Bowers & Wilkins MM-1 Desktop Computer Speakers Page 2
The Sound and The Fury
The MM-1 doesn't seem very picky about placement thanks to its compact size and sealed enclosure. As with all desktop monitors I do find it beneficial to raise them up off the desk by a good amount, preferably tilting them somewhat upwards as well. This helps the tweeter aim more directly towards the face rather than the chest and also helps avoid coloration due to desktop reflections. But don't worry - even if placed haphazardly on your desk the MM-1 will still sound pretty great.
Just how nice does it sound? Very, I'd say. The overall sound signature is fairly neutral, which is not to be confused with the boring, bandwidth-limited sound that sometimes gets labeled as "neutral" in lieu of "anemic" or just plain "crappy". Bass extension is excellent given the size of the enclosures - it can nearly rival that of the Audyssey LES which is the definite strong point in that model. Playing bass-laden material such as Daft Punk's soundtrack to Tron: Legacy, the little MM-1 units hit hard and deep, lending an impressive authority to the experience. Keep goosing the volume and eventually they run out of steam, but this occurs at levels far higher than you'd ever use in a desktop situation. Fiddling with placement brings out the last bit of extension and clarity in the lows but again, isn't a strict requirement.
The MM-1 sounds great with vocals. Appropriately, I used them a lot with my favorite B&W Society of Sound releases, reduced down to 16-bit word lengths by necessity. Cara Dillon's Live at the Grand Opera House is a truly demo-worthy album, and her enchanting vocals really shine through the MM-1. They have an impressive top end sparkle that captures the lifelike qualities of her voice on tracks like "Black is the Colour" or "The Hill of Thieves". At the same time, the MM-1 is not overly bright with the FIM XRCD release of Albeniz: Suite Espanola, which can sound a bit sharp on the wrong system. I also tried plenty of non-audiophile material: The New Amsterdams, Meshuggah, Further Seems Forever, Alabama Shakes, and much more. While these types of albums don't have the same fidelity as your typical audiophile release, at times they can be downright hard to stomach on some equipment - think Sennheiser HD800. The MM-1 presents less-than-stellar material in a reasonably forgiving light, making them true all around performers no matter what you play.
The headphone output is reasonably good - it won't replace a dedicated unit like the $250 Lake People G103 but there's a good chance it will be superior to the headphone jack on your computer. I got acceptable results using it to drive the V-MODA M80 and Audio Technica AD2000, but found it lacking substance and weight with the high impedance beyerdynamic T1. It's not a powerhouse - 14mW peak output - but it does a good enough job for what it is.
The $499 price tag places the MM-1 in direct competition with some very nice desktop speakers. They put up a hearty fight considering their size, features, and age, and ultimately remain competitive if not dominant in the segment.
My reference for compact speaker setup at $500 is the Serene Audio Talisman. They offer a more pure, transparent window into the music thanks to a minimalist single driver design. The Talisman is all about midrange purity and in that respect they outclass the MM-1. They also take the lead in terms of imaging and recreating a realistic soundstage. The MM-1 comes across as having a more exciting sound - bass extends slightly deeper and highs have more sparkle. Both models are compact but B&W's little gems are less intrusive both physically and visually. Ultimately the Talisman sounds better to my ears, and seems like a perfect fit for the musical purist who listens to jazz, classical, and other quality recordings. The MM-1 might be more appropriate for a general audience who prefers a bit of excitement over strict tonal accuracy and enjoys a broader range of music, including poor recordings.
While the MM-1 doesn't quite match the Talisman in pure audio quality, it makes up for that in features. Factor in the built-in USB DAC, headphone amp, and handy iTunes-controlling remote, and the MM-1 makes a compelling case for itself. Aesthetically speaking, the B&W model might be a better fit in some situations with its elegant yet understated design as opposed to the more love-it-or-hate-it appearance of the Serene Audio offering.
Complaints? Aside from the 16/48 limitation, I have very little to complain about. As with most gear, a lower price would always be welcome, and the right side speaker has the usual blindingly-bright power LED. My review sample has an extremely faint background hiss which is barely audible. It's hardly worth mentioning as a "complaint" and certainly doesn't detract from my enjoyment - unlike the original Paradigm Shift active monitors which have since been revised.
There's something quite eye opening when moving from a full size living room setup to a desktop solution and not losing much in the process. That it can be done using a set of Emotiva Airmotiv5s - smaller than most monitor speakers but still large on the desktop - is one thing. Having a similar experience with a tiny little gem like the B&W MM-1 is downright shocking. Despite being on the market for a while, there's nothing at all outdated about the sound or good looks of these speakers. For their sound, their size, and their overall competence, they remain easy to recommend.
Here's a link to a translated Chinese page where they take apart an MM-1 to reveal it's innards. Quite an interesting product internally!