Micca MB42x Bookshelf Speakers
So here is the scoop. These little speakers are supposed to be the exact same Micca Motion Series MB42's that I reviewed back in February with one little difference. In that review and pretty much every chance I got after that review I crucified them for not having a crossover. I guess Micca was listening because what we have here is a speaker that is essentially a MB42 with a crossover called Micca MB42X Bookshelf Speakers. It has a few cosmetic changes as well, fancy magnetic grills, and a graphite laminate finish so that it looks even more like the atrociously poor performing AudioEngine P4.
Now before we begin you should know that I am walking into this review with slight prejudice. A few months ago I published a DSP correction for the Micca MB42's using a parametric EQ DSP to make them flat tonally. I'm very familiar with the sound of the correction profile, so I was expecting the MB 42x to sound similar. I could not have been more wrong.
Magnets are cool
Here is the new fancy crossover, I think the inductors are a little small, but I'm not much of a passive crossover guy so I really have no idea what I'm looking at.
So what does Micca say they did with this jumble of wire and electronics? Well it's got a Zobel impedance network, a 12dB/octave Butterworth alignment for the woofer and tweeter, and baffle step compensation. What all that means is that the highs are actually going to come out of the tweeter and the lows are actually going to come out of the woofer, and they turned down the volume a bit on everything except the bass and mid bass to try to compensate for the fact that the speaker is small.
The side of the box promises a "Dramatically transformed sound signature that is incredibly open, balanced, and dynamic" ...those are my kind of buzz words.
Break out your canned goods, these things are tiny. I've got these jacked up to where my ear is just below the tweeters height and I've got them pulled in as close as I can get them to the sides of my monitor with a very tiny bit of toe-in.
Initial impressions and a noaudiophile mystery
WHOOOO!!! hot damn, they did something real here. These feel overwhelming at first, the image was so big that going through my electronic music caused my brain to fail. I removed all toe in and the sound is just gigantic. My first guess is that these are colored like freak show clown, as a hump at 1k coupled with a dip around 6k will cause the same sort of thing, but I've never heard anything transform like this with EQ alone. I just wanted to start measuring to find out what they did, there is too much here, it's something else, did I miss something with my DSP correction of the MB42's?
Well, would you look at Micca, all grown up and got an honest +-3dB response, something that is more rare than you would think, but here is my gottcha moment! There is the hump at 1k and the dip at 6k just as predicted. At this point I'm patting myself on the back and thinking oh man, that's it, this review is gonna write itself about the joy and folly of colored response and how it's just unnatural and is adding to the sound reproduction instead of just doing the job of reproducing the sound as is... then I started working up a DSP correction.
Yep, that's flat, I cleaned up that clown and put him in a freaking business suit. Yet, it still has that big sound.. what is going on here? These are the same drivers as the MB42, in the same box as the MB42 with the same corrected on axis response as my DSP corrected MB42's yet the sound could not be any more different. Is my mic broken, are my ears broken?
Well, there more to life than just frequency response. Yep, it's the sad truth, I work with the tools I have available to improve the speakers I review and there are things that I just can't fix with a parametric eq. This is what the crossover fixes, and it's massively different. This is not just getting rid of a peak or null like I do with my DSP corrections, this is a phase shift and polar response correcting. Basically the drivers stopped fighting each other and are now working together to make a huge wide dispersion pattern that is the biggest I've run across so far doing these reviews.
These speakers have nothing to do with each other.
I can call this mystery solved and move on to the actual impressions of how things sound from the MB42x speakers. These sound nothing like the MB42's, I can't say enough good things about how much better these are with a crossover so I won't. The rest of the review is going to be clean slate impressions with the understanding that the MB42x has no sonic relation to the MB42 other than bass extension.
The image is big, and instruments stay put, imaging extends well beyond the width of the speakers. Details are there, but it's cloudy. I figure there is some distortion and break up coming from the drivers that could not be corrected in the crossover, but it's hidden well behind the sound stage.
Tonal issues are here, there is a lacking in mid bass, this means voices do not have the weight that they should, highs are also a little bright, but do not sound distorted.. more like a little rising response issue that will add detail to a recording.
The big one that drives me mad especially in a near field/desktop setup is the hump at 1k. This pushes the image forward, considering I'm 24 or so inches from the speakers it makes my brain think that even though the sound is coming from the speakers that vocals are behind me or inside of my head. Toe-in does not fix this issue, quite the contrary it makes it worse. This also has the effect of making engineered reverb stand out as yet more "detail". It's a neat party trick, but it's not supposed to be there, and what it really does is hide other things that you could be hearing.
The dip between 5k and 6k actually messes with your ability to localize the speakers and is a trick used by more than a few high dollar manufacturers to make speakers that "disappear." Yet again you take the good with the bad and this dip is going to make some music sound harsh or hollow with that kind of a chunk missing from the response.
Bass response is killer for these little speakers, Kraftwerk hits hard and clean, good balance on the bottom end that really is amazing in speaker this size.
There is another problem here, the tone shifts over listening height, this will always happen in all speakers, particularly when listening near field, but it's more noticeable than normal. I'm not running away from any particular drivers, although the woofer has a little ringing if you are listening dead on to it. The image holds steady, but if you lean forward to type on your keyboard you will have a pretty big tonal shift and this may bother some people enough to pass on these speakers for a desktop rig.
All that said, the Micca MB42x speakers are amazing. I really like them, as in they rock the freaking house. I think these would be great in a bedroom or small living room setup. I would recommend these to anyone as a first real speaker as it sets the bar high for anything you would find to replace them. For larger rooms you could add a sub to help, but they are never gonna be terribly loud in a big room. For a desktop rig that you are going to be sitting in front of for hours at a time these still bother me enough with tonal issues and cone break up distortion that I highly recommend DSP corrections are applied.
This is my most complicated filter set yet, It's a very good sounding speaker to start with and I didn't want to just crush it using brute force. I worked up 5 corrections using different techniques before I got this one just right. This corrects driver linear distortion and baffle integration issues. Should be out from the wall at least 12 inches measured from the front of the speaker, and even then may sound a little mid bass heavy or "chesty" - yep that's an audiophile word. Another note, make sure you get these up on stands, and start with no toe-in and go with no more than 15 degrees of toe in, it's not the end of the world if you don't but it will be the opposite of an improvement if you do.
Corrected Listening impressions:
Moody Blues - To Our Children's Children's Children
The image is nice and wide, but now like a stage instead of a overdone 3d movie. Outside of the sounds coming from the port there is no hint of distortion, it's clean and crisp. All of the details and more are now there if you want to look for them, but this is a much more cohesive sound. It all works together. It's not that I can place each vocalist in the harmonies, it's that I can't not place them. The image is built on bedrock and will not be shaken. I've only heard this with one other pair of speakers, Magnepan 1.6QR's that took years to position just right in a local audio show room. Now I could walk around that room and pretty much shake hands with the performers. This is not to that level, but for a desktop it's as close to that ideal as I could imagine getting.
Chemical Brothers - Base 6
This track rolls through a number of common bass lines and the little 4 inch woofer holds up admirably even while I push the speaker to 95dB, above that and the tweeter gets a bit screechy. 95dB may not sound like a lot, but with the dispersion pattern being as wide as it is, it's more than I can handle and I occasionally roll out 105dB+ on my main rig for fun, so 95dB from this speaker should be more than enough for anyone sitting at a desk.
Gordon Lightfoot - If you could read my mind
A simple track that I grew up with and is amazing on these speakers. wide image that brakes the rules and comes so far off of the sound stage that it warps perception of reality. I can hear each little part, break them down in my brain and put them back together all at my own pace.
U2 - All I want is you
Vocal treatment is perfect and precise., yet again a big image that falls off the edge of eternity, but more than that.. the accuracy of the performance is amazing. I don't hear any smearing of details even with the walls being painted with music.
Mason - You are not alone (referb)
Another treated vocal track to sound bigger than life, and it does. It's actually a bunch of vocal tracks layered over each other and not reverb, something I had not noticed before.. so yeah these are good speakers.
Beethoven Symphony no. 7 - Fischer, Ivan - Budapest Festival Orchestra
Classical music is about not just the performance or the score, it's also about the acoustics of the venue and how it effects the sounds. Yes it starts with being able to place the instruments as they play softly, but as violins and flutes peak and the room works as a horn itself and you can see the music scaling the walls -- that is something that will rattle your world. It's like being paralyzed while inside of a burning building. Yeah, the MB42x's do that too.
The MB42x speakers are set to be priced at $79.95 a pair when they become available late October 2013. If you are a poor high school or college student and at all interested in enjoying music, go pan handle for a few hours until you can raise up enough cash to get these speakers. They are good enough to have earned a permanent spot on my desk passing up the Pioneer BS-22's purely on preference of dispersion pattern, as they are both matched for tonal accuracy once corrected.
If you already have Micca MB42's and have the skills to put together Ikea furniture you can pick up the crossovers as a stand along upgrade from Micca's website for the cool price of $29.95. I ordered a set and upgraded my old MB42's without issue. This is an upgrade well worth the money and says plenty about Micca as a company to offer this to existing customers.