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Listening session on Music Culture line of products

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Along with 14 other subscribers to a local web forum I attended on 10th Dec 2011 a demonstration by the designer and owner Wolfgang Meletzky of his Music Culture line of products. Mr Meletzky was former designer and owner of MBL of Germany, when several years ago he sold off MBL and later started the Music Culture line. The demonstration was held in a demo room of a local hi fi shop in a mall. This room is about 150 to 200 sq ft with the speakers placed about midway between listener and the back wall, each side of a distance of some 7 to 8 ft. Both corners of the room are treated with acoustic tubes.
+++Products demonstrated
3 way speakers MC331
Pre-amp MC601
Power amp MC801and
CD player MC501
Prices based on Stereophile article for the whole set of 4 products: US$20,000 (speakers $10,000)
For specifications of products, design and parts as well as photographs, please refer to the website as suggested by Mr Meletzky:
http://www.music-culture.com/
An option is available for users who want to play LP by buying a phono card for insertion into the pre-amp.
The CD has an up sampling switch to 24/96.
+++All in all the demo set produces a vivid, transparent and live like sound that few systems, if any, at this price range are capable of rendering, with performance in such parameters approaching that of products many times the price. Detailed listening notes are set out below. Whilst I have qualms about the sound in several tracks, they should be viewed in the context of comparison with ultimate systems and live music, and the issues are probably caused by tracks of second rate recording quality being used. I also suggest in this report alternative tracks in high resolution format of similar music genre that have better recording quality than those with issues mentioned in the listening notes below. The demo set definitely has a high cost/performance factor and whether it represents synergy benefits out of combining these products together as one set or individual items, for example, the speakers, excel just as well on their own, remain to be found out with each being listened to with products from other brands. The speakers come with binding posts geared for bi-amping and that may uplift the sound to a higher plateau. Same with the mono block amps that Mr Meletzky says are more suitable for driving these speakers.
Here are the detailed listening notes:
* Track 1 features a light classical piece by a male singer, with accompanying chorus and drum. The voice is positioned about 2 ft in front of the back wall whilst the drum and chorus extend further back into it, a laid back sound on the whole. The voice is smooth though a bit coarse when he sings loud. Focus of the voice is less than compact and it even shifts a bit occasionally. The chorus sounds stressed when singing loud. (I would have chosen Winterreise sung by Peter Harvey available from Linn).
* Track 2 sounds like a mezzo soprano singing in a church. Her image is off to the right. The chorus sounds stressed and the soundstage is similar to that in track 1. This track is played again later with the up sampling switch engaged. (I would have chosen Artexerxes No 28 by the Classical Opera Company available from Linn)
* Track 3 is Dance of the Tumbler by Reference Recordings. Strings and highs sound well; soundstage spreads wide between the 2 walls with instruments being placed across. The sound is vivid and well projected. The bass has punch and represents very good delivery from the two drivers of only 8" in diameter. Woodwinds are nice sounding too, but brasses and strings are a bit strained at crescendos. (I would have chosen Symphonic Dances 3rd Movement HRx 95 also by RR)
* Track 4, Jazz at the Pawnshop. The opening handclaps are very live like, the same with tambourine on the right. The soundstage starts from behind the plane of the speakers way back to the rear wall, with instruments placed properly in between. For example, the xylophone solo and the clarinet solo, both being vivid and alive. Few audio systems regardless of price are able to produce such excellent sound.
* Track 5, a live recording by Eva Cassidy. Her voice has echo and a ring of shrillness around it. It is mostly diffused whilst its density is quite good. The guitar sounds steely and the handclaps are not as live like as those in the Pawnshop track. (Out there are plenty well recorded female voices, for example, Carol Kidd singing Moon Blue or Claire Martin singing With Every Breath I Take).
* Track 6, Jennifer Warnes. This is another track that brings out the quality of the system. Percussive highs are nicely rendered and those on the right channel extend to the side wall and splash out from a frontal position near the plane of the speaker. This is to say the soundstage occupies the whole area from the speaker plane to the rear wall, with individual voices and instruments placed transparently within it. The excellent soundstage rendition in this and other tracks may perhaps be attributable to the speaker design, the tweeter and midrange box (actually two segregated enclosures in one box) has an open back baffle, and the two "woofers", each having a port of its own opens to the rear of the bass box, also a two in one design. This mimics planar and bipolar designs that produce soundstage characteristics as mentioned. Back to this Jennifer track. Also nicely rendered are the electric bass and the male second voice.
* Track 7. At first it was the Jim Keltner track from the Sheffield Drum record but quickly switched over to another one. This later track has a lot of echo and rim shots as well as cymbal splashes are shrill. The drum set spreads unnaturally across the two walls, suggesting the track may perhaps be out of absolute phase. However the pre-amp or the CD player does not come with a phase switch, thus no way to find out whether it was a phase issue or not. (I would have used the Sheffield track instead)
* Track 8 features a small band with electric guitar and a male singer. Instruments are placed and positioned well within the soundstage that is projected forward, not laid back as in the first two tracks. However the male voice has echo and is diffused.
* Track 9 starts with excellent punch of the bass followed by the drum. The synthesizer is placed in front at the plane of the right speaker. Good layering within a projected soundstage.
* Track 2 is played again, this time with the up sampling function switched on and off for comparison. With up sampling the sound is smoother, whilst the chorus has less strain and the soundstage has more apparent layers. On the other hand, with the function switched off, the female voice and the chorus are sharper with more bite, and whilst sounding more defined, they are coarse/grainy with stress and the soundstage is shallower. Which option to choose depends on the preference of the listener.
* Track 10, a cappella with 5 voices. The 5 singers are solidly placed within the soundstage, easily identifiable. But each voice is bloated, diffused, grainy and weighted down with boom. There is a better recording of the Persuasions in the US.
* Track 11. Can't figure out what instrument it is, not a guitar because there is no resonance from the body, and not really but sounding similar to the Chinese pipa. Handclaps extend to both side walls and the wind/pipe instrument floats in the soundstage. This track also demonstrates the qualities of the demo set.
* Track 12 features a trio comprising a piano, drum set and double bass. The piano sounds like an upright one with not much resonance of the strings. Brushes on the snare drum sound real and live like. The double bass clings to the right speaker but its bowing and plucking sound is nice and impressive. The three instruments are transparent and well separated within a large soundstage.
* Track 13 is a response to a participant's request for listening to the sound of the violin. It is a recital of Habanera from Carmen accompanied by a piano. The violin is vivid, focussed and live like and floats in space within the soundstage. However its sound is slightly coarse at times especially the G and D strings. The piano may have its sound board down thus little harmonics are heard. (For good piano sound I have not yet heard any match for the 2L-049 from Norway).
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