In a recent news piece, Home Theater Review publisher Jerry Del Colliano mentioned a trend in the AV industry that would be hard to deny. Through the advance of technology, AV components now offer what would have been best-in-class performance not long ago, for a far more reasonable cost. Loudspeakers are no exception to that trend, thanks to advancements in material sciences, leading to better driver performance, cabinet design, etc. Piggybacking onto that trend is another that is just as undeniable: consumers demand value, not just performance in absolute. Direct-to-consumer brands like SVS and Outlaw Audio have garnered great success with fabulous-sounding products at reasonable prices. Premium AV brands are vigorously defending their turf with value offerings of their own. Consider that a Krell AV preamp can now be had at a previously unheard-of price or that Anthem AV's top-of-the-line receiver can now be had for under $2,000.
In the same breath, brands traditionally not thought of in the specialty AV audio space like Boston Acoustics have been encroaching into higher-end audio territory. With its new M Series speakers, this brand is proving to be a formidable player in the space. The series includes three floor-standing speakers: the M250 ($1,500 per pair), the flagship M350 ($2,500 per pair), and the M340 ($2,000 per pair), which is the subject of this review.
For CD and Blu-ray sources, I used my reference Oppo BDP-105, connected via Blue Jeans balanced XLR interconnects to my Parasound Halo JC2-BP preamp. From there, the signal was fed from my Parasound unit to two Crown XLS-2500 professional amplifiers, also via Blue Jeans balanced XLR cables. Monoprice 10-gauge speaker wire transmitted the amplified signal from the Crowns to the Boston Acoustics M340 speakers. I placed the speakers in roughly the same optimum placement where my reference Salk Signature Soundscape 12 floor-standers normally reside.
The M340 speakers were very easy to handle out of the box, weighing in at 46.3 pounds each. I was able to easily maneuver them into position single-handedly, which is not possible with many of the larger floor-standing speakers today. The ultra-slim profile - less than nine inches wide, not quite 12 inches deep, and a moderately tall 40 inches high - gave them a very unobtrusive footprint in our living room, which unsurprisingly garnered comments from my wife about why my reference speakers had to be so big. The M340 stands on a small pedestal base supported by metal pillars similar to the design on quite a few high-end speakers I've seen. The speakers have a high-gloss piano-black finish, and the cabinet is made of MDF, which is consistent with speakers in this price range. Overall, the construction was sleek and professionally done.
Each M340 includes a one-inch EWB (which stands for extended wide bandwidth) tweeter, responsible for all frequencies from the 3.1-kHz crossover point on up. One 4.5-inch midrange driver covers from 390 Hz to 3.1kHz. And instead of one large woofer to cover the bass, an array of four 4.5-inch woofers handles all the bass frequencies down to a rated bass response of 45 Hz.
Continue on to Page 2 for the Performance, the Competition and Comparison, the Downside, and the Conclusion . . .
I started off with some new school pop-techno. With Random Access Memories by Daft Punk (Columbia), I cranked it up to near club levels. While the manufacturer suggests amplifier power up to 350 watts, my Crown amplifiers are capable of putting out significantly more than that. Even at very high volumes, I was not able to get the M340s to go into clipping. What it did showcase was how well the speaker cabinets were constructed. I heard no cabinet resonances or anything to indicate that the slim-profile cabinets were too small for that amount of sound. All I got was crisp, smooth sound. Electronic sounds are often hard to reproduce; many of the best speakers often add a very artificial character to the techno and highly distorted electric guitar music. But from the M340s I got an edgy, crisp, and natural tone. The sound was open and effortless, conveyed much like the feel of being in a high-end European lounge or club, reminding me of Daft Punk's roots. I never got the feeling that the speakers were stressing out to push that much sound into my rather large listening room - 23.5 feet by 17 feet, with nine-foot ceilings.
On Tron: Legacy (Disney), a movie soundtrack featuring more music by Daft Punk, the M340s showed their limitations in bass extension. Without a subwoofer, the M340s did not quite deliver the very lowest registers on a few tracks with as much oomph as my reference speakers or other, more expensive competitors. But they never sounded overtly lacking - the difference was usually only apparent by direct comparison. This was as expected; the laws of physics usually dictate that bigger base comes from much larger drivers installed in very large cabinets (just look at the best-in-class subwoofers, for example). Bigger bass usually costs more, too.
Switching to vocals, I queued up Fallen (Wind-up/Epic), the debut album from Evanescence. I normally don't do gothic rock, but a fellow audiophile introduced me to the band awhile back. A female lead singer is rare for rock, but I found Amy Lee to be quite a talented vocalist, with a unique style that, in combination with her piano and harp music, makes for a slightly non-standard gothic rock experience. The fact that the Fallen album also achieved 7X platinum status with its 17 million album sales indicates I'm probably not the only one who thinks so. The Boston Acoustics speakers were able to handle Lee's haunting vocals smoothly and cleanly. Piano music sounded rich, and the accurate timbre balance made it a very convincing experience. This quality of midrange performance, especially on piano sounds which are some of the hardest to reproduce, is traditionally not often seen in speakers below two to three times the price of the M340s.
While rock and techno certainly showcased a lot of the speakers' strengths, I wanted to play something with a little more complexity and dynamics. I played through the album Rachmaninoff Plays Rachmaninoff: The 4 Piano Concertos (RCA Victor). The M340s performed brilliantly with handling the complexity of orchestral music. The way they conveyed the sense of scale in a symphony hall was impressive. One thing I noticed was that these speakers tended to lean toward being forgiving. Some of the tracks on this album were quite poorly recorded, due to the recording science technology available in the early twentieth century. The Boston Acoustics seemed to slightly de-emphasize some of the details and focus on the overall presentation, making it quite easy to listen to the album. This is a matter of preference, though; for those who like their speakers to hone in on and magnify every detail, this could be a negative.
As I shifted my listening position around, I noticed that the speakers have another strength: a very wide sweet spot. Many speakers dial in to a tremendously vivid presentation exactly at the sweet spot, but a six-inch shift of the chair in any direction makes for an almost intolerable listening experience. Not the Boston Acoustics M340s. Yes, there was still an optimum listening position, but I was able to move to quite a few other positions around the room and still get a pretty pleasant, well-balanced listening experience all around. For the audiophile with a dedicated listening room and just one chair placed in exactly the right spot, it probably doesn't mean much, but this is no insignificant advantage, especially when we're talking about home theater.
So, on to movies. In The Avengers (Marvel/Disney), as multiple superheroes talked on screen, the dialogue was superb, with voices clearly presented. I never felt that voices were muddled or confused together, even when our various heroes were shouting at each other. Imaging was surprisingly accurate as the position of the voices and sounds within the soundstage pretty closely approximated where you could infer them to be from what was happening on screen. Action sequences were engaging, with vivid, impactful effects. Of course, without a subwoofer, scenes with explosions, earthquake rumbles, etc. - such as some of the end sequences in the Battle of New York - were missing floor-shaking, wall-vibrating impact.
If you demand a true full-range music-listening experience from your floor-standing speakers alone and do not want to pair them with a competent subwoofer, the M340 speakers will lack a little bass response/extension. A bigger, probably more expensive speaker choice will get you more bass. Some speakers exhibit an even smoother high end, like my reference speakers with their RAAL ribbon tweeters or some of the Revel and Focal models that include exotic metal construction tweeters. Finally, some of the higher-end reference speakers show a greater degree of control in the attack and decay of sounds, leading to a little bit more realistic sound (more like a live presentation and less like sound coming from a speaker). But none of these are truly faults that I would expect $2,000 per pair speakers to overcome.
Comparison and Competition
Ten years ago, with this level of performance for $2,000 per pair, the Boston Acoustics M340 speakers would have little competition. But today, this price range has become a fairly crowded space. The sky is the limit on performance if you want to pay more but, for the same price, the SVS Ultra Tower speakers provide good competition and will dig deeper to a stated 28 Hz for lower bass response. MartinLogan's Motion 40 speakers, also selling for the same MSRP, may provide a little smoother high end with their folded motion tweeter. If presentation and size of soundstage are at the top of your criteria, then spending a little more ($2,500 per pair) will get you the Tekton Design Pendragons, but I find the Boston Acoustics to be more detailed and well-rounded in general than the Tektons. Finally, Boston Acoustics' own M350 speakers, a notch higher on their product ladder, will undoubtedly provide significant competition that may convince you to spend an extra $500.
To be honest, at the end of my review time, I was a little disappointed. True, $2,000 is no small sum of money, but in the high-end loudspeaker market, it would still be considered by many to be relatively entry level. The Boston Acoustics M340 speakers offered so much of the performance found in much pricier models from many blue chip audiophile names, they far exceeded my expectations. I was disappointed because I wish I had requested samples of the M350 flagship floor-standers instead. For a 20 percent increase in cost (or $500), the M340's bigger brother offers four larger, 5.25-inch woofers, and I would be really interested to see just how close their top-of-the-line can come to the truly elite among loudspeakers for a still great value price of $2,500 per pair.
But back to the M340: if you are looking for a pair of floor-standing speakers for a stereo listening and/or home theater system, and $2,000 is around your price range, you owe it to yourself to put the Boston Acoustics M340 (and its bigger brother, the M350) on your short list to audition. I think you will find, like I did, it gives up so little from the best of the best that you might decide you have no need to spend more.