HOME THEATER & SOUND -- www.hometheatersound.com



August
2008

Reviewed by
Kevin East
REVIEWERS' CHOICE


AV123
x-series x-mtm encore / x-cs encore / x-ls encore / MFW-15
Home-Theater Speaker System

Features SnapShot!

Description

Model: x-mtm encore floorstanding speaker
Price: $609 USD per pair
Dimensions: 46.7"H x 8.5"W x 16.5"D
Weight: 57 pounds each

Model: x-cs encore center-channel speaker
Price: $219 USD
Dimensions: 20.0"W x 8.5"H x 15.5"D
Weight: 30 pounds

Model: x-ls encore surround speaker
Price: $329 USD per pair
Dimensions: 13.5"H x 8.5"W x 12.13"D
Weight: 17 pounds each

Model: MFW-15 powered subwoofer
Price: $699 USD
Dimensions: 24"H x 18.13"W x 22.4"D
Weight: 125 pounds

System price: $1856 USD

Warranty: Three years against factory defects and workmanship.


Features

Speakers:

  • Peerless India 1" treated-fabric dome tweeters
  • Custom-built Peerless India 6.5" curvilinear treated-paper cone woofers
  • Two-way direct-radiating system
  • Vented enclosures, rear-firing flared port
  • Gold-plated five-way binding posts
  • Real-wood veneers: Satin Black, Moho Satin, Cherry Satin

Subwoofer:

  • 15" custom-designed driver
  • Adjustable crossover frequency
  • Adjustable output level
  • 180-degree phase adjustment
  • 350W internal amplifier
  • Real-wood veneers: Satin Black, Moho Satin, Cherry Satin, Rosewood

Home-theater speakers are ubiquitous -- a search for an exotic model can yield as many dividends as a search for a compact one. We’ve found this recently with speaker systems as diverse as the Audes Credo (the exotic) and the Energy Take Classic (the compact). If, however, you’re looking for a speaker system that’s big and brash, will absolutely dominate even a large room, and is eminently affordable, look no further.

AV123 eliminates the middle man by selling its products exclusively through its website (www.av123.com), and what it sells are bold audio statements at rock-bottom prices (well, OK, not exactly rock-bottom, but purt’ near close). Its x-series speakers, one configuration of which, the x-ls monitor and x-sub subwoofer, won GoodSound!’s Product of the Year award for 2006, is a prime example of how Internet marketing and retailing can bring outstanding audio products to the consumer at competitive prices.

Attributes

Each x-series speaker has one or more 6.5" curvilinear cone woofers of treated paper custom-built by Peerless India. AV123 uses a polymer driver chassis to prevent the transmission of resonances to the front baffle, and the voice-coil is vented on the outside through the frame and pole-piece. The tweeters are Peerless India 1" treated-fabric domes, well damped with three separate layers through a hollow pole-piece. In the x-mtm encore tower ($609 per pair) and x-cs encore center ($219) models, the tweeter is positioned between the two woofers in a D’Appolito-like array. The x-ls encore ($329/pair), used as surrounds in the review system, has one woofer and one tweeter. The rear connection receptacle sports a pair of sturdy, five-way binding posts that will accept banana plugs, spade lugs, pins, or bare wire. The spacing of the posts is standard, and they accept dual banana plugs. The review system was finished in a gorgeous real-wood veneer of Moho Satin; Satin Black and Cherry Satin are also available.

The cabinets are built of 0.75"-thick braced MDF. AV123 is proud of these boxes’ rigidity, using up to eight braces inside each to minimize internal resonances -- and with cabinets of this size, especially the towers, a lot of bracing is an absolute necessity. The x-mtm encore tower measures 46.7"H x 8.5"W x 16.5"D (57 pounds), the x-cs encore center-channel is 20.0"W x 8.5"H x 15.5"D (30 pounds), and the x-ls encore surround is 13.5"H x 8.5"W x 12.13"D (17 pounds). In short, there’s plenty of room inside these cabinets for resonant mischief. But I found them rock-solid; rapping my knuckles against their sides produced dull thucks -- to these ears, music of another sort. Finally, the drivers of each x-series speaker are protected by a rigidly mounted grille of black, perforated metal. These grilles are acoustically inert, like those we’ve seen previously with the Canton GLEs, and removable. I like them because they add a skosh of fashion to the speakers’ appearance, as well as much, much better driver protection than the usual cloth grilles.

The x-series speakers are usually mated with the x-sub subwoofer ($219), but AV123 has now "retired" that model from the US market. Instead, they shipped me an MFW-15 ($699) -- a behemoth by any rational standard. Its big footprint of 18.13"W x 22.4"D (x 24"H) is surpassed only by its heft: 125 pounds. The internal, custom-built 350W amplifier drives a single 15" woofer. Folks, we’re talking serious air-moving capability. The slot-loaded front vent coils, snail-like, inside the cabinet to minimize turbulence, which in turn minimizes port noise -- and, I would suggest, eliminates it almost entirely. When I turned up the gain to unreasonable levels, there was nary an audible wheeze from the slot.

The MFW-15 comes in the three finishes available for the x models (as well as a couple more); in fact, the finely finished MFW-15 lays to rest the notion that a subwoofer must be a) matte black and b) ugly. Oddly, or perhaps simply asynchronously, the massive 15" driver is protected by a cloth grille, attached to the enclosure face with magnets.

Installation

I set up the x-mtm towers about 6’ apart, one to either side of our A/V cabinet, each 11’ from the listening position. The x-cs center-channel speaker was set atop the cabinet, while the x-ls surrounds sat on 29" stands to the left and right of the listening position. Because the center speaker sat a good 4’ higher than our listening position, I shimmed it with a couple of widths of cut-up mouse pad to angle its output downward into the soundfield. Some brief experimentation revealed that the best position for the x-mtm towers was firing straight into the room, without toe-in.

(A word to those of you contemplating purchasing an A/V cabinet: Measure the height of the shelf, if any, above or below the video monitor, to ensure that it’s big enough to hold the center speaker you want. Ours has no lower shelf, and its upper shelf is too narrow to accept most center speakers. The only center we’ve tested so far that fit is the Energy Take Classic center speaker, which, along with its brethren, now adorns a modest A/V installation in the master bedroom suite. Every other center speaker has had to be set atop the cabinet, its firing angle adjusted accordingly.)

I placed the MFW-15 subwoofer behind a big ol’ comfy leather chair to one side of the A/V cabinet, where all subs go to live, and sometimes die. The problem is that this sucker is so big, it couldn’t be hidden behind the chair -- vast expanses of subwoofer poked out everywhere. If you’re considering a sub of this size, I suggest preparing a place for it -- not only to get the best sound, but also to fit in with your furniture and décor.

The MFW-15 comes with an array of connection options: stereo high-level inputs and outputs, stereo low-level inputs, and an LFE input. I connected the LFE input to the sub output of my Onkyo TX-SR800 A/V receiver and, after futzing around with output levels, settled on a crossover setting of 80Hz. I then calibrated the speakers’ output levels with the Onkyo’s onboard pink-noise generator and a RadioShack digital SPL meter.

Listening

It seems as if our craving for mindless -- and sometimes mindful -- action is insatiable. The installation of AV123’s x speakers emboldened us to indulge in director Alex Proyas’s very loose adaptation of Isaac Asimov’s I, Robot. The x’s passed the swirling front-to-rear surround sound with no noticeable breaks, the tower, center, and surround speakers forming a cocoon of sound through which the action passed unimpeded. The untimely destruction of Dr. Lanning’s house (chapter 14) thundered and crashed around us as the rumbling of the MFW-15 subwoofer added a chilling, if inadvertent, felt sensation. Similarly, the NS5 attack on Del Spooner (Will Smith, swiftly catching up with Bruce Willis as the action maven’s laconic, iconic action hero of choice) in the car/transport chase (ch. 19) exploded across the soundstage in a seamless array of bloodless mayhem that included squeals of twisting metal, fissured glass, and pulverized robot parts. The ability of the x-series system to capture subtle changes in dynamics was displayed in the crowd/robot army curfew scene (ch. 37), in which the initial confrontation escalates ever so gradually from hushed bewilderment to a pitched battle.

Old faithfuls such as The Incredibles and The Fifth Element lost nothing in their sonic translations by the AV123s. The swooshing railpods (The Incredibles, ch. 20) darted across the soundstage with full Doppler authority -- the x speakers were able to play loud and clear. Dash’s dash to freedom (ch. 23), from the pat-pat-pat of Dash’s feet to the lethal whining of the velocipods, careened from one end of the soundstage to the other in an unbroken aural ballet. The AV123s easily displayed soundstages with pinpoint accuracy: in The Fifth Element, the simulated holographic radio broadcast (ch. 20), the spectacular gun battle (ch. 28), and Diva Plavalaguna’s plaintive aria (ch. 26) were rendered with the kind of audio honesty that rivets one’s attention to the action. Only later, when that action had temporarily abated, was I aware of how breathlessly I’d been enveloped by the soundtrack.

I single out the MFW-15’s performance to underline that pretty much everything you’ve heard about it is true. It delivered massive doses of very clean, very loud bass. Want to turn up the vehicle crashes in I, Robot, or Syndrome’s rocket launch in The Incredibles? Go right ahead -- just be careful not to overdo it. While I have no empirical evidence, my room shook hard enough (OK, I was overdoing it) to give me pause to consider checking the integrity of its foundation. At the same time, the sub amplifier’s considerable power coaxed deep, clearly articulated, seamless bass from such challenging recordings as "Orinoco Flow," from Enya’s Watermark (CD, Warner Bros. 26774), and "The Man I Used to Be," from Jellyfish’s Bellybutton (CD, Virgin 86186) -- which, after all, is what large amounts of output power are supposed to do.

Summary

AV123’s x-series speakers are impressive. They’re big -- okay, they’re huge -- they’re beautiful, and they sound terrific. I have rarely encountered speakers of this quality at these prices. In short, you can have a monster A/V system for less than two grand -- and if these speakers don’t satisfy you, AV123 will take ’em back and pay the return shipping. This is the kind of e-tailing the audio world has anticipated since the advent of Internet commerce. You can’t walk into an e-store and audition speakers -- hell, you can barely do that in an audio showroom, because until you get ’em home and in your own system, you have only the slightest inkling of how they’ll really sound. Just as the better retailers have learned, AV123 gives you time to audition speakers in the environment in which you expect them to perform: your room. You make the ultimate decision to keep them only after you’ve set them up in your space and put them through the sort of use that’s unique to your own viewing and listening habits. I’m not sure it gets any better than that.

The x-mtm encore towers, and especially the MFW-15 subwoofer, demand a large room. They’ll work in a small room, but their tremendous ability to fill a very large space with wave after wave of unbroken sound will be wasted in a smaller space. Our A/V room is 20’L x 16’W by 10’H, and the AV123 system nearly overpowered it. If you’re interested in AV123’s product line -- and at these prices, anyone at the entry level should be -- I suggest you carefully examine their different speaker models in consideration of your listening space. If my experience with this system is any indication, you’ll be able to assemble an excellent system that will suit your needs to a T. I have no doubt that you’ll find the sound quality -- indeed, the entire viewing/listening experience -- outstanding.

Review System
Receiver - Onkyo TX-SR800
Source - Pioneer DV-563-A DVD player
Cables - RadioShack, generic 14AWG terminated with banana plugs
Display device - Dell WD4200 plasma
 

Manufacturer contact information:

AV123
Longmont, CO 80501
Phone: (877) 543-7500
Fax: (720) 494-1751

E-mail: sales@av123.com
Website: www.av123.com


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