January 21, 2014

Evolution Acoustics MMMiniTwo

Price: $39,000/pr

 

by

James L. Darby

 

 

 

Evolution Acoustics MMTwo - CES 2010 Big brother to the MMMiniTwo

 

In our Show Report for CES 2010, we said this about the Evolution Acoustics MMtwo, the big brother to the MMMiniTwo and the subject of this review:  "We're not even going to try to describe the sound. All we can say is that this was not just the best sound at this show, it was the best sound at ANY show we've EVER heard. In fact, we can state that it's the best stereo reproduction we have ever heard...period. And that friends, is saying a lot.”

 

As you can see, the size of the Best of Show winner is bigger, but the basic drivers, cabinetry and configuration are very similar. Does the Mini version even come close to what we heard in 2010 and how does it compare to speakers in 2014?

 

The Evolution Acoustics MMMiniTwo is, as we are about to see, a very unique speaker. The first thing you need to know is that the speaker system actually consists of 4 separate boxes; the top of each channel being a model MMMiniOne bookshelf style that can be bought separately, but in this case it is secured atop a MMMiniSub, held firmly in place by an ingenious locking system that uses an included Allen wrench that, with a twist, locks the thing down like a space shuttle atop an Atlas rocket. Using a couple of guide pins, they make sure of perfect positioning; there is absolutely no play at all between the two units and for all practical purposes form one rock-solid floor standing speaker.

 

The cabinets themselves are ultra rich looking with a very deep hand-rubbed lacquer over the stained Baltic Birch that brings to mind the color of a fine violin, perhaps even the famous "Red Violin". If you look close, there are fine lines that look like the cabinets were created in layers rather than one solid box. That's because they were. Each layer is a different thickness to reduce resonance or vibration of the outside walls and in the interior, each layer is cut out to nest each driver in it's own custom shape to eliminate reflection and diffraction from inside the chamber. In effect, each individual driver has its own unique anechoic chamber from which to work its magic. The visibility of the fine lines (only in very close proximity) tells me that no cheap veneers were used.

 

It's worth noting that these speakers are shipped in custom made wooden crates, not your usual cardboard boxes.

 

A quote from the website explains further: The top bookshelf cabinet also known as the MMMiniOne utilizes a design which we call the “Evolution Acoustics Acoustics Transmission Line” (EATL) enclosure. The EATL results in very deep bass response and does not lose bass energy quickly like acoustic suspension or bass reflex enclosures. Even though the top bookshelf section of the MMMiniTwo loudspeaker goes flat down to 40Hz there is still very substantial output at 20Hz and beyond.  Also, the EATL gives you the best of both enclosures. The driver behaves like it is in a sealed box but also has the extension and energy of a ported enclosure, and all of this without “boomy one-note bass”

 

The drivers selected for the top unit are a custom designed aluminum ribbon tweeter and Accuton ceramic mid-woofer. The name of the game here is speed and accuracy. The feather weight of the ceramic allows it to start and stop much faster than a standard cone. So does the aluminum of the ribbon tweeter. Why is speed important? Because MUSIC is fast. We're not talking about tempos here, but from the pluck of a string, the hammer hitting multiple strings in a piano, to the head and rattle of a struck snare drum and everything else in-between, musical notes leap off instruments at the speed of sound. Then there are the overtones and transients thrown off by each sound. If your speaker's drivers are not fast enough to accurately reproduce these fleet sounds, then you have a less realistic sounding performance. It's that simple. In this case, if speed kills, the Evolution Acoustics MMMiniTwo should be at the top of the FBI's Most Wanted List.

 

  

 

 

LET'S GET DOWN

 

The MMMiniSub is constructed the same way as that of the top unit and perfectly matches aesthetically. It uses an 8 x 12" rectangular paper woofer to achieve a ground shaking low of 15 Hz +/-3 dB. The decibel figure there is important because that is essentially flat. Claimed frequency response is a still very audible -6 DB at a more impressive 10 Hz. There aren't many speakers of any size or any price that plumb to those depths: that's sub sonic territory. It takes a lot of power for any speaker to produce those long, low sound waves, but that's not a problem with the MMMiniSub; each unit has a built-in 1000 watt ICE amplifier to handle the substantial load. That's a total of 2,000 watts available per pair.

 

Of course, since those amps are built-in, you will need to plug them in to an AC outlet. You can turn them on or off via a green lit toggle on the back of each speaker.

 

The top and bottom units are easily connected by a single thick Neutrik Speakon cable which is provided. This is a substantial, high-end cable, not a cheapie "throw-in". A set of eight spikes is also provided to be used once the speakers are optimally positioned.

 

Speaker connectors are by Cardas, generally considered by many to be the best sounding connectors made; also one of the most expensive. They are made for spade or bare wire cable ends, but can be rigged to work with bayonets as you see here, though it makes for a tight fit.

 

At this point, I have to mention the owner's manual. It is simply one of the most informative, well-organized, instructive manuals I've ever seen. In addition to the informative text, I count at least 20 beautifully rendered graphics that help you understand this complex speaker. Its section on speaker placement should be mandatory reading for every audiophile who owns speakers. It explains, with charts, how to place the speakers in a short wall rectangular room, long wall rectangular room and even square room. It even gives you the mathematical formulas for the Golden Progression and Rule Of Thirds. There is a whole page on "Optimizing Frequency Response", another on Bass Response Tuning and another page and a half on room treatment. In addition, there are three pages on how to install the floor spikes to give you optimum results depending upon your listening height as it relates to the ribbon tweeter. There is another whole section on troubleshooting with topics like "Lack of Strong Center Image Focus", " Lack of Overall Bass" and "Too Much Brightness Overall".

 

If you've been reading Stereomojo for any time at all, you know that one of the biggest factors in the performance of any stereo system is the room in which it is installed. Simply put, you can put a mega buck system in a room with bad acoustics or simply the wrong size and it will sound awful. On the other hand, a well matched entry-level high-end system in a really good acoustic space and appropriate size can sound stupendous. The folks at Evolution Acoustics put it like this: "No loudspeaker is perfect and nobody truly listens in an anechoic environment. These factors are what motivated us to include user adjustability in our product line. If we design the perfect speaker in an anechoic chamber, that would do you, as the end-user, absolutely no good. You see, once you introduce real-world boundary reflections in the measurements and engineering targets go out the window. Not to mention, variations in electronics will also have a great impact. The only way to provide a remarkable product that will translate well, once in the consumer's environment, is to include the means by which one can control one's speaker to compensate for all of these variables".

 

"The means" to which they are referring are a series of knobs and switches on the back panels that outnumber anything we've seen on any speaker at any price, save Evolution Acoustics’ other speakers. Let's start with the Tweeter Level that is installed on the rear of the top unit. The factory setting at 0 represents flat response. Depending on your room or your own tastes, that might not be the best, so you can adjust it up or down. The thing is about this tweeter control is that you're not just simply adjusting the volume of a tweeter output like in most other speakers if they supply a tweeter level at all, you are also adjusting the crossover frequency between the tweeter and the midrange driver as well to help ensure a smooth transition with your new setting. In short, it's not just a volume control.

 

Moving down to the MMMiniSub, things get much more interesting. You have a total of six different adjustments labeled Bass Filter, Bass Level, Bass Quality, Bass Extension as well as a rumble filter. The rumble filter that is either on or off is the easiest to explain. It comes from the factory in the off position, but if you play vinyl you know there's often unwanted low-frequency signals that are not a product of the music, but the playback mechanisms. It can also act as a filter to protect the subwoofer from being overdriven if you happen to feel like playing pipe organ recordings or such at earsplitting levels. There's one on each speaker so remember to turn them both on or off.

 

The knob marked Bass Filter regulates the amount of low frequency information sent to the woofer. Turning the control counterclockwise can help remove too much warmth or bloat in the lower midrange and upper base region. It's normal to have what's called "bass nodes" where those long, powerful low notes, by means of reflection off walls or other objects, can gang up and create a spike that is unrealistic. The bass filter can help with that, too. Turning the knob clockwise can add some warmth and richness. Those same naughty bass waves can congregate causing a bass null where they cancel each other out leaving you with a dip.

 

Then there's the Bass Level knob. It regulates the sound pressure level of the bass relative to the midrange and treble. If your room makes the speaker sound over emphasized in the bass region, turn it down. If you need a little more, turn it up.

 

Then there is the unique Bass Quality control. We've never seen this one before. Say you are a tube lover but you want your bass to be a little tighter and more detailed. Turn counterclockwise for that. Got solid state and want a little more body and may be a little less edginess? Rotate clockwise. The changes you get here are much more subtle and it's recommended that you leave it alone until the speakers have broken in properly and you're used to the overall sound.

 

Lastly, we have Bass Extension which regulates the depth of the bass response. The natural response would be to think, "Hey, I want as much as I can get!" and turn the knob all the way up. The factory reference setting is one octave, which will give strong and flat performance down to 20 Hz in an ideal setting. However, if your room is on the smaller side, low frequencies can easily overload your room and fatigue and unpleasantness will plague you. We strongly recommend that you adjust the other bass controls first and let this one remain at the factory setting for a couple of weeks or so. Another reason for that recommendation is that if you unleash those 2,000 watts in a space that's too large and you want to deafen your neighbors, you can damage the woofers.

 

An important note: Before fiddling with any of these controls, we suggest you leave them alone until you find optimal room placement, well documented in the manual, and until you've let the speakers burn in for at least 50 hours. It doesn't say that in the manual, but that's just personal advice.

 

THE BURNING "BURN IN" QUESTION

 

I've heard some people say that brand-new quality stereo equipment doesn't need any burn in at all. I can tell you unequivocally that that statement is false, particularly in the case of speakers. I've heard some very good speakers that sounded pretty bad right out of the box; congested, limited high and low frequencies, small soundstage that is smeared and lacking detail. After a couple of hundred hours, all of that changed drastically. The Evolution Acoustics manual has a good page and a half dedicated specifically to the subject. They recommend burn in for two reasons, the first being that new transducers have very stiff suspensions and surrounds that requires softening before they achieve their specified performance and operational frequency. They compare it to softening a brand-new baseball glove. The second reason is that as the drivers reach a steady state of performance, the engineering target of the crossover will work correctly since crossover performance is based on the reactance of the transducers. That causes abnormalities in staging, frequency response, phase response, etc., which is exactly what I've experienced and related above.

 

Specifically, Evolution Acoustics says their speakers will exhibit "major sonic improvements up to 300 hours of play time". However, they say the speakers will continue to improve up to 1000 hours of play time. They even describe the progression of changes: "After the first 24 hours, the loudspeaker will lose edginess of presentation, after 150 hours the bass will begin to both tighten and gain lower frequency extension, after 250 hours the midrange will begin to open up, and after 300 hours the high frequencies will become crystalline and pure". I will add that things improve substantially from there, especially in terms of soundstage layering, height and width and both micro and macro detail. That's why playing around too much with the myriad of adjustments too soon may be counterproductive at best.

 

All I can tell you is that the wait is well worth it - and that may be the understatement of the year.

 

The pair I received had been played at different shows and demos, so I didn't have to suffer through the normal break-in period. However, I did let them settle into the system before positioning and tweaking the various adjustments which took me about three weeks. I know you're probably curious about what settings I used, but then you may be tempted to just copy what I did which would be completely antithetical to the existence of the controls which were implemented in the design so as to contour the speakers to your room and your tastes, so I won't include them here.

 

After getting them dialed in, as hard as I try, there is very little if anything I can say negatively about the speaker's performance. They did indeed sound very similar to the larger models I had heard at the show and mentioned before; they just were the best speakers I've had in my system.

 

I could speak all day about individual characteristics of the sound, but I think the most significant aspect of the MMMiniTwo’s is how they made us feel. All music has some sort of emotional impact, even if it's negative. But all music, if performed and recorded well, should impart a significant emotional response. Basically, other than to make money, that's why music exists; to convey an emotional response whether it's Yeah, let's rock!" to bringing us to the brink of tears or beyond. These emotions are present in all genres of music from ancient compositions to the latest pop, rock, country, bluegrass, jazz in its many forms and even 21st century classical.

 

So, to us, the MMMiniTwo, more than any other speaker, allowed us to comprehend on a deeper level, the spirit of the music to which we were listening. For example, the clarity in the midrange that let us simply understand the lyrics without having to strain a bit or even focus on the words, they were just there! And since we listen to a lot of vocal music, whether solo, duet or choral, that was huge. But the same holds true for the rest of the musical content.

 

If you've read Stereomojo to any extent, you know that the benchmark for sound quality is how easily a system reproduces recordings so that the listener doesn't have to work, strain or feel like they need to lean forward or in any way listen more closely to hear any musical event within the performance. That includes the soundstage itself which should extend in every direction from side to side or front to back without sounding compressed, exaggerated or in any way unnatural, even if, as is in most cases, it is studio created and thus unnatural. That should be evident.

 

Because of my studio background, I often listen to not only the music but the ideas, tricks and techniques employed by the recording/mastering engineer. Most people don't realize that what happens after the performers have left the building can have an even greater impact on the final release than the actual performances themselves. And that leads us to one of Stereomojo's famous "Dirty Little Secrets".

 

 

 

Many if not most of the recordings you hear nowadays are, in many ways, complete frauds. Strong words for sure, but let me give you some examples. I recently read an article by a noted classical pianist how he had recorded the same piece several times and that he and the engineer (mostly the engineer) spent days digitally cutting and pasting notes and phrases and sometimes complete sections from the various performances to form one final performance. He said there were over 100 edits that made up what eventually showed up on the CD. In other words, the performance that was sold to the public never actually happened.

 

That happens in pretty much every genre of music. In vocal music, it is now commonplace for the first thing to happen is to go in and remove the breath sounds the singer makes just before singing a phrase or even a single note. Talk about unnatural. Of course you've probably heard of the infamous AutoTune where the engineer can go in and with the click of a mouse make every note precisely on pitch. But there's much more it can do as well. In fact, just about anything a singer can do naturally, it can do digitally.

 

I recently got to play with the demo of AutoTune with the recording "Sexual Healing" by Marvin Gaye. While there is a little bleed through of other instruments and singers, Marvin's solo track was there in all its glory. From a technical standpoint, it sounded awful. Pitch was all over the place and there were all kinds of artifacts, long breaths, bad timing, etc. In short, without the backing tracks, it sounded pretty unlistenable. But then the track was digitally "perfected". I then played it back with the same original backing tracks and guess what - it sounded terrible. Marvin had completely lost his soul. The highly emotional, sexual innuendo, even though the words hadn't changed, was gone. I'd bet the world's population would be significantly lower if the perfected version of Sexual Healing had been the original release.

 

I heard a TV interview with Joe Walsh who had quite a career even before joining the Eagles. He was complaining about today's recordings in much the same way. He actually said he hates listening to a lot of modern recordings because they are so computerized that he can't tell who's playing on it. He was promoting his new album entitled "Analog Man" which, he admitted, was recorded digitally like all the rest out there. But the band was recorded live, all playing at the same time, "like we did in the old days" without all the digital chicanery. He said. I bought and if you like the old-school Joe Walsh, you'll like this. His lyrics on a couple of tunes made me laugh and if you liked his famous hit "Funk 49", there's a new track named "Funk 50".

 

Back to the MMMiniTwo's. I talked about them being able to reproduce the feelings and emotions of the recording. That doesn't happen without all the typical audiophile requirements in place. Macro and micro dynamics play a large part and they are present in spades with the MMMiniTwo’s. They are fast, enabling them to catch the very first microsecond of a sound in its proper perspective and dynamic range. The smallest details of a recording are present without ever sounding etched or grainy.

 

Special accolades need to be pointed out in the bass. These things go low, baby! Having studied pipe organ (meaning taking lessons for many years) and having played many large pipe organs (I used to own a three manual electronic organ) I naturally have a lot of pipe organ recordings. I must've played all of them because the subwoofers, with the one thousand watt internal amps pushing them, made them sound like there were real pipe organs in my listening room, from the smallest 1 inch piccolo stop to the lowest 32 foot diapason. They didn't rattle the window frames, but they didn't have to and I certainly didn't want them to. But did they portray a convincing pipe organ in our listening room? Ohhhh yeah.

 

Aside from pipe organs, the bass was so detailed that it took no effort to hear what the drummer was doing with his kick drum as opposed to the bass player, especially when they were both panned to the middle. Every sound was finely textured instead of just a blob, bump or a thump. Again, all those varied textures were just there without having to zoom in mentally.

 

A good example and just a great, fun track to demo bass is "Carry On My Wayward Son", the old Kansas tune covered by bassist Brian Bromberg on "Wood II" where he plays it as an acoustic bass solo! Tons of finger slapping, snapping on the fingertboard with huge transients and dynamics in addition to the sound of the strings pluck. You hear all the kinds of noises that, like described above, are usually edited out. If there's any slowness or strain in a system or speaker, this track will reveal it in a heartbeat. The Minis might as well have been polishing their fingernails and whistling Dixie with the unconstrained ease with which they played this killer track.

 

Linda and I were not only able to, but looked forward to, long multi-hour listening sessions with absolutely no ear or brain fatigue at all. That testifies to the ultralow distortion, lack of smearing and overall naturalness of the sound. And Linda, sitting to my right, was able to hear the same stereo soundstage as I sitting in the sweet spot. Very sweet.

 

Okay, we can’t complain about the looks, build, or sound quality. About the only thing we can complain about is the name - MMMiniTwo. How DO you pronounce that? Attempting to tell someone what speaker I’m reviewing in this case makes me sound like the son in Breaking Bad. Muh Muh Muh Mini Two. I can never remember how many “m”s to put in front of Mini. And “mini” implies a tiny, sit-by-your-computer speaker. At about 4 feet high and over 100 pounds, I don’t think so. And get this; right now I have the World’s First Review of their new bookshelf speaker. It’s here and playing right now. Name? The MMMicroOne, pictured left. Say that three times fast. By the sound of it, this speaker should fit on a thumb drive. Mini, Micro…

 

What does that MM stand for anyway? I’ve heard it stands for “Maximum Modularity”. Most of Evolution Acoustics’speakers, like these, can be combined to make a larger speaker. Alright. But I’ve also heard it stands for “Maximum Musicality”. Well, that fits, but still…and besides…MMMiniTwo is really hard to fricken TYPE….

 

 

 

 

In short, the Evolution Acoustics MMMiniTwo time after time, without fail, through thousands of different musical selections across every musical style, decade and century, gave us the most musically enjoyable, exhilarating, rewarding and satisfying musical experience we had yet relished in our 30 plus year audio journey. While we are not sure what the “MM” designation really stands for, in our book it’s Maximum Mojo.

 

Because of it's extreme adjustability to room acoustics and listener taste, it is easy to recommend these speakers to those want the very best sound in practically any listening environment.

 

They are easy to drive since the 1,000 amp in each speaker carries the heaviest load, but 60-100 wpc would be the least to put in front of them since they are capable of very high transient output, even though their specs says minimum is 15 wpc. Max, they say, is 200 wpc. Impedance is 9 Ohms, but - and this is important - that only varies +/- 1.5 Ohms - very steady load and very tube friendly.

 

Frequency response - get this - is 15Hz-40kHz and that is at a slim +/- 3 dB! That's considered virtually ruler flat. But, at +/- 6 db, still very acceptable, they claim they go down to 10 Hz (!) and up to 70kHz! Down only 6db at 10 Hz? We said they went low.

 

Sensitivity is claimed to be 86 db, which we think substantiates our 60-100 wpc observation unless you listen at pretty low levels.

 

In addition, since they are very revealing, use good quality components and cables to get optimum performance. They are equally at home with any genre from lute solos to Mahler. They do an outstanding job of conveying scale or size in their soundstage. And yes, they will rock! Tracks heavy in rhythm are especially a delight because of their sheer speed from top to lowest bottom.

 

Room size is important. Moderately small to moderately large should work well. They play loud, but they do have their limits. That's why Evolution makes bigger speakers.

 

And yes, they sound almost acoustically identical to their bigger brothers we deemed "the best stereo reproduction we have ever heard...period.

 

It does take time to burn them in and then adjust them to your room and taste, but we believe it is time well worth it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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