Review: Mordaunt Short Performance 6 Speaker
This is the first review I've written of a component for Audiogon, or any other forum for that matter, so some introduction of listening habits, musical tastes and benchmarks against which the MS Performance 6 ($6000) is compared is called for.
I've been involved in the hi-fi hobby for some 30 odd years now, but really started to get serious when I inherited my father's (RIP) beloved Quad ESL 57s back in 1998. Listening to my favoured jazz vocals and classical music on the Quad's irrevocably changed my expectations for what a speaker could and should deliver. Midrange clarity, ultimate transparency and impeccable low listening behaviour became extremely high priorities in my hierarchy of loudspeaker imperatives. For all their strengths, the Quad's inability to do loud, their fussy relationships with amplifiers and their inhibited performance at the frequency extremes lead me on the search for something new that retained as many of the Quad's strengths as possible and overcame the weaknesses.
Other speakers I've owned and/or spent some reasonable listening time with include the Ruark Talisman II, Rogers Studio 1a, PMC OB1, Spendor SP100 and Acoustic Zen Adagio. All of the above provide certain sonic strengths which I appreciate and rate extremely highly. It is true, however, that I have not spent significant time with really high-end speakers and this should be borne in mind to keep the below review in some perspective. I have certainly listened in stores and shows to the speakers considered to be at the pinnacle (Wilsons, B&W, Magnaplanars, Martin Logan, MBL, etc) but don't consider that I have had extensive enough experience with these speakers to provide a comparison fair to both the MS and these high-end benchmarks.
Music listened to focused on some familiar jazz and blues vocals including Dave's True Story (Nature and Dave's True Story), Keb Mo (Peace ... Back By Popular demand and Suitcase) as well as a number of the Naim labels - Antonio Forcione's 'Tears of Joy' and Daniel Mulhern's 'Pigeon Coup' and Naim Sampler Number 2 disc. Chesky's 'Audiophile Voices' and '10th Anniversary Special Edition CD' also got some play time. For a change of pace and some rock, I listened to Pink Floyd's 'Dark Side of the Moon' and The Eagles Live. When I was wasn't looking, my wife ensured the speakers saw some Robbie Williams, Madonna and Shakira time as well as numerous movie soundtracks (Walk the Line, Bridget Jones' Diary, Dreamgirls, etc).
Enter the Hardware
The Mordaunt Short Performance 6s combine a number of extremely innovative approaches to loudspeaker design, from the cabinet design through to the aspirated tweeter. Rather than run through all of these design attributes, I'd recommend having a look at the MS website and the numerous reviews published on these loudspeakers. Preferring to adopt a more superficial approach to the technical and design aspects of the speakers in this review, I will limit my comments on the build and appearance.
At 120cm x 240cm x 370cm (h x w x d), the speaker presents a sleek appearance from front on. From side on, the speaker has a gently sloping front baffle and an extremely contoured rear panel reducing from the 370cm to around 10cm from bottom to top. A long aspirated tweeter spike protudes from the rear of the speaker. The enclosure is made from structural foam which enabled MS to tailor the rigidity of the enclosure from the inside out. Because of the light weight of the construction material, a 10kg metal plate is fixed inside the base of the speaker enclosure, to which the damped 2nd order crossover is attached. This design has resulted in an extremely inert cabinet with the midrange driver and two bass drivers being anchored to the rear spine of the enclosure. Solid binding posts provide triwiring capacity.
One negative comment about the appearance is that the "Mordaunt-Short" logo, neatly located at the front bottom of the speakers is made of stick-on gold lettering. A couple of polishes of the speaker and two of the letters had lost appendages - the "R" had become a "P" and the "N" had become an "I". For this kind of investment, I think this is poor - perhaps the logo would have been better served being of the engraved indent type. A couple of emails to Mordaunt-Short to request some replacement lettering, resulted in no reply. A small thing, but worth noting and perhaps a caution to prospective owners that you need to be gentle with your polishing cloth or you also could own a "MOPDAUIT SHORT"!
To be fair, my descriptive powers have not done this speaker justice - finished in granite gray, with the contrasting aluminium driver complement, the speakers are quite breathtaking. Not quite the talking point that the Quads provided ("What are those things? Radiators?"), but stunning pieces of furniture/art that certainly draw visitors to comment favourably. Please do your self a favour and visit the website for pictures. The fact that my wife fell in love with their look, for me at least, says it all. MS 1 - 0 Quad!
Set Up and Burn In
The Performance 6s were a snap to set up. Biwiring with modest but effective DH Labs T-14 cable, the speakers were spiked and ready for burn in after only minor fuss. Being sited on hardwood floors, the only tricky part to the whole procedure was getting the spikes into the floor protecting cups which involved two people manoeuvering the speakers and a third person lying flat on the ground directing traffic. Positioning the speakers 1 meter from rear and side walls, 4 meters between speakers and 4 meters from listening position with minimal (around 10 degree) toe-in, seemed to provide the best balance of sound top to bottom.
My listening room is our large living/dining room (6mtrs x 12mtrs x3.5mtrs: w x l x h), with a number of floor rugs and wall hangings which adequately tame the liveliness of hard floors and floor to ceiling glass along one length.
Burn in was in my main system of Musical Fidelity A5 CD and A300 amplifier which doubles as our tv, home theatre and music system, so the speakers received a lot of time over a relatively short period. Listening casually, out of the box, these beauties made a few well received promises: they were remarkably transparent, bass was fast (though not noticeably extended) and the highs were airy and open. On the flip side, the speakers seemed quite forward with an 'in yer face' sound, definitely not for the school of warmth and at the expense of detail. Serious listening commenced at about the 100 hour mark, though it is fair to say that I recognised ongoing improvment, particularly to the bass response, up to 200 hours.
Finally .....How do they sound?
Well, the early promises made by the Performance 6s were not only kept but substantially expanded upon after the burn-in activities were completed and serious listening started.
A number of things struck me immediately and continued to stand out throughout my listening which took place over the 12 months I have owned the speakers:
i) Startling transparency - I like a speaker that tells it like it is and this MS pair do just that. You don't get any added euphonics to pretty up the sound or disguise any upstream weaknesses! It has the drawback, however, that certain types of music (less well recorded pop or rock, for example) are not as pleasantly portrayed by these speakers. I'm trying to choose my words carefully - don't get me wrong, the music is accurately portrayed, it's just that occasionally the music seemed easier to listen to in my second system through the warm and transparency-challenged Rogers Studio 1a's.
I said in the opening paragraph that low listening level is also important to me and the transarency of the Performance 6s play no small part in the delivery of outstanding low level listening results.
If you value transparency and musical accuracy, the Performance 6s are quite simply the best I've heard outside of the Quad 57s.
ii) Timbral Accuracy - This is extremely important to me and I'm sure, to all listeners and lovers of music. I've never been a fan of metal drivers in the past and I've considered that it is here with timbral accuracy that they have been let down. So it was with great relief that I discovered that Mordaunt Short have managed to overcome this issue. Everything sounds as it should. If you weren't looking, you'd swear there was no metal in site in the driver complement!
iii) Lightening fast bass response - I enjoy fast and deep bass, that is part of the music and doesn't just feel like an add-on. The Performance 6s don't go as deep as many speakers I've listened to (the PMC OB1s better the Performance 6 in bass depth, though not speed), but the bass is always integrated into the musical whole. Response is fast and underpins a beuifully open midrange without ever over emphasising itself. On movies as well as music, the bass speed of the Performance 6 speakers was a frequent highlight. Reaching down to 35hz, and lower in my large room, I would never even contemplate the addition of a subwoofer.
If what you seek is sub-sonic bass, I recommend looking elsewhere. If you crave bass that feels real, feels part the musical whole and keeps up with anything thrown at it, then keep reading.
iv) Wide, deep and tall soundstage - What I love about live events is the width, depth and height of the soundstage that can be created at the right venue. I won't labour the point - the Performance 6 delivers soundstage expansiveness right out of my room! Comfortably the equal of the Quads and as good as I've heard with any speakers possibly excepting a pair of well set up Martin Logans many years ago.
v) Pin-point imaging - In terms of what is important to me in my listening habits, imaging is less important to me than timbral accuracy and transparency. That said, it is definitely an added bonus to me when a speaker images well and these speakers again are on the money. Images are laid out throughout the soundstage (did I mention this is a huge stage, by the way!) very precisely and it is easy to close your eyes and pick where each instrument is emanating from. The music that really highlighted this for me was Dave's True Story, a three piece band where each player is clearly placed with vocals dead centre.
As I say, it's less important to me, but it certainly helps with that "in the room" feeling we love to hear from our systems.
vi) Flexible listening sweet-spot - Unlike many speakers, the Quad 57s included, the Performance 6 speakers, don't force you to sit in one spot for the ideal sound. The sweet spot seems to be at any position within the width between the two speakers. No loss of soundstage or imaging anywhere in this range. Standing or sitting also doesn't disturb the sound quality. I love this feature as I'm a fidgety type who won't sit still for longer than 10 minutes at a time!
vii) Seamless driver integration - When reviewing these speakers, I found it difficult to separate out the highs from the mids from the lows, to dissect the pieces that make the whole. This, I consider, is an excellent problem to have - it suggests to me that the drivers are integrating seamlessly - that no one part of the sound spectrum is standing out from any other. I'm hearing the musical whole and I'm able to really listen to music without being drawn to a component trait, whether it be a strength or a weakness. Let's face it, if at the end of the day, your system makes you want to just listen to the music, then it's mission accomplished, right!
viii) Forward presentation - Could be the one area that may be considered a weakness. The nature of this speaker is that it is lively - definitely a front feww rows listening experience. Laid-back is not in the vocabulary for the Performance 6. Personally, I found on most music, it was more of a strength than a weakness. Listen to Keb Mo on 'Peace ... Back By Popular Demand' and the vibrancy of the album is enhanced by the presentation approach of the Performance speakers.
But a caution would be that if your system is already quite forward, the Performance 6 could take it over the edge for your listening tastes. Both amplifiers I used over the listening period fared well in this regard (MF A300 and the Cayin H-80A), but you would never hear either of these amps described as forward in presentation either. So take care, and make sure any audition you carry out takes consideration of this fact.
I wanted to have more negatives to build into this review, to provide the type of balance I personally like to see when reading others' reviews. I just couldn't find them!
My search for a speaker system that could emulate the strengths of the Quads and fill in the gaps where the Quads went missing is over. Of all of the speakers listed above, the Performance 6s either match (or nearly match in the case of the PMCs bass extension) or exceed them and as a complete package, none of the others come close. I'm sure that going up the scale to some of the speakers that set the high-end benchmarks would see a different result, but for my reasonably modest system, the Performance 6s are as good as it gets. I'll have mine for a long, long time.
Stunning looks allied to truly transparent and beautifully integrated sound make the Performance 6s a pair of speakers that anyone on the hunt for sub 10k transducers should put at the top of their audition list.
I hope this review may be of some assistance to Audiogoners looking at speakers in this price range and I'm happy to answer any other questions that might be out there. But for now I'm off to a glass of red wine and some relaxation, Keb Mo style!
Musical Fidelity A5 CD Player
Cayin CDT-17A CD Player
Musical Fidelity A300, 150w/ch integrated amplifier
Cayin H-80A, 80w/ch Class A integrated amplifier
Acoustic Zen Adagio
Quad ESL 57