Mordaunt-Short Mezzo 6 Speaker System

Following a train of thought.

The world is full of loudspeakers and their manufacturers. Try as I might, I can’t review them all, and normally I have no problem with my limitations. But where Mordaunt-Short is concerned, a feeling of having missed the boat haunts me. Given the quality of the Alumni sat/sub set I reviewed in March (my first review of a Mordaunt-Short product), how could I have missed out on such a stellar company, especially one with a 40-year pedigree?

Clearly I have some catching up to do, and I’m starting the process with this review of the Mezzo Series speakers. I spotted the Mezzo at the same trade show where the Alumni made their debut. With their curved enclosures, tweeter-on-top design, and an equalized sub, the Mezzos are armed for bear. I like the same things in the Mezzos that I like about my Paradigm Reference Studio 20 speakers. They both offer a reliably uncolored midrange, good bass, extended but not unduly emphasized treble, wide dispersion, great imaging, great soundfield, and great everything.

Curved with a Mission
The Mezzo 6 floorstanding speakers anchor the system that I reviewed. The system also included the Mezzo 5 center, two Mezzo 2 monitors that served as surrounds, and the petite Mezzo 9 subwoofer. Mordaunt-Short also offers a Mezzo 1 monitor, which I didn’t review here.

The Mezzos are good-looking speakers with veneer finishes. Their curved enclosures minimize standing waves. Given the floorstander’s real bass response, that feature matters even more. Mordaunt-Short placed the tweeter at the top of the enclosure in an effort to manipulate diffraction off the front baffle. This gives the upper midrange and high frequencies a confident yet unhyped clarity that few high-end speakers achieve.

All of the Mezzos share a 1-inch aluminum-dome tweeter mounted in a separate housing atop the enclosure, which controls resonance. The Mezzo 6 adds two 6.5-inch aluminum-cone woofers that match the one in the Mezzo 2 monitor. The Mezzo 5 center uses a 5.25-inch aluminum-cone woofer that matches the one in the Mezzo 1 monitor (the one not reviewed).

Thus, my review system had matched woofers in all four corners of the soundfield, but not in the center. If I had substituted the Mezzo 1 for the Mezzo 2 as surrounds, I’d have matched the center with the surrounds, but the main speakers would not match. Mordaunt-Short should add a slightly larger center with the larger woofer to the line. However, I didn’t notice any timbre-matching problems during my review process.

The Mezzo 9 sub has two 8-inch drivers. All of the jacks are located on the bottom of the sub. The most significant feature is an internal equalization circuit. Subs with EQ are still distressingly rare. The few I’ve tried did a good job dealing with the most common acoustic flaw of most rooms—uneven bass. This sub comes with a setup CD that’s loaded with low-frequency test tones. It also includes an SPL meter that measures bass frequencies.

I’ve been through this drill before, so I had no trouble measuring the level of each tone and plotting a frequency-response graph. I had a tougher time when I used the sub’s top-mounted controls to input the correction. The controls include two buttons that form a circle on the left side and a jog dial on the right side that doubles as the enter button.

At one point, I managed to render the sub silent and couldn’t figure out how to get sound out of it, even after numerous factory resets. Mordaunt-Short then sent me a second sample. I decided to give the original sub one last try, and I suddenly got it to work. I don’t think the sample was defective. I think I’m just a booby. If you are also a booby, you might want to have a custom installer handle the EQ setup.

The result is worth the extra effort. If you’re like most people, you place your sub to excite your room’s dominant resonant frequency. An equalized sub lets you notch out that pesky peak, so you can turn up the volume and enjoy the other frequencies a bit more.

Blu-ray Trifecta
All titles mentioned below are on Blu-ray—my first BD trifecta! Signs, in uncompressed PCM, is an alien-attack movie that has one of the quietest film soundtracks I’ve ever heard. This gave the Mezzos a chance to strut their low-level resolution in a rural setting full of crows, insects, and wind. Any speaker can manage silence, but few speakers can handle near-silence. The Mezzos’ adroit handling of micro-details achieved the intended effect. The speakers demonstrated an atmosphere of gentle foreboding and hidden menace that’s occasionally violated by high-decibel scare tactics. Mel Gibson’s baritone was audible in both the center and the sub. The effect was subtle, but not unexpected in a system that operates at an 80-hertz crossover.

Next sends Nicolas Cage hurtling through another PCM track in the story of a clairvoyant who tries to foil a bomb attack. For this audition, I played the speakers full range and temporarily shut down the sub. The highlight was a scene where a car rolls down a cliff. The rumbling drums in the scene gave the woofers plenty to do. Midbass impact was abundant throughout my audition. You can certainly run these speakers without a sub, as long as you don’t mind dispensing with that extra increment of output and slam at the lowest frequencies. Scenes in a casino and a rainstorm gave all five speakers a chance to show off a convincing soundfield. I was also struck by the naturalness of voices.

The Professionals is one of the first classic films I’ve heard remastered in Dolby TrueHD. Film technicians presumably remastered the film from an analog magnetic soundtrack (that’s what they were using in 1966). The orchestral score emerged in surprisingly vivid shape; it’s dated only by its spatial flatness. Today’s recording engineers seem to add a little more reverb. Castanets periodically leaped out of the mix. The dialogue sounded slightly canned, while ballistics were heavy on the midrange and light on the LFE. However, the Mezzos just truthfully delivered the source material. Still, Dolby TrueHD gave this old film a new dimension.

Buy All of Hiromi’s SACDs, Do It Now Hiromi is something special. Telarc released the entire discography of this prodigious young Japanese jazz pianist on hybrid SACDs. Her fifth album, Time Control by Hiromi’s Sonicbloom, gives her band equal standing for the first time. In Time Control, Hiromi radically revised a number of standards almost beyond recognition. The use of the soundfield is equally aggressive. Most of the instruments are present in all channels. They move the band from the front-speaker staging area to the middle of the room. I had mixed feelings about this crossing of the invisible proscenium. Even with the Mezzos’ superior resolution, it seemed too diffuse—especially compared with the stereo track. But nothing will stop Hiromi from experimenting. Her playing sounded dazzling, as usual, and the band was worthy of her.

One of Hiromi’s picks sent me to the classical-LP shelves for Aldo Ciccolini’s Clair de Lune: Piano Music of Debussy. Most of it is now available on the budget CD Debussy: Dreams. No other disc in my collection, in any format, so lovingly details the piano’s upper harmonics. But this recording can be tricky, too. Any excessive upper-midrange emphasis makes it sound like a tinkly vintage fortepiano. The Mezzos delivered the recording’s full upper-midrange beauty, but also filled out the lower midrange enough to identify Ciccolini’s piano as a modern instrument. I switched between Dolby Pro Logic II and stereo, and this revealed very little tonal shift. Despite my constant complaints about most horizontal center speakers’ unevenness, this one integrated well.

Steve Winwood’s Nine Lives shows the old master at the top of his form. Even on plain old CD, this album approaches the quality of a high-resolution recording. It’s not as heavily compressed or equalized as an average rock record nowadays, so it sounds well focused but warm. It reminded me of good vinyl, with plenty of open space. The bass drum sound, a collaboration between the sub and speakers, was punchy and tight. As on his last album, About Time, Winwood ditched the synthesizers in favor of his Hammond organ. He evokes Traffic’s signature sound with occasional snatches of flute or sax.

I find it hard to write a summation about the Mordaunt-Short Mezzo Series. If it had a predictable set of strengths and weaknesses, I’d hammer out a few sentences about the things it does well and call it a day. But these speakers have few chinks in their armor. If I bought them for myself, I’d probably use the monitor in the center position, or maybe go for identical monitors all around. However, the Mezzo 6 is one sweet speaker, and I could see using it in a surround system or in the two-channel LP/CD library of my imaginary (larger) home. Musings aside, these speakers look great, sound great, yadda yadda. What else is there to say?

Highlights
Sexy curved enclosures minimize standing waves
Tweeter-on-top design
Satisfyingly well balanced

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