Outside the box
Looking to update my aging B&W 801 Nautilus speakers I began to audition some of the high end products locally available. I auditioned and was impressed by the Vandersteen Seven Mk.II, the Revel Salon 2, and B&W 802D3. Great speakers. I even met and talked with Richard Vandersteen and Kevin Voecks (Revel designer) when they demonstrated their top speakers locally. Continuing my research on line, I came across Floyd Toole and his work while employed as chief of research at Harman (Revel, Mark Levinson, Lexicon, JBL, Crown). On one of his videos on Youtube he mentioned the JBL M2 Master Reference Monitor as being about the best speaker available today. Fascinated, I looked for and found a pair available at my local Guitar Center where JBL pro gear is sold. They were discounted to $11,500(total cost) including the Crown amps which must be used with them.
On a lark, I bought the system. Perhaps, I thought, an interesting experiment. Of course there were reservations. Pro gear? Horn loaded driver? Class I amp? Active cross over? DSP controlled drivers? Studio Monitor? Spartan aesthetics? Also, the installation was a little complicated since I had to run a new dedicated 20 amp circuit to feed the Crown amplifiers, and the amps had to be installed in a isolated closet to defeat the really loud cooling fan noise which runs continuously.
The speakers consist of a wave guide directed compression driver for upper frequencies and a 15" driver for the bass with cross over at 800 cycles. The two Crown I-Tech 5000 stereo amplifiers pump out 1250 watts (8 ohms) 2500 watts (4ohms) per channel. One channel serves each horn loaded compression driver and one channel each 15" woofer. 5,000 to 10,000 watts total. The compression driver is considered revolutionary. The wave guide is considered revolutionary. The 15" woofer is best that JBL can make. The Crown amps have an integrated DSP to control the drivers and is programed with specific criteria unique to the M2 speaker. Totally integrated. The Crown amps are Class I which is also used in some Mark Levinson units. SPL 127 is achievable. All in all, not your typical home stereo.
The system is the product of very deep pockets and exhaustive research (Harman), decades of experience (JBL), and really smart people (Dr. Floyd Toole, Sean Olive and JBL engineers). A truly revolutionary system, I think.
I have coupled this system with a Classe preamp, Marantz SA-11S3 SACD player, Pro-Ject RPM 9.1 turntable with Sumiko Blackbird cartridge. My best sources are SACD mastered directly in DSD from Channel Classics, DMP, or Telarc. I will be adding the Aurender A10 streamer with MQA when that become available in June.
How does it sound? Much, much better then my other system. (B&W 801 Nautilus, Classe CA-M400 mono blocks, Parasound P-7 Halo preamplifier) Absolutely no comparison. Detail, mind boggling punch, dynamic range off the charts, controlled base. Nora Jones sounds sublime, which was the biggest surprise. Telarc's Tchaikovsky 1812 SACD disc is staggeringly dynamic. An emotional trip.
Does it sound better than the Vandersteen Model Seven Mk.II and the new Vandersteen M7-HPA amps, which had been my benchmark? Perhaps. Very possibly. It would take a revolutionary product to sound as good as the Vandersteen system especially when it is priced at a fraction of the cost. The JBL M2/Crown system is clearly in this category, and I think I have discovered something remarkable. Science and technology march on.