MJ Acoustics is rapidly becoming a big deal in the world of British audio - but there's more to the brand than its well regarded subwoofers. They also make complete speaker systems, like this one, which I've lusted after since spying it at the recent London Heathrow hi-fi show.
As soon as I clapped my eyes on it, I wanted to indulge myself and asked if HCC could be first in line for an audition. The company agreed, and here we are. Ladeez and Gennelmen, may I introduce the Subliminal home theatre speaker system, married to MJ's new and very cunning MkIII version of its Reference 1 subwoofer!
For boxes that look small and slabby, they come in some of the weightiest for- size cartons I've ever encountered. The Subliminal S1R front speakers stand just short of a metre tall and have big wooden bases. They're made of thick MDF with a furniture-grade veneer on the surfaces, and solid timber end-pieces to match the wood of whatever veneer you have. They're only 104mm deep, yet enclose a long transmission line organ pipe type enclosure within. They weigh a ton, and yet are packaged in pairs, fully assembled - there's no Ikea-style screwing-on plinths to contend with.
The carton is filled with polyurethane custom-cut packaging and even that weighs a good bit when empty. To unpack, you'll need a mate's help. Unfortunately, I don't have any, so had to manage on my own. Thankfully, I weigh a ton myself so was able to sort of grab on, lean back and generally lever the things into position.
The Subliminal S1R has a single hole underneath and sports a single speaker post cup on its rear. The enclosure has but one 4in aluminium coned loudspeaker driver in its face under that neat cloth grille. The shiny cone is surrounded by a very soft and compliant surround that allows the driver to play way down to 40Hz in this cabinet, and 55Hz in the smaller monitor-shaped product, called the Subliminal S1RM, as in er, monitor.
The other three enclosures in this 5.1 system are smaller, costing £500 each compared to the £2k per pair for the tall S1Rs. Again, there's a single port out the back, which is the mouth of another transmission line enclosure. Famed for making small drivers deliver the most disproportionately huge amounts of bass versus their surface area, these T-L boxes need to be vast versus their driver's cone area, so even a simple 4in can wake the dead with low frequencies.
So we know transmission line speakers make deep lows, but how do they make the highs? For they most assuredly do: bright, transparent, fast even. With a reach that goes 2,000 cycles above our theoretical 20kHz limit of high-frequency hearing, these speakers can be easily paired with Super Audio CD and DVD-A hardware.
The speaker units themselves owe some of their creation to Ted Jordan, one of the fathers of modern hi-fi transducers and drivers, as the use of actual cone flex is part of the HF response. Above a certain point, the cones vibrate within themselves as well as acting like a low compression piston for the bass tones.
The product uses no caps, no coils and no resistors. There's nothing inside but silver soldered wire to connect the speaker leads up to the driver; this results in a purity and clarity which appeals directly to the sensitive midband hearing zone. Vocals are remarkable, detail is utterly pin-sharp and the weight of bigger sounds is inescapable.
I spun Batman Begins on my Denon AV-1 reference player and tried to set the system up. After a series of adjustments to the sub, I finally had a balance between levels, and crossover points set for use of both LFE input and direct high level input from the speaker leads, using a Neutrik Speakon connector. This means that even if engineers have forgotten to steer the bass in all the right directions, as long as it is in the stereo mix, you'll get it delivered to the subwoofer.
The soundtrack to this dark and forbidding action movie is enormous. If you set it so the vocals and speech sections are at a reasonable level, when explosions and scary moments thrum, throb and boom, you will be lifted clean out of your seat, but without any discernible distortion.
If anything I began to feel that my Acurus ACT-3 pre-power combo was running out of Watts before the speakers ran out of ability to eat them up.
The supplied Ref1 MkIII subwoofer is also awesome. It'll drop to single figures in Hz and has some of the most sophisticated yet user-friendly controls I've ever seen. Four presets are directly accessible by the menu system, or by the remote control.
There are controls for gain and crossover point setting for both high and phono level via an accurate double digit display, as well as such stuff as a 12V trigger for custom installer use and a remote socket and supplied extension Infra Red 'eye' piece. Plug this in and you can adjust the woofer in its correct position, but by listening to the changes you make from the sofa. It could justify a review on its own but suffice it to say that this has control, profundity, power, and above all, true melodic grip. It's a quite improbable a piece of kit and deserves to get a bit famous.
There's no doubt that this is reference-grade speaker kit. Both the sub and the speaker system surrounding it offer a thrilling audiophile experience - and it's also stonking value for money! Just remember to buy some quality beeswax polish for the woodwork... Adam Rayner