MBL 101e's vs. Soundlab U-1's

I have decided to change my speakers. I have had Dynaudio Temptations for 2 years, and for the past few months I have felt that there is something missing. Bass presence, ambience, I really wasn't sure. My system has been very stable over the past year: a Boulder 2060 amp, and ARC Ref3 preamp and an Esoteric X01 limited cd player. That was actually a recent switch, from the Meitner gear. I decided to listen to MBL 101e's and Soundlab U-1's. I picked those speakers since along with Von Schweikert VR 9's those were the speakers that I remember giving me great, almost spooky "you are there" performance. There are no Von Schweikert dealers in the area, and the VR 9's are too expensive fpr me anyway. I considered the VR 7SE's, but there is nowhere to listen to them.
I started with an extended demo of the MBL's. I found that the MBL's have some strengths that the Dyns don't have. Unbelievable staging, bass (not boomy), and a sense of presence and ambience
that the dyns actually do approach, but do not equal. I brought several different types of music. I started with one of my very favorite cuts, "The Maker', by Emmylou Harris on Spyboy. There was a palpable presence of the musicians, with the drum thwacks at the end reverberating in my chest. As Valin says in his review, the speakers need to be played at a somewhat higher volume to really open up, but not overly loud. As was mentioned by a few people the sound did ring or was kind of "steely". Ron, the dealer, said that he felt that it was due to the MBL preamp, rather than the speaker itself. He changed to a Griffin pre, and the sound was much smoother, at the expense of some dynamic presence. Next up was Johnny Cash, American Man IV. This is meant to be played at a lower volume than EmmyLou. It sound great, with Johnny centered and the guitars to either side. Finally, the new Dixie Chicks, higher energy Southern rock. All the MBL strengths were there, staging, imaging, dynamics, etc.
The downside to these speakers is that they are very difficult to set up. The room acoustics can be tricky and the required amplification is very expensive. Hopefully, my Boulder 2060 is up to it.
Next up were the Soundlabs. Yesterday, I heard a convincing demo of the Soundlab U-1, not the U-1x which is apparently the updated model. These are scary good. I brought the same cuts that I used during the MBL demo. BTW, in each case the speakers were driven with a powerful SS amp, and a tube preamp, in the case of the Soundlabs.They actually sound very similar to the MBL's. The pros are that my Boulder will drive them without any problem. They also need relatively less room treatment, due to their radiating pattern. They are incredibly dynamic with an unbelievable soundstage. There is excellent taut bass. The demo was in the house of the local dealer, in an old living room with almost no treatment. The room is substantially smaller than mine.
The con is their size. I have to do some meaurements to make sure that they would fit into the constraints of my room.
I am having a ball with this next phase of my audio life. After these two demos, it's hard to see why people would be satisfied with box speakers. Although, given the constraints imposed by these speakers, it can be difficult to get either working optimally.

David Shapiro
ATC's might deliver some of the coherency you like in the SL and still give you the dynamics and loudness that box speakers are known for. (Driver integration is better with active designs) I don't think you necessarily have to go away from box speakers to find what you are looking for.

The ambience from rear radiating devices is nice sounding, but it has very little to do with the original recording as you are not hearing the ambience of the venue but more reflections from your room; it will sometimes sound nice (when the recording has been made in an acoustically dead environment like most pop music) but may add confusion to what you hear on live music, jazz and orchestral works. Speakers with ambience are also much harder to setup unless they have an adjustment to control the a mount of rear radiation.

(Rear radiation causes cancellations in the forward radiating sound: a comb filter which your brain identifies as "ambience"....sound engineers use this trick to make a stereo sound from mono recordings by passing it through a comb filter...it gives an impression of a difuse large soundstage but may detract from the image)
As my tastes have evolved (or devolved, depending on your inclination), I have really come to value dynamics. Musical energy and excitement. Contrary to one poster, I do love R&R, but I also like other types of music. After some reflection, my tendency is to the MBL's, especially after talking to the dealer who sold me the Boulder. He had it in his house, mated to the previous MBL 101d, and loved the combo. He can have almost anything. For those that want to know, he's moving to the Wilson X-2. I've never heard it, but I know I can't afford it.

Hello David,

if a dynamic speaker is still in your options but you would like to get the transparency, speed and purity of timber of esl's and ribbon speakers, I do suggest you to give a look at the bigger Egglestons (disclaimer: I am their Italian distributor). A speaker like the Savoy would bring you almost all the virtues of planars still remaining extremely dynamic and giving you the "live feeling" that only the very best dynamic speakers can offer. Please check my system for more info, if you like.

The 101s are my favorite speakers. Great choice. The MBLs can sound real and alive like nothing else can. They do require a very careful setup. The whole MBL system that I heared plenty of times at different shows was always far from being magical, lacking some lushness and midrange refinement. There are better amps out there, even better that the huge 9011s and your Boulder is one of them. I think this pairing can be really special.

3 speakers which impressed me very much were
Rockport Antares, Wilson Max II and TAD model 1.
If my room was big enough I would consider a second hand JMLab Grand Utopia Be.