Surround Sound Speaker Systems
- Written by Kieran Coghlan
- Published on 29 January 2009
My home system consists of a Yamaha RX-V995 receiver, a Sony DVP-S7700 dvd player, and an original Xbox setup as a media center using XBMC software, connected via cat5 to my main PC as the media server. For critical listening (DVDs and CDs) I use the Sony, while for casual listening (mp3s, Divx videos) I use XBMC. I also listen to a fair amount of FM radio, since we have such a great selection here in the Los Angeles basin, the signal strength is near perfect, and the Yamahaâ€™s FM tuner is excellent.
Since this review was conducted during the weeks leading up to Christmas, I did a decent amount of listening to choral music. Iâ€™m a big choral music fan anyway, but I always listen to it more around the holidays. The M-5s & SB-8 definitely impressed with 2-channel choral music. While playing Chanticleerâ€™s original Christmas CD, Our Heartâ€™s Joy, imaging of the voices was fantastic. Iâ€™ve seen Chanticleer in concert enough times to know how they arrange themselves for some of their songs on this CD, and I could clearly hear the location of several members of the 12-voice a cappella choir. Eric Alatorreâ€™s deep bass voice was rich and pure, and well localized in the front sound stage, despite the back-wall location of the SB-8 sub. In fact, if I closed my eyes, Iâ€™d have sworn I was listening to full-range speakers. The SB-8 handled the low menâ€™s voices wonderfully, without calling attention to itself. The rest of the vocal range came through beautifully as well. Precision is a word that can easily be used to describe Chanticleerâ€™s singing. They spend countless hours perfecting enunciation of consonants, matching vowel sounds perfectly, and bringing it all together as an ensemble with perfect timing. Any â€œmuddinessâ€ in the speakers is going to be apparent when listening to a choir like this. The M-5s were tight, and accurate, with no sibilance whatsoever.
To sample some music from the other end of the spectrum, I pulled out my CD of Rushâ€™s Counterparts album. Iâ€™ve been a fan of the progressive rock trio since the 1980â€™s and have always thought their music is an excellent test for a speaker system. Again, the M-5s and SB-8 did not disappoint. Neil Peartâ€™s virtuosity on the drums was well served, from the clarity of his top-hat and cymbals in the M-5 tweeters, to the pounding of his bass drums in the SB-8 sub. The albumâ€™s opening single â€œAnimateâ€ wastes no time in hitting you hard with Neilâ€™s drums. I was very impressed with the SB-8â€™s tight speed and accuracy.
The first movie I pulled out of my collection for this review was Episode I of the Star Wars saga. Right off the bat, I was impressed with the imaging put forth by the M-5â€™s and M-4Ts. The overall sound field was fantastic. With the lights out and the movie on, I forgot all about the speakers and got lost in the sound track. Due to the layout of my living room, there is a bit of a gap with pans going from front to back and vice-versa. This happens with my own speakers, and the MKâ€™s were not able to mask the problem. Tonally though, the M-4Ts in back and M-5s in front were perfectly matched. Left to right pans in both the front sound stage and the surrounds were seamless. The M-4Ts were the first pair of multi-pole speakers Iâ€™d ever used in my own home. I must say I was quite impressed with what the tripole arrangement did for the surround field. There was definitely a more natural feel to events occurring in the rear/surround channels. During the pod-race scene, you really felt like the oppositionâ€™s pod was right there, moving all around you. And yes, the SB-8 did an incredible job with the pounding engine noise from Sebulbaâ€™s pod felt through my chest.
Next up was my brand new DVD of the latest installment in the Batman franchise, â€œThe Dark Knight.â€ Two words come to mind: Hospital explosion. I donâ€™t want to make this a review of the subwoofer alone, but I was floored by what that tiny little sub did to my living room when the Joker blew up the hospital. I had to skip back and play it again, just to make sure there wasnâ€™t some coincidental gas explosion in my neighborhood or something. I literally felt the shaking through the floor and through the cushions of my couch. To have that kind of kick and power, yet still have the tight speed and accuracy the SB-8 has for musicâ€¦ well, I was very impressed. Let me just continue on the SB-8 track for a moment.
I mentioned earlier that my room had some shortcomings, like the gap in the front-back sound pans. Another is (or so I thought) that I have to place the sub in a location that makes it a little too â€œboomyâ€ for my wifeâ€™s and my tastes. But my wifeâ€™s taste (and admittedly mine too) also prohibits me from placing it where it might sound better (e.g. in plain view). Itâ€™s been a long struggle between too â€œboomyâ€ and too quiet with my current sub in this location. Having listened to the SB-8 for several weeks, I now think the problem is as much with my sub as with my room. The SB-8 exhibited none of the boominess I was used to hearing. I imagine this comes largely from the fact that my sub (also an 8-incher) is ported, whereas MKâ€™s SB-8 is a sealed enclosure. A sealed enclosure generally gives you better sonic accuracy, at the cost of lower gain. With a sub this usually means that it wonâ€™t be as loud, nor go as low, as an otherwise similar but ported design, but youâ€™ll get â€œtighterâ€ bass (more accurate). Whatâ€™s so amazing about the SB-8 then, is that it seems to accomplish both: itâ€™s very â€œtightâ€ or accurate, yet it still rocked my house big time when the Joker did his thing.