Anyone Else Heard the Merlin Black Magic TSM?
Before I discuss the TSM’s I should disclose that I have owned the floor standing Merlin VSM’s for more than seven years. I was delighted with them when they were new, and have become increasingly impressed with them over the years because I have kept up with the factory upgrades that Bobby Palkovich offers his customers whenever possible. Bobby has also been very helpful in discussing electronics and cables, which saved me a lot of time and money in optimizing the system for my speakers and musical tastes.
Based on my overwhelmingly positive experience with the VSM’s and the rave user reviews of the TSM bookshelf monitors, I bought a pair of Merlin TSM’s for my bedroom system, specifically the “Black Magic” version with Master crossovers. Unlike the vented VSM’s these are a sealed cabinet “acoustic suspension” design. I have had them for a year and a half now and have had the chance to hear them with a couple of different amps, preamps, cables, and digital front ends. The system they are in now includes a McCormack UDP Deluxe CD/SACD player -> Thor TA-1000 preamp -> Atma-Sphere S-30 Mk 3.2 amp (30 Watt dual mono OTL design with power supply boost and V-cap capacitor upgrades) and Grover Huffman IC and speaker cables. I also use a modest $100 Furman PST-8D isolated outlet bank ac power conditioner with all but the amp, and affordable Pangea power cords including a beefy 7-gauge AC 9SE MkII on the amp.
The Black Magic TSM’s are astonishingly musical and can really shine with the right electronics. The midrange is sweet and pure, imaging and dimensionality palpable, and the low end surprisingly tight, powerful and extended, rolling off gradually below 55 Hz to -10dB at 35 Hz. As such they have surprisingly satisfying bass for their size, enough that I don’t toy with adding a subwoofer, nor do I get distracted by high frequency roll off; I don’t detect any. Instead I find myself getting lost in the emotional content of the music and particularly the sheer realism of natural sounds like vocals, piano, horns and acoustic guitar. If this were my only system I might be tempted to try a sub but there is really very little musical information missing. There’s a lot to be said for simplicity and I’m satisfied.
The TSM’s are exceptionally well balanced. A universal feature of any excellent, natural sounding system is that nothing jumps out at the listener (except perhaps the startling multidimensional imaging that stereo can produce under optimal circumstances). The TSM driver integration is seamless and there is none of the exaggeration in the midrange that can lead vocal sibilance, glaring horns or other related forms of fatiguing harshness. When I attend shows like RMAF or T.H.E. Show I can find extravagant high-powered systems with big, earth-shaking drivers that can render a more convincing bass drum beat, but they often seem to lack the speed, refinement and intimacy inherent in smaller drivers. From my perspective it’s difficult to find a system that competes for sheer musical enjoyment at any price. Except perhaps in my living room where the VSM’s reside, but now we are talking about an exotic system with 120 Watt tube monoblocks and about four times the overall cost.
The Merlin TSM’s rank among my most satisfying hifi purchases. They play plenty loud with 30 Watts, don’t take up the whole room and are easy on the eyes. They keep up with a very fast and honest OTL amp, image to beat the band, add nothing annoying and don’t force me to use my imagination to fill in what they are missing. They have no gimmicks or peculiarities – they are just a carefully optimized two-way speaker system. Above all, they don’t require my brain to reprocess the information that it’s receiving to make sense of it as I’ve experienced with other speakers – they just sound like music. Highly recommended.