Swedish company Audio Pro first began attracting attention in 1978, when its B2.50 subwoofer introduced the twin innovations of built-in amplification and active crossover electronics.
Its ‘ACE-Bass’ (Amplifier Controlled Euphonic Bass) circuit, created to optimise the reproduction of low frequencies from small enclosures, helped the sub to punch above its weight, and Audio Pro has been doing the same ever since, with ranges such as the Avanti, Precision and Image speakers forging a solid reputation for performance and value for money.
But its Mondial series is something a bit different, aimed as much at the ‘lifestyle’ market (with apologies for introducing that over-used phrase), as at the home cinema fan.
The Mondial range comprises five speaker pairs, ranging from the ultra-compact M.1 to the super-slim floorstanding M.5, with the M.4 centre and two active AceBass subs as multichannel options. But the first thing you’ll notice about the whole range is that they’re completely upholstered in leather. Not an option for strict vegetarians, then.
There isn’t any acoustic justification for this finish, which comes in a choice of antique brown or classic black, with white stitching. The Audio Pro argument is purely based on aesthetics; leather is commonly used in interior design, but speakers are usually wooden boxes – so why not make them blend better with your furniture? Certainly this set is going to look striking in the archetypal modern pad, where perhaps it could be partnered with Philips achingly trendy Aurea LCD TV. Personally, I’m partial to a bit of leather and rather like the design – apart from the little protruding tags, which are just annoying – but more conventional buyers will need more persuading.
But enough of the exteriors, what of the speakers themselves?
Choose your weapon
Audio Pro’s Mondial range comprises five different loudspeaker designs, the M1, M2, M3, M4, and – you guessed it – M5, and two types of subwoofer, the S1 and the S3 – I’m not sure what happened to the S2.
The M1 satellite speaker is voice-matched with the M4 centre. It’s a 160mm high two-way bass reflex design with a 1in soft dome tweeter and 3.5in woofer. There’s a removable grille, and binding posts which can also be used with banana plugs. The M2 is a diminutive bookshelf design with a 1in tweeter and 4.5in woofer.
Offering the greatest oomph amongst the Mondial satellites is the M3, a two-way bass reflex speaker with a 1in tweeter and 5.25in woofer. The M4 centre is a bass reflex design with a 1in soft dome tweeter and two 3.5in woofers.
The drivers are of course shielded, in case you want to place the speaker on a TV. Most visually striking is the M5, a floorstanding tower with a round cast-iron foot which makes it very stable. It’s over a metre tall, incorporates a 1in tweeter and two 3.5in mid-range drivers, and of course, is voice-matched to the M4 centre.
As for the choice of subs, both are cube designs. The S1 crams in a 175W amp and a 6.5in long-throw driver; the S3 ups the ante with a 200W amp and 8in woofer.
A stitch in time
The suggested 5.1-channel setup of M5 pair, M4, M1 pair and S3 comes to a nicely rounded total of £1,000, and it’s this system I auditioned.
Initial impressions of build quality are good; for the purpose of this review, I laced the speakers up to a resident Yamaha RX-V3800 receiver. My test discs included the DVD release of War, featuring a bone-crunching car chase sequence and some energetic gunfights which really test a speaker system’s ability to handle fast transients; a DTS demo disc with clips from assorted blockbusters and some high-quality music demos; Robin Scott’s Life Class CD, which has a wide range of acoustic and electronic material; and Shubert’s Classics, a 5.1 multichannel mix from DTS Entertainment.
With the subwoofer crossover at 80Hz, I fired up the car chase from War, and was immersed in a three-dimensional soundfield with cars whizzing from front to rear with definitive positioning. These speakers are clean and sharp, and have near perfect timbre-matching from front to back. They easily managed to keep the score clear above the chaos of tyre effects.
The sequence ends with a dramatic crash underpinned with trouser-flappin’ LFE. Here, the denouement was a disappointment though, with a rather flabby ‘woof’ rather than the expected bone-crunching impact. Adjusting the crossover point achieved only modest improvement.
A similar car chase sequence from The Bourne Identity gave the same impression; good positioning and great top-end, but a less than taut bass response. Overall, dialogue articulation is fine, with clear positioning, precise timing and excellent clarity.
Switching to music, specifically an Eric Clapton live acoustic track from the DTS demo disc, proved revealing.
The recording is almost drowning in hall reverb, but his guitar struggled to cut through. Spinning the audio CDs evinced pretty much the same response – the electro-toms in Robin Scott’s Keep It To Yourself didn’t have quite the resonance I’m used to.
Ramping up the volume on the Yamaha amp didn’t stress the Mondials at all – they didn’t strain or grunt, though high levels didn’t reveal any extra body in the mid-range.
Land of leather
So what to make of these unusual Mondials? The kit wins on several scores. Quite apart from the distinctive form factor, the system is well-built, easy to setup and is beautifully voiced. But the sub just isn’t fast enough to really cope with the kind of guttural LFE so prevalent in modern movies. Of course, for some buyers intent on placing this system in a designer flat (with neighbours) rather than an isolated farm (with cows) this might actually be a bonus. The volume can be cranked up without causing undue irritation to those around.
So would I pick up a set of Mondials? Possibly, but I have one real concern. Those with cats are advised to look elsewhere. My fearis that once Tiddles gets his claws into these babies they’ll soon be rendered little more than over-priced scratching posts.