Price: £400 More info: Bowers & Wilkins Size: 170x100x100mm Weight: 980g, 890g Speakers: 75mm (3.0 in) woofer, 25mm (1.0 in) Nautilus tube tweeter Amplifier: 4x18W Frequency range: 38Hz-22kHz Power consumption: 12W Standby power consumption: <0.8W Connection: Mini USB for streaming and software upgrades Inputs: 3.5mm mini jack analogue Outputs: 3.5mm mini jack Headphone output Finish: ABS with spun aluminium top plate and black cloth
Classy, controlled sound, great looks
Some may prefer more detail, pricey
Bowers & Wilkins has followed the roaring entry into the digital market that was the Zeppelin series of iPod docks with a stereo set of active computer speakers, hoping to use its audio expertise to distinguish it in a crowded market. Hi-fi reasoning has long held that you tend to get what you pay for, and so it is with the MM-1. Yes, it sounds great, for a PC speaker, and yes, it looks pretty cool too and doesn't take up a lot of space, but no, it doesn't come cheap.
B&W (for it is they, even though they prefer to be called Bowers & Wilkins these days) is pitching the MM-1 in its promotional material as a stylish accompaniment to a laptop. Which is fine, so long as your laptop doesn't need to go anywhere. The truth is, although they're compact, they're not really portable, weighing in at a hefty 980g (for the one with the built-in amp, the other weighs 890g) and measuring 170x100x100m each. Not necessarily a bad thing of course, but just so you know.
More important is that they fit very nicely into the discreetly stylish aesthetic laid down by the Zeppelin. No genre-busting shape statements this time round though, they're like two mini tower blocks with slightly curved sides. They're covered all the way round with black speaker gauze and a single brushed chrome strip bearing the company marque and are topped with a spun aluminium lid. It's a striking effect simply achieved, so that what could have been a bog standard audio speaker look takes on a subtly distinctive appearance. And black and silver of course, looks good with almost anything.
Both speakers sit on a little rubber surround with notches for sliding in the cables, which include one for joining left to right, one for power , and one for connecting to your computer via USB. The USB is for audio streaming and software updates from the computer only by the way - you'll still need to power the MM-1 via the mains. Around the back of the powered speaker are 3.5mm jacks for headphones (the studio grade DAC inside should help improve the sound from your computer even if you're using headphones) and an auxiliary input so you can plug in your iPod, iPhone or other MP3 player.
Inside each little tower is a two-way speaker including a 3in Nautilus tube bass/mid driver and a 1in tweeter, which can handle 4x18W of power and a frequency range of 38Hz-22kHz - perfectly acceptable for speakers of this size.
I tried the MM-1 on a PC running Windows 7 and had no trouble whatsoever setting it up - I plugged it in, the computer loaded the drivers directly from the device and we were ready to roll in just a few seconds.
The USB connection, as well as offering a direct digital link, also allows you to have control of your music player via the pebble-shaped remote control. You can adjust volume on the speakers of course, but you can also pause and skip tracks you're playing on iTunes, Windows Media Player and even Spotify - not an asset that's usually available with computer speakers.
While obviously limited on volume, they're capable of rolling up to a decently loud level, certainly enough to fill a 6x5m room with controlled, distortion-free music that's too loud to talk over. Certainly more than you're likely to need even if you like to immerse yourself in multi-fragging computer gameplay.
The stereo image they create is fairly precise however, and without the ability to adjust the individual volume level of each speaker I had to experiment a little with placement to get the best results (equidistant, about three feet apart and not too close to the wall did it for me).
B&W's audio cred remains untarnished with the MM-1, which doesn't appear to distort, even at maximum volume, and generally delivers a fairly relaxed, even comfortable sound, which may not be the last word in detail, but delivers an impressively musical and well timed performance through the midrange and treble.
Bass isn't in the muscle league, as you might expect with a speaker this size, but it's tight, controlled and tuneful, making its presence felt without ever appearing to try too hard.
There's no doubt that the MM-1 is a quality speaker system. It looks great and sounds even better, delivering a classy, comfortable sound that works beautifully as an accompaniment to most computer working, though it perhaps lacks the level of transparency you'd want l if you were using your laptop for audio mastering, for example.
But really, the only problem with them is the price, which isn't extortionate in the hi-fi scheme of things, but it does put it beyond a casual buy in this market, which is a shame, since more people should hear it.