Mirage M-7si loudspeaker Page 2

The listening tests didn't start out on a high note, however. I set the Mirages up pointing straight ahead, with Cardas Hexlink interconnects between the Rowland preamp and Krell power amp, and without any spikes. (I generally hold off on spikes until I'm sure of the proper positioning.) The sound was too heavy and full-bodied through the mid- to upper bass. Midrange coloration was admirably low, but the presentation was just a bit too laid-back and lacking in immediacy. The highs were gorgeous, if just a touch reticent.

Because the room position I chose for the M-7sis was the same as that used successfully with a number of other direct-radiating loudspeakers, I made three setup changes to see if I could avoid a major room rearrangement. First, I swapped the slightly warm-sounding Cardas leads for a cooler-sounding pair of Monster M1500s. Good things happened immediately to the mid- and upper bass, without sacrificing the Mirages' great top end. Next, I toed the speakers in to point at the listening position. More smiles—both the sound and the soundstage further tightened up, and midrange clarity improved.

Finally, I added spikes. Voilà! Now things were cooking—so well, in fact, that I abandoned any urge to tinker with positioning. There was just too much going right to risk losing it.

A single problem remained: that clear-cut, pervasive emphasis through the mid- and upper bass would not disappear. It was most noticeable—and distracting—on full-bodied pop mixes, and occasionally on male vocals. The M-7si never sounded unacceptably fat, but its bass did lack a noticeable degree of snap and detail. It was easy to get used to, and less bothersome on classical material, but those for whom tight bass is an absolute priority need to audition the M-7si carefully to ensure that they can live with its warmish tonal balance. I had observed the same balance in the audio/video setup, in a completely different room.

But the M-7sis were so good in so many other respects that they pose a formidable challenge to some of the less secure denizens of Stereophile's Class B loudspeaker designation. The top end was competitive with anything I've heard in my current listening room. I was blown away by the speaker's treble quality on the Holly Cole Trio's Don't Smoke in Bed (Manhattan B21Z-81198)—the sibilance in Cole's delivery was far less prominent than I've noted before. But this was not purchased at the cost of a rolled-off top. Instead, the top end remained a balanced yet important part of the overall musical fabric, without jumping out at me in any "hi-fi" manner. The M-7si is not "ruthlessly revealing," but it is naturally detailed. It won't exaggerate program or system flaws, but neither will it gloss over them.

The sense of space rendered by the M-7sis was convincingly right. Whether due to the bipolar contribution of the MSE driver or to those sweet, open highs, the Mirages delivered a superior soundstage—both in width and in depth. Not the most focused I've heard recently (an honor which must go to the Dunlavy SC-IVs reviewed by RD in April '94), but excellent nonetheless. Details within a complex mix were clearly rendered. Individual voices in a chorus were evident without jumping out unnaturally. The ultimate transparency of the M-7sis was slightly limited by their inherently warm sound, which closed-down the lower midrange just a bit, especially on complex material. Nevertheless, for what's essentially a small, two-way loudspeaker, sonic congestion of all types was surprisingly low—even at unusually high listening levels.

Loudspeakers which radiate in multiple directions often excel in subjective depth and spaciousness, but can sometimes produce undesirable side effects; I heard none from the M-7sis' MSE drivers. I had the loudspeakers set up well out from the rear walls in my listening room (Mirage recommends a minimum of 3' here, though I previously had to make do with somewhat less in my audio/video setup), and heard no sonic confusion from the MSE's front-wall reflections. Clearly, there had to be some effect from those reflections, but it was never audible as anything other than that open, spacious, airy sound.

I was equally impressed by the M-7si's superior midrange performance. It's not at all unusual for a two-way design with an 8" woofer to exhibit colorations in the upper-midrange/lower-treble region, but nothing in my listening notes indicated such a problem. Voices, in particular, were palpably there, with a real sense of three-dimensionality. Indeed, at one point I noted, "How can you get that sort of sound out of inexpensive loudspeakers?" Well, you can.

Which brings me back to the M-7si's bottom end. Even with the warmth I've already noted, the bottom end was truly amazing—the sheer power and weight of which it was capable, with the right setup, was astonishing. When I evaluated the four M-7sis in a Home Theater context, I wondered if you really needed a subwoofer as well. That a pair of 8" drivers (one per side) could fill a large room with deep bass was mind-blowing.

Of course, it eventually became evident that the very deepest bass was missing; and at least some of the subjective bass response of the M-7si was due to the midbass rise—which commonly fools the ear into believing the bass is more extended than it really is. But as I listened, I continued to be impressed. There appeared to be solid in-room response to well below 40Hz. Furthermore, that bass didn't wimp out at high listening levels—listen to the Patriot Games soundtrack CD (RCA 66051-2), or any similar bass-cruncher, and you'll hear what I mean.

Of course, all speakers have their limits. When the M-7sis reached theirs, they responded with an unpleasant rattle of the woofer's voice-coil hitting the stops—the back of the magnet structure. No damage was done, but I wasn't inclined to investigate further by repeating the same passage at the same level. Nevertheless, in my large listening room the M-7sis soaked up the power and produced clean sound, at reasonably high levels, far more convincingly than any loudspeaker of this size and price has any right to.

I use the term "soaked up power" advisedly. The M-7si is a very insensitive loudspeaker. Up to its limits, it took everything I could throw at it—I pushed the Krell KSA-300S to levels which caused its top-bias lights to illuminate (indicating over 250W peaks into an 8 ohm load—even more into the 4–6 ohm rated impedance of the M-7sis, and higher than their maximum recommended power; naughty reviewer). It was lease-breaking loud, but still nowhere near the room-clearing level.

Nevertheless, the M-7sis weren't audibly challenged when teamed up with the much more modestly powered McCormack DNA-0.5 power amp (see my review elsewhere in this issue). The Krell was a bit cleaner at high levels—particularly in the bass—and a bit more open and detailed on top, but not by much; and in a room smaller than mine, the output of the McCormack or a similarly competent, medium-power amplifier should be fine. And while the qualities of such a super amp as the Krell were by no means wasted on the M-7sis—silly as the price difference may make that statement seem—even in my large listening room I would have no reservations about listening indefinitely to the Mirages driven by a good, modestly priced, high-end amp like the McCormack.

The M-7si is one relatively small and inexpensive loudspeaker that I have no trouble recommending for use in larger-than-average listening spaces. Not baronial halls, mind you; but in my 5000ft3 listening room and 7000ft3 living/video room (the latter including the volume of open, adjoining spaces), a pair of them had no trouble at all producing a truly awesome sound. It's at the opposite end of the room-size scale, however, that some caution must be exercised: Because of the little Mirages' warm mid- and upper bass, they should not be used in rooms with serious modes in the same mid- to upper-bass region. The only way to tell for sure if this will be a problem is to listen to the speakers in the room in which they'll be used.

I auditioned the M-7sis immediately after reviewing Infinity's exotic, bi-amped, $14,000 Epsilons (reviewed last month, Vol.18 No.1). The Epsilons are exceptional loudspeakers, make no mistake; but the M-7sis, while not quite in the same league, nevertheless never made me yearn longingly for a return to the Infinitys, or had me wondering what a particular recording would sound like on them. I was able to thoroughly enjoy the Mirages on their own terms—they're definitely on the same side of the goodness curve as the Epsilons, where the term "diminishing returns" springs easily to mind.

On the negative side, the M-7sis were too generous in their mid- and upper-bass output, which careful setup and choice of associated equipment—in a good room—can tame but not completely eliminate. The pluses were more numerous: sweet, natural highs, a fine midrange (opera-lovers should take note of the Mirages' superb performance with naturally miked voices and large choral ensembles), and impressive bass extension and power-handling capability.

There appear to be a growing number of loudspeakers in the $1000–$2000 price range which are making life increasingly difficult for higher-priced contenders. The M-7si definitely belongs in this group. That it falls, cost-wise, in the bottom half of that category is icing on the cake.

Mirage Loudspeakers
3641 McNicoll Ave.
Scarborough, Ontario M1X 1G5
(416) 321-1800