Bowers & Wilkins MM-1 Desktop Computer Speakers

Bowers & Wilkins MM-1 Computer Speakers ($499)
British firm B&W has some serious cred in the speaker world. In fact I'd say they are probably one of the most well known higher quality brands among the general non-audiophile public. Ask random folks on the street if they have heard of Wilson, Sonus Faber, Rockport, or Harbeth, and the answer will almost certainly be no. B&W on the other hand, while not quite a household name like Bose, has managed to gain some renown with the Average Joe. On the other end of the scale, they've consistently offered high-end models into the 5-digit price range.

In terms of computer audio, B&W was something of an early entry in the category with their MM-1 ($499) compact speakers which launched in late 2009. At the time this class of speaker was not all that common - the Focal XS ($599) 2.1 system was the main competition, having just launched earlier in the year and being similarly available at an Apple store near you. Audioengine had their A2 and A5 models already on the market by then but they looked decidedly more like traditional speakers and therefore reached for a different audience. And of course there was Bose, Boston Acoustics, Cambridge SoundWorks and some others, but nothing that really stood out to me at the time. Maybe it's a matter of perception but I just didn't see as many folks being interested in this type of thing. Some frugal shoppers turned to budget studio monitors from the likes of KRK and Behringer, which isn't necessarily a bad way to go, but if aesthetics are a concern those are all similarly bulky and bland looking so are not an option for some people. And of course they don't have the hi-fi pedigree of B&W or Focal which may or may not matter to you.

Fast forward a few years and this is now a popular category with lots more options - Paradigm has a few models (Shift and Millenia), Focal has additional offerings, and PSB is getting in on the action as well. Audioengine is more popular than ever and has expanded to offer more than just speakers. I could go on but the bottom line is that people have become more accepting of really compact powered desktop monitors that sell for somewhat high prices. We've also gotten more accustomed to using powered monitors like the Emotiva airmotiv5 so it almost has to be separated into two distinct catagories: those larger models that are somewhat boxy and clearly look like speakers, and those with the looks and/or size to qualify for the dreaded "lifestyle" category.

So why the MM-1, and why now? Three years after its release, B&W still champions the MM-1 as their one and only offering in this category. They clearly have the resources to build a new model whenever they want, so that indicates to me that they still consider it relevant. I wanted to see how well it held up to some of the more recent competition, so here we are.

The MM-1 is a 2.0 system with a compact and aesthetically pleasing design. Each speaker is roughly 7 inches tall, 4 inches wide, and 4 inches deep. Build quality and appearance were clearly prioritized by the design team. Each speaker is covered by a non-removable "sock" of grill-cloth material, similar to Vandersteen or GoldenEar speakers. The silver metallic accents do more than just catch your eye - the right speaker features hidden volume controls and the top section acts as a heat sink for the electronics housed below. Underneath that speaker we find a USB port for connection to a computer, a jack for the outboard switch-mode power supply, and a plug for the umbilical which connects to the left speaker. On the back we find 1/8th inch jacks for the auxiliary input and headphone output.

Though elegantly simple on the outside, these little guys are surprisingly advanced on the inside. Each speaker features a 3 inch Kevlar woofer and a 1 inch metallic dome tweeter. The tweeters are tube loaded using B&W's "Nautilus" technology - a trickle down feature from their higher end speakers. A tapered chamber behind the driver is said to dampen resonance resulting in a more accurate high frequency response. On the larger B&W models the tweeter usually gets mounted outboard, on top of the cabinet, with the Nautilus chamber extending back a good distance. Since the internal space in the MM-1 is so limited, the Nautilus tube actually curves into a U shape in order to maximize the chamber length. Clever.

The right speaker houses all of the electronics. USB input is handled by the multi-function Analog Devices ADAU1761. On-board DSP shapes the signal to compensate for the limited size of the speakers and enclosure. The signal then gets processed by the integrated D/A converter. This same chip doubles as a headphone amplifier with a maximum output of 14mW, and also converts analog signals from the Aux jack to digital - a required step to allow for DSP processing. A 32-bit Atmel microcontroller handles system tasks while a pair of Analog Devices ADAU1592 Class-D chip amps deliver up to 18W per channel to each of the 4 speakers.

USB playback is limited to 16-bit/48kHz. I'm not exactly sure why, as the ADAU1761 should be capable of going as high as 24/96. Perhaps some limitation with the Atmel MCU is holding it back. Whatever the cause, this puts me in the somewhat awkward position of being unable to play B&W's own Society of Sound releases at their native 24-bit/48kHz resolution. Yes, I can reduce the bit depth to 16 with negligible impact on the sound quality, but it still demonstrates a certain lack of foresight by the manufacturer. On the plus side, the MM-1 does work with the iPad via the Camera Connection Kit, a fact that B&W doesn't mention anywhere.

Bowers & Wilkins
54 Concord Street
North Reading, MA
(978) 664 2870

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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