When does a loudspeaker stop being a loudspeaker and become a computer speaker? When does a computer speaker stop being a computer speaker and become a loudspeaker? These two questions have been on my mind a lot recently, as I’ve done my evaluation of the new MM-1 loudspeakers from Bowers & Wilkins. While Bowers & Wilkins labels their new MM-1 speakers as “computer speakers,” I’m not entirely sure if that doesn’t sell them short, for I’ve found them to be very capable, albeit powered, near-field monitors that just happen to connect to a computer or portable device.
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Retailing for $499.95 a pair the MM-1s are compact, stylish and built to a standard that is decidedly Bowers & Wilkins. Dressed in black speaker cloth top to bottom and accented with a brushed aluminum top and center band that bares the family name, the MM-1s are the epitome of understated elegance in a sector of the marketplace that seems to favor brash design and bold colors. The MM-1s are a two-way, fully active loudspeaker design complete with Nautilus tube tweeters and a three-inch bass/midrange driver. They feature an internal 18 Watt digital amplifier that consumes 12 Watts of total power when on and less than one Watt of power in standby mode. The MM-1s have a reported frequency response of 38Hz to 22kHz.
The MM-1s can be driven via a USB connection with your computer or laptop as well as via a three and a half millimeter auxiliary input, making them ideal for mating to your iPod, iPhone or iPad. The MM-1s also have a headphone input that automatically mutes the sound coming from the speakers and directs it to your headphones. The right MM-1 speaker houses all of the necessary electronics for both speakers, as well as the pair’s on/off switch and hard volume controls. Speaking of controls, the MM-1 comes standard with a small river rock-like remote that can power on the speakers as well as place them into standby, as well as the ability to control volume, play/pause, track skip and mute.
In terms of sound the MM-1s are supremely capable performers, possessing the essence of the Bowers & Wilkins sound in a more compact and lifestyle-oriented wrapper. The midrange is very musical and decidedly non-digital sounding despite the MM-1’s all-digital build and design. The Nautilus tweeter, even when used in such a compact chassis, possesses great extension and poise when played back at reasonable volumes. As for the bass, the MM-1 performs quite admirably. While other desktop or computer speakers plunge lower with the help of a subwoofer, the MM-1’s bass is far better integrated and musical than the competition – even if it doesn’t go as deep. What is most surprising about the MM-1’s sound isn’t that they sound good; it’s the fact that they image like a pair of stand-mounted monitors. The MM-1s cast a soundstage that is unlike anything I’ve ever heard from a computer-based speaker system before; one that is rife with detail but also one that is very cleanly and clearly defined with a surprising amount of air. During my audition of the MM-1s I tried them out on a variety of systems ranging from my Mac Pro tower in my office to my laptop down in the kitchen. I even went so far as to mate them to my iPad dock for a touch screen music system on the cheap in my guest bedroom. Truth be told, the iPad MM-1 combo proved to be one hell of a small room system that sounded great and was supremely functional. I can think of dozens of applications where the MM-1s would be not only appropriate, but welcomed additions to one’s whole home audio/entertainment system – none of which involve them being directly connected to a computer or laptop.
Hence my confusion over whether or not it’s appropriate to simply call the MM-1s mere computer speakers.
• The MM-1s look every bit a high-end product and perform like one too.
• The MM-1’s sound is smooth, refined and a touch laid back if
played back at reasonable volumes, making them ideal for a wide variety
of music and lower resolution music files.
• The MM-1s image like stand mounted monitor loudspeakers, which is
something few, if any, desktop or computer speakers can claim.
• The MM-1’s bass performance isn’t going to plunge as deep as some,
but the bass that is present is far more composed, taut and musical
than what I was expecting from a computer or desktop speaker.
• While I generally hate remotes, especially ones modeled after nature,
the MM-1’s river rock-shaped remote is actually quite handy and simple
enough to operate from memory in a matter of seconds.
• While the MM-1s sound very good, they can and will distort if pushed to hard, and when they go-they really go.
• At louder volumes the MM-1’s bass does lose a bit of its composure
and begins to give up the ghost, compressing and sounding very digital.
• The top of the right speaker can get very hot to the touch, thanks to its internal amplifiers and power components.
I’m not going to say the $499.95 MM-1s from Bowers & Wilkins are
cheap as far as computer speakers go, because they’re not. However, in
comparison to other computer speakers out there, they are far more
musical and sound more like traditional monitor loudspeakers than
anything you’re going to find today. While Bowers & Wilkins may
brand the MM-1s as desktop or computer speakers, I found them to be far
more versatile than that. Over the course of my evaluation I mated the
MM-1s to my Apple iPad for a Sooloos-like system on the cheap. I mated
them to my bedroom HDTV for a more full-bodied two-channel movie and
music experience. I even mated them to an old AirPort Express Station I
had lying around the house for a wireless, whole home audio solution.
Truth be told, I wish Bowers & Wilkins offered a wall mounting
solution for the MM-1s, for I think it would open them up to a whole
new realm of possibilities beyond simply tethering them to a computer
or laptop. For enthusiasts on the go who listen to music via portable
or computer-based sources, who live in apartments and/or small
bungalows, the MM-1s may be the ideal lifestyle speaker. For the rest
of us just looking to bring some of that Bowers & Wilkins magic to
our home office, office or desktop – look no further than the MM-1s.