Miller & Kreisel 850 Series
Am I the only one who finds it strange that the maple tree and maple syrup are two very different colors? I bet I am. Ketchup and tomatoes are the same color, and most jellies and jams are the same color as the fruit they're made from. Mustard looks like…the mustard plant? OK, forget that last one.
M&K, known for their all-black speakers, has returned to wood—in this case, maple. (I'll bet you were wondering where I was going. Well, so did I.) I'm a real fan of attractive speakers. Sure, speakers have to sound good, but they also have to sit in your home and be looked at. The light maple that clothes M&K's new 850 Series speakers is very elegant. It's a not-too-flashy, smooth design that's attractive without being overstated.
The front three speakers in the 850 Series are all labeled the LCR850. At first glance, they seem identical. Each uses a 1-inch fabric-dome tweeter mounted above two 5.25-inch polypropylene woofers. However, unlike many L/C/R speakers, there are definite left, center, and right LCR850 models. The left speaker's tweeter is angled slightly to the left, away from the listening position. The right speaker's tweeter is angled the other way. This affects the sound, but more on that later. The center model's tweeter is angled up. Each LCR850 measures 17 inches tall by 7 wide by just under 9 deep.
Performing surround duty is the smaller LCR650, which is just like the LCR850 minus a woofer and 7 inches of height. As in the LCR850, each LCR650's tweeter is angled just slightly away from the listening position. For bass, the 850 system uses the V850 subwoofer, which has a 125-watt amp driving a 12-inch woofer. Unlike many subs, it's video-shielded, so you can place it right behind your TV.
I started this review the way I start most of my audio reviews, with two-channel music. For most of my listening tests, I used the McIntosh MX134 pre/pro and MC206 amp. I love this combo and have been waiting to use it for a review since Darryl Wilkinson reviewed it in the June 2002 issue. I also used Pioneer's new DV-45A DVD-Audio/SACD player (look for a review next month). First up was Ben Folds' solo album Rockin' the Suburbs. An excellent album from beginning to end, it's well mixed, played, and written. Track 6, "The Ascent of Stan," features Folds' melancholy piano and a small backup band. Combined with the V850 sub, the left and right LCR850s sounded a bit forward, yet they had a warmth that I wasn't expecting. Not to let the speakers cheat, I disabled the sub to see what the LCR850s could do on their own. A lot of the warmth was still there, which is surprising for speakers of this size. The most notable character was still their forwardness, which gave several of my audio picks an urgency that wasn't entirely desirable.
The first of those was Nanci Griffith's 1994 album Flyer, which is one of her best. It features multiple layers of acoustic guitars and, of course, her beautiful, folksy voice. Through most systems that I've heard, this album sounds well mixed. Through the LCR850s, the subtle forwardness that I heard on Rockin' the Suburbs had an adverse effect. The acoustic guitars were mixed in the same frequency range at which the LCR850s are their most forward, resulting in a rather shouty, almost harsh presentation. Worried, I tried the system with different amplification. My first replacement, a Sony receiver, was a far cry from the McIntosh. The Sony STR-DA3ES (August 2002) is a surprisingly powerful, decent-sounding receiver for $800. When powered by the Sony, the LCR850s were less forward but also less dynamic, slightly more compressed with a smaller soundstage. Many of these traits are simply due to the difference between separates and a receiver, but it illustrates that these speakers still show their character through different amplification.
Next, I swapped the Sony receiver with the Lexicon LX-7 amp (December 2002) and tried again. The sound was even more open than it was through the McIntosh: The soundstage had returned, and it revealed more. For the rest of my tests, I bounced back and forth between this amp and the McIntosh. The speakers' forwardness was still there in either case; but, content that it wasn't due to amp/speaker interaction, I moved on to other material.
John Hiatt's latest album, The Tiki Bar Is Open, was my next pick. The opening track, "Everybody Went Low," quite simply rocks. Through the LCR850s, the music gained an urgency that it normally doesn't have. Not so much that it puts you on edge; it just keeps you alert and paying attention.
I should mention that I listened to the speakers without their grilles for most of the tests. I played a few tracks with and without the grilles and found that they affect the sound more than most grilles do. The reason is that they're constructed of ridged metal mesh and arch in front of the drivers. With the grilles on, some of the forwardness disappears, but so do several other frequencies, giving the speakers what sounds like a less-flat response. Without the grilles, the LCR850s are very neutral, despite their forward tendencies. If you audition the LCR850s, make sure you listen to them both ways.
The other trait that I heard on the John Hiatt track (and several others) is rock-solid center imaging. Many times, when a pair of speakers produces such a solid center image, their ability to produce a large soundstage suffers, but not so with the LCR850s. They do have a tendency to pull if you're listening off-center, but this is average. The tweeters (and the speakers in general) create an ambience that I haven't heard in many speakers of this configuration. It seems that, because the tweeters face just away from the listening position, they bounce more off the rear wall. This makes for a deep, satisfying soundstage with just two speakers.