Product Review - M&K Xenon LCR-35 and Xenon Surround-25 Loudspeakers with K-Series K-10 and K-11 Subwoofers - February, 2002
LCR-35 "Main" Speaker
Frequency Response: 100 Hz - 23 kHz (± 2 dB)
Recommended Power: 20-200 watts
Drivers: One 1" Soft Dome Tweeter, two 3.25" Poly mid-bass
Nominal Impedance: 4 ohms
Dimensions: 9 1/2 " H x 3 7/8" W x 5 3/4" D
Weight: 5 lbs.
MSRP: $325 ea.
Surround-25 "Surround" Speaker
Frequency Response: 100 Hz - 23 kHz (± 2 dB)
Recommended Power: 20-200 watts
Drivers: One 1" Soft Dome Tweeter, two 3.25" Poly Full-Range, one 3.25" Poly Mid-bass.
Nominal Impedance: 4 ohms
Dimensions: 6 1/2" H x 3 7/8" W x 6 1/2" D
Weight: 4.5 lbs.
MSRP: $725 pair.
K-10 & K-11 Subwoofers
Frequency Response: 35 Hz - 200 Hz (± 2 dB)
Amplifier Power: 75 watts continuous, 150 max
Driver: One 8" Treated Paper Woofer w/treated Foam surround
Crossover Frequency: 50 Hz-125 Hz (variable)
Dimensions (K-10): 10 1/8" H x13 3/4" W x 10" D
Dimensions (K-11): 10 1/8" H x13 3/4" W x 15" D
Weight: 22 lbs.
MSRP: $599 ea.
All available in black and white finishes, K-10 & K-11 in Titanium, with a 10 year warranty.
M&K Sound Corporation, 9351 Deering Avenue, Chatsworth, California 91311 USA; Web http://www.mksound.com; Phone (818) 701-7010; Fax (818) 701-0369
The back yard of my parents’ first house was one of my earliest memories. I recall, vaguely, big oak trees, big steel barrels for storing water during the drought, and my terry cloth swimsuit. As a toddler, I slipped in the portable pool and, sincerely believing myself drowning, struggled inches away from my mother, floating contently on her inflatable raft as she told me to put my feet down. I also dropped a tiny poop on the steps of the terrace of that same backyard. It just seemed the right thing to do. Ah, nostalgia is a stinky kind of sweet. I have no embarrassment over that. After all, kids do that sort of thing. In fact, I don’t really feel ashamed that I did the same thing in grade school, but on the front steps. I really had to go, and better there than in my pants!
This time’s different.
The down side of growing older, and hopefully wiser, is realizing, confronting, and admitting one’s own mistakes. I’m not comfortable with the title of hypocrite, and so must come clean before my comrades and peers catch my contradictions. I am now choking, struggling to swallow my own words, before they come back on a tear and make a meal of my bum. In a previous M&K review of the S-1C “satellite” speaker and MX-700 subwoofer, I had said, making a statement referring to the inappropriateness of small “satellite” speakers for high-fidelity reproduction, “As for satellites the size of a wine glass, . . . let’s not even go there.”
My friends, we’re there.
While I stand by my point, as it applies to the references I intended to make regarding shoddy, ill-equipped fashion statements masquerading as poor excuses for loudspeakers, I acknowledge that I’ve been shown up, but at least by good company.
We’ve all heard, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.”
The more achievement-oriented subscribe to, “ If you succeed as a matter of habit, make it more difficult to keep it interesting.”
M&K designed the Xenon series not only with the challenges associated with simply designing good loudspeakers (low distortion, flat frequency response, healthy dynamic output capabilities, good transient response, etc.) in order to obtain the level of sound quality that M&K has built a solid reputation on, but to do so in a smaller package, small enough to laugh at.
While M&K, by habit, doesn’t engage in superfluous extras that bump up perceived and monetary value without increasing real performance or functionality, one might notice that the Xenon speakers are particularly without frills. Interestingly, Ken Kreisel’s main stated goal with the Xenon series was sheer sound quality, guided by the precepts that have served, and been developed by, M&K from the beginning, constrained only by the contingent of size, not cost. And exactly what are M&K basic design goals?
- Low distortion (harmonic or IM), is quite important if you really want to hear the true character of the recording, be it a human voice, an acoustic instrument, or an electronically generated sound. While typical program material makes distortion difficult to distinguish subjectively as such, the added components inevitably corrupt the character of the original content. Many “ultra high-end” speaker companies, particularly from “boutique” brands, don’t employ very much in terms of objective testing in either design or manufacturing. Some actually encourage distortion, in philosophy and practice, citing the “natural resonance” of musical instruments. While deliberately using coloration might be useful from a perspective of a musical instrument, a “high-fidelity” loudspeaker should have as little character of its own as possible, so for anyone looking for relative honesty, such talk is ludicrous.
Because distortion of any kind results in a more inaccurate loudspeaker, EVERY M&K speaker leaving the factory undergoes testing, not only with test equipment, but human listening, to ensure that this design criteria is met at the most important stage, the end product.
- Flat frequency response, extended to the limits of human hearing, both on and off axis, is a pretty good goal for loudspeaker designers. For some time, M&K has been working on their “phase focused” crossover design. In English, this means that they pay attention to achieving a flat frequency response not only on axis, but also in many different directions, specifically taking into account the phase relationships of each driver to another. This makes the crossover and driver design more involved, but provides better results in the real world. Following similar thinking, M&K subwoofers are typically designed for flat extension, taking into account the typical effects of a given room size, which is usually a slight bottom-end boost. Flat frequency response is not the universal rule of thumb for the majority of manufacturers. There are many variations, from the “very revealing”, aggressive speaker, usually associated with sharp response peaks, to the “musical” speaker, with dips, broad or narrow, often generating the classic “smile curve,” sometimes enhancing the perception of depth. Grossly inaccurate frequency response may often make the speaker initially more interesting, but has been, for me, the inevitable doom of a long-term listening relationship. The results of such deviance typically complements or detracts from the subjective interpretation of listening material haphazardly. My advice, for those who’ll take it, is to keep recreational EQ in an outboard box. You can adjust it to fit your whim, and turn it off just as easily. Once you buy into a tonal coloration in a loudspeaker because you initially think it sounds “better” with whatever recordings that judgment was based on, you’re stuck with it.
- Transient Response, also characterized by phase response, or group delays, is very much icing. Since loudspeaker drivers are essentially minimum phase units, in that their phase response reflects frequency response, succeeding in the area of frequency response tends to lead to success in overall transient response. Controlling peaks in frequency response, usually caused by some kind of resonance, usually eliminate or control that resonance, and the performance in the time domain improves as well. M&K uses MLSSA analysis extensively in the design process, evaluating with great precision each speaker’s performance along these lines.
"Dynamic range is fine and good for people who want to deafen themselves with home theater, but for musical reproduction, is vastly overrated." To this I would say two things. First, loudspeakers do not discriminate between types of program material. A loudspeaker will behave in the same way, whether receiving a signal generated from a sound effect or a live concert of acoustic instruments. A loudspeaker that does not perform well at one task cannot by definition perform well in another. Secondly, while most music mixed these days does not even come close to capitalizing on the dynamic range of our “obsolete” CD standard, as producers and engineers continually push towards more and more dynamic compression to allow higher perceived volume, as the most effective means of selling music through the typical car radio, dynamic range is of real concern when we talk about high-fidelity, and it’s not limited to “Fanfare for the Common Man.” I clocked my daughter at two months old pelting out 105 dB at 1 foot.
Even if you don’t listen to much at 105 dB (I try not to), when it comes to loudspeakers, dynamic range is still a valuable thing, even if you don’t use the full capacity. Unlike competent amplifiers that do pretty well with dynamics so long as they don’t clip the signal, all loudspeakers will begin to exhibit dynamic compression even before they reach maximum output and melt, or even possibly before they seriously distort. As the voice coil transfers electrical power into kinetic energy, most of that electrical power is dissipated as heat, raising the resistance of the coil, causing dynamic compression. Therefore, the higher output capacity a loudspeaker has in relation to its efficiency and power handling capacity (of the motor structure), the cooler the coil at the highest output levels, and the less the dynamic compression, yielding more open, realistic sound reproduction.
While most speakers, with enough amplifier power, can play at levels louder than anything one should endure for any length of time, M&K speakers have historically output dynamic content with a consistency of reproduction that many other loudspeakers never even approach. Lack of compression (efficiency coupled with power handling), entirely air-core inductors (they don’t saturate like the iron-core variety), and low distortion at high output levels (assuming they operate over their intended frequency range) contribute to this subjective characteristic. They sound pretty much the same regardless of whether they’re simply trickling like a faucet to brush your teeth with, or slamming like surf hard enough to kick them in.
But I digress . . . sorry about that.
Shortly after receiving the collection of boxes, and unpacking the LCR-35s, I paused to digest the magnitude of what M&K had undertaken. The LCR-35 speakers resemble the LCR-750THX front channel speakers - dual mid-bass drivers and a soft-dome tweeter behind a curved metal grille (designed to prevent peanut butter infraction artifacts often resulting from tiny fingers). Even before I noticed the obvious differences in the size and type of drivers, as I pulled the first delegate from the foam, I screamed out loud like a little girl, “These are cute!” As cute as they are, they don’t look impressive at all. The LCR-35s stood at a scant 9 ½ inches tall, boasting a 3 1/8 inch width and a depth of 5 ¾ inches. The Surround 25 tripolar speakers take up about half that space. With enclosures that occupy less than a cubic foot of volume on the OUTSIDE, the K-10 and K-11 subwoofers each take up less space than my MPS-2510 “satellite” speakers!
Based on other loudspeakers designed to fit “lifestyles” (designed for small first, sound second), I had initial doubts. Such products have typically provided unclear, muddy bass with virtually no deep bass extension, a gap between the “bass module” and the “satellite” speakers that not only makes the blend completely unbelievable, but leaves a hole in the musical spectrum, having a horribly colored and distorted midrange and treble, and add insult to injury by offering no real sense of depth dimension or the perception of transparency. To top that off, as most are built to capitalize on brand image as opposed to functionality, the quality of such atrocities often falls short of what most would consider reasonable for something in a “Happy Meal®,” with any serious leftover manufacturing efforts aimed at cosmetic appeal. To be fair, a few examples I've run across weren’t really that bad, but I’ve yet to find one I could honestly live with. Put more concisely, most really small speakers suck. Some are outright abominations.
Had M&K finally decided to exploit their previous success with demanding consumers and prominent members of the recording industry by building a substandard product aimed at the infidels for whom sound remains a priority second to appeasing an interior decorator or worse, an unreasonable spouse? If that were the case, story over. Hell hath no fury next to the sarcasm of a self-righteous audiophile with a soap box.
Much to the delight of the heavens, myself, and possibly the underworld that Ken Kreisel sold his soul to in order to make it happen, the Xenon combination, and the K-10 and K-11 mini-subs, did not disappoint either in sound quality, build quality, or perhaps more importantly for the task at hand, as a topic of discussion in Secrets.
Like the other Xenon members, the LCR-35 models use different tweeters than the rest of M&K’s extensive line. Designed by M&K, they are manufactured to spec by Vifa of Denmark, the sister company of much regaled Scan-Speak. The Xenon tweeters achieve a smaller profile by using neodymium magnets that offer greater magnetic flux for a given amount of magnet size, but retain much of the same in terms of power handling by virtue of ferro-fluid around the coil. By necessity of enclosure dimensions, the mid-bass drivers span a petite 3 ¼”. These suckers are tiny, as in diminutive. As the laws of physic haven’t undergone a major revision, while the speakers themselves do benefit from such proportions in that cabinet coloration becomes essentially a non-issue, such dimensions still come with a price, and M&K is the first to admit it.
With a decrease in enclosure size, the physics dictate, and coerce, a loudspeaker designer to decrease either low frequency extension or efficiency. A decision to take the route of decreasing efficiency in order to maintain low frequency extension would also decrease dynamic range. As M&K intended the Xenon series to deliver just as much impact as many of their other systems, this would not do. As a result, the members of the Xenon group are said to have a low frequency limit that varies from 80 Hz -120 Hz, depending on room location, officially spec’d at 100 Hz. In other words, it is 80 Hz mounted on a wall and 120 Hz out in the parking lot. Is this a compromise? Sure it is. Is it serious? That depends on your subwoofer options.
If your want to use the crossover in your processor and it won’t allow a crossover point that’s high enough, most likely about 100 Hz, you’re at a disadvantage. Supposing that your processor or receiver will let you do what you want, you’re half way there.
A potential problem with higher crossover points between subwoofers and main speakers is that they can become boomy and easier to locate. M&K addressed these issues as best they could via the subwoofer’s filter characteristics, but the end users still need to do their part.
In terms of boomy, it’s not that subwoofers are inherently boomy at frequencies above 50 Hz, at least good ones aren’t. A subwoofer is really just a woofer with greater than average low frequency extension. While operating a subwoofer as high as 200 Hz would disqualify it as a subwoofer from a semantic point of view, there’s no reason that the any decent bass system, if configured to do so, couldn’t do a perfectly good job simply as a woofer.
What typically occurs with the well intentioned but less informed of us that find any crossover point above 50 Hz unacceptable, in terms of extra boom, is a matter of setup. When improperly configured, the system does indeed have too much boom, but we can’t fault the subwoofer. If somebody tells a subwoofer to operate up to 100 Hz via the crossover setting, and it does so, it’s just doing its job. The system in question sounds imbalanced because there is indeed an excess of energy in the 80 Hz -100 Hz range, but it’s because the subwoofer’s output is too high as a whole, a result of somebody’s lust for extra bottom octave, or just a neglect of setting levels. When that person turns the subwoofer crossover frequency down, they attenuate the output in the range that causes the more obvious imbalance, while not attenuating the deep bass output, essentially providing themselves a pleasurable deep bass boost. Much the same could be done (with far more precision) via an EQ (preferably after optimizing placement) if the user has properly set up the system to begin with. There’s nothing wrong from a hedonistic philosophical standpoint with using a subwoofer as a tone control, I guess, but call a spade a spade and an apple an apple. If the subwoofer is integrated to maintain flat frequency response, the sound, by definition, can’t be unbalanced tonally, period.
On the item of increased localization due to the higher crossover frequency, it is a valid concern. Lower frequencies are difficult to localize, and when other speakers are reproducing higher frequency content at the same time, the task becomes even more difficult. Subwoofer/satellite systems work as well as they do because of that. M&K’s variable crossover, regardless of setting, reaches a slope of 36 dB per octave by the time it reaches 125 Hz, to virtually eliminate any output in the most localizable range, such as dialogue. Because of this trait, and typically low distortion (harmonic distortion generates higher frequency energy often above the crossover range), M&K subwoofers can get away with higher crossover frequencies than many others. However, the non-localization of low bass is a continuum. The higher the frequency reproduced, and the closer you get to the subwoofer, the more difficult the illusion. This means that a higher crossover frequency may decrease subwoofer placement options, and it’s unlikely that you can place the sub right behind your head.
The K-10 and K-11 subwoofers aren’t exactly ones to visually dominate a room, which lends some flexibility. Either one will fit easily under most coffee tables or in similar, hard to occupy locations. Other than smallish size, the K-10 and K-11 are fairly typical for M&K - built solidly, but without anything flashy to catch the eye, nor any extra gizmos to feed hype. On that note, may I go off on a tangent? I thank you for the patience.
The woofer drivers used in the K-11 and K-10 look respectable, but not impressive in the sense of awesome. The magnets are big enough for the task, and the surrounds are fat enough to accommodate the linear excursion of the motor.
We’ve seen a lot of subwoofers in the last year or so that imply absolutely ridiculous amounts of excursion by virtue of a very large surround, be it rubber, foam, or what have you. I once asked Chuck Back at M&K why they didn’t start to follow the trend. His answer? Excessively large surrounds decrease the real radiating area of the cone while it does nothing to increase the linear excursion of the motor. Because of this, a larger surround would actually decrease the displacement that the driver could utilize for low-distortion output. M&K could have simply designed the woofers for farther physical travel as well just by allowing more empty space in the motor, but as the extra travel would be beyond the linear range, any extra resulting output would be distorted, which defeats the entire purpose. This really sunk home at CES, when we looked at the Aura Elan cut away display, shown at right. The woofer was claimed to have 2 ¾” of linear excursion. Linear excursion is very easy to calculate once you can see the motor. You take the absolute value of the difference of the length of the magnetic gap, which is the portion that is closest to the coil, and the length of the coil (perpendicular to its circumference) and you have the peak to peak linear excursion. Assuming that the woofer’s suspension rests the coil at absolute center, X-max is half of that. Looking at the facts, that claimed 2 ¾” of linear excursion appears to be no more than 1” peak to peak, which is still pretty good, but not extraordinary. The claim of 2 ¾” excursion, if not mistakenly quoted, is an exaggeration, but I bet it sells drivers.
But I’m going off topic again. My point is that M&K typically builds for purpose, not image. The amplifiers are rated at a relatively modest 75 watts, but 1.25 amp fuses in the rear suggest that the onboard amps could each draw up to 150 watts or so from the wall fairly continuously within safe margin, and as the amps are running in Class A/B, a good portion of that may conceivably get to the speaker.
Also, the dynamic range capability of the internal amplifier is maximized, while preventing overdriving the unit, by means of a “Headroom Maximizer” circuit.
The “Headroom Maximizer” doesn’t put an annoying, poorly rendered, artificial intelligence into your TV, but rather serves as a limiter to avoid distortion caused by potential amplifier overload. Limiters typically restrict dynamic range, which we can consider a bad thing, but certainly less evil than distortion resulting from overdriving the subwoofer. With potentially tremendous output peaks required from a subwoofer using modern recordings, most commercial subwoofers have limiters of some sort. Those that don’t have them perform with differing success.
The “Headroom Maximizer” circuit does its limiting more cleverly than most, basing the limiting not on the instantaneous signal level, but according to M&K, on the voltage available from the power supply of the amp. The result is a more transparent limiter that leaves transient peaks alone so long as the amplifier can handle the short-term demands, and only steps in to prevent continuous abuse.
The K-10 and K-11 rear panels support line-level audio inputs, an adjustable crossover variable from 50 Hz to 125 Hz, a phase reversal switch, and a volume control knob. Spartan, yes, but all I’d ever want. Well, an EQ might be nice for a sub, but I’ve got my Audio Control box just for that. Some might ask for a variable phase adjustment. M&K opts not to use variable phase, as it requires delay to achieve the phase shift. Phase reversal simply reverses polarity, requiring no delay at all. If you've got neither preamplifier outputs nor a subwoofer output from a receiver, there's the ubiquitous speaker-level set of inputs.
Where the K-10 and K-11 start to get really interesting is as a set. Some of you might have noticed that the K-11 has something protruding from under its garment.
Imagine buying a K-10. Upon bringing it home, getting it dialed in and up and going, you’re very happy with the sound quality, and it works quite well in your smaller room at modest levels. The story could very well end right there. For the sake of my meandering, consider that perhaps, like most of us, you get an itch for just a little more, or a larger room becomes the new venue. It’s beyond the reasonable time that you could return the K-10 to trade up, or perhaps you simply have a little more disposable income than when you bought the K-10. What do you do? You can sell your K-10 in used condition and take a loss, or trade in your K-10 to the dealer toward something bigger and badder, most likely also at a loss.
M&K offers an alternative upgrade path, the K-11.
While simply adding another identical subwoofer isn’t a bad idea in itself, because the woofer of the K-11 is inverted mechanically but not acoustically, combining the K-11 with a K-10 provides a push-pull pair, a technique which M&K has habitually exploited, additionally lowering distortion by acoustically canceling out any residual even-order distortion. By placing a K-11 next to a K-10, you’ve just upgraded to the equivalent of the truly superb MX-700, possibly better, with identical drivers and a larger total enclosure volume. Benefits of the 10/11 combo over either one? How about four times the output capability (doubling power output/handling multiplied by doubling efficiency) as well as the cancellation of even-ordered distortion due to the push-pull alignment? Good enough for me. The pair has one more advantage over upgrading to a larger single sub. The pair still fits under my coffee table, with room for another pair, or three.
Of the inevitable tragedies I suffer for the sake of Secrets (having to return review equipment that I really liked) if ever I felt physical pain sending a review item back to the manufacturer, it would have to be the pair of MX-700s that M&K let me borrow some time ago. Those things were gorgeous. The K-10 and K-11 combination are just as delicious.
Loudspeakers are difficult to measure in anything short of an anechoic chamber. The frequency range that subwoofers operate over make quasi-anechoic measurements with fancy equipment that separates reflected vs. direct sound through time analysis impossible in a domestic environment, but I did what I could with primitive technology.
Room response will vary heavily between individual rooms. However, for what it’s worth, I ran the tone on the Avia disc that sweeps down from 200 Hz without any EQ, and found that aside from the variation induced by different modes, while the subs are spec’d on the website with a 35 Hz extension limit within 3 dB, in my room, with the particular location I chose, both stayed absolutely flat from 30 Hz down to 20 Hz. Excellent!
I imagine that in an anechoic environment, or perhaps a parking lot, the extension would taper off more than it did, but as per previous conversations with Chuck Back at M&K, and as mentioned earlier, M&K subs typically exhibit frequency contours that will complement their best guess of “typical” room gain of a targeted environment size in order to yield the flattest bass extension in real-world circumstances. An added benefit is that they don’t waste driver excursion bloating up the bottom end. If, perchance, you really want an excessively fat bottom, eat lots of twinkies, or visit JJ’s house. JJ makes some mean spaghetti and meatballs.
But wait, that’s not all!
The Surround 25 tri-polar speakers are diminutive characters, with a mid-bass and tweeter identical to those found in the LCR-35. In addition, on each side of the Surround-25, sits a full-range driver, each out of phase with its opposite partner on the other side of the enclosure. Direct radiating loudspeakers have an advantage over dipolar designs in that they can maintain the ability to direct sound to specific locations in the surround field. Dipolar speakers have an advantage creating a diffuse, enveloping surround field. It’s not too much of a jump to figure out that tri-polar speakers offer a compromise that gives a bit of the best of both. Baby bear finally has somebody to appreciate his porridge (Just Right).
Who wants to see a load (impedance)?
Above is shown an impedance curve for the LCR-35. While the LCR-35 is rated at 4 Ohms, it's a pretty benign 4 Ohms, with much of the impedance sitting comfortably higher. However, it is a wise recommendation to procure amplification comfortable operating into 4 Ohms.
The Surround-25 is a similar deal in terms of drive requirements, though a little less typical in terms of the curve (shown above), as the dipolar drivers operating over much of the same range complicate it a bit. Still, it shouldn't be a difficult load for any decent amp. In my experience, though, M&K speakers like to have abundant power at their disposal.
Where’s the beef?
For some reason, I tend to put off discussing sound quality until the last of it. I don’t know why. What I am sure of is that I really, really like this set, even without any macho value. My wife mentioned, noticing the smallish stature, that if I didn’t behave, she’d make me buy these. I don’t believe she had any idea how sexy that sounded. While the size seems like a bad joke, the sound is entirely serious.
For cinema . . .
Between "Shrek", "Chicken Run", "James and the Giant Peach", or a variety of things I can't remember, I was pretty happy with the sound. The K-10 and K-11 provide enough thump to jump, and the LCR-35 and Surround-25 speakers kept dialogue, sound effects, and music intelligible, but well-balanced, so that I tended to forget about playback and just enjoy the show, neither straining to pick out the details, nor wincing to avoid excessive spit. That's pretty much sums it up. It makes for lousy print, but that's exactly what they're supposed to do. It doesn't help that I have the attention span of a gnat. Sure, they played loud and clean when they had to, and dabbled in subtlety when appropriate. Overall, while I don't think that the system quite rivals the best that M&K offers when it comes to dynamic range or top end articulation, it's quite close, which is way ahead of the median.
DVD-Audio experience . . .
With the Xenon LCR-35 speakers, the “matching” center is as matched as you’ll ever get - identical to the left and right. The front LCR-35 speakers, despite a vertical dispersion more even than most, are still slightly directional on the vertical axis, just as any speaker with vertically aligned drivers will be. While the TMM driver arrangement (Tweeter-Midrange-Midrange) allows more uniform horizontal dispersion than typical MTM (Midrange-Tweeter-Midrange) style center channels when laid on its side, the miniscule dimensions makes vertical orientation a real option, allowing dispersion characteristics across the front three channels to match precisely. Why am I bringing this up now?
Not only do the identical nature of the LCR speakers allow a perfect match from the loudspeakers themselves, but the ability to integrate the loudspeaker orientation identically through small size provides for more similar room interaction, more consistent frequency response and output at any given part of the listening area, and in the end, a more believable blend between the entire front array. I should stress that the LCR-35 was still pretty even on any axis, so that horizontal placement of the center speaker is just fine, but if you want to go for an all out ideal situation, because they stand a mere 9 ½” tall on tip toe, it’s entirely likely that you can have a vertical center speaker without much fuss.
With DVD Audio, this match becomes even more significant. With purely musical content, as opposed to movies, we aren’t distracted by a picture, and pay more attention to audio by itself. So, for music, the front three speakers must operate in unison, just as well as the front two speakers operate together in a conventional two-channel situation. For those who would say that so long as the center channel comes from the same company as the left and right, all is fine, I would say that it’s the same as saying the left speaker should just be the same brand as the right, but not necessarily the same model, for two-channel stereo. So long as they’re similar in voicing and are level-matched and time-aligned it will work. Work well? Not as well as it could. The last reason that convinced me to I let go of my beloved Infinity Renaissance 90s as my main “reference” was that there was no center channel available, save the Infinity Kappa Video, which was a piece of junk by comparison. I briefly considered a third Ren 90, but I couldn’t work a four foot tower above or below the television into the scheme of things. I was tempted to build a “matching” speaker with identical drivers and crossover components to emulate the originals, but a set of 3 M&K S-150THX speakers convinced me to go their way by sheer performance, and here I am. Relevance? With identical speakers as like the LCR-35, this potential compromise need not be.
I started out with some recordings that were supposedly mixed with M&K monitors. Aaron Neville’s "Devotion" album, and Gordon Goodwin’s "Big Phat Band - Swingin’ for the Fences", both under the Silverline Records label, http://www.silverlinerecords.com/ , to me show what can be done with multi-channel music with the assistance of good taste. M&K would surely point out that accurate monitors don’t hurt either, and I can’t argue.
Throughout Aaron Neville's "Devotion", I was impressed with the uncanny clarity that the LCR-35s served up not only Aaron's unique vocals, and the background vocals that accompanied him, but the nature of differences applied to each. What struck me most was how obvious it was that Aaron’s voice carried an entirely different reverberant character around it, with a kind of halo of surrealism surrounding an entirely organic core. The background singers, for the most part, though positioned off-center, were more immediate, more down to earth, so to speak, yet not really in the sense of closer. I should note that as I had yet to implement bass management for the center channel at the time of this review, so the dynamic range of the center channel did not meet its full potential in terms of playback volume capacity under the DVD-Audio scenario, but even with a full-range signal, the 3 ½” mid-bass drivers had more than enough output capacity to play cleanly, without noticeable compression, louder than my wife would allow beyond 30 seconds at a time. Alright, enough, I’m whipped.
"Big Phat Band, Swingin' for the Fences" - There’s a lot to say for this disc, most of which can be encapsulated with “orgy of sound.” If you like big band, or classical jazz, I highly recommend picking this up. The album offers somewhat of a panorama of the orchestra, with some substantial instrumentation in the surround channels, though nothing I’d call in poor taste. The Surround-25 tripoles did a wonderful job keeping up with the LCR-35s’ balance and timbre, while doing so with a slightly enhanced sense of envelopment compared to more conventional direct-radiating “monopoles.” On the other hand, the greater directionality than the typical dipole allowed specific placement within the surround field. Not only is the music entertaining in itself, but the album exploited the system’s dynamic range and extension limits on both sides of the spectrum. The mix took great advantage of the LCR-35's neutral tonal balance, and had some really exciting bass. One thing I did notice is that this disc points out the definite need for bass management with DVD-Audio to meet the potential of the format. I sent the Dolby-Digital feed for comparison to allow bass management in the decoder, and the amount of glorious deep bass that one goes without when the deepest notes miss the subwoofer was dramatic. Truly Phat, in the positive sense.
5.1 Entertainment Group, which works Silverline, also works with Immergent, http://www.immergent.com/ , and I took a listen to an interesting album, "Awaken", of what I guess you could categorize as new age techno, or rave music, or whatever. While it wasn’t quite an “audiophile” piece, for those open to all forms of music, it did show the potential for creative use of a new medium. In terms of how the LCR-35, Surround-25, and K-10/K-11 setup related to this completely different kind of material, what impressed me was the degree of integration of all components. Perhaps it was due to the fact that the Surround-25 speakers are so similar to the LCR-35 models in terms of the front array, or perhaps it was due to the tri-polar radiation pattern of the surround channels filling in that match, but the whole mix, aside from providing an interesting ambient drive, flowed very well around the room.
Copland’s "Fanfare for the Common Man" (Panasonic DVD-A Demo Disc) - This was a great exercise in space. It demonstrates the most obvious advantage to DVD-Audio over conventional CD, multiple channels (more than two) to convey ambiance of the venue, far beyond the phase-related illusion that two channels can convey at their best. The Xenon set didn’t let me down, and the low-frequency crashes prompted the K-10/K-11 subs to pick my tail up just a bit.
"Dancing Cymbals" (Panasonic DVD-A Demos disc) - A two-channel piece at 192 kHz, 24 bit sampling, this really demonstrates high-end dynamic capabilities of a system, making me wish that more recording engineers would lay off the compression and let the cheap car stereos and boom boxes put the compression where it belongs, in the incapable playback units. The LCR-35s took the dynamic top end of cymbals and ran, with spectacular transients, and a sense of liveliness, effortlessness, and plain reality that has proved rare, due to both the lack of truly dynamic recordings, and playback equipment capable of dealing with it.
From the Chesky DVD-Audio Sampler:
Slo Ro, Chuck Mangione - The Xenon set rendered a great sense of immediacy, without resorting to an “in your face” attack.
Sophisticated Lady, Jon Faddis - This track allowed the Xenons to demonstrate their spatial capabilities to a "T". While the trumpet floats without a string to tie it down, the percussion sits solidly up front clear as a Pacific Bell phone bill on the breakfast table covered with spilt milk and cereal.
Goodbye Porkpie Hat, The Coryells - Once tweaked to fit, the bass remained rich, but not bloated, maintaining the snap of the strings without forgoing the body that follows.
Paul Simon's Hurricaine Eye - Terrific Transients with each banjo pick, with vocals locked dead center, which is quite interesting in itself since creeping up close reveals that the center channel is used entirely for reverberant information, indicating that even with primeval two-channel playback, the LCR-35s can lock down an image as tightly as the best out there.
On the other hand, vocals on a Joni Mitchell album had a similar combination of superb lock combined with a spacious front stage, but used the center channel as the primary channel for vocal reproduction, demonstrating that with a good LCR array, you can do it both ways.
I could go on, but it must end. I’m exhausted, and even if delightedly so, this review is getting long. You’ve been graciously patient with me, and if you’ve gotten this far, even by scrolling past my meanderings, I think you’ve earned the part where you just go listen for yourself.
In closing the doors on this exercise of self-indulgence, I should say . . .
The K-10 and K-11 subwoofers are very well-rounded by themselves, putting quality of reproduction first, and following through with a healthy amount of output. When combined to operate as a single unit, they're downright terrific. While you can do better in terms of sheer might for the dollar, either with M&K’s larger units or somebody else’s, I’d be reluctant to suggest that it gets a whole lot better in terms of quality. If you happen to buy into a K-10, I suggest wrangling a K-11 ASAP to fill out the set. If you really want to “rip the floorboards” as Brian Weatherhead says, you’ll have to shop for something larger, but it certainly won’t fit under the coffee table.
While the Xenon speakers will probably garner interest initially for their diminutive stature and the Spousal Acceptance Factor that come with them, their greatest virtues lie in sonic performance, delivering the hallmarks that have driven M&K since the beginning. My M&K MPS-2510 monitors (essentially S-150THX models with a few more options) have an advantage in terms of vocal body and articulation in the very top end of the spectrum, and can thrash a listener more thoroughly with absolutely absurd output levels without even yawning. The fact that Ken Kreisel can do a little better without the constraints of size is expected. Still, I’ve got to hand it to him. Within or without the context of small, the Xenon LCR-35s are simply fantastic, an achievement in themselves. The have impeccable balance, dumbfounding clarity, an honest, detailed overall presentation, simultaneously specific and vast dimensional capabilities, and a dynamic range to cause a small mess in the pants. This makes the LCR-35s one of my favorites, and the Surround-25s match their efforts beautifully.
If you read our CES Reports, you might have noticed that the Xenon LCR-35 loudspeakers earned one of Secret’s Best of 2001 awards. I wanted the entire set on the plaque, but the award wasn’t big enough. Ironic, eh?
The K-10 and K-11 are very good, the combination is original, and they may very well prove a classic.
The Xenon LCR-35 and Surround-25 loudspeakers have raised my expectations regarding the possibilities of miniature dimensions. While many speakers might fit in the palm of a hand, these are the first of such small size, and so far only, that I’d bother taking home.
- Colin Miller -
Equipment used for comparison, reference and pleasure:
M&K MPS-2510 (LCR) Studio Monitors
M&K S-85 & S-80 (Rear) "Satellite" speakers
Aragon 8008BB Dual-Mono Power Amplifier
Aragon 8008X3 Three-Channel Power Amplifier
Onkyo TX-DS989 Digital Receiver
JVC XLZ-1050 CD Player
Technics DVD-A10 DVD Audio and Video Player
Audio Control Rialto EQ providing EQ and X-over
Dynaco ST-400mkII 2-channel amplifier
NHT 1259-based passive subwoofers
© Copyright 2002 Secrets of Home Theater & High Fidelity
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