Review by Jon Eben Field
I have to admit that I’m a sucker for low budget gear. Or perhaps I should add a caveat here and say, “I’m a sucker for low budget gear that sounds good.” Being an audiophile often entails spending a lot of time, energy, and, to be frank, money on high end electronics and speakers in pursuit of the ever elusive perfect sound. I should know. I have long since given up on the mental arithmetic required to evaluate the “value of my current system.” But there is also that other side to audiophile listening that is so dramatically engaging and entrancing: the budget components that, to use a common phrase, punch way above their weight. Some call these giant killers. I remember the first time I listened to a Denon 103. I connected to the sound and, shall we say, a little bit of audio magic, and the signature sound of that cartridge became a benchmark for quality and value for many years to come in my listening.
Before I get into the sonics of Well-Rounded Sound’s MM2 and MM6 speakers, I’d like to comment on the high level of aesthetic quality. Audio engineer Jerry Cmehil set out to design and manufacture a line of high quality, affordable, and environmentally sustainable speakers. The speaker cabinets are crafted from sustainable and recycled materials, which is really important in today’s world of climate change, and they are also really beautiful. Both the MM2 and the MM6 share a design aesthetic, with rounded corners built from layers of wood crafted together. Both speakers have a set of four very sharp spikes (watch your fingers!) that rest in the metal slots on the Q base (a mini-plinth crafted of the same layers of wood used in the speaker). On the front of each speaker is a stylish silver inlay bearing the initials WRS.
The MM2s are a small-ish speaker with dimensions of 11″ H x 4″ W x 7 1/2″ D, when sitting on the Q base. They are rear-ported and extend down to 65Hz. They have gold-plated binding posts and come in beech or solid lacquer veneers. The base finish models retail for $399US, while the upgraded finish I had goes for $449US. I was a little worried about driving them initially, when I read that they were 8 ohms and 85 dB 1W/1m. I am primarily a high efficiency SET guy, so I honestly didn’t know what to expect. The speakers are pretty, you say, but how do they sound?
As I sit writing this, I am listening to the MM2s and, well, they sound very good. I tried the MM2s in a couple of configurations before I decided that I would listen to them at my desktop. Although they still performed well in a traditional stereo set-up, all of my listening rooms are simply too large for a speaker with a 3” high-definition, full-range midbass driver and Waveguide loaded dome tweeter. There just wasn’t enough air moved to get decent bass, and although WRS does offer two possible subwoofers as complements, I did not have access to these for testing purposes. In my desktop configuration, I listen using an Audioquest Dragonfly into a Dayton Audio DTA-1 integrated amplifier. Neither of these components are bank-breaking, by any stretch of the imagination. I listened to Toronto-based jazz funk group BADBADNOTGOOD’s track “Can’t Leave the Night” from their album III. The drums in this track are particularly expansive and loud in the first sections, and then recede in the next section before building to a climax again, all while being very well-recorded with excellent transients. The drums sounded particularly realistic in this near-field configuration with the MM2s. The speakers do very well when they are close enough to the wall to benefit from the bass boost from their rear port. The MM2s also image very, very well. Speakers are clearly placed in the field, and the broadness of the sound seemed to extend well past where the actual speakers sat on my desk.
I also ran them through their paces with a track from Bon Iver’s 22, a million, entitled “33 ‘God’”. Justin Vernon, the person behind Bon Iver, has veered substantially from the folk harmonies and acoustic guitar that brought him to fame. With the addition of glitchy electronics and multilayered effects, he has wrought a symphonic complexity in this album. His wonderful songwriting is built up from varied vocals and melodic lines that are stretched and repeated, interrupted and distorted. When a speaker can handle the diversity of range in this song, I know that something is really right. The MM2s enveloped me in the song’s sonic swarm and preserved both the beautiful harmonies and stretching distortions, all while keeping the pace and sequence of the song in place.
I was also lucky enough to have a Well Rounded Sound MX BL integrated amplifier and DAC, with which to test the speakers. I will go into greater detail about this amp and its features relative to the MM6, where I listened to it more extensively. That said, when connected with the MM2s, the MX BL brought a level of detail and increased focus to the soundstage that made me even more impressed with what the MM2s could accomplish. I have also listened extensively to Audioengine A5s in the past and, to my ear, the MM2s have a far greater capacity for well-rounded sound reproduction. So, the MM2s are a significant bargain at US$399, solely for their sonic capabilities, but the combination of beauty and clarity of sound are really quite astonishing.
Where the MM2s really require bass support if not listening in a desktop situation, the MM6s are capable of taking on much more varied material. I’m going to get this out of the way right off the top, if you are considering a pair of these Well Rounded Sound speakers, for the extra $100 these speakers offer a world of music that really shouldn’t be accessible at this pricepoint. The MM6s have very high quality manufacturing standards, with finishes available in Walnut, White Oak, Black Ash, and White Lacquer. These speakers are equipped with a 4” high-definition, extended-range midbass driver, and and a ring radiator tweeter. The MM6s are also ported, but extend to a much more respectable 55Hz. With 5-way gold-plated binding posts and the Q base with speaker spikes, these speakers offer significant value for money. With an impedance of 8 Ohms and efficiency of 87 dB, these are a slightly easier load to drive than the MM2s. The overall dimensions when seated on the base are 12 3/4″ H x 5 1/2″ W x 8 1/2″ D. The speakers are rated at 40 watts RMS and 80 watts maximum.
Let me initially talk about the sonic signature of the MM6s, as driven by the Well Rounded Sound MX BL integrated amplifier. Afterwards, I’ll address some different amps I used to drive the MM6s, and how these affected sound quality and performance. I had visited a local audiophile recently who had a significantly well-damped room with quality equipment. I listened to a Leonard Cohen song from Old Ideas called “Going Home” on a pair of Spendor SP1/2R2s. Leonard and the background singers floated spectrally with incredible bass extension in Cohen’s voice, while tiny percussion elements were holographically placed with pinpoint accuracy.
So after I had this experience, I decided to try to get a pair of sub-$500 speakers to recreate some of that magic. Now, let’s be frank, the MM6s can not do what the Spendors did. That’s a fact. But when I listened to that track coming from a Squeezebox Classic 3 through a TubeDac 11 into the MX BL connected to the MM6s, I was more than a little surprised. I was prepared to be disappointed enough to simply stop trying to scale such herculean heights. But amazingly, astoundingly, even, I was entranced by what the speakers could do. The bass extension was not commensurate, but it was still very convincing in the deep register of Leonard’s voice, while the soundstage allowed the percussion and background vocals to crystallize into focus. I realized I was listening to the same song, but I had stopped comparing it to my previous experience. In one listen, the MM6s had convinced me to take them on their own merits and hear not what they couldn’t do, but what they could. These budget speakers image with clarity and crispness while creating a broad and expansive soundstage. They are tonally accurate across the spectrum and recreate transients very well.
Next, “Leosia” from Tomasz Stańko’s (the late great Polish-born trumpeter) masterwork Leosia had the MM6s spreading their wings on a moody atmospheric flight. With a gradual building of intensity around piano lines, the track slowly takes flight when Stańko’s elegant and minimal melodic lines float into focus. Percussion, bass, and piano all accompany the rambling lines of the trumpet, as the song slowly moves toward complex interaction. The MM6s did a fantastic job of separating out the individual instruments, and reproducing the varied tones and sounds that emerge in this song, which threatens to devolve into entropy at almost any moment. The tempo is varied and ranging, but the song holds together like a beautiful blues for the late 20th century. The trumpet’s tone and range blares from the speakers when needed, and then recedes into muted complexity, while the drums pepper the soundstage from right to left with percussive strokes followed by transients galore from cymbal strikes. The piano holds center-stage throughout, while the bass emerges to pulse the beat of the loping rhythm of the song along. Through all of this diversity, the MM6s continue to sing with clarity, subtlety, and musicality. They do not colour the music, rather they allow us to see into its depths with insight.
The Well Rounded Sound’s MX BL is a sympathetic compact integrated amplifier for these speakers. At 25 watts of power with a frequency response of 15Hz to 25 kHz, the MX BL packs a lot of features into its sleek and elegant frame. With a set of RCA inputs and a built-in USB DAC, you are presented with a lot of options for sources. The MX BL also offers Bluetooth connectivity (it took me a couple of attempts to figure out how to pair my device because the manual is less than informative, but it worked well once connected). It has L/R speaker outs, which fit banana plugs, as well as a separate subwoofer out (which is nice if you decide to supplement the bottom end). There is also a mini-headphone jack on the front for can listening. I listened to some jazz tracks over the DAC and was duly impressed. It handled the subtlety of Grant Green’s “Idle Moments”, as well as the tragic beauty contained in Billie Holiday’s “I Get Along Without You Very Well”, as the strings swell in waves behind her. I like the overall sonic signature and tonal reproduction of this amp. It also pairs very sympathetically with the MM2s and MM6s. Also, for those working with small spaces, its overall dimensions of 6″ x 7″ x 2.25″ make it easy to find it a home. This little integrated retails for $349 (with Bluetooth) or $299 (without Bluetooth).
I also tested the MM6s with three other amps: a Topping TP-60, a NAD 3020i, and a Finale Audio KT-66 amp (overkill, but awesome). First, the Topping is rated at 60 watts per channel into 8 ohms and 80 watts into 4 ohms. These Chinese amps are ubiquitous, and I like to keep one around with which to test speakers. The TP-60 had more than enough power to drive the MM6s, and it did a good job of reproducing the midrange, bass, and treble. What I noticed most specifically was that the soundstage of the MM6s became slightly more compressed in depth. Although the breadth was relatively maintained, I didn’t experience the same sense of space both ahead of and behind the speakers. Although it was a small difference, it was immediately noticeable. The NAD 3020i is a legendary budget amplifier for its longstanding status as a quality workhorse with a great sonic signature. To be perfectly honest, I loved the MM6s with the NAD 3020i. The sound was alive with clarity and beauty and emotion. I was moved by music again and again and again with this combo. Given the NAD’s relatively inexpensive price on the used market, it is a great pairing for these speakers.
Finally, I did something silly. I took a $3000 tube amp and connected it to these speakers. The Finale Audio KT-66 amp puts out 25 watts per channel through Hashimoto output transformers, and has a refined sound. I have used it on speakers worth upwards of $5000, and it makes them sound amazing. I frankly loved this combination. The combination of a Class A tube amp made these diminutive speakers sing loud and clear. It was really enjoyable to listen to how a truly great amp took these speakers to a level that was both unexpected and extraordinary for their diminutive size.
I have specifically avoided a discussion of the brand name of these speakers until now. I am a big proponent of education, so whenever I read the phrase ‘well-rounded’, I immediately think of a broad and expansive synthetic education that allows people to understand their lives and the world around them. These speakers don’t do everything, but they are extremely well-rounded. They offer insight into music and can present varied dynamic range and tonal representation. I think the MM2s are a great set of desktop speakers, but if you are looking for an affordable pair of speakers for a stereo listening in a small to medium space, you cannot go wrong with the MM6s. I cannot recommend these speakers more highly at this price point.
Well-RoundedSound MM2 Speakers, $399-449 US (active version also available)
Well-Rounded Sound MM6 Speakers, $499 US (active version also available)
Well-Rounded Sound MX BL Amp/DAC, $249-349 US
Review source: Arcadia Audio Marketing