Musical Fidelity MC5 loudspeakers

This review first appeared in Audiophile magazine in 1991

With its compact dimensions, three forward-facing and  two upward-firing drive units, the MC5 looks rather like a bonsai Linn Isobarik. But there the resemblance ends: the MC5 has a more conventional bass-loading system (a reflex port), simpler construction, and a different set of musical  aims. It also has a considerably less damaging effect on the purchaser’s bank balance.

Musical Fidelity’s literature claims that the speaker offers “a spacious and airy image” allied to “a throbbing bass response which has to be heard (and felt) to be believed”. The MC5 also boasts “stupendous power handling…. which should enable you to reproduce orchestral peaks with enjoyable accuracy”. Finally the company states that the speaker’s “breadth, scale and presentation of sound belies (the speaker’s) relatively small size and relatively modest price”. On the basis of that description it sounds like my kind of speaker.

I set up the MC5 in my room, 1 metre clear of rear and side walls, positioned on the supplied 300mm high stands. The first gripe: the stands suck. with no adjustable floor spikes and no top spikes, their construction seemed hardly compatible with “throbbing bass”. The stands departed having proved themselves incapable of holding the speaker anything  remotely approximating to steady. Another manufacturer’s open frame stand was brought in as a replacement (open top  stands are a necessity, the MC5′s  reflex port and connection  tray are mounted on the speaker’s base panel).

Partnering equipment chosen to drive the MC5 had to be high quality: Lingo LP12, Naim ARO and Linn Troika formed the triumvirate in charge of vinyl replay; a Micromega Trio and a Mission Cyrus PCM II with PSX power supply provided one- and multi-bit CD sources; amperes and volts to energise the drivers came via Naim Audio’s NAC52 pre and NAP250 power  amplifiers.

I am not a believer in loudspeakers that are suited better to one type of music than another but a funny thing happened during my allotted time with the MC5. I found  myself drawn to the classical records in my collection more than the rock and jazz material. While I was happy enough  with the speaker’s performance on more contemporary music I felt most comfortable when there was something from the  classical repertoire on the turntable or CD player. Why this was so I was to discover after hours of listening and then a few minute’s thinking. Before reaching my conclusion I simply felt that there was a sense of rightness about the MC5′s presentation of orchestral and choral music which focussed my attention more on the music being played than its reproduction; but with rock and jazz material I frequently found that my attention was being drawn more towards specific aspects of the presentation rather than the music as a whole.

A case in point was when I listened to the new Clive Gregson and Christine Collister album Love is a Strange Hotel after playing Haydn’s Nelson Mass (Pinnock and The English Concert). Despite the speaker’s generally enjoyable and competent presentation of songs from the  Gregson/Collister LP I sensed a slight lack of openness to vocal lines, and seemingly curtailed high frequencies which rendered acoustic guitar harmonics rather lacking in sparkle; they failed to ring as cleanly as one would wish. The music sounded constrained and a shade lifeless. Yet on the Haydn Mass I was impressed by the purity and clarity of the singers’ voices, both the soloists and the choir. There was a greater sense of naturalness about them. The insight given into the orchestra’s playing was commendable, and the dynamic `flatness’ that had come to my notice on the previous disc was no longer evident: the sound had a vibrant and lively character that was most fitting and appropriate.  There was certainly no sign of compression taking place: the orchestral and choral climaxes blossomed to a ripe fulness that was as convincing as it was effortless.

John Cale’s Words For The Dying reinforced my feelings  in this last respect. The sheer power of the Orchestra of Symphonic and Popular Music of Gosteleradio, USSR, was truly awe-inspring throughout this fine disc. The MC5 had no difficulty whatsoever with the thunderous attack of the horn section, capturing the mighty, brassy blare of the instruments with no hint of artificiality. The timpani were also blessed with remarkable power allied to firm control, their sound seemingly emerging from within the very bowels of the earth. It was only on Cale’s solo piano pieces, later in the disc, that I found cause to pass adverse comment; and then only moderate criticism.  In Songs Without Words Cale strikes the piano’s keys occasionally with violence; sufficient to startle the unfamiliar listener. The speaker conveyed the  overall aggression and attack but didn’t offer enough `bite’ to the initial transient to generate that element of surprise.

This was the turning point. I now realised why the speaker pleased me more with large scale classical music. The kind of transient information that I felt was missing or subdued is far more noticeable in small scale music. Listen, for example, to a single guitarist playing and one is  closely aware of the shape of each and every note he plays. The slightest change in left hand pressure upon a string, or his use of the pad of a finger rather than a nail to pluck a note is instantly discernable. If, however, one placed that guitarist in a larger ensemble such nuances would become submerged: therefore they become less important.

Where’s the culprit in the MC5 responsible for this  subtle – and it is indeed subtle – lack of `edge’ to the sound of such instruments? I’d point the accusing digit at the metal dome SEAS tweeter Musical Fidelity have used. Its sound is sweet, polite and controlled but it seems to lack that accelerative urge that good fabric domes exhibit.

Have the company fulfilled their promises for this speaker? I think they have: but that’s not to say it couldn’t be improved. It’s not seriously flawed but it would handle smaller scale music more accurately with the addition of a faster sounding high frequency driver.  And to conclude, a vinyl-covered cabinet really is below par for a speaker at this price.


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