MBL 101E Mk. II Listening Impressions Update

Ron Resnick

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Jan 25, 2015
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#1
On June 1, 2015, I posted my listening experience at T.H.E. Show in Irvine with the MBL 101E Mk. II, a speaker which I then described as “materially more dynamic and realistic than anything I have ever heard before.” I also wrote that: “After the initial first couple of hours of shock and disbelief about the tangibility of the music and the holographic venue recreated by the speakers my power of rationality and analysis slowly came back into operation. . . . By the third hour of auditioning I could no longer ignore the fact that I find the speakers bright-sounding.”

After the show I canvassed pretty much every audiophile I know to see whether I was crazy or whether brightness is a relatively common criticism of the MBL 101E Mk. IIs. Approximately half of the ten or so people I spoke with who had heard the MBLs also found them to be on the bright side.

I reported my brightness issue to Jeremy, the President of MBL North America and to Greg, the President of United Home Audio and the man behind the UHA reel-to-reel tape decks (the most exciting and realism-producing source component I have ever heard) and the standard-bearer of the open reel tape renaissance. Both gentlemen were extremely patient in listening to, and evaluating, my concern about what was, to my ears, in the demo room at the show, excessive treble energy and brightness from the MBLs.

Knowing that I subjectively prefer tube electronics, Jeremy and Greg kindly introduced me to a client of theirs in Los Angeles, who, helpfully and coincidentally, has numerous other components with which I am quite familiar. Yesterday I spent the afternoon in that gentleman's apartment. His system consists of a Benz Micro LP S-MR on a Graham Phantom Supreme on a Clearaudio Master Innovation (magnetic drive!) going to an Aesthetix Rhea and Calypso going to the Aesthetix Atlas (tube input stage and solid state output stage) driving the MBL 101E Mk. IIs.

I can now report that tube amplification on the MBLs eliminates most of what I perceived to be the excessive brightness of the speaker (just as Greg promised). The tweeter setting on the speakers was set to the middle position of a three position tweeter control, so the softest tweeter setting probably would have reduced even further the perceived treble energy of the tweeter.

I cannot say that my issue with excessive brightness has been eliminated completely. By the volume threshold at which the MBLs are playing loudly enough for them to create their magic with dynamics and realism I still heard a bit of brightness creep back in. My ears still heard a bit of brashness on brass instruments and a bit of tinkling-ness on cymbals and triangles. But unlike the strong brightness I heard in Irvine what I heard yesterday was comfortably within our usual subjective preference spectrum of very slightly warmer/darker to very slightly brighter. With absorptive acoustic room treatment I could easily live happily with what I heard today for the rest of my life.

This experience proves again the axioms that the sound we hear at show demos can be significantly misleading, and that judiciously selected associated components can go a long way towards mitigating a sonic concern we have about a particular component.

Now that I know the tweeter on the MBLs can be significantly tamed will I give up on electrostatics and go with 101E Mk. IIs instead of Neoliths? The MBLs conjure up a realism with certain instruments which is, in my experience, unique. When the MBLs reproduce the sound of a brass instrument you can hear and almost feel the weightiness of the soundwave being created by that instrument in a manner which I have never heard from any other speaker.

Ultimately, I do not think I will switch away from electrostatic speakers because I still perceive a bit more transparency from electrostatic panels than I have heard from any other speaker, including the MBLs. But the 101E Mk. IIs (and the big Wilsons) have made me very aware of the dynamics I am forfeiting to retain that last smidgeon of transparency I enjoy with the Martin-Logans.
 
Last edited:

audio-land

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May 10, 2015
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#2
Hi Ron, very interesting. Having heard many MBL's system, dynamic wasn't their advantage....
 

Ron Resnick

Site Co-Owner, Administrator
Jan 25, 2015
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#3
Actually, that makes perfect sense to me. Coming from electrostatics the MBLs sound, to me, very dynamic (at the requisite volume to allow them to come to life); coming from a big horn system I can understand that you do not find the MBL dynamics exceptional.
 

Orb

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Sep 8, 2010
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#4
Ron,
will they be more room dependant than the electrostatics and require more room and placement consideration or about the same?
I am thinking about the omnidirectional aspects, although I appreciate electrostatics also radiate sound in more ways than conventional boxes.

Cheers
Orb
 

rbbert

Active Member
Dec 12, 2010
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#5
Doesn't the late unlamented PeterB use these speakers as his reference?
 

Steve Williams

Site Founder, Site Owner, Administrator
#6
Doesn't the late unlamented PeterB use these speakers as his reference?
I also remember the late lamented PeterB comment that 'he likes it bright'
 

FrantzM

Member Sponsor & WBF Founding Member
Apr 20, 2010
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#7
Hi Ron, very interesting. Having heard many MBL's system, dynamic wasn't their advantage....
Share that opinion on dynamics. Found them a bit bright too.
 
Aug 6, 2012
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Milford, Michigan
#8
I have found that properly set-up MBL's surpass any system I have heard in their ability to project a realistic presentation of music. They seem to do best mated to their own gear.
 
Likes: Lagonda
May 30, 2010
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Portugal
#9
Ron,
will they be more room dependant than the electrostatics and require more room and placement consideration or about the same?
I am thinking about the omnidirectional aspects, although I appreciate electrostatics also radiate sound in more ways than conventional boxes.

Cheers
Orb
Yes. I have owned a pair of the old MBL 101c's long ago. They are ominidirectional at the full spectrum and their tonal balance shows the acoustics of the room. The best I heard of them was in an old room with wood sculpted paneling in all walls with large heavy curtains or in an heavily furnished room. In typical modern rooms with large reflective flat surfaces or typical hotel show rooms they always sounded bright.

If properly controlled the tweeter was unbelievably natural, with plenty of air and delicate. It was very sensitive to power amplifiers and cabling - Straightwire Virtuoso and XLO signature were my favorites. As far as I know the new tweeters are sweeter than the old ones.

BTW, Jim is correct - realistic is the proper word for a well set up MBL system with an adequate recording! Performers seem to be on stage.
 
Likes: Lagonda

Joe Whip

Active Member
Feb 8, 2014
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Wayne, PA
#10
I have always found the MBLs to be too bright in several shows and in homes as well. I am in the minority or so it seems but they really aren't my cup of tea.
 

Orb

New Member
Sep 8, 2010
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#12
Yes. I have owned a pair of the old MBL 101c's long ago. They are ominidirectional at the full spectrum and their tonal balance shows the acoustics of the room. The best I heard of them was in an old room with wood sculpted paneling in all walls with large heavy curtains or in an heavily furnished room. In typical modern rooms with large reflective flat surfaces or typical hotel show rooms they always sounded bright.

If properly controlled the tweeter was unbelievably natural, with plenty of air and delicate. It was very sensitive to power amplifiers and cabling - Straightwire Virtuoso and XLO signature were my favorites. As far as I know the new tweeters are sweeter than the old ones.

BTW, Jim is correct - realistic is the proper word for a well set up MBL system with an adequate recording! Performers seem to be on stage.
Thanks Micro,
confirms what I was thinking.
Cheers
Orb
 
Aug 6, 2012
1,447
20
38
Milford, Michigan
#13
I would never say that MBL is right for everyone. If you are looking for pinpoint imaging between your speakers you should probably look elsewhere. If your tastes run more to the sound of a live music event then 101EMkII's will get you close. My audio epiphany was a full x-Treme set-up. Those four large towers disappeared and the room felt as if it was energized by the music. Nothing else has come close.
 

Ron Resnick

Site Co-Owner, Administrator
Jan 25, 2015
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Beverly Hills, CA
#14
Ron,
will they be more room dependant than the electrostatics and require more room and placement consideration or about the same?
Dear Orb, I do not know whether electrostatics will require more or less room and placement consideration than MBLs. But I don't conceive of the question that way. I think both electrostatics and MBLs require careful and thoughtful room placement. MartinLogans like to be located on the short wall; MBLs like to be located on the long wall.

With electrostatic speakers, which I have owned for 27 years, I like the front wall to be moderately reflective (I think basic, smooth sheet rock works well here). I am much less knowledgeable about the MBLs but if I were setting up MBLs in my room I would use absorption or diffusion or both on all walls. I would not want omnidirectional reflections ping-ponging every which way. (And generous use of absorptive materials would also help tame remaining brightness.)
 

Ron Resnick

Site Co-Owner, Administrator
Jan 25, 2015
6,485
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113
Beverly Hills, CA
#15
I also remember the late lamented PeterB comment that 'he likes it bright'
Steve is correct!

When I was trying to figure out whether I was crazy or whether the 101E Mk. IIs are on the bright side, I hunted down every review I could find. Peter B did indeed rave about them and I believe he owned them for several years. I continued researching and I finally found the key to the puzzle. While Peter B does not mention brightness in his detailed review of the 101E Mk. IIs I found in his review of another speaker the sentence: "I don't mind brightness." I thought, "A-ha! The smoking gun!"

We all have different sensitivities to different sonic characteristics and different subjective preferences. I am very sensitive to brightness, and so it makes sense that I would have that issue with the MBLs. Peter B, apparently, is conscientiously not sensitive to brightness and so it makes sense that he does not have any brightness issue with the MBLs.
 

Ron Resnick

Site Co-Owner, Administrator
Jan 25, 2015
6,485
922
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Beverly Hills, CA
#16
Yes. I have owned a pair of the old MBL 101c's long ago. . . . If properly controlled the tweeter was unbelievably natural, with plenty of air and delicate. . . . BTW, Jim is correct - realistic is the proper word for a well set up MBL system with an adequate recording! Performers seem to be on stage.
Why did you give up the MBL 101Cs you had?
 
May 30, 2010
15,174
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Portugal
#17
Why did you give up the MBL 101Cs you had?
My room was not adequate to them, and, at less this old model had a problem for my taste - they needed to be played louder than what I listen most of the time to sound great. I was told that current models are much better is this aspect and can be played at lower levels.
BTW, I had great expectations on the VTL 750s on them but it was not a great match.
 

Ron Resnick

Site Co-Owner, Administrator
Jan 25, 2015
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Beverly Hills, CA
#18
They are happiest when played pretty loudly.

That is interesting about the not great match with the VTLs. Maybe the hybrid Aesthetix Atlas -- because of the solid state output stage -- is a uniquely synergistic match for people who want some power amplifier tubes on the MBLs.
 

User211

Well-Known Member
Jul 28, 2014
1,251
138
63
#19
I think the brightness is a facet of the larger omnidirectional driver. I hear no brightness in the 116F. I do in 101E and 101E Xtreme.

It's not extreme brightness, just a hint of metallic brightness caused by the driver material I think. Some sort of very mild resonance possibly?

My issue with 101E isn't so much that, but the bass unit, which, for a speaker of that cost, is not sufficient to do a reasonable job. It needs to pack some more volume and add beefier drivers IMHO.

I think 116F bass is better. I have a friend with a pair that I have heard many times. No big metal omni driver either and hence no brightness.

101E Xtreme is a fantastic speaker, though, all things considered. At a cost. I've heard it twice now for extended periods. It's up there. But if the slightly crystalline nature of the metal omni driver annoys, they aren't for you.
 

bonzo75

Member Sponsor
Feb 26, 2014
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#20
The 116f don't have that small dome for the mids that the 101s and 111s have. That driver makes the bigger ones harder to drive. I have heard the bigger ones with MBL integrated, Ypsilon integrated, MBL 9011, and Spectral so far. They sound the best with Ypsilon and Spectral, but not my choice of tone. I wanted to like them given how convenient they are. There is a system in Sweden that does a MCH of MBLs, the guy apparently has 40000 records and was featured on BBC. Small room. Auro 3d processor. He has 7 MBLs on the floor and 7 Genesis for ceiling speakers
 

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