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Product Review - Mirage Home Theater Speaker System - June, 1996

By John E. Johnson, Jr.

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Mirage Speakers

Mirage Home Theater Speaker System: M-390is: Floor standing, Front firing; Single vented; One 1" titanium dome tweeter, one 5 1/5" polypropylene mid/bass driver; Frequency response 42 Hz - 22 kHz + or - 3 dB; Sensitivity 89 dB/w/m; Power handling 125 w rms; Nominal impedance 8 Ohms; Size 34"H x 8 1/2"W x 11"D; Weight 30 pounds; Black ash vinyl; $550/pair; MC-2: Center channel speaker, front firing, double vented; One 1" titanium dome tweeter, two 5 1/2" polypropylene mid/bass drivers; Frequency response 39 Hz - 22 kHz + or - 3 dB; Sensitivity 91 dB/w/m; Power handling 225 w rms; Nominal impedance 8 Ohms; Size 8 3/4"H x 23 7/8"W x 10 3/4"D; Weight 28 pounds; High gloss black lacquer; $450 each; MBS-2: Rear surround speakers - bipolar, sealed enclosure; Two 1" titanium dome tweeters, two 4 3/4" polypropylene mid/bass drivers; Frequency response 80 Hz - 20 kHz + or - 3 dB; Sensitivity 86 dB/w/m; Power handling 125 w rms; Nominal impedance 8 Ohms; Size 12" x 7 3/8"W x 7"D; Weight 11 pounds; High gloss black lacquer; $600/pair; Mirage Loudspeakers, 3641 McNicoll Avenue, Scarborough, Ontario, CANADA M1X 1G5; Phone 416-321-1800; Fax 416-321-1500.

The venerable Mirage speakers corporation has recently announced new floor standing speakers, center channel speakers, and bipolar surround speakers, so we requested a full set for testing. Although Mirage is perhaps best known for its bipolar designs [click HERE to see animation demonstrating bipolar driver motion], the 390is and MC-2 are front firing monopolar speakers. They both use the same tweeter and mid/bass drivers, so a proper balance in tonality can be achieved. The MBS-2 uses smaller mid/bass drivers, and along with the tweeters, are arranged in a bipolar configuration. All the speakers have two sets of binding posts, but only the 390 and MC-2 are set up for bi-wiring (posts are on the rear). The binding posts on the MBS-2 (they are on the bottom) are wired so that you eliminate either of the two bus bars depending on whether the speakers are going to be near a wall (brackets are supplied for mounting) or on stands, out from the wall. The high gloss black finish on the MC-2 and MBS-2 is extraordinary. We tried to capture this finish with reflections (see photo), but you really have to see these beauties for yourself to appreciate what Mirage has done. I don't know how they can produce speakers with this very difficult lacquer process and keep the price so reasonable.

We tested the Mirage with our home theater reference equipment, including the Parasound P/SP 1000, Adcom GFA-7000, Mirage LFX-3 Crossover, and Mirage BPSS-210 Bipolar Subwoofer. Wiring was Nordost 2-Flat; Laserdiscs included "Jurassic Park", "Ben Hur", "The Scarlet Letter", "Unstrung Heroes", "Strange Days", "Money Train", and "Casino".

We have had many questions on our listserver about using the same brand of speaker for the center as the front left/right. In general, this should be done; otherwise, during sound panning, there can be a large change in tonality when the audio moves from, say, left to center to right. Secondly, even without panning, if the center speaker is very different in tonality from the other front speakers, voices (center) can take on a "detached" character from the background that is quite distracting. They can sound like they are separate from the movie, and this destroys the surround sound environment. It is especially important to choose a good center channel speaker because it has to reproduce more of the sound track than any other channel. The MC-2 is a landmark design in this regard, and we felt that it had some of the best sound quality we have ever experienced from a center channel speaker. Even when played really loud (not recommended on a long term basis, for the sake of your ears!), voicing was natural. No mush here. Crystal clear all the way up. There was a slight boost in the 160 Hz chestiness region (see frequency response test results below), but all center channel speakers suffer from this to some extent, because the sound is reflecting off the face of the TV picture tube. The effect shifts to about 200 Hz at longer viewing (listening) distance. One can always use a little EQ if the chestiness is bothersome. Our AudioControl Rialto worked nicely here.

The 390is performed very well in the home theater setup, although they are not "home theater" speakers per se. There was no noticeable difference in audio tonality when the sound panned across the three front speakers. Even though the 390 is quite a bit larger than the MC-2, it is only a couple of pounds heavier (probably from having one less driver), and the 390 did not seem quite up to par with the MC-2 in performance. It would probably have been better to match the 490is with the MC-2 rather than the 390is.

The MBS-2 rear surround speaker is very unique. By disconnecting one of the bus bars, the tonality of the speaker is matched to where you place it. With the right (+) bus bar removed, the speakers sounded less "Bassy", and this is the connection configuration to use when the speakers are mounted near the wall, using the brackets supplied. The tweeter and mid/bass drivers are mounted on either side of the enclosure, but with the tweeter on top for one side, and on the bottom for the other. This adds to the ambience created by bipolar speakers. Their tonality is neutral, in our opinion, but you have to be very careful in their placement, as is the case with any bipolar speaker. Otherwise, you can end up with nasality or boominess. The bipolar MBS-2s provided a very diffuse soundfield, which is what they are supposed to do. It is a nice effect, particularly if you like to have the rear surround at a loudness near that of the front. The diffusion effect makes the rear less distracting when it is set to these higher loudness levels. We also tested the MBS-2s as "bookshelf" speakers by connecting them as left/right stereo with FM music. Very nice! The whole wall came alive, compared to the more focused sound with front firing bookshelf speakers.

The 390is and MC-2 worked beautifully with the BPSS-210 using the LFX-3 to divert all < 50 Hz frequencies away from the three speakers and to the subwoofer. It relieved the main speakers from handling booms and crashes to the extent that higher SPLs could be obtained. Therefore, a good sub is highly recommended with these speakers, and also with just about any speakers that use smaller drivers in the main channels.

For the frequency response tests, it was necessary to keep the grilles on, because they are designed in such a way that the front of the grille cloth is flush with the front of the speaker driver, and the edges of the grille frame are rounded to reduce diffraction effects.

Frequency Response Test Results (These data represent tests in a real room with furniture, not anechoic tests or simulations, and thus, may be somewhat different than you might experience in your own listening room of other dimensions and contents):

M-390is; Left Speaker Only, Near Field, 1 Meter, On Axis, Grille On:

Frequency: 25 Hz 31.5 Hz 40 Hz 50 Hz 63 Hz 80 Hz 100 Hz 125 Hz 160 Hz 200 Hz
dB: 62.0 70.4 77.6 85.5 89.7 88.0 81.4 75.6 70.6 80.5
Frequency: 500 Hz 800 Hz 1 kHz 2.5 kHz 5 kHz 8 kHz 10 kHz 12.5 kHz 15 kHz 18 kHz
dB: 82.1 81.9 80.1 79.2 77.1 79.6 84.5 84.2 83.9 83.0


M-390is; Left Speaker Only, Far Field, 12 Feet, On Axis, Grille On:

Frequency: 25 Hz 31.5 Hz 40 Hz 50 Hz 63 Hz 80 Hz 100 Hz 125 Hz 160 Hz 200 Hz
dB: 76.3 84.8 73.4 74.2 92.6 94.2 76.6 88.6 72.9 90.2
Frequency: 500 Hz 800 Hz 1 kHz 2.5 kHz 5 kHz 8 kHz 10 kHz 12.5 kHz 15 kHz 18 kHz
dB: 76.9 86.7 81.3 78.8 79.3 83.3 82.3 80.6 79.4 82.4


MC-2; Near Field, 1 Meter, On Axis, Grille On:

Frequency: 50 Hz 63 Hz 80 Hz 100 Hz 125 Hz 160 Hz 200 Hz 500 Hz 800 Hz
dB: 66.9 72.0 77.2 78.5 84.2 87.3 76.5 80.3 79.7
Frequency: 1 kHz 2.5 kHz 5 kHz 8 kHz 10 kHz 12.5 kHz 15 kHz 18 kHz
dB: 80.5 83.4 81.3 80.5 81.1 82.4 80.7 80.9


MC-2; Far Field, 12 Feet, On Axis, Grille On:

Frequency: 50 Hz 63 Hz 80 Hz 100 Hz 125 Hz 160 Hz 200 Hz 500 Hz 800 Hz
dB: 58.0 63.3 80.9 77.3 84.6 82.8 88.5 75.1 80.9
Frequency: 1 kHz 2.5 kHz 5 kHz 8 kHz 10 kHz 12.5 kHz 15 kHz 18 kHz
dB: 81.0 83.2 78.6 76.3 78.6 75.3 75.1 76.5

In summary, the Mirage surround sound "package", with the new M-390is, MC-2 and MBS-2 speakers, represent fine achievements in speaker design. Although Mirage also makes some excellent floor standing bipolar models as part of their speaker lineup, it may be best to keep the front left/right speakers monopolar when using a monopolar center channel speaker, such as the M-390is and MC-2, respectively. These new Mirage speakers - especially the MC-2 which is center channel supremo - are highly recommended for an audition.

John E. Johnson, Jr.
Editor-in-Chief

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