Surround Sound Speaker Systems

MK Sound LCR950 Monitor Speakers, SUR950T Surround Speakers, and MX250 Subwoofer

ARTICLE INDEX

In Use

Starting out with two-channel music listening, I immediately noticed two things about the 950's. First, they created rock-solid phantom center imaging. As in, I kept walking up to the speakers to make sure the center-channel wasn't playing. One of my favorite 80's rock albums, Peter Gabriel's So, benefits from superb production and engineering. The song Mercy Street has a haunting two-part lead vocal; on the MK's, Gabriel's voice seemed to float in the middle of the room.

Second, the 950's created a much bigger soundstage than expected from the compact-sized speakers. Even modestly engineered albums, such as the acoustic guitars on Uncle John's Band (from the Grateful Dead's Workingman's Dead), sounded larger than life. The soundstage extended far beyond the physical boundaries of the speakers, as well as creating impressive front-to-back depth.

Speaking of superbly engineered rock albums, the Eagles spend a full eight months recording the Hotel California album. Don Henley's vocals on Wasted Time sounded great on the 950's, sounding natural throughout the all-important midrange frequencies. The MX250 subwoofer provided robust, tight bass without calling attention to itself. The kick drum on New Kid in Town is prominent in the mix, and the MX250 accurately reproduced the snap of the beater on the skin, with fast transient response that was surprising for a sub with dual 12" drivers.

Switching to movies, Pirate Radio is a romanticized look at the unauthorized radio stations operating from barges located off the British coast in the 1960's. The film has plenty of vintage early rock and soul music, fast-paced dialogue and the occasional loud dynamic section. The 950's, as expected, shined in reproducing accurate dialogue and seamless pans across the timbre-matched front speakers. Amelia, a biopic of the famous aviator, was pretty disappointing as a film, but had plenty of flying scenes that gave the SUR950T's a workout. The SUR950T surround speakers did an excellent job of creating ambiance without overly pinpointing their source.

Towards the end of the review period, I received the Emotiva XPA-3 amplifier for review (in process) and used it to power the front speakers. Although many people are unlikely to match the 950's (at $600 each) with separates, Emotiva amplifiers are known for their high quality at very reasonable prices (the XPA-3 normally costs $599, on sale for $539 at this writing). Mating the 950's with the Emotiva amp brought out a lot of additional detail, such as reverberations in vocal phrases that were otherwise inaudible. In fact, with high-frequency percussive sounds like cymbals, it was almost too much of a good thing. The sound was not brittle, harsh, or compressed, but laser-like accurate. Nothing wrong with the sound, it just depends how spicy you like your curry. As it was, I was impressed with the 950's powered by the Integra. But the performance of the 950's driven by the Emotiva was tantalizingly close to amazing; the sound at the top end was just a touch too revealing for my ears. Because the Emotiva is a new piece of equipment to my system, I cannot say whether the extra high-frequency energy was a result of the amp, the combination of amp and Integra processor, or 950's.