Form Following Function: mbl 101 X-treme Speaker System

Stunning or strange? One of these words is likely to come to mind when you first lay eyes on the 101 X-treme speaker system, the flagship of MBL’s Reference Line. And what a system it is, handmade to order in Germany and comprising a pair of approximately 6-foot-tall towers, each of which supports two utterly unconventional driver arrays in an open frame, and two subwoofer towers, each comprised of six 12-inch woofers, a crossover, and an amplifier broken into three ported birch and aluminum boxes that can be stacked or laid side by side as needed. (No lows left behind.) What’s described as a positively huge, enveloping soundstage is created by mirror-image complements of MBL’s signature spheroid Radialstahler (omnidirectional) drivers. Each array uses one large midbass driver made of silicone, aluminum, and magnesium, and two small carbon-fiber drivers for mids and highs, supported by an armature of acrylic, steel, and wood. The cherry on top is an ambiance dome tweeter hidden in the top of each tower. Total weight for the whole shebang is a staggering 3,600 pounds, just 400 pounds shy of 2 tons. (No flimsy floors, please.)

When you feed an audio signal to the 101 X-tremes, their 12 pulsating spheres radiate equal amounts of energy at all frequencies through a three-dimensional soundfield, which means the character of the sound is the same whether you’re listening in front of, beside, or behind the speakers. But what about those nasty room reflections that can turn perfectly natural sound into mush? No worries. In their never-ending quest for perfection, MBL engineers designed the 101 X-tremes to effectively take the room out of the equation. The spherical drivers energize reflective surfaces uniformly at all frequencies, rather than at specific frequencies as with conventional speakers. Add to that the psychoacoustic phenomenon known as the Precedence Effect, whereby an acoustic sound arriving first at our ears suppresses our ability to hear other sounds (including echoes and reverberations), and sonic destruction is avoided. The cost of such X-treme audiophile indulgence? $263,000, or about 10 grand less than a 2012 Aston Martin DBS. If the 101 X-tremes sound half as stunning as they look, the experience they deliver just might be the closest you can get to “being there” without leaving your living room.

MBL North America • (212) 724-4870 •

K.Reid's picture

This year and last year I had the opportunity to see and listen on several occasions to the MBL 101E Mark II speakers - essentially half of the 101 Xtremes atop single subwoofer. These speakers are drop dead gorgeous but its good looks are surpassed only by its exquisite sound quality. Every audio show I was at this year and last year MBL had long lines of eager listeners waiting to hear these speakers for good reason.

As tremendous as the 101E MKII are, the 101 X-Treme just takes things to another level. I heard these speakers at CES this year and what I experienced was astounding - closest to the live performance I've yet heard. Yes, they are expensive and not for everyone's pocket book, but for those who can afford them, they are well worth the price of admission. This is an instance where one really does get what one pays for. State of the art in every way.

I aspire to one day own MBL's more affordable Corona Line which also has superb build quality and stellar performance. The speakers, stereo and mono amps in the range are really something special.

instybob's picture

I can see rich people who know no better paying a ton for these because they can and then listening to their ipod music at 128k.

DaleC's picture

Yeah, because wealth completely prevents a person from having discernment and taste in audio.

K.Reid's picture

Those individuals fortunate enough to own ultra high end equipment might just be downloading high-res files from because they love music. They might also be astute audiophiles who understand the costs behind developing, engineering and refining a system like the XTreme - and are willing to fork over the money because they love music - reproduced in as lifelike manner as is currently possible.

notabadname's picture

Looks like something from a SciFi movie. Very cool. But I will take a home, for the same price, thank you.

Donald127's picture

I wonder who got the patent for this. I came up with design for pulsating speaker using this technology & had several other simular designs almost 20 years ago. I never patented it but just curious who did & when. I still have the design drawings. Thanks for any info. Donald