Review: Definitive Technology Mythos STS Speaker
For quite some time I have been interested in this speaker. I've read a number of reviews about the STS's and they have all been pretty glowing, but I haven't seen much in the way of user reviews which I really like to read before making a purchase. Yeah there's the user reviews on the Magnolia website for this speaker, but no disrespect to those users, I can never be sure if they are avid audiophiles or someone who bought a relatively "expensive" speaker and love it because they don't have much to compare it to. So out of curiosity I decided to purchase a pair with the intention of providing a somewhat detailed user review. I've owned this pair for just under two months.
If you are not familiar with this speaker it is full range with an aluminum dome tweeter, two 4 1/2" midrange drivers (MTM configuration) and essentially a built in sub with a 300 watt class D amp and two passive radiators in each speaker and roughly 48" tall. Due to the internal amps you will need to plug the speaker into an outlet. Despite the height it has a relatively tiny footprint at 6" wide by 9" deep. Though taller they take up much less visual space than my Mini Utopias on stands. They have provisions for connecting to the LF output of a surround receiver or processor but I have been using them speaker level only. I guess you could call them a lifestyle speaker........audiophiles beware. My review below is based on two channel music only.
As I have said there are plenty of professional reviews out there on these and they all sort of end like this "Great speakers that compare with speakers costing many times their $3000 price" (how many times have you read that at the end of a review). I guess what I want to do is really compare these to speakers costing quite a bit more because there are compromises and no, at least in my opinion, they are not Wilson or Thiel or JM Lab killers. But they do a lot very well.
OK, compared to the expensive stuff like the brands I mention above but specifically the $7,000 JM Lab Mini Utopias (when new) I directly compared them to here's some of the tradeoff's:
1. I guess I have a bias against aluminum dome tweeters but despite being very detailed I have found them to have, at times, a bit of an edgy sound. I owned Hales Concept 3's and Hales Transcendence 5's both having aluminum domes and both having that quality too, though the T 5's less so. With the grills off the STS's are no exception, they can be a little hot on top when driven hard, not excessively but similar to other aluminum domes I have had experience with, but, as I said, very good detail. Compared to the Mini Utopias the STS's on top are not quite as resolving. Listening to the STS's at high volume I suggest leaving the grills on, at low volumes the grills tend to come off.
2. When using the Mystere with the JM Labs the midbass had a wonderful fullness to the sound, in fact that was one of my favorite qualities of that combination. Using the Mystere with STS's just didn't have that fullness. Again it was very detailed but not full and not as tidy. Bass was a little bloated too even though the internal amps are driving the subs. The Mystere in my opinion is not a good match for these speakers despite being awesome with the Mini Utopias. As I mention in the associated equipment I also have a Pioneer Elite sc-27 surround receiver using ice amps for all seven channels. Most of my following comments are based on the Pioneer Elite and STS combination compared to the Mystere and Mini Utopia combination.
3. The Minis and combination of tubes can really float sounds in space. The STS's can to but the Mini's are a little better. It's the sort of quality we pay thousands more to get, that little extra something that we just can't describe; it isn't a huge difference, but a very meaningful difference none the less.
4. The STS's are FINICKY with placement. In fact I would suspect that if there is a reason people do not like these speakers it's because of how much effort is required to get the bass honed in. Not only do you have to work with position in the room but also bass level controls on each speaker. It takes a lot of work to get the bass to integrate otherwise it sounds like a sub/sat system of fair integration. My living room is 14' x 22' x 8' and that is probably about the correct volume for these speakers because I have achieved spot on integration, but it was trial and error, and effort, and time.
Those items are what I would list as the shortcomings with the STS's, at least in my experience with more expensive speakers. For some that may be all you need to know that these speakers are not right for you. But, despite the overused cliche, the STS's can do some things exceptionally well for $3,000 speakers.
Like I previously said I have used the STS's with both my Mystere ia21 integrated and a Pioneer Elite surround receiver. And without question the receiver and STS's are a better combination. In fact I have been stunned with the Pioneer Elite. I have connected an Apple TV (Apple lossless files) with toslink into the receiver using the internal Wolfson D/A's. Used in that configuration in PCM direct mode (no surround effect, no MCACC correction) I have been totally surprised with the sound quality. I have been away from mid-fi equipment for many years but it appears I got lucky with this one, but it's not a free lunch. Those comments are based on using a digital signal into the receiver. Used with analog sources it's back to mid-fi performance. But the D/A chips and ice amps are top notch, really. Not bad for 2k retail (got mine for $1,200).
Using the ice amps the STS's have a dramatic clarity, not hyped detail but a very clean, clear sound which I believe to be pretty common with class D amps. With this combination and the speaker position honed in it is bass response that has been clearly missing from my Mini Utopias but that's no surprise. With the Minis and Mystere it had a wonderful midbass fullness that allowed you to overlook the fact that the deep bass was missing and provided for a touch more spaciousness as well. But boy, when you have dynamic, deep, tight bass like the STS's can offer when properly set up it really adds a dimension to the sound. I do wish for a tad more midbass warmth though at the bass to midbass transition but still very nice.
As far as types of music I really do listen to a little bit of everything. I noticed that rock and pop, as you would expect with the deeper bass response, are particularly well represented. I guess I sort of expected that before even buying the the STS's but I was really surprised at how well vocals and instrumentals play through the system. Bluegrass music is downright fantastic and very tightly controlled, something I thought the Minis did very well. Provided the volume isn't at crazy levels the STS's are very controlled and very dynamic, no slop at all, but if the volume is too high (uncomfortably high) it's not quite as tidy with the sound running together a little but still not bad at all. Good recordings sound great, bad recordings sound not so great. If the bass isn't great in the recording then bass doesn't sound great through the speakers. If there was one upgrade I would really like to utilize it's getting into high rez downloads. I really think that could make quite a difference in this system.
I have been in this hobby for well over 20 years and the one thing I have to say is no matter what I have purchased and used over those 20 plus years I have never had bad sound, never. Everything has been very competent to great sounding. It's really been about personal preferences as to why I like a particular component over another. Don't get me wrong there is junk out there but i haven't run across junk in the high end world. In fact I'm finding very nice pieces in the mid-fi world as well. I think it's also important to note that in my experience with audio I have never owned a single piece of equipment that cost more than 7 or 8 grand retail. In fact the Minis were my most expensive speaker to date so that may give you a bit of reference in what I am familiar with, although I have heard many very expensive system at shows and dealers albeit in less than ideal conditions.
I hope I'm not sounding overly critical of the STS's but there are some areas where I prefer the JM Labs. But there are areas I prefer the STS's too. Dynamic, clean and integrated are three adjectives that I think best describe the overall sound of the STS's. All types of music sound great through the speakers, with pop, rock and bluegrass being a few that I think sound stellar. Something I really haven't addressed though is the price and whether they are better when you factor in the $3,000 price tag over more expensive speakers. For me I have become amazed at the quality of sound that can be had in less expensive components, so for me, and money is definitely an issue, spending crazy more money for incremental improvements doesn't make a lot of sense. But then again what's the price of magic? You know it when you hear it and magic tends to cost a lot of money. That said I don't recommend you sell your Focals or Thiels (boy I love the coincident driver of the Thiel) and purchase the STS's, but if cost is a factor not only do they compare to the expensive stuff they are performing pretty close to the same ball park.
So do I prefer the STS's or the Mini Utopias? The answer to that question is a resounding depends. I really like how sounds float in space with the Minis and I love the dynamic sure footedness of the STS. Now figure in cost. The Mini's with the Mystere integrated, Cullen mod PS Audio DLIII, Apple TV as music server, Audioquest Cheetah interconnects, Kimber 8tc speaker cables and PS audio power conditioner approach magic for me at times but at roughly 15K retail. The Pioneer Elite, STS's, Kimber 8tc speaker cables and Apple TV as music server are very, very good but shy of magic but at $5,250 retail. The answer, I want both systems.
Mystere ia21 Integrated
Pioneer Elite sc-27 Receiver
PS Audio DLIII Cullen mods
JM Labs Mini Utopias