Morel Vario On-wall 5.1 Speaker System 
Home Theater Loudspeakers On-wall Loudspeakers
Written by Andrew Robinson   
Tuesday, 01 August 2006

Introduction
All too often, we as consumers gravitate towards the latest technology and stylistic trends with reckless abandon. One only has to look at flat panel display sales over the past few years in the U.S. to understand. Fortunately for consumers, this often frothing at the mouth attitude helps propel technology further faster, while helping to keep overall costs relatively low. While flat panel displays are no flash in the pan, other facets of the consumer electronics industry, mainly speaker manufacturers, have been forced to play catch-up. Sure, you can stick with your bulky floor standers that take up as much space as a sofa and chair but that’s not sexy. Is it? While in-walls provide an aura of stealth and sophistication to many installations, there are still those out there who rent their homes and/or do not wish to cut holes in the walls, making in-walls less of an option. It’s this simple fact that has given rise to a whole new sector of speaker design called on-walls. While many speaker manufacturers (actually most) have a line or two of on-wall speakers, few have the reputation and/or technical background of Morel. While Morel has been designing and manufacturing micro satellite/subwoofer speaker systems for two decades now and has received rave reviews from many publications, including AVRev.com, their new line of on-walls, the Varios, are out to prove you can have your cake and eat it, too.

The Vario system is the first of its kind for Morel, which has being designing and manufacturing loudspeakers since the mid-‘70s. What isn’t a first for Morel is that the Varios are simply stunning in their appearance and craftsmanship. Measuring in at a little under 11 inches wide by 23-and-three-quarters inches tall and a mere four-and-three-quarters inches deep, these compact giants are unlike anything Morel has ever produced. Weighing in at a respectable 36 pounds apiece, these speakers show that even when designing a new product, Morel isn’t out to make something cheap. Each Vario on-wall speaker can be purchased separately to the tune of $999.00. However, a complete 5.1 system (like the one in this review) will run you a total of $5,994.00, which also includes a single Vario subwoofer ($999.00). The decision to price each Vario separately is rather smart, because it will allow potential buyers to start with maybe a two or three-channel Vario system and upgrade from there, as their systems and/or budgets allow. The Vario on-walls come in two finishes, white or a dark gray, and are wall-mountable only via the included metal bracket and mounting hardware. The Varios’ binding posts are recessed in a small chamber almost in the dead center of the speaker itself and are a push-pin design capable of accepting only bare wire, which should be run behind the walls for a seamless look and installation. Another nice feature is that the Varios can expand with relative ease to match the length or height, depending on how they’re mounted, of almost any flat panel display for a more uniform look.

Behind the Vario’s grille rests two five-and-a-quarter-inch rear-vented bass/midrange drivers, with a single one-inch soft dome tweeter resting front and center between them. The Varios are a sealed box design made from MDF, which means you won’t find any ports to help with the speaker’s ultimate bass output. However, given Morel’s background in designing some of the best drivers money can buy, the Varios’ overall output, high or low, really isn’t in question. Each speaker boasts a frequency response of 30-25,000Hz into a five-ohm load at a sensitivity of 89dB and has a nominal power handling rating of 200 watts.

Turning my attention to the Vario subwoofer, I was again pleasantly surprised. I recently wrote about another stylish Morel sub, the SoundSub, and while I don’t consider the Vario sub to be quite as visually endearing, it is, without a doubt, different – dare I say cool? The Vario sub sports, from the front, a rather traditional “boxy” look, yet when you view the sub from an angle/profile, you see that it’s almost triangular in shape. The Vario sub has a subtle slope to its front face that abruptly changes direction inward or towards the back of the sub as you reach the bottom of the enclosure. It measures in at a hair under 24 inches tall by 17-and-three-quarters inches wide and eight-and-half inches deep, weighing a hefty 44 pounds. Like its on-wall counterparts, the Vario sub is available in the same white or dark gray finish. On the “triangular” sides of the sub, there are rather large flared ports to help with the sub’s overall bass output. Also, I should point out that due to the Vario sub’s unique shape, it can be placed flush against the wall in two configurations, upright or lying down. Turning the sub 180 degrees, I found its myriad inputs/outputs and controls. The sub has two different input options, line-level RCA phono jacks and five-way binding posts. For outputs, the Vario sub has the same RCA jacks, but it a low-level configuration as well as high-level five-way binding posts with high-pass filters at 100Hz/6dB. There are also controls for phase, crossover frequency and volume/level resting just above the sub’s binding posts. Throw in a rather beefy detachable power cord and that sums up the sub’s outward appearance.

Inside, the Vario sub utilizes a single 10-inch woofer with a two-inch coil and rear-vented motor with a reported frequency response of 25-160Hz. The Vario sub has an internal 200-watt power amplifier, which by today’s subwoofer standards doesn’t sound like a lot but, knowing what I now know about Morel 200-watts, seems like overkill.

Setup
I set up the Varios in my upstairs Plasma system, which consists of a 50-inch Vizio HD plasma monitor, a Denon 4806 receiver, a Denon 3910 universal player, an Adelphia HD DVR digital cable box and my trusty JVC S-VHS player. All of my equipment and speakers were connected using Monster M Series cables, with power filtration coming by way of Monster as well.

The Vario speakers come with a very handy cardboard template that makes placing the metal brackets a snap. I positioned two brackets on either side of my Vizio plasma, with the third bracket for the center channel speaker just below. Morel recommends mounting the Varios to studs whenever possible and I have to agree with them. However, due to the layout of my room, I wasn’t always lucky enough to have a stud or two where I was planning on mounting the speakers, so I had to use some after-market drywall anchors available at most hardware stores. I mounted the rear speaker brackets where the JBL L series rears were previously mounted, taking advantage of the same cardboard template and drywall anchors. Once I had the mounting plates in place, it was simply a case of sliding the Varios onto them. While it sounded simple enough, this was far from the case. To say the Varios are a snug fit would be the understatement of the year. I struggled to mount the speakers to their brackets for over an hour until I figured out the secret. There are four tabs that hold the speaker in place. Taking a small set of pliers and bending the tabs back away from the wall a little makes life and mounting a whole lot easier. All in all, the entire system took about two hours to unpack, wire and mount.

One thing to point out is that, while the Varios are an on-wall design, they prefer to have the speaker cable(s) routed through the wall. For the purposes of this review, I had to use a relatively flat speaker cable from Monster Cable to connect the Varios to my Denon receiver, because I was unwilling to punch more holes in my wall for a temporary set-up. My advice would be to have your local Morel dealer come to your house and have the dealer pull wire and do the mounting to eliminate any mistakes and/or unnecessary headaches.

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.

The Downside
I have been struggling to find fault with the Varios sonically, but I can’t for the life of me find anything objectionable, at least to my ears and personal tastes. For me, they are as close to on-wall perfection as I have had in my home to date, putting to shame some very formidable competition, I must say. However, I was less than thrilled with the mounting procedure. I have never in my life cursed a product as much as I did the Varios during installation. The brackets, while strong, are simply too snug, allowing for zero play in the mounting process, which makes it painstakingly difficult and frustrating. Even once I found out the secret to mounting bliss, I was still unable to simply slide them onto the brackets at will. My recommendation to potential buyers is to have your dealer install them while you sit back and sip lemonade from the comfort of your listening chair. Also, the expanding cabinet design of the Varios is a nice touch. However, if you’re not careful, the bottom of the speaker will simply slide clean off if you loosen the two bolts too far, as I did once or twice.

Lastly, while I really do like Morel’s binding posts, I wish there was a more user-friendly way to make them able to accept all sorts of wire without having to run cable behind the drywall for those folks who may be renting their homes. I suppose one could always do what I did and take advantage of one of the many “flat” speaker cables out there in the marketplace, but you may not want to change your cables, especially if you have a substantial amount of money already invested in them.

Conclusion
With a retail price just shy of six grand, the Vario 5.1 on-wall speaker system isn’t a purchase to be taken lightly. However, when you combine their sonic strengths with the fact that they take up almost no floor space and do so without necessarily requiring you to punch holes in your wall, you might start to justify the higher price tag. They are, without a doubt, some of the finest-sounding loudspeakers I’ve heard to date, regardless of style and/or price. Sure, the Varios’ installation process might have you reaching for the Advil by day’s end; the overall enjoyment that awaits you will more than make up for the minor inconvenience of putting them in your home. As with any major speaker purchase (and I consider six grand to be major), your ears will be the judge, but allow me leave you with this: if I had the dough, they would be staying in my home. So, for those of you lucky enough to welcome the Varios into your own homes, feel free to give me a call. I’ll bring the popcorn.
Manufacturer Morel
Model Vario On-wall 5.1 Speaker System
Reviewer Andrew Robinson





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