Review: Merlin Music Systems TSM-mmi Monitor

Category: Speakers

I wanted to post a few comments on my new speakers, the Merlin TSM-mmi. It is a two-way, monitor, stand mount type of speaker with a 6 1/4” woofer and 1’ silk dome tweeter. It is a sealed acoustic suspension design with a frequency response of 55-20kHz +/-2dB and a nominal impedance of 8 ohms and a minimum of 6.5 ohms. My speakers came with a textured black finish which is very well done and the overall fit and finish is outstanding. The unique Cardas binding post on the back of the speakers are the best I have used and insure a solid connection with your speaker cables.

You might find the system I’m using the Merlins in interesting. I have a very modest system to say the least except for the speakers. The rest of the system consists of an NAD 325BEE 50 watt integrated amp, NAD c542 HDCD cdp with Analysis Plus Solo Crystal Oval interconnects and Oval Nine speakers cable. The room the system is in is approx. 16.5‘x13.5’x8’ with five and seven foot openings to other rooms at either end of the room.

I’ve wanted new speakers for a long time now and have over the years auditioned at length (either at home or dealers) many speakers. After a listening session of the floor standing Merlin VSM I knew that I wanted a set of Merlin speakers. They just sounded so right. It was a bit disconcerting because no other speaker had that effect on me. But that is what is great about this hobby, you know very quickly when you hear something right for you.

So, I had settled on the TSM but was hesitant to take the plunge. First, because of budget (We have the usual bills that everyone has and two girls in private school). And second, because I had such a modest system. Conventional wisdom says you can’t use a high end, highly resolving speaker in such a “inadequate” system. Well, my wife helped me make the move on the Merlins by surprising me for my birthday by ordering them for me. I was completely floored when one afternoon at the front door was my wife and a delivery guy with a box marked by the Merlin logo and indicating it was filled with the TSM-mmi.

I’ve had the speakers now for three months and in a nutshell they are here to say and I couldn’t be happier with them. I’ll try to briefly convey why I enjoy them so much. The first thing I listen for in a speaker is good tone. The TSM has fantastic tone. Everything from piano to upright bass, from violin to screeching electric guitar sounds right. I believe Todd Warnke of Enjoy The Music summed them up perfectly in his excellent review. He talks about the bass and mid range having remarkable tonal density (paraphrase). That is the best way to describe it.

I’m a bit of a bass freak. You may be wondering, “how can this guy be a bass freak and he uses a two-way sealed monitor?”. Well, I want to hear all the bass I can, from the attack to the finish of the note. That is what the TSM does for me. I couldn’t believe how much of the tone of bass instruments I was missing until I got the Merlins. Even pipe organ is a treat to listen to. Of course they don’t move the air like multiple a large driver speakers do. But in my room and for my taste there is plenty of energy from the TSM (the energy coming from these speakers is dumbfounding) and they deliver a good visceral impact considering their size. The work well enough on the low stuff that I even have a REL T1 sub that I don’t use.

The highs of the TSM are splendid. They are the sweetest most resolved I have heard. Speaking of resolution, the TSM is one of the most resolving speakers I have ever heard. I am hearing deep into my music. Depending on the recording the TSM transports my to the event or venue or brings it to my room. I don’t know how they do it. My guess is their tonal density along with their resolving power has a lot to do with it. I also believe they are a very low in distortion. I’ve rarely been able to listen to any speaker above 85dB peaks for extended periods. I startled myself one day when I was listening with a friend and he happened to turn on the spl meter and we were listening at length with peaks nearing 100dB. I’ve had to be careful with my ears on extended listening sessions. The TSM just invites to turn it up and get lost in the music.

The soundstage and imaging of these speakers is world class and I have never experienced a speaker that disappears like these. Every time I listen I just marvel at how there is just music in the room. I cannot localize the music to the speakers. There is just a “sound picture” in front of and around me. It, quite simply, is a blast.

It has been great enjoying these speakers and I look forward to many years of musical pleasure with them. I hope you get a chance to listen to a pair. There are some great professional reviews on these speakers. Those will give you an even better idea than I ever could about how wonderful these speakers are.

Thanks to Bobby and Bill at Merlin for making such a wonderful speaker. Merlin is a great company with outstanding customer support.

Thanks for reading.



Associated gear
Click to view my Virtual System

Similar products
Listened at length to many speakers over the years
Yeah, these are a real find. I own a pair now and am amazed I've been around audiophile equipment for four decades without searching them out. I first auditioned with a Saturn player, Rega Brio integrated and was blown away. That's the magic here, they do not demand very high end. So I determined that my front end would easily be acceptable and it is. Enjoy them as I do.
Does your wife have a sister who is available?
Good for you! Every year at CES I find reason to linger in the Merlin room. It's always a standout for sound.
It's nice that you are happy with your purchase. I can not get my mind around the Merlin value proposition; they seem grossly overpriced, for what they are: $11K for a two way using a dynaudio tweeter and a small woofer/midrange? With a a bass boost in the circuit (BAM) for the floor standers, required because that little woofer requires it to sound adequate. They're like the classic real estate error, one of the most expensive houses on a block with small bungalows, a McMansion in a budget neighborhood.
l, i would like to thank you for your incredible insight. :-)
but there are a few things i would like to mention.
1) the discussion was about the tsm and not the vsm. got an axe to grind?
2) you said a number of things that are full of assumption and incorrect. further investigation would tell you more about that small woofer and how incredible it is. and the same goes for the bam which is much more than an equalizer.
the whole design concept of the vsm is not what you think it is. in this case first hand knowledge would be best. like all of the people above have. imho, no room for speculation when you say these types of things.
3) if you think it is preferable to spend your hard earned money on bigger drivers or more of them, so be it. that is your choice just as it is for those that want to purchase a finnessed speaker for a real world environment and not filling a football field.
4) imho, my products are designed to do everything well and nothing at the expense of another. they are for smaller environments where "some" may want quality over quantity. it appears that these are not for you.
5) perceived value and what they cost me to build are two very different things to consider. the cost of the vsm is very high and my mark up is much less than you think it is. those dynaudio tweeters cost almost $500 a pair to land at my door.
there are always two sides to every story.
best, regards, bobby at merlin
Thanks for the comments gentlemen.

Linkster, sorry, no sister. And I have to say I married way out of my league. She is a wonderful girl.

Bobby, I apologize for verging into a rant. I understand that Merlins are highly highly refined designs, and well regarded by many people. I meant to ask how the floorstanding Merlins can be considered cost-competitive.
l, do you realize that there are other two ways that sell for over $20k and single driver speakers selling for even more. why on earth sigle out the vsm when it sells for less than half. with fifteen years of development in the vsm project, much in the way of proprietary parts, engineering and a list of some of the most expensive parts on the planet, it is not going to be inexpensive. imho it is well worth the money when compared to other products in its class. and never forget, it is an all out effort and is meant to be compared to the pinnacle of performers. all i can say is that, beauty is in the ears of the beholder. if you hear it and appreciate what it can do, it may be worth it to you. if you assume that it is limited because of one thing or another and have not heard it, it may not be. or, you may hear it and still not like it, not everyone has.
one last thing, i am a very good judge of what things cost to build. and i can tell you honestly that imho there are products that sell for a lot more that do not cost as much to build as the vsm system does. it is a handmade heirloom quality piece that has stood the test of time and that is because it is fairly priced in the eyes of many.
but...obviously not everyone, lloyd.
best regards,
bobby at merlin
These speakers have been designed and tweaked to the Max. It is like a Mercedes, the size and shape does not have to change. A well engineered design does not have to. The attention to detail in the design of these speakers is amazing. You can tell when you first listen to them that they were designed by someone with a love for music. That is what it is all about. My hat is off to Bobby for his extraordinary products that have me listening every night.
thanks to you all for the kind words. they mean everthing to me.
and thank you too lloyd.
but before i go i would like you read something that was posted on audio review, yesterday by maursy.

I have owned the VSM-MXE for some time and think I have a pretty good handle on how it sounds at least in my system... ...It is hard for me to put the sound of these speakers into audiophile speak but they are just the most natural sounding speakers since my Quads that I owned for years. The highs go on forever the mids are spot on and the bass is very natural for the jazz that I play.Not cheap but worth every penny as these speakers will stay with me here in OZ for many years to come.

imo i could not put it better myself. just one man's opinion of course...

best regards,
Samac: Listen to a pair of something like The One by Totem and then get back to me. Oh, and you might want to ditch that NAD amplifier.

Lloydc: Don't apologize. You are right on the money. Emotions sometimes obscure reality. No offense, Bobby.
9rw, Been at this audiophile game for seven years now, been there. The One is a fine speaker as well as the Forrest. Still, the TSM won my heart.

Not about to ditch the NAD. The budget stuff is just stupid good. The fact the Merlins sound so good with the NAD is one of the great things about them. Nothing better than having world class speakers in my budget rig.

I listened to some other great speakers. The Dyn C1 ($8k 2-way w/stands) were great but they can't play with 50 watts. The Focal 1007be ($4.5k 2-way), these I liked better than the Dyns but they were not as resolved or fleshed out in the mids as the Merlins.

So, by golly, the Merlins just plain won in every practical way and they stole my heart too.


Scott: Have you actually heard The One? Also, you might want to rethink that NAD CD player. Oh, I've been at this game for 32 years, but it's hard to argue when the heart is making the decisions. Enjoy.
9rw, nope never heard the One. Just read the Garcia review from TAS and many blog posts about it. I've spent considerable time with the Forrest and the Model One and The One is basically a modded version of the Model One. The Model one is a fine speaker so I'm sure The One is very good as well.

Have you actually heard the Merlin TSM-mmi?

For my priorities and budget there is absolutely no reason to ditch the NAD pieces. Robert Harley, Art Dudley and Chip Stearn, to name a few, would tell me to hold on to it too.

Been at it 32 years, eh? That's admirable. Anybody who has taken the hobby seriously for more than a few years will know what to listen for and what they want to hear. And as for someone who has been at it 32 years I'm sure you realize there are many paths (and speakers) to pure musical pleasure.

9rw, I have no dog in this hunt, but I have heard Merlin speakers at several shows and I've spoken with Bobby on one occasion.

Your posting history regarding Merlin indicates a personal mission to dissuade potential customers from buying Merlin speakers. It's a theme repeated by you so often in threads discussing Merlin speakers that it's become a worn path.

Why do this in a thread that's an owner's review and not an inquiry? It's like pissing in the man's drinking water.

Let it go.
Scott: Yes, I have heard the TSM. A friend owns a pair.

Tvad: It's nothing personal. Read the posts again because you seem to have trouble with comprehension. My contention has always been that you can do a lot better for a lot less money, and buying Merlin launches a person on a path that often involves replacing everything in the system. Very expensive. I've had nothing but praise for Palkovic's commitment, customer support and passion.
9rw, you mentioned above that owning merlin speakers launches you on a path of upgrading that is very expensive. yet there are two people in this very string that use them with lesser expensive more middle of the raod interfaces. and i saw that you recommended one of them to change from his nad gear which he is perfectly happy with. i will again mention that the latest versions the mmi in particular, sound much better with ss or tube. and the once critical matching that you experienced over 10 years ago is no longer the case because i have not used se troides as a ref for 12 years. the speaker's sound has changed profoundly.
you mentioned you listened to the tsm at a friends house. what version? there are very, very few pairs of these in the field. a handful only so it is doubtful it was the mmi. one last time, i recommend you listen to the newest versions to have first hand knowledge of what they sound like and do.
would you be open minded?
i wonder?
have a great weekend.
bobby at merlin
With a design tweaked over a long period of time, there is a better chance that it accomplishes its sonic goals well. A listener will either share the same goals or not. That will largely help determine whether the product is for you or not.
06-26-10: 9rw
Read the posts again because you seem to have trouble with comprehension.
I have no trouble with comprehension.

Samac purchased the speakers, and authored a thread commenting on his enjoyment of them in is system. There is no reason for your evangelistic warning in this thread because the purchase decision was already made.

If you want to spread your Merlin gospel, then start a new thread, but your participation in this thread is very bad form and shows poor judgment.
You are correct. The TSMs I heard were more than a few months old, so I am sure there is a newer version out. And there will likely be an even newer model -- the TSM mmii -- by Halloween.
Hello every one, i too havea pair of Merlin Speakers. TSMXe. In a way i feel i need to upgrade everytime Bobby changes his speakers so i can understant what 9rw is saying. I did order the Dueland R/C network upgrade and hope it at least improves upon what i have. I have no intention of upgrading to the MMii. So hope all goes well.
Hello Ryriken,

Congrats, I'd love to have the TSM-mxe and the Dueland rcs (although I can't imagine my system sounding any better than it already does). What finish do you have? Hang in there, you'll get it. One thing I believe is very important for sweet spot listening is being at least 9 feet back from the front plane of the speakers. Hope this helps.


I have mine in Platinum finish, also had the speaker grill holes filled, i don;t use grills anyways. My room is too small to be 9ft away from speakers, They are 6ft. apart and i liten about 7 ft from them.THe room is 12x11. Ant tips? I have room weel dampened with corner tunes Aurolex foam in corners, Micheal Green Side reflecton stands 48inches high for side reflections. I have a sub but not using it lately. VTL pre 5.5 Odyssey Khartargo Mono Blocks, ST 85 tube amp too.
Here are some of the reasons why I ordered a pair of Merlin TSM-XMr's from Bobby at Merlin:

1) Because I wanted a speaker that was superior to the higher end Focals, Magnepan 1.6 QR (which I owned), and yes....the very sweet Totem Ones. I heard the One's with much higher end associated gear VS. the TSM-MM's, and we still knew right away that the Merlin was better. The Ones were mated to Rega Saturn and CJ amp/pre. The Merlin sounded better and imaged the pants off of anything I've heard and that was with a fairly old Creek integrated amp!

2) Because I've rarely heard a speaker as tonally correct as the Merlin. Few speakers can touch the Merlins in that respect, but it's also important to note that few people can hear correct tone anyway. They become adept to hearing cohesive sound, detail and imaging, but few folks can tell when a speaker gets a piano "wrong." And it happens with MOST speakers. There are plenty of very good speakers (like the Ones) which are beautiful, yet tonally inferior to the Merlins. It's great to read Samac's comments reflect this so clearly.

3) The newer versions of the Merlins appear to be happy with a wider range of associated gear. When my Merlins arive I will test them with a Manley Stingray II, Emotiva XPA, Odyssey Stratos/Rogue Metis and a Denon receiver for good measure!

9rw absolutely "sounds" like he has an axe to grind in yet ANOTHER thread. Bobby upgrades his speakers and tweaks them. So what? The "old" versions sound FANTASTIC, so what's the issue? I also don't tantrum over associated gear. I use what I have and expand and experiment when I can. I'm looking forward to Halloween I guess, but I'm not so insecure as to be threatened if he builds a better speaker. I bought them to play music. When the XM-SE-LLAPD is released they'll STILL play music.

Samac, that was a solid review and it reflects in real world terms why the Merlins are so highly regarded. One guy chanting nonsense is not going to effect what essentially amounts to universal accolades for the TSM, but he can have fun trying.

PS: I dig the Ones. It's a solid design and some folks may prefer it over this or that. I find the Merlins to be superior in a very obvious way (for me), but I'm not going to bash Totem because they make a great product which appeals to different tastes.

rob, the truth of the matter is that the tsm has been in production since 1986. in that time there have been 5 versions with the sixth just coming out. this averages 3 years a version. fifteen years of car production, 15 versions.
best, b@merlin

You have a great system and a fine room. When my system is playing and I'm in another room it sounds great and when I go in the system room it sounds great too. When I am in the sweet spot I want to be at least nine feet from the front plane of the speakers (currently I'm at 9 1/2') because that's where they really start coming together for active sweet spot listening. The speakers just disappear and you have nothing but sweet music and how it was recorded. So my suggestion is to find a way to get at least nine feet from the speakers. I believe that would help you a lot. And I don't believe this is something unique to Merlin speakers. For active listening with any speaker you need to set them up so they can let you hear what they can do.

With the Merlins there is always sweet music and set up well they will then give you sweet music and everything else we crave and more in this passion/hobby of ours.

Rob- great post!


Hello Samac, I would like to be 9ft away from plane of speakers, but i would have to put them close to back wall. As of now the Merlins are about 27inches from back wall, so this would not work. How far apart are your? At 7 ft away they sound good to me, if 9ft is the best i quess i'll never know.
ken, you can put them closer to the wall behind them the more damped it is.
if it is draped for example they can go very close to it.
best, b
Bobby i just tape measured the distance from speakers to my litening seat, its 8ft away. The speakers are 6ft apart tweeter to tweeter. Should i move speakers closer or further apart. What would be the difference if i move them more in or out? Thanks for any info. Can't wait for the Dueland upgrade, i know its weeks away for me.
Robbob: I have no ax to grind. I just want people to avoid making the costly mistake that I made going down the Merlin and mandatory associated equipment path.
Ryriken, I have no doubt that you have great sound just as you have them. Enjoy! Please keep us posted when you get the Dueland rcs.

9rw, It is clear you have an axe to grind. My system sounds incredible with a well designed $400 50 watt ss amp. Your comments have been inflammatory, derogatory and rude and completely inappropriate and disrespectful to my review.

I have now had the TSM for nearly four months if they were not exactly what I wanted and expected they would have been sold and this review would never have been written.

I wrote this for people who are looking for speakers and wanted to tell them how thrilled I am with the speakers that I have. Finding the right speaker for me was a long process that took many years of listening and understanding what I wanted and many, many auditions of some very fine equipment. For me The Merlin TSM was the perfect choice.


9rw, 15 posts above in this very string i said the following.
"you mentioned above that owning merlin speakers launches you on a path of upgrading that is very expensive. yet there are two people in this very string that use them with lesser expensive more middle of the road interfaces. and i saw that you recommended one of them to change from his nad gear which he is perfectly happy with. i will again mention that the latest versions the mmi in particular, sound much better with ss or tube. and the once critical matching that you experienced over 10 years ago is no longer the case because i have not used se troides as a ref for 12 years. the speaker's sound has changed profoundly."

you mentioned above that tvad had a problem with comprehension. perhaps it is you that has the poroblem? even with two examples of people in this very string who use middle of the road gear and enjoy the results you continue on. i am truly sorry that you had a bad time of it when you owned the vsm se but the speaker's sound has changed profoundly since you owned them yet you will not give it a rest. they have in fact come into their own in the last few versions. and you have not even heard the speaker that was reviewed here yet you jumped in. no axe to grind? why continue to make yourself look foolish.
best regards,
ken, i think the distance apart is good but i would try them 5.5 feet apart, tweeter to tweeter. your room is narrow too, correct? i also think that an 8 foot listening distance is very good and close to ideal. if you have a hanging rug or the like, put it up on the wall behind the speakers and move them back a little and compare.
if you do not have a wall hanging or something to damp the rear wall with, then leave them where they are.
best, bobby
Samac: You have a very nice mid-fi system. I'm sorry to have intruded on this lovefest. Enjoy.
Hello Bobby,
Yes the room is 13ft long bye 11 or 12 ft. I will try the 5.5 feet between tweeter to tweeter and hear if i like the sound. They already sound good. What would putting them close do for me or the sound, thanks for any info.
Ken from S
ps the speakers are on long wall.......
will make then sound a little fuller and deeper in layering. i think this should be better because you are 8 feet away so it will make the soundscape more symetrical and balanced. perhaps as you have it now a little wider than deep and a touch light. with them closer they will sound fuller and deeper which i would prefer. still using the sub?
Thanks for your response. I will put them at 5.5 ft. Right now i'm not using the sub, to tell the truth i can.t hear it anyway, or maybe thats what it should be. I set at 50hz and low on volume. At least it sounds like it blends in at least. For now i will not use. If the Duelands help i'll probly never use it. Thanks for help. I'll give 5.5 a try.
I just received my new Duelund R/C net works for my TSMXe speakers and would like to comment. First off i asked many Merlin owners if they like the Duelunds. All of them said "it is a no brainer upgrade". So i ordered them from Bobby and after a over 3 month wait, i received them last Saturday. Let me tell you right out of the box i heard a big improvement in my sytem, smoother bigger and just better sounding. I could not believe a simple R/C would make such a better sound. I was skeptical till i put them on. They say they need at least 150 hours of break in, but they sounded good right away. I'm not too good at explaining things but i DID hear an imediate improvemnt. I only have about 24 hours on them and am looking forword to more listening and break in this week end. All i can say these Duelunds are a no brainer.One of the best upgrades i ever heard, i mean really heard, at least in my system.Can't wait to listen this weekend. If i owned some Merlin speakers i'd talk to Bobby......he can explain it better than i.
ken imho, they will sound better than the standard rc right off the get go. in about 25 to 30 hours a lot better again, in 50 about as much better again and at 125 they are fully broken in. this last bit will offer a more mild improvement but it is still there to perceive.
Thanks for your impressions, Ryriken. I look forward to trying the Duelund R/Cs.

I've had my TSMs now for more than four months now and I just love them. They get played nearly every day, wether as background music or for solo listening sessions in the sweet spot. It took a long time but I found the speakers that were made for me.
My TSM-XMr's are about to be shipped!

I will post a comprehensive review after they settle in.


Robbob, your wait is almost over! Have fun and let us know how things are sounding when you get a chance. Cheers, Scott.
Scott...the speakers have been playing for a few hours. But I don't have the Cardas wire until tomorrow and nothing is really tweaked yet, let alone broken in.

Still, right out of the box these are world class. I've been listening to a lot of beautiful monitors in the last few months, from Totem and Proac to ATC.

Early impressions are very favorable. It'll be about a week before I can be more definitive.


yes rob, the jumpers and master rc's did not have one second on them. the speakers about 10 hours.
i would think that with about 25 to 50 hours things will start to sound more like they will end up being.
after 120 hours it will be as far as they can go.
the cryo and lead free solder need time to settle as well as the the drivers.
have fun.
best, b
I own a pair of VSM-MXE and a pair of tsm-mmi and I am very pleased with the the speakers and the company behind them. I use a Ars Sonum Filarmonia with the MXE and a Audiomat Prelude Reference with the MMI and am getting great sound from each system. These speakers will be in my home for many years to come.