As you would expect from a speaker that is essentially a point source due to its coaxial tweeter/midrange, the Spatial M3 Turbo S speakers image as well as any loudspeaker I've ever used. If you like pinpoint imaging, the M3s deliver it in gleeful abundance. Take even the densest, most multi-tracked mix you own, throw it on your turntable or digital player, and you will be amazed and delighted by how easy it is to identify and follow each part because every instrument and vocalist has a particular location, firmly anchored in space. Not only can the M3s produce superb lateral localization, but with the right source material and power amplifier the M3s produce a convincing three-dimensional image. Of the amplifiers I had in house during the review, the Pass Labs X-150.3 had the most depth retention, followed closely by the new Bel Canto M600 mono blocks (which were among the quietest power amplifiers when connected to the M3s.)
I have a very quiet listening room with an average 35 dB of ambient room noise. This means that any extraneous noise coming from the system is noticeable. Because the Spatial M3 Turbos are so efficient, your electronics need to be quiet and noise-free. I found that quite a few of my older power amplifiers were not silent enough to use with the M3s. Both of my original Adcom GFA-535II power amplifiers had some low-level RF issues. For example, I could hear a radio station if I put my ears up close to the M3 drivers. With my Dyna Stereo 70, there was a low-level 120-Hz hum that was just loud enough to be distracting. Even my 17-year-old Pass Labs X-150.3 had a bit more hiss and low-level noise than I would have liked, spurring me to send it back to the company for a refurb. I did find three power amplifiers that were quiet enough to mate nicely with the M3s: the April Music Eximus S1s, the NuPrime ST-10, and the Bel Canto M600s. All three of these amplifiers are high-speed Class D variants with ultra-quiet power supplies and extremely good signal-to-noise specifications. If you, too, have a quiet room, you will also notice the M3s' need for low-noise electronics and front-end devices.
Although my room has gone through rather extensive treatments to reduce early reflections, standing waves, and other bass issues, I still found that the M3s' more directional bass yielded much more accessible bass than I had gotten previously with other loudspeakers. Blending the M3s' bass with the JL Audio Fathom F-112's low bass was easy, and the final results were as seamless as I've heard from a system that utilizes subwoofers. Molly Moore's new Shadow of the Sun EP has plenty of low-frequency EDM synth bass combined with electric bass. Through the M3 system, all of the bass frequencies were fast, tight, and big, yet they were always completely under control.
Because the M3s' drivers are basically modified pro audio components, they were designed to withstand high SPLs levels. And because the M3 Turbo S speakers are so efficient, they can play loudly with very little power. This means that these loudspeakers can, if you wish, deafen you with high SPLs all day, so some care should be used to ensure that you don't unintentionally blast yourself into tinnitus. Unlike most conventional dynamic speakers, which will have some additional distortion at higher SPLs, the M3s will play cleanly to well past any sane person's comfort level.
I'm a big fan of loudspeakers that use something other than a conventional crossover in the 1,000- to 2,000-Hz region, which is what you find on most conventional two-way dynamic loudspeakers. I use the crossover-less Audience 1+1 V2 loudspeakers in my nearfield monitoring system and also spend plenty of time listening to planar design headphones, which also lack a crossover. Although the Spatial M3 loudspeakers do employ a crossover, it's down at 800 Hz, which is below the critical upper midrange region. I found the M3s had a smooth and cohesive midrange character that I usually associate with a transducer system that doesn't have a crossover in the upper midrange region. Although I did not have a low-power, single-ended tube power amplifier to mate with the M3 Turbo S speakers, I suspect the combination would yield a midrange to die for.
I'm not a young buck anymore, and the last time I tested my hearing, anything above 14 kHz was a figment of my imagination. Still, I found the M3s' upper frequencies to be just right using the power amplifiers I had on hand. If there's anything amiss with the M3s' upper frequency presentation, it is well above my own upper frequency limits.
The most problematic aspect of the Spatial M3 Turbo S is matching the loudspeaker to the right amplifier. Because it is 94-dB efficient, the M3 does not need a high-powered amplifier, but it does need a low-noise one. My 17-year-old Pass X-150.3 power amplifier, which mated perfectly with my 90-dB efficient Dunlavy SC-VI loudspeakers, proved to be too noisy to use with the 94-dB efficient M3 loudspeakers, as did my stock Dyna Stereo 70, Adcom GFA-535II and GFA-545. The April Music Eximus S-1 and Bel Canto 600M mono-block amplifiers were both good matches for the M3, as will be any amplifier that has above average signal-to-noise specifications.
Like any high-quality loudspeaker, the Spatial M3 requires a proper setup to approach it full sonic potential. Placing the M3s too close to a front or side wall or placing them in a non-symmetrical room where side walls are quite different in distance or physical makeup will have a negative effect on the speaker's ability to image optimally and generate an evenly distributed frequency response. However, these issues will be less severe with the M3 than any conventional loudspeaker due to the M3's controlled dispersion pattern.
Comparison and Competition
While Emerald Physics offers similar designs, almost all of the Emerald Physics designs are either more expensive (such as the excellent CS 4.3) or have a simpler driver array (such as the EP-X). Also several of the Emerald Physics designs require four channels of amplification, which necessitates the use (and cost) of additional power amplifiers. Most Emerald Physics designs also employ a digital crossover/EQ to smooth out the compression driver's frequency response, which is not needed on the Spatial M3 because it has a custom compression driver instead of the more standard unit that was used with the CS 4.3.
While there are a number of conventional loudspeakers with limited dispersion patterns, only horn-loaded designs can have a fully controlled dispersion pattern like the M3. However, most horn designs (especially older ones) are large arrays that require a good deal of space around them. Some horn loudspeakers are so large that they can only work in a fairly large room, but the M3s can be used in a modestly sized room because of their unique design characteristics.
As everyone knows, it is virtually impossible to come up with something completely new under the sun, but a clever speaker designer can come up with a combination of ideas that have never been used together before. That is exactly what Clayton Shaw has achieved with the Spatial M3 Turbo S. It is a horn-type loudspeaker that employs a compression driver to achieve a controlled dispersion that is an identical 80-degree angle throughout its entire frequency range. Except for the offerings from Emerald Physics, no other loudspeakers can offer similar performance in terms of efficiency and controlled dispersion.
For $2,600 you can find loudspeakers that will play loudly, or loudspeakers that will image well, or loudspeakers with low amounts of midrange coloration, or loudspeakers with good bass extension--but it is rare to find a loudspeaker at this price that does all these things exceptionally well. The Spatial M3 Turbo S achieves exactly that. This "nearly" unique design offers all the advantages of a horn-based design without the problems of placement or excessive sonic personality. In many rooms, especially those with bass issues, the Spatial M3 Turbo Ss can perform at a level that is impossible to achieve from a more conventional design without DSP or room treatments. In conclusion, if you're in the market for new loudspeakers, you owe it to yourself to consider the Spatial M3 Turbo S. It can do it all.
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