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.

In terms of use, these little guys are surprisingly versatile. The small size makes them ideal for even the smallest desktop but they have enough guts to qualify for other usage scenarios besides just near-field listening. I don't know if I'd recommend them for a big living room, but they fill my moderately large bedroom just fine. Their attractive yet understated look would be right at home in an office setting, yet they would be equally comfortable in a garage, workshop, or pretty much any other reasonably sized area. The 3.5mm input allows pairing with a portable player if you aren't able to feed it with a USB connection. Sound quality takes a small hit when using a line-out dock from my iPad - likely due to the extra A/D conversion step. I did prefer using the Camera Connection Kit for a digital link to my iPad, resulting in a quieter background and more transparency.

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.

Tough Crowd
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.

Conclusions
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.

Resources
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!

COMPANY INFO
Bowers & Wilkins
54 Concord Street
North Reading, MA
marketing@bwgroupusa.com
(978) 664 2870
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COMMENTS
twtpp's picture

Great job, John. Your review explains virtues of MM1 very well.

Although Bose M2 has been my favorite desktop speakers (great sound as long as proper toe-in, and.. much cheaper!), MM1 was clearly better in terms of richer bass, generous toe-in, and wider sweet-spot.

Did you compare MM1 with Focal's XS books?

John Grandberg's picture

I have heard the original Focal XS 2.1 system multiple times (though never in my own home) and could never get into it. It always seemed like it was "faking it" with overly crisp upper mids and a general sense of artifical hi-fi-ness (is that a word?). And I could always locate the sub no matter where I placed it, probably due to the crossover point being so high. I really do think throwing all the money at 2 speakers instead of 3 makes more sense at this price range. 

The XS book could be a step in the right direction. Haven't had a chance to hear it though. 

Dinny FitzPatrick's picture

have always been curious, but that price tag....

Tyll Hertsens's picture

...but I had these at home for a little while before shipping them off to John for review and felt they were worthy for some people. In this case, guys who wear suits and schwanky offices and still want something that sounds good. I really liked their stealth good looks and sound that was much bigger than the box it came out of. Sure, I love having Harbeths on my desk here at home, but big speakers in a serious office might be a bit gauche. The MM-1 turns the trick in that regard: surprisingly good sound from a small, elegant speaker. In the end, I thought $500 really wasn't out of line given those factors.

Lunatique's picture

You guys really need to review the Audioengine A2's--widely considered the best small desktop speakers out there. Also, the Soundmatters FoxL with the palm-sized FoxLo subwoofer is also one of the most compelling portable-size bluetooth speaker systems currently available.

John Grandberg's picture

The revised A2+ is just making its debut at CES so I'm sure we'll be checking it out in the near future. I had heard rumblings about it for a while which is why I never bothered covering the original model. 

warpdrive's picture

I had have these for a while now....I used to have excellent Dynaudio studio monitors but I wasn't getting good use out of them so I tried to reclaim some of the desk space and bought these. I got these for 30% off on sale and feel I got my money's worth. Had the Focal XS Book been around, I might have chosen those instead because they have better bass extension.

These are pretty good little speakers. They look great on my desk, take up no room at all, and have better clarity and detail than the Audioengine A2 I had before. I wouldn't use these for serious listening but all in all, I'm pleased with their muscality

My only beef with these is that there's a bit of hiss coming through the amp even with no music playing and the right speaker gets quite warm even when idling with no music. Not sure why it should be generating so much heat considering these have digital amps inside.

I agree with Tyll, these are decent speakers that are supposed to have a premium yet unobtrustive style but still offer decently refined sound. Great for the Apple demographic who want some style with their speakers (that's not to say they are all style-no substance, these speakers offer strong doses of both).

John Grandberg's picture

Thanks for sharing your experience. I had read complaints about hiss, and listened closely for it in the review pair. I just couldn't hear anything of the sort until one night my wife and kids where out and I was alone in a silent house... Then I could hear an ever so slight hiss with no music playing. It's so quiet as to be barely perceptible so at least in this particular set I wouldn't call it an issue. 

goodnews's picture

Warpdrive, where did you find these on sale for 30% off? I'd like to find a sale like that! I just returned my pair a few days ago because I started hearing a buzz when no music was playing when the volume was near its max. I really like the sound of these speakers, and if I could find it on sale, I'd jump on it again.

warpdrive's picture

I live in Canada and it was a one time sale at the Futureshop chain. I've never seen it again for that cheap again and I pay pretty good attention to these things. They had the site wide sale for "computer speakers" and even though B&W isn't normally discounted there, the discount applied and I jumped on it.

They are good little speakers, still impressed with them even though I've moved on (now using Teac AH01 and PSB Imagine Mini), which takes up a lot more space but is more versatile

star's picture

bw mn-1 vs m-audio av-40 vs monsoonsvs aktimate mini anyone comp

branon's picture

I am glad you thought of reviewing these speakers despite them being out for so long. 

Hopefully you will put monitor audio's ws100 and the new harman kardon nova on your to review list too!

star's picture

did anyone expirienced the iquake52 ? or quad #la

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