by Roy Harris
The Mark and Daniel Monitor speakers are based upon a revision of the Heil Air Motion tweeter. My first encounter with this driver was more than 35 years ago, when I heard the ESS Heil speaker. It had an unconventional appearance at the time and still seems to be arresting to the eye in its current version.
Hybrid speakers are probably less of a novelty in 2008 than they might have been in 1969. In addition to Mark and Daniel, there are several companies manufacturing stand-mounted speakers using ribbon technology, including, Dali, Sonist, Aurum Cantus, Selah, Wasatch, VMPS , Wisdom Audio and Carver. The challenge of combining dissimilar driver materials cannot be under estimated.
The bass driver is a 6.5 inch reinforced coated paper cone. It is a proprietary driver designed by Daniel Lee, patented during 1999 and manufactured in Shanghai. The excursion rate is three times that of comparative drivers and moves three times as much air. The piston is always under 100 percent magnetic control. The driver does not distort at full excursion. The Dreams driver (tweeter) is a modified Heil driver, larger in size, and its frame structure and curvature are different. As a result, a lower cross-over point (800 Hz) can be achieved as well as greater dispersion. The Dreams driver is a folded ribbon and has the radiant equivalent (surface area) of 40 one inch dome tweeters. According to the manufacturer, it has 5.1 times the speed of a conventional cone. Compared to a flat rectangular ribbon, it has about 8 times the radiant area. The bass driver has significantly greater dispersion than the Dreams driver. The manufacturer’s stated frequency response is 38 Hz to 20 KHz, + or – 3db, and the woofer is flat to 50 KHz.
A design goal of this speaker system is the minimization of frequency modulation distortion effects. Essentially, this means minimizing distortion accruing from the presence of two or more fundamental frequencies. When listening to an ensemble or orchestra, one may notice congestion and lack of separation of instruments. The speaker has been designed to achieve a level of transparency enabling a listener to experience a natural and realistic presentation of complex musical information. The cabinet is composed of mdf, to which a 3/8 inch thick artificial marble frame is attached. The cabinet is lined with acoustic foam and drivers are mounted to the cabinet with 4 screws. Twenty man hours of labor, at $1.50/hour is required to fabricate each cabinet. Since the speaker is assembled in China, the retail price is $2980 per pair. If constructed in the US, production cost would raise the price to more than $9000. The stands provided by the company are priced at $700 per pair. They match the color and finish of the speaker. Speaker weighs 33 pounds and is rated at 83 db.
My initial intent was to uncover faults in the design. I expected to encounter the following flaws: 1) Driver colorations. 2) Cabinet colorations. 3) Driver integration colorations. I selected the following recordings to test for the above-mentioned hypothesized defects: Bob James, Earl Klugh, TWO OF A KIND, “Sandstorm”, Manhattan D102533 (BMG); JS Bach, French Suite #1, Christopher Hogwood, harpsichord, L’Oiseau Lyre 411811; Holly Cole Trio, DON’T SMOKE IN BED, “I Can See Clearly Now”, Alert ZZ 81020; Bach, “St Anne” Prelude and Fugue in E-flat Major, Michael Murray,organ, Telarc CD 80286; Andy Narrell, SLOW MOTION, “Natty Stick”, Hip Pocket HD 105; Steely Dan, AJA, “Deacon Blues”, MCAD 37214; Chopin, Piano Sonata #3,Murray Perahia, piano, Columbia MK 32780; Miles Davis, KIND OF BLUE”, “So What”, Columbia CK 64935.
Break-in was not necessary, as I was advised by Lauren Charles, Director of Mark and Daniel Audio Labs North America that this pair had sufficient time on it to justify critical judgments of its performance.
I first positioned the speakers parallel to the rear wall. After some experimentation, it became necessary to toe-out the speakers, about 30 degrees. This unusual arrangement was devised to reduce errors in the frequency response. Speakers were placed five feet from the rear wall, six feet from center to center, thirty three inches from the side walls, and twelve feet from the listening chair, in an isosceles triangle configuration.
TWO OF A KIND is one of several reference sources used to evaluate timbre in the upper midrange/lower treble (cymbal) and lower midrange (acoustic guitar strings). At the beginning of the track, a cymbal is struck about 6 times. If one listens carefully, one will notice the points of contact moving towards and away from the center of the cymbal. The fundamental frequency of the cymbal seemed elevated, i.e., it sounded “sharp”, creating the effect of thinness.When the nylon strings of an acoustic guitar were plucked, they sounded lighter in texture and density than a typical nylon string.
The articulation of the notes of a harpsichord, played by Christopher Hogwood, were clear and focused, providing an opportunity to hear the attack and release of the keys. However, the scale and size of the harpsichord seemed reduced in comparison to its reproduction on larger speakers. Thus, there was a slight unnatural metallic quality to the performance and a somewhat analytical presentation.
Holly Cole’s voice is obviously close-miked on the track “I Can See Clearly Now”. A consequence is audible sibilance. Fortunately the sibilance did not seem exaggerated. The sound of the acoustic bass maintained a balance between the body of the instruments and the plucking of the strings Neither were obscured. Unfortunately it seemed that the bass response was attenuated, in comparison to what I have heard on other stereo systems.
Michael Murray’s interpretation of the Bach “St. Anne” Prelude also illustrated the limits of the bass driver with respect to frequency extension. Within its range, the timbre was realistic, the organ sounded full-bodied and was positioned behind the speaker, at the center of the rear wall.
Donald Fagen’s voice exhibited an absence of hardness and natural timbre. However, the cymbal was noticeably clearer and more focused than the voice. There was a sax solo, which in its lower register, sounded like a tenor, In fact, it was a tenor. When the sound of the instrument was produced by the Dreams driver, an alto-like quality emerged.
The piano is a difficult instrument to record. Murray Perahia’s interpretation of Chopin’s Piano Sonata number 3, is my favorite. I bought the LP and when the CD became available, I purchased it as well. There was not much to criticize about the sound of the piano and the transition between drivers was not audible.
Miles Davis’ recording of “So What” frequently appears on a list of recommended jazz recordings. It was immediately obvious that the background tape noise was louder than usual. I have auditioned this disk in a variety of settings and found that in this instance, the noise level was greater than I ever experienced. Miles Davis trumpet solo had a rounded quality, lacking an excess of treble harmonics.
My reference CD player, interconnect cable and speaker cable, were Vincent, Ear to Ear and Element Cable, respectively. In addition, I substituted another CD player, interconnect cable and speaker cable. Each time I replaced one of the aforementioned component types, the speakers were responsive to the change. I found that the speakers were efficient at delineating contrasts between components. Differences were observed very quickly and easily. Thus, The Maximus speaker can be expected to unambiguously expose the affect of the sound of a component upon the sound of a stereo system. At times, the tweeter and woofer seemed out of balance, in that there was a noticeable difference in the SPL, clarity and focus between upper mids/treble and midrange/bass. It was not a problem of integration of dissimilar drivers, but rather, an imbalance in frequency response. This phenomenon can occur independent of driver materials and types. I would suggest adding a tweeter attenuator to the design to reduce the output of the Dreams driver up to 6 db. No audible cabinet colorations were heard. The woofer, while representing a balance between weight and articulation seemed to be attenuated when listening to organ, electric bass and kick drum.
The speaker had a tendency to reduce the scale of instruments, expecially in the upper mid range and treble regions. Since the Dreams driver is a monopole, there were instances, when instruments appeared in the foreground rather than the background, relative to my reference dipole speaker. On other occasions, depth of field was comparable to that of the Magnepan 1.6.
Finally, I am confident that the tweeter is capable of greater clarity and focus than the woofer. In order to enhance the integration of the two drivers, I suggest increasing the dispersion of the tweeter and increasing the slope of the crossover to 96 db/octave.
CD Player(s): Vincent CD S6 and Audionote CD2
Preamp: Bent TVC
Amplifier: VTL Deluxe 120s
Speaker: Magnepan 1.6
Interconnects : Ear to Ear, Audience AU 24, Soundstring
Speaker Cable: Element Cable and Voodoo Cable
Power Cords: Ear to Ear, Element Cable, Soundstring, VooDoo Cable Clarity Audio and Distech
Line Conditioning: Audience Adept Response AU 6,PS Audio Noise Harvester, Chang Iso 6400, Nirvana Audio isolation transformer, PS Audio P 300, Alan Meyer Power Enhancer, Enacom AC Filter, Quantum filters
Accessories: Sound Fusion Sound Busters, Room Tunes, egg crate Mattresses, one and one half inch maple bases, Enacom Speaker filters
Mark and Daniel Maximus Monitor Speakers
Manufactured by Mark & Daniel Audio Labs of North America
5151 E. Broadway Blvd., Suite 1600 Tucson, AZ 85711, U.S.A.
Tel: 1-520-5125488 Fax: 1-520-7494992 Toll Free1-800-781-6843
Source of review sample: Manufacturer loan