You would be right to expect something special in the way of desktop speakers that have been co-developed by the famous technology experts THX and Razer, a company that makes gaming products. I know I did. And I certainly wasn’t disappointed. Right from the get-go when the box arrived at our offices, I could see this first product to combine patented “Ground Plane” and “Slot Speaker” technologies from THX (more on that later) was special indeed. Forgive the space-travel analogy, but this 2.1 multimedia system looks very like something I could easily imagine being aboard that space craft in Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Think a sphere crossed with a trapezoid. The “mother ship” is actually the subwoofer, but it also houses the ClassHD amplifiers and power supply. The powered sub and biamplified satellites (which look like smaller versions of the sub), are together driven by a whopping 300W of power. Too much for a desktop PC or iPod system? Not if you appreciate quality and refinement.
The big technology story behind these speakers is that the satellites are omnidirectional (that is, they radiate sound evenly in all directions) with tweeters and mid-bass drivers mounted millimeters apart and aimed so that they fire downward—through slots in the base of the satellite—toward the desktop. In fact, they utilize reflective desk surfaces as a “sounding board” of sorts. The sub is also down-firing and is meant to sit below your desk. You don’t have to get too fussy about speaker placement however because each of these three speakers spreads sound in a 360-degree pattern that gives you an incredibly wide and deep soundstage, no matter how you place them (within reason) and no matter where you sit.
A single connection from your PC or iPod to the sub gets you in business, or you can connect the system to your preamp or DVD/CD player using the RCA inputs provided. The satellites connect to the sub via CAT-5 cabling (provided) and you control the system via another space-age device—a circular pod panel that sits on your desk and utilizes a touch-sensitive pad to allow you to turn the system on or off, switch between two line inputs, and control volume and treble/bass. The controller also has inputs for a direct iPod connection and amplified headphone outputs.
The “coolness” factor of this system is off the charts, so if the folks in your office or home tend toward the aesthetic tastes of Generation X, then be prepared to do battle over who gets possession of the Mako. I leave my office hesitantly these days and worry the whole time I’m gone about my covetous colleagues and their “gotta haveit” natures, but I also don’t blame them, now that I’ve lived a couple weeks with the Mako.
Before I move on to performance, a word or two about the THX technology. The patented “Ground Plane” and “Slot Speaker” technologies seem like monk sauce to me as a non technophile, but despite (or more aptly, because of) the dark science, they work. And I know that the engineers at THX take these matters seriously indeed. In fact, both technologies were developed by THX’s chief scientist Laurie Fincham.
In most PC speakers, Fincham explains, “sound reflecting from desktop surfaces interferes with the direct sound, creating uneven frequency response at the listener’s ear level.” But, says Fincham, Ground Plane and Slot Speaker technologies ensure the Mako’s drivers are “very close to the desktop surface, doubling the output and delivering smooth and even response at all frequencies.”
The Mako’s ClassHD amplifiers are also said to deliver only (and exactly) as much power as is needed at any particular time, which may account for the refinement to the low bass and throughout the range. I’m scratching my head, but loving what I hear.
I’ve reviewed two very nice desktop PC systems recently (see the Quad 11L review in Playback 3 and the Audioengine 2 review in Playback 4), neither of which employed a sub as part of their system, yet both of which produced acceptable bass. I expected more from the Mako with its 100W ClassHD amplified sub, and more is what I got.
One of the discs my colleague Chris Martens and I love to tote along to speaker auditions (and we did more than a hundred of them at the recent Consumer Electronics Show) is by a group called the Blue Chamber Quartet. Comprised of a classically trained pianist, harpist, vibraphonist, and double bassist, the group expanded its repertoire into more jazz-oriented modern romantic music with their SACD First Impressions [Stockfisch]. The cut “Kicho” by Astor Piazzolla begins with a solo bowed bass prelude that explores the full range of the bass, ending at the very lowest possible note in the instrument’s range, before launching into an all-ensemble allegro that has quickly become one of my favorite recorded transitions. To give the string bass its due, speaker systems cannot be timid in the low range; otherwise the effect goes missing. A number of speakers we listened to at CES failed the test, and these were multi-thousand dollar speakers (that will for now remain unnamed). The $400 Makos, on the other hand, passed the test with flying colors. The bass was resounding, as it is meant to be, but it was also rounded, full, and refined. More like a vintage Pinot Noir than last season’s leftover-harvest screwtop Cabernet.