This hands-on review originally appeared in the October/November 2019 issue of WiFi HiFi Magazine.
- Pretty good surround performance
- Attractive look, better than the previous Mass system
- Soft dome tweeters work better for smaller rooms
Satellites cut off at 105Hz
Not ideal for 2-channel music
Sub does not go deep enough
When I think Monitor Audio, the first thing that comes to mind is the company's infamous Platinum series and, of course, the gorgeous monolithic towers. However, thus far, even the "tiniest" offerings have stuck to a rather rectilinear form factor, kind of like the Volvo design of old. You can choose whatever size you want, but you'll get a boxy design.
The new MASS home cinema system breaks that boxy mold for a more streamlined, decor-friendly silhouette that's as sexy as it is industrial. Everything about the cabinet, from the internal ribbing to the variable cone thickness, has been engineered to increase inertness, and, combined with the unique design of the new 0.75-inch soft-dome high-frequency and 3.5-inch bass/mid drivers, to reduce internal resonance for improved clarity, transparency, and intelligibility... or so they claim. The reason for my scepticism is because I have yet to find a micro-sized sub-sat system that I want to use for a secondary home theatre application.
In the meantime, here are the specifications of the satellites given by the manufacturer:
- 3.5″ Bass-Mid-range driver featuring MMP II (Metal Matrix Polymer) cone technology.
- Specially developed 0.75″ soft dome tweeter design featuring unique venting and rear loading chamber - low resonance design to provide clean, pure sound.
- Rigid, braced and fibre-reinforced cabinet.
- Integrated stand-mount point and wall bracket (compatible with MASM bracket)
- Concealed, discreet cable termination inside end cap using binding post type connection for added neatness in their collective appearances.
An optional floor-stand with internal cable management system is available for $229. I wish the stand was included, but I understand that the company, like many others, needs to hit a certain price point.
The lovely and deceptive little MASS subwoofer also follows a similar themed cabinet design and boasts an 8-inch active long-throw driver with MMP II cone driven by 120 Watts of Class-D internal amplifier. A built-in DSP ensures a flat frequency response (verified by my measurements) down to 35Hz.
The subwoofer also comes with "Music" for a natural bass curve, "Movie," with a bit of bump in the lower and mid-low region of the bass frequencies to give some boominess to the bass sound, and "Impact" where the bump on the preset seems to boost only certain low frequency in a very low Q area to create the illusion of huge impact without the trailing boom tail end of a punch. These DSP settings are available to tailor performance to your preferences. I personally chose "Music" for everything because it's the most naturalistic approach of the sound system.
By the way, the Metal Matrix Polymer driver cones used in the new Mass have a polypropylene base loaded with metallic particles to offer a rigid and responsive structure. Monitor Audio claims that they are manufactured using a sophisticated high-pressure injection process, which modulates cone thickness at critical points to optimize stiffness and consistency, resulting in a superior sonic performance. Regardless of the marketing-speak, whatever they did, it works, as conventional cones are liable to flex or twist in operation, producing a significant level of audible distortion. These speakers, meanwhile, don't have audible distortion that I can pinpoint.
The transient response is quick and accurate and, for the lower frequencies, there is hardly any punch delay or "wobble" in the sound reproduction. This is likely due to the overall cone material rigidity and lightness.
Set-up and Evaluation
After unpacking, I set up the speakers as per the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) standard, where the front left-right speakers should be placed to form an equilateral triangle with the primary listening position. In other words, the distance between the listener and each of the speakers, and the distance between the left and right speakers themselves should be equal. All angles inside the triangle should be 60 degrees with the surround speakers located 110-degrees from the centre channel and everything being equidistantly set.
I hooked up the speakers to the Pioneer VSX-LX504 and the subwoofer set through DSPeaker Antimode 8033s subwoofer room-EQ to ON position to eliminate my room-mode bass-frequency problem, I started playing some key scenes from the DTS 2019 Demo UHD disc and the newly-released IMAX Enhanced UHD Demo Disc on my Panasonic UB820 UHD Blu-ray player, along with the Pod Race scene in Star Wars Episode I.
I'm not going to delve deep into the music reproduction part as these speakers are meant for a home theatre experience. But it's worth noting that music reproduction is very good; they're one of the better ones I've tested, although music reproduction in a home theatre setting is relatively difficult to reproduce by micro-sized sub-sat systems. On the other hand, for a music-only two-channel presentation, I found that too much of the vocals went to the subwoofer since the satellites can only go down to 105Hz (I had to set the frequency cut-off on the receiver's crossover to 110Hz). Perhaps that's the reason there is no 2.1 music package for the new MASS.
While I can't hear (or measure) anything below the 35Hz frequency range, I have to admit that I'm still impressed with the MASS subwoofer's performance in reproducing the constant thumping of low frequencies in the aforementioned Star Wars scene.
The low-frequency sound effect coupled with music is truly impressive when Merida enters the stone enclave, as well as when the sound builds up to create the tension of the casting of the spell, with a split second of silence just before the explosion. I didn't expect that both subtlety and dynamics could come right after one another with such ease.
As the movie progressed, I became more impressed with these speakers. The sound of rain falling all around created a feeling of shelter - it was expansive and realistic. Meanwhile, the singing was steered into the centre channel, leading viewers into a scene from the past and bringing them back out by returning to the surrounds and disappearing into the distance. It sounded remarkable.
Inside the room with Mor'du, I could clearly hear the reverb from Merinda's voice, and foley that is created in the front and rear two speakers-an intentional and crafty trick to create the illusion of her being in a large stone room. The reverb in her voice after she falls into the throne room was reproduced with amazing subtlety and details. I heard Mor'du's low-frequency growl in the surrounds, just as we did in the first scene of the film, before he attacks. As Mor'du attacks, his sounds - voice, feet, claws, breathing - follow his location. The use of a subwoofer and different channels to place emphasis on the ominous and large presence of this behemoth is not something that any sub-sat speakers can handle. In fact, most of them simply can't, whereas the MASS 5.1 did it without breaking a sweat.
This review would be incomplete if I didn't point out a quibble that may or may not be a deal breaker for some. The subwoofer, while punchy, is not especially deep and won't add the bass weight you need in a large room. This isn't a deal breaker for me, and it shouldn't be if you like to listen to any music or soundtrack in a natural way as opposed to the "boom-boom" sound of the ‘80s car stereo. The tweeters, on the other hand, are quite an improvement over the original MASS' hard cones. The new soft-dome tweeters deliver a warmer tone and a mellower overall sonic characteristic.
Overall, the new MASS 5.1 ($1,399) is an amazing set of speakers; they are uncannily adept at conveying fine detail. It's a very engaging and immersive system, and its incisive tone is well suited to atmospheric soundtracks. The fast timing and expressive tonality of the set is perfect for most soundtracks delivered to them. If you have a small space or need a set of speakers for your secondary theatre set up, these speakers are for you.