MBL 116F RADIALSTRAHLER SPEAKERS
This is a difficult review for me. I normally like to be able to put a hifi component into context, by comparing it with some of its sonic and/or financial peers, and so being able to point out their relative sonic merits, the pros and cons of the performance.
Having heard them over many years at the London hifi shows and always being ‘wowed’ by their magical performance, MBLs have become my ‘dream speakers’. I had no real hope of owning any, as they are priced well beyond my willingness to pay for a mere hifi component, bet hey, we can all dream of attaining that level of sound quality!
My wife Lindsey saw me ogling some pictures on the internet. No, not that – some photos from the MBL room at a hifi show.
“What are they?” She asked.
“My dream speakers”, I said.
“Well, why don’t you buy them then?”
“They cost umpty-ump thousand pounds”, I said, in a sad voice.
“Well, get them anyway”, she said.
So I did.
The problem I have with this review is that these speakers are far and away the best speakers I have had anything like long-term acquaintance with. I cannot find a flaw. That’s not to say that they are perfect, I’m sure they are not, otherwise MBL wouldn’t make any more expensive speakers than these. And MBL make much more expensive speakers than these! But for me, in my room, with the equipment I have used them with, and for my choices in music, I cannot hear any faults.
Funny looking things, aren’t they. Actually, in a Dalek kind of way, they look very impressive. Lindsey likes them, too.
Totally minging if you take off the metal grille, though – luckily (and contrary to some of the reviews of MBL speakers I have seen) they sound fine with the grilles on. In fact, I prefer them that way.
About 4 foot high, with the grilles.
A 4-way 6-driver design; .two 8.5 inch aluminium bass cones, two 5.5 inch lower midrange cones, and one each of those funny Radialstrahler drivers for the upper mids (above about 650Hz) and treble (above 3500Hz).
One bass driver cone and one lower-mid cone on each side of the cabinet.
Those Radialstrahler drivers are what the speaker is all about, really. Carbon fibre ‘petals’ arranged on the outside of a sphere. They flex along with the electrical signal and create a true 360 degree omnidirectional sound source. Each one is a good approximation to a pulsating sphere – a perfect point source. Clever stuff.
They are specced at 4 ohms, but looking at a technical review of a previous version, it only dips to 4 ohms at high freqs and spends most of its time between 6 & 8 ohms.
And it’s 83dB according to the specs. But it’s an omni so you get far more out of it in-room than that. They behave and drive more like a kind load 86-89dB/W speaker.
They are said to need 100 hours to run in, and I can well believe that. On first hearing the bass, the phrase “tight as a duck’s arse” sprang immediately to mind, and no real deep bass either. Whoops – these babes can do with loosening up a bit! But after about 30 hours of use they loosen up and go deeper quite nicely. And while the sound seemed very coherent to start with, that aspect is really starts to come on song after the initial few days.
The resolution of fine detail seems easily on a par with the Martin Logan CLS2z full range stats I had 3 years ago, but they go deeper & better in the bass and the 3D imaging is definitely superior.
3D imaging? Zowee. Simply amazing. The musicians are in front of you. Simple as that.
I’ve driven them with a wide range of amps.
Starting off with a little AVI Lab Series integrated. Don’t laugh! – a very fine amp with oodles of u
ncoloured power and control.
Then came a Graaf 5050 push-pull valve amp with a quartet of Winged-C 6550 power valves. Cor, that was nice, too! Better 3D imaging, and surprisingly even better bass control than the AVi amp – I still can’t quite get my head around that.
Lots of other contenders have come and gone … including …
… a CD Developments Romulus valve amp – 35wpc of midrange beauty!
… a Perreaux 2150b – perfect for technodance, the sheer bass slam was amazing to hear, and the volume levels had me a-feared for my hearing. Just astonishing. But … bright and forward and, to be honest, quite nasty on more gentle material.
… an Amptastic Mini-T 8wpc TA2020 chip t-amp. Yes, really. I came in for a bit of flak about that on the forums, but it worked for me! No, you couldn’t flex the walls, but I really enjoyed the openness, transparency and detail on small-medium scale music.
… a Lyngdorf SDAi2175 class-D integrated at 220wpc. I’ve had one of these before with other speakers and loved it. But it really didn’t work well with the MBLs, being much too laidback (for me) and not really being in control.
… a Chapter Audio Two power amp. Wonderful in so many ways, but an excessively creamy midrange just smoothed things over too much for me. What a shame.
… others probably as well
… but I have finally (?) settled on a Parasound Halo A21 power amp. 250Wpc of sheer musical beauty. I’m finding it hard to imagine a better match for the speakers. I’ve had this 7 months now, and I am still ecstatic with it!
I’ve played around a bit with grille on / grille off. The Stereophile review of the version 2 or 3 back from mine of a similar model reckoned you had to take it off to listen …. Meh …. there is a bit of treble reduction with the grilles on, but I suspect that they have been voiced tonally with the grilles on so they sound a bit bright with them off – maybe that’s what some folks prefer? They are also said to sound a bit “hashy” with them on. ….. mmm, yup, there is some truth in that. But … tilt the speakers just a little forward and , hey presto, no hash. That really does work!
I had the speakers on 30 day trial, so I was desperately trying to hear any faults with them. Nope, no can do.
Acoustic Room Treatment
In a word (well, OK, three) – don’t bother (much).
Prior to the arrival of the MBLs I had a pair of Infinity RS2.5 ribbon hybrid speakers (very nice, see Hifi Pig review) and they really benefited from a GIK Acoustics 242 panel on the wall behind each speaker, and one behind the listening seat. Well, absorbing panels behind the MBLs were a sonic disaster – it turned them into forward firing speakers and the wonderfully spacious yet focussed imaging just collapsed. Not good. Don’t bother! I kept the one behind the listening seat, though, that was all good.
I then tried mounting the now-freed-up back wall panels at the rear corners of the room (same wall as the speakers) … ooo, no! … suddenly the treble openness and sparkle disappears. Not good, either.
So, how do they sound?
Remarkably, incredibly transparent.
Focussed – forget omni-directional vagueness, it simply is not on the menu.
Bass power, control & slam – when appropriately powered – check.
Unlimited treble extension and openness, but no harshness.
Just so, so natural.
MBL 116F Elegance Radialstrahler Full Range Pulsar Loudspeaker
System : 4 Way
Frequency Range : 32Hz to 33,000 Hz
Impedance : 4 Ohms
SPL 2.83v : 83dB / W / m
Linear Max : 106dB
Crossover Frequencies : 170 / 650 / 3500 Hz – Linkwitz-Riley – 4th Order
Acoustic Centre : 107 cm
Weight : 45kg
Dimensions : 280 x 430 x 1200 mm (W x D x H)