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Mark and Daniel Mini Speaker Review

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by Sean Fowler on October 09 '08

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Mark and Daniel Maximus - Mini Monitors
Sean Fowler, Updated Oct 08

Since 2004, Mark Wong and Daniel Lee have sought to push the envelope of mini monitor design, aiming to
achieve performance that can hang toe to toe with larger transducers. Serving
at the forefront of this effort is the ‘Maximus” line, a series that currently
consists of five compact two-way monitors. Each product embodies everything
Mark and Daniel holds dear to their credo of first rate craftsmanship and quality
control, unique technology, lifestyle fitting form, affordability, and top
notch sound quality. The latest entry to wear the ‘Maximus’ stripes is the
‘Mini’, a speaker designed to push ultra mini monitor performance to a level
previously thought of as unattainable.

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Technical Mumbo Jumbo

Appropriately named, the ‘Mini’ is a bi-wired, two-way monitor that measures a laughable 10” high, 5.6” wide, and 7” deep. It currently serves duty as the smallest and most affordable entry into the Mark and Daniel catalogue. To achieve the performance intended for this tiny tot, Mark and Daniel had to cross many challenging hurdles that would test both their resources and engineering chops.

The first challenge during the development of the Mini entailed finding the right parts that could achieve ideal performance from an enclosure with an internal cabinet volume of just 0.18 cubic ft (with the woofer portion having less than 0.11 cubic ft of play room). Like a fat man in a jump suit, there is only so much a driver can do when placed in such a restricted space. Even Mark and Daniel’s compliment of existing drivers wouldn’t work within the proposed parameters, forcing the development of a new tweeter and woofer designed specifically for the Mini. What they ended up with were miniaturized versions of the drivers found throughout the rest of their product line.

Developed to cover the mid and high frequency bands is a heavily modified Air Motion Tweeter dubbed the Dreams DM-2. Able to cover a bandwidth that extends from 1400Hz to 35KHz, the DM-2 sports superior range compared to most conventional domes. This extended range both lowers the crossover point below the common 2-3KHz threshold, and also helps in allowing the woofer to work more within its intended parameters - resulting in cleaner, more efficient operation.

Perhaps the most challenging aspect of the Mini’s design involved the development of a woofer capable of matching the speed of the little Dreams DM-2 unit while at the same time being able to work well within the ‘Mini’ enclosure. What Daniel ended up with was a custom 4.0” SX woofer. Like the other woofers in the Mark and Daniel inventory, the little 4.0” woofer is capable of ±7.5mm linear excursion. Translated, this tiny driver was built to move lots of air. Although the size of this woofer results in a low impedance that is not too dissimilar from its power-hungry cousin, the Maximus Ruby, it sports a flatter impedance curve – lacking severe dips that only behemoth sized amplifiers can handle. While the Ruby thirsts for high octane fuel, as some reviewers put it, the Mini by contrast can get by with mid-grade juice. Match the speaker up with an integrated capable of outputting a solid 40 watts, and you should be good to go.

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Preliminary Info

In 2007, I reviewed a pair of Maximus-Topaz monitors in the October issue of Affordable Audio. It’s worth mentioning that the Topaz almost became my very first negative review. Out of the box, its performance was lack luster. However, after a crossover modification, the sound became more acceptable for a product within its price range resulting in a positive review.

This time around, my experience has been quite different. Out of the box, the Mini sounded like a fully developed and mature product, already performing well beyond what I heard from the Topaz over a year ago. During this evaluation, I mated the Mini up with the following amplifiers: McIntosh MA6300 integrated, H2O Signature 100 amplifier, Lamm LL2 Deluxe pre amplifier, Karan Acoustic KA I-180 integrated. The bulk of my listening took place on my desktop system, though detailed evaluation was performed on my main rig.

The Sound Part 1 - The Short Version

Cutting right to the chase, with respect to the goal of achieving extreme performance from a super small speaker, Mark and Daniel crafted a true winner in the ‘Mini’. If you are the type of listener in search for an affordable compact monitor capable of throwing out a huge sound that can go loud, stay clean, sound good with any kind of music (from Miles Davis to Marilyn Manson), and enjoy more of a front-row type of presentation, the Mini should put at the top of your ‘to audition’ list.

The Sound Part 2 – The Detailed Version – The Yin

The Mini’s most salient attribute is its ability to reproduce a palpable sense of acoustic energy. It is one of those speakers that can capture the illusion of sitting in front of your favorite performer or band. Putting this into perspective, most monitors, even of the ‘full range’ variety, are unable to pull off such a sense of realism. Hearing this type of presentation from such a small speaker is very impressive. Yet, this is not a speaker that’s all about bombast and attaining ear bleeding SPLs. It well rounded presentation is undoubtedly high end, and beyond its shocking ability to corporally place the performance into your living space resides a keen talent of keeping each part of the musical performance within the recording separate, distinct, and completely free from interference, thus allowing each sound to have its own body and space. Every pluck of string, strike on the piano keys, every cough and clap from an audience is given identity beyond just familiar noise hidden behind the main composition. It’s all there, entwined as part of the experience. Track after track, the scale and clarity of the music emanating from these half pint speakers gave the impression of a much larger source at work.

Building upon the talent of a projecting voice is exceptional resolution. While the Topaz I reviewed last year also had a knack for detail, the difference is that the Mini achieves the same clarity without an over abundance of treble energy. To the contrary, the Mini only has slight treble accentuation, which I find to be very fitting for its style of presentation. This extra sparkle helps the speaker to unravel all the nuances in the music – such as guitar resonance, the inhaling and exhaling breaths of a singer, the twang of a string, and so on.

One of the larger caveats attached with the original Topaz was its awkward sound-stage. No matter what you did, you always ran into a catch 22 situation. If you left the speaker pointed straight out into the room, the Topaz would not even have an organized sound-stage. If you toed them in, a soundstage would appear, but it would come at the expense of beaming. Thankfully, the Mini suffers from none of those pitfalls. In fact, the Mini not only posses a wide and deep reaching sound-stage, but it also has great off axis performance, which allows you to enjoy the subtleties of each note regardless of whether you are sat in between the loudspeakers, standing in the far corner of the room or even outside of the room entirely. The Mini’s excellent left / right channel separation and early dispersion patterns also makes for exceptional ultra near-field applications such as desktop/PC use.

Lovers of a rich mid-range will appreciate the Mini’s slightly boosted up lower mid / bass section. This added low end coloration, whether intended or not, helps to give the music a more palpable feel – particularly with human vocal and acoustic guitar pieces. If you listen primarily to these particular genres of music, or small jazz ensembles and piano – not only will the Mini's have the potential to satisfy you on technical merits alone, but it ability to dig down low and deliver satisfactory bass may leave you not even wanting a subwoofer. This brings us to the meat and taters of what the Mini was set out to do: raw output and wide frequency bandwidth coverage.

Without a doubt, the Mini performed as intended – always able to dish out sound that bellies its small physical dimensions. Although the Mini can go quite loud without distortion, it’s prudent to keep your expectations realistic. It is a small speaker, after all. It is not going to be able to rattle your wall or shake your ribcage in tune with each power riff, punch your chest with drum thwacks, or pressurize your space with every crescendo. What the Mini can do however, is give the music enough gusto to help you forget about its tiny stature.

The Mini’s bass can be summarized as warm and textured. While it is neither the quickest or most detailed on the block, its rich tone gives its sound an organic feel that I found very enjoyable across an entire spectrum of music. Let’s face it, most small monitors anywhere near this size are only adept with playing little girls and their guitar kind of music. The Mini by contrast, posses the extension, power, range, and tone that will let you jam out to any genre you fancy. From synthesized electronic beats, to growling riffs from distortion guitars, the Mini is ready to play it all. So far, I have yet to experience the same kind of performance from any other ultra compact monitor around this size and price, making the Mini, in my opinion, a wild success.

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The Sound Part 3 – The Yang

For all that the things that the Mini is, there are a few things that it isn’t.

First, I felt that the advertised F3 point of 50Hz to be a fairly optimistic spec. Impressive as the bass from the Mini is, I found that it begins to lose its prominence around the 60Hz mark. This is not to say that the Mini cannot hit its advertized 50Hz note. In fact, with room gain, it can dig lower than that. But if you are expecting prominent bass at 50Hz, you may not find it.

Second, although the clarity of the Mini can easily be considered resolving by nature, this speaker is not linear. Fans of completely flat sounding transducers may not enjoy the DM-2 driver’s occasional tendency to run hot in the upper treble. Likewise, as mentioned in The Sound Part 2, the bass is not lightning fast, nor is it super detailed. There are times when the bass can sound slightly unrefined and boomy – particularly when attempting to recreate notes that has the woofer trying to be something that its not.

Lastly, all of this performance from such a small loudspeaker comes with one major compromise – inefficiency. At 82.5db, the Mini will be particular about the amps it’s paired up with. It is not a speaker that should be used with low power tube amplifiers. Fortunately however, there are plenty of affordable high current amplifiers that can safely drive the Mini. As stated earlier, a good 40 watts should do in most small to medium sized rooms at normal listening levels.


Tips and Suggestions

Tip 1: The sheer heft of the Mini, along with its solid finish, gives the illusion that it will be fairly resistant to light scratches. This is not the case. The finish is very easy to chip. It’s best to use care when transporting or wall mounting the Mini. I advise using the gloves that were included with the purchase of the speakers.

Tip 2: If possible, position the Mini so that its tweeter is at ear level. Although the Mini’s soundstage is wide and deep and sports great off axis performance – it needs to be placed at ear level to achieve natural sounding soundstage height.

Tip 3: Be sure to match the Mini up with an amplifier that exhibits excellent bass control. Amplifiers that are known to have a lot of bass (or loose sounding bass) may result in too much of a good thing when paired with the Mini.

The Finale

Ever since the origins of loudspeaker design, the name of the game has remained unchanged – it’s all about moving air. Although tremendous gains in technology has helped to modify the old notion that it takes a refrigerator sized loudspeaker to move a good amount of air, there still exists a strong correlation between a loudspeakers size and its ability to deliver high levels of undistorted output as well as frequency bandwidth. While the Mini may not have all the answers, it stretches the limitations of small loudspeaker performance beyond anything I have personally encountered, drastically closing the gap that separates the ultra compact from larger, conventional sized speakers.

The Mini’s are stellar performers that are rich in both high end bravado and lifestyle cosmetic flare. To do what Mark and Daniel have done, especially at this price point, is an achievement worthy of great praise. Take a bow gents, you’ve earned it.
Sean Fowler


North American Headquarters
Mark and Daniel Audio Labs of North America
www.markdanielofamerica.com
E-mail: markdanielaudio@yahoo.com
Tel: 1 800 781 6843

Manufacturer
http://www.mark-daniel.com/

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