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Mordaunt Short Avant 902i

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      23.07.2009 20:08
      Very helpful
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      ... and the price tag is surprisingly small too

      A year ago I suspected that our hi-fi wasn't sounding quite as crisp and balanced as it had, and a back-to-back test with some other bookshelf speakers proved that the tweeters in my old Mordaunt Short MS15s were tired and failing.

      The challenge then was to find a replacement that could deliver our large and eclectic music collection (from Mika to Mozart) with uniform competence and authority. Left to my own devices I'd have viewed the demise of the MS15s as an opportunity to upgrade to larger and perhaps less compromised speakers, but Mrs Alfetta has strong views about the interior of our house and was, I think, traumatised at an early age by the huge speakers at a 1980s disco. Further insisting that "size isn't everything", it became crystal clear that compact speakers were going to be the only thing on the menu.

      Reading reviews, talking to friends and family, and listening to everything I could, led me round in a great big circle through Wharfedale, Kef (their iQ1s sound great) then to Pioneer, Mission, Infinity and finally back to Mordaunt Short's stunning and award-winning 902i.

      I ordered mine from Superfi, who delivered them in less than 48 hours. At around £120 a pair, the 902 is pitched competitively into the middle of the bookshelf market.

      Cabinets & aesthetics:
      First impressions count, and these speakers inspire confidence by looking purposeful and supremely well-engineered right from the start: the front baffle is a beautifully finished aluminium plate that sets them apart from their immediate rivals and aesthetically works very well with the 130mm aluminium drive unit and 25mm tweeter. That said, they also look great with the black grilles (supplied) on too. Combine these two looks with a choice of three cabinet finishes - black, calvados & honey maple - and you should have no trouble matching them to suit your décor.

      Although they're only 165mm wide, they're surprisingly deep at 275mm front-to-back, so if they're going on a bookshelf check that you've got enough room: the 4mm banana plugs will add an extra 20mm or so to the depth too. At 290mm high, they're a touch squatter than my old speakers were, and are far from intrusive in most settings.

      Bi-wiring:
      The back panel has two pairs of 4mm ('banana' plug) sockets, one for the main drive unit and one for the tweeter. The speakers are delivered with 'jumper bars' linking these sockets together, so that one speaker cable will work both of the units in the cabinet, but by removing these bars you can 'bi-wire' your 902is, i.e. by running two separate two-core cables from the back of your amplifier to each speaker cabinet.

      Some hi-fi buffs will tell you that this improves stereo imaging and timing, whilst others say that you'll get better results by investing in a single set of speaker leads but of higher quality. Anyway, these 902is seem to work well whether they're single or bi-wired (I'm still not sure I can hear the difference) but it's nice to have the ability to do either.

      Rear port & positioning:
      There's a 50mm diameter port near the top of the rear panel, which acts as a kind of passive bass unit, capitalising on the cabinet volume and long-throw speaker cones to enhance low frequency performance. This seems to have a greater effect on the 902is than on some other rear-ported bookshelf speakers that I've heard, and makes them surprisingly sensitive to quite small changes in position.

      Back them up close to a wall and you'll hear a more full and resonant bass; put them on stands in the middle of the room and the rear port has less effect. For this reason you'll need to play around with speaker positioning to start with, until you find a set-up that suits your room and your ears. You might even want to experiment with some foam rubber to fill the rear port, but take care not to push it in so far that you can't get it out!

      I run mine with the ports open, and positioned about 75mm from the wall, which seems to give a strong but still detailed bass.

      System matching:
      If I have a criticism of the 902i, it is this: the impressive clarity and crispness of high frequencies can sometimes veer close to sounding over-bright. I can imagine that an inherently bright amplifier, CD player or other input source could push things too far and create a top-end performance that ultimately proves rather wearing for extended listening. You might therefore want to think carefully about the other components in your system and - ideally - try the 902is before you commit yourself. In reality it's more of an extreme virtue than a vice, as the speakers just reproduce the input signal so very faithfully.

      I use these with Denon's excellent PMA 500AE integrated amplifier (reviewed elsewhere on dooyoo) and the closely related Denon DCD 500AE CD player - a set of components that seem ideally matched in our softly furnished sitting room.

      In use:
      Hi-fi is a notoriously subjective business, and my advice would always be to listen to everything before you buy anything. That said, these 902is are hugely impressive from the first bar of music onwards and, to my ear, outperform their MS15 predecessors and also my father's excellent Kef iQ3s. That's praise indeed.

      The most striking feature acoustically is the precision and presence of the mid-range, which just brings everything to life. What's even more unusual for a speaker of this size is the fullness and authority of the bass: quite how Mordaunt Short have wrung so much low frequency performance from a 130mm drive unit is far from obvious (perhaps the deep cabinets and that clever rear port are the secret?) but the result speaks for itself.

      You'll find yourself rediscovering your music collection, and smiling as you hear nuances and detail that you'd simply not noticed before. The crisp - almost clinical - upper registers somehow compliment the rest of the frequency range perfectly, and it really is very difficult to pinpoint any flaws in the overall performance. The 902is never sound flustered and are virtually impossible to confuse, even with the most complex and dynamic orchestral and vocal works.

      Sum up:
      There's a school of thought in hi-fi circles that says "spend your money on the speakers". If you've already spent a couple of hundred pounds on a reasonable amplifier and another £150 on a mid-range CD player, then you'll need speakers of this calibre to really let them reach their potential. My five-star rating says that these are as good as you'll get for the money and will knock the socks off plenty of speakers that are twice the size, twice the price, or both.

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