Morel Applause Home Theater Speaker System 
Home Theater Loudspeakers Speaker Systems
Written by Richard Elen   
Saturday, 01 June 2002

Israel-based Morel offers a wide range of truly unique speakers for stereo and surround operation. Each system is built from a combination of common magnetically-shielded modules. The company offers several subwoofers, powered and otherwise, and three styles of compact satellite speakers, with either separate or coaxial LF and HF drivers. These can be mounted on a horizontal or vertical surface or on special monopole stands.

At a recommended U.S. retail price of $2,399, the Applause system is at the top of the Morel line, with the similarly-priced Supra. It includes four identical SoundSpot SA-2 satellites, with separate tweeter and 100-millimeter diameter low/mid-driver in spherical mild steel enclosures. Each satellite weighs a little over 2.5 pounds. These feature a novel "external voice coil," or EVC design, which uses a magnet with a shaped pole piece that fits inside the aluminum voice coil rather than around it, allowing for a beefier coil and apparently a smaller driver for a given level of power and efficiency. The SA-2s are rated at 25-150 watts (nominally 120 watts) with 1000-watt transient handling capability, and they have a response width of –5 dB points at 80 Hz and 22 kHz. The enclosure includes a rear port. The SA-2s are on circular mounting plates, which can either be screwed down or simply popped on a suitable flat surface, in which case you can add a supplied rubber trim to the edge. Alternatively, you can mount them on elegant aluminum stands. The units themselves have oversized gold-plated binding posts. The SA-2s are available in white, black and silver finishes.

The rest of the system consists of an impressive active sub-woofer, the IS-9A. This includes a pair of nine-inch dual-magnet woofers in a ported enclosure two feet wide and 16 inches high, but only 8.5 inches deep, making it easy to position in an ordinary living room – in the corner behind the TV, in my case. With a frequency response of 19-120 Hz and a 120-watt amplifier, the IS-9A is equipped with a comprehensive collection of connectors: stereo line in and out on RCAs (the outputs are simply pass-throughs and do not go through the crossover), plus high-level stereo in and out on binding posts. Controls for level, phase (0-180 degrees) and crossover frequency (40-160 Hz) are provided. The power switch sets on, off or "auto," where the latter powers up the woofer if a signal is detected (and leaves it on for a reasonable time after signal ceases to be input).

Installation and Set-Up
Installation was virtually trouble-free. In fact, the most difficult aspect of the process was attempting to wrap the supplied synthetic rubber edging material around the base of the SA-2s (I eventually gave up).

You can drive the sub from the feeds to the front left and right speakers, in which case the front speakers can be fed from the outputs on the sub. The latter provides the crossover for the front speakers, although it is recommended that the SoundSpots be fed directly from a full-range amp output, as they can handle it. Your bass management will determine the lowest frequency they receive. Obviously, in any event, you need to ensure that your SoundSpots are hooked up with correct polarity.

Alternatively, you can feed the sub from the line-level L and R Sub outputs on your AV preamp or receiver. This is what I did. The sub’s amplifier is only mono, so if you have a single sub output on your receiver (as I do), you can simply plug it into one of the inputs and leave the other input open.

The sub configuration consists of two operations: first, insuring that your receiver’s bass management is set up correctly for five small speakers and a sub; and second, setting the sub’s controls correctly. The former is easy, but the latter is a bit trickier. The level is simple to set up with the help of a set-up noise signal, probably provided by your receiver’s set-up screen or display or, failing that, with an audio set-up track on a DVD – the Silverline and AIX discs always have one, for example, and a better one will be found on one of the available commercial home theater set-up DVDs. But what about phase and crossover frequency?

The phase control is provided so that you can compensate for the sub’s position in the room. Depending on the location and orientation of the sub relative to the other speakers, and the distribution of audio waves around nearby parts of the room – due to furnishing, drapes, walls and so on – the sub will need the phase adjusted so that bass frequencies are in phase with those produced by the front speakers. With large front speakers, this is relatively easy, but when they are small satellites, it is a bit more difficult. In the absence of a special sub phase test track on a set-up disc, choose a track with a stable, strong bass part – "Cloudbreak" from the Alan Parsons DTS CD On Air does the job nicely – and then adjust the phase control for maximum bass. In my case, it ended up just a little above 0 degrees, perhaps due to the fact that the sub is behind everything else in the corner.

The crossover frequency setting is just a knob, but it is not so easy to decide what the setting should be. First of all, if the sub is being driven the way I’m driving it, i.e., from the sub output on the receiver or preamp, then the crossover frequency will be determined by the higher of two things: the receiver crossover setting and the sub’s own crossover frequency. If you can control the former, then you can set the sub’s own control to the highest frequency it can handle (160 Hz) and use the receiver’s setting on its own to determine the highest frequency routed to the sub.

If you don’t know the receiver’s crossover frequency and can’t set it, however, you have to do it by trial and error. As you raise the sub’s crossover frequency (in this case from 40 Hz – low bass only – towards 160 Hz), at some point you will stop getting any higher frequencies out of the unit, either because you have exceeded its high frequency capability or because you’ve passed the receiver’s crossover frequency. In any event, when this happens you can stop.

There are tradeoffs to consider when setting the crossover frequency, however, and let’s assume here that you are doing this on the receiver (and the sub crossover control is wide open). The satellites have a nominal bass limit of 80 Hz, but they are 5 dB down by then, due to their small size. The higher the setting of the crossover frequency, the higher the frequencies that will appear in the sub and not in the main speakers – this is what the receiver’s bass management system does. Low bass frequencies are not very directional, but as we get higher up in frequency, we begin to be able to notice where a source is coming from. So as you raise the crossover frequency, more low-frequency sound sources will seem to be coming from the sub and not from their correct positions in the other speakers.

The ultimate aim is to get a smooth crossover between the satellites and the sub without too much of this effect. Ideally, you would set this up with a sweep tone and adjust the crossover setting so that there is neither a dip nor a bump in the response curve. This is actually fairly easy if you have a test disc with a track for this purpose. Don’t try using a sound pressure meter for precision, though: it will give misleading results. Use your ears instead, just as you do when listening to music.

When I first tried this, I found it difficult to achieve a smooth crossover between the sub and the mains in this case. My receiver can cross over at 200 Hz – a good choice if your main speakers are small – but the sub’s crossover only goes up to 160 Hz, so I also tried the 150 Hz setting on the receiver. It appeared that the SA-2s didn’t go down that far, and the descending complex tone on my test disc tended to fade away and then come back, no matter what setting I used. This is a $2,400 system, so I was a little surprised. I emailed Morel’s North’s American marketing manager and he immediately gave me the answer – you need to break in the system for at least 36 hours. I’d been running the system for at least that long, but I had not given it much in the way of power for more than a fraction of that time. So I gave the system some rock music at reasonable levels, and left it running for a while.

I am not generally a believer in audiophile voodoo. Green felt pens run around the edge of my CDs have never made them sound better; my cable sounds the same in either direction; I know why tubes can sometimes, but not always, sound better than solid state (it’s the amount of overall negative feedback that counts). The idea that you should break in a speaker system for 36 hours therefore sounded a bit suspect in the first place.

But then I thought again. The bass response of a speaker will very likely be determined by how free to move the woofer cone is. It is entirely possible, and reasonable, that a brand-new loudspeaker system (which this was) could have an overly-stiff suspension and that getting it to vibrate for a while could loosen it up. So after a week longer of daily use (my girlfriend played New Age music all day and I played fairly loud rock and classical material in the evenings), I ran the sweep test signals again. Lo and behold, the crossover was now smooth and virtually flawless, with only a certain change in character of the tone as it moved from the little SA-2s to that impressive sub in the corner. Even the bass end of the sub (which was excellent before) seemed rounder, smoother and generally more open. I found slightly better results with my receiver crossover set to 150 Hz than 200 Hz, but either worked well and the overall frequency response of the system was extremely impressive. This was an object lesson to me: always give a system plenty of time to significantly break in (at least 100 hours) before critically judging it.

Listening Tests
I chose a range of material for listening purposes, including both music and movie audio. With Alan Parsons’ On Air, the basic character of the system was revealed, showing plenty of power at the bass end without loss of definition. The top end was also clean, without harshness, and the small size of the drivers contributed to excellent imaging where 5.1 is capable of doing so. Although the satellite speakers are apparently designed to handle a full frequency range (even if they can’t reproduce the bottom end of it), defining them as "small" speakers in the receiver’s bass management resulted in them not being asked to deliver below 150Hz.

The DTS 5.1 soundtrack on the DVD version of the movie "Amelie" includes (perhaps surprisingly) some low bass effects, most amusingly during the restroom love scene in the Two Windmills Café. These were reproduced with exactly the right effect by the impressive IS-9A sub, as were other bass sound effects during the course of the movie.

I did find that when dialogue was played back relatively loudly, the center front SA-2 did seem to honk a little (no distortion, however, was noted from any of the speakers at any time) and sounded a little boxy. In movie environments (unlike surround music), the center front speaker has a very important and often-overlooked role to play, and it needs to have enough capability for the job. This is the case with the RBH system I reviewed recently. Another system in the Morel line, the Supra, replaces the SA-2 center satellite with a much beefier twin-woofer design, the C-5, and I would suggest that if you mainly use your system for movies, the Supra system, at the same price, would be the best choice. For surround music, however, the Applause is ideal.

The SA-2s performed very well, particularly at the high end and in the midrange. Their clean top end was particularly effective in bringing pinpoint localization to Bucky Pizzarelli’s Swing Live album (Chesky Records), which has become my standard test for surround localization, as it is one of the best releases around for this purpose.

The Downside
Having sorted out the initial crossover situation with this system – and it might be nice if Morel did the necessary "breaking-in" for you – there is little to say on the negative side at all. It’s an extremely impressive system. All I would say is that if you play movies at relatively high level, you would probably prefer the Morel Supra system with its C-5 twin-woofer center front speaker (everything else is the same)

My girlfriend wasn’t thrilled with the looks of the speakers, but I was. I think their white color didn’t work in the room as well as black did. The build quality is excellent and comparable to the RBH speakers I raved about last month. The Morel look is very modern and appropriate for a number of environments well suited (but not limited) to plasma monitors and/or cool flat screen video set-ups.

A very minor point: It was also difficult to attach the rubber strip around the base of the SA-2s, which you would probably want to be able to do if you were placing them on a surface of any importance.

The purpose of Morel’s Applause system is to generate effective, high-quality surround without taking up a lot of room. It does this extremely well. The IS-9A powered sub is large and effective with plenty of oomph, and yet does not take up too much room. The SA-2s are ultra-compact and deliver the primary benefit of small size, namely good surround localization. Although small, they deliver audio efficiently down to around a surprising 100 Hz – just be sure to run the system for a good long while before you make your final adjustments.

The subwoofer is the best of its type that I have heard so far, and a very convenient size without compromising its performance. The SA-2 satellites are excellent drivers for all surround applications, and music in particular, that can be mounted in so many ways that you’re bound to be able to get them to fit in with the décor. I have not heard a better system of this type (i.e., a sub with smaller satellite speakers) for music surround than the Morel Applause. If you use your home theater system primarily for movies, and you replay them at high levels, check out the Morel Supra system instead. It’s virtually the same as the Applause, with the difference that the center front SA-2 satellite is replaced by a twin-woofer specialized center front speaker, the C-5, which will probably be more effective in this application.
Manufacturer Morel
Model Applause Home Theater Speaker System
Reviewer Richard Elen

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