Mirage M-3si loudspeaker Page 2
On the other hand, well-recorded material assumes a degree of richness, grace, and grandeur which is totally involving and remarkably satisfying. Also, unlike some other large speakers, which often make everything played through them sound grandiose, the M-3sis seemed chameleon-like in their ability to change "colors" according to the demands placed on them by the music. Thus, the impact of such blockbuster symphonic works as Orff's Carmina Burana, as performed by James Levine and the CSO (DG 415 136-2) was not lessened, nor was the intimacy of such solo recitals as Hopkinson Smith's survey of Bach's lute music on Astrée E 7721 violated. In short, the M-3sis were extraordinary (especially so, considering their cost) in their ability to capture the a performance's scale.
Continued listening to the M-3si has convinced me that Mirage's engineers have succeeded in not only extending the speaker's frequency response, but in flattening its curve as well. I found the M-3si's bass response to be potent. It extends deeper (with more control), sounds tighter, and is richer in texture than on the M-3s. Any "woolliness" in the bass, which occasionally characterized the sound of the M-3s, has been dealt a death blow. When I first fed the M-3sis a signal, the quality of the bass was so unlike what I had been accustomed to hearing, I thought I had unthinkingly connected them to one of the solid-state amps I had sitting besides the Manleys. Further listening reassured me I had not made such a mistake; the Manley tube amps were still doing their job (and quite well).
But...THAT BASS! Bass lines now sounded more articulate, making them easier to follow. For example, Charlie Haden's and John Leftwich's tasteful playing on Rickie Lee Jones's Pop Pop (Geffen GEFD-24426) has never sounded so good. Without taking too great a leap of faith, I swore I could "see" the bodies of the instruments, peg-to-floor, hands poised over the fingerboards, just in front of me. After initial attacks (with the leading edges of the notes faithfully captured) the sound "rolled" off the strings, unfolding and blooming with a naturalness I had not heard on the M-3s. The M-3s caught the notes alright, but they sounded unfocused and a bit confused. It's as if they suddenly bloomed, without unfolding first. In addition, better pitch definition and rendering of timbre allowed me to discern differences in the types of basses played.
On orchestral music, well-recorded, massed string basses assumed a presence which gave the music an unmistakable (and unshakable) foundation. Their exclamations during the first bars of Shostakovitch's Symphony 5, in Bernstein's unrivaled early recording with the New York Philharmonic (Columbia MS 6115), raised me off my seat. This special quality I attribute to the M-3si's ability to render the instruments with a fullness and solidity several notches closer to reality than on the M-3. Electric bass guitar, such as Dean Peer's customized Kubicki, heard on the CD Ucross (Redstone RR91012), was absolutely stunning. The effects Peer draws from his bass are captured with an almost 3-D presence. From the harmonics, which are all over the place in this music, to the sound of the lowest note he manages to coax from the instrument, you don't miss a thing. This recording is a must for anyone shopping for loudspeakers, and should be required listening for anyone interested in the art of modern electric bass playing (footnote 5).
The speakers are lightning-fast. A good test of this, in addition to the Dean Peer CD mentioned above, is "Computerliebe," from Kraftwerk's recent double LP The Mix (Electrola/Kling Klang 1C 164-7 96650 1). It's representative of the snap, crackle, and pop sonic salad tossed by these two German synth wizards. There's not a "natural" sound to be heard here. Nor, in the traditional sense, do you get a soundstage. What you do hear, on a fast system, is a barrage of electronically generated "notes" with no leading or trailing edges, starting and stopping so suddenly you'll miss 'em if you blink. Those notes are arranged kaleidoscopically into dance tunes for androids, emanating from within (and occasionally from without) an artificially created "ambience" which has all the spatial qualities of the real thing. The music is silly. I love it. Heard through the M-3sis, which had no trouble keeping up with this music, I was dropped into a maelstrom of sound which left me grinning as my aural sense spun. The solo halfway through "Taschenrechner," also from Kraftwerk's The Mix, sounded as if the machines had taken over and were oiling themselves liberally with Jack Daniels instead of WD-40.
I don't know whether or not the speaker's speed was a contributing factor, but I got the distinct impression that articulation was improved, especially on vocals. A CD I often use to evaluate this important performance parameter is Tanita Tikaram's The Sweet Keeper (Reprise 26091-2). Her terse lyrics are often delivered obliquely, making their intelligibility a guessing game on some systems. With the M-3sis, I could understand every word, no matter how abstruse the message. I was similarly elated when I slipped Tom Waits's import-only CD, The Asylum Years (Asylum 960 494-2), into the Meridian. For the first time, his unmistakable, gravelly voice leaped from the speakers with a clarity which made the poignancy of his lyrics all the more affecting.
The midrange was superb. The cellos on "Prelude & Yodel" from the Penguin Cafe Orchestra's 1984 LP Broadcasting From Home (Editions EG EGED 38) never sounded richer. I've listened to this cut on every system I've put together. Until now, though, it had never brought such an unmistakable "shock of recognition" to my ears. Music lovers will know what I mean here if they reflect upon those times when tingly feelings spread through the body while listening to music reproduced so naturally and lifelike that the entire body and soul reacts to its effects. It's rare and unforgettable. And, since the essence of most music occurs within this spectral "window," it is sine qua non that a loudspeaker, if it has any pretensions of honesty, capture this vital range in a convincing manner. The M-3sis succeeded admirably in this regard. Timbral accuracy accompanied this performance. For example, the unique timbre of the English Horn (which always reminds me of an oboe in need of Dristan) was faithfully captured when it introduced the theme in the languid Adagio of Rodrigo's Concierto de Aranjuez (Eduardo Fernandez, Miguel Gomez Martinez, English Chamber Orchestra, London 417 199-2).
The highs were silky-smooth and extended. For example, in the Alegro gentile of the Rodrigo Concierto, I noticed a sheen—indeed, a sparkle—to the sound of the violins which had escaped me on the M-3s. Also, throughout the piece, I was aware of more character in the sound of Fernandez's guitar. It sounded more "Spanish" to me than before. There was more sense of "light" to the sound—a radiance such as one might expect to see in the sky over Sequento, the composer's birthplace. In the Kraftwerk album, the highs seemed to explode out of nowhere, like fireworks seen in the distance on the 4th of July.
I also sensed I was hearing a speaker with well-chosen and -executed crossovers. I found it difficult, even during directed listening, to hear a lack of coherency in transitions between drivers.
Flaws? As with any speaker, there were some; but to me, they were benign. For instance, on certain recordings I heard an occasional "dead" note in the upper bass. Whether or not this anomaly was due to the recording, the speakers, or a node in my room, I don't know. Since it happened so infrequently, I tend to dismiss it as a program-related artifact. Perhaps Tom Norton's measurements will shed light on this observation. Also, even though the M-3sis offer exceptional transparency for a speaker laden with multiple conventional drivers, I don't believe the degree of transparency they offer approaches that of the best ESLs or ribbon speakers I've heard. They do come awfully close, however.
I had just hit the F10 key on my PC for the umpteenth time, when a knock on the door signaled a UPS delivery. The large, square box the courier handed me was from TARA Labs and contained their new Rectangular Solid-Core speaker cable. After wrestling with it for a few minutes, I got it connected and sat back to give a listen. It didn't take long for me to realize that the boys up in Ashland were on to something here. There was an ease to the sound which was immediately apparent. The already great-sounding bass got better, the midrange became the aural equivalent of chocolate truffles, and the treble sparkled even more brightly than before. I was elated, for I felt I'd found the "just right" speaker cable for my needs (footnote 6).
The Mirage M-3si is more than a refined M-3 (footnote 7). It is an unqualified success, a speaker which, in the right system, can re-create a musical experience with all the richness, finesse, power, and majesty one would expect from a full-range loudspeaker. It is easy to drive and is not too persnickety when it comes to room placement, working equally well in small or large rooms with adequate space (at least 3') between them and adjacent walls. The M-3si can give the music lover "the next best thing to the very best sound reproduction," with money left over for expanding his/her music library.
For a truly luxurious experience, try this: get your local Mirage dealer to hook up a pair of M-3sis in an all-tube analog system. Throw your copy of Joan Armatrading's Show Some Emotion (A&M SP 4663) on the turntable. Cue up "Willow," sit back, relax, and listen. I believe that, perhaps for the first time, you'll understand what all the brouhaha surrounding the High End is all about.
Footnote 5: This CD is available from High House Music, 1407 Bradley Drive, Boulder, CO 80303. [See also Michael Ross's review elsewhere in this issue.—Ed.]—Guy Lemcoe
Footnote 6: I was relaxing with the system listening to an incredible, imported two-CD set of Patsy Cline's earliest recordings (Crazy Dreams: The Four Star Years, Sundown CDSD 3001) when this event occurred. These superb, mostly mono tracks from the '50s capture Patsy with just plain ol' country backing. On the best cuts, her voice was so compelling, I felt like getting up from my seat, walking about 10' forward, and planting a big one on her thick, pliant, lipstick-saturated lips. This reaction to thirtysomething-year-old mono recordings is unusual for me; I can't help but place much of the blame for it at Mirage's doorstep.—Guy Lemcoe
Footnote 7: Unfortunately for M-3 owners, it's neither practical nor economically feasible to upgrade to M-3sis; the changes incorporated into the M-3si would require a complete rebuild.—Guy Lemcoe