It’s been a while since my last installment of The Smoking Jacket, thanks in general to the pandemic, but I wanted to remind everyone that one of my favorite parts about smoking cigars is the herf, the big smoking circle where everyone lights up and talks about life and bonds with each other. It was a herf that brought the MC Audiotech Forty-10 loudspeakers to my listening room.
The last high-end audio show we held before the pandemic hit was the Florida Audio Expo back in February of 2020, an event that now feels like it happened a long time ago. I was in Tampa, dammit, one of the most vibrant places to find and smoke cigars. If I had a penny for every person who asked me if I’d been to Ybor City, you know, I’d just spend it on more cigars. I loaded up with a fine selection before the show, however, and several of us had already staked out the poolside smoking area and I just started talking to the guy across from me, mostly because I had no idea who he was—strange considering he told me he was an exhibitor.
In fact, I’d never heard of his company either.
The man was Mark Conti, and he was the international sales manager of MC AudioTech, a new speaker manufacturer with just one model called the Forty-10 that starts at $40,000/pair with external crossover. I usually pass on big statement speakers such as the Forty-10s for review—at least while I’m still renting and still conducting my search for the perfect two-way loudspeaker. I’ve adopted a “Hundred Pound Rule” for dragging heavy high-end equipment up and down those bastard concrete stairs outside my front door.
We started talking about a review right after I heard them at FLAX, and then of course the pandemic hit and everyone in the high-end audio industry froze in place for a few weeks, even months, wondering what to do next. Just a few months later Mark was able to catch up with me and once again we made plans for a review. I told him about the HPR, and he reminded me that the tweeter array and the subwoofer cabinet indeed come apart, so we were dealing with four almost-100 lb. boxes instead of two almost 200 lb. speakers.
After the TotalDAC d100s, the MC AudioTech Forty-10 loudspeakers are the second pair of larger speakers in a row that I’ve reviewed. The brilliant Qln Prestige Ones and the game-changing Falcon Acoustics LS3/5a MoFi Editions rocked my world just before that, but I can bask in those memories while hanging out with the big boy speakers for a while. The d100s, after all, sounded pretty outstanding in my current listening room. I’m generally not worried about too much speaker.
The MC AudioTech Forty-10 loudspeakers, according to the specs, will go down to 20 Hz. Is that my true reason for wanting to try a loudspeaker that makes no bones about hitting the bottom of our audible frequency range? I didn’t truly believe I could “Hit the Twenty” in my listening room, but I knew the Forty-10s were going to stretch my perceptions of big speakers and how they could work in rooms that were not quite equally large. These are not “plop ‘em down and forget about ‘em” loudspeakers. They need fine tuning. You’ll need a tape measure.
Inside (and Outside of) the MC Audiotech Forty-10
It’s hard to talk about the MC Audiotech Forty-10 speakers without first discussing its unique looks. The website states that there’s an obvious tip of the hat to Mid-Century going on here, and that was my thought the first time I saw them. I dig Mid-Century. Those arrays remind me of those really old television sets from the Atomic Age, round and glass and on weird yet lavishly hip pedestals.
I’ve heard people mention that the styling of the Forty-10s is, well, strange. Once in place in my listening room, however, they blended in to a surprising degree. Sure, they’re still the first thing you’ll see when you walk into the room, but those big antique TV sets turned into calm and billowing sails, and I loved the shading of the light on the fabric stretched across the array. I stopped thinking about them as strange and obstinate rather quickly.
Much of that striking look is the result of two distinct enclosures that make up the MC Audiotech Forty-10. The upper “sail” part, of course, is the “array” I’ve been mentioning. It contains the “in-house designed and built proprietary transducers mounted in a double-curved spaced array.” These transducers even give the speaker its name, according to the white paper:
“The MC Audiotech Wide Band Line Source (WBLS) Transducer used in the Model Forty-10 loudspeaker is, as the name suggests, a wideband, line source dynamic device that is the result of 40 years of research and development. There are 10 of these transducers in each loudspeaker, hence the designation Forty-10.”
The more conventional (i.e. cubic) enclosure, finished in a nice walnut with shiny aluminum venting, is the “totally separate folded cube™ low frequency enclosure” which contains two high-efficiency woofers. That’s right, this beast is basically a two-way design with many drivers, with the array taking the baton from the woofer enclosure at 100 Hz.
Indeed, the MC Audiotech Forty-10 is the proverbial full-range speaker system with a “20 to 20K” frequency response. The array has a 96 dB efficiency, and the woofers are 93 with both having a nominal impedance of 4 ohms. MC Audiotech suggests at least 15 watts per channel for each amplifier.
Other finishes are available, including a bird’s-eye maple with black accents and a brown cloth that sounds like something I would pick for myself.
I wouldn’t have said yes to the MC Audiotech Forty-10 loudspeakers if those four large boxes—five if you count the small box that contains the crossover unit–had just been dropped off on my front porch by UPS. Fortunately Mark’s partner at MC Audiotech, designer Paul Paddock, lives about twenty miles down the road and was more than happy to show up and set them up in person. (I did have to help when it came to navigating the heavy boxes down that nefarious flight of stairs that leads to my front door, so I wasn’t totally useless.)
Mark Conti, who lives in the Philly area, was disappointed that he couldn’t fly out and help with the installation—he indicated that he is usually there when the client takes delivery, but you know, Covid. But that’s the sort of service you should usually expect with a complicated, heavy and expensive loudspeaker system. The cost of the Forty-10 does include delivery and set-up.
That said, the MC Audiotech Forty-10 loudspeaker system is fairly difficult to set up correctly the first time—they didn’t want to be in that normal positioning range in my room where most speakers snap into focus. These are basically big dipoles, and they need space. My listening room features considerable flexibility, however—the open floor plan is focused on a great room, which contains the listening area, and I can move and arrange furniture and even relocate the system along the short or long walls with relative ease.
Paul toyed with placement for a while, but he couldn’t quite dial them in at first. He discovered the mysterious but totally solvable 200 Hz bass node that occasionally stops by to visit. Once that was solved, I could “hear” the potential of the MC Audiotech Forty-10 and knew that I could coax the best performance from them by maximizing that space around them. Finally, after an intense and focused afternoon after Paul left, I felt confident that the MC Audiotech Forty-10s were going to be more cooperative and I built the system around them.
Because the MC Audiotech Forty-10s require bi-amping for the array and the bass module, I had to ensure that I had two amps available for set-up. The Forty-10s are very efficient and easy to drive—Mark told me back in Florida that he really enjoyed using them with LTA amplification. So you don’t need big, powerful amps—you just need two. Initially I was concerned that I didn’t have two identical stereo power amplifiers, which I thought would be ideal for a bi-amp situation, but Paul didn’t seem to mind. When I asked him which amp should be used to power the array and which to be used for the bass module, Paul replied “whichever you like.” It’s more about your preferences at this point, since the MC Audiotechs are very easy to drive.
So I wound up using the 150 watts per channel Balanced Audio Technology VK-3500 integrated amplifier on the array because I enjoyed its flexibility and features, and I used the Pureaudio Duo2 power amplifier on the bass modules, which meant I could switch from 25 watts per channel pure Class A or 100 watts per channel in Class AB and see which one would get me closest to that magical 20 Hz spot. I went with the pure Class A, because I dig all those layers of three-dimensional sound.
MC Audiotech Forty-10 Low Frequency Controller
Speaker positioning was only one tool that I used to dial in the sound of the MC Audiotech Forty-10 loudspeakers. The other tool, one that didn’t involve moving heavy speakers with big sorbothane feet across a floor, was the Low Frequency Controller. This is basically an external crossover that allows you to make that three-way love connection between the array, the bass module and your room. The Low Frequency Controller was almost magical in the way it solved one room issue after another for the MC Audiotech Forty-10. All I had to do was turn a couple of knobs and I was able find the optimal setting for each speaker position.
As the website explains:
“The design principal of this device is to “do no harm”. The controller it is a hybrid crossover with a totally passive circuit for the signal headed to the Array and an active circuit only where required – for the level and contour of the bass signal. Input and Outputs are single ended with high quality CARDAS RCA jacks. Transparency and dynamics are fully preserved and the blending of these two loudspeaker modules is as perfect as we know how to make it!”
This is a nicely finished little box with three pairs of RCA interconnects on the back—input (hooked up to an unused input on the BAT VK-3500), high pass and low pass. But if you aren’t playing with the bass level and contour knobs on the front panel with the right amount of finesse, you’ll never find the Magic Happy Spot and you’ll never know the Forty-10s true potential in your system and your room. Paul did warn me about the “touchiness” of the settings, and how even the tiniest adjustment of a knob can push you right past the ideal setting. For me, this was the key in getting the MC Audiotech Forty-10 to match consistently with each piece of gear that was introduced to the system. Take the time to get it right.
The first thing I noticed about the MC Audiotech Forty-10 loudspeakers is yeah, they’re going really low in the bass. Incredibly low. Wow, it’s been a while since I’ve heard bass this low. Once I realized that we were plumbing the depths here, I tried out the Yulunga Test—that first soft strike of the mallet on the bass drum in Dead Can Dance’s “Yulunga.”
Did I hear the biggest, softest and most seismic whump ever felt? No, but that was a good thing. The Yulunga Test is not designed to see if we can hear those lowest notes—there is a bottom to that drum, and it’s probably well above 20 Hz. The idea here is to flesh out the sound of that beat and to deliver it without sacrificing all the natural sounds that accompany it. There’s a purity involved, that the drumbeat shouldn’t be artificially pumped up or prone to room reflections and vibrations along the floor. The room, in other words, should sound like it’s been left out of the equation. The Forty-10s passed the Yulunga Test with flying colors.
This is one of two challenges you need to meet with the MC Audiotech in the room. I realized that with some recordings there could be a lack of integration between the array and the bass module, that truly deep information could feel detached from the musical whole. This is where you need the space so that you get that top-to-bottom coherency, otherwise those deep notes seemed to come from somewhere else. So I expanded the system within the confines of the room and the bass became more coherent as I added more space between the listening chair and the speakers, and the speakers from any room boundaries.
Getting that necessary space also alleviates the second challenge, which is getting the high-frequency array to truly open up and sound appropriately spacious. If the MC Audiotech Forty-10 is just plopped down in a small room, the treble will sound small and closed in. Start pushing everything around and wow, there’s the air. There’s the space. There’s the incredible size of the soundstage. You can have all the 20 Hz sounds in the world, but they will sound strange if there isn’t an equal and balanced extension on the other end.
Once I felt satisfied with the sound I was getting from the MC Audiotech, I started the Serious Listening Sessions.
Both Mark and Paul enjoyed discussing both deep bass and loudness while we made arrangements for the review, and that clued me in—the MC Audiotech is a party speaker as well as a high-performance transducer designed for audiophiles. That didn’t mean I wanted to go all Chocolate Chip Trip Test on them so soon after the Yulunga Test, especially since the Forty-10’s stay was marred by some uncharacteristic heat here in the Pacific Northwest during the summer and all my neighbors had their windows open and not everyone my age likes Tool as much as I do.
But after the obligatory reissued jazz audiophile pressings to dust off the touchstones, I started to gravitate toward my very special classic rock audiophile LP selection, filled with such faves as Nautilus Half-Speed Masters of Heart’s Dreamboat Annie, Ghost in the Machine from the Police and The Cars’ Candy-O. The party became a blur over the next several days, with some Hendrix and Santana and Led Zeppelin mixed in and, well, if it was a special super-duper audiophile remaster of a hard rock classic and it was in my LP collection, it was put into rotation.
The MC Audiotech Forty-10s consistently sounded big and powerful and gutsy without breaking a sweat. I love that the efficiency is so high on these powerhouses so that you can host a rave with just about any amplifiers out there. But if I just wanted to go loud, I’d buy a pair of Klipsch Cornwalls or the new version of the JBL L-100s. I wouldn’t spend $40,000 plus.
That’s where the beauty of the array comes in. If you give these sail-like structures plenty of room to breathe, they are delicate flowers of sound, and can offer plenty of inner detail. This was clearly evident with Hilary Hahn’s Paris—she’s standing further into the orchestra on Prokofiev’s Violin Concerto #1 than, say, Itzhak Perlman on his legendary performance, and the Forty-10s were still able to flesh her violin out from the crowd of fellow musicians while preserving that all-important whole of the execution. The MC Audiotech Forty-10 delivered a unique performance, but an enlightening one without gimmickry.
MC Audiotech Forty-10 Conclusion
To be completely honest, I did have one enduring concern during my time with the Mc Audiotech Forty-10 loudspeakers, and that had more to do with the ultimate size of my room. I think this is a little more complex than just saying I had too much speaker for the room, because I achieved a balanced, full-range performance from these unusual speakers after careful positioning.
But I did feel, as I expanded the primary listening space to accommodate the Forty-10s, that I had never approached that elusive peak, that adjustment of the knob on the LFC that opened up the high-frequencies to that optimal position just before things start to go pear-shaped in the opposite way. I never located the peak, and I wanted to keep going in the direction I was going. I’m convinced I would have got there with just a little more room.
That’s why I’d love to go back and hear the MC Audiotech Forty-10s in a space optimized by Mark and Paul. I want to see if they get even better. Maybe that’s a follow-up for future days.
But here’s the thing. Buy a pair of these distinctive and elegant and stylish speakers, and Mark and Paul will show up and set them up for you. They will move the speakers around, play with the LFC and they won’t leave until you’re happy. If you’re willing to put in the set-up time, or at least have someone to do it for you, you’ll be rewarded with full-range performance—and none of your audio buddies will have anything that looks this distinctive.