B&W’s striking spherical subwoofer finds itself at the heart of a high-end sub/sat system. but will the sound bowl us over?

British manufacturer Bowers & Wilkins boasts one of the widest ranges of speakers from the lowly but impressive, DM601 at $899 a pair, right up to the stunning 800D, which will set you back in excess of thirty grand! But only now has B&W developed a system to challenge the best-selling offerings from KEF, Mordant-Short and Mission and Tannoy.

Actually, B&W has answered the call with not one, but three variations of its Mini Theatre range of which we have here the top-end MT-30. The other two are the MT-10 ($2394) and MT-20 ($2594), and the only difference between them is the supplied subwoofer.

Fittingly, this top-of-the-line setup comes with the striking PV1 subwoofer. The PV part of the name stands for Pressure Vessel, and it owes its shape to some innovative design principles. The company believes a sphere is the best way of accommodating the differences in pressure within and without the enclosure, resulting in fewer unwanted vibrations and the opportunity to use thinner material to maximise internal volume. The PV1 uses twin 200mm drivers, found behind the 170mm metal plates on its sides. These are driven by a powerful 500W amplifier and linked, so they work in tandem to further reduce unwanted vibrations.

One design side-effect of this is that the PV1 doesn’t need spikes, which is great news for people with wooden floors – although it does weigh in at over 20Kg. Also, if you have a particularly large space to fill, several PV1s can be daisy chained to help reinforce the bass.

Setting it up is reasonably straight forward, although there’s plenty for the keen tweaker to get their teeth into, with settings for EQ, frequency, level and phase. These are adjusted by a selection of dials that require a coin in order to move them and which visually suit the design and lessen the chances of them being accidentally tampered with. 
The less exotic M-1 satellites are no slouches either. They weigh in at 2.7kg and come with a selection of stand options
– either stylish feet or optional taller stands if you want to go that way (these cost $399 a pair). All the stands allow the speaker to be angled in different directions, making the placement easier.

The M-1’s drive units were developed specifically for this product. Apparently, the 1in dome tweeter has benefited from research done for B&W’s new high-end 800 range. Okay, so they’re not made from diamond, but they do use Nautilus tube loading and have neodymium magnets. Lower down the tonal range, the 4in glass fibre midrange driver has five resin-filled slots, to minimise distortion.  Another big plus in the M-1’s favour is that it looks rather swish, whether it is finished in the white of the system we had or in the more normal standard black.

Sonically, the system works a treat. We’d rate it as one of the nicest all-round sub/sat systems that we’ve heard this year. Its imaging is spot on, with the more precisely-located sounds in the track focused impressively across the front soundstage.

Vocals are often a problem for satellite speakers, especially the likes of the gruff performance from Tom Waits in Down By Law, but the M-1 centre speaker (basically a standard satellite rotated through 90 degrees) performs wonders, with a natural and vibrant delivery which allows you to follow every word.

Carefully set up – we’d recommend setting all the speakers to large in your amplifier set up – the system sounds wonderfully integrated, without a hint of the discrepancy between the prices of the subwoofer and satellites. That’s not to do the subwoofer down in any way, but it just emphasises the fact that it’s capable of merging seamlessly with and complementing the diminutive satellites to produce an engrossing room-filling performance. And one that retains its sweet sound no matter how far up you twist your amp’s volume control – the whole system remains comfortable, and sure-footed.

The subwoofer itself was agile and capable of reproducing the subtle nuances that lesser crash-bang-wallop bass bins miss out on. It works well with the likes of the constant throbbing engines on the first Alien movie. But it’s also capable of deep bass when called upon by Pirates of the Caribbean, where it’s capable of driving the action along at a blistering pace. There’s also plenty of depth without undue booming. Occasionally, the PV1 is so clean sounding that you don’t notice it’s there, especially compared to cruder sub/sat subwoofers which tend to knock you over with their big bass sound.

This makes the system particularly suitable for listening to music, whether that is with high-resolution surround sound or with DVD-Videos such as Led Zeppelin’s excellent DVD, where the more subtle aspects of the PV1 subwoofer provide you with a great insight into the music. God forbid, it even sounds a bit hi-fi!

But this system is also about movies. We suspect that this is one product line that’s spent an inordinate amount of time in development – but the end result is a system that melds excellent sound quality with a contemporary appearance.  In some ways the Mini Theatre
MT-30 system seems almost mismatched. But in use, this meeting of stylish, highly competent satellite speakers and a visually and acoustically innovative subwoofer make for great home cinema listening, and assuming that you have the money to lavish on it, we’d whole-heartedly recommend doing so!

B&W Mini Theatre MT-30 | $3894 |
For: Easy setup; spot-on imaging and vocals; ideal home cinema system.
Against: Heavy and pricey – but that’s about it!
Verdict: So clean it’s ‘barely there’; great-looking contemporary design; one of the best systems we’ve heard this year.

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