Monitor Audio MASS 5.1 Speaker System
AT A GLANCE
Surprising dynamic capability
Tight binding posts won’t accommodate some connectors
Horizontal Centre speaker best used upright
Big, bold, bombastic sound from a relatively small and quite affordable package
I love double irony, that wonderfully weird phenomenon whereby a seeming incongruity loops right back around and becomes all too apt. Take the guy who names his Chihuahua Killer, for example, which seems like fun and giggles at first glance, until the little bugger tries to eat the face right off of your skull for want of a Snausage. Take also Monitor Audio’s compact MASS (spelled just like that, in all capital letters), a 5.1-channel home theater speaker system that continues the company’s trend of delivering complete home theater speaker systems in increasingly small, though typically traditionally shaped, packages. (Search the monitoraudiousa.com domain for the word diminutive, and you’ll see what I mean.) At first glance, you can’t help but think that whoever decided to hang such a MASSive moniker on a delicately tapered, lantern-like satellite speaker this small certainly had some chutzpah. And lifting one of the dainty 3.64-pound satellites does nothing to abate that initial urge to chuckle, no matter how solidly built and sturdy it may be.
In this case, the delicious looping double irony doesn’t really kick in until you connect and configure the MASS system, fire up some decent demo material, and (spoiler alert) marvel at these relatively itty-bitty speakers’ ability to generate some absolutely gargantuan sound, with wonderfully holographic imaging, an enormous soundstage, and—perhaps best of all—virtually seamless integration between satellites and subwoofer, something you normally have to sacrifice with a speaker system this small. The only name I can think of that would more accurately capture the essence of the MASS speaker system’s sonic gusto would require that the cabinets themselves be roughly spherically shaped and sold in pairs, and I’ll leave you to flesh out that bit of innuendo for yourself.
Of course, all of this isn’t meant to convey that the Monitor Audio MASS system goes entirely toe to toe with large tower speakers in every respect, but... well, I’m getting ahead of myself here.
The Shape of Things
The MASS system ships in two separate boxes, one containing the subwoofer and the other housing the five satellite speakers, all of which look identical save the sideways orientation of the Monitor Audio logo on the MASS Centre. The first thing you notice is their striking resemblance to a beefed-up, pot-bellied version of Bowers & Wilkins’s MM-1 active multimedia speakers, what with their solid aluminum caps, wraparound cloth grilles, and complete lack of visible speaker binding posts.
As for the adorable pot belly, Monitor says the MASS satellite’s curves help eliminate standing waves, which is certainly borne out in the listening; as for the lack of visible binding posts, they’re definitely there, just hidden under the bottom (or, in the case of the Center, the side) metal cap.
There are some obvious pros and cons to this approach. The downside, of course, is that the binding posts, being hidden, aren’t left with a lot of breathing room. So if you use pre-terminated speaker cables as I do, you’ll find yourself needing to snip off the banana plugs at the speaker end. (Full disclosure: No, I did not whack the ends of my Straight Wire cables; instead, I rush-ordered some 12-gauge cable from Monoprice for the duration of the review.)
The upside is that for the front left and right speakers and surrounds, the hidden binding posts result in a clean, sexy look, whether you wall-mount the speakers or equip them with the included rubber feet and place them on your A/V shelf. In my system, I went with both approaches, placing the front three speakers on the credenza beneath my TV and mounting the surrounds with Monitor Audio’s optional wall brackets.
For the Centre, which, as suggested, is really nothing more than a MASS 10 satellite turned on its side with the logo rotated, Monitor also includes a handy little rubber puck that not only reduces vibration, but also gives you a bit of wiggle room in terms of aiming. The package includes a wire-management clip that can be screwed into the Centre’s wall-mount bolt-hole, allowing you to route the cable from the edge of the speaker from which it protrudes to a more centralized location on the back.
Monitor also offers a third mounting option in the form of MASS stands, which are pre-wired and feature banana plugs at the top that slip right into the bottom of the MASS 10s. I opted not to go that route for the review since my credenza is at the perfect height for speakers of this size.
By contrast with the satellites, the MASS W200 subwoofer is downright conventional, at least in terms of hookup. Three RCA inputs are provided—one for LFE, the other two for left- and right-channel input if you’re using a stereo preamp. There’s also a 12-volt DC trigger input, which you don’t often see on subwoofers. Controls include volume and low-pass filter knobs, as well as dipswitches for phase (0 or 180 degrees), Auto/On power mode (which is disabled if you use the DC trigger), and your choice of three bass modes: Movie, Music, or Impact. I ended up preferring Music across the board. It provides the most low frequency extension, but as a consequence, the least output. Impact gives you maximum bass volume but reduces low-frequency extension to what was, for me, an unacceptable level. Movie strives for something of a balance between the two. The curious thing about the MASS W200 is that, in contrast with the satellites, its lantern-like shape is a bit of a sham. Pull off the curved fabric panels, and what you’re left with is a smaller black box, with a 10-inch active long-throw driver on one side and a 10-inch passive radiator on the other. Given that the cosmetic panels are pretty squishy, it makes picking up the MASS W200 a bit tricky. I eventually found that a catty-corner placement about a foot from the back wall and about 9 inches from the side wall gave me the best mix of boundary reinforcement and bloat-free performance. Aesthetically, of course, this is less than ideal, a fact compounded by the unnecessarily and artificially increased girth of the sub. It is pretty, though.