Focal Mini Utopia vs Merlin MXe

Is this a fair comparision(sound quality wise ignoring price)? Looking for comments from people who owned both speakers for good length of time. I own mini utopia and Quad 989s and love them both. Trying to simplify and get full range speaker which will better both mini and quads (bass, imaging, stage depth & width, seamless in crossover transition) for 50% jazz and 50% Classical. This is new system building so open for amplifiers choice but leaning towards Transendent sound OTL. Please keep this discussion limited to these two speakers. Space limitation is making me sell my quads. Thanks.
I’ve owned the Micro Be (sorry, not the Mini, I know) and the Merlin VSM-MM. Without question, I would recommend the Micro Be speakers. My biggest gripe with the Merlin’s is that they only work with a few company’s pres and amps to sound good. Take a look at most Merlin owner’s systems; they are all the same i.e. Joule Pre, Joule or Atma Sphere amps, plus Au24 or Cardas cables. The Micro Be sound good with both tubes and SS and can be matched with a lot of high quality equipment, unlike the Merlin’s. The Utopia line of speakers are also works of art and built like a tank. Resale on the Micro is also good, unlike the Merlin’s.
I have McIntosh gear and they sound terrific. So much for that assessment.
I own the Mini and would not suggest an OTL. The Mini's impedance gets pretty wild below 100 hz.
Phaelon, I liked OTL with Quad 989s. I definitely agree with your assesment about Mini and would not use it with mini. I use Krells with my mini. Curious though, anybody using mini/micro with tube gear with success? I loved original micro (best imaging with lots of air around instrumments..).
Sstalwar, I've always used tubes with the Minis. Currently, I'm using a 25W/ch integrated. It actually sounds more dynamic and performs better at the frequency extremes than a 70w/ch amp that I was using. I guess it should since it's significantly more expensive than any amp/preamp combo that I've used. Like you, I listen to mostly jazz and classical but I'm not trying to reproduce anything near concert level volumes.
I've been using my Minis with a Mystere ia21 integrated amp with 50 watts and love the sound. Very robust and dynamic. I've used both the Mac MA2275 tubed integrated and the Mystere and have found tubes to be great with the minis, or at least the tubes I've tried.
I am using SS with mine, either Musical Fidelity NuVista M3 [300 watts] or Meridian 605s [150 watts]. Both work well. Mine have the Titanium tweeters, did they make a Beryllium tweeter version? The ones I have do not lack anything in the highs for me.
Stanwal, the Minis are first generation Utopias. Beryllium tweeters came with the second. I've often wondered if would be feasible to swap out the older generation components (tweeters, drivers and crossover) for current Focal SOTA.
I owned the Minis for well over a year and never could get them to sound even close to good..Tried Pass labs 150.5/McIntosh 402 as well as numerous tube amps including AR/Cary/Wavac( paired up with a couple different subs) Loaned them to a buddy and he came up with the same results.Ive never heard the Merlins but they have to be better than those Focal minis,IMO..If you decide to open the thread up for speaker recommendations that blow those mini yucks out of the water let us know!!!!
"that blow those mini yucks out of the water let us know!!!!"

Wow! You must have gotten really hurt. Did Frenchy break your heart? - LOL
Toetapfactor, I have owned the original line all the way up to Grand Utopia speakers and I suppose I have fairly good experience with their overall character. I have had moments when I thought they were ordinary (mainly in the bass area). Proper placement is the biggest key in my opinion. I have made them sing..or lets say they made me sing everytime. They are not without flaws though eg, grand Utopia just needs a very big space away from all the walls and still can feel not so tight (?congested) in base region. On the other hand there is a lot to love for in Micro and Mini Utopia monitors (midrange, highs, presence, imaging...). They are not the ultimate in base but to my ears they are very musical. BTW, with proper placement my mini Utopia can easily go down to 40Hz and I feel the punch. I guess I am looking to experiment different "brand" sound for a change, so feel free to make a suggestion.
i thought about this for a few days before i made my response.
imho, the merlin vsm is a critically designed speaker system with a very flat amplitude, flat impedance, high resolution and low distortion. with the e versions especially, they are as friendly to ss and tubes as they can be. the mme for ss and leaner tubes and the mxe for tonally flush tube systems, which i prefer. these pieces tend to have less feedback and lower damping both of which the vsm does not need (this is very important). a thoroughbred is a specialized design. it will work better with ancillaries that they are designed to work with. trying to make them work with other items that do not share their design goals may be not the approach to take. this is not a matter of synergy but more of neutral embellishments because the resolution of the vsm is very high. the items you mentioned are wonderful but we have people all over the world using the likes of rega amps, sugden, the stingray and cary integrateds with fantastic results. so i do not share your feelings on this point. after all you wouldn't buy a ferrari and use 88 octane fuel in it and $30 tires on each corner. if you did you would never appreciate the fine engineering that went into it.
yes there are items that are less critical and can be used with a wider selection of ancillaries but then again, they "may" not have absolute potential of a more specialized design. and this will depend on the taste of the listener because there is not one design that can make everyone happy.
i just wish you had owned the mme because it would have been much more to your liking.
merlin resale prices right now are poor as most items are due to the economic times. remember too that we have made thousands of pairs of these speakers and many have been pre owned and upgraded many times. also the resale price is a function of what they were paid for new. and no one has ever paid full retail for them. many pairs have been sold direct and at a discount to the end user. it is just a different way to market and a way that the industry is moving towards.
thank you,
bobby at merlin
Sstalwar...IMO, the Micro BE would be a better step up and of course the new UtopiaIII if wanting to stay in the Focal family.If it were my money I would addition the Dynaudio C1.At 4 grand on the used market there is no way you can compare the mini utopia to it on any level.Add a sub and your done.Pesonally I think the tweeter on the mini sucks especially when compared to the Esotar2.Just my take on it.Let us know what you do
FWIW, I've always thought that the Merlins sound a fair bit like (classic) Quads (don't know the 989), except more dynamic and with more extended bass. OTOH, all the Focal Utopias that I've heard (again, don't specifically know the Minis) lean toward the more typically audiophile response profile - a little extra oomph in the mid-bass and some offsetting punch in the presence region. Overall, both speakers sound nicely balanced to my ear, but pretty different from each other. Nothing wrong with the Focals, but if you're only losing the Quads due to space considerations, you might want to think Merlin.


PS There is more than a little irony to the "Merlins only work with (fill in the blank) amps, cables, etc." claim. I've used mine successfully with a huge variety of amps from Cary 300Bs, to Cary 845s, to ARC VT130se, to Krell KSA 50s (SS), to TAD Hibachi (SS), to Prima Luna 6 monos, to Pancor Dyna Reissue, etc, etc. All work very, very well...although they do sound different one to the next. I'm not sure which I liked the best, so I'm hardly gonna say which you'll prefer.

The irony? Bobby's own very enthusiastic proclamations have created a bit of a cultlike following for certain system matches, so the Merlin users tend to flock that way. Although they mate nicely with a LOT of different stuff, the "only works with" label is largely of Bobby's own (inadvertant) making.
you know marty, i never thought of it that way. :-)
when people ask me about cable i always recommend small gauge copper/litz preferably and amps with low damping and feedback for my taste. most people that have asked are not offended by the cost of the items i suggested.
however many times i have recommended copper monster cables and low cost amps like prima luna and rega etc.
not everyone owns a heavy hitter system or can afford it.
i'll keep what you mentioned in mind.
thanks, b@m
Toetapfactor, thanks for your suggestion of Dynaudio C1. I will see if I can audition them locally.
Martykl, thanks for pointing out similarity between Quads and Merlins. I don't remember where but I read about this somewhere which made me look into Merlins in the first place.
Thanks all you guys and especially Bobbyapalkovic for his insight in Merlins.
I wonder if there are any audiophiles in Tampa/Orlando FL area or a Merlin dealer with MXe on floor who might be willing to let me audition them. I definitely want to listen to them before I finalize.
I'm not sure what "compatability" issues the Merlins might have, they had no issues with my CAT, Atma-sphere, Quicksilver, Music Reference, or Pass XA.5 amps - and the Ars Sonum integrated. It does seem that most, not all, Merlin users gravitate towards tube amps (low NFB, not much damping), and as those who have tried OTLs (yes, Joule, Atma-sphere)will attest, it is very difficult to beat a Class A, Triode, Transformless tube amp IF your speaker can be driven by them, the Merlins are driven wonderfully by OTLs, which to me permits a great speaker to be driven by IMHO by the very best type of tube amplifiers available - OTLs. That being said, the CAT JL2, Music Reference RM9SE, and Pass XA30.5 were not OTLs and the Merlins sounded fantastic with them. What they all have in common is they are all excellent amps and the Merlins do nothing to keep you from hearing that. I know nothing of the JM Labs, but a few show auditions, and they may or may not be world-class, and you may or may not prefer them to the Merlins, what I do know is that there are very few Merlin owners that do not love them, and that form the bedrock of further system upgrades. They are incredibly resolving, fast, and very well sorted adfter so many years of continuous improvements and refinement. They may not be the right speaker for everyone, and it is a "small" speaker, but there are those that love them. I can buy most any speaker (within reason), but it was the Merlins that stopped my search for speakers, they just sound right to me.
Ok, I am pumped up...any Merlin MXe owner within 100 mile radius of Tampa? I will bring beer :)
sstalwar, I use a Merlin TSM MMe with a Leben CS600 with Winged C SED 6l6GCs. I find it an amazing combination. not upgraded for more than years now :)
Arj, that sounds like a wonderful combo.

How does the Pass compare to the Sonum?
One of the two has more flesh on the bone, I'll let you guess which one. If I had to own one with the Merlins it would be the Ars; obviously the Pass will sound great with wider range of speakers, but as great as it is, it is still not tubes if that is the type of sound you want - I do.
Sstalwar - I don't know of any Merlin dealers in Central Florida. I live in Deltona, which is probably more than a 100 miles from you, near the East Coast, but you're welcome to come over and listen to the VSM-MXe's if you're interested. I drive them with a Belles 150 Reference power amp, Bel Canto SEP2 tubed preamp with an inboard DAC2, and a McCormack UDP-1 CD player. So if you want to hear a fully tubed system, you'll have to bring your own amp :)

Denvelle, I've often heard that the Merlins work very well with Belles, did you ever compare them with a tube amp, or did you go straight to Belles when you got the speakers? Just curious, I would like to have an SS amp on hand that we makes magic with Merlins.

The Belles was an old recommendation from Bobby years ago, but I have definitely tried a slew of amps over the years with my various Merlin speakers, even after acquiring the Belles. For me, tubes are a must in the preamp, more so than the amp. I tried the Ayre AX-7, YBA Passion Integre, Accuphase 306, and recently the new Wyred 4 Sound Sti-500 integrated amp (surprisingly I much preferred the W4S integrated to the other more expensive amps). However, none of them locked in on the VSM-MXe's tonal capabilities like my current Bel Canto/Belles setup. I also tried the Cary SLP03 tube preamp, but did not like it with the Merlins. Also had a few BAT-300x-SE amps and was very fond of them, but with the Merlins they seemed to push the mids causing the bass to be slightly subdued - and the BAT does not have a tape loop, which is my preference for setup with the BAM.
When I owned the TSM-M monitors I tried a Rogue all tube setup, and loved the mids but the bass was just too slow for me. The Belles never sounds harsh, has all the power I'll ever need, and has been very reliable (a must since I have my system on most of the evening and use it for general TV viewing in addition to music).

That is very strong recommendation for the Belles (for use with Merlins at least). I've been looking for an SS amp to have on hand (and for the summer months) when the 16 output tubes of the Atma-sphere and 8 of the Music Reference put out just a bit too much heat:) I tried several of the Pass/First Watt amps, which are wonderful amps, but I just never felt that I could ever "love" them the way I do the tube amps - perhaps it can't happen as I think the Pass SS is about as good as SS gets (I too think the Ayre is up in that category). I will give the Belles some more thought, I know Bobby has recommended it for years. I also suspect the BEL 1001/2002 would have been a good SS choice as well. Thanks for you sharing your experience.

You might try the TAD Hibachi monos. They are small, traditional A/B monoblocks that run cool, look nice, are modestly priced, and sound very very good with Merlins. Not much flash, but - IMHO - a good ss mate for these speakers

Denvelle, Can you please PM me at I can mange to come over at your convenience. And thanks a bunch..
The owner of BEL passed last year and nothing has been said about the company still being operational(not starting any rumors).


Are you going to upgrade to the Master BAM and networks?
I don't think there is anymore production of Richard Brown's amps, which many say is the best SS amp they have heard. It would be nice if such a great design could be continued by another company, but I guess that just isn't going to happen.

I have been giving the Master BAM some thought, but something about paying so much for a capacitor "upgrade" just is a hard nut to crack. Now if I heard the Deulands and were able to compare them and it was a really noticeable improvement, well then, yeah, I'd have to do it.
well paul, the bel amp is a one of a kind and everyone who has heard it loved it for its uncomplicated and robust nature. not exactly a tube but as close as one could get with the benefits of ss, wider bandwidth, less distortion and more control. i wish is had 2 of them.

about the master upgrades i hear you. at $225 each or $1350 for the 6 caps, they better be something. but in the bam, the entire signal goes them so they do what they are supposed to do. in the case of the rc network, since they are a termination for the amp providing a 10 ohm load at 100 khz, it makes sense to me that the amp being terminated with a better sounding termination sould make the amp sound as good as it can. imho, copper being better sounding than aluminum.
hope you are well.
bobby at merlin

The $$ invested will be worth it. The Master Bam RC Networks are ass-kickers to be sure.
I was afraid you would say that:)

If you can do the Cat, you know you can do the MBAM{:^)~
Maybe if the MasterBAM weighed 180lbs:). Now where did I put Bobby's number....
Well, the check is in the mail. We'll see what the next refinement of the VSM brings to the table. So far, every upgrade Bobby has made to the speaker has made a great speaker just that much better, so I look forward to listening to the MasterBAM and RCs.
Something else to consider, Pubul; I'm using the ARS Sonum (latest edition) and still am breaking it in.(about 2-300 hrs.) I switched my VSM MXe's over to a ss amp for awhile and was surprised about the soundstage and depth of the music.(Female vocals, light jazz, choral) I was plugged into a McCormack DNA 1 that had the platinum upgrades from Steve McCormack fronted by a Gill Art Audio Alana pre which was also upgraded by David Gill. I am having trouble putting the ARS back in the system to continue the break-in. At my other home, I have a Hovland hp 100 and a BEL 1001 Mk V that I'm going to put into the Merlin system for comparison soon. It is a wonderful synergy for a low powered ss amp and the Hovland and I'm looking forward to the combo voicing the VSM's. I've not heard the Belles, but a modded McCormack with a quality tube pre might be a consideration.
Farmdoc, I had my Alana updated to Mk III status (from Mk II) by David Gill last month. It's easy when he only lives five miles from my home. At the same time he installed balanced outputs which happen to be the preferred mode of operation for my Einstein LITD power amp. Now there is a real combination that would make your MXe's sing! The Alana is a real giant killer and a bit of an underground product.
I agee; I think the Alana is good amp that is markedly improved with the Mk III upgrade. I have not A/B'ed it to the Hovland but plan to. It certainly will not leave my abode for awhile, if ever.
That BEL amp is one amp I wish I had the chance to have tried, Bobby speaks very highly of the BEL. I too had the Ars Sonum, and it is a wonderful integrated, but ulitmately I prefered the Atma-sphere gear which has bested a lot of other stuff I had tried, but would love to have an SS amp that is a killer with the Merlins and I suspect the BEL would be the one for me to try. It will be interesting to know what you think of the BEL versus the McCormack.

We look forward to your impressions and informed observation as well of the Master BAM & RC :-)
Pubul57 would the older jeff roland amps(models 6,8t,9t) be a good match for the Merlins;I have a pair of model 6 monoblocks driving usher rw 723's and its just a great sound;I would think driving Merlins the sound would be even better.
Hi Rleff. I just don't know. And don't get me wrong, the Pass XA30.5 and Aleph J sounded extremely good with the Merlins, but I still preferred the Atma-sphere and Music Reference amps. It just maybe that I am too much of a tubeaholic to ever really be totally satisified with an SS amp - but I won't stop trying; though I think Nelson Pass is about as good as it gets in SS. My friend loves his Rowland Concentra, maybe I can get him to....
paul, i think that you have a speaker that allows you to hear what good tube electronics sound like. your speaker also does not need the damping that ss amps provide in the bass. they prefer the dimensionality and density in the mid range of a good tube system. yours is not the only speaker like it. so there are many individuals that like ss but prefer tubes and visa versa. i think clearly it is a matter of what you have at home and what interfaces best with it. and to a lesser degree, what is the best you have heard in your system. in this regards you are way more fortunate than most.
best, b
The ARC 100.2 sounds good with my TSM's. It is a great amp that can be found on the gon used for between 1500 and 1700. Years ago I had Pass ALeph and the 100.2 was more to my liking.
One of the reasons I think the Aleph J should in theory be a good match for the Merlins is that in many ways it performs like tubes in that it seems to not increase current (watts) with lower impedance, that is it performs more like tube amps in that regard. It also has a 260kohm input impedance which makes it very tube preamp friendly, which I think is best suited for the BAM, and with 30 watts of Class A power it should be enough to drive the Merlins about as loud as I could stand. This ofcourse is all theory, and does not mean it will work better than the BEL, Belles, or ARC 100.2
paul, audio aero made a 50w class a tube power amp. i heard it and it was superb. not made any longer. juicey and dynamic as could be. 30 to 50 watts of class a tranformer coupled or otl amps are as much as i would need for my home or even to do a show. 50 being better for more complex material or show conditions.
the bel is fantastic but i still prefer tubes and you probably would too.
best, b
Thank you Bobby. I do suspect you're right:)
Pubul57- Hard to move back to the solid state sound when your a tube guy as am I;my roland 6's for me come very close;I would like to hear that solid state amp Ralph mentions now and then in the forums the name escapes me this moment though.
I'm glad I was/we were able to influence you.