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.
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.
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.