Review: B&W Mini Theatre MT-30

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The propaganda

Bowers & Wilkins are one of the few speaker manufacturers who have consistently managed to combine stylish design with top acoustic quality, and somehow without compromising on either. But staunch B&W enthusiasts must have had some doubts when the new range of Mini Theatres were announced back in 2004, aimed at competing with the rapidly growing number, and quality, of complete home cinema surround sound packages on the market. Breaking away from the extensive range of floor-standing and bookshelf speakers, these diminutive satellite speakers had to somehow retain the same quality and style but within an even smaller package.

The MT-30 comprises five M-1 satellite speakers, each containing a 25mm (1”) metal dome tweeter and 100mm (4”) glass fibre bass/midrange cone, and the pioneering PV1 subwoofer, so named because its spherical shape forms a pressure vessel (hence the initials) a bit like a diving bell, apparently. The shape helps control the pressure differences between the inside and outside of the sub and means that you can have a significantly more powerful sub within a smaller enclosure. And this is no mean sub either – the twin 200mm (8”) drivers are powered by a whopping 500W amplifier.

The good

The traditional Hi-Fi has been fighting a bit of a losing battle against the onslaught of the home cinema system over the last ten years. However, it is still harder to generate anything like the sound quality for music on a surround sound system than it is using good stereo amp and speaker setup. Knowing B&W’s reputation, I had thought this might be one area to make the MT-30 trip up.

Happily, I was wrong. The MT-30 does a stunning job of reproducing almost every detail of the music with a level of clarity that I hadn’t expected from such compact units. Furthermore, the awesome power of the bass doesn’t threaten to drown out that detail either – in fact all the units work together in perfect unison, complementing each aspect of the sound and creating a very precise soundscape.

Unsurprisingly, movies made for some equally enthralling listening. Lord of the Rings seemed an obvious choice to really push the limits of the speakers and it was pleasing to be able to pick out some of the minutiae of the sounds even amidst the rumble of the larger battle scenes.

My best experience though, came when using it with my Xbox 360. A late night game of Gears of War was made all the more atmospheric by the clarity of the eerie background noises and the unique design of the subwoofer whose powerful, defined bass somehow comes without any of the floor-pounding, window-rattling thump of other large bass bins. The end result was that I could still enjoy a comfortably terrifying level of sound without being too concerned about the people downstairs believing that they too were living under the threat of subterranean invaders.

The bad

I think it is clear that the sound quality has everything going for it, although I will add that B&W’s long-standing love affair with classical music was very obvious when comparing different genres of music on the MT-30. Similarly, jazz, blues and country (and particularly Johnny Cash’s distinctive voice) get great treatment, but things like rock, punk and dance did not do so well. The difference was pretty minor though.

One other thing that could turn you off getting the system is the sheer weight of it all. Each satellite M-1 weighs a fairly hefty 2.7kg – quite a lot for something measuring in at 243 x 114 x 172mm. But that is nothing compared to the PV1 sub, which itself weighs in at 20.5kg, and if you also go for the speaker stands (£150 per pair) that’s a further 12.6kg per pair. None of which is particularly unmanageable on its own, but I also don’t recommend lugging it all up six flights of steps at once if you value your spine.

Geek Sheet

M-1 satellite speakers

Freq. Response: 80Hz – 23kHz ±3dB on reference axis

Freq. Range: -6dB at 72Hz and 50kHz

Sensitivity: 85dB spl (2.83V, 1m)

Normal Impedance: 8 ohms (minimum 4.8 ohms)

Power Handling: 20W – 100W into 8 ohms on unclipped programme

Drive Units: Unit 1: 1x 25mm (1 in) metal dome high-frequency

Unit 2: 1x 100mm (4 in) woven glass fibre cone bass / midrange

PV1 Subwoofer

Freq. Response: ±3dB 21Hz – 31/110Hz adjustable (EQ at i)

Freq. Range: -6dB at 18Hz and 40/140Hz adjustable (EQ at i)

Drive Units: Unit 1: 2x ø200mm (8 in) mica / aluminium cone long-throw

Amplifier: Description: Class-D ICEpower®

Power Output: 500W

Input Impedance: 100k ohms

Overview

The B&W MT-30 is a very well rounded system, and even though the 500W PV1 seems like a bit of an overkill at first glance, the carefully thought out design does complement its M-1 counterparts incredibly well. Visually too, there is little else out there that can claim such a great relationship between style and sound quality.

Of course the cost comes in, well, the cost. At a cool £1,575 this is a pretty expensive accessory for your living room, but could be ideal if you’re looking for one convenient, stylish and high quality solution to both your music and movie sound needs.

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