Mordaunt-Short Performance Home Theater Speaker System Reviewed

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Mordaunt-Short-Performance6.gifMordaunt-Shortis a name I have known about for years but rarely got a chance to hear. When I learned I'd be receiving their top of the line Performance home theater speaker system for review, I was excited. Mordaunt-Short has been around since the year I was born, 1967, and the Performance line is their state of the art loudspeaker, designed to be equally at home in a high-end two channel rig or a home theater. My review system consisted of a pair of the full range floor standing Performance 6's ($7,500 per pair), the Performance 5 center channel ($2,500), a pair of Performance 2's that can be either mains or surrounds ($4,500 per pair) and a Performance 9 subwoofer ($4,500), bringing the total system price to $19,000.


The Performance line utilizes cabinets made of a polymer resin performance foam that can be formed into any shape and even allows for the density to be determined within levels of the cabinet, with enhances on the cabinet design making it more firm on the outside with better acoustic dampening on the inside. The adaptable nature of the cabinet material allows them to build speakers with shapes not conventionally producible, allowing optimization of performance with super modern aesthetics. Inside, each set of drivers is completely isolated from the others, and the drivers themselves actually mount to the rear of the cabinet on long internal posts. They found this to be the strongest point of attachment and it also seemed to minimize front baffle distortion.

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All the drivers are also specially made for these speakers, and starting off at the top, all speakers in the Performance line use the same 25 millimeter aluminum dome tweeter utilizing proprietary Aspirated Tweeter Technology (ATT). This system allows for tuned venting from the rear of the driver through an elongated conical taper that protrudes out the back of each speaker. The taper has ports along its length to free up the diagram and enhance the openness of sound with a sort of dipole effect. The tweeter is isolated from the rest of the cabinet to remove any external vibrations from coloring the high frequency output. The tapered conical shaping of the back of the tweeter is continued on in the spikes and binding posts of the speakers, making for a modern, unified look.

The midranges in the 6's and 5's center channel are aluminum doomed drivers with inverted cones, giving them a smooth round shape with a silvery white coating. Neodymium magnets are employed to maximize control while minimizing heat problems. The bass drivers found in the 6's and 2's are also pretty special. To compensate for the larger size of these drivers, MS added extensive bracing and ribbed the outside edge of the cones for her pleasure and more stiffness. The surrounds are shaped to maximize travel while minimizing distortion. With all the same drivers across the board in this speaker package, it's not too surprising they all sport the same 89 dB sensitivity rating and all are rated between four and eight Ohms resistance. Every speaker in the Performance line is magnetically shielded, even the subwoofer.

The Performance 6's are full range floor standing speakers. They are 48 inches tall, slender, at just nine inches wide and 15 inches deep. The cabinet tapers out slightly from top to bottom and does so in a smooth arced fashion. The front is sloped back from top to bottom, but the rear swoops down and back more as you drop further down to add extra cabinet space for the woofers where they need it, and minimizing space around the tweeters where is isn't needed. From top to bottom are the ATT tweeter, a four-inch midrange and dual six and a half inch woofers. The entire body of the speaker is very smooth, sleek and organic in nature. The base is made of heavy case steel. Overall there isn't a flat surface on these speakers other than the bottom. Binding posts are provided in triple, as these speakers can be tri-wired or amped, as well as any combination up to that. They are rated to output from 35 Hz to 30 kHz and weigh in at 66 pounds each. The Performance 6's come in black, granite or silver finish. The front-ported design allows for placement closer to walls, but their 15-inch depth will take some of that edge away.

The center channel is the Performance 5 and again it uses Mordaunt-Short's organic cabinet shaping, while keeping the ATT tweeter extending out the rear of the speaker's upper middle. The middle of the rear is the deepest; the back then sweeps forward as you go further out. From the front it looks like a plain old center channel with a smooth curve from top to bottom of the face. The Performance 5 has two permanently attached rubber feet up front and a single adjustable foot to allow you to angle the speaker up or down to aim at the listening position. The Performance 5 uses dual five-inch anodized aluminum CPC drivers and is rated to output 60 Hz to 30 kHz and weighs 22 pounds, measuring 24 inches wide eight tall and nine deep. The center channel in a granite finish.

The Performance 2 is the smallest stereo offering in the Performance line and continues with the swooping cabinet design, but the 2's are slightly wider in front than the 6's, and due to their much shorter stature the curving back of the bottom rear of the cabinet makes these the coolest looking speakers I have ever had the pleasure of having in my room. The high gloss black finish and smooth organic lines make these look like they should be some high tech artificial pet rather than a speaker. I kept waiting for them to make some bizarre noise to tell me to feed them or let them out, but - fortunately they just played music. The Performance 2's output from 48 Hz to 30 kHz and stand 18 inches tall, nine and a half wide and 14 inches deep and weigh just over 26 pounds each. The Performance 2's come in a granite finish.

The Performance 9 subwoofer rounds out the package. It uses two long throw 10 inch CPC aluminum drivers, each aiming out the side, operating in an opposing configuration with a large front port. The rear is full of connections and settings controls, but Mordaunt-Short only offers single-ended inputs; all the dials and connectors are very high quality. The sub is designed to run in either stereo or mono configuration to allow it to easily integrate into a two-channel rig as well as a home theater. The included set up disc, notch filter and SPL meter allow you to tame your room's bass. The sub is pretty large at 20 inches square but only weighs 88 pounds so I was able to safely unpack and install it by myself. The subwoofer is rated to cover from 14 to 200 Hz thanks to its twin 500-Watt Class D internal amplifiers. Two sets of footers were included: a massive quad of locking metal spikes as well as an equally huge set of rubber footers for those of us with hard wood or tiled floors.

The Hookup
I received my Mordaunt Short Performance system one afternoon and eagerly tore into it. I quickly realized I had received a well-traveled system; my speakers came in different colors, and with varying degrees of wear and tear on them. This would, and should freak out a consumer, but to a reviewer, it means they are already burned in and I just needed to wire everything up and run them for a short time before they were ready to rock. This saves a lot of time in the review process as I tend to burn in speakers 200 plus hours when they are fresh from the box. This time, I put a CD on repeat and let it roll for 100 hours just to be sure that they were broken in. It likely was overkill but when is overkill ever too much? Each speaker came individually packed and the smaller 2's and 5 had additional transport sleeves around the cases to protect them during shipping.

Each speaker was wrapped in protective cloth and plastic wrappers and held in place with high-density foam. The boxes open along the smaller of the long sides, so to unpack the speaker, you remove the packing on top and simply lift them out. All accessories were secured underneath the bottom of the packaging. White cotton gloves are included to help you handle them without adding fingerprints to the shiny finishes. I laid the 6's down to add the spikes. The spikes are large, and easy to adjust and lock into place after establishing position thanks to the thick lock nut on them that made sure even my big fingers could get to it without trouble, but the two in the rear are only three inches apart. I would have preferred there to only be three spikes with a single rear as three points determine a plane, four make for a mess in leveling as one is always off, and given the unique shape of these cabinets they seem perfectly suited for a three point system. I found the same issue with the smaller 2's but as they are intended to be stand-mounted, most people will not be using their spikes anyway.

I wish I could say the same thing about the binding posts, which are as large as the spikes, but in this case the posts, all six of them, are very close together and I doubt you could tri-wire these with spades unless you came at them from the sides. You'd have to use bananas or bare wire as there just isn't enough room to get real spades in there easily. I ran my Transparent Reference XL speaker wires to the top of the three pairs and ran jumpers to the other two. I was forced to come at the posts from the outside which was able to make it work.

For the rest of the hookup I replaced my reference center with the Performance 5 and adjusted the single rear foot to angle it up at my listening position. Dual pairs of binding posts are present on the Performance 5, but both reds are on one side and blacks on the other, so if you want to bi-amp or bi-wire you will need cables that can make the distances as the posts are pretty far apart. I ran my Transparent Reference jumpers, as my speakers came without jumpers and single wired them. I replaced my surrounds with the Performance 2's on Lovan stands, used banana plugs on my surrounds and they worked great on the 2's posts. I positioned the subwoofer where I have found it works best in my room.

The rest of the system consists of a Classe' SSP-800 that runs through an Audio Research Ref 5 stereo preamp. I used a host of sources, from my EMM Labs TSD1/DAC2 for CD, SACD and streaming from my Apple Airport Express, several Blu-ray players including a Sony BDP-S300, Oppo BD-83 SE, and NuForce editions a PS3 and Scientific Atlanta 8300 HD DVR. Power came from my Krell Evo 403 for the front three speakers and a Proceed HPA 2 for the surrounds. Transparent Reference XL interconnects and speaker wire connected all the key elements of the fronts and components.

I said these speakers all offer the same efficiency and in my room that really seemed to be the case. With the distances set, I found all the speakers to be within 1 dB total correction. I next set out to run the room correction for the subwoofer. The directions were pretty simple: play the included disk with all other speakers off, the first track is used to set the reference point on the included dB meter, which was easily done by adjusting the volume of my AV preamp (or your receiver); once you have that in the reference range (a green light) then you go through the next 10 short tracks which output bass tones from 25 to 110 Hz. As each track plays you simply chart the meter reading, find the high point (for me it was in the mid 50 Hz range, an area I have had problems with in my room), set the notch filter to center around this frequency, adjusted the correction volume and width of the filter to get the most flat bass response I could. This is pretty simple, but it can become tedious as it took a lot of trial and error.

Mordaunt Short's instructions say when you're done, to put the test disc into any PC and a program to help with the notch filter will optimize your settings, but I was unable to find this file on any computer (Mac or PC) that I loaded the disc into so I did it manually. After some trial and error I found the best settings I could get for my room and then re-leveled the sub's output and was set to listen. I was able to tame the node I have in my room at ~50 Hz fairly well and got the entire range of the subwoofer tested to within two dB of flat, so pretty good all in all. Once all the positioning and setup was done I ran them for a few days and set out for some serious listening.

Read about the performance of the Mordaunt Short speaker system on Page 2.

HTR Product Rating for Mordaunt-Short Performance Home Theater Speaker System

Criteria Rating

Performance

4.5

Value

4

Overall

4.5

Disagree with our product rating? Email us and tell us why you think this product should receive a higher rating.


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Mordaunt-Short-Performance6.gif

Performance
I purchased James Cameron's "Avatar" (20th Century Fox) on Blu-ray just prior to these speakers' arrival and had the chance to hear it on my reference rig and it is an awesome demo disc. The video is top notch, as is the DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack, so I cued it up to see how the Performance system would handle all the powerful bass and subtle details of the film. In Chapter 5: First Awakening, the bass starts out as a rumble and intensifies as Jake sinks into the link pod for the first time, but as the door closes and the light rises the sound was impressive swinging around the room and shaking the walls. During Jake's run down the camp, the crunching of branches and thud of his steps were well positioned and perfectly controlled. His cheers stayed lively and clear and the background music filled the room.

Moving up to Chapter 17: First Flight, the surround of the music again filled the room, while the depth of the drums and the beating of wings of the Banshees was palpable. The immense use of low frequencies in this film will surely make it a demo hit for years to come and the Mordaunt-Short system did a great job in all areas, from clear dialog to intense explosions and spacious music, all combined seamlessly. After the attack on home tree, the subtle crackling of the fire in the aftermath was lifelike and again the excellent use of background music filled the room with an eerie feel.

I next watched "Night at the Museum 2: Battle of the Smithsonian" (20th Century Fox) on Blu-ray. The DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack gave great space to the presentation, while voices were well placed and clear. The Performance line is slightly forward of neutral with a lively and punchy timber that makes voices stand out just slightly and makes for an enthusiastic presentation of films. The ability to handle the depth of the large drums as they get to Washington while keeping the horns and reeds lively was impressive.

I sat down with my laptop and streamed a bunch of files from my main computer in totally lossless AIFF coding through the EMM Labs DAC to see try a wide variety of music. I spun up Anthrax, I'm the Man (Fontana Island) and the Performance 6's easily handled the variety of music from frank noise to the quiet background of the title track, and even at high volumes continued to output solid, deep bass. The highs did become more apparent at these levels. The ATT tweeter is pretty smooth with just a little sizzle to it but that sizzle can become more apparent at very high volumes. On the cover of Black Sabbath's "Sabbath, Bloody Sabbath", the opening drums were crisp and cymbals lively while the famed guitar riff stayed distinct. The midrange was my favorite part of these speakers as it was very smooth and detailed yet never in your face. The Mordaunt-Short Performance 6's throw a pretty wide soundstage that doesn't jump out at you; instead it brings you into the music. I also found integrating the Performance 9 subwoofer into the two channel mix took the bass to a whole new level and really brought the system to reference level bass reproduction.

I moved to something a little more mellow and spun up B.B. King's Blues Summit (MCA). The opening of the duo with John Lee Hooker, "You Shook Me" did just that, with the opening guitar riff and drums that jumping right into my room. The Performance 6 was able to keep both these blues men's voices clear, smooth and distinct while the separation between the two different guitars and styles was outstanding. The bass lines continued through the song and these speakers never let you forget it. At higher volumes again I found the tweeter to be a bit hot, but this didn't happen until very high levels of around 100 dB's. The duo with Albert Collins, "Call it Stormy Monday" kept me involved with its lush bottom end with the silky smooth midrange. The piano is subtle in most of this song but every note was clearly articulated with good attack.

The Downside
These speakers look very different than many more conventional designs. I personally think they look really cool but aesthetics are subjective and you or yours might find they don't suit your d�cor. In the United States, the importer only brings in granite which looks very good to my eye. Silver and black are special orders if desired.

I like the fact that they can be multi- wired or amplified, but the binding posts are way too big and close together, and really close to the bottom of the speaker as well, so if you plan to exploit this feature you likely need banana plugs to get all the wire to the speaker cleanly. I also wonder why they made the 2's and 6's with four spikes. Three points define a plane and make for easy and stable contact; with the rear spikes so close I would have liked to see only a single rear spike. I guess this is more an issue with the 6's as they are floor-standing speakers, while the 2's are designed to be stand mounted so are less likely to use the spikes at all. Sonically they are a very coherent system with just the slightest edge to the treble that was a little off at high-level music listening but a real pleasure during film and television use.

Conclusion

The Mordaunt Short Performance speaker system is an excellent system offering an open and inviting sound with a smooth midrange, excellent bass extension and amazing detail and separation. The treble is clean and clear. The general tone of this system is very balanced, other than the slight accentuation in the treble at very high volumes; otherwise the system did exceptionally well, even handling torture test bass without getting boomy.

The speakers transition seamlessly and blend in with the subwoofer perfectly. The included room correction CD and decibel meter for the subwoofer can help tame room problems, making it easier to place and sound better no matter where it ends up, and significantly improved my bass performance after setting the notch filter. The Performance 2's and 6's offer excellent separation and detail, and don't throwing music at you, rather draw you into it, making for really enjoyable listening sessions with either of them while the 6's clearly made for a more full range system.

I love the look of these speakers, and the fit and finish of them was top notch. Many things, including the binding posts, are a bit overbuilt making them cramped and difficult to use, especially if you were to tri-wire the Performance 6's. While $19,000 isn't cheap for a 5.1 system, this system really performs at an audiophile level at an obtainable price and offers looks beyond your wildest dreams and performance besting more expensive systems.

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