Monitor Audio MASS 5.1 System Review

Monitor Audio MASS

When I think “Monitor Audio,” the first thing that comes to mind is their infamous C-CAM driver design and, of course, for its gorgeous monolithic towers.  However, thus far even its “tiniest” offerings have stuck to a rather rectilinear form factor.  Kind of like the old Volvo design.  You can choose whatever size you want but you’ll get a boxy design.

The company’s new MASS home cinema system breaks that boxy mold for a more streamlined, decor-friendly silhouette that’s as sexy as it is industrial yet cutting edge at the same time. Everything about the cabinet, from the internal ribbing to the variable wall thickness has been engineered to increase inertness, and — combined with the unique design of the new 1-inch high-frequency and 4-inch bass/mid drivers, to reduce internal resonance, for improved clarity, transparency, and intelligibility… or so they claim  The reason for my skepticism is because I have yet to find a sub-sat system that I want to use as my main system for my dedicated home theatre application.

In the mean time, here are the specifications given by the manufacturer:

  • 4″ Bass-Mid-range driver featuring C-CAM cone technology, for better clarity and control.
  • Specially developed 1″ C-CAM tweeter design featuring unique venting and rear loading chamber – low resonance      design to provide clean, pure sound.
  • Damped Polymer moulded speaker cabinets with internal ribbing. Curved shape also helps to eliminate the      dreaded soul-sucking standing waves.
  • Single point fixing (1/4″ x 20 TPI) for universal wall bracket installation (not provided).
  • Concealed, discreet cable termination inside end cap using binding post type connection for added neatness in      their collective appearances
  • Single bolt through driver and bracing system, for increased overall bracing and rigidity.
  • Single front mounted port featuring HiVe® technology for clean, powerful, punchy bass.
  • Black cloth finish with contrasting solid aluminium end caps.
  • Optional floor-stand with internal (pre-wired) cable management system (I honestly think it’s about time for manufacturer to include the stand… but I understand that they need to hit a certain price point).

The lovely and deceptive little MASS W200 Active Subwoofer also follows the same curved-and-tapered cabinet design, and boasts two 10-inch active drivers and one 10-inch passive radiator, all in a tight, nimble sealed design that promises to deliver the same impact and output as a ported sub without the (usually present) port chuffing. The W200 also comes with “Music” for a most natural bass curve, “Movie,” with a bit of bump in the lower and mid-low region of the bass frequencies to give some boominess to the bass sound and “Impact” where the bump on the preset seems to boost only certain low frequency in a very low Q area to create the illusion of huge impact without the trailing boominess tail end of a punch.  These DSP settings are available to tailor its performance to your preferences.  I personally choose “Music” for everything because it’s the most naturalistic approach of the sound system.

The subwoofer’s highlights include:

  • Long throw 10″ sub bass driver featuring C-CAM cone technology.
  • 10″ flat ABR (Auxiliary Bass Radiator) – Tuned for tight, fast bass punch.
  • 220 watt class-D power amplifier.
  • DSP providing accurate filter characteristics.
  • Advanced limiters designed to ensure the W200 never loses control.
  • 3 x pre-set bass mods (Music, Movie, Impact).
  • 12v trigger input – ensures W200 switches on and off with other equipment.
  • Heavy duty MDF construction.
  • Discreet black cloth finish.

By the way, if you don’t know what a C-CAM is, the following is a short explanation of it.  C-CAM stands for Ceramic-Coated Aluminium/Magnesium is a material originally developed by the aerospace industry for jet engine components. Its properties are ideal for loudspeaker cones being extremely rigid, yet light enough to yield high overall efficiency. In manufacture, aluminium/magnesium alloy undergoes a three-stage stress-relieving process to remove surface deformation and molecular weakness. Once formed, the alloy cone is subjected to a high temperature anodic coating process in which a layer of pure ceramic alumina is depleted onto its surfaces to a depth of 50 microns, producing a completely rigid sandwich of alloy and heat-dissipating ceramic material.

Conventional cones are liable to flex or twist in operation, producing a significant level of audible distortion. C-CAM cones have a much higher resistance to bending stress and therefore exhibit much greater fidelity over their entire operating range. C-CAM tweeters and woofers share an audible consistency producing a smooth transition of frequencies and a sense of realism and cohesion in the soundstage.

Although quite honestly I don’t hear that much of a difference between C-CAM tweeters versus Titanium tweeters (perhaps due to my personal preference towards soft-dome tweeters), for midrange and woofers C-CAM technology does wonders.  The transient response is quick and accurate and for the lower frequencies, there is hardly any punch delay or “wobble” in their sound reproduction which most probably is due to their overall cone material rigidity and lightness.

So after unpacking and setting the speakers as in per ITU standard*, I hooked up the speakers to the Anthem MRX-700 Receiver with Anthem Room Correction set to OFF position and the subwoofer set through DSPeaker Antimode 8033s subwoofer room-EQ set to ON position to eliminate my room-mode bass-frequency problem, I started playing some key scenes from both concert Blu-rays ranging from Chris Botti Live in Boston to Madonna Sticky & Sweet Tour, from the Pod Race scene in Star Wars Episode I to the Dolby-recommended scenes in Disney’s Brave.

I’m not going to waste space talking about the music reproduction part.  Suffice to say, it’s very good for these types of speakers.  Perhaps one of the best I’ve ever heard, but music reproduction in a home-theatre setting is something that is relatively easy to reproduce once the proper speaker type have been chosen (ie not super tiny cube speakers that are all midrange with no highs and no lows).

Creating impactful bass response is also not something that is too difficult although I have to admit that I’m still impressed with the MASS subwoofer’s performance in reproducing the constant thumping of low frequencies in the Pod Race scene of Star Wars Episode One.

What impressed me is the how these speakers can combine subtlety in music and great dynamics in one package.  The low-frequency sound effect coupled with music as Merida enters the stone enclave and when the sound building up to create the tension of the casting of the spell with a split second of silence just before the explosion is truly impressive.  I didn’t expect both subtlety and dynamic can go one right after another with such ease.

As the movie progresses, the impressiveness of these speakers are building up even further.  The natural sound of rain falling all around to create a feeling of shelter is expansive and realistic while the steering of the singing traveling into the center channel, leading us into a scene from the past, and then bringing us back out by returning to the surrounds and disappearing into the distance is remarkable.

However, the most torturous part of the soundtrack is yet to come.  Inside the room with Mor’du. when Merinda, the main character, you clearly hear the reverb from her voice and foley that is created in the front two speakers and rear two speakers—an intentional and crafty trick to create the illusion of her being in a large stone room.  The Reverb in Merida’s voice after she falls into the throne room was reproduced with amazing subtlety and details.  You’ll hear Mor’du’s low-frequency growl in the surrounds, just as we did in the first scene of the film, before he attacks.  As Mor’du attacks, his sounds—voice, feet, claws, breathing—follow his location. The use of subwoofer and different channels to place emphasis on the ominous and large presence of this behemoth is not something
that just any sub-sat speakers can handle.  In fact most of them just can’t whereas the MASS 5.1 can do it without breaking a sweat.

I’m not doing my job if I don’t point out some quibbles that may or may not be a deal breaker for you in choosing this system.  The subwoofer, while punchy, it’s not especially deep and won’t add the bass weight you need in a large room. Not a deal breaker for me and it shouldn’t be if you like to listen to any music or soundtrack in a natural way as opposed to the “boom-boom-boom” sound of the 80’s car stereo.  Also the tweeters.   I’m inclined to like soft-dome tweeters’ warmer tone than these hard cones deliver.  It is truly a matter of preference and not the fault of the speaker design at all.

Overall, the MASS 5.1 is quite an amazing set of speakers; they are uncannily adept at conveying fine detail.  It’s a very engaging and immersive system, and its incisive tone is well suited to atmospheric soundtracks. The fast timing and expressive mid-band is perfect for acoustic music and most soundtracks delivered to them.

*ITU (International Telecommunications Union) standard, where the front left-right speakers should be placed to form an equilateral triangle with the primary listening position. In other words, the distance between the listener and each of the speakers, and the distance between the left and right speakers themselves should be equal. All angles inside the triangle should be 60 degrees while the surround speakers located 110-degrees from the centre channel and everything being equidistantly set.

Audio Equipments used to review the MASS 5.1 system
Anthem MRX-700 receiver
DSPeaker Antimode 8033s
Kimber Kable 19e HDMI cables
Pioneer BDP-62FD Blu-ray Disc player
Vermouth Cable Black Curse speaker cables

 

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6 responses to “Monitor Audio MASS 5.1 System Review

  1. great review !!!! twiited you a few mn ago…but than decided i can ask questions here: here goes….
    a do not have lots of experience with 5.1…my first and only buy is the
    http://www.pioneer.eu/fr/products/42/99/161/S-HS100/page.html
    A 250 euro package…..

    with a GOOD (according to reviews) receiver : http://reviews.cnet.co.uk/av-receivers/pioneer-vsx-521-review-50004859/

    anyway:

    1- many people say on forums that compact satellite don’t and will never sound that good…and if one wants great quality he should at least buy bookshelves…according to your review it certainly is certain…..SO compared to my cheap pioneer satellite…WILL there be a difference (granted you did not hear them….but an opinions would be nice) ?

    2- I always wondered base on the 1) statement that compact satellites cannot delivers the real clarity required FOR HD tracks…drivers are JUST TOO SMALL. For standard DD and DTS i guess they are OK……..
    From your experience is that the case generally speaking ? What about the MASS ? are they precise enough to let one appreciate the subtle differences in HD tracks ????

    3- You said this MASS system is better than many satellite competitors you heard: heuu….which one did you hear ? KEF 3005 ? B&W 150 ?
    Please note that i am interested in this system for use @ 90% Movies & 5% Music (from MP3…!)

    Thanx in advance for you time man !

  2. Thanks for reading my review! To answer your questions in point form:

    1. Yes, these speakers will make a huge improvements over the Pioneer setup you currently use.

    2. They are correct, compact sattelites can never sound good. However, these are NOT compact sattelites because they can actually go down to 80Hz as per THX guidelines. For soundtracks with orchestral pieces such as Indiana Jones, Titanic or concert videos, yes you can hear a clear difference between lossy vs lossless (HD) compression.

    3. Yes, I’ve compared these speakers to Bose, KEF, B&W, Cambridge Audio at the same size and/or the same price level, these speakers are better in overall response.

  3. thanx DAVID for these clarifications….hell the MASS system must really be something than…
    a final detail: for this system i will have to set my amp to 80hz crossover (mine has just 80/100 & 150hz) ?

  4. hi david…me again !!! I wanted to let you know that KEF just released the E305 5.1 compact system that has the same price as the mass…..

    Have you any interest in reviewing them, or have you heard them ?
    would be very interesting to see if they sound better than the MASS…

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