Mordaunt-Short Performance 6 loudspeaker

Wood is not an engineering material. It might look pretty, but it's inconsistent and therefore unpredictable. So we smash cheap wood into sawdust and then glue it all together again to create something that can be machined. This is called medium-density fiberboard, or MDF. We then thinly slice some classy hardwood—hopefully harvested from sustainable sources—and use it to cover the ugly MDF. This might have made sense back when Chippendale was making furniture, but it seems strangely old-fashioned in our age of plastics and composites. I haven't seen wood trim on a TV set for more than a decade. Why is it still the norm for loudspeakers?

The elimination of wood is presumably at least part of the rationale behind the Performance 6, a striking new upmarket speaker from British brand Mordaunt-Short. Superficially, it does seem surprising that so few speaker designs replace wooden enclosures with more modern materials, though I guess cost factors are a crucial ingredient. Whereas MDF construction is these days largely a matter of programming a CNC machine, composites often involve significant tooling; on the relatively small scale of high-end speaker manufacture, the per-unit cost of this can be quite large.

Apart from the tiny, cast-alloy satellites found in many A/V packages, nonwood speakers, from such makes as Wilson-Benesch and Wilson Audio Specialties, tend to be costly. While the $6500/pair asked for the Performance 6 hardly puts it in the beer-budget class, the price is a lot lower than you might think from a glance at the speaker. But then, Mordaunt-Short has long been known for offering good material value for money, as the following potted history shows. Indeed, partly because of its close association with the budget sector, interesting upmarket M-S models such as 1980's Signifer and 1988's 442 have tended to be overlooked. Its striking styling should help the Performance 6 avoid a similar fate.

History, potted
Mordaunt-Short has been through many changes since the late Norman Mordaunt founded his speaker company back in the 1960s. Early Mordaunt models, such as the Arundel, were relatively expensive, but things changed gear when Rodney Short joined in 1967. Short lengthened the firm's name by adding his own, injected a chunk of capital, and took aim at the emerging mass market. Brothers Michael and Chris Short took over in the 1970s, and Mike Dedman designed the Carnival, Festival, and Pageant models, which became some of the most popular budget speakers around. That tradition continued through the 1980s, with the acquisition of Epos and founder-designer Robin Marshall. In the 1990s, Mordaunt-Short was bought by the TGI Group, where it operated alongside Tannoy and Goodmans. As the millennium approached, TGI began to move out of loudspeakers, and sold M-S to The Audio Partnership (TAP) and Epos to Mike Creek.

A little more than 10 years old, TAP is one of British hi-fi's recent success stories. It grew out of leading budget retail chain Richer Sounds, and began by working closely with Far East suppliers to create "budget audiophile" electronics under the relaunched Cambridge Audio brand. Since buying Mordaunt-Short and the Opus multiroom operation, TAP employs 70 people in its London headquarters and, indirectly, rather more in the Far East.

A major link with the past is design engineer Graeme Foy, who worked alongside Robin Marshall on Epos and M-S speakers in the 1990s. Foy's first task with TAP was to create a number of budget-priced stereo and multichannel models for Mordaunt-Short. That done, he was given his creative head to design the far more ambitious Performance range, with the intention of establishing new performance benchmarks through the use of advanced materials and engineering.

The core of Mordaunt-Short's Performance range is the floorstanding 6, which is equally suited to two- and multichannel applications. Other models in the range include the Performance 5 center-channel and Performance 9 powered subwoofer; a stand-mount variation on the Performance theme is also on the way.

The most striking feature of the Performance 6 is its enclosure, with its glossy metallic finish, and artful—indeed, beautiful—shape. My samples were painted a discreet Granite Gray; Brilliant Silver is also available. All surfaces are elegantly curved, and the whole thing is strongly tapered so that it's slim and very shallow at the top, slightly wider and considerably deeper at the base. Separate, removable grilles for each drive-unit are supplied; only the tweeter grille is permanently affixed.

I would have described the Performance 6's appearance as individual and unique had it not been for the almost simultaneous arrival of the South African Vivid Audio B1 speakers. I described and contrasted the two approaches in a September 2004 "Industry Update" report, and can't help feeling that each goes some way toward validating the other. It's curious the way "design congruity" seems to emerge among loudspeakers: readers with memories as long as mine may well recall how, back in the mid-1970s, KEF and B&W almost simultaneously introduced their R105 and 801 models, radical designs that both featured separate bass "bins" supporting compact, separate mid/treble head units. The parallels between the Mordaunt-Short Performance 6 and the Vivid Audio B1—not only the molded enclosures but also the three-way metal diaphragm configurations—are too obvious to ignore, though happily there are also plenty of differences in details.

The Performance 6 is a full three-way design with four aluminum-diaphragm drive-units arrayed up the front above a flared reflex port. The twin 6.5" bass cones might look familiar enough to anyone who's seen M-S's Avant models, but they've actually undergone considerable refinement; the 4" midrange and 1" tweeter also include notable innovations.

The bass and midrange drivers have inverted-dome diaphragms finished in matte silver and mounted beneath generous scalloped trim rings. This arrangement conceals the fact that the drivers are not actually mounted to the front panel at all, but affixed to rods that poke forward from the much stronger rear spine of the speaker. Rubber gaskets separate the chassis from the front baffle, providing a measure of mechanical decoupling.

The bass-driver diaphragms are reinforced against flexure by a ring of little pressed ribs just in from the edge, and considerable attention has been paid to the edge termination, both in the diaphragm and the surround. M-S has developed what it calls V-Form Technologies to create "an ideal impedance differential into the surround," aided by a variable-thickness/shape roll surround. A complex motor assembly is used to maximize magnetic flux linearity.

A major reason for using a 4" midrange driver from 350Hz to 3kHz is to help achieve consistent sound distribution right across the audioband. This driver uses most of the same techniques as the 6.5" cone, but has a neodymium magnet to minimize the bulk of, and therefore any reflections from, the motor assembly. Elaborate heatsinking is also incorporated to assist power handling.

US distributor: Marantz America
440 Medinah Road
Roselle, IL 60172
(630) 741-0300