Mirage M-1si loudspeaker Tom Norton returns
Though Stereophile's samples of the Mirage M-1si have long since gone back to the manufacturer, I recently had the opportunity to hear them in another application in a visit to the facilities of Widescreen Review. Editor Gary Reber had two pairs of them in his main audio/video setup, one pair for the fronts, another for the surrounds. No center-channel loudspeaker was in use when I heard the system, nor were there any subwoofers. The latter was a temporary omission—a new pair of subs from Mirage was expected any day. The surrounds were fairly close to the listening (viewing?) seat, and were set up to fire directly at the listeners, not edge-on as one might expect with a bipolar array.
The picture from the direct-view monitor (a 31" Panasonic GAOO, or GOO...or something), though smaller than many video fans might desire, was outstanding. The monitor was reportedly factory-set for the correct color temperature.
But my main attention was drawn to the sound. It was superb, certainly a match for anything I have ever heard in an audio/video setup—the megabuck Cello system possibly excepted. There was no obvious lack of bass, no glare to speak of, and there was a detailed yet sweet top end largely free of the aggressiveness that one often hears from video sources. Dynamic range and punch were ample, and the sense of space and depth was stunning—Gary argues in his magazine that eliminating the center speaker enhances depth, but the Mirages certainly deserve some credit for this.
The listening area was fairly compact, but with a high, sloped ceiling. The front loudspeakers flanked the monitor, spaced, I estimate, about 7' to 8' apart and aimed straight ahead. The seating area was quite close to the plane formed by the monitor and front Mirages—probably no more than 7' or 8'. While I heard no obvious sign of imaging interference from the presence of the monitor, only experimentation with and without its presence would tell for certain.
The controller-processor used was a new Fosgate Three-A, THX-certified. The Mirages, I should emphasize, are not THX-certified—which should in no way be counted against them. We used both THX and Fosgate's "70mm" mode, along with straight stereo and a discrete but effective "chamber" surround mode for music. (J Gordon Holt has the complete Fosgate THX system in-house, and will be reporting on it in a coming issue).
In brief musical excerpts, I found the system just as impressive sans picture. I had only two quibbles. First, the overall sound level was initially too high: We started it at THX reference level, but at my request backed it off by at least 5dB. I've said it before—THX tries to reproduce the sound level as it existed in the dubbing stage, which in my judgment is far too loud for comfort in home playback. Also, the surrounds were initially set slightly too high in level for my taste.
Overall, however, the Mirages did a superb job in a surround environment. But do you really need the big M-1sis in the surround channels? Gary reported that he originally had M-3sis (no tykes themselves) for surrounds, but the sound improved when the timbre-matched M-1sis were substituted. If funds are a factor, I would not hesitate to consider M-3sis all around instead of M-1sis. The M-3sis make for a very comparable system at substantial savings in cost.
I should also point out that the Mirages in this system were not quite stock. Gary has recently been associated with Monster Cable, and had his M-1sis internally wired with that company's products.
Conventional wisdom calls for direct, front-radiating loudspeakers for a video sound system, but if you have the space (remember, bipole and dipole radiators must be set up somewhat out from the rear wall), other types of loudspeakers can be used effectively. I had actually suspected this for some time. When the original Mirage M-3s came in for review, I broke them in by using them for video sound (simple stereo, without Dolby surround processing), and found them as effective in that application as anything else I had used up to that time.
In any event, my impressions of this system were very positive, and though I only listened to music-only sources briefly, those didn't appear to be compromised. That's not something that can always be said of an audio/video setup.—Thomas J. Norton