Soundfield Audio Monitor 1 Review
I first became aware of Soundfield Audio and met AJ at the 2011 Capital Audio Fest in Rockville MD. I ended up spending more time in the Soundfield Audio room than any other. As I had commented in a prior post, the Monitor 1 was among my favorite speakers at the show. I was amazed that these speakers, at $1k then, were competing, and IMO often beating, other speakers at the show with price ranges into 6 figures!
When AJ contacted me earlier this year and asked if I would be interested in a speaker tour of the Monitor 1, I told him I wasn't in the market for speakers but would be happy to try them out and give my feedback. I must admit I was curious about how they would sound in my room with my equipment, and frankly, I thought it would be fun.
So my turn came around and as promised I'm posting my review of the Monitor 1.Me
I've been into audio since the late 70's. I guess you could say I'm an audiophile since I'm pretty picky about sound, but not to the extent where I can hear differences between well made cables, interconnects, power conditioning, etc. I'm not into vinyl (way too fussy for me) and don't think digital is evil (CDs are perfectly capable of fantastic sound). I believe by far the biggest impact on sound is the recording/mastering and the speakers/room.Room/Setup
My room is about 26ft x 14ft with a cathedral ceiling that slopes from about 9ft at the long front wall to about 18ft at the back. Half the room is a dining area and the other my living/music/HT room. It's open to the upstairs landing behind the living area. I estimate the volume to be about 5500 cubic ft. The front speakers are on the long front wall. The prime listening position (LP) is about 8ft from the L&R speakers. The M1s are about 1.5ft from the wall behind (back of cabinet to wall), 8.5ft apart, and angled in so that they cross just in front of the prime LP (per AJ's recommendations). The floor is berber carpet/padding over concrete. There are no room treatments, just the usual living room furnishings. There is a 60" plasma between the front speakers.Equipment
Equipment includes a Parasound Classic 5250 amp (250wpc), Anthem AVM20 pre/pro, Rotel RCD-961 CD player, Oppo 980H DVD/DVD-A/SACD player, Pioneer 320 BD player, M2Tech hiFace USB to SPDIF converter (for playing music files from my laptop), and a SVS 16-46PC+ powered sub (525w). Center channel is a 3 way NHT AudioCenter 2, and surrounds are NHT SB1 (I mention this because it relates to how well the M1 works with them for HT/multichannel audio). For those interested in such things, speaker cables (12 gauge), interconnects, and power cables are nothing special, no high end/expensive stuff here. I have no measuring equipment other than a Rat Shack meter for setting levels, so I cannot comment on how the M1 may measure in room.
Since this is a speaker review, I'll mention I've also owned Magnepan SMG (about 4 years), ADS L1290 (about 25 years!), and my current Salk HT2-TL (took delivery in Feb 2011).Media
Everything! CD, hi res FLAC files, lowly mp3 files, DVD-Audio, SACD, DVD-Video, and Blu ray. Music played includes most all genres.So get on with it, how do they sound?
I'm happy to say much like I remember from CAF 2011. AJ mentioned one goal of the M1 was a speaker that sounded more consistant from room to room without the need for elaborate room treatments. Based on what other owners have posted and my experience hearing them at CAF and now at home, I'd say AJ got it pretty right. It was very easy to find a speaker position that worked very well in my room.
In my room the M1s present a large, wide, deep, and very cohesive soundstage, recording dependent of course. They easily "disappear" within the soundstage, a quality I like very much. They have a very "open" sound that doesn't sound like it's coming from a box.
Imaging, while not razor sharp like some speakers I've heard, is still very, very good. Images are properly placed within the soundstage without sounding unnaturally focused, much like I would hear at a live performance (for reference, I don't sit in the front rows of live performances).
I've also noticed when set up as AJ suggests, the stereo image is very stable even from different listening positions. The "sweet spot" is quite wide, and even when sitting very far off axis (45 degrees) you still get a decent stereo image without it completely collapsing to the nearest speaker. Very impressive.
Resolution is excellent. Details and nuances are apparent without sounding too bright or harsh.
The M1s excel in tonal balance in my room. These speakers get along very well with my room without any special room treatments or EQ/processing applied. Very smooth, natural sounding, and balanced from bottom to top. I've listened to the M1s for hours at a time without a hint of fatigue.
In terms of coherency, probably due to the coax driver, when listening to the M1s I'm simply not aware of the separate drivers. It all sounds like it's coming from a single driver to my ears. You can sit pretty close to the M1s without losing that coherent sound, a good thing with my limited speaker position/LP options (I cannot get more than 8ft from them).
I've mention in posts before that the best positions for imaging and soundstage just do not work very well for bass in my room; a sub is a must for me. Having said that, the M1s do present a smoother bass response in my room than other speakers I've owned since living here. While bass doesn't extend as low in my room as I've heard the M1s go at CAF, it's still pretty smooth and extended. I credit this, at least partially, to the ability to adjust each bass driver's level to suit the space and one's taste. The M1 has plenty of punch and drums sound very real/natural to me; very impressive for a "monitor". These are some very full range sounding speakers that can live happily without a sub for music. Now for HT, I'd still recommend a sub (the M1s are really good, but not miracle workers!).
Midrange is spot on to my ears. Voices sound very natural, clear, and real. There's no unnatural emphasis or deficiencies that I can hear.
Treble is extended, smooth, and detailed without harshness or excessive brightness. Again, I can listen to the M1 for hours with no fatigue.
My experience at CAF 2011 showed that the M1 could be very dynamic sounding. I'm glad to say the experience in my home has been much the same. Drum/percussion whacks and crescendos are very impressive indeed. Again, a full range speaker experience in a monitor package. I'm sure many high efficiency designs will provide much better dynamics than the M1, but for me, when paired with a good sub, the M1 totally satisfies for both music and HT (I require speakers that can pull double duty since I only have room for one system). With my sub, they had no problem filling my room with clean, dynamic sound as loud as I could stand. Movies with dynamic soundtracks were very impressive and I didn't feel like I was missing anything.
Putting all the above SQ observations together, the M1s are simply great sounding speakers that make it very easy to enjoy the performance and forget about the speakers/equipment. I've thoroughly enjoyed them while they were here.Now for some non AQ related impressions (yes, they also can be important to some owners ).
I can't really comment on cosmetics/fit/finish as I've only seen the prototypes AJ had at 2011 CAF and this demo pair which look like they've traveled quite a bit. I also understand AJ has made some design changes, that do not affect sound quality, that I'm sure would make the M1 more attractive than what I've seen. The pictures I've seen from other owners certainly look more attractive.
Personally, I do not like the look of exposed drivers. Its unattractive and detracts from my listening experience. The demo pair didn't come with grills. I don't know if the M1s come with grills since all the pictures on the website don't' show any, but I did see a picture from an M1 owner that did have grills; it looked very nice and more "finished".
I'm not sure if this is unique to this demo pair, but one complaint I have is the binding posts when using bare wire (my preference). For some reason the holes are aligned vertically so that you have to negotiate the wire between the posts then down, or up, through the hole. Not only was this frustrating, especially with my 12 gauge wire, it seems accidentally shorting the terminals is a real possibility if you aren't real careful. The posts should be placed so that the holes are oriented horizontally so you can insert the wire from the side without having to go between the posts.
Another minor annoyance is the LED power indicator light on the plate amp. It lights up the wall behind the speakers. I like the room dark when enjoying movies and often when listening to music (helps make the room "disappear"). However, this is a minor detail than can be taken care of with some black electrical tape.Second Opinion
A fellow AudioCircle member, who has built several GR Research models/kits, came by to hear the M1s. In short, he said they are some of the finest sounding monitors he's heard and couldn't find a single thing to criticize about the sound. He mentioned they sound just right with a wide variety of music and could be listened to all day without fatigue.
Perphaps AJ may have another customer coming his way (hey AJ, where's that commission check.....LOL!).Comparisons
Some have asked for my comment on how the M1 compares to my Salk HT2-TL, so here are a few things I noticed when comparing them.
I was surprised how well the M1 held up against the HT2-TL. In some aspects I preferred the M1 and in others I preferred the HT2-TL. I believe much of this has to do with how each speaker interacts with my room given my limited options for speaker and listening position, and of course personal taste is a huge factor, so keep this in mind when reading these comments. YMMV greatly.
Overall soundstage and the ability to disappear were better with the M1. Imaging is more precise with the HT2-TL without being too precise or unnatural. Depending on the recording the HT2-TL can present an image that's scary real! The sweetspot was quite a bit wider with the M1 in my room and the sound a more consistent when moving around the room.
Tonal balance with the M1 was better and more natural to my ears. The HT2-TL sounds a bit fuller than the M1. Depending on the recording, this characteristic may favor the M1 or the HT2-TL to my ears. Overall, for my taste, I have felt the need to apply a little EQ to the HT2-TL, I didn't with the M1. Again, I believe this is at least partly due to room/speaker/position interaction since when I auditioned the HT2-TL at Dennis Murphy's place they sounded very natural and balanced without any feeling like I needed to tweek anything.
The M1 was also just a little more coherent. However, this difference quickly disappeared if I moved back an additional couple feet from the HT2-TL. I think perhaps the coax driver allows closer listening positions without losing coherence.
Resolution is better on the HT2-TL. I believe this is largely due to the excellent RAAL tweeter. The tweeter on the M1 is no slouch, but the RAAL simply just sounds more "real" to my ears. This is particularly apparent with things such as triangles, cymbals, and such. Strings also sound more "real" on the HT2-TL. The HT2-TL sounds a little "cleaner" (for lack of a better word) than the M1 (lower distortion maybe?). When you get lower in the range however (different kinds of drums and such), the M1 seemed to sound a little more realistic.
While I've not seen a current M1, I seriously doubt at their price point the cabinet work/finish is up to Salk standards. If you want great sounding speakers that also look like high quality furniture (can be very important for WAF) then Salk is hard to beat, they are simply beautiful, even with their "standard" veneers/finishes.Readers Digest Version (I hope I didn't bore you too much)
Hehehe.....sorry if i got a little carried away writing this review.
Bottom line, the M1 is a seriously good speaker that I enjoyed very much with all kinds of music and HT. At it's current price, its also a serious audio bargain. Anyone shopping for speakers should put the Soundfield Monitor 1 on their audition shortlist, even if you are looking at speakers multiple times it's price and think they are too cheap to consider (you might be pleasantly surprised).