Review: Merlin Music Systems TSM mmi monitors Monitor
This is my first Audiogon review. I have been promising myself to write it for nearly a year but I have putting it off because of a constant flow of upgrades and tweaks. As many of you will be able to relate, this is an ongoing process. Since this upgrading and tweaking process will continue for at least the next few months – if not longer -- I am submitting this review for your reading pleasure today – with the caveat that this is a work in progress.
I should start by saying that Bobby Palkovich who is the designer and maker of Merlin speakers has not only been helpful both before and after purchase, he has always generously taken time to give his advice on various aspects of his Merlins and other audio matters when it was sought. I give Bobby Palkovich the highest possible rating -- among a handful of the best people I have encountered in the field of high end audio. The quality of care he takes in packaging and shipping his speakers is reflected in the care he takes in designing and making them. In my experience, Bobby Palkovich takes a level of care with everything he does that is unexcelled in high end audio.
I have usually had the good sense to follow Bobby’s recommendations. But, on occasion, I have found a way that better suited my system, which Bobby has not had the opportunity to hear. He has always been open to what I have had to say even when it contradicted his preference. He realizes, as we all should, that everything we do is system dependent and that the synergy of each system is unique.
Now, let’s get down to business. My room is about 13 x 14 feet – soon to expand thanks to home renovations. It has an alcove at one end. I feel the Merlins are so good they mitigate and often eliminate room-related anomalies for me.
Marantz PM-15 integrated amplifier (1994 model – 100 volts from Japan).
Berkeley Alpha DAC.
PS Audio PerfectWave transport.
Emm CDSA SE CD player.
Synergistic Research Galileo Universal Speaker Cells.
Synergistic Research PowerCell 10SE (hybrid with the G07 power cord but not the internal upgrade).
REL T3 sub-woofer.
A variety of cabling from Synergistic Research, Kaplan, Gabriel Gold and Supra.
Oyaide plugs and IECs.
Schumann Resonance devices.
All components bottom loaded with sand in Tupperware-style refrigerator boxes.
A variety of Bybee products.
A variety of other brand name tweaks including an Acoustic Revive RD-3 degausser and the Magic Gun tourmaline treatment device.
A variety of lesser known and generic tweaks including crystals, magnets and other sound enhancers.
Synergistic Research ART room treatment in the boxes – waiting to be added to the system once room renovations allow installation.
I am not a bass freak. Although the Merlins usually produce astonishingly beautiful bass -- much deeper than I expected them to produce -- I added the REL T3 sub-woofer to flesh out the bottom 20 Hertz on recordings where this is sonically appealing.
I have a rather unconventional system of wiring. I have PCs, ICs and speaker cables in series. I find that having cables in series improves the synergy of my system when compared with single run cables – if the right configuration can be found. This has been a long process of trial and error. This also goes for the many tweaks in my system – some of which are used in unconventional ways. It would take me a year and a day to go through my whole system in detail. So I will spare everyone the boredom – and reserve further details for those who are sufficiently interested to PM me.
MY MUSICAL TASTES
Rhythm and Blues.
RECORDINGS I USED TO TEST THE MERLINS -- among many others
The most important aspect of sound for me is aliveness -- the sense of the music actually being here in the room with me with a sense that I am just listening to beautiful music -- not hifi coming from speakers. I do not like harshness, bloating or an unbalanced sound that makes vocals or instruments sound out of proportion -- rending the music "unmusical" by calling attention to a single aspect at the expensive of the enjoyment of the piece as a whole. I enjoy "true" tonality and a holographic sound stage with the depth and separation that makes the music sound alive.
I prefer not to say what speakers the Merlins replaced in my system because I do not want to case aspersions on what were a pair of excellent speakers from a major manufacturer in a system that was very different from the system I now have. This would be unfair to the maker of those speakers -- like comparing apples and oranges.
The bottom line is that this is a speaker review of the Merlin TSM mmi monitors – the latest version of the Merlin monitors. They are proving to be not only the best monitors I have ever heard at this price point – by far – but they also easily compete with and beat most of the higher priced monitors -- and floor-standers -- I have ever heard. I realize this is a pretty big statement to make so I will not name names because I don’t want to get into the kind of hornet’s nest – all the inanity and spamming -- that often results from making comparative statements on this and other audio forums.
My job here is to let you know about my experience with the Merlins. By the way, there is nothing wrong with my hearing. I have protected it very carefully for many decades. Where many of my confreres in the audiophile world are now complaining about diminished hearing, my hearing is as acute as it ever was.
My experience with the Merlins is that the better the downstream elements in your system, the better the Merlins sound. This may seem an obvious statement. But I read where people often ascribe defects and short-comings in the sound of their system to their speakers where these faults may really be originating from another area in their system. This is certainly true for the Merlins, in my experience. Before the many upgrades and tweaks to my system, they sounded excellent but I sometimes felt they were lacking in one area or another or excessive in one area or another. But when I made an appropriate change to my system -- voila – the Merlins always came through with flying colors. They have never disappointed. It was never the Merlins that were lacking or excessive – it was always another element in my system, yet to be discovered, that was the cause of the “problem”.
I have found that even a single Oyaide plug can transform the sound of my system. And the sonic results are instantly apparent with the Merlins. They are so refined than any system changes, big or small, will be quickly revealed.
For me, this is what the Merlins do: they seamlessly reproduce all the low level detail, balanced dynamics, subtleties of tone, liquidity, coherence and soundstage dimensions (height, width and depth) that my system is capable of delivering to them. They consistently do a wonderful disappearing act with good recordings and are capable of elevating Redbook CDs to SACD quality. They are by far the most musically involving speakers at this price point -- and at much higher price points -- that I have ever heard.
The Merlins produce their magic in such a refined and musical way as to be totally involving without any harshness or roll-off or bloating or other common defects attributed to other speakers and there is no area where they either over-emphasize or under-emphasize. They deliver a truly balanced sound of the highest order. Of course, this kind of refinement does not apply to Art Tatum or Buddy Rich recordings from the 1940s – but who cares. With the old masters this is irrelevant.
Disclosure. I have no connection to Merlin or to any audio company or product. I am only a customer, like most of those who visit Audiogon. I feel compelled to say that the Merlins represent an incredible bargain in the world of high end audio that is not widely recognized. I often read complaints – many justified, in my opinion – of over-priced components, cables and tweaks. Like many of you, I have sometimes been the “victim” of over-priced products that fell short. To my mind and ears, the Merlins are the most seriously undervalued speaker I have ever heard. In fact, according to my experience, I cannot think of a single case for any component in high end audio where there is better value to be had. The Merlins deliver an astoundingly beautiful sound at a price that is so reasonable – I don’t know how Bobby does it.
As you may have noticed by now, I cannot say enough good things about the Merlins. I have not been able to find a single weakness with them no matter how hard I try. If money were no object ... that's a totally theoretical matter that has no real-life relevance. Most of us are not in a "money-no-object" situation. This a moot point.
I encourage everyone looking for an exceptional monitor at an incredibly reasonable price to have a seriously look at the Merlins. I have never heard a single Merlin owner use the words "buyer's regret". Thanks again, Bobby, for your wonderful speakers and for all your help along the way. Sabai.
listed in my review
too many to mention