MBL's Extreme X-Treme

When I walked into the MBL suite in the Venetian, the recording of German pianist Martin Vatter, engineered by MBL's Juergen Reis, was playing on the MBL 101 X-Treme speaker system ($263,000, 3600 lbs, two 6' subwoofer towers operating below 80Hz, two double-101 omnidirectional upper-frequency towers). I was familiar with this superbly clean hi-rez recording, having auditioned it on MBL systems at other shows and also at home. But I had never heard it sound as though there was an actual grand piano in the room, which is what I experienced at this CES. Driven by two pairs of the massive MBL 9011 monoblock amplifiers that Michael Fremer reviewed in March 2012, this extreme system sounded better at this Show than I had heard it at earlier CESes.

There is something I find addictive about the quality of the omnidirectional highs produced by MBL's RadialStrahler drivers, but it seems difficult to match that quality in the bass with the German company's more reasonably priced models. With the X-Treme, the sound was seamless top-to-bottom, even if the lows were a little too high in level for absolute accuracy.

Yes, the price is other-worldy but if I won the PowerBall, this would be my exit-level, "I see God" system!

Lofty's picture

Not that I could afford these speakers, they're a couple of times my yearly salary and they would never get through my humble little apartment front door but why do MBL speakers sound mediocre? Every time I attend a hi-fi show in NYC I check out MBL. Everytime it's not all that good. Maybe it's the small hotel rooms, maybe it's because the volume is incredibly loud. I don't know. They lack transparency and soundstaging. Timbre is not all that hot either. A few minutes later I hear the Harbeth Compact 7 and am transported to the place called musical nirvana. Just asking.

volvic's picture

Hey Lofty, I have heard these at different shows over the years and have been impressed and not so impressed other times.  I think a lot has to do with the room and how loud they are playing so they can drown out the neighbouring competiton.  I think they are outstanding products that need a lot of room and yes they are expensive.  You are also correct Harbeth is one speaker I could live with for a long time and not crave any MBL and they are a lot cheaper.   Cheers


sydsrig's picture

I generally don't post much on audio blogs or websites but I feel compelled to respond to the non flattering posts that have been placed here about MBL. The original post by John Atkinson was basically about how he was blown away by the MBL 101 X-Tremes at the Venetian with what he called the "I see God system" he would get if he won the powerball. All I can say is I couldn't agree more. I was at CES and heard them myself over extended listening sessions during the entire week and I could not believe my ears. This was the single most "I see God System" that I ever heard in my life. There is no other system that I have heard in over 30 years of being in this hobby and 17 years of attending CES, regional shows, and dealer show rooms  that sounds as if the performance is happening right there in the listening room with me more so than with the MBL 101 X-Tremes, period. In fact, the room was generally filled when I was there with people from all four corners of the earth who descended to Las Vegas for CES. The toe tapping, head shaking, and overall looks of disbelief that overcame them when track after track of music kept playing through that system spoke volumes to the place called "musical nirvana" that they were transported to, and in fact is what they pretty much said before "slowly" leaving the room.

With respect to the volume levels that MBL demos are played at, there are a couple of points I would like to make. First, the volume is typically commensurate for they style of music being played. Rock concert recordings, can be played at rock concert levels and orchestral recordings can be played at full orchestral levels. They are not always played at these levels, but they can be.  On the flip side, smaller scale chamber music, jazz ensembles, intimately miked vocals, etc., are played at commensurately lower levels. The bigger point, however, is that when called for, a pair of nicely broken in MBL speakers can be called upon to play at rock concert, dance club, or orchestral levels without any (or at least not audible to my ears) distortion. This means no ear pain, no ringing of the ears, no headaches, in fact no discomfort whatsoever. That's part of the "performing in the room with you" experience that these things do so unbeleivably well. When I speak to people who are in the room with me after this kind of demo, they are dazed and amazed at what they just experienced and equally amazed at the fact that they did not experience any discomfort in the process. That's the point of some of the "louder" demos. It's to show you that you can listen to music at higher levels that other speakers would blow your eardrums out at.

With respect to the less expensive MBL speakers/components, I've spent even more time with them over the years as the X-Tremes are generally reserved for demoing at CES, at least in the United States. What amazes me about each of the speakers in the line is that they all capture the essesence of having the peformers "in the room with you", and that holds true for the entry level small stand mounted model (the 126's) all the way up the line to the ultimate 101  X-Tremes. This has held true for me irrespective of the rooms I've heard them in. They may sound better in one room versus another, but they've always sound pretty darn good at the very least and generally amazing for the most part, but never, ever have they sounded bad.

I am also familiar, and have owned Harbeth speakers in the past, and although they are fine loudspeakers in there own right, I wouldn't even mention them in the same breadth, let alone make an outright comparison with any MBL loudspeaker. In fact, given their vastly different price points (for the most part), it's not even fair to compare the two brands.

Needless to say I have the utmost regard and respect for MBL and believe that they have achieved a true breakthrough in the science of transforming ones listening, music or living room into a concert hall. I for one aspire to be the proud owner of an MBL system one day and marvel in its musical delights!

volvic's picture

 I did not hear these speakers as I was not at the CES and cannot comment on them but have heard the other MBL speakers at other shows and can comment on Lofty's observations.  MBL makes exceptional products - amplifiers, CD players and speakers, have heard the MBL 101's at several shows and found them to be very impressive speakers.  However I have also heard the smaller ones at other hi-fi shows over the years with one particular one  playing a CD I asked to be played and was never blown away, nice but not exceptional.  Maybe it was the room, maybe the speaker was new, maybe it was just me but wasn't blown away.   Your experiences differ from mine with regards to the smaller ones and if you aspire to be a proud owner of a pair of MBL's then all I can say is go for it and enjoy !!!!  However I do love most of the Harbeth line of speakers with one or two exceptions.  

sydsrig's picture

Not sure if you heard the previous generation smaller MBL's versus the current generation products, or what your specific circumstances were. But whatever the case may be, continuing a debate about speakers that are not the subject of this blog does a disservice and detracts from the enthusiastic comments that JA, I and others have about the speakers that are the a subject of this blog, namely the 101-Extremes which we heard at CES.

volvic's picture

"But whatever the case may be, continuing a debate about speakers that are not the subject of this blog does a disservice and detracts from the enthusiastic comments that JA, I and others have about the speakers that are the a subject of this blog, namely the 101-Extremes which we heard at CES."

Yes you said that they are great speakers and kudos to you and JA for listening to them and reporting back to us, but Lofty and I are free to engage in conversation on other MBL products.  I appreciate your enthusiasm.  



KeithyD's picture

I have not heard this system but a few years back an MBL RadialStrahler's system playing Floyds' The Wall.  I have not since heard anything that approached that sound.  Literally there were tears in my eyes a few times!

K.Reid's picture

Having attended CES and whole host of audio shows over the years including AXPONA, NY Shows, etc., I have had the privilege of hearing MBL 101 X-tremes, 101E MkII as well as the rest of MBL's product suite in their Corona and Noble Lines.

I applaud your like of Harbeth...and it is true the company is established and respected including its well received P3ESR and Monitor 40.1. From this point is where we part company. As a company, MBL takes extreme (pardon the pun) pride in its attempts to create a product that faithfully adheres to the artists intent in the recreation of musical expression. To me, and I suspect many others, this means that a system has approach a level of transparency, soundstage reproduction, conveyance of macro and microdynamics, and reproduction of accurate timbre that brings the listener to a place whereby the music as reproduced by the transducer and artist's original performance via in the studio or live begin to overlap...mesh together bringing artist and listener together.  The ability to faithfully convey the emotion and artist's intent is what MBL has always done, currently does and always will relentlessly pursue.

The engineering and thought behind MBL source components and speakers is second-to-none.  With high quality, recorded material and reasonable room acoustics the X-Treme, as the company's flagship, is closest that I have experienced to removing that pane of glass between the listener and artist. It is without doubt, one of the finest speaker systems one can hear...and experience. There's a reason that at every audio show I have attended in which MBL has a suite...people are lined up waiting to listen including pro reviewers. Succintly stated, the sound of the Radialstrahler is intoxicating and it's easy to lose oneself in the music.

Notwithstanding the numerous positive reviews and awards MBL has received, one only simply need listen. I need not deep dive into room acoustics as you are already cognizant of the often horrible room acoustics many companies encounter in hotel rooms at audio shows. What you may not be aware of are the great (in many cases extraordinary) lengths companies go to address problematic hotel room acoustics. I challenge you to ask some of the companies what they do behind the scenes to address these issues. You may be surprised.  

You may fall into what Jonathan Valin in TAS (sorry Stereophile) calls the "as you like it listener". Well, enjoy the music as you like it on your Harbeths if you own a pair of its monitors. As for me, I will seek the live or mastertape performance...preferably as reproduced by an MBL product.