M&K Sound X12 THX Subwoofer
AT A GLANCE
Powerful, deep, and taut bass response
Outstanding build quality
Sealed push-pull design
No built-in parametric equalizer
M&K Sound calls the X12 the subwoofer, and I can’t disagree with them. This is one of the best subwoofers I’ve ever heard in my room.
M&K Sound got started when Walter Becker of Steely Dan commissioned Ken Kreisel to design a studio reference subwoofer and monitoring system for the Pretzel Logic mixing sessions. Partnering with a high-end audio dealer, Jonas Miller, Kreisel developed a revolutionary subwoofer that led to the creation of M&K. As time passed, word of mouth spread throughout the music and movie industries, and M&K would go on to create systems for leading studios and in-home installations for producers, actors, and recording artists.
In 1976, M&K launched their first satellite/subwoofer system. The following year, they introduced the Volkswoofer, the first popular sub with a built-in, dedicated power amplifier. Talk about a game changer!
The legacy of M&K grew to epic proportions with the launch of the groundbreaking Dolby Digital surround format. Several movie studios—including 20th Century Fox, Warner Bros., Disney, and Lucasfilm—are said to have installed M&K speakers for their daily audio production work. Unfortunately, M&K fell on hard times and in 2007 filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy due to what Kreisel called “flagrant counterfeiting of M&K products.” But the brand would live on, as Danish investors bought the assets of the company and some of the former employees became a part of a new company, MK Sound, to continue building on the legacy of Miller and Kreisel. In 2013, MK Sound adopted the earlier M&K moniker.
For the past 11 years, I’ve used a trio of M&K S-150 speakers across the front channels and four SS-150 Tripole surround speakers in my 7.1 setup. However, I failed to consult with my attorney before signing a contract with my wife, which restricted me to one new subwoofer for the next 10 years, so I was stuck with an SVS PC-Ultra that I’d bought in late 2003. Luckily, the contract has now expired, and when Sound & Vision Editor-in-Chief Rob Sabin informed me that I would get to review M&K Sound’s new X12 THX subwoofer, I knew the upgrade bug would attack soon.
A Solid Middleweight
The X12 isn’t the heaviest subwoofer I’ve had in my system over the past few years, but it isn’t a lightweight either at nearly 80 pounds. It’s relatively compact at 17.3 inches wide, 26 high, and only 18.1 deep, and it houses two custom-designed 12-inch woofers tailored to M&K Sound specifications to meet the company’s high performance standards.
The woofers are arranged in a push-pull driver configuration in order to cancel harmonic distortion and, according to the company, adding the second driver provides an additional 6 decibels of usable output. This design also allows for a smaller cabinet footprint, which may make it easier to integrate with your room décor. Indeed, the first comment my wife made about the sub was that it looked better than the “cat scratching post” I currently use, a reference to my cylindrical, cloth-covered SVS. That sure sounds like an opening for an upgrade!
The X12’s build quality is magnificent and comes with a black satin finish. M&K assembles the cabinet from 22-mm-thick MDF with extensive internal bracing to minimize vibration. The sub is powered by a Class D 400-watt amplifier (700 watts peak) and has a variety of input/output choices, including balanced and unbalanced connections with a passthrough option to add more subs. There are three selections for low-pass filters (Fixed 80 Hz, Variable, and No low pass), a phase control variable from 0 to 180 degrees, and two EQ filters (THX and MK EQ). In my room, the Fixed 80 Hz and THX EQ settings provided the best results.
The X12 arrived double-boxed, in order to handle the rigors of ground shipping. (I’d hate to see what it would cost to air-freight this beast.) I’ve found that the best way to save your back is to open the top of the outer box, gently flip the whole thing over, and lift each box off the sub (versus trying to lift 80 pounds out of a box). Befitting the sub’s beautiful finish, M&K Sound includes a pair of white gloves so you don’t put any fingerprints on your new toy. You also get a detachable power cord, a well-written 18-page manual, and two options for feet: screw-in rubber or carpet spikes.
I first set up the sub manually, using test tones from a disc, and ran it that way for about a week. I then performed a calibration with my Marantz AV8801 pre/pro’s built-in Audyssey MultEQ XT32 software. Of the two methods, I preferred the latter because I like what it does to the surround stage, especially during action scenes. But the sub performed flawlessly either way.
The X12 doesn’t include a parametric equalizer (P-EQ), unlike many other subs in this price class (and even some cheaper ones). For some buyers, this may be a turnoff, but I’ve found that most automatic calibration routines built into modern pre/pros and AVRs work quite well.
I lived with the X12 for nearly two weeks before I really put it to the test, for a couple of reasons. First, I wanted to let the woofers break in as much as possible because I’ve found that some subs don’t show their true colors until they’ve had some hours on them. Second, I wanted to let my ears adjust to the sound of the X12 with everyday listening, to do some day-to-day tuning with a range of program material and make sure I had it dialed in properly.
MTV just named Lorde’s “Royals” as their Song of the Year, and it’s hard to argue with them. The young lady was 15 when she wrote the song, and its bass track seems to be made for testing subwoofers and seeing how well the thump integrates with her sultry voice. In this particular case, the THX-certified X12 and my S-150 studio monitors were a match made in heaven. The bass was tight, clean, and intense, and the frequency transition to my studio monitors was seamless. Lorde may be the queen bee in her fantasy, but if she can keep writing songs with this type of groove and meaningful lyrics, we’ll be hearing a lot more from her in the future.
The Wolverine is the latest addition to the X-Men series of movies, and while the story is more entertaining than I thought it would be, the DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 soundtrack is the true star of the show. The surround activity is a panoramic masterpiece, and the LFE will certainly wake the dead in every cemetery in town. When the atomic bomb detonates over Nagasaki, you expect to hear a loud boom, but it’s conspicuously absent. There’s a slight moment of silence and then a low-frequency rumble, which, as it moved through my room, shook the hair on my legs before I actually heard the explosion. Later in the film, there are numerous storms, and at one point I thought the thunder giants from The Hobbit were waging a battle in my room. Now that’s impressive. The X12 delivers in spades.
I’m pretty smitten with the X12 and have thoroughly enjoyed my time with it. M&K calls the X12 the subwoofer, and I can’t disagree with them. It goes deep for movies and is controlled and tuneful with music—everything you ask for in a subwoofer. At $3,200, it’s on the costly side, especially when you can buy two subs for a similar price from some Internet-direct companies. Those subs might give the X12 a run for its money, but they may not come with THX’s Ultra2 certification or M&K’s pedigree. Still, despite its steep price, this is one of the best subwoofers I’ve ever heard in my room, and usually I’d be awfully sad to ship it off to the lab for testing. Fortunately, it’s got a round-trip ticket, as I’m hoping to review M&K’s new S-300 series satellites, the upgraded product offering to my S-150/SS-150 combination, and I’ll need the matching sub. Excellent—it’ll give me more time to make the case for that subwoofer upgrade. Highly recommended.