MBL 101e's vs. Soundlab U-1's

I have decided to change my speakers. I have had Dynaudio Temptations for 2 years, and for the past few months I have felt that there is something missing. Bass presence, ambience, I really wasn't sure. My system has been very stable over the past year: a Boulder 2060 amp, and ARC Ref3 preamp and an Esoteric X01 limited cd player. That was actually a recent switch, from the Meitner gear. I decided to listen to MBL 101e's and Soundlab U-1's. I picked those speakers since along with Von Schweikert VR 9's those were the speakers that I remember giving me great, almost spooky "you are there" performance. There are no Von Schweikert dealers in the area, and the VR 9's are too expensive fpr me anyway. I considered the VR 7SE's, but there is nowhere to listen to them.
I started with an extended demo of the MBL's. I found that the MBL's have some strengths that the Dyns don't have. Unbelievable staging, bass (not boomy), and a sense of presence and ambience
that the dyns actually do approach, but do not equal. I brought several different types of music. I started with one of my very favorite cuts, "The Maker', by Emmylou Harris on Spyboy. There was a palpable presence of the musicians, with the drum thwacks at the end reverberating in my chest. As Valin says in his review, the speakers need to be played at a somewhat higher volume to really open up, but not overly loud. As was mentioned by a few people the sound did ring or was kind of "steely". Ron, the dealer, said that he felt that it was due to the MBL preamp, rather than the speaker itself. He changed to a Griffin pre, and the sound was much smoother, at the expense of some dynamic presence. Next up was Johnny Cash, American Man IV. This is meant to be played at a lower volume than EmmyLou. It sound great, with Johnny centered and the guitars to either side. Finally, the new Dixie Chicks, higher energy Southern rock. All the MBL strengths were there, staging, imaging, dynamics, etc.
The downside to these speakers is that they are very difficult to set up. The room acoustics can be tricky and the required amplification is very expensive. Hopefully, my Boulder 2060 is up to it.
Next up were the Soundlabs. Yesterday, I heard a convincing demo of the Soundlab U-1, not the U-1x which is apparently the updated model. These are scary good. I brought the same cuts that I used during the MBL demo. BTW, in each case the speakers were driven with a powerful SS amp, and a tube preamp, in the case of the Soundlabs.They actually sound very similar to the MBL's. The pros are that my Boulder will drive them without any problem. They also need relatively less room treatment, due to their radiating pattern. They are incredibly dynamic with an unbelievable soundstage. There is excellent taut bass. The demo was in the house of the local dealer, in an old living room with almost no treatment. The room is substantially smaller than mine.
The con is their size. I have to do some meaurements to make sure that they would fit into the constraints of my room.
I am having a ball with this next phase of my audio life. After these two demos, it's hard to see why people would be satisfied with box speakers. Although, given the constraints imposed by these speakers, it can be difficult to get either working optimally.

David Shapiro
diff strokes for diff folks. listening preferences determine speaker-owner suitability.

i owned U2s, and couldn't ditch them fast enough.

i listen to lots of R&R; the fact that you like SLs implies that you do not. they're coherent to the max, and great for choral / orchestral / chamber / jazz, but they are not going to do a thing for led zeppelin.


I'm afraid I have to disagree with you. My SL Majestics will rock with the best dynamic speakers in the world! The new Soundlab PX panel technology is way more dynamic than previous iterations.
think about the waveform differential:

monkey coffins: uses 1-4 woofers of 8-15" which travel anywhere from fractions of an inch to a couple inches (!) from start to stop.

panels: whole panel, moves just fractions of an inch.

again, panels will never reproduce a kick drum properly so long as they don't have driver excursion. they don't pressurize a room the way the instrument does! they simply cannot. and depending on your listening preferences, that's fine. --in my case, it wasn't.
David - it's always interesting to come across a line of thinking and taste that mirrors one's own so directly. I have owned several Dyn's, currently owning the C2's - I've always loved the Dyns, listening to a wide variety of music, and also for HT / movies.

Like every addict, I often think about what I'd try next. In addition to going up the Dynaudio line (the Temptations would be a likely target), I've also read a ton of reviews and, reading between the lines, the speakers that have really intrigued me include the MBL's and the Soundlabs, so it's interesting to here your impressions - thanks for posting them.

The one other line that really intrigues me is the ATC's. Depending on the side of room you're trying to fill, the ASL 100's or 150's would just be a lot of fun to audition.

I've got a local dealer for Dynaudio that does a great job, but no dealers for the other lines, so there's no way (easily) to get a taste.

Hope you end up in a good place :-)

David, maybe the ESP Concert Grands on your short list?
I had a chance to hear the ESP Bodhran SE's recently, which are the Concert Grands little brothers, and they were exceptional. They did have some electostatic qualities without some of the potential size drawbacks and they were about the most musically engaging speakers I have had the pleasure of listening to. Also hard to audition but worth the effort IMHO.
Just to cast one vote, I would rather have your Dynaudio Temptations than the MBL 101. In fact, the MBL would not make my top favorite 15 speaker list :^).

On the other hand, I do love the Sound Labs, coherency like nothing else.

As Kirk said, I hope you wind up in a good place, there are more great speaker choices today than ever in the history of audio (in my opinion).
Can't help you decide but I can add to the confusion by suggesing you should listen to Genesis 201's.
ATC's might deliver some of the coherency you like in the SL and still give you the dynamics and loudness that box speakers are known for. (Driver integration is better with active designs) I don't think you necessarily have to go away from box speakers to find what you are looking for.

The ambience from rear radiating devices is nice sounding, but it has very little to do with the original recording as you are not hearing the ambience of the venue but more reflections from your room; it will sometimes sound nice (when the recording has been made in an acoustically dead environment like most pop music) but may add confusion to what you hear on live music, jazz and orchestral works. Speakers with ambience are also much harder to setup unless they have an adjustment to control the a mount of rear radiation.

(Rear radiation causes cancellations in the forward radiating sound: a comb filter which your brain identifies as "ambience"....sound engineers use this trick to make a stereo sound from mono recordings by passing it through a comb filter...it gives an impression of a difuse large soundstage but may detract from the image)
Hello David,

if a dynamic speaker is still in your options but you would like to get the transparency, speed and purity of timber of esl's and ribbon speakers, I do suggest you to give a look at the bigger Egglestons (disclaimer: I am their Italian distributor). A speaker like the Savoy would bring you almost all the virtues of planars still remaining extremely dynamic and giving you the "live feeling" that only the very best dynamic speakers can offer. Please check my system for more info, if you like.

As my tastes have evolved (or devolved, depending on your inclination), I have really come to value dynamics. Musical energy and excitement. Contrary to one poster, I do love R&R, but I also like other types of music. After some reflection, my tendency is to the MBL's, especially after talking to the dealer who sold me the Boulder. He had it in his house, mated to the previous MBL 101d, and loved the combo. He can have almost anything. For those that want to know, he's moving to the Wilson X-2. I've never heard it, but I know I can't afford it.

The 101s are my favorite speakers. Great choice. The MBLs can sound real and alive like nothing else can. They do require a very careful setup. The whole MBL system that I heared plenty of times at different shows was always far from being magical, lacking some lushness and midrange refinement. There are better amps out there, even better that the huge 9011s and your Boulder is one of them. I think this pairing can be really special.

3 speakers which impressed me very much were
Rockport Antares, Wilson Max II and TAD model 1.
If my room was big enough I would consider a second hand JMLab Grand Utopia Be.
Hi Tomer,
Those are also very good choices. Unfortunately, I can't listen to everything. I'm pretty much settled on the MBl's, as I think that they can rock better than the SL's. Not that that's the only consideration, but I do like to go for it at times. They will have to double as HT mains, and will need to put out some serious SPL's.
Their size also integrates better into my room.
I recently listened to the smaller MBL (161?) with all MBL gears.

Despite superb transparency, solid imaging, and midrange body, I thought the bass was too over damped and did not have the proper decay of live music. Upon further listening, I felt the midrange and top also had less decay than what I was used to. You can correct the decay with tube amps, but will take a giant tube amp to drive those speakers.
David, I think you indicated in your post that your MBL audition was in a room smaller than your own, but you had concerns in re: speaker size vs. room size. If you meant to indicate that your room was smaller, it's very important to audition the 101 on-site before purchase.

Llike the big Wilson speakers, the 101s seem to have been voiced for a very large room. The 101s bass balance will tend to overload a medium sized room. On the basis of two recent auditions, the smaller 116 and 111 (I think those are the correct model designations) floorstanders seem to me better suited to a typical room. However, my impression from the listening sessions also suggest that the 101s are really in a different league than the other MBLs (although those models are certainly very good speakers in their own right).

BTW, I've also been looking at Sound Lab and Vandersteen and ESP. Of the zillion things I've listened to over the last year (in anticipation of equipment change related to relocation), these are my finalists. I haven't decided yet, but I will say the Vandy and especially the 101 seem to me to be better suited to your taste in music.
My room is good size, 18' x 26' x 8'. It's bigger than the room that I demoed it in. My concern was regards the Soundlab U-1's. While my room could take it, there are constraints since it also a HT room, with a 10' wide screen. It makes speaker placement problematic. That is only one of the reasons I'm leaning towards the MBL's.

Sounds like you are set on the MBL 101e - I must admit they look simply awesome. Having never heard these beauties and being curious about their design...how do they dampen the lamellas in order to avoid what would be termed "cone break up" in a conventional driver?
David, I've been following your decision making process here and at the AVS Forum. All of the suggestions in this thead are excellent. I've heard a number of the above speakers, but ended up with the 101E's as well as the MBL 6010D preamp and a pair of 9008A monoblocks.

My room is a 15' x 35' x 10' multi purpose living room that bleeds into a kitchen. There is a 6' wide open archway on one side wall that leads into another 15' x 25' x 10' room (i.e., totally open floor plan) so a lot of sound escapes. Behind the speakers is a half wall, so essentially there is a wall behind the right speaker but not the left. That's more open space leading into another room. On the other side wall there are a pair of 6' wide sliding glass doors. No blinds or curtains, just a thin layer black felt material hanging loosely to block out the light. There are no room treatments at all other than a large area rug in front of the speakers. In other words, there are plenty of reasons why these speakers shouldn't sound good, but they're simply amazing!

My personal speaker evolution in this room is from Martin Logan Aeruis to Newform Research R645 to Talon Khorus (also had the Peregrines set up in here at one point). Each of these speakers have significant strengths, but I always felt that the room limitations kept me from getting to a point of nirvana. Now that sense is gone and it kind of scares me a bit (in the sense of just how much further the 101E's can be taken) because I know that the room presents many serious "issues".

The only reasons I haven't treated this room are: 1) I've always known that one day I would build on a dedicated HT room so it would be throwing away money to treat a room that I will one day abandon, and 2) some of the issues, like the open archway, would not be easy to deal with even if I was determined to do so.

It could be that my previous speakers and electronics just haven't been up to task, but the Talons in particular are outstanding performers. A more likely explanation in my view is that, contrary to what seems to be popular opinion these days, the MBLs are not very room/position sensitive at all. This may presuppose that you have a fairly large room to work with, and that you can get them sufficiently away from the rear and side walls (which I can). But they're not bouncing off everything and creating all sorts of nodes. In fact, they pretty much sound equally good no matter where you move within the room. There is absolutely no such thing as a "sweet spot" with these speakers.

Mind you, I'm not intending for this post to be gushing praise about a new toy. I'd like to think I'm above the fanboy stuff, and I'm not here to pat you (or myself) on the back for making this decision since there are so many other equally good speakers that each have their won strengths. Yes, I'm quite happy with the 101E's in terms of the sonic characteristics that you've described (dynamics being chief among them, and what impressed me most at the show I heard them at), but I knew that I would be before I got them.

So what I'm getting at with this post is that what has really surprised me most, and in a very good way, is how well they've integrated in a much less than optimal room environment. Of course I know that they can and will get much better in a well designed and treated room and that day will come, but I'm much relieved that the construction project doesn't need to start tomorrow. You should be comforted by this as well given that your room os of similar size.
That is good to hear. My room is treated, but probably not optimally. That will wait for another day. You're right, I have made my decision, although I do really like the Sound Lab rep. Now I'm just trying to figure out which deal on the MBL's to go for, since I have been offered 3 different pairs :).

I hope you're leaning towards buying them from the dealer who gave you what sounds like an extensive demo. Using a dealer for demo purposes and then shopping for price is seriously uncool business.
I agree with yopu completely.. John Marks wrote a piece a couple of years ago on that very topic. I did buy the MBL's from the desler that demoed them, and I'm very glad I duid. They spent hours on setup, which included a Rives eval of the room. I also ended up buying a Rives PARC to tame the bass in the room, and I couldn't be any happier.