MBL 101 X-treme Radialstrahler Loudspeaker

Jonathan Valin -- Fri, 06/06/2008 - 13:51

Coming soon to JV's overstuffed listening room.

Jonathan Valin -- Tue, 09/23/2008 - 21:37

Sorry I haven't posted about the Ref 610T and the X-tremes, but I've been bogged down in work. I did have several visitors from out of town last week: two manufacturers (of a competing loudspeaker, actually) and a journalist. All three had the same reaction that everyone else has had to the MBL 101 X-Tremes (driven by the MBL 9011s, the Audio Research Reference 3 linestage, the Audio Research PH7 phonostage, the Walker Proscenium Black Diamond record player, the Air Tight PC-1 Supreme cartridge, and Tara Labs Zero Black interconnects and Omega Gold speaker cables): that this was the best stereo system they'd ever heard--the most realistic, the most full-range, the least hi-fi.

I might as well just say it outright. I, too, think the MBL 101 X-Tremes are the best speaker system I've yet heard (edging out the Symposium Panoramas in several key areas, although the Pans remain the second-best and do have some advantages of their own over the Xes). It is possible that Magico's new M5, which I am hoping to review, may prove to be competition to these other two great loudspeakers. I think it will. But for the moment, the 101 Xes reign supreme, at least in my experience. I've just never heard anything like them--anything that sounds less like loudspeakers and more like musicians kind of magically appearing in the back third of my listening room.

What troubles me a little bit about this is that, as I've noted repeatedly, the 101 X-Tremes haven't sounded this way in Vegas or in Munich. Am I just lucky in room? One wouldn't think so on the face of it; in fact, one would think the room was too small for these monsters. But the fact remains that they sound extraordinary. I will be reviewing the 101 Xes in our January Issue 189. There I will explain in detail why I think they're so good: what they don't do as well as the best competition, what they do better than anything else, and assorted other matters.

101Rules -- Mon, 10/13/2008 - 09:31

jvalin wrote:
I might as well just say it outright. I, too, think the MBL 101 X-Tremes are the best speaker system I've yet heard.

What troubles me a little bit about this is that, as I've noted repeatedly, the 101 X-Tremes haven't sounded this way in Vegas or in Munich. Am I just lucky in room? One wouldn't think so on the face of it; in fact, one would think the room was too small for these monsters. But the fact remains that they sound extraordinary.

Hello Jonathan,

It's a pleasant surprise to find this thread. I used to own 101Ds and those older speakers needed over a month of playing (approx 3-5 hours a day) before their sound really opened up. If this is also the case with the X-Tremes perhaps you can expect even better sound..

I had them in a room that was quite close to square in shape, approx 16' x 14' x 9' and their imaging was unbelievable. I once put on a Chesky disc with a red Indian running around the microphone making clicking sounds and I swear I heard him running around my listening room - with that clicking sound coming from points behind my listening chair. I placed the speakers using HP's one third rule. They never sounded as good after I moved into another apartment unfortunately. I have mated them with Muse, Audio Research and Cary tube amps, and Cello, Krell and Spectral solid state amps.

I am really curious about driving them with Spectron SE III monoblocks as those amps have killer power. Do you think you can get your hands on them?

Don't let the gear break the bank!

Jonathan Valin -- Tue, 10/14/2008 - 13:29


I've been listening to the Xes for almost seven months now. If they haven't opened up by now, they ain't going to. But "opening up" is not the problem I was referring to (or a problem that the 101 X-Tremes ever had). I'm just a little uncertain why these speakers sound almost unbeatably realistic (and fabulously entertaining) in my room, when they haven't at shows. I think I know three parts of the answer: 1) really big rooms, like the warehouses that the 101 X-Tremes have been shown in at Vegas, aren't good for omnis, which need to see walls at a certain distance and a mix of hard and soft surfaces; 2) the MBL folks tend to play music back way too loud (partly because their speakers can play really loud without dynamic compression and with astonishing frequency extension); and, perhaps most importantly, 3) setup is absolutely critical to getting the best out of these complex critters and setup at Vegas has been seriously flawed, mechanically, electrically, and acoustically.

BTW, if you do indeed love 101s, you owe it to yourself to hear the 101 E MkII, which, IMO, should've been called the 101 F--it is that different that the E, and that much better.

I haven't heard Spectrons or any Class D amplifiers with the Xes. I'm sure they'd be killer good in the bass, however, thanks to their power and damping factor.


jp78 (not verified) -- Mon, 03/16/2009 - 13:23

any updates for us? or is this thread case closed?

Jonathan Valin -- Mon, 03/16/2009 - 13:28

 You might want to read my review of the 101 Xes in Issue 189.

earlinarizona -- Sat, 03/21/2009 - 16:18

 Great review  here and in The Absolute Magazine on the MBL’s.  The other day I auditioned  the only pair of MBL X-tremes on display in the US,  which are in an Arizona dealers showroom.  After owning the Mark  Levinson HQD system along with endless Quad setups, this is a speaker that gets your attention.   The sound is large when needed and the bottom end is very sold.  I brought the newest Wanamaker Organ CD (Largest Pipe organ in the world)  and it had no problem producing the open space in the Wanamaker court PERFECTLY  along with absolute perfect bottom end reproduction.  Keep in mind the main court for the organ is 112 feet long x 64 feet wide by an amazing 149 feet tall.  No boom. Since we are planning a new house with a large listening room my search for a large system has been underway and I have a question.  During my listening the dealer used a VERY powerful  (unnamed here) 2000 watt amplifier which just left me cold, not in power but sound quality. You could easily hear the speakers had capability far beyond what I heard.  I was wondering  if you got a chance to listen to this system with the Audio Research 610T?  Having had A load of Audio Research amplifiers   76, and 150 a lot was missing for me with the powerhouse amplifier used.   My absolute favorite two amplifiers in my life that I owned was the Futterman and later on New York Audio Labs amplifiers because of the nice sound along with endless other tube units.   My ML-2’s were also a favorite solid state amplifier,  but not like the OTL stuff. The question is how do you feel a good Atma-Sphere would sound here since you have reviewed the  MA-2 in the past. There 500 watt MA-3 could be a good candidate but the cost over the Audio Research 610 is over 90K.  Do you feel they would be very close or a good match or the  610t would be more then enough.  Since it is impossible to audition this level of equipment in one place I need a little guidance from someone who had rated and hear this equipment.    Thanks.  

Jonathan Valin -- Sat, 03/21/2009 - 21:08

The ARC 610T is my favorite amplifier. To me it simply sounds more like life than anything else (including the best solid-state amps I've ever heard--the more transparent, more neutral, more detailed, lower distortion, entirely wonderful, and awe-inspiring Soulution 700 and 710). However, no one amp is going to be the right answer for every speaker. With the big MBLs, the 610Ts will do exceptionally well (especially since the 101 Xes' woofer towers are amplified, taking the burden of deep bass off the 610T's shoulders). I could live with this combination happily. BUT...if I had the money (and it would take a lot), I'd opt for the MBL 9011 monoblocks (preferably two pairs). IMO, the MBL speakers (all MBL speakers) fare best with MBL's own amplifiers. I do not think that the Atma-Sphere amps would be a good match with the 101 Xes. The Soulution 700s might be, but only if run in mono where their incredible power and voltage would be maxed. Of course the Soulution 700s, like the 9011s, are $$$$$. If your funds are limited, then by all means go for a single pair of 610Ts. You won't be sorry.
Hope this helps.

earlinarizona -- Sat, 03/21/2009 - 21:58

 You just simplified a bunch of thing for me in a very good way.  Thanks.   I see two correct direction here.  One being the tube way, which is my favorite sound since y first pair of Quads at the age of 15.  The 610T with the  matching sound AR Reference 3 pre amp.  The other solid state direction would be the Dual 9011’s with the  MBL 6010d  preamp. My only personal problem with solid state is I like the tube sound and when I had my Mark Levinson  ML-2’s they lost there magic sound after one year.  This has also happened with one other solid state amplifier I had many years ago, so I still have that fear.  Maybe today’s amplifiers don’t have that problem but I do like a more gentler sound.   Having the 610T with a good matching AR tube preamp may be gentler for my ears.  I was just curious why you thing the  Atma-Sphere  MA-3 would not be the best choice. Another person said the same thing.  I would guess the Atma-Sphere  MP-1 Preamp  is also up to the AR Reference 3 level.    Writing and getting answers here will save me a lot of travel and I thank you for it.     Lastly the other speaker I just was gazing at was the Magico Ultimate.  The main problem for me is cost of all of those amplifiers and wiring. I do have a budget and it would exceed it but how do they differ from the X-tremes?   Certainly on the bottom end it is a clear win for the MBL.  Thanks

Jonathan Valin -- Sun, 03/22/2009 - 00:11

 The Magico Ultimate?
Good Lord, man, you must live in a palace! I've never heard the Ultimate, but I gotta think that it's pretty damn fabulous. Alon Wolf doesn't make speakers that don't live up to expectations and if he calls his top o' the line horn system "ultimate," well, I'd bet it's ultimate. Like you said, you're going to need to multi-amp this speaker with exceptional amps. So you're looking at a three-quarter  million dollar investment--probably closer to a million when all is said and done. Pretty soon you're going to be talking about some real money.
If you are solvent enough to do this, please invite me to hear your system. 

tomertsin -- Sun, 03/22/2009 - 04:44

MBL show room in Berlin a week ago.

earlinarizona -- Sun, 03/22/2009 - 20:38

 Where were these pictures shot? It it in the Us, a showroom or trade show?  Just curious.

tomertsin -- Sun, 03/22/2009 - 04:44

MBL show room in Berlin a week ago.

EZ (not verified) -- Wed, 03/25/2009 - 11:37

 Second Listen To  MBL 101 X-tremes with The Proper Amplifier.
My impression of the MBL 101 X-tremes with the 2000 watt amplifier as you may have read earlier was a little on the cool side.  Being a tube guy, a big  tube amplifier would make the MBL 101 X-tremes  sound better?  After calling the dealer he setup the system with the McIntosh  MC2301 and clearly that made a major difference from the moment they turned on. 
Firstly The McIntosh 2301 300 Watt Tube Amplifier.
In my entire audiophile life, McIntosh was always in my mind been a pretty line but not of audiophile grade  BUT BUT  this amp is different.  This amplifier is tubed with KT88’s but it is fast, clean and easy to listen to without being tube euphoric.  No strain, and it can produce sound with air between notes.  As an old time audiophile that has had Futtermans, ARC amplifiers and too many others to mention along with an 845 amplifier, I can say this amp is good.  
The Sound Of The MBL 101 X-tremes  Highs & Mids With The Tubes.
To start with, this speaker now sounds like the electrostatic you always dreamed of,  with snap and a lot of balls behind it on the high and mid range.  We all strive to make the speaker disappear but now with the tube on this speaker it is just a second thought as it jus happens.  The speaker never actually sounds like it is putting out sound even when you stare right at it.   It has achieved what we always fought to get all of these years.  My old Mark Levinson HQD system, Quads, KLH’s, Servo Statics  put out a lot of good sound but you always knew you were listening to speakers, where here the sound just appears.  It builds a 3 dimension picture with no strain of effect added.   When I put on Witches Brew the power and dynamic range was unlimited, and I had it very loud for a little while. The orchestra horns came out with body and instant snap only associated with the best electrostatic.   Cantate Domino presented true space with proper sound and reverberation like you were in the recording church.  I want you to keep in mind that I am also not a new, but very seasoned listener.  The last CD was kind of funny as I put on Joe Williams on Delos and a man came in the room.  It was so live he went over to the MBL 101 X-tremes  woofers and thought all the sound was coming out of those enclosures. He had no idea till we told him it was the large main speakers.   For me a completely new speaker with tubes running it.
The Sound Of The MBL 101 X-tremes Subs
Call me crazy but with the tube amp changing the makeup of the entire system, the subs sounded better to me even thought they are preamp fed. Power and dynamic range is unlimited and quality never suffered. Remember there are 12   12 inch subs but none of them have to work too hard.  I put on the Sheffield drum record and all of the skin detail was there in spades. When I put on the Wanamaker organ CD there was a clear problem though.  These subs go so low so effortlessly it was picking up the sound of the mechanical  tremolos and the whole room started a standing wave problem. It  only showed that EVERY  other system  missed this sound on the CD. The standing waves can easily be fixed by room work, but this was just a demo room set up for all kinds  speakers. After having the 24 inch Hartley woofer, 18 inch Servo Static woofer and the 30 Mitsubishi  woofer, the MBL 101 X-tremes is an example of how a bottom end should sound.
Surprise In The Power Usage Department
With the McIntosh having power meters on the front panel you get a kind of rough idea of power usage. In my mind the front panel meters  are probably a little slow but after playing some sustained levels  it is easy to calculate wattage being used.  SURPRISE SURPRISE SURPRISE.  During even the loudest  time, the meter once touched the 30 watt level.  Now keep in mind I had to really push it to hit the 30 watts at that moment.  Most of the time it was well below.  That clears up the reason why the meters on the 2000 watt amplifier never budged much. It wasn’t  that the amplifier was so strong, but that the system used so little even with being somewhat inefficient.   The 300 watts of tubes never even got a chance to push hard.  Also keep in mind many times I was listening at levels that many of you are not used to.  Since the subs are self powered  the 300 watts could never be used, even though  the music was very strongly recorded and loud.  Lots of headroom. 
So in closing this system achieves in my opinion everything I wanted to achieve in every one of my past system with no deficiencies.  Remember  always saying, this speaker had good mids but no bass. This one had a good high  but mids were not good. Another with everything  great but no dynamic ranges but it has great bass.  This system has achieved it all and at the same time packaged the looks to a tee.  In our new house my wife would have no problem with this in a room. After having so many ugly speakers, and gigantic sized ones this hits all marks for me.  

phfh@philiphill.com -- Sun, 10/16/2011 - 15:08

 JV, I have read your reviews but I am now unsure where  you now place the MBL X treme in the company of the Magico Q1 and Q5?  
I have a room that is 30 foot by 26 but half the room is in the roof so the ceiling on both sides.
Thanks for your work.

All content, design, and layout are Copyright © 1999 - 2011 NextScreen. All Rights Reserved.
Reproduction in whole or part in any form or medium without specific written permission is prohibited.