Even within the high-end, there is extreme and then there is really extreme. I’m talking about the seriously out-there, beyond-Pluto type of gear that makes the Robb Report look like a Walmart flyer.
This can shock the unwary. “I see you’re writing about $5,000 speakers,” friends will sometimes say to me. “Who would pay that?”
I just grin and explain to these audio innocents that, in the upper end of the market, $5,000 wouldn’t even buy the power cords for some rigs. I usually don’t have the heart, though, to tell them I just heard a $250,000 pair of speakers at a show, in a system that was priced considerably above a half-million dollars.
Such was the case at AXPONA 2016, where I encountered MBL’s 101 X-Treme speakers ($263,000 a pair in black and chrome finish), driven by $300,000 worth of MBL electronics including four 9011 power amplifiers, the 6010D preamplifier, 1611F DAC and 1621A transport. And the total system cost referenced above did not take into account the United Home Audio quarter-inch tape deck in use, or the reference cables from Wireworld, Shun Mook and Siltech.
It’s often said that when you get into the silly money you’re chasing that last 5 percent to 10 percent improvement that’s possible in audio quality. So, what does a system sound like that aims to reach these outer limits?
In the case of MBL, it’s a presentation that is unlike any other in the industry — in both appearance and sound. The German company’s Rhadialstrahler speaker design, which it has been perfecting for a number of years, features omnidirectional radiators. In the case of the Extremes, each tower looks something like a pair of miniature Zeppelins docking vertically inside an open steel support frame.
The MBL sound may not match some traditional speakers in focus and imaging, but they do excel at throwing a huge sound stage and presenting music with plenty of energy, lightning-quick transients and upper-frequency detail.
It’s a sound so different that it may not be everyone’s cup of tea. Those who prefer their systems to be laid-back with every sharp edge buffed to a smooth shine may not want to bother their banker about the MBLs. But for others among the well-heeled who accept that real music, live, can be brash and powerful, this equipment should be on their short list.
Is any music system worth such a price tag? That’s a whole ‘nother discussion. Most of us cubicle drones never will have to worry about it, but for the deep-pocketed few who see value in original art or classic automobiles, gear like MBL’s offers a similar satisfaction in ownership.