Imagine that. I’m familiar with satellite/subwoofer combos. For over a year, the Definitive Technology ProCinema 80 was my personal reference for such a system. While I considered the ProCinema 80s stylish by my standards, they didn’t fully meet with the approval of my girlfriend. Well, with the Morel box resting in my living room, I was about to find out first hand what the Wife Acceptance Factor is all about. Ingeniously packaged, reminiscent of those canisters of gas you see in the movies, the Steam MK II system oozes style and grace from the second you open the box. I wasn’t the only one who noticed. My girlfriend, usually absent for these unveilings, quickly chimed in with her two cents. “Those can go in my room,” she said. Who was I to argue? The Stream system is comprised of five identical satellite speakers, affectionately called Soundspots. About the size of a softball and measuring a mere five inches in diameter, the Soundspots come equipped with stands to aid in table or wall-mounting. While the Spots may only weigh two-and-a-half pounds each, you’re going to want to make sure they’re braced properly to avoid any mishaps. The Spots have a spherical steel design, featuring a four-inch bass/midrange driver coupled to a two-inch aluminum tweeter. The drivers sit one on top of the other in a point source configuration, and while this may seem a bit out of the ordinary for most folks, it’s a design that’s been used by numerous speaker manufacturers for years. While not the inventors of point source mounting, Morel’s version of it, the Integra drive system, as they call it, is responsible for the speaker’s small stature and uncanny coherence across the frequency spectrum. The Soundspots have a reported frequency response of 95-22,000Hz, so clearly a subwoofer or two will be in order, and with a sensitivity rating of only 86dB into eight ohms, you’re going to want to make sure your amplifier or receiver is up to the task. Rolling the speakers over, I discovered two very unique binding posts. At first glance, they appear to be your standard five-way variety. However, upon closer inspection, they’re a variation on a pushpin design. While I normally shriek in terror at pushpin designs, the Soundspot’s use of it was more than intriguing and, at second thought, rather ingenious. Below the Spots’ binding posts rested the attached stand/table mount. Out of the box, you can easily place the Soundspots on a table or shelf and, boom, you’re done. However, if you wish to wall-mount them, you can simply pivot the Soundspot’s base down 90 degrees and, with the help of a pre-drilled hole, screw the Spots directly to the wall. Sadly, if neither of these options fit your needs, you’ll have to spring for separate stands that you can get from any Morel dealer. Still, the inclusion of two mounting options for a speaker of this style and price is downright amazing.

Moving on to the subwoofer, the Soundsub 9, I was treated to more of that Morel style. A departure from more conventional subwoofers, the Soundsub 9 is round and rather flat, which allows for a bevy of mounting options. Mounting options? That’s right, the Sound sub can be mounted directly to the wall or ceiling via a pair of brackets that come standard. Yes, you can mount this bad boy to the ceiling. You don’t get any more out of the way than that. It can also be floor-“mounted” with the help of three silver legs that positions the Soundsub 9 in a sort of 45-degree angle, which adds a bit of retro flare to its visual presentation. The sound sub can also be laid flat on the floor with the driver side of its cylinder shape pointed skyward. Regardless of placement, the Soundsub 9 is as unassuming as they come, due to its size, shape and style, measuring in at 20 inches in diameter by five inches deep and tipping the scales at 31 pounds. The Soundsub 9 utilizes an internal 100-watt amplifier to drive its single nine-inch driver, giving it a rated frequency response of 30-160Hz. The Soundsub 9 can be connected to your system through its five-way binding posts or line-level RCA inputs. The Soundsub 9 also has a pair of low-level RCA outputs. Throw in a detachable power cord, phase adjustment switch, auto sensing circuit and all of the connection adapters you’ll need to make life simple, and you’ve got the Soundsub 9.

Set-up
I barely had the Morels out of the box before my girlfriend began placing them about the room. Not wanting to waste her enthusiasm, I quickly grabbed my stud finder and screwdriver and began mounting the Morel system. I began by mounting the left and right speaker on either side of her 42-inch Vizio plasma screen, with the “center” speaker resting about a foot below the screen’s bottom edge. Simple enough. Next, I found a suitable, though not ideal, location to ceiling-mount the two rear speakers. Lastly, I positioned the sub almost directly below and the center speaker on a small ledge that already existed in the room. I connected the entire system to my Harman Kardon AVR 7300 receiver, with the source duties falling to my trustworthy (and discontinued) Sony carousel DVD/CD player. Due to the small size of the Soundspots’ binding posts, I couldn’t take advantage of my speaker cable of choice, Monster M series cable, and instead went with Monster’s flat speaker cables, which are available at most consumer electronics stores. All and all, set-up was a fairly painless process and, with very little effort, I was able to achieve a clean and rather professional-looking installation in under 30 minutes.

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.

The Downside
I thoroughly enjoyed my time with the Stream system. However, I did have a few issues with them. First, the binding posts. While I appreciated their aesthetic style and ease of use, they really do limit you when it comes to the type of cable you can use. Truthfully, I’d rather spend the time finding the right cables for the Soundspots than having a pair of bulky five-way posts hanging off each speaker’s backside.

Second, there is a rubber ring around the base of each Soundspot’s stand that, when wall-mounted, can leave an unsightly ring on your wall if and when you move them. I have to assume most users will set ‘em and forget ‘em, so this is less of an issue, but you’ll want to make sure you have a damp rag handy to buff out those black “coffee stains” from your wall.

Then there is the subwoofer. While extremely stylish, it did prove to be a bit temperamental in its overall performance. I was always able to strike an appropriate balance in the lower regions. However, it seemed to vary from recording to recording, film to film. Like I said before, the addition of a second sub would, in all likelihood, alleviate this phenomenon, but alas, it is present.

The Morels do take a bit of break-in and a fair amount of amplifier power to sound their absolute best. I would recommend no less than 75 watts per channel to extract everything that this wonderful system is capable of.

Lastly, the sonic character of the Stream system isn’t going to be for everyone, especially if you’re used to a more traditional “American” sound. It’s not overly energetic or altogether airy, however it is extremely well-behaved, refined and above all musical. I’m certain that after an hour or so with the system, you might find your tastes changing a bit, as I did. This is definitely a system worth listening to, but you’ll ultimately have to decide for yourself whether or not it’s right for you and your home.

Conclusion
At $2,000.00 retail, the Morel Stream MK II system is a tremendous bang for your buck. Throw in killer looks and a truly mature sound and you’ve got a system that most would only dream of. Don’t be fooled by their diminutive stature, for these are speakers that can roll with the big boys and maybe even embarrass them a little bit. Beyond all of the technical mumbo jumbo, the Morels do something very few speakers can, which is to fit comfortably into your home and your lifestyle without calling attention to themselves visually. They really do blend in. When fired up, they have all of the bells and whistles of their larger counterparts. However, you’ll never have to argue with your spouse over placement or how to disguise the large black coffin in the middle of your room. Even so, I can see a new argument forming on the horizon, and that is who gets to choose which movie to watch on Saturday night. It seems men and women are bound to fight, but it won’t be about the speakers. Don’t believe me? As I was packing up the Morels to send back to the factory, my girlfriend ran into the room screaming, “What are you doing?”

“I’m sending them back,” I said.

“Oh, no, you’re not,” she replied.

Who am I to argue? Needless to say, she bought them and they will be staying around for a very, very long time.
Manufacturer Morel
Model Stream MK II 5.1 Speaker System
Reviewer Andrew Robinson





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