Review: Merlin Music Systems TSM-MME Monitor

Category: Speakers

Merlin Music Systems TSM-MME

My Listening room is approximately 16 feet wide, 20 feet deep, and 9 ft ceiling. The TSM's were approximately 62 inches from the rear wall, 6 feet apart, and my listening position is about 7.5 feet from the speakers.

I listen to all kinds of music but while reviewing the TSMs, The music used to review

Chuck Mangione - Children of Sanchez original LP
Kate Bush - The Kick Inside original LP
Alison Krauss + Union Station Live MOFI Vinyl
Delibes Sylvia New Phiharmonia Richard Bonynge London Vinyl
Shelby Lynne - Just A Little Lovin' Redbook CD

When I listen to music, I like to feel like the music draws me in. I've listened to systems that sound very accurate, but are at the same time are very uninvolving to me.

I do like to listen to music closer than what is suggested by Merlin. I am more of a nearfield listener. When comparing the TSMs to the Quads or the VSM's, I did listen to these speakers much further away as their presentaion seems to warrant this. Even though I like to listen close, I can appreciate what these 2 speakers sound like when listening from about 10 feet away from the speaker. It is a larger sound.

I have had the TSM's for about 2 months and they are replacing my older B&W Matrix 805. I have always liked the sound of a small monitor and the fact that they add the flexibility of either using the subwoofer or not using the subwoofer.

The strengths of this monitor is that it is very dynamic, coherent, instruments sound like real instruments, very detailed and most importantly, involving.

While listening to side one of Chuck Mangione's Children Of Sanchez, the presentation through the Quad 2905 was very accurate through the midrange, the snare drum on the beginning of Children of Sanchez was solid. The brass jumped out at you and they in fact can play much louder than previous Quads. I can understand why people find the Quads irresistable. The snare drum and drum kit was very convincing through the Quads but to my ears, where they really fall short in comparison to the TSM is in the higher frequencies and well everything. There is just something missing with the Quads. It is really amazing how the TSM resemble many of the Quads virtues while still having superior dynamics. and accuracy of musical presentation. While listening to both speakers, I listened to them with a subwoofer and the subwoofer was rolled off at approximately the same frequency range. It seems that these two speakers are very similar with what they do. Another strength of the Merlin was the ability to play all kinds of music and still sound great. While listening to Kate Bush, the Kick Inside, during the track Feel It, the Quads portrayed Kate's voice sounding somewhat sqaushed while the piano sounded very convincing with a very accurate presentation I thought for a moment it could be recording related. When listening to the TSM, Kate's voice sounded very natural as I am used to hearing and the piano sounded just as convincing as through the Quads. This was very impressive. I was listening to these using McIntosh tube gear.

While listening to Alison Krauss and Union Station Live, this recording sounded very alive and the timbral accuracy of the TSM was very evident, I was hearing things clearer with a blacker background, like a veil was lifted and let the live performance shine through. All the musicians instruments were very easy to follow, the banjo sounded like a banjo and the Dobro was just incredible. The Dobro was very accurately portrayed throughout the album like I have never heard a Dobro before.

While listening to Shelby Lynne, Track 1 Just a Little Lovin' the The TSM presented the kick drum with a very organic sound when comparing to the B&W 804S. The B&W's sounded somewhat thin and strained in the higher frequencies and just not as coherent as the TSM. The TSM and Rel Strata are both non ported designs The sub and the TSM seemed to have a very musical synergy, and maybe this is because both are the nonported designs lending to very non boomy, tight, accurate sound in the bass and a clear, round midrange with body.

Where the TSM fell short was while listening to the 1st track Shelby Lynne CD. While comparing them to the much more expensive VSM MXE, there are noticible limitations of the TSM. Shelby's voice while listening to the TSM was not as seemless. It sounded like Shelby was very close to the Microphone during the recording and some distortion was audible. While listening to the VSM, the distortion was nonexistent and the power of her voice was very natural sounding. It allowed me to clearly hear what you get with the VSM.

Also, you may want to use a good subwoofer, depending on your musical taste. A non ported design like the Rel Strata to my ears is a great match. The TSM is not going to shake your room. If that is what you are looking for, the TSM may not be for you.

While listening to orchestral music, the TSM is great and can give you a very pleasurable presentation with or without a subwoofer.
While Listening to Delibes Sylvia on London Records, the Quads again gave a very accurate presentation in the midrange but still sounded somewhat slurred and less dynamic than the TSM. The soundstage was about the same, but to my ears was more involving through the smaller monitor. The Merlin soundstage also is much higher and somewhat deeper, and quieter than the 2905. While listening to the same record, the Usher Audio Tiny Dancer did have a similar timbral presentation and were also more dynamic than the Quads, but seem to need more power than I was using. They also sounded better through the Audio Research 100.2 amplifier than the McIntosh MC275. Due to this, they were out of the running for my system. The TSM-MME does sound great with solid state gear but I seem to want to listen to them more through my MC275.

If money was no object, would I still want these monitors? Honestly, from the speakers I have listened to in this review, I would buy the VSM-MXE. They are also much more expensive than the TSM. From the first moment I heard them they were clearly superior. However, for the asking price, I do think the TSM outperforms the very expensive Quad 2905 due to their incredible dynamics and are very easy to listen to regardless of musical taste, The TSM is more involving to me. They were more musically satisfying than the B&W 804s or the Tiny Dancer. The TSM-MME will give you a very non fatiguing true high end sound and are a great value. You can easily build a great system around these speakers. For many, it could be the last speaker you will own. It is truly a music lover's speaker and you will be able to enjoy all of your music, and not be limited to great or certain types of recordings as some loudspeakers can be more finnicky. A very musically satisfying speaker and that I listen to for long periods. A very well thought out design and superior to every monitor I have heard to this day. They are that good.

I have always loved the way Quad Electrostats play music. With the TSM, The TSM has to my ears, bettered all the great qualities of the Quads and more. I can listen to all my favorite music. I am enjoying my music as never before.

Associated gear
McIntosh C220
McIntosh MC275
McIntosh MC402
Audio Research 100.2
California Audio Labs CL-15
Marantz KI Pearl SACD Player
Rel Strata Subwoofer

Cardas Golden Reference Interconnects
Cardas Golden Presence Speaker Cables
VPI Scout
Benz Micro H2
Audio Power Wedge ultra Isolation Transformer

Similar products
Merlin VSM MXE
Quad 2905
B&W 805S
Usher Audio Tiny Dancer
That was a great review Tz! Amazingly, I use an identical system with the exception of a Mc SACD player in lieu of the Marantz, and I NEED to get the subwoofer. Merlin TSM-mme are most amazing.

I found similar results on my listening, but now need to find the correct sub to integrate into the system. I will look at Rel Strata and I was considering JL. Is the Rel ease to adjust and set up for seamless integration?

Nice review and Best Regards,
The rel is very easy to set up. The JL audio sub is fantastic as well and would probably be great. I have heard it. Very tight bass with JL Audio.
Hi Tz,

I have a pair TSM-MMe and playing with Krell KCT/FPB300cx and Meridian 580.24. Sound is NOT good. I think the Merlin speakers NOT match with Krell products. I will try with Mc-Intosh . BTW, thanks for your great review.
I have heard Krell amplification but not in quite some time.
Hi Tzh21y , what is the Crossover setting you have dialed in on your Strata to integerate with the merlin TSMs ?
Also is it a Strata 3 or a 5 ?

it is a Strata III. Right now, it is dialed in at 43hz.
I just have just got a Rel strata V pair and am struggling to dial in...the crossover seems to sound just right in the 40-45 range. but the positioning is what seems to get tough
Nice review, Tzh21y. I've heard the VSMs (various itterations and mods), and have always been impressed. One of those, "if I win the lottery" loudspeakers for me.

On a separate note, I see you are running a Mc C220 preamp. I have been researching this unit, and was wondering how you liked it. Also, some of the professional reviews of this model noted a bit of emphasis in the upper-mids/lower-treble range. This would be a real problem for me, as I am very sensitive to any emphasis in this range. In your experience, is this assesment accurate? And, one more question: For a variety of reasons, I need a balance control with a large range of adjustment, with the ability to direct, say, 80% of the output to one channel or the other. Would you mind commenting on the range of the balance control?

Thanks in advance!
The C220 is gone. Tubes in the amp and preamp were too much of a good thing for me. I decided to keep the tubes in the amp. I now use a Pass Labs X1 and I love it. Now I am enjoying my Merlins even more!!! I believe that assessment to be true, although you never know in the right system it may be the last preamp you may ever need. It is a great pre for the money, especially if used and you like tubes in the pre. It has a great phono stage as well.
The balance control is excellent
Tzh21y, Just to share with you, while setting the REL in a corner,i found the best integration at 22-23 Hz cutover and volume in the 52 notch (My room is small at 12 x 14, moderately damped.)
as i move above i see the midrange getting affected. I find it strange but this correlated with the findings of someone I know who also got it right at this range for a Vandersteen 2CE.
My room is a little bit larger than yours 16X20X8 so that may impact the setting. Much of the time I have it set at the lowest setting about 22 hz. especially if the music is jazz or smaller classical ensembles. When I did this review it was probably at about 26 hz.