Mission m71 loudspeaker
Earlier last year, when I was told the 731i had been discontinued, I called Dobbin-Bolgla, Mission's PR firm, in a rage.
"How dare they discontinue my favorite budget speaker?!?"
"Calm down," quoth D-B's Frank Doris. "It's been replaced by a better and less expensive speaker."
"Well, we'll see about that!"
On a Mission to improve speaker design
When the Mission m71s arrived, they didn't resemble the old 731i's at all—the m71 looks decidedly more upscale. The cabinet is larger and deeper, with an attractive trapezoidal grillecloth. And unlike the front-ported 731i, the rear-ported m71 is biwirable.
At $250/pair, the m71 is $50 cheaper than the 731i, the savings achieved by switching manufacturing to Asia while continuing to design in the UK. The m71 features a new tweeter, a 1" Micro-Fiber soft-dome type with ferrofluid cooling and a neodymium magnet. The 5.25" woofer has a cone of bonded woven-glass composite and a 1" voice-coil. The drivers are mounted on a rigid, high-impact baffle of molded ABS, with the woofer mounted above the tweeter. The speaker features silicon steel inductors and polyester capacitors and is shielded for home-theater use.
Mission is serious about speaker stands; their stand for the m71, the Stance ($200/pair), is an attractive, well-made design of cast iron with three cylindrical pillars, the largest of these designed to be filled with sand. For my review, however, I tested the m71s with the similarly constructed Celestion Si stands.
Occasionally I receive correspondence from Stereophile readers, and in the last year I've received quite a bit of e-mail from a reader from the Midwest. Miss Brenda's animated and idiosyncratic prose reminded me of early Corey Greenberg—an image that quickly faded when she e-mailed me a photo of herself. Before the m71 arrived, Miss Brenda already had comments on the speaker: "Okay, yeah, I read about 'em in a few Brit rags. Yeah, they're getting rave reviews, but one thing bothers me about 'em. What's the deal with the end user being able to choose between a ported or sealed-box enclosure? Does I really wish to make that kind of choice? What thinks ye, oh Great Audio Sage?"
Miss Brenda was referring to the foam discs that Mission provides with the m71. Although stands are recommended to extract the best from a speaker such as this, many purchasers will just stick 'em on a bookshelf against a wall. For that case, Mission has provided the plugs to seal the rear port, to prevent booming bass—a clever idea. I found that on stands 4' from the wall, the m71s sounded best (improved dynamics, bass definition, and bloom) without the plugs, so in the box the plugs remained for most of my reviewing. I also spent most of the review period listening with the grilles off, which resulted in slightly (but not significantly) more transparent sound.
Put your Mission where your mouth is
It's been almost two years since I began my quest to seek out affordable high-performance speakers. During that time I've listened to seven different designs, as well as my affordable benchmarks, and have been very pleased; I've not yet found a speaker I've disliked. That said, the performance of the Mission m71 exceeded the performance of all the affordable speakers I've recently reviewed in two critical areas.
First, the m71 exhibited levels of detail resolution, transparency, and low-level dynamic articulation in the timbrally natural midrange beyond anything I've heard thus far from any speaker costing less than $1000/pair. The Mission may be the budget speaker for aficionados of vocal and piano recordings. On "Some People's Lives," from Janis Ian's Breaking Silence LP (Analogue Productions CAPP027), not only were Ian's intimate and expressive vocals intoxicating and the piano natural and rich, but, for the first time on a speaker this inexpensive, I could easily follow the whooshing articulation of Ian's piano damper pedal as it was engaged and released. Similarly, the definition and immediacy of the upper-register male vocal on Genesis' The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway (Atco/Classic SD-2-401) blended convincingly with the fast (but not sharp or harsh), natural attack of the piano accompaniment.
Second, the m71's bass definition, extension, and dynamic bloom exceeded the performance of any other bookshelf speaker I've tested. The transient attack, articulation, and definition of the bass drum on George Crumb's Music for a Summer Evening (Makrokosmos III) (Nonesuch 71311) moved considerable air without a trace of overhang or congested thud, and the Missions' superior rendering of the recorded acoustic space and precise soundstaging resulted in the most dramatic rendering of this benchmark classical work I've heard from such small speakers.
Acoustic jazz also fared well; the string bass on the superb new Quiex pressing of Miles Davis' Kind of Blue (Columbia/Classic CS 8163) was woody and resonant, but without a trace of midbass overhang. I was further surprised by the m71's lower frequency limit, which in my room extended quite naturally into the lower 40Hz region with no sense of strain or coloration.