Enjoy plenty of movie and music thrills with this slick mid-range sub/sat system
I believe Monitor Audio's Mass system is destined to be a good seller. Sub/sat packages in general are more likely to shift units than larger, costlier arrays, and this has a lot going for it. First, it's from a respected brand that, over the years, has rarely put a foot wrong. Secondly, it's got a neat style thing going on. Thirdly, the total £800 ticket is just the right side of £1,000 (where some people start to sweat when buying speakers), but comfortably high enough to entice audio snobs who won't entertain the idea of a £400 or £500 setup. That it offers a delightful multichannel performance is the icing on the cake.
In terms of design, Monitor Audio is offering something a bit different here. Having failed geometry, I'm not sure exactly what shape each MASS 10 satellite is (look at the photography and decide for yourself), but the tapered top and bottom are easy on the eye.
Monitor Audio's satellite stands 9in high and is light enough to be carried around in the palm of your hand but weighty enough to instil confidence in its abilities. Three sides are wrapped in black speaker cloth, while the ported rear is black plastic. On each end is a smart-looking aluminium plate – the bottom one pops off to reveal the speaker terminals.
Installing these speakers can be a simple matter of putting them on whatever flat surface you can find (the centre channel comes with a little cradle to stop it rolling away) but I auditioned them with the additional £125-per-pair stands, and I'd advise potential buyers to give these consideration. Not only do they make it easier to site the MASS cabinets in optimal positions, but they make cabling a lot easier, too – each stand has its own set of side-mounted binding posts on the plinth.
Completing the package is the MASS W200 sub. This comes in a box bigger than the one housing all five satellites, with the legend 'Useless if dropped' on the packaging.
And, yes, it is big. Disconcertingly so, considering the size of its colleagues. A full 38.5cm wide and 42cm high, it rather destroys the MASS system's potential to be a true lifestyle product of the sort usually illustrated by a woman in white pajamas drinking an espresso in a sun-drenched waterfront apartment. If that's you, you'll want to head elsewhere.
The rest of us can instead smile, as the MA sub is no half-hearted attempt at the .1 channel. Grunt is provided by a 220W amp and its 10in driver is supported by another 10in passive radiator (which seems to be the current 'in thing'). Monitor Audio calls it a 'powder keg for bass'. Just how I like it.
Onboard controls are provided for phase and crossover (the latter is disabled if the sub is fed via the LFE input from your AVR) and a switch to flick between Music, Film and Impact settings, each adding a few dBs at certain frequencies. Find the one you like the best and stick to it – the notion that you're going to poke around the back of your subwoofer every time you go from watching a movie to listening to a CD is preposterous. If the switch was on the top of the sub, however...
A big slice of the MASS system's price will be the cost of its driver technology. Monitor Audio's C-CAM mid-bass cone is a feature of pretty much all the brand's speaker lines, a rigid aluminium/magnesium mashup with a ceramic coating that provides heat dissipation. A cheapo paper cone this ain't. The tweeters are also C-CAM flavoured, with a gold anodised finish.
Fed by my Yamaha RX-V673, the MASS 5.1 system gives a good account of itself, easily justifying the price tag. As you'd expect given the satellites' homogenous nature, there's a smooth sound on show here as material moves around the soundstage. The overriding impression is one of clean high-frequencies and a fulsome mid-range, although both scale and sheer output are limited compared to my more expensive and expansive Crystal Acoustics floorstanders.
The subwoofer, however, has been tailored to make up for these shortcomings. With 5.1 movie mixes, or with music platters running in my AVR's all-channel stereo mode, it adds a slice of weight and size to the whole soundstage, seemingly making the MASS satellites' output larger than it is. This, of course, is the whole point of a sub, and with my Yamaha's crossover set at 80Hz there's a nice sense of integration. Lynyrd Skynyrd's Greatest Hits (CD) oozes out of the MAs with foot-tapping panache; the rhythm section unmuddied and tight, the percussive tocks and tings cleanly picked out.
The subwoofer can get down and dirty, too. Chase and Status' No More Idols (CD) may be an unashamed slab of noisesome yoof music but it certainly helps separate the men from the boys. Bestowed with fantastic amounts of computer-derived bass, tracks like Hocus Pocus give the MA woofer a chance to flex its muscles, dropping deep and, essentially, turning your living room into a seedy nightclub. It's absolutely awesome, although I did notice the sub losing some of its tightness when faced with the rapid-fire double bass beats of Metallica's Battery.
Switching to two-channel music, and there's a temptation to crank up the volume to make up for the lack of the W200. Go too high, though, and you'll detect the satellite's begin to strain, with a brashness and lack of distinction creeping in.
Put into action with film soundtracks, the MASS system simply shines. With Jurassic Park on Blu-ray, the footfalls of the T-Rex sound suitably ominous and omnipotent and the Hollywood-science dialogue has presence and weight from the horizontal centre channel. During sequences like the Gallimimus stampede in Chapter 14, the package proves adept at putting you in the heart of the action. Spielberg's fleet-footed dinosaurs knock into each other as they race past from the rear of the soundfield to the front, and the sound is crisp, detailed and utterly immersive. Meanwhile, on Ridley Scott's Robin Hood (Blu-ray), Marc Streitenfeld's memorable score is richly delivered by the C-CAM drivers.
Overall, Monitor Audio's newest product lineup is the perfect partner for a mid-range AVR in a living room cinema setup. Everything from the build quality and design to movie and (sub-assisted) music performance impresses. Another £180 would secure an extra pair of the MASS 10s for a 7.1 setup...
Monitor Audio MASS 5.1
Highs: Slick multichannel performance; excellent build quality and design; optional stands; good value
Lows: Speaker terminals are a bit fiddly; limited in scale and output
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