M&K Sound S300 Series Bookshelf Speakers Reviewed

M&K Sound S300 Series Bookshelf Speakers Reviewed

When I was asked if I'd be interested in reviewing M&K Sound's new THX Ultra2-certified S300 Series loudspeakers, I jumped at the chance. I was curious about the current status of this well-established, high-quality brand since it went through a...

MK-S300-thumb.jpgWhen I was asked if I’d be interested in reviewing M&K Sound’s new THX Ultra2-certified S300 Series loudspeakers, I jumped at the chance. I was curious about the current status of this well-established, high-quality brand since it went through a change in ownership. The highly respected U.S. company Miller & Kreisel Sound that was founded 40 years ago by audio retailer Jonas Miller and engineering genius Ken Kreisel fell on hard times and was forced to close its doors in early 2007. Soon after, a group of Danish investors swooped in to purchase the company name, logo, intellectual property, and all remaining assets. They moved the manufacture of M&K Sound speakers back to Denmark, home to many well-known speaker brands, including Bang & Olufsen, DALI, and Dynaudio. More recently M&K Sound established a U.S. marketing office in Los Angeles to sell its products.

The S300 Series speakers are the newest reference monitors from M&K Sound, taking over the top spot from the venerable S150, introduced back in 1995. That’s a long run for any loudspeaker. According to the company, the S300 Series doubles the “performance, quality and price” of the brand’s previous top-end series and is the first new model to carry the name Miller & Kreisel since the company changed ownership. While this review focuses on the S300 monitors ($3,500 each) and S300T surrounds ($4,000/pair), these speakers are meant to be paired with a subwoofer. To that end, M&K Sound included a review sample of the flagship X12 subwoofer ($3,200), along with the three S300 monitors and two S300T surround speakers for a complete 5.1 system. The M&K Sound X12 subwoofer will be the subject of a separate upcoming review. Except where noted, my evaluation included the use of the X12 sub along with the S300 Series speakers.

The Hookup
While unboxing the S300 Series speakers and X12 sub, the first thing I noticed was the quality of the packaging. All of the speakers are safely cocooned within draw-stringed cloth bags, then surrounded by thick foam and double-boxed to help prevent any damage in case the delivery guy decides to log-roll them. M&K Sound thoughtfully includes a pair of white cotton gloves to avoid any fingerprints when positioning the speakers. The second thing I noticed was that the S300 monitor was heavier than I expected for a speaker of its size. I found this was due to the presence of multiple driver arrays and a complex “box within a box” cabinet design. The new 40-pound reference monitor features a larger sealed design enclosure (15.5 x 13.4 x 13 inches) than its predecessor, the S150, with 9mm inner MDF panels laminated to 12mm outer panels with a 3mm damping layer of tar to minimize cabinet vibration.

Like the front-baffle layout of the famous S150, each S300 has a triple-tweeter array connected in parallel alongside a dual mid/woofer driver array. According to M&K, with the multiple tweeter array design, “the power load on each tweeter is reduced to one third…resulting in significantly reduced distortion.” In addition, M&K claims the design allows a lower crossover point to be employed for better integration with the mid/woofers and a larger sweet spot. All drivers are made by Scan Speak of Denmark, recognized as the gold standard of transducers by audiophiles and loudspeaker manufacturers alike. Also like the S150, a stereo pair of the new reference S300s creates a mirror image in terms of the driver array, for optimal imaging. However, M&K Sound has advanced the S300 design technology by rear mounting both the tweeters and mid/woofers into separate, specially designed brackets that are then rear mounted to the front baffle, which creates a very clean aesthetic with no visible screws or reflective edges near the drivers. It also mechanically isolates the drivers from the cabinet. According to M&K, this design eliminates a major source of coloration found in more conventional loudspeaker designs. The speaker baffle is covered by a black cloth grill held in place by rare-earth magnets, and all cabinet edges are rounded, resulting in a more polished look.

I was anxious to get the system set up. My dedicated media room is on the second floor, though, and moving the complete 5.1 M&K system, with the 80-pound X12 subwoofer and very heavy speaker stands, up the stairs made for quite a workout. First I disconnected and removed my reference Aerial Acoustics speakers and JL Audio subs to make room for the M&K system. I positioned the left and right speakers and accompanying stands in the same positions my reference floorstander speakers had occupied. I placed the S300 center channel, which is identical to the right front speaker in its driver orientation, on the Sound Anchor stand I use for my reference Aerial Acoustics center-channel speaker. Using three identical speakers for the front channels makes a lot of sense, as it ensures a totally seamless wall of sound. Once the front three speakers were in place, I easily reconnected my reference WireWorld speaker cables to the single set of high-end binding posts on the L/C/R channels.

MK-S300T.jpgThe S300T tripole speakers come with heavy-gauge integrated metal brackets intended for on-wall mounting either to the side or behind the listening position, or both in the case of a 7.1-channel installation. Instead of drilling holes for a temporary installation, I decided to place the S300T surrounds on tall stands close to the rear wall to simulate M&K Sound’s wall-mount approach while still being able to position them for optimal surround service. The front baffle of the S300T surround speaker sports the same tweeter and mid/woofer array as the S300. Using the same drivers provides a more seamless integration of sound between the surround speakers and the front monitors. Each of the two angled sides of the S300T tripole speaker has two four-inch drivers, resulting in better dispersion of surround effects. I ran Transparent Audio cables along the walls between my amplifier and the single set of binding posts on the S300T surrounds, which are identical to those used on the S300 monitors.

Finally, I positioned the X12 sub where the JL Audio sub had been and connected it using the same WireWorld balanced interconnect I use with my reference system. Once everything was positioned and connected, I adjusted the subwoofer to the THX reference settings according to the X12 owner’s manual (I’ll provide more details about these settings in the upcoming X12 sub review). I then played three songs of 5.1-channel music to get a baseline of the sound before applying any room-correction processing. Next I ran the Audyssey MultEQ XT32 room correction software on my Marantz AV8801 preamp/processor to calibrate the new speaker system for my room. I then listened to the same music selections again and found that I preferred the sound with the room correction applied, as I felt it provided a much better balance of sound between the monitors and sub. I’ve found from past experience that my preference for listening with room correction applied or not is entirely dependent on the particular speakers in use.

Click over to Page Two for Performance, The Downside, Comparison & Competition, and Conclusion…

MK-S300-back.jpgPerformance
I was informed by M&K Sound that the S300 Series review samples were already broken in and ready for use. Regardless, I watched a couple of movies and listened to some music to help dial-in speaker positioning before going about any critical listening for this review. Once everything was in order, I decided that I would start with some movie clips. The first clip I chose was the opening scene of Casino Royale on Blu-ray, my favorite James Bond movie. In this scene, Bond is in Madagascar chasing after the character Mollaka, a globe-trotting bombmaker-for-hire. When the first explosion occurred, I literally felt the blast hit me in the chest. That got my attention. When the bullets started flying, the S300T tripoles really came to life, sending bullets whizzing just over my head from behind. Now I felt like I was in the middle of the gun battle, sitting just a little lower in my seat. The overall balance of the S300 monitors, S300T surrounds, and X12 sub had me glued to my seat – so much so that I ended up watching the entire movie. At this rate, the review was going to take some serious time, but I wasn’t complaining.

Next I moved on to the Mini car-chase scene in The Bourne Identity on Blu-ray, one of my favorite chase scenes. The M&K speakers made the chase such a thrill ride, bringing realism to every screech of the tires, every forced shift of the gears, every power slide, and every collision. These speakers just have a captivating way of reproducing every sound effect with lifelike accuracy, and that proved to be the case with every movie I watched.

To find out if M&K Sound’s claim that the S300 Series were equally great with music, I selected some two-channel tracks. I listened to “Stay With Me” from Sam Smith’s debut album In the Lonely Hour (Capitol). I listened first with the sub off and then with it turned on. With the sub off, the sound was just a tad thin. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t bad, but I’ve heard this track sound better with my reference system. With the sub added to the mix, there was a bit more bass foundation present, leading to a fuller, richer sound overall. Sam’s remarkable voice is a perfect match for this torch song. With the sub engaged, the bass drumbeat at the beginning of the song carried a bit more weight.

When I moved to multichannel music, I decided to start with the wonderfully recorded Blu-ray disc titled A Hymn to the Virgin (2L) recorded in 5.0 channels. This disc contains music sung by the Norwegian chamber choir Schola Cantorum presented in several audio formats. The disc menu is set up to enable easy switching between formats for comparison purposes. There is one video on the disc of the choir singing “Ave Maria” by Anton Bruckner in the Gamle Aker Church in Oslo. Watching the video while listening in the DTS-HD Master Audio 24/192 format, I was awestruck by how well the speakers re-created the choir’s voices and the large acoustic space of the church that was visible on the screen before me. As their voices increased in volume, it felt almost as if the sound was washing over me like a warm, gentle wave. The S300 monitors convey voices so realistically, and the 5.0 mix placed me in right the first row, dead center. I could swear I was actually sitting in the church. The S300T tripole surrounds definitely contributed to the overall experience by reinforcing the reverberation of the acoustic space from the back of my room.

To evaluate the S300’s ability to create an accurate soundstage with both instruments and voices, I listened to “They Can’t Take That Away From Me” on Diana Krall’s Love Scenes disc in the SACD 5.1 format. I’m very familiar with this recording and have found it to be a good test of a speaker’s ability to create a realistic soundstage. My reference speakers do a superb job of locking the performers into precise positions not only across the soundstage, but also within its depth. Less-capable speakers tend to smear the performers’ locations and slightly compress the soundstage width. With the S300 Series monitors, the performers were absolutely in their correct positions within the soundstage.

When I felt in the mood for some classic rock, I turned to the Eagles’ Farewell I Tour on Blu-ray. This concert, recorded in Melbourne, was so much fun when listening through the M&K Sound speakers. The Eagles are my all-time favorite rock band. The X12 sub re-created just the right punch from Don Henley’s kick drum, and the S300 Series speakers re-created the voices, guitars, and horn instruments with a lifelike accuracy and balance that made you feel much closer to the actual performance. I found myself turning up the volume as I continued to listen.

Overall, the M&K speakers made every Blu-ray concert I listened to such a blast. They always provided a balanced, lifelike, “you are there” sound experience. When a speaker can grab your attention in that way, you know you’re on to something special.

The Downside
There’s very little not to like about the M&K Sound S300 Series monitors. They do have a limited low-end frequency response (60 Hz to 25 KHz), meaning they really need to be paired with a high-quality subwoofer that can provide the lower octaves if you’re going to hear everything in your recordings. You’ll also need to purchase three sturdy speaker stands for the rather heavy front monitors, which of course will add to the total cost of ownership. These speakers are a bit too deep in size to consider placing on most ordinary shelves.

My last quibble is that the S300 speakers are only available in a black satin finish with white satin as a second option for the S300T tripole. While these choices make sense for a dark theater space, the speakers also perform very well with music. I don’t know about you, but I tend to mainly listen to music with the lights on, and I do so in the same media room. At this price point, I’d expect to see some eye-catching wood veneer finish options also offered.

Comparison & Competition
In comparison with my reference Aerial Acoustics speaker system, I preferred the performance of the M&K Sound S300T tripole surrounds to my Aerial Acoustics 5B bookshelf surrounds. The S300T had a more dispersive and enveloping sound than that of my reference. I became aware of more rear-channel sounds in movies and music through the S300Ts. As far as the S300 front monitors are concerned, it’s really not fair to compare a monitor with a floorstander. It’s just a case of apples versus oranges. If I were in the market for a home theater monitor system, I think the M&K Sound S300 Series would be very hard to beat.

At a total system price of $17,700, the S300 Series speakers and X12 subwoofer do find themselves in the company of some highly respected competitors, some of whom offer more conventional bookshelf designs. Those considering the S300 Series should compare other similarly priced bookshelf-based systems by companies such as B&W, Totem Acoustic, Paradigm, and Monitor Audio. Each of these companies offers a complete reference 5.1-channel bookshelf-based solution in the same general price range as the M&K Sound S300 Series, and sticking with the same company and speaker drivers helps to ensure the same sonic signature will be achieved across all channels.

Conclusion
Let’s just cut to the chase. The M&K Sound S300 Series speakers are the best monitor loudspeakers I’ve ever had the pleasure of hearing in my room. I know that, over the last several weeks, I’ve spent a lot more time than usual in the media room just enjoying music, concert videos, and movies. The S300 Series exemplifies what is currently possible from a state-of-the-art home theater surround sound monitor system. The combination of the S300 monitors, the S300T tripole surrounds, and the X12 subwoofer forms a 5.1-channel system that delivers every nuance of music and every explosive movie moment with authority, accuracy, and balance…all while never breaking a sweat. Whether it truly offers twice the performance and quality of its predecessor is up to each potential buyer to decide for themselves. But if you’re looking to assemble a state-of-the-art home theater sound system without the imposition of floorstander speakers and you have the financial means to play in this space, I strongly recommend that the M&K S300 Series speakers be on your short list for audition.

Additional Resources
• Check out M&K Sound’s brand page at HomeTheaterReview.com.
• Visit the company’s website.

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